Monday Mystery Photo – Last Week Helsinki

Each Monday, I post a mystery photo, or occasionally a mystery object. I invite you to leave a comment if you think you know the location of this week’s photograph. If you guess the correct location, I will link back to your blog when the answer is revealed the following Monday.*

 

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Can you guess the location?

*Please note that I will release comments in the latter part of each week, usually Thursday or Friday and in this way, everyone can have a guess without a spoiler being revealed.

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Last week, MMP visited beautiful Helsinki, Finland, with ‘Snow’ from the blog, SnowMeltsSomewhere.

Thanks so much for your kind submission, Snow. It was great fun reading the various guesses.  Gerard from Oosterman Treats Blog and Pooja from Stories from Europe guessed correctly with Millie from MillieThom also managing a good guess! And no they didn’t use Google – Good work, everyone!

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The Helsinki Archipelago has 315 islands in close proximity to the city centre. Last year, I took a delightful lunchtime cruise around this very archipelago and I highly recommend it; you can read more about my impressions of Helsinki here. However, I shall let Snow tell you a little more about this location!

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“This picture is taken near the Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki. It’s located by the sea right in the center of town and it is a definite must-visit if you come to Helsinki. Locals have picnics, go to cafes or ice cream kiosks, and jog in the park – it’s very lively in the summer.” – SnowMeltsSomewhere

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Fun Fact: Finland is the world leader in the use of coffee. According to official statistics, more than 11 kg of coffee a year are drunk per capita!

Monday Mystery

Something fun to Ponder About

 

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Hanging Around in Helsinki – Part II

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.

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Esplanadi park – Helsinki

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 the streets to burn off some calories.

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Tuomiokirkko

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!

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This church is also a very useful navigational mark for the tourist, dominating the city’s  skyline as it does from every angle, as you can see below.

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Tuomiokirkko

The cathedral is decorated in spartan Lutheran style, quite different from the next stop on my walk:

Uspenski Cathedral

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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I could also chat about walking past Marimekko outlets and seeing unique Finnish clothing design at Stockmans, 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.

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Helsinki architecture

I saw so many wondrous examples of Art Nouveau buildings, with ‘Jugenstil’ detailing, often coloured in the soft pastels, so popular in that era.

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“Can you imagine what it is like to live in one of those buildings?” I say to my Finnish friend.  I doubt I’ll ever know, as they proceed to tell me it is very expensive real estate. Security grills and pin – codes on the doors are, no doubt, a more contemporary addition.

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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 cobble stoned roads, walls and tunnels on foot.

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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.

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Another Church???

Incredibly, I must tell you about another church, I saw on my walk, in Helsinki – the very unique Tempooliaukko. The concept of a “Church in the Rock,” was  first mooted as an architecture competition,  in 1930’s, before WWII and economic challenges meant plans to build the winning design were shelved until the 1950’s. It finally opened in 1969.

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Church in the Rock

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 left, the bride and groom were congratulated by a larger group than they anticipated –  a host of tourists waiting outside! Heads up – they do ask for silence when you are inside the church but photos are welcome!

 

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However you find them, Finns do enjoy their summertime.  My walk back to the hotel took me via a summer music festival, street musicians, even 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!

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I guess it will just be Something I’ll Ponder About

Linking to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks

 

 

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Hanging Around in Helsinki – Part I

“So what’s Helsinki like?” I am often asked, when people know that I’ve visited Finland.

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“Well, there are loads of great things about Helsinki, itself, ” I usually tell them, “…not the least of which is great design in clothing, architecture, romantic historical sites and a great summertime atmosphere.” [N.B. Most Australians only travel to the Arctic in summer!]

“But first up,” I then say, “you need to know that the people of Helsinki eat a good deal of fish, freshwater fish, that is. Even sometimes three times in a day. So when I think of Helsinki, I think of Salmon, and lots of it.”

And I remember it is not just ordinary salmon, because the thing that struck me about Finns, was that they had taken Salmon to a whole new level, like as in Heinz 52 different varieties.

Now I love Salmon, so I was pretty happy with this, until I realized how hard it would be be to choose which one to buy! I needed help to choose between Tsar’s salmon, Cold Smoked Salmon, Flamed Salmon, Lemon Salmon and Rose Pepper Salmon, etc. and in the end, feeling rather befuddled, I settled on Cured Salmon with Basilic??

