Saturday, 7 January 2012

Finland - Back to the Homeland

Our last stop on the trip is Helsinki.  I say home land in the title because the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up, has a strong Finnish connection.  It is also is the only heritage stop for both Lori and I.  Plus this is Lori's last heritage stop so if money gets tight in the future we can leave her home as a cost savings measure.

Day 10 Dec 31 - First up was breakfast on the ship.  No pictures since it was more of the same old stuff but Lori was excited because they had juusto or Finnish squeaky cheese as some call it.  I call it burnt cheese but Lori and Kalle were excited.  One note I forgot to mention from the last entry - they had Lapin Kulta on tap which was my first Finnish beer of the trip.  Okay but not memorable.  The ship food had a strong Swedish feel to it, we found out later that Finland is heavily influenced by Sweden and Russia.  I knew of the Russian influence but was surprised at how strong the Swedish influence was during our stay.

One item that struck me funny on the ship was how some of the people reminded me of growing up.  It is hard to describe unless you have lived in the UP but I saw a lot of people (men, women, boys and girls) that just looked like Finns.  It was like I was back in high school and we were playing Houghton, Hancock or Calumet in a football or basketball game.  I am sure some of the Yooper readers will know what I mean.

We were a little closer to some of the rocks than I thought we would be.

Passing Suomenlinna Fortress Island, we'll be there in a few hours.

First stop is our 4.5 star hotel, the Crowne Plaza Helsinki (  Very nice.  No complaints about the hotels on this trip.

Inside the room.  We were a little delayed here when the kids started "this is so cooling" everything.  Fortunately the task manager tour guide was on top of the fun quashing.

Our spacious bathroom.

After some sullen walking we arrived at our first stop.  (Okay, maybe the tour guide was a little harsh at the hotel.)  Our first stop was the Sibelius Monument (  The sculptor Eila Hiltunen designed the monument as a dedication to Jean Sibelius, the famous Finnish composer whose works are synonymous with Finnish patriotism.  He composed his music when Finland was still under Russian rule and during the birth of the nation.

The troop by the monument.  A neat experience.

Jean Sibelius.

Next up is Temppeliaukion Kirkko (Rock Church) which is a church carved into the rock.  You can read about it at  A very neat church, the first one I have been in that was carved into a rock.  Not as ornate as the other churches, more of a plain style that says "I'm Finnish!"

The outside of the church.

The inside walls are rough, very neat.  The loose rocks on top of the wall were quarried on site.

Close up of walls.

Altar with rough rock wall backdrop.  Does this altar say plain or what?

The roof was a copper dome that reminded Lori and I of the U.P.

Next up was a stop at the souvenir shop which I bring up for two reasons.  One is that I found shots glasses at every city here which was great.  The other reason was Karl found super cool knives at a lot of shops but we didn't buy any because we weren't sure we could get them through customs.  The knives all had different size and shaped blades, wooden handles and leather cases.  Most of the knives had engraved knife blades and cases.  To bad. 

After the shop was Kauppatori (Market Square).  Lori found a scarf and reindeer hide.

Looking down Kauppatori.

Our cruise ship was still docked.

Helsinki Cathedral on left, Uspensky Cathedral on right.

Suomelinnan Kirkko (Suomenlinna Church.)

The troop on the way to the Vesikko Submarine (  The sub is one of the last remaining WWII subs and would have been great to see.

Sub museum was not open which typical for most everything on the island.  Con of vacationing during the holiday season. 

Tomb of Augustin Ehrensvard, the person in charge of building the fortress island.

Snack on the island waiting for the ferry.  Kalle had the mini pizza snack, Karl had the cinnamon roll in the back.  I had the Karhu, okay but nothing special.

Kaupungintalo (City Hall) - 0 for 4 on touring city halls.  Lori saw the crown and said it was a Best Western.  Now you know why I am the tour guide.  I hope she was joking.

Kids in front of Havis Amanda Fountain (

Next up was a walk down Esplanade Park. Same as other gardens, probably beautiful in summertime with the fountains and colourful flowers but just dead grass and lonely sculptures now.

A nice Finnish boy as Grandma Seppanen would say.

Next was dinner at an Italian restaurant which ended up being the best food of the trip.  We decided to go cheap instead of traditional plus we were cold and my restaurant selections let me down again.  Overall the food wasn't bad in any of the cities, I kind of liked the open faced sandwiches. 

After dinner we found Fazer ( on the way to the hotel.  It is a sweets place I had on my to do list.  Kalle had cheesecake, Karl had chocolate cake, and Lori and I had coffee.  The chocolate was so good we bought some to bring home with us.  (In case you are wondering I have not had any chocolate since the reaction.)   

I was to slow to capture the desserts so I captured Pouty Face with the empty tray instead.  You can see Karl Fazer on the wall watching over the place.  

Once we finished here we decided to go back to hotel for the night.  We are all tired and ready to relax.  The kids watched Rio from the room pay per view which is rare for us but its New Years Eve so we are in a generous mood.  And the best part of the night was finding a channel that broadcast part of an AC/DC concert.  What a great way to end the old year!

After spending a day in Helsinki I understand why so many Finns settled in the U.P.  Temps were in the upper 20's, it was windy, and scattered snow fell throughout the day.  It was so cold and windy that our thighs were wind burned under our jeans.  Our cheeks were red and chapped by the end of the day.  Lori and I agreed that Helsinki felt like being home.    

Day 11 Jan 1 - Happy New Year!  Most places are closed and we leave in the evening but this is our last day so we'll make the most of it.

