I didn't think I would get this post in before Greece but decided to squeeze it in while everything was still fresh in my mind. Plus my Greece planning is completed so I had all day to finish it. Enjoy.
This last weekend I had the pleasure of re-visiting one of my Homelands, this time with my buddy Brandon who is in London on a work assignment. My regular readers will remember that we (family we" stopped in Helsinki on our first vacation in England. (Here is a link to that trip.) Since Brandon and I are both "nice Finnish boys" as my Finnish grandmother always used to say and we are halfway there already we scheduled a quick weekend to check out Helsinki. The weekend was great, a nice change going on a Schetzel or Peters vacation for a change. A little strange not having the family there but we had a relaxing time and really enjoyed the nonexistent rain which the weather sites were promising. No matter where we go one thing is constant, the weather forecasters are as often off base as they are on base.
I took the train in Friday and we met at Heathrow for the direct evening flight to Helsinki. It was a late flight and by the time we navigated out of the airport to the bus stations it was well past 11 o'clock. The plan was to take the Finnair airport shuttle bus to near our hotel but we ended up buying tickets for the city bus by mistake. We probably should just bought the shuttle tickets and ate the other ones but didn't which meant we stopped about ten times on the way to the train station. So we finally make it to the city center train station which wasn't according to my plan. I found out on the ride that the Finnair bus travels WEST around a couple of small lakes north of Helsinki while the city bus travels EAST around the lakes. Yup, we are on the west side of the lakes so the plan of getting off the bus near the hotel was a total fail. Fortunately Brandon was able to GPS track us on his phone so armed with his phone tracking and my poor map we started walking towards our hotel. After a few minutes we saw the trams which triggered my memory of the family using the trams so we went to the closest tram stop and waited. (By coincidence I stayed at the same Crowne Plaza on both trips so I recognized the tram number.) Our tram shows up and we make it to the hotel. By the time we checked in and made it to the room it was almost one AM so we watched Predator with Finnish subtitles for a bit then went to bed. A couple of quick notes - one awesome part of Helsinki was city wide free Wi-Fi which we ended up using often. Gotta love that. Also, I won't go into a lot of detail on the sites since I posted about Helsinki already and we saw a lot of sites on this trip that I saw on our family trip.
Our Saturday plan was basic and loose. Lots of walking around the city with stops to see some local attractions I mapped into the itinerary. I won't cover all of our walking path as a lot of it was covered on my first trip and a lot of it was just walking down similar looking streets. I will pick out some of the highlights however.
Dana Johnson Pic - The Tango breakfast. We opted out of the 23 Euro hotel breakfast so reception told us about Tin Tin Tango around the corner. The food tasted really good but even better was bottomless coffee. Gotta love the Finlanders! This was 9 Euro and change in case you were curious.
Our first stop was at Temppeliaukion Kirkko (Rock Church) which is a church carved out of a huge rock. We actually saw quite a lot of rocky hills walking around Helsinki which I found a little strange since the greater Helsinki is basically floating on the sea. The Rock Church was built in 1969 and was carved out of a huge chunk of granite (you can read about the church here). This is one of my favorite churches on our trips and it was as amazing as I remembered it.
Looking at one of the exterior walls. They used the rocks they removed to form the walls.
One of the interior walls.
The rock and copper dome combination still reminds me of the U.P.
Altar close up.
Cool baptismal font.
Looking from the altar towards the entrance.
The church is on the left where all of the people are congregated. The rock which it is carved out of stretches all the way to the right. A magnificent idea and church.
The Forum on our meandering path. The Forum is a mall but we didn't check it out. The store names plastered on the walls NASCAR style were typically of the buildings here.
The Helsingin Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral) overlooking the Tsar Alexander II monument and Senate Square. The Cathedral was built between 1830 - 1852 and it's architect was C.L. Engel. For a quick history reminder, Finland was part of either Sweden or Russia for much of its history until after WWI when a weakened Russia couldn't stop their revolution for independence.
Overlooking Senate Square (Wiki link) from Cathedral steps.
The main altar and baptismal font inside the cathedral.
Looking towards one of the transepts, this was as plain as I remembered it although not as large as I remembered it.
The pulpit on left, baptismal font in middle, and altar on right.
The side entrance, Senate Square is to the right.
Kansalliskirjasto Nationalbiblioteket (The National Library of Finland), another Engel building.
