Today, Helsinki is considered one of the world's most livable cities, but even in 1989 its beauty, stretching from the tip of a forested green peninsula across several green islands, was seductive and when we tried the seafood that it was known for we almost were ready to stay—not that we would've wanted to cope with its winters. We heard part of a rehearsal for a Sibelius concert in the dramatically modern Finlandia Hall, peered in at a couple of domed Russian Orthodox churches, and looked into several pricy shops, pretending that we might buy a suede coat, some fancy crystal, or Marimekko fabrics. The dramatic monument built to honor Sibelius impressed us: the 600 steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern were supposed to capture the essence of his music. Whether or not they did might be a matter of opinion, but we liked it. His shining metallic face posed next to it seemed to approve.
"Maybe it's too perfect."
"Maybe that's it."
We weren't being perverse—I don't think we were—but just as I preferred Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy and Dickens to Austen, the impoverished grunginess of Warsaw and Prague were more my style than this squeaky clean perfection. Of course, we weren't in Helsinki long enough to discover its underside, if it had one, but part of the appeal for me of London, New York, and even San Francisco was that it was all there in the open, like it or not: splat! Sherrill wouldn't go that far, but agreed that endless perfection could be pretty dull.
Larger and more spectacular than Helsinki, Stockholm was scattered across what seemed to be countless islands, large and small.
"Water everywhere!" I pointed out to Sherrill, as we docked.
"I noticed," she countered.
The next evening, after a day exploring Copenhagen, Sherrill and I wandered through Tivoli Gardens, which still had a turn-of-the-twentieth-century feel to it. We might have stepped into a old movie as we strolled past the old-fashioned carousel, the 1914 roller coaster, a lake with rowboats to rent, and a fun house, among other attractions, all of it illuminated by thousands of light bulbs. Teenagers, families with young children, and old folks all seemed to be enjoying themselves in this delightfully quaint place.
"We could've gone there, had a tour, explored it!" I moaned.
"You can't do everything, sweetie." She patted my cheek. "Next time...."
Wherever we were, sooner or later, one of us talked about "next time."
To be continued....