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“But freshwater fish? Why only freshwater fish?” –  my Australian friends might continue to ask.

Apparently the waters surrounding Helsinki are extremely low in salt, due to the existence perhaps of only one, narrow channel entering the Baltic sea from the open ocean, (and that is around Denmark, for the geographically challenged). Therefore, the Baltic waters contain a multitude of freshwater fish varieties, but almost no prawns, (read: shrimp), or mussels, as those are the species that need salt water to flourish.

On a perhaps unsurprising side note: fishing or angling, in Finland is free and does not require a special permit, as it is considered every man’s basic right.  – Yay for Finland!!

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“But, surely there is not just fish to eat in Helsinki?” they continue to ask me.

“Certainly not!! There are many other indigenous styled foods, such as ‘Bear’ pate and ‘Reindeer Snacks.’ ” I venture.

If truth be told, when I first saw the reindeer ‘chips,’ I started to wonder if the Finns were chewing on Rudolph’s antlers for morning tea??? Feeling slightly bilious at that thought, I opted for a tin of reindeer pâté instead. But then I thought of home. And how I would explain a tin of reindeer/bear meat to Customs officials? I mean, Customs officers in Australia, take CITES and moreover, bio-security, very seriously: just ask Johnny Depp and Amber – if you haven’t – Heard. (apologies –  bad pun!!).  Thus, I ended up buying neither….. window shopping was the mantra at this store.

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I digress. We were discussing Helsinki, itself, weren’t we?

If you do want to try any of the aforementioned foods of Helsinki, the place to go is definitely the covered and historic Market Hall, located right on the main square, adjacent to Helsinki’s harbor. It’s usually crammed full with locals, but is truly the best ‘old world-foodie’- style atmosphere, you can find in the 21st century and the food is good, seriously good.

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From 8 am, visitors cram like sardines, into the deli stalls, micro-cafes, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, (well: gourmet soap and candle stalls), for candles, seafood or cheese supplies or, they do as I did, they just hang out there for a delicious lunch.

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Outdoors, I found more food and craft markets on the harbor square, selling both hot and cold foods, fruit and vegetables, fresh berries to die for and a variety of furs and traditional handicrafts of the kind that seem to fascinate cruise ship tourists, but few others!

Once I’d  filled up on Finnish food, I decided to work off the extra calories with a stroll uptown, through both the Helsinki Botanic and Observatory gardens. In early summer, the gardens are lined with the omnipresent Birch trees.

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That made me muse romantically that their delicate branches hang like the braided locks of a long-haired girl, lazily swaying in the cool breeze.  I was also besotted with the tulips naturally peppering the garden verges and bare spots in the grass, almost like weeds, whilst the local squirrel population delighted me with their frivolous antics in the lower treetops.

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I wanted to tell you about Suomenlinna and the marvelous architecture that you find in Helsinki, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Find my earlier post Finding my Feet in Finland here

Something to Ponder About

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Finding my Feet in Finland

I was surprised with what I found. Can I say that?

I knew so little about Helsinki or Finnish history.

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The Nordic regions weren’t a focus of the Australian school curriculum at all. In fact, growing up in Australia in the sixties,you would be considered a bit of a nerd, or at least a well-read child, if you even knew of the country called Finland, (unless, of course, you had Finnish heritage or a ‘Euro-vision’ Song Contest fanatic in your family).

Armed with this startling lack of knowledge, and the little I had gleaned from my post- school reading, I flew into ‘Vantaa’ airport in Helsinki, en route to Norway. And let me say again, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

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First impressions of Helsinki:

There is something about the smell of the place that I can’t quite put my finger on. It has the smell of Scandinavia, or at least that is what my nostrils tell me…. but I can’t be sure just what this is. So I challenge my thinking a bit more.

It is then I realize, it is not the smell of a country iself, but the smell of clean, crisp, fresh air. Air that is unadulterated by the pollution that besets many cities today. The proximity of Finland to both the North Pole and the Baltic sea, as well as its clean energy sources  clearly gives Finland this privilege and I for one, revel in it.

