Tag Archives: Helsinki

‘5 Things to do in Helsinki’

29 Jan

I like to talk about Finland, a lot. An awful lot. Recently I received an email from the international office at my home university asking if I would be a tour guide for a visiting colleague in May. Would I ever? I jumped at the chance, sending him a long email with all my recommended foods to try and how great Finland is and how much he’d love it. Actually, I may have overdone it, and as I’ve not heard back I assume that I’ve frightened him a little with my enthusiasm.

In a slightly more controlled manner I’ve written an article which gapyear.com have very kindly published, entitled ‘5 Things to do in Helsinki’. Even after only a handful of days spent there it was incredibly hard to pick only five, but I managed it and I’m really pleased with the finished result. Hopefully it will inspire a lot more people to visit and see the beauty that is Helsinki for themselves.

You can check it out here, let me know what you think and if you like it then please feel free to share it!

In other news, I’ve created a shiny new email account for all your questions and comments. Email me at finlandandback@hotmail.co.uk!

Hope you’re all having a great day!

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What’s Wrong With Finland?

15 Jan

Nothing. Nothing at all –  so why is so little known about it?

Before I came here, and when I returned to the UK for the winter break, I spoke to many people who said that they didn’t know much about Finland. Even I didn’t know that much before I arrived, and my research revealed little extra.

I consider Finland to be something of a hidden gem, a place of mystery and beauty – exotic, but not in a Thailand-is-exotic kind of way. Exotic in that the sky and water blend together on a sunny day, when they both turn to an incredible blue. Like in this picture taken at Hailuoto. If it hadn’t been for the direction of the tree growth I could have been upside-down and not known the difference.

In the winter the landscape reminds me of a gem – always beautiful, always glistening, no matter what you wear it with. Sun, blue skies, grey fog and cloud, or snow fall. It goes with everything and never fails to impress. Compare this photo with this and you’ll see what I mean. Imagine waking up to that every day.

Many think that outside of Helsinki there’s little to do, but I think these people are just looking in the wrong places. There’s plenty to do in Oulu – visiting the market hall, going to the Finnkino to watch a movie, catching up on your culture at the theatre or just taking a walk through the park and along the river’s dams. Even when it’s dark there are so many clubs to take part in, you’re spoilt for choice!

That said, the capital is still worth a visit and it’s nice to feel part of a busy city once in a while. Busy, did I say? Think London but taken down about a hundred notches. There are people going to work, sightseeing, shopping and just enjoying the air (which is still fresh and clean, even in the city), but an air of calm exudes the place. A twenty minute ferry from the market square will take you to the Suomenlinna Fortress, filled with grass and trees and sea views, the perfect way to relax on the weekend. There are art galleries and museums galore, the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum and the Finnish National Museum being my favourite to date.

Further north than Oulu there are national parks with opportunities for hiking or skiing, depending on the season, and plenty of chances to see the local wildlife. There’s Rovaniemi and the Santa Claus village (best visited in December) where there’s plenty of opportunities for husky sledding in winter – one of my favourite memories!

So, what’s wrong with Finland? Nothing. Perhaps it’s better to ask: what’s wrong with the people who aren’t visiting?

 

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!

 

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

 

 

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