Travel notesIssue 05 | June 2009

Breakfast in Helsinki

by Susan Koefod

I walked to the quay’s edge.  In the water, a songbird thrashed.  A small boat crept quietly up, its engine silent, the driver attempting to maneuver close enough to scoop the creature out with an oar.  As I was doubly useless—non-Finnish speaking and netless—I returned to my son.

I glanced again in the direction of the crowd and then looked beyond it along the huge wharf of the Port of Helsinki to the cruise ship terminals.  Here, cruise ships from all parts of Europe and beyond stopped on their way to and from places like Talinn, Estonia; Stockholm, Sweden and other ports along the Baltic and Atlantic, even St. Petersburg, Russia.

The crêpe-maker was placing golden-yellow cloudberries onto our crêpes.  With a deft move, she folded them.  I tasted the warm crêpe, still caught up in the drama a few feet away on the dock.  I decided the bird was a baby, left too close to the edge of the water and abandoned by its parent.  It floundered.

The cloudberries, fresh and seedy, tempered the sweetness of the thin pancake with a melding of flavors I didn’t quite recognize at first. They captured the essence of the northern summer, combining the flavors of honey, oranges and raisins.  Tangy and lightly fermented, it expressed the fleeting lushness of a Finnish summer.  It satisfied a craving I didn’t realize I had, so I relaxed for a moment and savored it. 

When it was time, we made our way through the market to board the ferry.  In moments, we were making our way through the busy seaport and out to the Finnish coastline, which bears a striking resemblance to the rocky ore-rich shoreline of Lake Superior in Minnesota.  No wonder the Finns settled there when they came to the United States.  The familiar piney landscape dotted with lakes must have been a comfort to them then, a vision of what they’d left behind, just as the sight of the Finnish coastline, passing behind my son, comforted me now.

Ryan stretched out his long frame and leaned back against the railing, his short red hair ruffling in the sea breeze, and closed his eyes for a nap.  As he slept, I was free to examine him more closely. Clouds passed overhead and cast shadows that transformed his face into versions I recognized in that traveler’s photo album of my memory.  In the flickering light, I saw flashes of the baby, toddler and boy he had been and the adult he now was. And then it came to me. Our relationship has most often been experienced in journeying with each other, just like now: sitting across from each other on hard ferry benches with the unusual taste of fresh cloudberry crêpes on our tongues.

I leaned against the cabin wall.  For the remainder of the journey I drifted in and out of sleep, certain that the bird we’d seen earlier had by now been rescued, reunited with its wayward parent.

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About the author

Susan Koefod’s essays and poems have appeared in anthologies and literary magazines such as Midway Journal, Minnetonka Review, Snakeskin, The Talking Stick, and Tattoo Highway. While she is pleased report she has traveled widely to Europe, Scandinavia, and various parts of the U.S., she is proudest of her ability to pack everything she needs in a doubled Safeway bag.

Read our current issue:


Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

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The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok