Archive | November, 2012

Suomenlinna Fortress

25 Nov

If I could choose an island to live on, this would rank high in my list of destinations. On a cold November morning we stepped off the boat and onto dry, crunchy leaves; proof that somewhere in Finland autumn still lingered on. The cold, wild wind sapped the moisture from our skin, despite the bright autumnal sun. The quite was permeated only by a tour group of Russians and the occasional tractor driving by.The island felts a million miles away from anything, but with the comfort of being only a twenty minute boat journey away from the capital.

Our arrival on the island

The boat costs only 5€ for a two way journey, and it’s free to enter the island. There’s a museum in the tourist information that costs 6€, but our little group was happy enough to take the opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise. Not much was open in winter anyway – for this reason I would suggest that if you plan to have lunch there you should take your own food, because the only restaurant was quite expensive. There is a cafe and convenience store, but we didn’t visit either so I couldn’t comment on the prices – my guess is that they’d be quite high though.

View from the ferry

A pleasantly autumnal day greeted us

Construction of the island began in 1748 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. The ferry to reach it is located just by the kauppatori (market square), not far from the city centre, and a big sign makes it easy to find. Once you land you’ll pass through a small tunnel and find a few little shops and a church on the other side. Further on there’s the tourist information and the museum, followed by more little shops and restaurants – all shut because of the season though.

So much blue, no wonder there is blue on the Finnish flag

Church bell

A grand memorial in the square

It’s a pleasant walk through the small village, passing a memorial stone, some old farm machinery and many, many cannons. I read that up to a thousand cannons can fit on the island at once – not bad for a small island.

Two of the many cannons

At the water’s edge it was beautiful – but freezing!

If you go in November make sure to wrap up warm, gloves, hat and all, because it’s bitterly cold right next to the ocean. If the weather’s good make sure to take advantage of it, because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip on a rainy day; everything is outside and there’s little change to get away from the weather. It’s a very beautiful island, but we spent maybe only two hours there – you could spend more if it was the summer though. A lonely beer bottle sat on one wall, a relic from the summer parties no doubt.

There were many little doors that led into buildings built into the ground – I’m not sure what most were but the restaurants on the far side were built like this too

There’s very little sun here in Oulu this week and looking at these pictures is making me miss it even more. But hey ho, there’s always next week =) I’ll be in Lapland so I may not be updating regularly,but I’ll try. Hope you’ve had a good weekend!

 

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Helsinki By Morning

19 Nov

In every new place that I visit I aim to wake up around 7am and go for a walk – nowhere in particular, just exploring. I love mornings, and the fresh sense of adventure and possibility that they place on my heart. Something about mornings in a new city, you can’t beat it.

I underestimated how late the sun would rise in Helsinki so it was still dark when I left the hostel at 7am. It was windy and cold by the sea, but I waited patiently for the sun to rise on a bench next to the boats in the harbour. It came over all pink, red and purple and was worth the wait.

Next I headed into the city centre to check out the cathedral in the morning light, minus the tourists. It looked like it was standing guard over the Senate Square, solid and stoic, if a building can be so. I followed the road into town, passed by the occasional tram screeching along the tracks. The streets were almost entirely empty, save for a few people on their way to work or other tourists like me.

I walked rather aimlessly, like a child in a toy-store with my face turned up to wonder at the height and beauty of the architecture around me. Helsinki is a very beautiful and very clean city and I wasn’t worried about getting lost, because the layout is so square and neat that you are able to double back on your path easily.

I reached Robert’s Coffee just after eight and stepped in for a coffee and a croissant. I wrote my postcards and watched the city stumble out of bed and into its work clothes. It was a relaxing way to spend my morning.

My friends were supposed to arrive by train at 9am, but they were delayed, so I took the opportunity to visit the Moomin Shop and buy some souvenirs for my sisters. Okay, so it’s typical to see Moomin items everywhere in Finland, but there were a lot of really good things that I would have considered buying had I had the money. It’s worth a visit. It’s here if you’re interested.

I would recommend seeing Helsinki by the morning light, it’s very magical. It made the day feel a little long but it was worth getting up for =)

By 10.30am my friends arrived and we headed to the Finnish National Museum! I’ll post about this one later =)

Review: Kuningasidea

17 Nov

Kuningasidea are one of those electric bands where it doesn’t matter if you like the style of music, you’ll love them enough to be converted within minutes. Okay, so I don’t speak Finnish that well yet and I barely understood what I heard, but from the crowd’s reaction they were funny. Even without understanding the meaning of their words I found them to be incredibly likeable and talented. They transformed a dingy club filled with your average Friday-night regulars in teeny dresses and sky-high heels into a ska/punk/brass gig with a jumping, screaming and laughing audience.

Let me tell you how we ended up at the Apollo Live Club at 1am in a Friday night – a place where I least expected to be when I left the house at 6.30pm the previous night. We had just finished up at a Saami celebration concert (which I will cover in another post when I have a chance to get some extra facts about it) and we went to a bar for a drink. We sat outside and my Finnish friend kindly asked these guys if they could loan me a cigarette. We got chatting and it turned out that they were in a band and playing a gig that night. When we asked how much it was they replied with ‘Well, we can probably get you in for free’. Promptly our names were added to a list and voilà, we had plans for the night.

