Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Lifestyle Adventures: Continuing our Nordic Experience in Helsinki

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Our Lifestyle Adventures: Continuing our Nordic Experience in Helsinki

Helsinki has been ranked 3rd in Monacle and 8th in EIU as best livable city in the world for 2013!
on canal cruise around Helsinki Islands
Helsinki is the capital of Finland with a population of over 610,000 (SMSA of over 1,3M), making it the fourth largest among Nordic cities, after Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo. She placed eighth best overall In the Economist Intelligence Unit's August 2012 Liveability Survey of the best and worst cities to live in. And we quickly found out why!
'almost flying carpet' in Arabia
Every day a vibrant Market Square sells souvenirs and Finnish food on the waterfront and a 40-foot ferris wheel is a prominent landmark on the harbor busy with large and small cruise ships. Just after the harbor, a fashion show, a folk music festival, and hosts of people milling around were happening all at the same time on Esplanade Park, Helsinki’s version of Central Park. May 24 was National Cleaning Day and everywhere you look, on grass lawns, even at tourist spots, people laid out their used items for sale in a giant national yard sale! I even found a huge yellow C and matching yellow C balloons at the Kamppi Shopping Centre in an enthusiastic campaign for awareness about hepatitis C.

Carol and white dinner plates
Bill, in peacock suit
In 2009, Helsinki was also chosen to be the World Design Capital for 2012 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design.  A Design Museum in the Design District south of Esplanade Park attests to the industry’s achievements. Bill had fun donning a men’s costume inspired by peacocks at an exhibit of Takis’. The next day, we went to a town called Arabia, a residential area northeast of Helsinki where all developers are, by law, required to use 1-2 % of building investments for works of art. The Arabian Museum, an exhibit of Arabia’s ceramic products through the years, is part of the Design Museum.  Fiskar’s exhibit is a very creative expression of scissors and other everyday items.  Many other high quality brands have their factories there. Around the upscale neighborhood of residential condos many artworks like ‘The Almost Flying Carpet’ are featured. We saw why Finland got the Design Award!
beach sauna outhouses
Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550. The construction of the naval fortress which today is called Suomenlinna in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki's status. This was one of the spots on the Beautiful Canal Cruise we took around the islands of the Helsinki Harbor. The biggest island, Lauttasaari, is now a large residential area with summer homes of the rich. We saw many sauna outhouses built close to the water for the famous hot/cold therapy and water toys for the big boys. The tour guide said there are 2 million such sauna houses around Helsinki. Another island is Korkeasaari, site of the biggest northernmost zoo in the world. There was even a dog beach set apart for man’s best friend.
the Helsinki Cathedral
Uspenski Cathedral
But it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. Czar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce the influence of Sweden and bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg. The Uspenski Cathedral, largest Eastern Orthodox Church in Western Europe lording over a hill across the waters, and the majestic Helsinki Cathedral that towering over the Senate Square and the Tori Quarter were all built to resemble St. Petersburg, only 190 miles away.

Karuna Chapel in Seurasaari Island
One day, we wandered farther out from the City Centre and took Tram 8, instead of the usual 7, to get to the Olympic Tower, the Sibelius Monument, and the island of Seurasaari. Helsinki was the site of the 1952 Summer Olympics (originally for the 1940 Games which was cancelled because of WWII). We were so lucky because on the day we went, the Stadion was again abuzz in a track and field competition among schools! The Sibelius Monument is dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957). The monument consists of a series of more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern, capturing the essence of his music. Finally, Seurasaari is the island devoted to a celebration of old Finland’s old homes and farms relocated to the island from outlying regions, like Oslo’s Folk Museum.
Rock Church
The oldest structure there is a church built in the 1600s, the Karuna Church where a wedding was being held that afternoon. When we got to the Rock Church fashioned out of a huge rock near downtown Helsinki, another wedding was also being held that afternoon. Then we walked another 4 blocks to see the finest example of wooden architecture in Finland, the Kamppi Chapel at the grounds of the Kamppi Shopping Centre. Finland is 80% Lutheran so all these churches are Lutheran.
Begel Lunch at Esplanade Park
But we also have to tell you about how we did on our one-great-meal-a-day policy in Helsinki.  First, after arriving from the airport, we had a Japanese buffet of sushi, miso soup, gyozas, and beef, pork, and chicken teppanyaki.  Next, at the Belge restaurant near the Esplanade, we had excellent beef lasagna and pan-fried chicken in Bearnaise sauce with green salad and traditional dark and dense rye bread of Finland. Third was at Seurasaari for traditional wiener schnitzel and blueberry cake. Fourth was at the  seafood platter of fried Vendace, little fish like the Filipino ‘dilis’, grilled salmon, calamari and potatoes, carrots, and green beans at the Market Square. Fifth was a simple soup and salad buffet at Arabia.
@ the Market Square
lunch at Seurasaari Island
In preparation for my next book, Bill and I tried a suburban boutique hotel after the failed hostel experiment in Oslo. The Hotel Ava is attached to an Institute and had a lovely park in front, so the room had a beautiful picture window of green treetops. Aside from comfortable beds, a TV and a well-provided bathroom suite and ample closet space, there was a shared kitchen and laundry room, even a fitness center and a sauna each for men and women. The only hitch was that it is 20 minutes away from the city centre. Our Helsinki card paid for all of the museums we saw, cruises we took, and public transport we used. We saved less than our savings in Oslo because Helsinki did not have a special card for seniors. We definitely liked this hotel better. It was as if we were going ‘home’ every day after tours.
Hotel Ava and Institute
We loved Helsinki, especially the downtown area we came to know so well. It is well laid out with little nooks and corners of greens amid the concrete. The people are so warm that every time we looked at a map or maybe appeared a little lost, one Finn, whether a teenager, an old man, or a woman with a child, on the bus, on the streets, or inside malls, would approach and ask what we were looking for. Everyone was eager to help so we were always saying ‘Kiitos’ whence they would readily reply, ‘Ole hyva!’