Thursday, July 07, 2016

Our Baltic Cruise: Helsinki, Finland

Wow ... after yesterday's gigantic post about our visit to St Petersburg, you actually came back! Thanks! I promise that the next few posts will be shorter, if only because St Petersburg was such a hard act to follow. Today, we visit the capital of Finland, Helsinki ...

The Regal Princess arrived in Helsinki early in the morning of Wednesday, June 22nd, and after the frantic pace and early show times of our last two days of tours, we enjoyed a relatively genteel reporting time of 8:40 AM for our tour, "Helsinki by Land and Sea."

The morning was chilly and overcast when we set out for the first part of our tour - the "sea" part. We boarded our bus, met our guide, Chris (she assured us her real name in Finnish was unpronounceable), and set out for the brief drive to another of the three harbors of Helsinki (north, south, and west) to meet our harbor tour. Along the way, Chris kept up the usual commentary on the sights we were seeing, which included a statue known locally as "The Bad, Bad Boy" -

Yes, he's peeing.

According to Chris, the statue was one of several that had been commissioned for the grounds of various government buildings. It originally stood in front of the Presidential Palace, but it didn't take long for people to suspect it may not have set the right tone of gravitas, and so it was relocated to its current location near the cruise ship terminal*.

We soon arrived at the berth of our harbor cruise ship, the Victoria, and set forth for a tour of about an hour and a half. The weather at the start was overcast, breezy, and chilly; Agnes opted to sit inside, while I took a seat on the open upper deck for better pictures. 

Helsinki is surrounded by about 350 islands of various size, many of them under military control and many others privately owned. One of the largest of the islands is Soomenlimna, the site of the nation's Naval College (the large yellow building in the picture below) - 

It can be a bit disconcerting to see something like this while you're cruising past ...

The treaties that ended World War II allowed Finland (at one time allied with Germany) to keep an army, navy, and air force, but do not allow it to operate submarines. The colorful sub below is a pre-war vessel on display at one of the military facilities.

There are a great many very beautiful and scenic structures along the miles of shorelines; I particularly liked this building ...

We went past the summer anchorage of the icebreaker fleet ... an important group of vessels for a city whose harbor is shallow and tends to freeze over in winter ...

As we came back into a different part of the harbor to begin the "land" part of the tour, we were treated to this view of a line of picturesque government buildings with the harbor market square in the foreground and the Helsinki Cathedral in the background. 

We docked and walked a few blocks through the bustling market square to where our bus was parked, then had a fairly short driving tour of the city before being deposited at Senate Square (directly in front of the cathedral in the picture above) for a brief half-hour of free time to explore on our own. 

Agnes had been anxious to sample some real local food at everyplace we'd visited, so we hustled from Senate Square back down to the market square, where we found this tent shop that offered "Lapland Food" ...

After briefly checking the menu, which also included such delicacies as elk sausage, Agnes decided on the grilled salmon, while I went for the grilled goat cheese. Both were absolutely excellent, and we managed to get back to the bus in plenty of time ...

Our bus was parked at the foot of the hill on Senate Square, which is dominated (as I noted above), by Helsinki Cathedral. According to Chris the guide, when the cathedral was built, the great central dome was intended to house the cathedral's bells ... however, the already-constructed tower was unable to support the weight of the bells, which resulted in the addition of the flanking towers to accommodate them. I don't know if that's a true story or not, but it sounds good.

The final stop on our brief tour of Helsinki was the monument to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, situated in a beautiful wooded park. We found the monument to be interesting, beautiful, and dramatic, but according to our guide the composer's family did not. I don't know much about the music of Sibelius, but he evidently composed mainly for strings and piano, and the family objected to the monument which, they said, looked like an organ ...

And so it was that the sculptor went back to the drawing board and later added a somewhat modernistic bust of Sibelius to the park. You can't see it in these two pictures, but in the photo above, the bust would be off to the right, and sitting at a right angle to the main sculpture.

Sadly, that was all we had the time to see and experience in Helsinki before being bused back to the ship for our departure on the last leg of the cruise. Before I close up, here are a few random observations about the city:

- Finland has two official languages: Finnish (related, oddly enough, to Hungarian) and Swedish. All street signs in the city use both languages, with Finnish on top and Swedish underneath.

- The population of Finland is about 5.6 million, and they are served by an estimated 3.5 million saunas. Almost every home has one, and there are public saunas everywhere.

- Helsinki was the first city we'd visited on this cruise where we noted beggars on the streets.

- We were warned - repeatedly - about pickpockets, which seem to be a serious problem everywhere.

- We sailed from Helsinki shortly after 4:00 PM in brilliant sunshine ... but within minutes the ship was engulfed in a dense fog that lasted for the next several hours!

- Finally, the day we visited Helsinki - June 22nd - was the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Sunrise was at 3:54 AM and sunset at 10:50 PM. At 10:38 PM, I was sitting on the balcony outside our cabin on the ship, and was able to read comfortably without extra light.

And that's it for Helsinki. Tomorrow, we'll take a break from the travelogue and have July's first set of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Be here. We'll pick up with the tale of our visit to Stockholm, Sweden, on Tuesday.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* Which may, of course, send a message to a different audience.


Big Sky Heidi said...

Helsinki looks awesome! I want to go too! They have interesting aesthetics there.
Plus Marimekko!

Mike said...

I looked up "The Bad, Bad Boy". Seems he's been peeing all over town.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

That Bad Bad Boy would really make a hit in Washington or Baton Rouge or Nashville.