Helsinki is known as the Daughter of the Baltic. We got onto the bus with our guide Eero. As we left the dock he pointed out Finland's shipyards which are one of the largest in Europe along with some in France and Germany. Finland was part of the Swedish Empire from 1155 - 1809. After the War of Finland it was annexed to the Russian Empire as an autonomous duchy under Grand Duke Alexander I. A diet was signed in Porvoo in 1809 and Finland remained part of Russia until 1917 when it declared its independence. Both Finnish and Swedish are national languages.
We drove through the city and passed the Museum of Contemporary Art. Outside was a sculpture of a large head with red hair. It is the head of government of Finland, Daria Hallonan - quite amusing.
Our bus took us into Helsinki where our first stop was at the monument to Sibelius.It looks like organ pipes and apparently when the wind blows through it makes an unpleasant sound. It is supposed to represent the voices of nature, the wind and the sea. Apparently people were not pleased by the monument which is quite large so an addition was made off to the side - the head of Sibelius without ears as he did not need ears to hear the music in his soul.
Finland was at war with Russia in 1940. From 1941-44 German soldiers came to help in their fight. Because Germany lost the war and Finland fought on their side against the USSR, Finland had to pay reparations, which they did. In addition they had to give the Eastern part of Finland to Russia.
We drove on to Porvoo, a small town which was founded in 1346. We drove through the countryside which is similar to Southern Quebec. The wildflowers are the same as you would find at home. Porvoo has about 42000 inhabitants. The name comes from borg meaning castle and o (?) meaning river - so the castle by the river. There is a Lutheran cathedral at the top of a hill reached by a steep cobblestone - and I mean stones - street. The stones are fairly large and round and stick out from the sandy soil. There is no mortar between the stones. There was a service taking place when we arrived, so I only glanced in. I wandered through the market square and through the small streets filled with shops.
We drove to Kiiala Farm for lunch where we were served in a lovely old building. The farm has Charolaix cows. We ate some interesting spicy beef patties and roesti potatoes, lovely tarts for dessert an then took a stroll. Leaving the farm we travelled on some small unpaved country roads. It was nice to see the countryside.
Some facts -
At midsummer eve it is common to have bonfires.
Finnish people eat a lot of fish (salmon, rainbow trout, white fish, herring) as well as reindeer meat and elk. The kitchen is influenced by both Swedish and Russian styles of cooking.
On weekends the family often goes together to the sauna.
We drove through Helsinki passing the railway station (designed by Saarinen), the Estates - the office of the prime minister. We stopped at Senate Square which is dominated by Uspensky Cathedral (also known as the wedding cake church). Although the church is Lutheran, it has four towers, like an orthodox church. To go in there is a staircase - very steep and many steps. As you stand at the bottom you feel quite small. The cathedral is Lutheran and so is quite plain inside. We heard someone practising the organ while we were there. The view from the top of the stairs is lovely - you can see over the buildings, the market and out to the port. Some of the buildings around the square were designed by the same architect - Engel. Most of the other buildings on the square are government buildings. Then "shopping time" - (a must it seems for every excursion) in the Market Square, which was fun to wander through. Nearby is the sculpture of the "Daughter of the Baltic" - a name Helsinki is known by.
Our next stop was the Temppeliaukio Kirkko or the Church in the Rock. This is truly an amazing place. It was built in the late 1960's by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and is hewn out of solid granite. The walls are the natural granite, the ceiling is a copper dome surrounded by windows that look at the sky. The place is simple and yet very spiritual. It was built as a non-denominational church. I found this place to be quite breath-taking and would love to be there when a concert is being played. Truly a remarkable place.
Back to the ship....