The One with Helsinki, Finland

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The second stop of our Scandinavian adventure was Helsinki, Finland!

Helsinki is the only European capital with no medieval past. Although it was founded in the 16th century by the Swedes in hopes of countering Tallinn as a strategic Baltic port, it never amounted to more than a village until the 18th century. Then, in 1746 Sweden built a huge fortress on an island outside Helsinki's harbor and the village boomed as it supplied the fortress. After taking over Finland in 1809 the Russians decided to move Finland's capital and university closer to St. Petersburg - from Turku to Helsinki. Since downtown Helsinki didn't exist until the 1800s it was more conscientiously designed and laid out than other European capitals with wide boulevards and great open spaces.

Our cruise port was a short tram ride away from downtown so we hopped on and off we went. Jane was loving life, clearly!

We passed this, um, interesting "sculpture" on our tram ride into town. What the what?!?!?!

I just love Europe. That's all.
We passed through the Esplanade, a lovely park, as we made our way to Market Square.
The venerable Cafe Kappeli in the park is an old-fashioned, gazebo-like oasis of treats and pastries that was a popular hangout for local intellectuals and artists in the 19th century. Today it's still a great spot for a light snack.
Just past Market Square is the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral which was built for the Russian military in 1868 when Finland still belonged to Russia.
"Hey, cool boat!" (Ross from Friends)
Helsinki's harbor front.
Helsinki's presidential palace.
In the center of Market Square, located right on the harbor, is the Czarina's Stone. This obelisk is topped by the double headed eagle of Imperial Russia. It was the first public monument erected in Helsinki. In Rick Steves' walking tour it says, "Step over the chain (in front of the obelisk) and climb to the top step for a clockwise spin-tour." Look closely at the photo and you can see a man reading from Rick Steves standing on the top step. Hilarious.
There was a colorful outdoor market in the square - part souvenirs (this is where we got our magnet) and crafts, part fruits and veggies, part fish and snacks.
Also on the square is the blue-and-white Neoclassical city hall. Built in 1833, it was the city's first hotel designed to house the Russian Czar Nicholas I and Czarina Alexandra.
We left the market square and went one block inland towards Senate Square and the towering Lutheran Cathedral.
Once a town square with a church and city hall, Senate Square's original buildings were burned in 1808. Later, the Czar, with the help of his architect of choice Carl Ludvig Engel, turned this into the finest Neoclassical square in Europe.  It's home to now home to the university. The statue in the center honors the Russian Czar Alexander II.
The dominating feature of the square is the Lutheran Cathedral. With its prominent green dome, gleaming white facade, and the 12 apostles overlooking the city and harbor, this is Carl Ludvig Engel's masterpiece.
The Evans Family in Helsinki, Finland on Tuesday July 28th 2015 (which also happened to be Jane's 3rd birthday!).
Pink bike. Swoon.
Back near the harbor is the Havis Amanda fountain. Designed by Ville Vallgren in 1908, the fountain has become a symbol of Helsinki, the city known as the "Daughter of the Baltic." The voluptuous figure, modeled after the artist's Parisian mistress, was a bit too racy for the conservative town and Vallgren had trouble getting paid.
After a pit stop in Stockmann Department Store to pump up our flat stroller tires and a quick lunch in McDonald's, we were back out on the street. 
The famous Three Blacksmiths statue from 1932 celebrates human labor and cooperation and shows the solid character of the Finnish people. 
We've yet to eat at any of the Hard Rock Cafe's we've seen on our trips. One of these days.
Our next stop was the Train Station.
A short walk past the train station, leaving the compact core of downtown, are a few more sights. The first we came upon was the National Museum, housed in a building that looks like a chateau with a steeple.
Just across the street is Finlandia Hall.
This is architect Alvar Alto's most famous building in his native Finland. But, as Rick says, it means little to the non-architect without a tour. So, we kept going; we weren't mentally prepared for a tour and with our two offspring, well, that's a must.
We maneuvered through a quaint neighborhood as we searched for the Temppeliaukio Church.
With the help of Google Maps, we found it. Also called the "Church in the Rock," it is a modern example of church architecture from 1969. 
Designed by the architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, it was blasted out of solid granite. It's barren of decor except for a couple of simple crosses, and of course the natural rock. 
Topping the church is a copper dome made from a 13-mile-long coil of copper ribbon.
After visiting the Church of the Rock we made our way back to the cruise ship in time for naps, dinner, and chillaxing. So far so fun!


  1. I love reading about your adventures! And this time it was so nice too see pictures from my home country!

  2. Helsinki was a very nice town. Loved the open spaces and parks. Plus, we found a pump for our tire and legos!

  3. That first statue ... yep.. I agree, "what the what???"!! LOL!! And Happy 3rd Birthday to Jane!!!!!!!!

  4. So neat! My parents just decided to go on a Baltic cruise next summer so I'm showing them all of your posts from this trip :)

  5. Wow, we nearly did the exact same tour except we didn't get to see Finlandia Hall (too bad for us since I love that Finlandia masterpiece!!). And wish Jane a super happy 3rd birthday!

  6. I've never seen anything like that copper-domed church. Amazing.

  7. LOVING these gorgeous pictures of architecture--that statue is umm a little bazaar!


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