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davidx Helsinki - A travel report by David
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Helsinki,  Finland - flag Finland -  Etela-Suomen Laani
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davidx's travel reports

Helsinki [a touch of mystery about parentage]

  25 votes
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Daughter of the Baltic indeed! Whereas the Baltic coast of Helsinki is great, this appellation gives not a hint of the atmosphere of east/west blending that the city conveys.


Market Square
Market Square
An Australian photographer I shared a room with in Sicily told me that, whereas Stockholm was immediately appealing, Helsinki is an acquired taste. That may be so, but, if it is, we took no more than 11 seconds to acquire it! The first time we went it was by train from Turku. The spell would have taken longer if we’d arrived by air but the station is a wonderful building of the sort we don’t have in the UK. Our outstanding stations are all of Victorian origin. Helsinki’s was built in 1918 after the architect won a contest for the design and, even if a train is far from your mind, you have to see it. www.traveladventures-.org/co ntinents/europe/hels-ink istation.shtml. It’s worth finding your way to the Helsinki TIC and getting their multi-lingual booklet on the 3T tram route. Then take the tram for the whole of its figure of 8 route and the booklet tells you what you are seeing – the cheapest way of seeing the majority of a capital’s sites that I have come across. Having done that, you will undoubtedly want to see more of Senate Square, with its superb Lutheran cathedral and of the Market Square by the harbour area.While you were at the TIC I hope you acquired the free English language booklet of walks around the city and a transport map. You are now fully equipped for exploration. However short your time in Helsinki, be sure to see the Sibelius Memorial [apparently controversial but we thought it marvellous], the embassy area and the Café Ursula on the headland beyond and some of the art nouveau streets. If you have longer, try to see the Orthodox Cathedral, if only for comparison, the Museum of Applied Art, the Ateneum [art gallery near station], Temppeliaukio Church, the Finlandia Concert Hall and the fortress island of Suomenlinna and – if you can spare a whole day or even two, cross over and have a look at the mediaeval buildings in Tallinn in Estonia [by hydrofoil unless you fancy joining a mass of people for a long cheap drink on a ship.

Favourite spots:
Sibelius Memorial
Sibelius Memorial
Whether you go there by bus 24, tram 4 or, best, on your own two feet, make sure you see the Sibelius Memorial. If you are walking to it, you can take in the Temppeliaukio Church, which is built right into the rock. The ceiling is faced with copper wire and the acoustics are said to be wonderful. You can read the whole walk on www.hel.fi/tourism/M-a tko_esitteet/en/kav ellen_su.pdf and find excellent pictures of the church on www.muuka.com/fin nishpumpkin/churches-/h elsinki/chteh/church-_ch teh.html The story of the cotroversy behind the memorial, the sculpture competition 1n the early 60s and the eventual unveiling is best unabridged and you can see it on www.eilahiltunen.net-/mo nument.html For those who won’t I’ll just say that the tension betwen those wanting something abstract and the rest was solved in the time-honoured way – a conventional bust is found at the side of the wonderful pipes. Go on to the Open Air Museum if convenient.

What's really great:
On Suomenlinna Island
On Suomenlinna Island
The Kaivopuisto Park is the oldest in Helsinki. If you face the sea from the market, you reach it by going along the road to your right and upward – but get a map at the TIC. From the top you get views all round that part of the coast and you will probably have walked past some of the lovely embassy buildings. Have a coffee – or whatever – at the Cafe Ursula at the headland. Try to see the fortress island of Suomenlinna. A number of residents seem to take a picnic tea across and walk through to the far side of the island with it. The fortress dates from 1748. The ferry fare from the Market Square is included if you buy a day [or more] pass for buses, trams, etc.

Sights:
Lutheran Cathedral
Lutheran Cathedral
My favourite religious sight in Helsinki is the Lutheran Cathedral by a long chalk. It was erected to a neo-classical design in the second third of the 19th century and enjoys perfect proportions. The interior has a simplicity which is itself vastly impressive. Senate Square generally is well worth stopping for a bit.
It’s hardly surprising that, given Finland’s proximity to Russia and the importance of Russia to Finnish history, the Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral should be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. It’s impressive seen from a distance but for me closer acquaintance did not improve my appreciation. I positively dislike the interior but I’m glad I have seen it. It makes me even more appreciative of the Lutheran Cathedral.
I’ve already mentioned the Temppeliaukio church above.

Accommodations:
In the embassy world
In the embassy world
We stayed at a Sokos Hotel that is not listed on their current site. However we chose Sokos from prior experience of their quality in Turku – so you should be OK with any of theirs.

Restaurants:
Sibelius memorial - detail
Sibelius memorial - detail
If you want a reasonable light meal at a good price, try Stockmann’s huge department store. We found the self-selection salads in the top floor cafeteria very satisfying.

Other recommendations:
UK Ambassador's House
UK Ambassador's House
The Design Museum disappointed us a bit , not in quality but for the rather limited amount on show for the €7 admission charge.
We were too early to go to Porvoo by boat and we even had really cold weather when we went by bus but it should definitely make a good trip out.
I have not previously mentioned Helsinki’s excellent website,
www.hel.fi/tourism/en/

Published on Tuesday March 8th, 2005


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Sat, Nov 19 2005 - 10:41 AM rating by horourke

Renewed my interest in this city I have almost visitied but never actually reached.

Fri, Nov 11 2005 - 01:58 PM rating by nedkelly

Again...great report.... look forward to more contributions from a fella who knows how to write a report....I shall be taking lessons David.

Wed, Mar 09 2005 - 01:44 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii dav,
nice report again

Tue, Mar 08 2005 - 03:00 PM rating by mistybleu

Excellent report, very informative.

Misty

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