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Baltic 5 – Finland

Flag of FinlandAugust 2, 2013: Helsinki, Finland

After two long days in St. Petersburg, we were happy to begin our day in Helsinki at the reasonable hour of 10 AM. We were met ship side by our tour guide Leslie, an ex-pat Brit who has made her home in Finland for more than 20 years without losing her wonderfully sardonic British sense of humor. Her job was to narrate a three-hour bus ride that would include stops at four or five of Helsinki’s most popular attractions. At the conclusion of the bus ride we could choose to spend an hour on our own before catching a ride back to the ship, or to stay longer and find our own way back.

Early-morning view from our balcony. In Helsinki's harbor, a car ferry loading trucks.We stayed on for a bit. Long enough to eat our only Scandinavian fast food, to visit the beautiful city hall and to take a long, exhausting (for me) walk back to the ship. We did, however, make our way through two city parks, adding three “lifebirds” that we would not have seen otherwise.

It has been almost three months since our visit. Here are the highlights as I remember them:

Baltic 2013: Part five of six
  1-Denmark  2-Germany  3-Estonia  4-Russia  5-Finland  6-Sweden 

Sibelius Park.
Here we saw a monument to Finland’s national composer Jean Sibelius. Leslie alluded several times during our bus tour to the stoic, emotionless nature of Finnish men. She claimed that if ever a Finnish man appears to be almost on the verge of tears, it is a sure bet that Sibelius’s Finlandia will be heard playing somewhere in the background.

Jean Sibelius in 1889The monument to Sibelius in the park that bears his name was unveiled in 1967 to an outraged Finnish public who found nothing of the composer in the work. The sculptor was requested to add an effigy of the man, which she did. Our tour guide noted that she was clearly unhappy about this, and consequently the effigy looks like an angry Omar Sharif. You can see photos in the gallery and judge the monument for yourself. I’m with the Finnish public on this one.

(Our tour guide related one anecdote about Sibelius that we enjoyed. Apparently, he liked his drink and would sometimes “disappear” for a few days on a bender. One day as he prepared to leave the house and visit his favorite tavern, his wife asked, “Jean, when can I expect you back?” To which he replied, “I am a composer, not a clairvoyant!”)

We saw Barnacle Geese in the park. Lifers!

The Church on the Rock.
Helsinki's Church on the RockIts official name is Temppeliaukio Church and it was designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. I’ve included a few photos in the gallery, though they do the building no justice at all. It is built into the side of a hill and its walls are comprised entirely of the rocks excavated on site. Its acoustics are said to be fantastic and it has become one of Helsinki’s most popular attractions.

Helsinki Cathedral.
Like the Church on the Rock, the Cathedral is a Lutheran Church. It is popularly known as The White Church and can be seen from a great distance as it sits on Helsinki’s highest point.

Olympic Stadium.
Paavo Nurmi in 1920 OlympicsThe 1952 Summer Olympics were held in the city. The stadium was built to host the 1940 Summer Olympics (canceled due to World War II) and seems quite modest from the outside. Near the entrance to the grounds stands a monument to Finland’s most famous Olympic athlete, Paavo Nurmi. A distance runner nicknamed the “Flying Finn,” he won a total of nine Olympic gold medals and was undefeated at the 10,000 meter distance over the course of a 14-year career.

The Long Walk.
After eating Finnish fast food in a Hesburger restaurant on the fifth floor of the huge Stockmann department store and relaxing and using the free wi-fi in Helsinki City Hall, we set out on foot for our ship. Our route took us through two city parks where we saw three lifebirds: Great Spotted Woodpecker, Fieldfare and Chaffinch.

The walk almost did me in. It was a warm day (hot by local standards–probably 75 degrees) and I was thirsty as well as exhausted. We could see our ship from a long distance, but as we approached the harbor we weren’t entirely sure of our route. At one point we met with a “fork in the road.” The wrong choice might have meant another mile or so. I told Joann that I felt I might actually cry if we were wrong. We were lucky to be right, I am happy (and alive) to say. Fortune smiled on us again when we reached the souvenir shops set up near our ship. I was able to buy the last beer from the only cafe there. I must say that it was the best-tasting beer I had on the trip.

Baltic 2013: Part five of six
  1-Denmark  2-Germany  3-Estonia  4-Russia  5-Finland  6-Sweden 

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