Sunday, June 7, 2015

Heading to Helsinki

Ascension day is a European holiday and Tom's office was closed. By taking one vacation day to bridge the holiday to Saturday, we created a four day weekend. There are many destinations only a short flight away - we searched for somewhere new to visit. We chose Helsinki, Finland and can now say that we have been to all four Scandinavian countries. Because of the number of years Finland was part of or ruled by Sweden, Swedish remains one of the official languages. All written information was in both Finnish and Swedish.

Finland is a sparsely populated country and Helsinki hasn't been a "city" nearly as long as other European capitals we've visited. Therefore, there was no "old town" area. We explored what it had to offer starting with Suomemlinna Fortress. The fortress is on an island a short ferry ride away. 

view of Helsinki from ferry

unique cannon


looking for hobbits

We were prepared for chilly temperatures, but it was really windy when we were walking on the top parts of the fortress making it feel much colder. Brrr.

postcard view

boats in Helsinki harbor

Turtles help drivers know where not to park their cars - and also provide a nice resting place.

There are always churches. The three we visited were all very different.

Senate Square Cathedral
interior during poorly attended service

Uspensky Orthodox Cathedral
interior views via postcard

exterior of "Rock Church" built into the rock

conveniently timed visit kept us dry during a downpour

Jean Sibelius is the most well known Finnish composer. During 2015, Helsinki is celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth. Sadly, there were no concerts during our short stay.  We did enjoy a visit to the Sibelius memorial, except for the rain. Why it is reminiscent of organ pipes is a mystery. He was a violinist and composer of orchestral music. 

Sibelius Memorial

not good protection from rain


Discovering Finnish food:

Cold weather made for a perfect time to try the traditional salmon soup. Tasty!

Appetizer platter of Finnish specialties 
from top:
reindeer sausage 
fish and pork pastry
beef brisket (the best of these)
mustard herring
cauliflower soup
cheddar cheese with tomato compote


Having enjoyed food tours in Lisbon and Istanbul, we signed up for a food tour in Helsinki as well. It wasn't nearly as good as the others, but still interesting. Coincidentally, the day of our tour was also "restaurant day" in Helsinki. Anyone can set up a stand and sell whatever kind of food they want to on this particular day. There were all kinds of regional foods available. Many booths were congregated in a central part of the city, but we also saw booths on their own. 

buying lunch
 random individual restaurant stands:

restaurant stands
interior of oldest food market
two types of reindeer jerky - smoked or unsmoked
tiny pan-fried fish - don't look, just eat the whole thing

licorice fudge - who knew?
The fudge booth was kind enough to offer samples of any flavor. The chocolate was awful  and very dry (especially compared to what we make every Christmas season). The licorice fudge was very creamy and tasted much better than the chocolate. I can't believe I just wrote that. 

Looking in the cheese case, I spotted Heidi cheese! What? Heidi is Swiss - no fair trying to steal her! 

The drink (below) was fizzy and flavored with juniper berries. Not very good, but not awful. 


This is something that people eat for breakfast or carry with them for later in the day. (made from rye flour with fruit on top) It is available in many flavors.
other flavors

It became abundantly clear that Finland loves licorice. The containers here are almost exclusively licorice and there were even more choices in another area of the store!
licorice ice cream is weird!

We were given these samples to taste:
The brown was last year's winner of the new flavor contest. It had an almond in the middle and also chocolate. The licorice flavor was barely noticeable which may be why it won. The white was a traditional licorice flavor rolled in powdered sugar. Not bad, if you like licorice.

Our guide looks on while I make a few choices

interior of newer food market

These smoothies were made with only two ingredients if I understood correctly. Just aloe and ginger. It was gross! It is supposed to be consumed in one swallow, but that was impossible for me. I couldn't even finish all of mine. It certainly cleared the sinuses - I was blowing my nose constantly for the rest of the day. Remember that combination next time you're congested.

Buildings were moved to this location on the edge of Helsinki to create the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum.

church and bell tower behind
church interior

I love the candle holders


unexpected windmill


This tree-storehouse keeps meat away from bears and wolves.

Look what we found in Helsinki, a piece of Belgium! Of course, a visit was required!

delicious, as expected
We saw interesting architecture while walking around Helsinki:

Tallinn, Estonia is directly across from Helsinki. Why wouldn't we take a 90 minute ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland to explore it? No reason not to.....we went. Unlike Helsinki, Tallinn has a compact "old town" area for us to explore in one day. 

Walking up from the ferry station, the first point of interest was Fat Margaret Tower. Not a very nice name, but it is fat. Inside is the Estonian Maritime Museum. 

Fat Margaret Tower with St. Olav's church behind

Who wants to go underwater in all that metal? Scary!

Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria

cool toolbox


view of Tallinn from the top of Fat Margaret Tower

Narrow streets make it impossible to get far enough away to get a good picture of St. Olav's church. We were surprised by the interior - very plain, but with plenty of screens and speakers.
speakers and screens look out of place to me!

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

interior with lots of gold

 Two views of the town hall with its skinny tower 


central market square


We never learned the details, but there was some event/protest involving chimney sweeps. We didn't get too close or they would have put some of the soot on our faces! No thanks!

nice sooty faces

warm cinnamon almonds were yummy

House of Blackheads was the meeting place of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, an association of unmarried merchants and shipowners. They could join another guild only after marriage.
close up of Blackheads door


Holy Spirit Church with close up of its clock and views of the interior


Views walking along and on the old city wall

St Olav's church in the distance

last evening in Helsinki - lots of good salmon
It was fun to explore a new locale, but I wouldn't rush to Helsinki unless, like us, you've been lots of other places. I definitely would not stay overnight in Tallinn. A friend told me after we booked our trip that Tallinn is the destination of choice for bachelor parties. We did see evidence of this in the strip clubs advertised and the young intoxicated men walking around in "rude" costumes. Luckily, we left before evening when things probably got more exciting. 
Time to go back to quiet Horgen!