Thursday, August 08, 2019

Nordic Finland with Rick Steves

Wednesday, August 7, 2019 – Ferry to Helsinki Finland

After another hearty breakfast at the Tallinn, MyCity Hotel, we roll our suitcases several blocks to a waiting bus. After a tour of the outskirts of Tallinn we will take the ferry to Helsinki Finland. Our first Tallinn stop is the amphitheater, the site of the Songfest, a singing event that takes place once every 5 years. 200,000 people attended this past June from all over the country. It’s hard to imagine the sloping park and amphitheater accommodating such a crowd but Eszter tells us that singing in choruses is popular throughout Estonia and that the Songfest is a wonderful event that unites the country. 
Songfest Amphitheater, Tallinn
We continue onto the grounds of the Kuma Art Museum to admire both the modern exterior architecture of the museum and the surrounding park grounds.  After strolling downhill through the park we arrive at formal French Gardens with manicured box hedges and fountains that feel like a mini Versailles.

Palace and gardens in Kadriorg Park
Our bus drops us at the Tallinn ferry building and we obediently follow our group up the very long gang plank onto the ferry. The ferry swallows dozens of semi trucks and tankers for the crossing to Helsinki. Tallinn city disappears in the distance and we sit with Alan and Sharrod for the 2 ½ hour crossing.
View of Tallinn from the Helsinki Ferry
Helsinki Port Architecture

Sibelius Monument looking up

Composer Jean Sibelius Monument

The modern architecture in Helsinki is in striking contrast to the Tallinn skyline. Eszter and Mirjam usher us to a waiting bus and we have a stop at the Sibelius Monument, an abstract pipe organ monument in honor of the composer. I'm not impressed by the exterior view but looking up into the pipes makes for an interesting photograph. 

From there we drive to the Seurasaari Open Air Museum where we have close to two hours to explore the idyllic island with authentic Finnish farm houses, churches and homes. Rough hewn log structures have been moved to this island in an effort to recreate and capture the stark living conditions of the Finnish people 100-200 years ago. The isolated farms, harsh climate and minimalistic comforts look grueling to this California gal.

Doug, Art and Allen at the Seurasaari Open Air Folk Museum
Inside the church

Farm house kitchen

Seurasaari Church

Loom and Spinning wheel

Before going to our Helsinki hotel, we stop at the Rock Church in the heart of Helsinki, a marvelous intimate church hewn deep into a granite formation in the city center. Copper, wood and the rust colors of the granite make the church architecturally striking. I observe the signs forbidding climbing upon the rocks and feel for the children and young rock-climbers because the walls seem to invite scaling.

Helsinki's Rock Church
Detail of Rock Church

Copper roof of Rock Church

Our Rivoli Jardine Hotel is in the heart of Helsinki. Although not luxurious, the hotel is intimate and our room is comfortable. We have a brief walking tour on our way to a group dinner. Designer shops, sidewalk cafes and upscale restaurants line the boulevards. To me the city feels very much like New York or San Francisco. Our dinner is at an elegant restaurant near the waterfront.  Although each of the three components of our dinner is delicious, all have the same texture and are much too rich in combination. Our appetizer is a creamy artichoke soup, the entrée a rich and creamy fish soufflé and dessert a dense chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream. I can almost feel the onset of gout. After dinner, Art and I wander the downtown district. Because we are so far north, the sky still has traces of light even at 10:00 P.M. at night.

Rick Steves welcome dinner, Helsinki Finland

Still light out at 10:00 P.M.

Red glass birds
Designer shop, Marimekko

Thursday, August 8, 2019  Helsinki – Dinner with Baja friends, Erica and Bruce

I’m almost getting tired of smoked salmon, tomato and cucumber salad and crepes for breakfasts. Eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, cheese, fruits, fresh pastries and breads are also available but for close to two weeks, I have enjoyed smoked salmon as my morning protein followed by a decadent crepe with jam. Our morning walks are fast paced and I fool myself into believing that I will walk off the extra calories. 

Our Rick Steve group gathers for a walking tour of Helsinki
Art Nouveau architecture

Who would have imagined that the highlight of this mornings’ walking tour would be the new public library.  The three story library is spacious and as much a gathering and makers space as a library. There are innovative reading areas, private glassed in conference rooms that are available free by reservation. The fall school semester started today so the gaming rooms are fairly empty but some young people sprawl on couches twitching gaming controls in glass fronted sound proof rooms. There are glass cubical kitchens for rent where friends can gather and cook a meal together and even bring along their own wine or beer.   3-D printers and color copiers are free to use and charge only a modest supply fee for paper or kink.  Students are curled in pod like chairs while others sit outside overlooking the city and soaking in the northern sun.

Skylights to the Art Museum
Looking up Library staircase

Bank of library computers
3D Printers

Library seating area
Pod reading capsules

Helsinki Library reading sundeck.
After visiting a few cathedrals our tour ends at the waterfront and we have the afternoon at large in Helsinki. 
Orthodox Church
Inside the Orthodox Church

Ornate gate, Lutheran Cathedral
Neoclassical Lutheran Cathedral

A daily craft and food market spills out along the waterfront plaza. After our usual indecision over where to eat, Art and I choose a food stall serving ample plates of salmon, potatoes and stir fry vegetables.  We share the 12 Euro plate of street food and Art returns to our hotel. I spend a delicious 30 minutes alone wandering the craft stalls and purchase a hand woven table runner directly from the artist and a couple of pewter gifts.
A weaver at the Helsinki craft market
There is much to do in Helsinki but we expect to meet Erica later in the afternoon and decide to go to the Design Museum close to our hotel. The museum is somewhat of a disappointment but there is an exhibit of Song and Olin about the value of reproduced crafts that hits a core with me. My take away is that instead of looking at the duplicated souvenirs for sale as worthless, to respect and consider the dedicated crafts persons making each piece and the initial design concept required to bring a souvenir  to market.  Art does not share my enthusiasm over the exhibit. 

Master craftspersons
Videos of craftspersons creative process

Song's and Olin's journey

Craft objects
Craft objects

After leaving the museum,  Art and I wander further afield window shopping trendy boutiques until Erica is off work. It’s close to 4:30 when we meet with her and go to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant. Art had hoped to play Pickle Ball with Erica today but in Helsinki it is an indoor sport which happens mostly on weekends. We have a pleasant visit chatting about our lives in Zacatitos Mexico and Erica’s life in Helsinki. She is an animal acupuncturist and her patients are mostly police horses. This apparently affords her a flexible enough schedule to spend significant time in Baja and she tells us she that she feels most at home in Mexico. Erica’s boyfriend, Bruce joins us half way through our meal and cautions Art about traveling in Russia.  
Art and Erica
At 6:00 P.M. we enjoy happy hour at our hotel with our tour group following which Art and I set out to find a light dinner. Our initial plans are to have dinner in the gourmet food court of the Stockmann department shop but the restaurants are closing by the time we arrive. We spend an hour in the furniture section of the department store admiring the Finish furniture and lighting designs and decide that what is on display here is better than what we saw in the design museum earlier today. 

Furniture design - Stockman department store
Lighting design
Bar stool

It is 9:00 P.M. by the time we leave and it is not yet dark. The sky is beginning to fade into a night sky. Because of our late lunch, we are more indecisive than usual and fall into our dysfunctional pattern of reading all the restaurant menus but unable to agree. We return to our hotel grumpy, tired and hungry with a package of sliced chicken and a bottle of water purchased from a nearby market. 

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