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Published: July 26th 2018
Trump / Putin Summit
The circus was coming to town on Monday. I paused to watch the Finnish police unit carefully extracting the drain covers near the Presidential Palace. Mirrors descended in to check for explosives, before a security seal was applied. I had seen something similar in Belfast when Clinton was trying to add some American input into the Northern Ireland peace process, but the security on show here was in another level. The city was to be the venue for a summit between the 2 world super powers. Trump, fresh from keeping his new mate "Little Rocket Man" getting too pushy with his demands and getting right up the noses of most EU leaders on his recent visit and Putin, gloating over the success of his World Cup in which the Russian team actually exceeded all expectations. The summit was meant to be a hard hitting Question Time (minus David Dimbleby) about Russian involvement in the 2016 US elections and a slap on the wrist for the annexation of Crimea. The press commentary suggested that it had turned into a bit of a mutual love in, but one where Donald was happy to play second fiddle to Vlad and not challenge in any
significant way. There would be no re-run of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood video with the Spitting Image puppets bashing each other in a head to head. The "Don't Poke The Bear" policy provoked outright condemnation even in Republican circles and the rest of the world looked on a little nervously. Our hotel was full of American press by Sunday morning. They had left Donald playing a few holes on one of his Scottish golf courses and arrived to set up camp in the Finlandia Hall, which had been designated as the media centre. Media organisations it seems don't travel shorthanded, especially for an event such as this one. Who knows how many crew and journalists Fox News had in Helsinki judging by the ID hanging round by the necks, but it seemed overkill. Fake news. US TV stations cover Helsinki summit with 2 reporters and 3 cameramen! Helsinki has form when it comes to playing host as peacemaker. It was here in 1975 that the leaders of East and West signed the Helsinki Accord, which effectively ended the Cold War. Finland, conscious of the precarious position in the sandwich between the two, has long since decided that talking was
a better option than arms build- up and has never even joined up to NATO.
The rumours were that the city would be in lock down on Monday, so we swapped our schedule to accommodate for road closures etc. The long daylight plays havoc with your internal clock, so we were not quick off the mark on Sunday morning. A great many of the museums are closed on the Mondays, so we decided to check out a few of the freebies on offer with the Helsinki Card while the going was good. We had a stroll round the flea market in the square near the hotel. You never know what Scandanavian design gem will be discovered. Alas, nothing this time. The old brewery complex across the road was open. The monopoly on beer has always been a good earner and the art collection on show in the former residence of the owners was testament to the fact that Helsinki was no exception. We skipped HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) in favour of Kiasma - a modern art gallery across from the railway station area. The Other Half deemed a bit too modern for her tastes. The lower floors
had some strange exhibits to say the least and the top floor was a Grayson Perry exhibition. We had seen something similar in a National Trust house in the UK last year. In fact, we might well have seen some of the tapestries before. I never wrote a blog, so the photographs are not to hand. The Parliament building opposite was quiet, as you would expect on a Sunday morning. A billboard nearby announced, "Mr President, welcome to the Land of the Free Press". It reappeared in Russian shortly after. The Finlandia Hall perimeter was already taped off. Police and security prowled the perimeter. A tourist argued with the admissions staff at the National Museum of Finland about her entry ticket. It wasn't her fault that "her schedule" had been require to change because of Donald. The staff seemed unmoved and sent for reinforcements. I quite liked the museum, although there was a distinct lack of detail at certain points relating to the period around World War 2 when along with other Baltic countries the Bear was seen as enemy number one. We made an exploratory venture into the new Iitalla shop in the 1930s building opposite the Kiasma. The
original door handles complete the art deco look. The classic Aalto vase was reduced by a whole 60€. Food for thought. A free and very nice no obligation latte was prepared by staff to help the process. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth - especially in Finland. We decided it was a good idea to keep our powder dry and returned to make use of the open air roof top swimming pool at the hotel. A glass bottom section overhanging the footway below 15 stories up makes an interesting talking point. We had the pool to ourselves for a bit and were able to enjoy the both of the ground many stories below and the across the city.
We ventured back out again, but not before we had visited the supermarket. Alcohol is heavily taxed and under government control in Finland. The bottle shops or off licences selling the hard stuff stick to pre-determined hours and the beer in the supermarket is strictly off limits once the witching hour passes. The shutters come down and the best you will get is a low alcohol - 2.8% or less alcohol content - beer. K Mart etc
are often open until 11 pm or later for food and other groceries, but booze is off limits except in a bar. It is a bit strange then to find yourself stocking up early morning just to make sure you have a few in the hotel room fridge for emergencies. Don't underestimate the value of a hotel room fridge! The supermarket staff of course have seen it all before. There is no "here come the alcoholic Brits" stigma. This is just standard practice among folk with more sense than money. We ended up eating later in the deli attached to the Swedish Theatre. It was more of a salad bar than deli, but it was actually quite a filling portion for the 10.90€ price The toppings were a salmon fillet and sweet chilli prawns. It was proper smoked salmon fillet too. Bread and water included. We headed back to base to collect our booze and ventured round the harbour in search of a suitable bench. This seems an alien concept to us Brits who would just go to the pub, but in Scandinavian countries impromptu gatherings of folk all opening their bargain supplies are commonplace. The only snag was the
Trump / Putin Summit
never ending daylight. My mind said it was mid-afternoon, I'll open another one. Darkness came and we eventually retired.
