Helsinki

Trip Start Apr 17, 2008
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Trip End Jun 18, 2009


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Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Thursday, April 24, 2008

24 April 2008
Our flight was delayed out of Shanghai by an hour but apart from that the flight was fairly easy. It was awful to see the huge brown pollution cloud over Shanghai as we flew above it.

Jack slept for about 3 hours and then played happily. Finnair staff are efficient and polite.

Shanghai was exciting and interesting but it was a relief to arrive in a quiet place with clean unpolluted air and no crowds. Helsinki was settled by the Swedes in 1550AD. The Russians temporarily occupied it in the 1800s but it was rested from Russia and became a sovereign state.

25 April 2008
We're staying at the Stay At Parliament apartment - very modern and comfortable with friendly staff, broadband and free breakfast. Still a bit jetlagged as Helsinki is five hours behind Shanghai. There are just over half a million people in Helsinki so it's only a small city. It has beautiful architecture, clear blue skies, no pollution and a helpful populace. Many of the people look very similar - high foreheads, close set eyes and prominient jaws especially the fair haired women. Obviously they have a very strong genetic predispostion. There is not pretention, but they are a very helpful and kindly people.
First good coffee today at 'Wayne's Coffee' (doesn't sound very Finnish). We walked around the city taking in the magnificent architecture of this port city and had lunch at the Market Square.

There are several Esplanades but one very broad one in the heart of the city near the port. This is were people set up markets and go for coffee. We found some very nice coffee shops.

Helsinki is not a large city but a very efficient and vibrant one.

Many cathedrals dot the landscape in Helsinki - the Uspenski Orthodox cathedral being one of the most prominent with it's golden spires

We tried Lihapiirakat which is a Finnish meat pie (mince and rice). It's literally like a deep fried doughnut with meat and rice instead of jam - very nice but not great for the diet!

There are a lot of large statues in Helsinki like the one of their fourth president Kyosti Kallio.

We bought a Helsinki Card which entitles us to visit all the attractions (museums, galleries, etc) and all public transport (train, tram, bus, ferry). It costs €33 for adults and €11 for children and lasts 24 hours. You can also buy 2 and 3 day passes. We used it to go by ferry to Suomenlinna which is a sea fortress built by the Swedes in 1748 as a protection against Russian expansionism. The Russians defeated Helsinki in 1808 and Finland became part of Russia until 1917 when it became independent.

There are three connected islands one of which is still used for military training for young men. It's mostly just a tourist attraction today but experienced some severe battles especially during the Crimean War (1850's). It's a full day trip to see everything and has several museums.

There is still a ship building facility on the island. and 1000 people live there (mostly sailor's families). Cars can also be transported on the ferry like this old Volvo

The islands are full of interconnected tunnels and bunkers and littered with canons

Augustin Ehrenvard was the brilliant Swedish architect of the fortress. He is entombed there. . The fortress can take a whole day to look through.


26 April 2008
The Finns seem to love the outdoors and berries. They have berries I've never heard of (e.g. cloud berries). Many of their drinks alcoholic and non-alcoholic are made from berries and other fruits. We've learned a couple of Finnish words - Hei (pronounced 'hay') means hello and Kiitos (pronounced 'keerdos') meaning Thank You. Most of the Finns speak English so it's not hard to get around. The tram, train and bus system is very good and accessible.


We took the Tourist Bus Tour of the city today. They supply headphones for an English commentary on the sights. Apparently there are 2 million saunas (pronounced 'sounas') in Finland. There are many Swedish and Russian influences given their proximity. Many of the churches have the onion spires which apparently represent flames and not onions.
John (Jean) Sibelius (1865 - 1957) was a famous Finnish composer who composed the famous 'Finlandia' which inspired the Finns.



A monument was erected near his home in Helsinki

We also visited the National Museum on Mannerheiminkatu across the road from where we are staying.

27 April 2008
We looked up the Witnesses in Helsinki and found that there is a Kingdom Hall one Tram stop from where we are staying. So we attended the meeting today. There are about 100 in the congregation with a French speaking group. There is also an English speaking congregation but they meet on Saturday - which we missed. It was interesting to listen in Finnish though.

Being Sunday there are few shops open today, just a couple of small shops and one supermarket.

28 April 2008

We met Juha and Katterina Lukka at the meeting and they arranged for us to visit the Finland Branch Office of Jehovah's Witnesses ('Bethel'). The Finland Branch prints full colour magazines for Finland, Russia and several African countries. There are approx. 150 volunteers at Bethel and a translation team. We had lunch at Bethel and then went back to Juha and Katterina's room for coffee and chocolate eggs - (real hens eggs with the yoke and white extracted and replaced with chocolate!). The Finns love chocolate and all kinds of liquorice - salty and sweet. They know how to make it well too. 
Apparently the sea in Helsinki Harbour freezes over every winter and snow covers the city. This year was the first time in living history that it didn't happen and they only had about two days of light snow.  Global warming in action methinks.
Juha said it was good that we were clearing out of Helsinki prior to Mayday (1st May) which has become a day of drunkenness and loutish behaviour. 
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