Sunday, July 28, 2013

Suomenlinna and Helsinki

We got up not tooo early, and caught the metro down to Helsinki. Our destination was Suomenlinna,  The Suomenlinna maritime fortress, is more than 260 years old,  is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the most popular sights in Finland. The walls of the fortress can be seen all over Suomenlinna,

We met all met Sari at the ferry, got our tickets then hopped on the boat. It was only a short 5-10 minute ride to the island.

I will at this stage tell you that despite the blue skies, it was FREEZING. A bitterly cold wind, and I don't think it got above 6C all day. I was glad to borrow one of Jaana's coats.  

First stop off the boat was the Suomenlinna Church. It was originally was built as a Russian Orthodox garrison church in 1854. The original building had five steeples with onion domes. The appearance of the church – which dominates the southern horizon from Helsinki – was changed at the beginning of the Finnish era in the 1920s, when it was converted into an Evangelical-Lutheran church.

Inside was seating enough for 400 people. To be honest it didn't look that big.  I loved the simplicity inside, and the beautiful light hanging from the dome. The church steeple doubles as a lighthouse for air and sea traffic. The signal blink of the lighthouse is the Morse code for the letter “H” for Helsinki. This is something I noticed when I was in Tallinn two days earlier - as we docked I noticed all the churches had flashing lights - obviously doubling up as lighthouses.

After we had explored the church we set upon the rest of the island. Up this road then left through an arch in the building and we came across the Great Courtyard.

The courtyard was completed in the 1760s, designed by the architect Augustin Ehrensvärd, and served as the main square of the fortress. The houses surrounding the courtyard included the fortress commandant’s house and the main guard house.

The Great Courtyard was badly damaged during the Crimean War in 1855, but it is still an impressive sight. The grave of Augustin Ehrensvärd lies in the courtyard (below), surrounded today by the Ehrensvärd museum and some residential buildings.

This is what the stone buildings looked like inside. I imagine they would have been used for storage of armaments.

On our walk we came across a couple of canons and we had a bit of fun with them...

Barracks - bright yellow and wooden.

A few locals were checking us out. In case you didn't know, these are Egyptian Geese.

Anne waited for me to catch up to everyone as I had got behind photographing the birds. It was cold, but at least here she would have been out of the terrible wind.

To give you an idea how cold it was - that is S N O W! Note how rocky the coast is. I noticed that Finland itself was very rocky, and lots of little islands - all quite flat - nothing very high above sea level.

 We climbed up to the canons for a look...

Took a couple of photos...

But didn't hang around for long up there, once again because of the cold. Also - although the sky was blue in that direction, a huge rain/storm cloud was following behind us!

Sari the photographer extraordinaire...

In front of a store house... These are just built into the hillsides.

We wonder if this was a swimming pool, or a water reservoir.  We never did find out.

Another storage facility built into the hillside.

At this stage it was so cold, we found a pizza place an stopped in for some hot drinks and to thaw out. We had a great time and I later found out that Pizza place was world famous. Had I known, I would have tried some food! I was very reluctant to get back out in the cold again!

This is the Kings Gate and the symbol of Suomenlinna. It was built between 1753 and 1754 as the entrance gateway to the fortress. The gate was built on the site where the ship carrying the founder of the fortress, King Adolf Frederick of Sweden, was anchored while he inspected the construction of the fortress in 1752. It too was damaged in the Crimean war, and has been refurbished a few times since.

Sari - the Pro Photographer...

We decided it was too cold to hang around much longer, so headed back through the tunnel and back to the ferry.

We could see Helsinki in the distance, and could see the Cathedral clearly.

Back on dry land, we met another of Jaana's friends - also called Sari. We are wondering if Jaana makes friends with all the same name, to make it easier for her to remember names!  Sari was a specialist in Finnish History so was an excellent companion in our sightseeing.  She talked about the architecture around Helsinki and told us the architects were Russian.  It was really interesting.  I wish I had taken notes! These next two images show the houses along the waterfront and docks, and these were originally the first houses of wealthy merchants.

You can see the Greek Orthodox Church in the distance which we visited the day before..

Sari holding the history book, while Sari points out the buildings.

Sari makes an excellent bookstand - a woman of many talents - photographer - bookstand....

We then stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant - again a nice warm up with good food. By now the day was nearly over - so we jumped on a tram afterwards and was taken to The Church in the Rock. While on the Tram we looked out the window to see a guy peeing in the middle of the street. Jaana explained that drinking problems are rampant in Finland. Very sad.

The Church in the Rock was amazing. The Architecture incredible. The entrance was quite ordinary, but once through it was amazing...

