Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trip to Helsinki, Finland (July 2015)

Helsinki Cathedral (Lutheran) Helsinki's icon
The ferry entered into the Helsinki harbor and the scenery was panoramic. Based on my research prior to the trip, I did not have much expectation from the city. A Finn said that the city was boring, so what should I expect? But the view of the city from the ferry was beautiful.

We arrived at Radisson Blu in Espoo, a neighboring city to Helsinki, around 10:15am. We left our luggage at the hotel and headed out to the city at 10:45am. We decided to tour the city via Hop on Hop off bus. The tour started in front of the Cathedral, the iconic building of Helsinki. It was located in a square (Senate Square) along with a government building, currently used for the ministry of finance and prime minister, and University of Helsinki.

Finland has a population of 5.4 million out of which approximately 600,000 people live in Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. Finland used to be under the Swedish empire during the 13th - 19th century, but became independent in 1809 as Grand Duchy of Finland until 1917 when it became the current Republic of Finland. Although Finand had to give away part of its land to Soviet Union after World War II, it has been able to keep its independence. Finland joined EU in 1995 and adopted Euro in 2002. Finland has received influence from Russia and Soviet Union due to its proximity, and still has close ties with Russia economically and culturally.

Paavo Nurmi, a 9-gold medal hero at 1952 Finland Olympics
Finland is known for Nokia. Once this company was responsible for a 25% of Finland's economic growth from 1998 to 2007. Nokia also represented one fifth of Finland's exports and once Nokia paid 23% of all corporate tax revenue for Finland. Wow... Since Nokia's stock price started fall off the cliff, 90% or so since 2007, its impact to Finland's economy also was quite significant. Well... the principle of diversification stands true even in macro economy.

Helsinki was first established by Gustav Vasa, Swedish King, as a small settlement and its small size continued for a couple of centuries. But it started growing after King Vasa decided to build Suomenlina Sea Fortress in an island in front of the harbor. The sea fortress is known to be the largest of its kind in Europe.

Rock Church
We got off the hop-on hop-off bus to see the Rock Church that was established by carving into a rock with a roof covering the church hall. This Rock Church looks quite different from a similar one in Lalibella, Ethiopia as I saw it in picture. I will find out when I visit Lalibella. The Rock Church is still used for worship service, wedding and concerts due to its excellent acoustic effect. A pipe organ was being played when we arrived there.

Then, we walked to the Sibelius Monument that looked like a collection of pipes erected vertically. This monument was to commemorate Jean Sibelius, Finland's respected musician and composer. 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Sibelius birthday and there are special concerts are being held all over the places in the world to celebrate his birthday.
Jean Sibelius

We got off the bus again at the Market Place to eat quick lunch and snack by the water. Seagulls and other birds were gathering in hopes to pick up some leftover foods. They were not afraid of people at all and some were even aggressively taking away the food even in front of people. Of course, we had to take ice cream after the lunch and again it was just delicious.

We walked back to the pick-up point passing through a beautiful park, called Esplanade Park. A lot of people were lying down or doing picnic on the grass. We were informed that the sunny days are rare and every time there is sun people do the sun-bathing. I understand. Many musicians were performing in the park, pleasing the visitors to the park, whether residents of Helsinki or tourists. What a peaceful scene!

Finland's architecture is not quite as impressive as other European countries. It is very simple and pragmatic. Perhaps it is the Russia's influence...?

In the summer, Finland has 19 hours of sunlight, but it has 18 hours of darkness during the winter. That is a long night! I was not sure if I could handle it. No wonder a lot of people suffer from depression. At any rate, Helsinki in the summer was green, beautiful and quietly active.

The hotel we stayed, Radisson Blu, was the best so far. But we had to go to bed soon after a quick dinner at 8pm because we had to eat our breakfast at 5:30am and load our luggage by 6am to depart for Russia. It was unknown how long it will take to pass through the Russian border. Good night! - Jeffrey

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