So there I was, walking about in Helsinki, [read previous post here] when I discovered what delighted me the most about this city was the many fantastic things you can see on foot, without spending much at all.
Having just eaten a ‘larger than life’ Cinnamon bun, at the iconic Cafe Esplanadi, opposite the park on Pohjois-Esplanadi, followed by another – yes, another, salmon lunch at the Market Hall, (read more about Helsinki food options here), I set off through Helsinki’s streets to burn off some calories.
My walking path through the city took me to the iconic Senate Square and the very impressive and landmark that is Tuomiokirkko. This Lutheran cathedral, built in neoclassical style, in 1830-1852, was originally a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who through the imperialist era, was also the Grand Duke of Finland. It is a must see!
This church is also a very useful navigational mark for any tourist, dominating the city’s skyline as it does, from every angle, as you can see below.
The cathedral is decorated in spartan Lutheran style, quite different from the next stop on my walk:
Walking easterly from the market square, I didn’t stop to buy paella, berries, reindeer meatballs or furs at the many market stalls, but continued in the direction of Katajanokka peninsula and Uspenski Cathedral, a red brick orthodox church with gilded ‘cupola’ style towers. It is a good stretch for the calf muscles getting up the steep path to the church itself, [definitely not wheelchair friendly], but the view from there does make it all worthwhile.
If you are thinking, ho hum… another church… think again, as it is the largest orthodox church outside of Russia. Much more ornate than the Lutheran cathedral, the cupola domes were even gilded in gold for the church’s anniversary and are often illuminated at night.
If you are a fan of Russian style icon art, Uspenski is a great place to visit. Just don’t expect to see the famous icon of ‘St.Nicholas – the wonder maker’, which was stolen from there in broad daylight, back in 2007, and has yet to be found. It’s free for visitors to enter the church and also handy to know that they do allow photography inside.
I could also chat about walking past various Marimekko outlets and seeing unique Finnish clothing design at Stockmans retail centre, or the fact that 60% of the world’s ice breakers are built in Helsinki, but it was the Helsinki architecture, located behind Uspenski, that really garnered my attention.
I saw so many wondrous examples of Art Nouveau buildings, with ‘Jugenstil’ detailing, often coloured in the soft pastels, so popular in that era.
“Can you imagine what it is like to live in one of those buildings?” I say to my Finnish friends. I doubt I’ll ever know, as they proceed to tell me it is actually very expensive real estate. Furthermore, I noted that security grills and pin – codes to enter the doors are, no doubt, a more contemporary addition.
Suomenlinna UNESCO World Heritage Site
My walk, continued following a short ferry ride, across the Helsinki archipelago, to Suomenlinna – (formerly known as Sveaborg): a military fortress dating back to 1748. Due to its strategic position between three nations, this fortress served not just the Russian Military, but also the Sweden government of the day, (hence the name Sveaborg), and in later times, an independent Finland. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991, and one can make their way around the many cobble stoned roads, walls and tunnels, on foot.
There is no charge to visit the island, only the nominal fee for the ferry ride over there, unless you want to enter the museum, which I didn’t, as there was SO much to explore on foot.
Back on the mainland, I must tell you about another church I saw on my walk: the very unique Tempooliaukko, or Rock Church. The concept of a “Church in the Rock,” was first mooted as an competition for architects in the 1930’s, before WWII. Economic challenges meant plans to build the winning design were shelved until the 1950’s. It was finally opened in 1969.
Quarried out of the natural rock that one finds in Helsinki, the church provides excellent acoustics for all kinds of concerts and visitors may enter, anytime, unless there is a wedding ceremony taking place. I was lucky enough to arrive just as a wedding was concluding. As they exited the church, the bride and groom were congratulated by a larger group than they anticipated – applause from a host of tourists waiting outside! Heads up – they do ask for silence when you are inside the church, but photos are welcome!
However you find them, Finns do enjoy their summertime. My walk back to the hotel took me via a summer music festival, street musicians, and even some impromptu flea markets along the main street. I would like to have enjoyed a dinner at the beautiful Kappeli restaurant, but alas, it was Saturday night and the stern-faced maitre told me it was booked out!
I guess it will just be Something I’ll Ponder About