Monday, July 3, 2017

Backpacking through the Baltics - Finland

We arrived in Finland early in the morning having taking a ferry across the Baltic Sea from Estonia.  The first thing we did was to walk to our hotel (with our backpacks - it was quite a walk!)  We were too early to check in, so simply left our packs and headed out to explore Helsinki.

Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Tallinn.   After Russia annexed Finland in 1809 the town began to develop, especially when Alexander I moved the Finnish capital to Helsinki in 1812 to bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg.   The downtown area was later rebuilt in the neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg.

First we wandered across to the station.  It was a hugely ugly building!  Then we walked down to the Esplanade and along to the harbour, where there was a market.  We then climbed up the hill to the Uspenski Cathedral where we sat on the steps and had some lunch.  The Cathedral  is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe and the views over the city were superb.  We were lucky to see a baptism taking place in the church while we were there.


From the harbour area we wandered back towards Senate Square.  On the way Rachel found a seal sculpture - apparently there are 40 of these sculptures, almost 7 feet tall, which have each been decorated by Finnish artists.  They are placed around the city to remind people of the need to protect the Baltic Sea.

Senate Square and its surroundings make up the oldest part of central Helsinki. Landmarks and famous buildings surrounding the square are the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, main building of the University of Helsinki.  There's also a statue of Emperor Alexander II in the centre of the square, surrounded by figures representing law, culture and peasants.  During the Russification of Finland from 1899 onwards, the statue became a symbol of quiet resistance, with people protesting against the decrees of Nicholas II by leaving flowers at the foot of the statue of his grandfather, then known in Finland as "the good tzar".  After Finland's independence in 1917, demands were made to remove the statue. however nothing came of this and today the statue is one of the major tourist landmarks of the city and a reminder of Finland's close relationship with Imperial Russia.

 The cathedral at the top of the steps is the Lutheran Cathedral, it was built by Tsar Nichalas I and was knows as St Nicholas' Church until the independence of Finland in 1917.  It's a hugely impressive building on the outside, but quite bare inside.  

In the evening Rachel and I went for a walk up to the Sibelius Monument north of the city centre, near the old Olympic Stadium.  It was amazing to see how quickly we got out of the city and into an area that felt quite rural!  On the way back to the hotel we also visited the Botanical Gardens.  It was a lovely sunny evening and we had a pizza in one of the outdoor cafes in town.

Our last day in Helsinki threatened to be rainy so we decided we'd go to visit an art gallery.  As it turned out it was great because there was an exhibition at the Amos Anderson gallery called Generation 2017, which is an exhibition of work by Finland's young artists aged 15 - 23.  Some of the work was really amazing - my favourite being the wooden hawk. The exhibition had works by 42 artists selected through an open call that generated over 1000 proposals. 

We wandered some more - and saw some more seals before catching the bus to the airport for the end of our Baltic adventure!

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