In view of all things Presidential, the plan was to leave the city for the day and head to the island of Suomenlinna. The plan was not quite as straightforward as imagined. Tram lines not operating. The ferry to the island was right in the middle of the area in front of the President's Palace, where the two super powers were holding their love in. The whole square was closed and the only ferries operating were those from the far end of the harbour, that were normally just used by the service vehicles. A us was in operation from the railway station, but this was as much use as a chocolate fireguard. A bus cannot operate with gridlocked roads. We abandoned ship along with the many others. The majority were trying to get to their Viking Line ferries to Stockholm and beyond. They were left in a panic, dragging their luggage in the heat in a bid to get the boat. The ferry to Suomenlinna ran every 20-30 minutes, so we just had the inconvenience of a long
The Great Courtyard
walk and it wasn't against the clock. Suomenlinna - the sea fortress - is the very reason why Helsinki prospered. The Swedes, keen on establishing a trading port to rival that of Russian controlled Tallinn, set about fortifying the island as early as the mid 1700s. Helsinki was protected from an attack from the sea by the narrow straits on the approach to the city. A ship attacking through the channel was literally cannon fodder. The Swedes called the island Sveaborg. The Finns, whilst having an apparent friendly rivalry with the Swedes, seem to bear no animosity against their neighbours and many street signs still have both the names in both languages (despite only 6% of the population using Swedish as a first language). The hostility these days seems to stop at ice hockey, although in all honesty Finland is a mere fly in the ointment sort of irritation to Sweden, it comes to chasing the puck. The Russians finally took the island in 1808. The guns faced out to sea and the Russian attack came overland. It reminds one of the history of Singapore. The British sat confidently waiting for the Japanese attack from the sea, content the big
Street Signs in Finnish & Swedish
guns would see them off. Meanwhile, the Japanese adopted the same tactic in World War 2 as the Russians and wandered down the Malay peninsula. We digress. There were other similarities mind. The weather. The whole time we had been in Finland, it was approaching 30 degrees Celsius. The British came calling in in 1855 and caused a bit of havoc in the Crimean War. The island survived, and afterwards stayed in Russian hands all the way through to 1918. 1939 saw the establishment as a submarine base and it remained under the control of the Finnish military right through to 1973. We wandered around the island in the heat. The Helsinki Cards got us into the Military Museum and on board the submarine, now marooned above the waterline. I will be honest and say that neither were star attractions and I say that as a person who normally finds such things as a must see attraction. We walked among the fortifications and watched just how close the Viking Line ferries got to the shoreline. It isn't exactly difficult to see how easy it would be to blow any attacking ships intent on attacking the city out of the water.
HJK Helsinki (Finland) 3 Vikingur Gota (Faroe Islands) 1
Tuesday 17th July 2018
UEFA Champions League 1st Qualifying Round
We wandered past the old main street, through the market square, the old docks now used to repair wooden sailing ships and into K Mart on the island to nourish ourselves on the cheap. The island has quite a few permanent residents, as well as a Youth Hostel, so the shop is a bit of a lifeline for them and was a bonus for us (even though it was more expensive than on the mainland). We sat by the main ferry port. A concerned local came out to warn us of the cancellations caused by Messers Trump and Putin, which was very nice of them. The church contained the biggest bell in Finland, housed in an eat little tower of it's own. The main church has lost a few towers over the years, but maintained the dual purpose as both lighthouse and church for a long time. We headed for the service ferry back to the mainland. The Finnish Navy was monitoring ships entering the channel on the way back from the island. It seems no expense was too great for Donald and Vlad.
After a brief return to the hotel for a swim, we
A public library
were back out in the city centre to see the end of the Presidential visit. Vlad apparently arrived 1 ½ hours late – a heavy night after his World Cup Final – and the meetings overran because the 2 of them got on like a house on fire. Meanwhile, various roads remained closed and the Police were on a high alert waiting for the departure convoys. We found a suitable spot, which was actually on a tram stop. Mr Policeman duly arrived to advise all concerned that we would not be standing there, once news of the convoy reached their ears. We were too close. We re-thought our plan and were in place ready and waiting. We waited. We waited some more. A guy held up a placard with one finger aimed at Russia. A Swede of Persian extraction covered himself with an American flag and was happy to announce his respect for Trump. There was a general air of irritation. Passengers keen to re-join their cruise ship were remonstrating with Finnish riot police about the exact route they would be able to take to set sail. It seemed there were very few options. The average Finn keen to see
what all the fuss was about looked like their patience was coming to a collective end. The Police got news through their ear pieces. The cameraman stood up from their slumbers and line after line of black cars sped down the avenue. A few minutes later, it was all over. We had seen the Trump convoy, but as the police lines relaxed it seemed that Vlad had gone by the back door short cut. We went to look for something to eat away from the crowds. We ended up with a pizza at a place called Skiffer Viiskula. I have to say that it was a dam fine, sizeable pizza and certainly better to eat here than at an overpriced chain. We retreated to our harbour side to devour some more of our cheap cans. The Presidents had now left the country. There would be no helicopters flying overhead tonight.