Temppeliaukio Church or Temppeliaukion kirkko, is a Lutheran church in the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki. The church was designed by architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969. It is also known as the Church of the Rock.

The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock and is bathed in natural light which enters through the glazed dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The acoustic quality is created by the rough, virtually unworked rock surfaces.

The ceiling is beautiful copper - must be worth a lot of money!

The Altar - simple and beautiful with bare rock.

Pretty amazing architecture, and I loved it. So different to what I had seen before. The Temppeliaukio church is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city; half a million people visit it annually and the idiosyncratic choice of form has made it a favorite with professionals and aficionados of architecture. Great for photographers too !

We headed back to Jaana's, stopping at the supermarket first to pick-up 20 euros worth of Finnish Chocolate - the best in the world. I miss it, wish I could get a good supply over here. We said goodbye to Sari - as we had an early start the next morning to get to the airport - Anne was flying back to the Netherlands, and I to Munich. Sari was so concerned we wouldn't make it to the airport in time, that she decided to come back and stay the night, and take Anne and I out there herself. We can't thank Jaana enough for her hospitality, and Sari enough for her generosity. We enjoyed our days immensely with both.

I learnt that there are no language barriers between friends.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Porvoo and Helsinki, Finland

Anne arrived quite late the night before, and we headed to bed not too late so we wouldn't be tired for today's explorations.  Jaana's friend Sari joined us, in fact she drove us which was brilliant.  She's so nice.  So there we were, Jaana, Sari, and I all with Cochlear Implants.  Sari spoke no English.  So translation between us would go something like. Sari - Finnish - Jaana then translated it to English, which Anne listened to then said it again so I could understand if I couldn't work it due to Accents.  But we were all patient and no one minded and we all had a fun day.

Sari drove us to Porvoo, about an hour's drive away from where Jaana lived.  Porvoo is the second oldest city in Finland.  It's picturesque city centre of old wooden houses is a proposed Unesco World Heritage site. Porvoo has been around since the 13th century, although most of the present buildings date to the 19th century. In 1809, Finland's nobles assembled at the Diet of Porvoo to affirm the country's conquest by Russia.

It was a beautiful day, albeit a tad cold. We parked the car then strolled over the river and got these gorgeous vistas..

These are the wooden shore houses that line the river, which make Porvoo famous.  Further down are the wooden warehouses which are also about to become Heritage buildings.

Over the bridge, then up that street - we made our way to the Porvoo Cathedral.

A heavy, squat, white stone building, this church wins no awards for architectural innovation, but it's among the oldest and largest in Finland, with parts dating back to the 11th century. Predating the Reformation, it was originally a Catholic church, but was somewhat crudely converted into a Protestant one later on by removing icons and painting over murals. The building was burned down four times between 1300 and 1700, and took a direct hit from a bomb in 1914 — miraculously, the bomb fell through the roof, but did not explode. The roof was burned by an arsonist in 2006, but the damage was repaired and it's now open again, with some of the Catholic-era murals restored in the process.

When we arrived, we were in time to hear a choir of locals warming up, and it was a lovely sound.  I didn't really want to leave. If you look closely you'll see a painted icon of a Unicorn on the far arch on the right.  I couldn't find any information about it but it looked ancient.

Most of the houses were wooden, except for this one, and I vaguely remember reading it was something to do with either a rich merchant or the Mayor. Whatever it was, it was the most 'wealthiest' looking house in town.

It was pretty cold, and spring was 2 months late, but there were signs that it was warming up...  There were also crocuses and tulips about - so pretty. We did stop to get a hot chocolate, from this little shop, and I got an amazing Chilli one.  It was so nice, I went back and bought a packet of it which I have brought home. While we were drinking the hot drinks just outside, I noticed a rubbish bin catch fire from someone's cigarette butt, and because it's all wooden buildings we alerted the shop owner who came out with some water to put it out.  Our excitement of the day!  We saved the town!

One of the many gorgeous looking wooden houses that we found while strolling around the old town.

Another house and we questioned the paint job.  The yellow house, painted the side of the blue house the same colour as their house. We wanted to  know if they had to get permission, or whether they could just do it!

We walked back into the town where all the shops were and found Brunberg. One of Finland's most famous confectioners, this family-run business was founded in 1871 and is best known for their Pusu ("Kisses"), or giant puffs of flavored whipped cream encased in a thin chocolate shell. (Until recently, they were known somewhat politically incorrectly as "Negro Kisses".) Brunberg's liquorice (lakritsi) is another local favorite, and the chocolate truffles were to die for. I bought a big bag of them, which Anne and I divvied up back home.  I brought some home to NZ but they didn't last long!  Here Jaana and Sari pose for me outside the shop.

