I had three days in Finland as a result of my trip to Russia. I requested a layover in Helsinki and I'm quite glad I did! Finland is Scandinavian, but it's history is not one of Viking conquest as much as continual invasion and control by its neighboring powers. I thoroughly enjoyed Finland. It has a certain pleasant feel to it that just permeates you while wandering around. Helsinki itself is really a pretty small city, even though it is the national capital and largest Finnish city. It is a great place to explore on foot. Upon arrival in the city center from the airport bus, I was greeted by this incredible train terminal. Finnish architecture is heavily influenced by its Scandinavian neighbors, but it is also quite unique. This is very much like the Finnish history itself. Finland's history was heavily influenced by the Swedes in particular, and there is a long history of fierce and proud Finnish nationalism. The architecture seems to be particularly keen on stone and statues, as you can see here with these awesome lamp-holders.
Helsinki is graced with many parks and open spaces, and the people really seem to enjoy them on the long summer days.
A statue of a bear outside of the national museum. I was quite disappointed that the museum was closed on Mondays, and unfortunately, I didn't swing by on Sunday when I first got there.
Suomi is the country's name in Finnish...a fact of which any fan of international hockey should be well aware.
The Esplanadi: a couple of avenues with a nice park and pedestrian walk between them right in the heart of the city. The Esplanadi has an interesting history. When Finland was truly developing itself as an independent nation, apart from Sweden, those in support of the Finnish language would gather on one side of the Esplanadi, while those in favor of Swedish would congregate on the other. Finland today still has two official national languages, Finnish and Swedish. Nowadays, the Esplanadi is more popular as a great place to eat lunch or have a picnic or drink with friends.
Being located on the Baltic, the sea plays an important role in Helsinki. It is a regular port-destination on Baltic cruises, and the sea really plays an important part in the food.
This meal was AWESOME. Along the waterfront, there were these market stalls set up selling all sorts of things. As with any good market, there was a large food section. I first stopped for the berries at the top. The raspberries were grown locally in Finland, while the cherries were produce from Belgium. The main dish however was straight Finnish. It consisted of these small bait-fish, vendace, fried up whole in hot oil in large skillets and served with fried potatoes, vegetables (carrots and cauliflower) with this incredible creamy garlic sauce. So delicious. I love little bait fish that can be eaten whole, especially when accompanied by tasty sauces.
This is apparently the oldest stone building in central Helsinki, the Sederholm House. It is named after an old industrialist and now houses a museum.
There is obviously a strong Finnish pride, but it is in no way offensive! That is one of the things I really like there, the Finns are very proud of their culture and country.
The buildings around the massive Senate Square are done up in the grandiose neo-classical style. The gentle and warm pastel colors are straight Scandinavian.
The Tuomiokirkko, which is the Lutheran Cathedral that dominates Senate Square. This cathedral is beautiful, particularly in its symmetry and solid white facade. Helsinki was a planned city, the result of the vision of Johan Ehrenstrom and architect Carl Engel, and the entire city itself is a testament of Finnish identity.
Inside the cathedral, the architecture is simple and straightforward. This is the massive and beautiful pipe-organ, but far the most ornate piece I noticed inside the building.
I would highly recommend checking out the cafe in the crypt underneath the cathedral. You need to go around the back to find the entrance. Underneath, you can enjoy a coffee or tea and some treats while wandering around and enjoying some local artwork, which is displayed throughout.
I found Helsinki to be a pleasant and quiet city, and it was a very relaxing place overall. I found the Finns to be very friendly and relaxed in their own way. I had no problem getting around and asking for help or directions as it was very easy to find people with excellent English. It was very evident that the average person was well educated, which I really appreciated. Finland is of course the nation with the best overall education system in the world.
I took a day to check out Porvoo, a small, historic city along the coast east of Helsinki. Porvoo is old and its old city has been fantastically well-preserved. I'm not going to talk too much about the various pictures; this will be a picture-heavy portion of the post.
The colors are mostly these deep reds and pastel blue, orange, and yellow. Apparently this homeowner couldn't decide between blue or red.
The old town is just a maze of these meandering lanes and cobbled streets. I wandered around for half a day just enjoying it all. I was lucky to get there early in the morning too as later on in the day the place filled up for a couple hours with the expeditions from the cruise ships. I was happy to have taken the bus which allowed me to show up and leave on my own and just wander aimlessly taking as much time as I wanted. Those on the cruise seemed rushed and totally unable to really enjoy the place. By nature, they totally took away from its most amazing quality too, the pleasant peace and quiet that just envelopes the town.
Unusual to have a statue of a Russian czar inside a historic Finnish church, but it is Czar Alexander I that is Porvoo's claim to historic fame. Porvoo, and this church in particular, is the place where the Czar declared Finland to be part of the Russian Empire. If you really want, you can stay in a guest house in the same building that Alexander stayed in when he arrived in Finland, and you can also follow his route he followed from the guest house to the church where he declared Finland's new imperial role. This is just another example of how Finland was passed around, mostly between Russia and Sweden, throughout the more recent centuries in history and why Finland and the Finns have had to continually struggle to keep their own distinct identity, language, and culture.
The BEST blueberry pie I have ever eaten, and pretty good Earl Grey too too! The pie was smothered in this amazing vanilla creme sauce, and the cafe had this great location in one of the town's main squares. I relaxed there for quite some time just taking it all in.
I am looking forward to getting back to Finland some day in the future and exploring more of the country. I'm particularly interested in heading north and inland and enjoying some of the rugged beauty of this incredible country. I think it will be a great place to visit in the summer as an older man.