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Heading into Helsinki after a long haul flight, I look out airport-city bus window to see Green everywhere and it is not the same green; there are 101 varieties of green.  Brilliant green, apple green, mint green, moss-green, and of course, leaf green in the many trees, plants, grassy fields and forest. Beautiful!

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Then I notice that all this greenery is punctuated haphazardly here and there by massive granite rocks, seemingly flung around like a giant’s marble set. One that is over 560 million years old. The remnants now lying still and intractable. Permanent.  Polished smooth by glacial action and natural forces through time.  Houses, trees and modern infrastructure with simply no alternative, but to build around these stoic, granite monoliths.
But don’t visualize a stark moonscape of rock, because it is not like that at all, purely because there is so much greenery and interesting architecture.Because, shading almost each and every boulder, you will find the ever graceful Birch trees. Quintessentially Scandinavian. Being summertime when I arrived, the Birch branches let their long leafy tresses sway gently in the sea breeze. It felt like a welcome party, beckoning me forward to experience Helsinki.

BIrch in Helsinki

Yes, there is something wonderful here. I feel instantly comfortable, even though I am an alien in this environment and a solo female traveler. ‘Hey,’ I remind myself, ‘I don’t even know any Finnish words yet!’  But it is only a matter of minutes after setting down in my hotel at the harbour, that I quickly understand ‘Moi’ is ‘Hello’ and ‘Kittos’ means ‘thank you.’  Essential language if one would like to eat or drink in public!!

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If you fly into Helsinki from the west, you will undoubtedly spot the coastline of Finland, dotted as it is with thousands of islands and small skerries. Maritime navigation must be a nightmare for the inexperienced sailor!  Particularly as: “The southern islands in the Gulf of Finland are mainly of low elevation,

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But, perhaps I should tell you a little more about Helsinki, other than what you find in the usual tourist brochures?

Finland share its borders with Russia, Sweden and Norway and I do think the history with these neighboring powers is reflected in the capital’s architecture. When you imagine Helsinki, imagine glass conservatories, crisp white, copper green or even red painted domes and turrets and lemon yellow or eggshell-blue buildings adorned with white window details, all of which echo the historic Swedish and Russian imperialist regimes and their respective architectural styles.

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The clothing, lifestyle and culture in Southern Finland also evokes a typical Scandinavian summer day: cool and crisp in the morning, warming towards a lazy long afternoon where time becomes confused, (it may be 10 pm and some are only thinking about dinner).

Imagine also long shafts of golden evening light and cool glades with shadows resting languidly behind a festive main street atmosphere. All this, at the onset of twilight, before the night makes its slow descent to darkness.

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The capital city Helsinki is a fashionable place… a secret I am sure is kept from the rest of the world. In the storefronts, I see elegant dresses with unique and beautiful designs and lots of bold bright colour…of which ‘Marimekko’ is famous. [And if anyone knows me, they will tell of my preference for this exact thing: bold, bright colour]. So I wear a happy smile!!!

20160528_160903Gorgeous dresses with a distinctive, personal flair, not seen in my corner of the world, adorn many of the formal wear shops in the streets of Helsinki. Who would have thought I would find this so far north?

I also spot botanical, Linnean- inspired prints in delicate, lightweight fabrics, all with that indefinable something, that says ‘Scandinavia.’ It is so light here in the summer and like the beech and birch wood, Finland also seems free and tolerant…  a little like the mentality the Scandinavian summer landscape seems to suggest. Helsinki has me feeling all romantic!!!

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Mind you, the Finns are a little reserved with strangers, but this will only be a bother if  you expect American or Australian open-mindedness towards strangers. Despite the staging of a multicultural music and ethnic festival held in the city during my stay, I could still feel the Finnish character: that wonderful Scandinavian persona, but with an inner stoicism that visitors may find a little aloof. Rather, than thinking this was a negative, I preferred a more romantic view of the people. One where Finns guard their privacy and others’ privacy, with the respect it deserves.

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There is so much more to Helsinki and Finland, and I will talk about that in the next post. After all, there are some of the most iconic sites found around Helsinki, not the least of which is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Suomenlimma Fortress.

For me it is   Something to Ponder About.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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