They were really friendly guys from Helsinki, two of a twelve part band who were just finishing up on a tour. They were just hanging out at a bar before the gig, like anybody else, enjoying a pint, a chat and a smoke outside. Their band name translates as ‘The King Idea’ in google, and it was a damn good idea to go and see them. They were wild and crazy and had the crowd jumping and clapping within minutes. I had so much fun that an hour passed before it felt like I had even blinked.

The singers were great and full of character, one running into the crowd and singing in people’s faces, wrapping the cord of the mic around his neck and clapping enthusiasticly to the beat. These guys had a lot of skill in the way that all twelve of them worked seamlessly together, but without being dull; each individual sound clicked into its own proper place. When they played you could tell that they really enjoyed what they were doing and for them it was all so much fun. Everything in the way that they sang and moved screamed this affirmation.

I was truly jealous – they seem to be living the life.

They’ve just released a debut album and if their live performance is anything to go by it’ll be worth buying. I plan to do so as soon as I’m awake in the morning. In the meantime you can here a couple of songs on Youtube: Ootsä messissä? feat. Paha-Nuutti and Prinsessa to start with.

They still have four more gigs to go so check them out on Facebook to see if you can get to any of them, it’ll be well worth it! Luckily I’m in Helsinki on the 8th December anyway so I will be heading to the gig on the 7th if all goes to plan.

Helsinki Cathedral

16 Nov

This was the first ‘attraction’ that I visited when I reached Helsinki. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky as I rocked up to the cathedral, ready to begin my sightseeing.

It’s an impressive building to come across, particularly so with it’s bright, white exterior contrasted against the brilliant blue of the sky. I was impressed the by size of it, and the wonderful condition that it’s in.

The Cathedral was completed in 1852 and sits in the Senate Square, the power base of Helsinki, which also holds the university building and the offices of the Prime Minister and cabinet of Finland.

 

It was built to resemble to architecture of St. Petersburg – I’ve never been, so I couldn’t comment, but it’s a beautiful building and an impressive feat for the time. How they managed to create such incredible architecture without modern tools never ceases to amaze me.

The place was filled with tourists but it wasn’t super busy, and when we got inside people were respectful of the request for silence. The interior was simple but stunning, and I spent a long time taking it all in whilst sat on one of the pews.

 

 

When going to Helsinki the cathedral is definitely worth a visit, but don’t worry about leaving too much time to do so – we were done in half an hour or so. It’s an impressive building though and, if you’re like me and enjoy churches, don’t leave it off your list!

 

Review: Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma

15 Nov

The first night I was in Helsinki I spent my time at Kiasma, the Contemporary Art Museum. It was open until 10pm on Friday so it seemed like a great alternative to drinking – which, after barely any sleep, I was not up for! We dropped our bags off in the free cloakroom and began another mind-expanding journey.

Kiasma’s website tells us the origins of the name:

‘Kiasma is the Finnish for chiasma, a term that describes the crossing of nerves or tendons or the intertwining of two chromatids’.

After entering the building I was directed to a curved slope, and walking up it to pass through the sliding doors I felt as though I was entering a body or passing through into another world. The interior is linked so that you can look down on places that you’ve visited, or look up to where you will be.

The exhibitions vary greatly, form giant canvasses to short films to interactive displays. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would highly recommend it; it’s well worth the 8€ (student price).

At the moment they have these exhibitions. By the way, I’m not an art critic, and I don’t always know how to put into words my opinions on art, because I’m not an expert and I respond to art largely with feelings and emotions, so don’t expect an indepth analysis. I just like to enjoy and appreciate art!

We began with an exhibition by Osmo Rauhala. There were many large canvasses which filled the walls, of simple but beautiful pictures which had themes of nature and science all criss-crossed over and interlinking.

Next was an exhibition by a British artist, Toby Zielger, which I confess that I didn’t understand, until I listened to the explanation that the artist provides at the end. You can watch a video for a couple of minutes at the end and it’s well worth a listen.

‘Reality Bites’ is a really big exhibition which takes up three floors of the building and features a number of artists. I really loved one piece by (another) British artist, Peter Liversidge. It was called ‘Proposals for Kiasma’ and it was a collection of typed letters which suggestions that he was either willing to carry out, or pay someone to. Some where profound, some silly as hell, and some were actually really good ideas! I laughed a lot at this one.

We spent well over two hours there, and I would have stayed longer but I was starting to feel really tired. If I’d been more awake I would have sampled the cafe on the ground floor. we did take a quick peek in the shop and it was filled with loads of quirky things, many of which I would have bought had I the space in my backpack. This trip was one of my favourite parts of the weekend and I will most likely go back when I return to Helsinki. My mind was buzzing with ideas and I was feeling much more uplifted than I had before I entered. I really can’t think of anything bad to say about place.

Overall rating 10/10

 

 

Review: Eurohostel

14 Nov

Being the first hostel experience of mine I was slightly worried about this aspect of the journey. I’ve heard so many horror stories about hostels that I was really expecting this to be an awful experience.

