Saying hello to Helsinki

Sibelius monument is a very modern stainless steel sculpture with different sizes of pipes. The memorial is set in a lovely park. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Sibelius monument is a very modern stainless steel sculpture with different sizes of pipes. The memorial is set in a lovely park. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

By ROXANNE ROWLEY
Special to the News Advocate

Port cities are fun to visit and Helsinki, Finland, was no exception.

The wharf area was a bustle of activity with a large outdoor market, food vendors and boats and ferries just waiting to take you to a nearby island. Because of its northern latitude and short growing season, there was also a large building housing another food market with everything from cheeses to meats to flowers.

A window display in Helsinki shows this dress made from real flowers. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

A window display in Helsinki shows this dress made from real flowers. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, the northernmost capital of the EU. The population is around 617,000. Helsinki distinguishes itself as the only European capital with no medieval past.

Finland was once part of the Kingdom of Sweden. It dates back to the 16th century and was founded by the Swedes. It stayed a little village until the 18th century.

Then a massive fortress was built on an island (Suomenlinna) just outside the harbor in 1794. After that Helsinki came into its own economically as a supplier to the fortress.

Today Helsinki is an engaging city with botanical gardens, interesting and often colorful architecture, fine museums and shops, friendly people and delicious food. One of our first stops was the monument to Finland’s favorite composer, Jean Sibelius. It is a very modern stainless steel sculpture with different sizes of pipes. The memorial is set in a lovely park.

Buskers play Vivaldi in the harbor area in Helsinki. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Buskers play Vivaldi in the harbor area in Helsinki. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The monument was a bit controversial when it was finished, perhaps because it is abstractness, so a stainless steel bust of the composer was added nearby.

We enjoyed walking to the harbor area every day of our stay in Helsinki. It was a fun place to just hang out. One of the best things was hearing the buskers (street musicians) on our way to the harbor area. Two days in a row we enjoyed a quartet playing Vivaldi.

They were so good that we had to stop and listen to an unexpected and very pleasant little concert. We also came upon a group playing pop fusion, which was very energetic to say the least!

Those little unanticipated concerts were a musical treat for the ears and much appreciated by passersby.

Helsinki is the home to a lovely, neoclassical Lutheran cathedral, as well as an Orthodox church with a

A sea fortress was built on the island of Suomenlinna just outside the harbor in 1794. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

A sea fortress was built on the island of Suomenlinna just outside the harbor in 1794. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

gilded onion-domed exterior. They were a study in contrasts with the Lutheran church and its white walls and plain, but attractive interior featuring a lovely wooden cross and a glorious pipe organ. The Orthodox Church was golden-gilded and very colorful inside and out.

We discovered a crypt in the basement of the Lutheran cathedral with a little cafeteria. It was a unique place to visit and enjoy a meal. The proceeds benefited their young boy’s choir. The food was delicious and made by the folks who volunteered there. One of my favorites was the Ukrainian borscht.

We chose a picture perfect day to take a ferry to the sea fortress, built on an island (Seumenlinna) in the late 1700s by the Swedes. The fortress is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites because it is a unique example of military architecture of its era.

The structures are huge and made of stone. Even today they are quite imposing.

Even though the summer season is short due to its northern latitude, Helsinki is home to beautiful botanical gardens. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Even though the summer season is short due to its northern latitude, Helsinki is home to beautiful botanical gardens. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

In 1788 there was a war between Russia and Sweden. The fortress served as a naval base. Over the years there were several wars fought on the island. In 1918 the Finns fought a civil war and the fortress served as a POW camp. The fortress was annexed by Finland. Even during WWII the fortress served as an anti-aircraft and submarine base. It was in 1973 when the Finnish garrison left the fortified island of Suomenlinna. Then the Ministry of Education and Culture took responsibility for the island.

One of our favorite buildings on Suomenlinna was the little Lutheran church. It was built in 1854 as a Russia Orthodox place of worship. Once Finland took control of the island in the 1920s it became a Lutheran house of worship. The steeple of the church operates as a lighthouse, too, a rather unique dual purpose.

We had lovely views of the Gulf of Finland on the island and enjoyed the sunny day. Watching the water lapping to the shore was relaxing. We met a couple of gentlemen from the UK at the beach and had a nice chat with them. Meeting folks from all over is one of my favorite parts of traveling.

There are about 1,000 permanent residents on the island. And it is home to Finland’s Naval Academy. Today about one million people come to visit the island and its interesting history.

While the summer season is kind of short because of its northern latitude, Helsinki nonetheless has beautiful greenhouses and botanical gardens. We were there at the end of the season, but there were still some lovely flowers in bloom. There are inviting walking paths and secluded benches to make a visit there very enjoyable.

I think people in northern climes are even more appreciative of gardens and flowers.

With its interesting history and equally interesting people, Helsinki was a very enjoyable place to visit. We were very glad we had the chance to say hello to Helsinki.

The steeple doubles as a lighthouse at the Lutheran church on Soumenlinna. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The steeple doubles as a lighthouse at the Lutheran church on Soumenlinna. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

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