After trotting through the Baltic capitals, I ended my trip in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. After walking in the narrow streets of some of the best preserved European old towns, stepping in cobblestone roads for about a week, Helsinki welcomed in its own metropolitan greatness. A modern city, with a hint of class and the true Scandinavian cold air.
Leaving Tallinn, I was feeling a bit down. My trip was coming to an end. I was feeling the starts of a cold, as I was not prepared for the cold winds from the Baltic. And, to be quite honest, I really didn’t want my adventure to end. I wanted to keep travelling. Perhaps to the neighbour Russia. Dreams of traversing it to the Asian continent. Keep going and going. Deep down, fleeing from reality.
But I didn’t want to let those feelings spoiling the last two days of my solo adventure. So, I tried to make sure I was busy in Helsinki. I confess I was a bit overwhelmed with how expensive entries to museums could be. I do be the budget traveller who avoids all things paid and goes for the free stuff instead. Which is pretty great if you’re only staying for 2 days in this city.
So, what did I know about Finland? Not much. I knew it was a cold country, obviously. I know Santa Claus lives there, a bit up north, in Lapland. I also knew the feminist movement had its roots in there. And, as in all Scandinavia, qualify of life is good.
To try to find out a bit more, I joined a free walking tour, which is something I always recommend. Usually, the guide is a local, passionate about its city, knowledge about its history, customs and the most intriguing facts. In the end, you pay what you think the tour deserved. My tour was pretty great, but to be completely honest I was a bit disappointed as the tour guide wasn’t a local. He had been living in Helsinki for a while, but he was actually Irish. Still, pretty good.
I found out the Finnish are crazy about coffee (as am I) and there are more saunas in Finland than cars. Apparently, every single house or flat has a sauna. It’s as indispensable as a toilet.
Finish people also love not wearing clothes. I mean, they just love being naked. In a way, I am so jealous. No prejudices. After all, the naked body is the most natural thing ever! Why are we educated to be disgusted or embarrassed by a naked body? True Finnish sauna experience: everybody goes naked. You go with family, with friends, with strangers. It doesn’t matter. If you wear a bathing suit you are going to be the crazy one. You prude!
Born Swedish, Helsinki only became an independent Duchy when Russia annexed the country to their Empire in 1808. The Russian emperor Alexander I moved here to try to reduce the Swedish influence in the city and it was also about this time the modern University of Helsinki was placed. As education also provides growth and progress, Helsinki started to assume a new role. The rebuilt city started to get a neoclassical style resembling St. Petersburg. This is very notable across the downtown of Helsinki. Most building designed in this style were projected by Engel. But it wasn’t only in style the city was flourishing. Industrialization and technological advances helped the city to grow.
— SUOMENLINNA FORTRESS —
How to get there? Simply take a ferry from the central market square. The constructions of the fortress began in the mid-18th century, when Finland was still part of Sweden. Today it is a World Heritage Site, and it holds museums, restaurants and other events. The island complex is also home to 800 residents.
This was the first thing I visited when arriving in Helsinki. I walked around, contemplating the sea and enjoying the sunset effects of the sun in the blue, agitated waters. It was windy, and a bit cold. However, I couldn’t have asked for a better time to visit the island. Most things were closed, but all I really wanted was to breath from the same peace in that place.
— SEURASAARI ISLAND —
When I think I almost didn’t visit this place! It was left to last on my list. One of those things “well if I have time and the weather complies…”. Oh well. In my departure day, I still had a good half day to explore something more in the city. I was divided – should I visit an art Museum or enjoy the beautiful sunshine on that day and explore another island? Despite my deep love for Art, I decided for the latter. It was my last day. I’d spent the next following week back in office life.
This island is home to an open-air museum, only open in summer, displaying the traditional Finish cottages, farmstead and manors of the past four centuries. They were relocated from everywhere in Finland there. And the best part is that you can still enjoy it, even if the museum is closed, as the houses are everywhere on your way around the island.
I also chased tricky squirrels and photographed ducks and red, poisonous-looking mushrooms.
— HELSINKI’S CATHEDRAL —
In a neoclassical style, the building is grand, standing out in the Senate Square. Despite the outside grandeur, this is a Lutheran Church, which means the inside is actually quite plain. As you’ll probably know, Lutherans are a bit more humble when it comes to displaying wealth in comparison to the Catholic Church.
— TEMPPELIAUKION CHURCH —
An architectonic pearl I almost missed. Also, a Lutheran church is was built from solid rock. I loved it. I am not a religious person, but the idea of building a place out of nature for reflection and workship sounded quite nice to me. Especially because if there is anything we must workship is Nature, from where ourselves were tailored.
— CENTRAL MARKET —
Where you can find the cheapest souvenirs, eat a nice Salmon soup and enjoy the colours of fresh berries. From what I learnt, the market is a lot bigger during Summer. Since it was already mid-September, a lot of stalls didn’t open, but it was still nice to walk around. I got a bit disturbed with stalls selling reindeer skin, and tools made out of reindeer bone. Come on! Reindeers are adorable and Santa’s best friends!
— COFFEE AT FAZER —
Fazer is a famous coffee brand in Helsinki. It sounds strange to me because “Fazer” is the word for “to do” in Portuguese. Karl Fazer was indeed a Finnish baker and businessman, who was a pioneer in confectionary in Finland. The iconic Fazer’s milk chocolate first appeared in 1922 in its famous blue wrapper symbolising the pure Finnish nature. So, if you have a sweet tooth, head to the flagship store and indulge yourself in a delicious slice of chocolate cake and coffee, as I did.
Hope you enjoyed my pics of a short stay in Helsinki!
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