Inside the shop was a map where all their visitors could place a pin on where they were from. They get a lot of European visitors, but sadly, only THREE people were from New Zealand - and two of those were Anne and I!!  

Here is the Australia/NZ part a bit closer.  Anne is the Red (Auckland)  I'm the White - Blenheim, and someone else comes from somewhere on the West Coast of the South Island.

An Antique shop that we explored. Saw lots of things I would love but no way to get them home. 

One of the many wooden buildings - I think this one is a Museum.

Back down to the river where I spied the famous red-coloured wooden storage buildings on the riverside which are a part of the proposal for the Unesco World Heritage Site.

A quick photo on the bridge before we head back to Helsinki for another exploration in the city...

We drove back to Jaana's place, parked the car there then we all caught the metro into town. As we passed the sea, I actually saw people swimming.  Now it was freezing cold, I wouldn't have even put my toe in the water, so I reckon these Finns crazy!!

We got out of the tram and this is what greeted us. The most amazing sight of the Helsinki Cathedral and this very important 'town' square. The Cathedral is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki, located in the neighbourhood of Kruununhaka in the centre of Helsinki, Finland. The church was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was also known as St Nicholas' Church until the independence of Finland in 1917.

The church's plan is a Greek cross (a square centre and four equilateral arms), symmetrical in each of the four cardinal directions, with each arm's façade featuring a colonnade and pediment. Engel originally intended to place a further row of columns on the western end to mark the main entrance opposite the eastern altar, but this was never built.

The cathedral sits on the Senate Square which has been the main square of Helsinki since the 17th century. It was transformed into its current form in the early 19th century, when Russian Tsar Alexander II, moved the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki. The buildings on the four sides of the square represent the four powers of the state as conceived at the time: senate, church, university and commerce. The old merchant houses are now mainly occupied by city offices, but there is also a nice café, and a bazaar. While the square is a popular tourist destination, the steps on the north side are commonly used as a meeting place, a venue for student meetings, sun bathing or even studying.

I loved the Cathedral against the blue sky, and the white pillars.  I loved the people around enjoying the sunshine and sitting around talking.  What a beautiful place.

Inside the Cathedral was just as beautiful. It gets around 400,000 visitors per year, so it's a pretty popular place.

Very clean lines and not cluttered, which made it lovely, light and airy.

The Organ pipes were impressive.

 And I loved the lights outside the cathedral as well.

Even under the electric wires for the tram, the place looks amazing.

After leaving the cathedral, we wandered down to the waterfront and looked at the ticket office for the times for our trip the next day  Drank in the views then wandered up to the Greek Orthodox Church on the hill. 
Uspenski Cathedral is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Helsinki, Finland, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its name comes from the Old Church Slavonic word uspenie. Designed by the Russian architect Alexey Gornostaev (1808–1862). The cathedral was built after his death in 1862–1868.

The Cathedral is set upon a hillside on the Katajanokka peninsula overlooking the city. On the back of the cathedral, there is a plaque commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was the sovereign of the Grand Duchy of Finland during the cathedral's construction. Main cathedral of the Finnish Orthodox Church in the diocese of Helsinki, Uspenski Cathedral is claimed to be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe.

The cathedral has several valuable icons, among others St. Nicolas – The Wonder Maker, which was stolen on 16 August 2007 between midday and 1 p.m. in broad daylight while hundreds of tourists were visiting the cathedral. The icon is from the 19th century and is of a rare variant. Originally it was given to the Orthodox Cathedral of Vyborg, from where it was moved to Helsinki during the Second World War. No further details of its origin are known  The icon, being 45 by 35 centimetres (18 in × 14 in), was placed in a kiota (a glass covered protection frame) and weighs a couple of kilograms. It was on display on a lectern. The icon is now being searched for in Finland as well as abroad.

Another icon, Theotokos of Kozeltshan was stolen in June 2010, but recovered in February 2011.

No photos at all were allowed to be taken inside the church, but 'my camera went off automatically' so I got a couple! Having never been in a church like this before, I thought it was amazing.

Managed to get Anne to relax on the grass for a couple of photos.

Afterwards we headed back along the waterfront and had a hot drink in a nearby cafe.  The cafe was rather nice.

A tram ride then took us to the main station. Both Anne and I thought it looked very communist architectural wise.  But it was built by a Russian Architect so it was no wonder.  Very beautiful inside, and large and spacious.  I learnt here that St Petersburg was only a four hour train journey from this station, and a train was leaving very shortly.  I felt like getting on - I hadn't realised how close to Russia I really was!!  So near and I didn't get there!

We then caught the metro back to the train station and stayed up talking for a while, drinking lots of tea, and eating bread and cheese.  Another fun day full of amazing sights.