The interior. All of the shelves were bare so we asked why. The building is under renovation so all of the books have been removed until the renovation is complete. Very odd walking through a library full of empty shelves.
Brandon at the top.
The Russian Orthodox Church of the Trinity, a tiny church that was closed for a service so we couldn't look inside.
Interesting sidewalks here. Large blocks were the main walking path while bricks (as shown) or rocks filled in the rest of the side walk. They did have some solid concrete sidewalks as well.
Around the backside of the cathedral. Lots of large square buildings in Helsinki.
Some interesting buildings as we walk through Old Town.
A random building.
We walked past the harbors as well.
The Uspensky Orthodox Cathedral (Wiki link) was open to look inside but no pictures because of a baptism.
From the Uspensky Cathedral looking towards the Helsinki Cathedral and central Helsinki.
The Kauppatori (Market Square) on the left, the Presidential Palace on the right.
Looking at the stalls in Market Square. Lots of trinket stalls but there were also some nice leather and fur stalls. And food stalls.
Kevin Coleman Pic - Sampling the local flavor. A Light beer a little light on flavor.
Dana Johnson Pic - Brandon had the fresh water fish on the left (reminded him of smelt) and I had the sausage mix on the right. We opted to eat at the market and it was pretty good.
Walking through Esplanade Park which was full of people and food vendors. No sun but no rain so I guess the day is a draw. Temperature was mid 60's and a touch humid, not to bad overall.
As part of our walk around the city I sprinkled in a few craft beer houses from a Helsinki Beer Walk I found online. Of course you need refreshments when you do a lot of walking. I've been in England for 19+ months and Brandon has been here ~5 months so we didn't mind trying a few places that had more options then Bitter, Warm Bitter, Warm Bitter, and Cider.
Our favorite Helsinki Beer House.
Kevin Coleman Pic - My lager on the left, his double IPA on the right. A winning combination.
Kevin Coleman Pic - The local bear at a rooftop bar.
The view from Ateljee Bar, not a beer house but a bar/café that overlooked the city. You can see the cathedral in the distance and to the right is a cruise ship docked in the harbor.
Choices, choices, choices.
Oops. The combination of Brandon's cell phone positioning and my poor internet printed map provided us with some extra exercise at times. Here we are "enjoying" the scenery when I realized I gave Brandon the wrong address to punch into his phone. On the plus side they say walking is good for you.
According to the walking guide I printed off this is the must visit place on the list. Kind of funny because it wasn't that great and the bartender suggested Villi Waino (our favorite stop of the trail) as the top place to try.
Dana Johnson Pic - Snack time. Meat - good, cheese - good, olives - good, crackers - okay. No complaints on Helsinki so far.
Kevin Coleman Pic - They called this a long drink which tasted like hard lemonade but a tad sweeter. A good palate cleanser.
This place was a little strange. We walked in and everyone pictured (and a few more) were frozen in place watching Sweden and Finland play in the hockey World Championships. Even the bartender watched the TV and ignored us for a couple of minutes. It kind of felt like walking into a sci-fi episode where everyone living has been frozen but the TV is still blaring away.
We also tried the SparaKOFF Beer Tram after seeing it on Anthony Bourdain's show but it was extremely disappointing. Expensive - 9 Euro; no drinks included in the price anymore - a recent change per the bar tender; and the sights were very poor - not much to see and when I did take a picture we were wobbling on the tracks enough that I didn't get any crisp pictures. Talk about feeling suckered.
Jeff Seppanen Pic - More hockey! I haven't watched a game in a couple of years but did get to see part of the Finland - Sweden and US - Switzerland games.
One more stop at our favorite beer house. I wonder if they would consider opening a branch in Derby?
The sun lights being replaced by the city lights. Lots of neon signs in Helsinki.
Saturday was an excellent day - fun sights, great company, and a welcoming city. A relaxing pace with warm, dry weather. What more can you ask of a weekend get away? We even met a couple from Boston at dinner and chatted with them for the perfunctory couple of tourist minutes - hi, where are you from, what are you doing here, I'm from..., etc. etc. We didn't do much Sunday as we slept in then had to go the airport to catch our flight back.
Dana Johnson Pic - Reindeer burger at the Finland Airport. It didn't taste gamey at all, it even was a little bland. Consistency was a little softer than beef.
Thanks for listening,