After the Russian excursion, the next stop on our cruise was Helsinki, Finland. This was the northernmost stop on our cruise, and also the northernmost location that Doug and I have ever been. According to wikipedia, Helsinki is the world’s northernmost metro area with over 1 million people.
Helsinki is a really modern city and does not have any sort of medieval old town. However, since it is a modern city, it was actually planned out, which means they have straight streets, and nice Neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings. Helsinki has been ruled by Sweden and Russia throughout its history, so Swedish is a commonly spoken language, and a lot of the buildings looked similar to ones we saw in St. Petersburg.
It didn’t look like much from the cruise port, but once we got off the ship and took a short shuttle ride into town, we were much more impressed. The bus dropped us off in the center of town and we proceeded to walk down to this local, outdoor market called Market Square. We didn’t have Vlad as our tour guide anymore, but were back with trusty Rick Steves. Rick had both a walking tour and a tram tour, so that’s pretty much how we spent our day touring around.
It was another gorgeous day! Man, we were getting really lucky with the weather on the cruise. Especially since continential Europe was getting bad weather. We were watching a lot of the French Open while on the cruise ship and it seemed like Paris was cold and rainy. But meanwhile, Scandinavian was warm and sunny! We were loving it, and it made the walking tours that much more enjoyable.
BTW, speaking of the French Open, I’m writing this blog post while I’m on the train to Paris. Doug and I are headed to Roland Garros this weekend and we will be watching the women’s singles finals and the men’s doubles finals. Very excited! Look for that blog post after we catch up with the cruise posts. And I probably won’t even post this Helsinki post until after we get back to Derby, so we will know the results by then.
Anyway, back to Helsinki. We explored the open air market which had all sorts of vendors. Like I’ve said many times, markets are one of my favorite things to explore in Europe. Even though I get tired of exploring old churches and museums, I never seem to tire of exploring markets. Even though most of the markets have similar products, it is interesting to find the differences and compare the prices. Not always easy to compare prices though when you are talking about so many currencies. I mean, just for our cruise adventure, we had to be prepared with 5 different currencies: Great British pounds, euros, Russian rubbles, Swedish kronors, and Danish kronors. And actually, we could use US dollars on the ship, so that really makes it 6 different currencies. Luckily, Helsinki was on the euro, so any leftover money could be easily used again, like for example, this weekend in Paris.
The obelisk in the center of the market had a great view of the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, the Swedish embassy, and the City Hall. From there, we made our way down Esplanade, the main shopping drag. We continued our walking tour through Stockmann, a huge department store that tries to equal Harrods in London. We briefly walked through the store, and it’s luckily not as crowded as Harrods (which was too crowded for my taste). However, they only had a counter of chocolate, not an entire room dedicated to chocolate (like Harrods does), so it might not be as great.
We stopped by this famous statue that depicts 3 naked men working as blacksmiths. All of the guys in our group were joking that they would not partake in that sort of activity with that sort of “outfit” on. Nobody knows for sure what the statue means, but they are pretty sure that it shows the hardwork and dedication of the Finnish people.
We walked through the train station, which was built in the Art Deco style in the early 20th century. It was nice enough, but I prefer St. Pancras.
Then we had a nice long walk, passing some landmarks such as the National Museum of Finland and Santa Claus. Eventually we arrived at our final walking tour destination: Temppeliaukio (aka Church in the Rock).
This church was literally carved out of the side of a hill, or into a piece of granite. It was pretty unique, although I’m not sure you could compare it to La Sagrada Familia or York Minster. I guess it was different, which made it special. To add to its uniqueness, part of the roof was comprised of one continuous piece of copper ribbon, with a length of 13 miles!
The church was near one of the tram stops for the tram tour, so this is where we picked up the tram. The tram made a figure-eight loop around the city, and went by the Olympic stadium (summer Olympics of 1952 were held here), an amusement park, a working class neighbourhood, and eventually back into the city center area, train station, and market that we had explored earlier in our walk. I don’t have really any pictures from the tram tour because it was really difficult to take pictures through dirty glass on a moving tram. However, it was a nice way to see the city without having to kill our feet and walk all over the place.
Since the last bus back to the ship was at 4pm, we didn’t have too much time for any other sightseeing. Just enough time for a nice Finnish beer before heading back to the Vision of the Seas. Overall, Helsinki was a nice city, and we had just enough time there to get a feeling of it. I’m sure you could spend many more days there exploring all the museums and churches that we didn’t go inside, but we just had one short, beautiful day to walk around.
Up next: Stockholm.