Helsinki, Secret Tunnels, Frozen Lakes &…a Ring?

The one thing that I was not looking forward to when spending a semester abroad is more long distance. Last fall was actually the first semester that Caleb and I lived in the same city since the summer when we first started dating. But this wasn’t just a 2 hour drive away, this was half the United States and an ocean away. This was 5,000 miles and 8 hours ahead long distance. It’s something that made this adventure a little bit scarier and a little bit more uncomfortable. That is one of the reasons I decided to study abroad though. I wanted to try new things. I wanted to have a brand new experience that was uncomfortable and scary and unknown. Nothing was going to stop me.

Caleb had told me before I left that he was going to come and visit me. I had laughed. “No, you aren’t,” I said. Why would he come all the way to Finland just to visit me? Why would he spend THAT much money? Besides, it wasn’t practical to do that. Plus, who visited their significant other when they were studying abroad? It was supposed to be a new experience for them to have on their own.

Turns out a lot of girlfriends and boyfriends visit each other when studying abroad. Like, a lot. Practically everyone I met here who had a significant other back home, had a visit from them at some point in the semester. Granted, all of these people lived in Europe. It’s not like it was really that far or that expensive to go there. Some people’s families even came and visited them…

I remember Skyping with my mom soon after I found out that Caleb had bought his plane ticket. I was telling her about friends I knew who had friends, boyfriends, or family members coming to visit them. I thought it was so weird. “I still find it really weird that Caleb is coming to visit me…I mean, I’m so happy and excited that he is coming, but it’s still weird. Why would he visit when I’m studying abroad? That just sounds weird.”

We met in Helsinki minutes after I ran off the train and I buried myself into his arms. Sometimes you just miss hugs. The whole capital city of Finland was waiting for us, but I just wanted to be there. Even so, we left to find the hostel. We soon found out that in Helsinki, if you stand on a corner staring at a map long enough, soon a local will ask you where you are going or what you are looking for. You’ll tell them, then they will point you in the right direction. They will ask even if they are older and don’t know much English. They can point, and they will do just that.

Buildings in Helsinki

Buildings in Helsinki

After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we went up the observation tower that is located right next to the Olympic Stadium. The man at the counter failed to tell us that there was a Czech film crew at the top filming some sort of movie. We had to awkwardly move around them and try to stay out of their scenes. I secretly wanted to jump in each one and yell and point saying that I saw superman (I resisted the urge). The view was nice and we got to see Helsinki from above, before we saw it below.

View from the top of the tower

View from the top of the tower

The Czech film crew

The Czech film crew

We spent the rest of the day trying to find food that was in our price range and walking around the city. Caleb was dead tired. He had landed that morning at 8am in Helsinki and hadn’t slept much during the travels. I’m sure exploring the city was the last thing he wanted to do! I was proud of our progress though even if we went back to the hostel a little early.

The next day we started off with a tram ride around the city. I’d never been on a tram before and we could not figure out where we were supposed to pay for our ride. The view around the city was nice and it was lovely not to walk for once. We got off near the harbor by a very large cathedral. We explored the cathedral, walking up it’s many steps, trying to avoid slipping to our doom.

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Then we found another cathedral that looked very Russian. The outside was much cooler than the inside however.

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We walked across the bridge of love and Caleb was very upset that he left his lock in the hostel otherwise we could have made our own mark on Helsinki.

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We then headed to the harbor and took the ferry over to Suomenlinna Island, which was my favorite part of our Helsinki trip. Suomenlinna is a small island just off the cost of Helsinki which about 800 people live on. It has the remains of the Suomenlinna fortress which has many tunnels in it. We explored the island and the tunnels, which was very fun.

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Exploring was fun and we got a great view of the Baltic Sea from one end of the island. Even though it was pretty windy and cold, it was the best part of the trip.

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We took the train back to Jyväskylä that evening. While on the train I kept seeing posts on Facebook about people in Jyväskylä seeing the Northern Lights. This hardly ever happens that far south in Finland and I felt like I was dying inside knowing we were missing it when we were on a train. By the time we arrived it was around 11pm when we started walking back to my apartment from the train station, dragging Caleb’s luggage behind us. While walking, I saw a flash of green to my left and turned to see some very active Northern Lights, whipping across the sky! We stood there watching for a while in awe, before becoming too cold so we kept walking. Every once in a while we stopped to see if we could still see them. We finally arrived home and spent the rest of the night trying to keep warm before we fell asleep.

The next day, I showed Caleb the city center area, we did some shopping (Caleb bought me a hat), and we ate dinner at a wonderful Pizzeria (only Caleb would find the best pizza in the city). We got a huge pizza to share for only 6 euros. That came with a salad buffet and free tea and coffee. We then rode our bikes back to my apartment (Caleb borrowed a friend’s bike).

I had been writing Caleb letters since I first arrived and decided that this would be a good time to give them to him since we were together. After reading them I think he was feeling a little mushy because that was when he suggested we go back out onto the frozen lake that we were on the night before and star gaze. I agree and we rode our bikes down to the lake and walked out onto it.

The clouds had begun to creep across the sky so we didn’t see very many stars, but the city is very beautiful at night and we look at the skyline and the lit up bridges and buildings reflecting off the snow and ice. We make our way out towards the path in the frozen lake that was smoothed over for ice skating. There are benches and we choose one to sit on while we enjoy the view. We start to talk about our past and memories we’ve had together. Caleb was being so sweet with his recollections, showing me his perspective on everything that happened. I remember thinking that if he were to propose to me, it would be a perfect moment. Of course, I had no idea what was actually going to happen that night and I quickly put the thought out of my head and continued with our conversation.

There was a lull in the conversation somewhere around that point and I announced that I was getting cold and perhaps we should start heading back to my apartment. Caleb suggested that we stay a few more minutes and I didn’t object. At this point we were standing up in front of the bench and Caleb was holding me in front of him, staring in to my eyes, and telling me how much he loves me. He unzipped his jacket, confusing me, and then took out a small box. I was just realizing what was happening as he knelt down on one knee. I think the tears from my eyes already started fall when a rush of excitement and joy went through me. He asked me to be his best friend forever and I shouted yes before he could say any more. There was hugging, more crying, and probably squealing between then and when he put the ring on my finger, and more afterwards. It was dark and I could hardly see the ring, but I didn’t really care.

The rest of the night, and the rest of the week really, was full of smiles and hugs and love and it will always be a night and week I cherish in my heart. I get to marry my best friend.

we are engaged!