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Around some of the world in 180 days

Helsinki

FINLAND | Thursday, 5 July 2012 | Views [1147]

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

I'd decided to take an 16 hour ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. It did feel like I'd be losing a day just to travel. This would be the first time I've ever travelled overnight on a ship. Which was why I got one that would arrive in the morning so that I'd have at the least the afternoon to see things. A ferry is actually an understatement, the ship is massive. A really big cruise ship and self contained floating cities with shops, childrens play areas and even a casino:

I'd gotten hold of a cheapish sleeping quarters and being the lowest class on the ship, the room is apprpriately located on the lower decks, lower than even the cars. The entire lower deck smelled of pee or bleach, or maybe both. The room is surprisingly spacious. It was supposed to have been a shared room, but I got it to myself:

When the ship does takes it off, it is bloody loud. Loader than even on a plane and thought there'd be no chance of getting any sleep. Fortunately, the noise was only that bad for the 5 minutes it takes to enter and leave ports as the ship uses it's "maneuvering thrusters". Otherwise, the noise of the ship is just a gentle hum. Any thought of using the ship's entertainment is soon cancelled by the onset of motion sickness, so nothing for it but to shower and sleep.

The dockyard when we finally land is about 1km from the city centre and I chose to walk to the hotel, put my stuff down, then head back out to Kauppatori or Market Square for the ferry ride to the Fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO world heritage site especially well know for it's military architecture. Suomenlinna is known as Finland's Treasured Island Fortress, located just outside the Finish capital of Helsinki and is very accessible. It's a warm but windy day. At Kauppatori, the wind assualt us waiting for the ferry, on the ferry and on the Suomenlinna islands, all 6 of them. I'm glad it's not winter.

On Suomenlinna itself, it took a good few hours to explore. 

Suomenlinna Church:

The great courtyard and the tomb of Augustin Ehrenvard (designer of the fortress):

Dry docks observation deck:

The sand banks and the guns of Kustaanmiekka. I only noticed later that a girl was sticking her into the gun barrel:

The King's gate:

Amazingly, the main island also has a beach:

It's also possible to buy a single ticket which gets you into all 6 museums on the island. I only went to Suomenlinna Museum and  Military Museum Manege, both of which were great. The first focusing on the history of the fortress itself and the latter mainly about WW2. Specifically the Winter War and the Continuation War and does a great job of explaining Finland's role. As with all Nordic museums, the histriography is excellent. Then I regretted not seeing the Subnmarine museum just because visitors are actually allowed inside.

If you want a day off, Suomenlinna is a good choice, a very peaceful, quiet and scenic place to wander around. There are little cafés, a hostel, has beautiful view points and very nice walking paths around the islands.

After arriving back on the mainland, I took a tram to see the Helsinki Olympic Statium which was built for thr 1952 summer Olympics. The only section open to the public was the viewing tower, but I "accidentally" walked into the stadium anyway. The stadium is nothing special (it is 50 years old), but I've never seen an Olympic stadium up close so it still felt worthwhile. The viewing tower is a big disappointment at €5 as all you'll see is the stadium and non athetic facilities.

A statue of the great Finnish runner outside the stadium:

Day 2

Today is going to be a walking tour of the main sights of the city. Starting at Helsinki train station, I walk one block towards east along Kaivokatu street, and turn right to Keskuskatu, down into Esplanadinpuisto. A beautifully kept park with many fine statues:

Walking along the park eastward towards the sea, then turn north along Unioninkatu to reach the Senaatintori (Senate Square), site of the Lutheran Cathedral and the neoclassical old city centre. The cathedral is situated behind the square on top of some very steep stairs:

I'd actually passed the square the previous evening and the place seems to be a really popular meeting place. During the day, people are taking advantage of the weather to sit in the sun.

View from the Cathedral, looking at the arse end of Tsar Alexander II:

From the square, I headed south-east towards the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is well worth a visit. A beautifull mix of east and western architecture:

By now it's getting to midday a I walk back towards Kauppatori. The square is worth seeing during the market hours with lunch and snack opportunities:

After lunch, I walk 20 minutes south past the the docks where we landed yesterday to see the Mannerheim museum. Mannerheim is of course the famous general and statesman who led the non-communist faction during the Finnish cival war and was commander in chief during WW2. To my dismay, the museum is not open on Wednesdays. I don't think I'll ever learn to check museum opening times before I go.

A little dispirited, I decided to forgo the usual walking bravado and get the tram to see Temppelikatu kirkko or the Church in the Rock, renowned for it's architecture incorporating the very rock into which the church is built. The church is popular and especially popular with Japanese tourists. I spent some time waiting and not entirely successfully for people to get out of shots:

With a few hours still available, I visit the Museum of visual arts. At the time, there's a special exhibit dedicated to the Occupy movement:

Then finally, the National Museum. A fantastic museum cover the entire period of Finnish history from Neolithic, all the way up to modern times.

In conclusion:

Sorry Finland, but you're not that different from Scandinavia. Apart from the Fortress of Suomenlinna with is great, Helsinki is just like being in any other Scandinavian city. In the end, I decided to end the tour of Northern Europe here and forgo the Baltics. The Nordic countries were just too similar and expensive. Much of the tourist attractions are located in the central parts of the cities and then going further out, it's just like any other modern european city. I would know, I live in Glasgow and London.

Tags: finland, fort, helsinki, sightseeing, suomenlinna, walking tour

 

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