Helsinki the capital of Finland 10 to 12 August 2013

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August 12th 2014
Published: August 12th 2014
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Helsinki the capital of Finland 10 to 12 August 2013

Helsinki will be our last 'port-of-call- in Finland. We have thoroughly enjoyed visiting the country. It is certainly very different to Norway and Sweden, not to mention the flattest of them all.

We arrived in Helsinki via more excellent roads and freeways at about 3.00pm, in time to visit the Tourist office right in the central area of the city. We left the office armed with all the material that we needed to do our planning for our visit to this lakeside city.

Founded in 1550, the "Daughter of the Baltic" has been the Finnish capital since 1812, when it was rebuilt by the tsars of Russia along the lines of a miniature St. Petersburg, a role it has played in many a Cold War movie. Today, Helsinki pulls off the trick of being something of an international metropolis while still retaining a small-town feel. The quickly discovered that the best time to visit is in summer, when Finns peel off their overcoats and flock to outdoor bars and cafes to enjoy the sunshine.

Helsinki's current population is about 604,380, but the Greater Helsinki region including the suburbs of the neighbouring administrative areas of Espoo and Vantaa has a population of over 1.3 million.

We easily found our camp site, Rastila Camping, which was 12 kms out from the city centre. It is the only camp site in Helsinki, but was well appointed and right next to the Metro Station so transport into the city was easy.

We did the filling up and emptying out of water of our motor home, and did our washing as soon as we arrived at the camp site. Over a lovely cold glass of wine we waded through the brochures on the city so that we had a pretty good idea on what we wanted to do.

Overnight there was a light shower of rain but we could see it was going to clear. It was a little cooler than the previous day, about 25 degrees...very pleasant. We were in the city by about 10.00am ready for our cappuccino and Tom's morning tea!!!. The underground metro took us to the Central Railway Station which is a very attractive building, inside and out.

We first decided to go to Suomenlinna Island by ferry, which we caught near the Market Square which took us only 15 minutes. The "Gibraltar of the North" was once the greatest sea fortress in the Baltic, built by the Swedish in the mid-1700s at great expense to protect their eastern flank. But when the Russians invaded in February 1808, the bulk of the unprepared and bankrupt Swedish army hastily withdrew, allowing the Russians to conquer Helsinki without a fight and besiege the fortress.

With no reinforcements in sight, commander Carl Olof Cronstedt surrendered unconditionally two months later, and Finland was ceded to the Russians. Cronstedt's actions probably saved countless civilian lives, but King Gustav IV needed a scapegoat and sentenced him to death for treason; fortunately, the losing king was himself soon overthrown, and Cronstedt lived out his years gardening.

Today's Suomenlinna is still living in its own time with only old buildings, few cars, fewer than a thousand inhabitants and lots of old fortifications, catacombs and cast iron cannons. But it's not just a museum: the sprawling complex houses restaurants, cafes, theatres and museums, and is a very popular place in summer day. It was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1991 as a unique monument to European military architecture.

Back on the mainland, we visited the Lutheran Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko). The unofficial symbol of the city, this striking white cathedral dominates the central Senate Square. Based on designs by Carl Ludvig Engel and completed in 1852, the cathedral has recently been refurbished and looks better than ever, with the 12 apostles on the roof once again looking down at the world below.

I cannot believe it but we forgot to see the Church in the Rock which is the most visited site in Helsinki. We were so busy floating around the canals or visiting many of the 200 islands, that we forgot to visit this "Temple Square Church". Devastated!!!!! We have heard that this church was literally dug out of solid rock. Oh well, we will just have to come back.

However, we did visit the Uspenski Cathedral. A classical onion-domed Russian church prominently located near the Market Square, Uspenski Cathedral serves Finland's small Orthodox minority and is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. The name comes from the Russian uspenie, from the Dormition (death) of the Virgin Mary. The five domes are topped with 22-carat gold, and some of the icons within are held to be miraculous.

We walked past Parliament House the 200-seat Parliament of Finland was designed by J.S. Sirén in the classic style of the 1920s and officially inaugurated in 1931.

The Finlandia Hall, was next designed by Finland's best known architect Alvar Aalto and located across the street from the National Museum, the marble Finlandia Hall is a popular congress and concert venue in Helsinki. We had a lovely cup of coffee at the little outside cafe.

We then hopped onto the Vintage tram ride (Tram number 2 /3). Enjoy a ride on a century-old tram! It took us all around the central and wider city. This took about an hour.

After that we chose to do a 2.5 hour canal boat trip around the many islands which make up Helsinki. It was very pleasant. We went past the island that has the Finland Zoo on it, as well as the many islands, some privately owned, some owned by organisations and others owned by the city. It was a little overcast but that made it easy to sit on the top deck.

We got back to the dock at about 7.00pm and found a restaurant in town for dinner. We had a mixed reef and beef dish for 2 along with a lovely white. It looked threatening with rain but it held off until we got back to camp via the metro. It was so easy to get around the city.

The next morning, we packed up and drove back into the city, parking near the ferry terminal that was going to take us to Tallinn which is in Estonia. We had a look at a few more sites that we missed yesterday, used the city's free WiFi for emails and then sat in the line ready to drive onto the ferry.

You may be interested to know that Helsinki was founded in A.D. 1550 by King Gustav Vasa of Sweden as a trading post to compete with Tallinn to the south in Estonia, which was Danish at that time. The growth of the city was slow until the establishment of Sveaborg (nowadays Suomenlinna) Maritime Fortress in the front of Helsinki in the middle of 18th century. In 1809, Finland was annexed by Russia during a war of that period and the capital of Finland moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812. The Czar felt the Grand Duchy of Finland needed a capital of grand proportions. The architects Johan Albrecht Ehrenström, a native Finn, and Carl Ludwig Engel, from Germany, were given the task of rebuilding the city in the Empire style. This can be seen today around the Lutheran Cathedral, which was completed in 1852. The same style, and even architects, is also a part of Saint Petersburg's history. Though thoroughly a Nordic capital, Helsinki today reflects the influences gained from the Western and Eastern cultures.

So it was goodbye to Finland and its 2 million saunas (yes, 2 mill.), 188,000 lakes and acres and acres of forests. We found the Finnish people incredibly helpful. Almost every time we stopped in the city to look at our map, we had a local come up to us to ask if they could help us. We have really enjoyed the diversity of experiences and scenery in this country.

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