Finland – land of saunas, raw herring, nature and reindeers

Before my travel to Finland, my understanding of this country was associated with: saunas, raw herring, beautiful nature, Lapland, reindeers, Santa Claus and Northern Lights. I imagined that there is always cold, days are short and there is never enough of sun. I have decided to go there to see if this is all true, and experience by myself whether in fact the country is cold and unapproachable.

Finland in numbers

Finland is a country that for centuries belonged to Sweden, and from 1809 to the Russian Empire. It was established after the collapse of Imperial Power and disconnected from Russia in 1917. Is located in the eastern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and is one of the five Nordic countries. Member of the EU since 1995 and out of all member countries – is the most northerly part of the continent. It is a country with the lowest population density in the EU with just 5.4 million inhabitants, approx. 16 people per 1 km2. There are nearly 190 thousand lakes, 180 thousand islands and almost 2 million saunas.

Finland is famous for its beautiful nature, clear waters of the lakes and clean air. Forests are covering almost 70% of the country, which gives the highest percentage in Europe. There are numerous swamps and bogs. There are also rare wild animals, ie. brown bears, wolves, moose and arctic foxes.

Of course, everyone also knows that Finland is home of reindeers and Santa Claus, who has been always an inhabitant of the Lapland area. Most of the southern part of Finland is flat and low-lying, and the current lifestyle of Finns was formed under the influence of the local climate. Summers are short, but often warm and sunny, while winters are long, dark and very cold. Only in the north part of Finland – at the foothills of the Scandinavian Mountains, there are highlands. In the summer, there are no sunsets and in the winter, there is night all the time. From mid-October to mid-February it is worthy to go there to see the Northern Lights.

Famous Finns

  • Janne Ahonen and Matti Hautamäki – ski jumpers
  • Paavo Nurmi – long-distance runner, a multiple champion at the Olympics in the years 1920-1928
  • Mika Häkkinen or Kimi Räikkönen – Formula I drivers
  • Jean Sibelius – famous composer
  • Tova Jansson – writer, painter and illustrator, author of the famous stories about Moomins.

Beside of this, Finland is famous as a place where Linux operating system was invented, Nokia mobile phone and a video game “Angry Birds.” Finland is a world leader in telecommunications.

Helsinki

The capital of Finland, also known as the “Daughter of the Baltic” impresses with its architecture, culture and beautiful nature. The city is surrounded by water from 3 sides, and its boundaries include 315 islands. There are approx. 570 thousand inhabitants living in Helsinki, and due to the low buildings architecture, numerous canals and small islands around – the final impression is that you are in a peaceful and cozy place.

It was a day before the Labor Day, called Vappu – when we arrived to the city. Vappu name means Walpurgis Night, which is one of the most important pagan festivals. Long time ago, on the eve of that night – all the fires have been extinguished, and the ground was covered with darkness, as people believed there was a “time of ghosts and dark forces.” With the advent of the first day of summer (1st of May) there were new fires inflamed, symbolizing the return of the “kingdom of the Sun”. Consequently there were long processions in every city, which were as noisy as possible to make scare away evil spirits.

Vappu celebrations are today students’ events, although you can see that everyone can join the festival no matter the age is. The event begins in the afternoon. When we came – the city was full with young people dressed in a very colorful suits, due to the fact colors are distinguishing the individual college fraternities and sororities. Almost everyone had a colored balloon in his hand and strapped to the trousers – plastic wine or champagne glass. The crowd has gathered around the fountain Havis Amanda, topped with a statue of a siren named Manta. This is one of the most famous symbols of the city. At 6pm there was a culmination. Few participants of the event (in a special balloon) raised above the ground and set up a student cap to the mermaid head. All the people gathered on the street, started to sing a joyful hymn and threw up the white student cap, which each brought with him. Right after that they began to celebrate.

There were many concerts, festivals and cheap wine in the city that day. Colorful and amused crowd was occupying stairs leading to the cathedral of Tuomiokirkko. In the evening, we have noticed that there were many student caps put on the heads of all the town’s monuments, which made a funny impression.

Helsinki and its surrounding area, what to see?

  • Fish Market “Kauppatori

Crowded till late in the afternoon, in the evening completely empty. You can buy mostly fishes there but what I recommend the most of all: salted herring, reindeer steaks or black bread. There are also numerous stalls where you can buy handicrafts or souvenirs. Just above the heads of tourists there are many gulls circling around, which have learned to steal food directly from the tourist’s plates. Therefore I recommend you to be careful when you eat there as it is easy to be “robbed”.

