Fascinating city and history
Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
241Trip End Mar 15, 2007
Most of the city was built up in the 1800s so lots of what I would call Victorian buildings not many taller than about 4 stories. Walked down the Mannerheimintie where lots of interesting buildings are with what I would call art deco design. If one just walks down the street and does not look one misses a lot. Looking up and down one sees all kinds of Finnish history portrayed in the buildings. For example, there are some interesting designs on the sidewalk as well including a couple of lines in brass written in Latin which we figures were the Latin names or either fish or plants and two manhole covers portraying these. Also, some of the sections of the old city are named after animals: giraffe block, dromedary block, etc.
Walked down to the (Imperial) Senate Square where we were going to take a photo of the Cathedral (Nikolas' Church formerly) in its marvelous whiteness above the square and stairs leading up to the cathedral. But there was a huge presentation (a tattoo) of marching bands happening in the Senate Square-four military marching bands (from Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria) that were providing a taste of the Hamina Tattoo on their way there. As we arrived late, we couldn't see anything but other people's backs, so climbed to the top floor of the University Main Building (on one side of the square) to see what was going on, although the music was a bit muted by the windows
After the concert we walked around the square and statue. On the University side of the square is the outline of the original church, the third on the site between 1727 and 1817 or so. It was called Ulrika Eleonora church and had walls about 3 feet thick but became too small. It is kind of neat to see the outline in black brick in the square as a memorial. And a plaque at the place of the altar. In the middle of the square was the statue to Alexander and around it there are smaller statues representing Law, Peace, Light and Work and plaques representing the various provinces of Finland.
Kitty corner to the square is the oldest surviving stone building in the city centre (Sederholm House built in 1757). It is now a museum giving a picture of life in Helsinki in the 18th century. Then we walked through the Sofiankatu street museum that shows the different ways streets were named depending on who was in control of Finland (Sweden, Russia, and Finnish) at the time. It also showed how the streets were cobbled or paved in the last two centuries (asphalted streets go down to flat cobblestones to rounded ones), the development of street lighting from 1860s onwards and various types of taps and wells and even an old phone booth from the 30's (when people did not have their own phones, they had to go into a main area of the town to use phone boxes in the streets - not like now where we seem to have them on every corner). Also the street name changes over the years depending on which country was in control of Finland at the time
The Orthodox Cathedral (Uspenski) is amazing. It is red brick and is on a relatively high hill overlooking one of the harbours. Once inside there is a sign saying silence, no mobile phones, no flash pictures, etc. But who would want to! The richly decorated vaults are supported by four giant granite columns. The great iconostasis was painted by a Russian artist. The cathedral is enormous and beautiful. Gilt and icons and frescos of every saint imaginable - in Cyrillic. With our combined knowledge of Russian we were only able to make out the name of St. Bartholomew. And in the background lovely Russian religious music playing. We sat and rested for a while. It was a very peaceful experience.
Following that we headed down to the harbour and wandered through the marketplace where it smelled like - well - a marketplace with somewhat less than fresh food and fish and somewhat less than savory people but rather exciting and foreign all the same. Jaana is absolutely fluent in English so I forget a lot of the time that I am in a country whose language I have absolutely no familiarity with. Even the simplest words are impossible to read and I have to rely on Jaana's excellent and willing translations.