Kapoors Year 7: Europe/Ecuador/Peru travel blog

Instead Of A 12-Hour Ferry Trip We Chose To Fly From Sweden...

What A Surprise! First Time For Everything, Free Wifi On Board An...

We Walked To The Nearby Harbour On Our First Morning In Finland,...

Red Seems To Be A Popular Colour Here, It Brightens Up An...

We Strolled Through The Market Near The Central Harbour, It's Probably Much...

This Enterprising Woman Has Pulled Up Her Boat To Sell Smoked Fish...

On No! These Fur Coats Make Us Think About The Winter That's...

These Clever Hooded Scarves Have Fur Pieces Attached For Extra Style And...

In The Nearby Parking Lot I Spotted This Row Of Turtles And...

After Tumbling Off On The First Try, Donna Managed To Tame The...

The Market Food Looked So Tasty, We Decided To Dive Right In,...

The Lutheran Cathedral Towers High Over Central Helsinki

We Climbed The Long Flight Of Steps To Have A Better Look

And Then Had A Great Laugh On The Way Down When We...

This 'Bride' Is Missing Her Husband Of 30 Years, Duncan's At Home...

There Are Several Different Walking Tours Around The City, We Hoped To...

What A Great Way To See The Incredible Buildings, Decorated In The...

The National Romantic Style Is A Form Of Art Nouveau, We Loved...

There Seem To Be A Lot Of Birds And Squirrels, Owls Are...

After Admiring What Seemed Like Hundreds Of Buildings, We Emerged At The...

The Island Behind This Boat Is Where Our Apartment Is Located, A...

Even Some Of The Boats Have Art Nouveau Detailing

When We Realized That This Former Lighthouse Boat Was A Café/Bar, We...

What A Treat To Sit In The Afternoon Sunshine And Sea Air,...

High Above Us, Loomed The Red Brick Orthodox Cathedral

We Crossed Over A Small Bridge, Decorated With 'Love Locks", Onto 'Our...

The Sun Was Now Shining On The Cathedral And We Could See...

The Walking Tour Took Us Through The Island's Streets, This Adorable Dog...

It Was Getting Late In The Day Now, Time To Turn Towards...

Our Route Took Us Near The Island Harbour Where The Finnish Icebreakers...

I Had Completely Forgotten That Marimekko Was A Finnish Design Company

The Railway Station By Eero Saarinen, Is One Of The Most Outstanding...

A Very Fine Example Of The 'National Romanticism' Style Of Architecture

We Wondered What This Strange Structure Was, To Our Surprise It's A...

It's Known As The Chapel Of Silence, A Simple Space To Escape...

I Always Thought That The Moose Was A Canadian Animal, Here's A...

Aren't These The Strangest Flowers You've Seen In A Long Time? They...

What A Funky Red Transit Stop To Brighten Up A Drizzly Day,...

Speaking Of Transit, I Was So Surprised To See Staggered Seats On...

The Most Unusual Building We Saw In Helsinki Was The Temppeliaukio Church,...

The Rubble Was Used To Construct The Upper Walls Which Support The...

We Were So Very Fortunate To Come Upon A Gospel Group Rehearsing...

Our Transit Passes Even Covered The Ferry Ride To The Near Suomenlinna...

As We Were Disembarking, We Spotted this Fellow Who'd Decorated His Hat...

The Fortress On Suomenlinna Island Was Declared A UNESCO World Heritage-Listed Site

The King's Gate Was Built On The Site Where King Adolf Frederick...

We Took A Little Detour From The Fortress To See A German-Designed...

The Fortress Was Started In 1748 When Finland Was Part Of The...

It Served As A Base In The War Between Sweden And Russia...

In 1809 Finland Became A Part Of Russia And A Garrison Was...

The Russians Built The Sandbank Walls With Underground Munitions Storage And Installed...

After Wandering Around The Fortifications And Enjoying The Sea Views, We Turned...

At The Highpoint Of The Island, We Stopped To See The Church...

I Loved This Use Of The Old Cannons, Much More Conducive To...

King Adolf Sketched The Design For This Memorial To The Fortress's Architect

It's A Stunningly Beautiful Monument, Especially When Backed By The Autumn Foliage

We Seldom Have Photos Of The Two Of Us Together, But This...

On The 15-Minute Journey Back To Helsinki, We Could See The Three...

We Also Passed This Little Island Barely Above Sea Level, Look Out...

The Old Prison Near Our Apartment Building Has Been Converted Into A...

The Clock In The Bar Seems Like It Was Designed Just For...

The Cells Have Been Converted Into Guest Rooms, The Original Stairs Are...

I'm Not Sure I Would Want To Stay There, Too Many Ghosts!...


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BACKGROUND

In 1550, the Swedish King Gustav Vasa decided to develop a port town in order to complete with the Hanseatic port of Tallinn in what is now Estonia. He forced all the traders from neighbouring ports to Helsingfors (known to English speakers as Helsinki). The venture was not as successful as he had hoped it would be, and for the next 200 years the town on the rocky, windswept peninsula remained a backwater outpost.

When the Russians threatened from the east, the city was burned to the ground in 1713 to prevent it from falling into foreign hands, and all the citizens fled. The Swedes constructed an island fortress named Sveaborg (now known as Suomenlinna) in 1748 in order to protect the eastern portion of their empire. In the early 1800s, the Russians succeeded in capturing what is now Finland, and added the territory to their own empire. The capital was moved from Turku to Helsinki in order to have the administrative centre closer to St. Petersburg.