  • Uspensky Cathedral

The church standing on the hill can be seen from many points in the city. The building was raised in 1868, according to the project A.M. Gornostaev, considered today as the biggest Orthodox cathedral in the West. It constantly reminds the strong Russian influence in Helsinki

  • Lutheran Cathedral Tuomiokirkko

It is the vast snow-white building, which stands above the city and is one of the most recognizable buildings in Helsinki. The Cathedral – designed by C.L. Engel was completed in 1852 (12 years after his death). There is monumental staircase leading to the church, which is a favorite meeting place for young people and tourists. There is also the Senate Square in front of the cathedral – a traditional scene of celebration of the New Year. Every year there are over 350 thousand people visiting the Cathedral building.

  • Presidential Palace

“Presidentinlinna”, in front of which there are guard soldiers in colorful uniforms. The palace was built in 1820 for a wealthy merchant Johan Heydenshtrauh. In 1837 the house was purchased by the government and intended for the residence of the General Governor of Finland. However – at the request of Emperor Nicholas I – the building was given by the city to be used by the imperial family. During the First World War, the building temporarily housed a military hospital. Since 1918 it was the seat of the first king of Finland. Today it is only used for the official meetings, celebrations, summits and state ceremonies.

  • Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Games were originally scheduled in 1940 – but due to the Second World War, they took place only in 1952. When you enter the terrace of the Olympic tower than you can see an amazing panoramic view of the city and surrounding areas. It is also possible to visit the Museum of Sport there. In front of the stadium there is a statue of Paavo Nurmi, who was a legendary athlete. He was called the “Flying Finn”, as during 3 consecutive Olympiads he managed to won 12 medals – where 9 of them were made of gold. He was first living athlete, to whom erected a monument.

  • The Church in the Rock – Temppeliaukio

It was built in the years 1968-1969, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Temple is famous for its excellent acoustics, so often there are music concerts. During our visit, there were big speakers standing in the corners, so we could hear calm and nice music there. This is a place where I recommend you to make a short break, as listening to the music in this place brings peace and relax.

  • Sibelius Park

    It is worthy to see monument of the Passio Musicae there, erected in honor of the eminent Finnish composer. This building resembles a giant abstract music organ, unveiled in 1967. The author – Eila Hiltunen, weld by her herself all big steel pipes, which she has paid off the lung disease. A few years later, she has finally finished the monument, by adding a sculpture depicting the face of the Sibelius.

  • Suomenlinna – (Fortress of Finland)

It is one of the largest maritime fortresses in the world, lies on several neighboring islands. Construction of the fortress was started by the Swedes in 1748, fearing the growing power of Russia. The work initially was planned to be finished in 4 years, in fact it took over 40 year to finish it. Sveaborg (Fortress Finandii) was the largest building of its kind in the whole kingdom. Unfortunately, after losing the war in 1809, Sweden has lost Finland in favor of Russia. Russian gave  a new name to this place – Viapori. Due to the strategic position of the fortress – in 1812 Russia moved the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki. It was seriously damaged during the Crimean War in 1855. Over the years there was a prison for prisoners of the Civil War, and later served as a military garrison. Finally in 1991, the monument was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.Today fortress is a favorite place of the Helsinki’s residents, as the like to organize picnics there and have some relax on weekends. You can get there only by the ferry. The island has several interesting museums, cafes, restaurants – you can spend there the whole day.

Accommodation

During our whole stay in Finland we were leaving in one place – The Nordic Hotel. It is a small 3-star hotel, located on the 5th floor of the building. Hotel windows are facing the canal in Ruoholahti Harbour which is a famous business district. Just outside the hotel there is a tram stop, from where you can reach the city center in about 15-20 minutes. Metro Station Ruoholahti is approx. 700 m (10 minutes walking distance). We have chosen this hotel due to the 3 reasons:

  1. Close distance to the port. The nearest ferry terminal – Länsisatama can be reached by car in 5 minutes or 15 minutes’ walking
  2. The ability to use underground garage free of charge. Please note that finding a parking place in the city center is not easy and usually it always quite expensive.
  3. Modern design, good value for prices and very positive feedback on Booking.com

Every morning there was a buffet breakfast served, consisting organic products. During breakfast, we could prepare fresh orange juice. In the common room (open 24/7) – there was a possibility of using tee/ coffee facilities, free of charge.

Before our arrival date, we were given information about how to get there by car and how to access the underground parking lot. We have also received a code to the garage door, therefore we could use the garage anytime we wanted.

When we stayed in our hotel, the service, cleanliness of our room, breakfast, atmosphere and the views from the windows – everything we appreciated a lot. There was a great hospitality, kindness of the hotel staff, cleanliness common areas, massage chair in small relax room – all of it is a big advantage of this place. Daily sunset views from our windows were just breathtaking. I gave to this place the highest rating ever. I can recommend you this hotel by purpose, because I am sure you will like it. It is also a perfect base for those who want to go outside of Helsinki, due to the fact that city suburbs are just few minutes car distance from here. This was our great experience and we have unforgettable memories.

The Nordic Hotel – Ruoholahti Harbour view

TBC…

 

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