The phrase “when in Tallinn” comes to mind:
I mean, when you are able to get to another nation’s capital in under two hours it is rude to not pay a visit. So that’s what we did and we temporarily bid farewell to Tallinn and said hello to Helsinki.
We booked ourselves on the first and last boats of the day so we could make the best use of our time as possible. This, however, meant leaving the hotel just before 7 to walk across town to the pier. Whilst we were tired this did allow us to experience Tallinn Old Town in a different way: almost completely deserted. It made it feel like we were on an old film set, so it was both cool and a little bit eerie.
Now, whilst there are many different ways to get across the water to Helsinki we went for the Linda Line. It’s the fastest at about 1h 45m whilst also having the best times in order to have a full day excursion. It’s a bit no frills, but as someone who finds it easy to fall asleep in most moving vehicles I didn’t notice much about the boat before we docked in Helsinki.
To say I was ridiculously excited to be setting food in Finland would be an understatement. This is one of those countries that I’ve always wanted to pay a visit to and, like with Estonia, it’s because of the Finnish flag. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a flag with blue and white with no red.
Thanks to an excessive amount of Googling I managed to piece together a decent itinerary for a day in Helsinki – well it worked for me and has made me want more time in this city at some point in the future.
So from the boat we went through Market Square to the golden topped Upensky Church. In retrospect, I regret not having bought breakfast from one of the stalls in the square. I mean how often do you come across this many chances to eat reindeer for breakfast. Maybe next time eh?
Anyway, this church is the first time I have stepped into an Eastern Orthodox church that isn’t the Russian sect. The roof of the dome still had the starry sky quality and there was still a lot of gold on display, but there was still a different feel to it. For one thing the workers in the church felt a lot more accommodating and relaxed around tourists. Also, the moratorium on taking pictures wasn’t there, which is good for the sake of memories.
After this we made our way to the Helsinki Cathedral. This glistening white building truly dominates the skyline in this part of the city, which reminded me of the castle in Himeji. We clearly had the perfect weather to see this particular building. Just the contrast of the bright white with the pure blue sky made for some great picture taking.
The inside of this Lutheran cathedral was a massive contrast with the Orthodox church. A plain white interior with a few statues to key figures and a lot of smooth lines made this church feel beautiful in its own way despite being sparsely decorated.
By now we were getting hungry and, thanks for the need for brunch, we got a cruel awakening at how different the prices are between Finland and Estonia. These two sandwiches and the drinks cost us just over 20€. They were great sandwiches (one was avocado, tomato and cashew nut) but this was a lot of money.
On our way to see the key landmark of the day we came across the Parliament building, which was being restored, and an army marching band that were practising in a space nearby. It was fun to watch and there was a lot more moving and chanting than I would have first expected. It was also rather cute when the band leader saluted the crowd whenever we applauded.
If you come to this church from the wrong angle you would be excused for wondering where the church actually is. The Rock Church (which is a much easier name to say than the Finnish one) has been carved right into the natural rock formations that pepper Helsinki. You can actually climb on top of the church since there is a path that helps you clamber up the rocks.
The inside of the church is something truly special. I have seen anything quite like it and if it was not for me seeing the Sagrada Familia two months ago to would be the best church that I had visited in years.
It’s really hard to get a good photograph of the Rock Church that shows off what makes it so special. For one thing the natural rock walls make this an acoustically special church. Plus all the natural light that is allowed to come in just helps to make this a very relaxing space. This really is a special place.
Time was marching on, so after a bit of light souvenir shopping we made our way back to Market Square to catch a waterbus to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortess. This means a 15-20 minute boat ride where you get a chance to see the Helsinki Islands whizz by. I cannot recommend doing this journey enough. It was a real eye opener to the number of islands around the city and their different sizes.
The Soumenlinna Fortress itself was extremely interesting to walk around and is something I would have thought of doing if it wasn’t for different people on the web. The idea that this fortress, in the space of 2-300 years has been used to defend Sweden, Finland and Russia (due to the many times Finland has changed hands over the years) makes this an interesting structure.
Add to that the different sorts of buildings including gardens, courtyards, barracks of differing building styles and a church then that’s a snapshot of what is at Soumenlinna. In warmer temperatures this would make for a great picnicking spot – for us we made use of one of the many cafes where hot chocolate and chocolate-almond torte helped replenish some energy supplies.
After a few hours on the fortress and a bit of wandering around Helsinki’s Design District it was time to be back on the ferry and head off to Tallinn. By the time we got back to the hotel it was 9 so we nipped out for a quick dinner at the nearby shopping centre.
So it appears that I could have crossed this off ages ago. When it said wild raspberry it pretty much covers most of what we in Europe would call raspberries. Therefore I decided that I would look for some sort of raspberry treat in order to cross this off. A chocolate raspberry cake seemed exactly right for this challenge. Lord knows I needed it after such a long day.
There you go. A day in Helsinki and I am still typing this up despite the fact it is gone midnight. Tomorrow will be another early start as we join a tour to Lahemaa Park and other surrounding areas. It’ll be good to get a chance to see more of Estonia.