Hopping Around Helsinki

The Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square in Helsinki, like a beacon to find the city.

The Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square in Helsinki, like a beacon to find the city.

We took our second overnight cruise on Tallink to Helsinki. With an early disembarkation, it is the city where Paul and I decided we could manage public transportation in a brand new city with 4 suitcases. Essentially, we became those people dragging their suitcases on and off of trams and over six blocks of busy streets. Yes, it was stressful, but we did it! And it wasn’t that difficult. We parked our suitcases at the bus station lockers and toured until we could check into our crazy, tiny, pretty horrible apartment. Live and learn!

Helsinki has a compact city center, easy to walk and easy to get around on the tram. Yes, we did get the Helsinki pass. Not sure that we are highly recommending this one, but it was useful. It was interesting to tour the Lutheran Cathedral, built by the Russian Czar Nicholas II and the Greek Orthodox Church, also built by the Russian conquerors for their soldiers, back to back. The Lutheran Church is beautiful and stark compared with the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, a gorgeous display of gold and icons inviting the soldiers for whom it was built to worship. The third most renowned church in Helsinki is the Temppeliauklo Church, the copper-topped Church in the Rock. The architects of the church won a prestigious architectural award for the church carved out of stone. It was interesting, however we were not that impressed, particularly with the altar.

One of our favorite days was the day we took the ferry to Suomenlinna. The fortress on the island served to defend Helsinki in many wars. Today is is a UNESCO world heritage sight and home to over 1 million tourists a year. The church, the courtyard, the fort, the submarine and the beauty of the island all contributed to a great day. If you go, take the guided tour in English. It was free and totally worth the time. One of the interesting things we learned is that there is a prison on the island. Most of the maintenance on the island is handled by prisoners, who don’t escape even though Helsinki is just a ferry away. Prior to hearing this revelation by our guide, we had seen a construction work and Paul had commented—”He looks like a convict.” Who knows, maybe even our guide was doing time!

Inherit the Dust by Nick Brandt at the National Museum was amazing. An amazing amalgamation of photos juxtaposing the animals of Africa to the spaces that are no longer environmentally suitable for these creatures. The Ateneum Art Museum, housed in a beautiful and impressive building, houses the largest collection of classical art in Finland. It’s a reasonable collection, but part of the museum was closed for renovation.

Helsinki was fun. The Russian contribution to the architectural of Helsinki made it the ideal place to film Dr. Zhivago and Gorky Park during the cold war. Interestingly enough, we were told that scenes from the Love Boat TV series were filmed on a ship anchored in the Helsinki harbor. We spent four days and believe we saw most of what there was to see. We visited the market, strolled the trendy neighborhoods and had some good meals. Here is the walking around gallery, including our new friends Jody and Travis of The Wandering Camp Wagon on Facebook, a delightful couple from Belarus, and Lesley and Annie from London.

We hope you enjoyed this view of Helsinki. See you in Estonia, Tallinn.