The Kindness of Strangers

In August 2009, while in Finland, I met Necati. Necati is originally from Turkey but lives with his wife (who is Finnish) and their kids in Helsinki.

I first met Necati in a hostel in Turku. He was there on business. I was there doing whatever backpackers do in Turku. We had dinner together one night and, after sharing my sorry story of being a poor backpacker*, he invited me for dinner at his house in Helsinki. I graciously accepted his offer.

So, at some point during my 7-night stay in Helsinki, I found myself having dinner with the most lovely half-Finnish, half-Turkish family in the suburbs of Finland’s capital city. I spent a day with Necati’s wife and two sons at Suomenlinna Sea Fortress – a memory which always reminds me that it is always best to have locals show you around a city.

Now this isn’t my first blog about Helsinki, or even about Necati and the kindness of his family (they are mentioned briefly in this post). But I wanted to share this experience in more detail now.

This week, four years after being in Helsinki, I received an email from Necati. Hearing from Necati after all this time was just so nice. Hearing about how his boys have grown up and are now at school, how they’ve now got a little sister. It literally just made me so flippin’ happy. Happy because this super nice family I met on a seven-day hiatus in Finland four years ago are happy. Happy because after four years this super nice family still care enough to contact me. But most of all, I’m happy because I’ve been reminded that there are super nice people in the world – that strangers can be kind. And sometimes I forget that.

The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.

* read: being robbed in Copenhagen (a far less pleasant story for another day)

Unfortunately I have no photos of Necati and his family, so a collection of photos from my time in Helsinki will just have to suffice.






Pay It Forward

Finland & Estonia – August 2009

Helsinki is the capital of Finland. That was all I knew about this city before I got there in August 2009. I planned to stay seven nights, which I realised upon arriving was probably a bit excessive for such a place. Its a fairly ordinary city. There is nothing overly exciting to see or do there. However, the experiences that I had there during that week were far from ordinary.

I met a lovely young family on my first day in Helsinki. They showed me around their city, spent the day out at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress with me and even had me over to dinner at their house one night.

I was fast running out of things to do and see in Helsinki though. That was when I decided to take a day trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Tallinn is only an hour away on a ferry from Helsinki. On the ferry I was sitting across from a guy who would have been in his mid-thirties or so. We chatted almost all the way there.

He was American international criminal lawyer living in Bosnia. He was meeting a friend in Tallinn, another American lawyer from the US, whom I was introduced to when we arrived. They asked me to join them for lunch in town. They would pay. I was pretty suss at first, but I was hungry and hadn’t had a proper meal in a long time.

The main square of Tallinn was just incredible. Tallinn was left virtually untouched by the Soviets during their occupation in World War II. The cobbled stone streets were still all intact and the vibe of the place was very medieval.

I ordered a decadent meal of fish. There was wine too. I hadn’t eaten that well in months! We moved on to an old medieval themed pub for more drinks. The waitresses were dressed in medieval costume. Mead, honey and cinnamon flavoured beer were all on offer. Even going to the bathroom was an experience, with no lights to speak of only candles!

By 5pm I had had a really great afternoon, the guys had been so generous to me, but it had come time for me to leave. I had pre booked a return ticket back to Helsinki for that evening. They were adamant, however, that one day in Tallinn was not enough.

“Pay It Forward” is a huge movement in the US where a good deed is repaid, not to the person giving, but forwarded onto someone else. They offered to pay for a hotel room for me for the night and a return ticket on the ferry back to Helsinki in the morning. That night we would go out to dinner, party on and in the morning we would do a little sightseeing before I left.

So. I stayed the night in Tallinn. In a beautiful hotel room. A huge bed to myself. White sheets. Big fluffy pillows. Buffet breakfast in the morning. It was luxurious! All this after months of camping or staying in dingy backpacker hostels. All this after having my camera and wallet stolen in Denmark. All this, like a dream, gone in the blink of an eye, an incredible experience that I didn’t fully grasp until it was gone.

In the morning, as they had promised, we walked around the Old Town, did the tourist thing, said our goodbyes and by midday I was on my way back to Helsinki, never to hear or see from those guys again. I am forever grateful to them though and cannot wait to the day I “pay it forward” to someone else.