Sunday, December 4, 2011

Helsinki - A Hybrid of Scandinavia and Russia

Senate Square and Cathedral
Helsinki was my final Scandinavian capital tour as well as my final destination on my personal heritage tour. I took a cruise line to Helsinki and back which afforded me with one day (10-5) in Helsinki to tour. Good thing Helsinki is one of the smaller capital cities and is not too spread out as far as seeing the tourist sights goes. I would loved to have stayed longer, but as flights are much more expensive then the boat and would have had the added cost of finding a place to stay for a night or two plus transportation to and from the airports...the cruise line was easier. I had never been on a cruise boat before this and was quite excited to take a boat trip. My excitement was mixed with nervousness after this past week at the hospital though when I was informed that there is a reason my cruise line was so cheap - it was a total booze cruise and the Wal-Mart version of cruise stereotypes. Oh well. Chalk it up to a new experience!

I boarded the boat on Friday afternoon and was impressed by it's size. My cabin (the cheapest of the cheap) was on the anchor deck and was slightly reminiscent of James Cameron's Titanic. I comforted myself with the thought that there were several life boats on board and I knew where I could find the life jackets. Not that I was too concerned especially since the Titanic sank in 1912 in April and it is now 2011 in December and we haven't even had any snow yet, but the thought crossed my mind that if the boat went down and I was in the bottom of the boat when it started to sink, I may go down with it. During our departure, I stood on the boat deck and watched the Stockholm night skyline fade into the distance. As we traveled farther out, I could see the shadows of the islands of the archipelago that we were passing on our way to Helsinki. I was excited to be able to see them in the daylight on our return trip. I ate dinner on the boat at a tapas and wine place - I was impressed. After I went down to my room and planned out my tour of Helsinki for Saturday, read a little more in my book, and went to bed. I had no desire to see the "booze cruise" part of the cruise and fell asleep around 10 pm.

The following morning, I ate breakfast on the boat. The view was beautiful as the sun rose over the water. My breakfast was unfortunately disturbed by a group of guys sitting at a nearby table who would not stop staring at me. One thing I have discovered while in Europe is that European men seem to not think that blatant staring is a problem. I avoided their stares by staring out the window, feeling that my personal space was being invaded. I was glad that I chose to go to bed early instead of staying up to witness the party scene on the boat. If guys are going to stare at 730 in the morning, I would maybe have to actually deal with them flirting later on in the day. Ugh. 

I went up on the deck to watch our approach into Helsinki. I was standing next to a man from Finland who had a home in Helsinki and he was telling me about the sights we could see from the boat and a little about their history. Finland at one time was part of the Russian empire and there is a military base that was used during this time that we passed on our way into the port of Helsinki. It was a beautiful blue-sky day and I was looking forward to disembarking and spending time in the city.

Uspenski Cathedral
National Museum of Finland
I had made a walking route for myself and as soon as I got off the boat, I started my tour. Finland's national language is Finnish and it's second language is Swedish. All of the signs are listed in both Finnish and Swedish (neither of which helped me!) I first walked past the harbor where there was a large market. I went to the Uspenski Cathedral which was a beautiful on the outside as inside. I then walked down what seemed to be one of the main shopping streets and then to the Senate Square and Cathedral. The square was filled with the construction of small red shacks for the upcoming Christmas Market. A large Christmas tree was in the center of the square. The cathedral was stunning - it seemed to have some Russian flavor to it (although I have never been to Russia, the domed roof seemed to be rather Russian to me). I continued on past the railway station and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art before making my way to Temppeliaukio Church - a church built into it's rocky surroundings. The inside maintained the rocky surface which made it one of the most unique churches I have ever seen. After, I walked past the National Museum of Finland, Finlandia Hall, and the Opera on my way to the Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. I passed by one of the two lakes in the center of Helsinki - Töölönlahti - which had very pretty walking/biking paths throughout the surrounding park. The Olympic Stadium was impressive in the fact that it was an Olympic Stadium - the site where the best world athletes gathered and competed. The stadium itself was not as beautiful as some of the modern ones I have seen when watching the Olympic games, but it was still an impressive site. Unfortunately the Olympic rings were covered due to construction. Also, unfortunately, I realized after I got back to the boat that I had missed one of the sites on my list - the Sibelius Monument. It looks lovely from the pictures and I am disappointed that I forgot to head there from the Olympic Stadium . Instead, I wound my way back through the city and went to the Ateneum Art Museum - the National Gallery of Finland. The museum was in a gorgeous building that faced an outdoor skating rink. They did not allow photography within the museum, but I was impressed by the collection of Finnish art. Most of the art in the museum was Finnish and I felt like I got a good feel for the city and the country by seeing the history of its art. Thankfully, the museum listed it's information in 4 languages: Finnish, Swedish, English, and Russian. Finally, I made my way back to the boat and took pictures of several of the sites I had seen during the day again now that it was dark. The trees were filled with lights and the Christmas tree in the Senate Square was also aglow. I was sad that my time in Helsinki had been so short - I would love to return to see more of it and maybe also include a tour of Eastern Europe and Russia as well to see if my impressions of Helsinki are correct. 

1952 Olympic Stadium
The cruise back was fairly uneventful except for getting interrupted at dinner by a guy looking to pick up a girl. I am not sure what about jeans and a sweatshirt screams "Hit on me!" but apparently it does. I declined his invitation for a walk including a tour of his cabin by saying I was rather tired (at 8pm) and had some work to do and that I was sure he could find better company elsewhere. I quickly retreated to my room, did some reading and went to sleep. The boat was rocking most of the night and although I never felt sea sick, I still, after several hours of being on dry land, feel like I am on a rocking boat. This morning I had another sea breakfast which was quite good then stood on the boat deck in the wind watching our path through the archipelago. It was quite stunning and massive - we started passing islands at least 4 hours prior to getting back into Stockholm. I could imagine how lovely it would be in the summer to escape out to the islands and get away from it all. 

Temppeliaukio Cathedral
So now I am back in Stockholm and will be here this upcoming weekend. I hope to get a good feel of the Swedish Christmas over the next few weeks. Only two more weekends until I head home! One in Stockholm and one in Abisko, Sweden in the way north, far north of the Arctic Circle. 

Lake Töölönlahti
Christmas in Helsinki
Ateneum Art Museum


1 comment:

  1. Ha ha! Well he hit on you because you are gorgeous, jeans and sweatshirt, or otherwise! :) Glad you're having a good time!