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw rapid growth, with beautiful buildings designed by German architect GL Engel making the waterfront more attractive. The Russians were back during WWII, inflicting heavy damage on the city with their bombs. Postwar recovery was swift and seven years later, Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1952. Rapid growth and prosperity have been attributed to the ‘Helsinki Spirit’ of its residents.

KAPOORS ON THE ROAD

Many travellers opt to take an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Turku, and then travel by train onwards to Helsinki. We would have liked to do this as well, however, I suffer terribly from motion sickness, and the thought of a 12-hour ferry ride was too much to contemplate. Luckily for us, Norwegian Air offers very affordable flights between the two capitals, and we were delighted to learn that we would be flying with the first airline in the world to offer free WiFi on board all its aircraft.

The downside of this decision meant that we would have to make a two-and-a-half-hour train trip to and from Helsinki to Turku if we wanted to visit the old-world charm of the former capital as well. A pop-up ad on my Facebook page had alerted us to the existence of an online apartment-booking agency called AirBnB, and when we found a fabulous 3-bedroom apartment in a gentrified neighbourhood near the Tallinn ferry terminal, we decided to focus our stay to Helsinki and enjoy the luxury of the ‘apartment with a sauna’. It turned out to be a great decision, because it allowed us a pleasurable and relaxed visit to Finland’s capital, and we were just a short stroll away from the port when it was time to head to the Baltic States.

We purchased the very affordable transit passes for the duration of our stay and made very good use of them. We walked a good deal of the time when the weather was sunny, and hopped aboard a tram or a bus when the skies opened and we experienced the more typical weather of the region, and the season. The pass was even valid for the ferry to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed fortress on an island near the entrance to the harbour.

The biggest surprise in Helsinki is the existence of a style of architecture that none of us knew existed. As we walked through the streets of Helsinki, admiring the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in northern Europe, we kept noticing the unusual detailing depicting animals, plants, flowers and nature. We dug a little deeper and discovered that this style is known as ‘National Romanticism’. We loved it.

The most iconic buildings in Helsinki are CL Engel’s Tuomiokirkko (Lutheran Cathedral) and E Saarinen’s Central Railway Station, however we enjoyed the tiny details on dozens of lesser-known buildings throughout the city just as much.

We almost made it a game, searching out the owls, squirrels, bats and bears on the façades of the buildings as we followed the walking tour outlined in our guidebook.

A notation about a rock church caught my fancy, and we made it our destination one sunny afternoon. The low green dome looked a little like an earthbound flying saucer as we approached the church from the south, and the main entrance to the building did nothing to tweak my interest. However, what a delightful surprise awaited us when we saw the rock-hewn interior. We all felt we just had to sit on the upholstered balcony pews for a few minutes to take it all in.

A group of young people had gathered on the main floor of the church, and appeared to be having a lesson of some sort. I just assumed that they were engaged in bible study, until they suddenly stood up and walked towards a small stage set up on the left side of the chapel. Suddenly, music filled the church and three young women began to sing. Their rich, full voices made us shiver, and I was reminded of a young Janis Joplin for a few moments.

As we listened, I realized they were singing in English, and that the song was ‘A Precious Lamb of God’. I tried taking a video with my Nikon camera, but luckily Donna did as well with her iPhone 4S. There was no comparison in the quality of the video, the iPhone won hands down. I made a vow, then and there, to order my first iPhone when the new iPhone 5 is released in the near future.

Here’s a link to the music that made us shiver, in the Rock Church, Helsinki: Helsinki Rocks!

We saved our trip to the island fortress for our last day in Finland. The ferry ride to the island was a real treat in itself and we spent the afternoon wandering around the fortifications, admiring the unusual bunkers, camoflauged by grassy mounds and standing beside the rusting cannons pointing out to sea. The fortress is spread over four separate islands, joined together by small bridges.

We made our way across all the islands, to the two-storey monumental King’s Gate, erected to welcome the Swedish king when he came to inspect the construction of the fortress. In the summer, tourists can return to Helsinki by ferry from this point, but in the off-season, visitors have to make their way back along the various pathways to where they landed.

We had passed a quaint little wooden building that has clearly seen better days, but which now housed a charming café. We stopped inside soon enough to capture the last three interior seats, and ordered huge bowls of steaming hot soup. The potato and leek soup was accompanied with large pieces of bread baked on-site, and made for a very satisfying meal. The desserts looked tempting as well, but we were full to bursting.

It was getting dark as we rode the tram back to our luxury apartment, but before heading indoors to that welcoming sauna, we decided to have a drink in the massive red brick jail just a stone’s throw from our apartment building. The 19th century prison has been recently converted to a Best Western Premier hotel, with its restaurant and bar situated in the basement, near the underground cellblocks.

Aptly named the ‘Jailbird Bar and Restaurant’, we admired the re-furbished interiors, but couldn’t imagine ourselves actually staying overnight in one of the prison cells. We took a peek into the ‘dungeon’ next to the dining room, and were completely ‘creeped’ out by the solitary confinement rooms. The room at the end of the hall was nothing more than a huge hole, where prisoners had to make do sleeping on the rough exposed rock surface. The room was lit by dozens of small tea lights. Shivers!

We returned to the warmth and comfort of our apartment and turned our thoughts to the travel ahead of us. The next morning, we were booked to board a massive ferry to make the two-and-a-half-hour crossing to the port of Tallinn, Estonia. Our time in the Nordic countries was at an end. It was time to explore the Baltic States – new territory, new languages, new foods, and new adventures.

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