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From architecture to technology, Helsinki has taken the concept of design to a whole new level. Strolling through the streets of its Design District Street, the passion for fresh modern design is evident in every shop window.
But it was the lure an open-air flea market loaded with old second-hand collectibles that that captured my attention. Held only twice a year, the Senate Square flea market lures bargain-seekers like me. A good treasure hunt is energizing and a flea market with treasures straight from European attics is just my kind of heaven.
Rummaging through tables upon tables of antique jewelry, books, old Finnish glassware, unique fabric, war medals and beautiful porcelain was a perfect way to spend a day in Helsinki.
I felt someone watching me and then following me. It was one of the merchants. His name was Eddie and he asked me if I was American. He told me he was from Iraq. He could only speak a few words in English, but we managed through hand gestures and broken words.
Eddie told me about the death of his son and family members and his gratitude to our country for help. I see from his eyes that he had many stories.
Traveling alone, caution is best regarding topics of politics and religion – part of a Southern upbringing that becomes front and center when traveling outside the U.S. Eddie and I said goodbye and I continued on my shopping spree. I could feel him watching me and then following me throughout the market.
As I exited Senate Square, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and it was Eddie. He removed an ornate silver cross from around his next and put it around mine. He then hugged me the way you would hug a long lost friend and walked away.
For several minutes I stood there with a new treasure around my neck. Not one I found or had purchased. This treasure instead was an unexpected gift that connected me with a war and with an Iraqis father reaching out in gratitude to a solo traveler in a flea market in Finland.