Dana Johnson pic - breakfast was pretty good here.  The Swedish meatballs (Kottbullar) are an example of the Swedish influences.

Dana scores again - Cheesecake and sugar coated donut holes make everything better.

And Dana scores the natural hat trick - Lori liked the prune tarts.

Finally some snow!  We received a dusting overnight.  Plus we were slapped in the face 
by the cold as we walked outside.  This is the weather I was expecting.

Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral) - impressive outside, not so impressive inside.  Alexander II watches the square.

On the steps of the cathedral overlooking Senaatiniori (Senate Square).

The size of the cathedral was awfully impressive.  You can see the troop on the left.

The altar and pulpit.

The altar.

Entrance to church.

Panorama of inside the church.

Close up of the church as the sun rises.  The outside of the church really impressed me.

After the church we did a lot of walking to see more sights. 

Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity.  It was designed by the architect C.L. Engel, you can read more about him at  Engel's works are all over Helsinki.

Finnish National Archives.  Karl wanted to go in and look up our surnames.

Kalle with her leopard hat in front of the House of Scientific Studies. 

Bank of Finland with J.V. Snellman in front.  Snellman was responsible for replacing the Russian ruble with the Finnish markka as the official currency.

Sederholm Talo (House), the oldest stone building in Helsinki was built in 1757.  It was Johan Sederholm's house and is now a museum.  Sederholm was Helsinki's richest merchant and the house was Helsinki's most luxurious in the day.  Looked pretty nice through the windows.   

Uspensky Orthodox Cathedral (,_Helsinki).  Church was in service so I couldn't get any inside pictures.

Walking up the hill to the church.

Beyond the boat is open water, the rest of the bay is frozen.  This was the coldest morning of the trip. 

Some of the buildings along the harbour are the oldest in Helsinki and date back to 1760's.

Presidential Palace.  You can read about it at,_Helsinki.

Random house picture.

Mannerheim Museo (Museum).  Its website is  Mannerheim was regarded by many as the father of modern Finland.

A break at Cafe Esplanade.  We all selected pastrys, cafe mochas and coffee.  Tasted okay.  Navigational and restaurant selection success - rare for me on this trip.

How can I pass up a picture of St. Urho's pub?  I would have stopped in for a token beer but it was closed.


Karhu guarding the entrance.

Finlandia Talo (Hall), read about it at

Random picture behind Finlandia Hall.

By now we are ready for a break at the hotel.  After catching our breaths and with a few hours until the plane leaves we decide to find a traditional Finnish restaurant.  With help from the hotel staff we find restaurant Kuu which was a good find.  Kuu is moon in Finnish for the curious. 

The kitchen took longer due to a problem earlier in the day so we received complimentary artichoke soup appetiser.  It was smooth, tasty, airy and dee-lish.

Our meals.  I had Lapland reindeer, Karl had Sweden moose, Kalle had Arctic Char and Lori had local smoked salmon soup.  All the dishes tasted really good.  It was expensive though, 133 Euro (169 USD).

We had a funny story from the Kuu.  In the U.P., Finn or squeaky cheese is called "you-stu-ah".  Lori and Kalle like it and one of the dessert was Finn cheese so we thought we would try it.  To top it off Lori was going to order it in Finn since that is one of the few words/phrases we feel comfortable using on the whole trip.  So the waiter comes back and Lori orders the "you-stu-ah", and the waiter gives her the most befuddled look.  She says it again with less confidence and he looks confused but quickly realises what she is saying.  He says oh, you mean "uuu-sto".  Lori's sails are totally deflated and I am glad she ordered instead of me.  It turned into a ten minute conversation with him about our Finnish background and "uuu-sto".  They call it "lay-pa uuu-sto" here since it is bread cheese.  I am glad we went there, the waiter was very friendly and we ended up spending half of our time there talking to him.  His name was Mikkk-ka which is spelled Mikka. 

For dessert we tried fried apples with ice cream and cheese with a berry sauce.  Apples were good and cheese was not good.

The only problem we had not being able to speak the language was when we took the airport bus from our hotel.  Our Helsinki Cards were only good in Helsinki and the airport was outside city limits which I didn't realise.  So the coach stops, the driver loads our luggage, and everyone boards.  I give the driver our Helsinki Cards and he starts telling me it isn't enough in a mix of Finnish and English.  He was an older guy so his English was slightly better than my Finnish.  He was getting a little agitated with me because I was delaying his schedule and didn't speak Finnish.  After a minute I realised the problem and gave him money for the fare and we were off. 

On the way back we flew Lufthansa air lines which was pretty nice.  The drink service gave you two drinks or a beer (Warsteiner, a German beer) initially then walked by again to see if you wanted another drink.  Plus the fasten seat belt sign went off when we were still climbing and stayed off for most of the flight.  We had a stop over in Munich which technically counts as a heritage stop but it is hard to experience a countries culture by sitting in an airport.  Uneventful journey home and we pulled into the driveway at 11:59 PM.  Kalle had me leave the car on so she could see the clock turn to 12:00 AM so she could say "Good Morning".  She's so cute. 

KJ - Knives were awesome but not being able to get one was terrible, food was really good, this stop was to short while the other stops were to long, and bummed that we couldn't get into the archives to look up our surnames.

KK - Food was bad.

Lori - Stop wasn't long enough.

Jay - Weather reminded me of the U.P., architecture was plain.

I can't claim the idea but when I walked by I thought what better way to remember the start of the new year.

Thanks for listening,

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