After our two-day stay in Saint Petersburg, my family and I headed back around the Baltic, this time looping west towards our next destination: Helsinki, the capital of Finland.
Compared to our super-packed days in Russia, our visit to Helsinki was much more relaxed; the tour lasted about six hours, but we took it slowly. Essentially, we visited four different places within the city, as well as made a short morning trip over to Porvoo, a small town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Helsinki that is one of the six original medieval towns back in the day.
We started off in Helsinki, visiting the Sibelius Monument, one that is dedicated to Jean Sibelius, the nation’s most-celebrated musical composer of the late 19th to early 20th centuries. His works have helped the people develop a distinctive national identity, a strong sense of Finnish pride during the struggle for independence from Russian rule.
I have actually listened to a couple of Sibelius’ works when I was younger, and instantly enjoyed them: at once quiet and loud, elegant and majestic, his music definitely plays around with opposite forms which, overall, come together into a masterpiece that celebrates the tenacious Finnish spirit during harsh times, whether in the past or today. The monument, large and abstract, represents the musical legacy of the late composer through its wave-shape organ pipe ensemble, and is quite a thing to marvel at.
Afterwards, our tour took us over to Porvoo; as we passed into the countryside, I noticed that the air was so…fresh. Considering that we had just come from visiting Saint Petersburg (a large city with the pollution and cigarettes to boot), the air quality in Finland was a refreshing breather from it all; heck, even the breeze smelled sweet! Gotta love the good ol’ wilderness of Scandinavia…
We arrived in Porvoo, home to a stretch of little red warehouses along the river bank, the Porvoo Cathedral on top of the town’s hill, and many souvenir shops and stores in the Old Town. The cobblestone roads and bright, cherry flowers added a cute, rustic touch to the small, second-oldest town in the country.
While in the Old Town, we entered its famous chocolate shop called Brunberg, where we sampled its large collection of different Finnish chocolates. Our tour guide told us that the Finns don’t tend to use a lot of cacao in their chocolates (no more than 60%), and so their products don’t taste as heavy and rich, but rather light and subtle. I admit, there were some nice, distinctive chocolate flavors (e.g. orange, mint, mocha truffle) but they don’t quite compare to the quality and reputation of Swiss or Belgian chocolates.
Around 11h00, we had lunch at a charming, 19th century-built manor in the middle of nowhere (again, in the countryside) where we were served some simple, but hearty food: salad, rye bread with chive-butter, meatloaf with potatoes, and a raspberry-blueberry tart. Not sure exactly if the Finns have a distinctive plate or cuisine, but all I know is that they serve their food fresh!
In the afternoon, we returned to Helsinki to check out the Temppeliaukio Church (aka “Rock Church;” imagine trying to pronounce it!). This church is, literally, built inside of a rock and, while not too large, nevertheless holds a grand organ inside that spreads across the entire wall of the altar, almost as if an artwork in itself.
Next, we visited the University of Helsinki, as well as checked out the Esplanadi, aka “the esplanade” that stretches all the way down the market square to the Katajanokka channel. There are also nice, grassy places for people to come, picnic, and otherwise chill out during the warm, summer months. We also took a look around the open markets that sold homemade crafts, fresh-picked berries, and other trinkets. The delicious smell of cooked fish wafted throughout the market stalls, and I loved it (I’m a huge fan of fish and seafood).
We left Helsinki afterwards, returning to the port by mid-afternoon. While there was more to see in Helsinki than in Tallinn or Aarhus, I still found the capital of Finland to be quite a peaceful, even sleepy city, since it was so surrounded by nature. Everywhere I turned, I saw greenery! Seems like a nice place to live in, and I could see why one of my friends, who has strong ties to her Finnish roots, loved returning to Finland time and time again to visit family every summer- it’s that pleasant!
Stay tuned for the next (and final) post of my Scandinavian trip. Coming up: Stockholm, Sweden!
— The Finicky Cynic
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