It was 7.45 when we arrived at the Eurohostel, I was groggy from a lack of sleep and I just wanted to throw my stuff down and get a cup of coffee. It was pretty easy to get to the hostel from the train station – about a half hour walk, which was nice at sunrise.

I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the hostel, finding a clean, large, well-lit reception area which was connected to a restaurant/lounge area. There was a row of telephones and lockers on one wall, and the other was home to a range of touristy leaflets and gifts. The menu for the restaurant looked kind of expensive for our budget and I just bought some rolls from the market square (which we really good!) instead.

 

Terrible picture but give me a break, I hadn’t really slept. That’s the main entrance and on the right is the restaurant. Behind me is the reception desk.

The girl at the desk looked of a similar age and was incredibly perky and welcoming, especially for that time of the morning. They had rooms for us already in the day (but if they hadn’t we could have locked our stuff up in the lockers easily) and she arranged a room for us for the second night too. They originally hadn’t had room but I asked out of interest and something had become available since our booking. My friend wasn’t sure that she wanted to stay there and whilst we were debating/arguing about this the girl intervened and said that she would reserve a room and if we didn’t want to stay we could let her know by the next morning and she would cancel it. I couldn’t imagine a hotel doing that!

Our room was huge and had a tv, a desk, two beds and a giant wardrobe – all for 23 €, towels included. Even the view was good for a hostel! I wish I had taken more pictures, because I really like this hostel.

 

View from the hostel

The bathroom was pretty clean, although it only had two toilets for a whole corridor it wasn’t busy whilst we were there so there wasn’t any waiting. The showers are a bit weird and a bit open – the doors are made of opaque glass which cover from your neck to your knees and have a nice big gap down the middle. I showered super early so no one else was around, but you can use your towel to cover it.

The second night we had a bigger room because two friends were joining us. It looked a little like this:

It was easy to get to town from the hostel – it was about a fifteen minute walk, past the port and through the market square. There was a k market just five minutes away too, for snacks and the suchlike. As it was 24 hour access we could come and go as we liked, so it was pretty much perfect. I slept great both nights, and will be heading back there for my next stopover in Helsinki (potentially all of my stopovers actually).

So, to conclude.

Pros:

– Clean, spacious, comfortable and CHEAP (23€ per night with student discount)

– Within walking distance of a supermarket and the city centre

– Super friendly staff

– 24 hour access, so no lock out

Cons:

– Slightly public showers

– Only two toilets per gender per floor

– Bit of a walk back from the bars etc in town

– Expensive food

Overall rating: 7.5/10

 

 

Helsinki-Tallinn

14 Nov

I survived my first big trip! In Finland and in Europe. I have never travelled with friends and stayed overnight anywhere. For the most part I had a great time, I loved Helsinki to pieces and after only a day there I had decided that I would live there once I graduate. Maybe I got a little caught up in the city-induced euphoria that I often experience, but we’ll see how it pans out…

Helsinki

The current World Design Capital was founded way back in 1550, to compete with Tallinn for Baltic Sea Trade. The marina is still filled with boats and the market square and market hall still lie near the water’s edge. The capital of Finland was originally Turku, but it was moved to Helsinki after Finland became part of the Russian Empire, because it was thought that Turku was too close to Sweden.

This year it celebrates its 200th anniversary as the capital of Finland. According to visithelsinki.fi it has a population of 600,000, 72 museums, 1053 restaurants, 53 hotels and 14 universities.

Helsinki is the third European city that I’ve visited and I was very pleased with my experience there. I’m going to write up the reviews of the places I went so keep an eye out for those. We spent two days in the city and I spent around 10 hours walking through the city on Saturday.

Our first sunrise on the first morning of the trip

Helsinki Cathedral

Alexander II in the Senate Square

Happy 200th Birthday Helsinki! (shame about the construction though eh?)

Tallinn

Another important port town Tallinn was a great trade link between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. Like Finland, it was under Swedish rule for a long period of time, followed by a period of Russian rule. It has a tumultuous history of invasion by Germans and Russians, and it suffered extensive bombing during the war. It was only declared an independent democratic state in 1991, not that long ago at all.

On Sunday morning we took the ferry to Tallinn from the port. I must admit that, although the Old Town of Tallinn is very pretty, it’s not somewhere I intend to go again if I can help it. I didn’t get a very good vibe from the place – any charm had been erased and plastered over with ‘souvenir’ signs. We only spent one day there and I was glad to leave, sadly. I expected a lot more from the city.

This was our first (slightly unimpressive view) of Tallinn

One of many similar streets near the hostel

Fat Margaret’s Tower

All in all the trip was an experience that has further changed me and I feel as though something inside me spent four days rapidly developing, something good and promising. The constant fear which nags me is continually shrinking and I feel as though this weekend blew away a big dirt clod of it. I spent so much time by myself, map in pocket, asking questions and generally just exploring in my own time, something which I have only really done once before.

It’s nice to be back in Oulu though (although it seems much smaller) and I have a ticket for a concert in Helsinki in a few weeks in case I get bored.

Hopefully the reviews will be of some use! I hope everyone else had a good weekend too!

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