A short weekend in Helsinki

After my Archipelago Trail bike ride I had most of a Saturday and a Sunday morning to explore Helsinki before catching a flight back home. I arrived by bus from Nagu at the subterranean Helsinki bus station. I emerged into bright sunlight on a large, busy pedestrianised square. With a distinct lack of signage I had to just strike out in a single direction until I encountered some signs or recognised a building. Luckily, I soon identified the railway station and was able to locate my position on a town map and find my hotel for the night.

At the hotel, I remarked on the busy streets and was told this was the first sunny and warm weekend of the summer and everyone was outside taking advantage. It was certainly lively and extremely good natured and relaxed. I took quite a long walk, exploring the city centre. Around almost every corner there was another architectural wonder. The Senate Square and cathedralIMG_20150705_131240823

was a real tourist hot spot; a vast expanse surrounded by magnificent buildings. Some of the buildings seemed to me to be vaguely reminiscent of Russia and another of the cathedrals in the city confirms this influence. This is the Uspenski Cathedral (picture below) on the island of Katajanokka (the up-market island in the featured image at the head of this post). It was built in 1868 and is the largest Russian Orthodox church in western Europe.IMG_20150704_203525436

There are also many open spaces such as Kaivopuisto park with lovely views over Helsinki harbourIMG_20150704_163633160

While walking round the park I was struck by the number of people lying around in the sun. I also overheard an American say he visited Helsinki every year at that time of year to witness the midnight sun. This made me think about what a big impact the variation in sunlight during the year must have on the locals. The day length in Finland varies by approximately 2 minutes each day so the difference between the longest and the shortest day in Helsinki is about 13 hours. On the shortest day the sun rises at 9.24 and sets at 15.13.

I was walking round rather aimlessly looking at the buildings and suddenly was quite startled by seeing this

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They do not appear to be a special buildings, featuring on the tourist map for example, but I thought they are striking examples of architectural interest.

That evening I had an excellent meal of Baltic Herring steaks with fennel and mashed potato with beetroot and took a glass of Gruner Veltliner; excellent.

Next day I had a few hours before I had to take the airport bus so I decided to take the ferry and visit Suomenlinna. I used the ferry run by the Helsinki Transport Authority. They run up to 4 ferries an hour and are far cheaper than the private tourist offerings. I took an early ferry and managed to walk around the majority of the island before the tourist rush arrived. It currently has about 800,000 visitors each year. Suomenlinna is an island (actually 6 islands) fortress built in 1748 by the Swedes in defence against Russia and named Svaeborg. It is now a World Heritage Site. In 1808 the fortress was surrendered to the Russians in circumstances that are apparently unclear. Finland became a part of Russia and the fort remained in Russian hands until 1918. During the Crimean war (1853-6) the fortress was bombarded for 2 days by an Anglo-French fleet. Following the Russian Revolution and Finnish independance the fort was renamed Suomenlinna (The fort of Finland) in 1918. The last military moved out in 1972 and the island is now home to about 800 residents. I thought it was interesting that the Finnish post office this month ran some test “drone deliveries” of parcels from the mainland onto these islands.

There is a great deal to see and I would put it in the “must see” category for Helsinki. I took loads of photos and here are some that provide some idea of what it was like.

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King’s Gate

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One of the most striking pictures, I thought, was an aerial shot of the island in winter. My picture of the picture does not really do it justice but in the original it is possible to see tyre tracks crossing the ice to get to the island.IMG_20150705_102726717

Back on the mainland I had time for lunch in the market on the quay. Then I strolled through a park and listened to a remarkable xylophone trio playing Vivaldi. I took a quick bus tour of the city using a city bus. This was not a great success because most of the significant sites were out of view and you probably needed to be a pedestrian to appreciate them properly. Finally I took a bus to the airport from just outside the main railway station; a truly impressive building.

Helsinki Main Station

Helsinki Main Station

 

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