We arrived in Helsinki on a gloomy Sunday. On every tour or cruise some destinations fall on a Sunday. Sadly, there is no way to avoid it. Large ships dock about mile from the center of the city, so we took a shuttle from the New Terminal in an area filled with new construction of ultra modern apartments and offices. Somehow this area was tidy and clean – so typical of the region. (Of all the places we visited on our cruise, only St. Petersburg had the ugliness you see in some areas of North American cities.)
Helsinki is the newest of the Baltic capitals and grew during the early 19th century so that most buildings are from the the 19th and 20th centuries. The iconic Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral (above) stands on a hill one block from the Central Market and City Hall. It is a gathering place for tour buses. With a church service going on we were unable to go in.
We arrived downtown and by about 11am the stores in the center city started to open and the boutiques offered high quality products, both local and international. Slightly off-kilter public art and advertising dotted the squares, streets and parks. Helsinki clearly relishes it’s reputation for modernism and progressive politics. The Blacksmiths sculpture, just outside the Stockmann department store, is from the 1930s and shows the Finns enterprising spirit.
The Central Market was right at the small central harbor and the stall sellers were waiting for us. Fried smelts and reindeer kabobs were on offer at the Lapland food stalls. A sample smelt was tasty, but I was not hungry yet. Local crafts were high quality, even the t-shirts. Temptations were many, purchases few. Having to haul everything on a plane tends to dampen the desire of acquisition.
Across from the Market was the City Hall which had another display of the Finnish imagination. The surrounding streets and alleys had small boutiques with locally crafted items mostly with the clean, modern look that is typical of the region. The city is filled with Museums, but our limited time and the lovely city kept us outside wandering. We took the local tram about a mile north of the center to visit the most popular architectural attraction in the city, the Church of the Rock. The exterior is a pile of rocks with an entrance. The interior walls are cut from stone capped with a copper disk roof and edged with fanned windows. Most of the time the interior features recorded sacred music, but we arrived during a pipe organ concert.
We had a tasty lunch at the Kiasma Museum and admired the gigantic moving plastic flower above the entrance. Back at Stockmann’s the shoppers shopped and the others (that would be me) watched the heavy traffic in the store. Men and women seemed a bit taller, fitter and blonder than in the US. Make-up and high heels were uncommon though I sat near the make-up and perfume kiosks. People getting in and out of the elevators seemed decidedly polite and patient. All in all Helsinki seemed a nice place to be – open and friendly…despite the gloomy Sunday.