Helsinki, Finland: a Prologue to Russia – Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland: a Prologue to Russia
Helsinki, Finland

Could I try to apply for The Amazing Race (United States reality show)?

Time was ticking. The pilot had no gate to park at Heathrow’s (London, England) terminal four. T-minus 50 minutes before the gate closed for the flight to Helsinki at terminal one. We waited until the steps came for us to deplane, then a bus taking us to the terminal. Once inside the terminal, I followed the “Flight Connection” sign to where buses transported people to other terminals. The bus ride took a long six minutes.

I need the toilet. No time to stop.

T-minus 25 minutes until the gate closed. Damn, there was a line up for security. My luggage will be there, I hope. And they have to take a head count, don’t they? Besides, the staff must know I’m coming from Toronto.

The security line, to my delight, moved quicker than I thought. I raced toward the escalator. I hoped I was heading in the right direction. Looking up the big screen, my flight number was listed but no gate. And there’s the washroom. Thank God!

The flight to Helsinki left on time.

Not being prepared on how to take the public transit to the hotel, I forked out the money for a taxi ride. Being a bit tired and didn’t want to waste any time (two days in Helsinki before heading off to Russia), I just wanted to get to the hotel. What the heck, live a little. Can’t take it with you, right?

Finland was part of Sweden until Swedes lost the 1808 war against Russia. Though it never really became Russian (i.e. use Russian language) Sweden kept their hands in. Finland became independent in 1917 when Bolshevik revolution took place in Russian. With centuries of history, the capital Helsinki, founded in 1550, is considered a new city by European standards. Surrounded by water, Helsinki is the world’s first planned municipality with plenty of parks and wide streets. For a big city, it was relatively quiet. Well, at least we noticed little car honking, if any.

We had a city tour the next rainy morning. Stops included the Senate Square. The Lutheran Cathedral of St. Nicholas stands on top of many stairs to climb. At first it started as a light drizzle, then the umbrella came up – the wind was chilled. Back in the bus, the tour guide mentioned that because Helsinki still retained its Russia looks, movies such as Dr. Zhivago were filmed here.

Stainless Steel Pipes in Honour of Jean Sibelius
Stainless Steel Pipes in Honour of Jean Sibelius
The rain subsidedwhen we reached the Sibelius Park. Here stands a stainless statue of 527 pipes in honour of Finland’s famous composer, Jean Sibelius. Behind the statue, across the road, is a small scenic lake with a few boats around.

It was completed in 1938, but the war stopped the 1940 Winter Olympics. Twelve years later, the world assembled in 1952. The rain belted down as I tried to get a view of the 72-metre torch through the bus window.

About 30 or so years ago, Temppeliaukio Church was carved and blasted from solid granite rock. The dome is covered with copper. It was a controversial at first but annually over 500,000 make a visit. The superb acoustics invites many musical events.

At 11:30, the clouds dissipated quickly. Of course, my sunglasses were back at the hotel. Thankfully I didn’t have to squint for long before I was able to retrieve them.

Cafe Kappeli
Cafe Kappeli
All was quiet, the way it should be for a Sunday. From our hotel, a direction that I can’t remember how we got there, we found the market by the sea. The Cafe Kappeli is located across the street. This popular meeting place serves drinks, snacks, dinner or whatever with a choice of sitting inside or out. We scanned the dinner menu, ain’t cheap. A good place for a rest sipping coffee, eating a pastry and watching people stroll around the Esplanadi.

Any city I go to, I love the open-air market and this one is no exception. It is located on the waterfront to admire the docked boats or perhaps catch one sailing by. On this mid-June day, after a morning rain, the sky was blue, the air crisp. The local crowds shop for the vibrantly colourful vegetables, fresh fish, perhaps pick bouquet of variety of flowers. If you’re into souvenir shopping, you probably can do one stop shopping picking up handmade Finnish woodcrafts, Finnish dolls, postcards or maybe a fur hat. Hungry with all that fresh air, some vendors cook up on the spot and next time I’ll make sure I didn’t eat before I get to the market .

Vilakatu Shopping Street
Vilakatu Shopping Street in Porvoo
For 16 Euros return, we took the local bus to Porvoo, one hour from Helsinki. Porvoo is the second oldest city in Finland, discovered in 1346. I savoured the walk along cobble-stoned streets. I broke away from the group with another person. We climbed up a steep cobblestone street toward a Gothic Cathedral and just sat for a while on the gorgeous sunny day, changing film and admiring the cathedral.

The next day was our long bus ride toward Russia. Check out the author’s name below to read: “To Russia with Curiosity” in three parts.