Presidents might well have left town, but the barriers remained in place the following morning around the Alvar Aalto modernist creation in downtown Helsinki - Finlandia Hall. I walked away from the main entrance in pursuit of the "perfect" photograph I had seen online. A
steel ring still surrounded this side. Under normal circumstances, the Aalto foundation normally conduct tours. The Presidential visits meant that these were not normal circumstances. We pressed on using Tram 4 and headed to the north west of the city. We had booked the first tour of the day at Alvar Aalto’s house in the suburbs at 12 noon. Aalto is the world renowned Finnish architect and furniture designer, many of whose timeless designs remain in production through Artek. The reviews suggested being on time, so we arrived early and tried to keep cool in the library next door. After booking in at the reception, the tour was delayed as a group of 11 turned up because they had “changed their schedule and wanted a tour today”. They were booked on officially the following day. I was surprised when they were allowed in. Aalto, after an early career in the provinces, moved to Helsinki to expand his career. He located a plot of land, which was at that time on the very edge of the city as we know it and house was built in 1936. The house worked as both office studio and house for the family, before the
The cheap way to enjoy a beer in Helsinki
needs of the expansion of the business moved the studio to another nearby building. He lived here until his death. We are not talking grand on a scale of the Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic, but it was clearly cutting edge design for the day. The house furnishings are not totally original, but add a flavour to the minimalist interior.
We caught the tram back to the Sibelius Monument. It is located a few minutes’ walk from the Olympic park area in the suburb of Toolo. Sibelius was the most recognised of the Finnish composers, although he produced little work in the latter part of his life. He left the city and moved back to the country. The Finnish 100 mark
bill featured his image until 2002, when the Euro was adopted. Finland also celebrates a Flag Day on 8 December – his birthday - which also known as the "Day of Finnish Music". The Sibelius Monument was unveiled in 1967. It looks like a giant silver organ, although the composer actually produced little organ music. The 600 pipes proved very popular with the bus tour groups and a constant wave loitered around in my photographs, before following
Trump / Putin Summit
their umbrella guides to the next 10 minute stop. A head of Sibelius sits on a nearby rock outcrop.
The temperatures were still high, as we made our way back to the Tele 5G Arena for the Champions League qualifying tie between HJK and the visiting Vikingur of the Faroe Islands. The media suggested that a team from the Faroe Islands might struggle with the heat, as though the Finns were some sort of experts in desert football. I had bought tickets a few days before, just on the off chance that it was a game to catch the imagination. The crowd was substantial compared to the league game on Saturday night, but as far as I could tell there were no visitors from the Faroe Islands. A small sign in English near the ticket office pointed the way for any who had made it. The “ultras” behind the goal were in fine form. They seemed to have a new drummer installed. Whether it was the heat or not, the Faroe team conceded inside the 1st
a minute and the rest was mainly one way traffic. A brief fightback, a missed penalty and then HJK almost stopped playing, quite
content with their 3-1 advantage. The ultras could plan their trip to Belarus for their next round match, where more opposition was likely.
We retreated for our last evening drink by the harbour. Appendix 1 UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round 1 HJK Helsinki (Finland) 3 VIkingur Gota (Faroe Islands) 1
July 2018 @ 1900 Hours Venue
: Tele 5G Arena, Urheilukatu 5, 00250 Helsinki, FInland Attendance
: 5125 Scorers
: 1-0 Klauss (HJK Helsinki) 1 Mins, 2-0 Mensah (HJK Helsinki) 10 MIns, 3-0 Yaghoubi (HJK Helsinki) 19 Mins, 3-1 Vatnhamr (Vikingur) 21 Mins HJK Helsinki
: Rudakov, Rafinha, Patronen, O'Shaughnessy, Obilor, Annan, Dahlstrom (Ollikainen 84 MIns), Riski, Mensah (Banza 71 Mins), Klauss (Valencic 64 MIns), Yaghoubi Vikingur Gota
: Rasmussen, Gregersen, Djurhuu (Lokin 59 Mins), Jacobsen, Cascaval (Hansen 67 Mins), Nieblas, G Vatnhamr, Lervig, S Vatnhamr, Dordevic, Lawal (Olsen 72 Mins)
Tot: 3.06s; Tpl: 0.095s; cc: 20; qc: 35; dbt: 0.0674s; 2; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb