Helsinki, Finland – July 15, 2015
As the Regal Princess slipped into the Port of Helsinki, we could tell we were in for an exceedingly beautiful day. The sky had barely any clouds, just a fantastic azure color. The port was bustling. Large ferries came and frequently went to other ports in the Baltic.
Arrangements by the cruise line included a shuttle bus. For 10€, we had roundtrip transportation from the port to a bus stop near the corner of Erottajank and Bulevarden. Lorraine and Arlene made arrangements for a tour of the city.
Leslie and I opted to see some sights on foot.
Once we got our bearings, Leslie and I began our stroll to the Helsinki Cathedral at Senate Square. We entered the west end of the Esplanadi, a park-like area about four blocks in length. The east end of Esplanadi is at Market Square. Along the road on the north side of the Esplanadi are all the high-end stores like Louis Vuitton. There were several bronze statues throughout the park. In the center of the park, the wide walkway is gravel.
At Unioninkatu we turned to the north. As we neared the end of the first block, we got our first glimpse of the Helsinki Cathedral at Senate Square. On the corner, just across from Senate Square, we found a souvenir shop. Yes, we bought another magnet.
After the magnet purchase, we crossed the street to Senate Square. The mid-19t h Century Helsinki Cathedral dominates the north side of the Square. There are 52 steps leading up from the Square to the Cathedral. In front of the stairs was a large portable stage. The Square teamed with several cheerleading squads, obviously preparing to perform on the stage. We saw a couple of different crews practicing in the Square.
Given the number of steps, Leslie decided to sit at the base of the stairs and watch the cheerleading squads while I went to view the Cathedral. I ascended the stairs and found the main entrance on the west side of the Cathedral.
The exterior of the Cathedral is all white with six columns holding the four pediments above each side. The top of the Cathedral has a large green dome adorned with a gold orb and cross. Four smaller domes with similar balls and crosses surround the central dome. The peak and two edges of each of the pediments are the bases for three statues.
It was hard to miss all of the gymnasts in the plaza next to the Cathedral. We found out the 15th Annual World Gymnaestrada. This is a gymnastic event held every four years. In Helsinki, there were 21,000 entrants from 55 countries.
The interior is quite Spartan. The chandeliers, altar, and pipe organ were all beautiful; but, other than some statues, there was not much decoration. Much like the encounter with the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, when I entered the Cathedral, I found myself saying, “That’s it?” With all of the hype, I was expecting a wonderfully decorated church. Instead, there was hardly any decoration inside. I was glad I did not have to pay to go inside the Cathedral.
Exiting the Cathedral, I noticed a smaller white building at the southwest corner of the Cathedral property. As I got closer, I saw it was the gift shop for the Cathedral. Inside I saw some lovely handmade crosses that I thought would go well in Leslie’s cross collection. Instead of just buying one, I walked down the stairs and told her what I discovered. She decided to walk up the 52 stairs with me and look at the gift shop. She did find a cross she liked. The gift shop also sold coffee. We decided to have a cup of coffee at the small table outside, and people watch.
Finished with our coffee, we decided to walk downhill to the Market Square. We chose Katrinegatan for our one-block walk to the Square. We saw an interesting store, Made by Helsinki, and decided to go inside. Local artisans made everything inside. Everything from jewelry to pottery and clothing was on display. We found some wooden Christmas ornaments that, when assembled, were three-dimensional. We bought three, one for Lorraine, one for Arlene, and one for us.
There were many people in Market Square, each going from vendor tent to vendor tent. Leslie and I each bought a Finland t-shirt. Although the designs were different, each had the words “Finland” and “Suomi” emblazoned on the front. I asked one of the vendors what Suomi meant. He said it is the name of their country in Finnish.
From the Market, we began to walk west toward the high-end shops. I wanted to find the littala glass store. I read a lot about the glass factory in the Lonely Planet guide to Helsinki. We found the store, but quickly decided it was not for us.
We emerged from littala and hailed a cab. We headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art (Nykytaiteen Museo Kiasma). American architect Steven Holl designed the modern-style building, apparently much to the chagrin of many Finns.
The building is striking, finished in 1998. Entry to the museum was 12€ per person.
We decided to start on the fifth floor and work our way down to the ground floor. One of the first exhibits we saw on the fifth floor was Think of One Thing by Mariele Neudecker. There were several clear plastic cubes, each containing a mountaintop poking above clouds. They each looked very realistic. Another unique piece we saw was the “wind” drawings. The artist (I forgot to write down the name) attached a pen to the branch of a tree or bush. The pen rests against a piece of paper, making marks as the wind blows. The artist did something similar with photographs and light, but I could not figure out the logistics of those.
On the fourth floor, we both thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit Face to Face. That is where we saw works such as Scarlet, Villu’s Portrait, Jack, Topless Compact, and Michael. Possibly the oddest work was Michael. It is a video made in 2015 by Iraqi artist Adel Abidin. The video depicts a fictional interview with Michael Jackson when he returns from death, complete with screaming fans in Times Square.
Except for the Andy Warhol and the Yoko Ono photographs, neither of us liked the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit on the third floor.
When we left the museum, we walked about a block and one-half to the central Helsinki train station. I wanted to see it because of the art deco styling of the building. We found a place to sit and have a beer. Leslie stayed there while I ran around taking various photos of the station.
After the beer, we continued walking to the south. Ultimately, we knew we would end up at the bus stop from this morning so we could make it back to the ship. We stopped at the Virgin Oil Co., a restaurant, to eat lunch. We shared a pizza and had a Koff beer. This building also had art deco styling, including some art deco statues.
Sitting at the Virgin Oil Co., I noticed an advertising sign touting the grapefruit and cucumber Crook’s Head Dram… no, thank you. I will stick with beer or wine. I will keep my fruits and vegetables separated if you do not mind!
From lunch, we walked the final two blocks to the bus stop. There was a bus there, so we were able to board and sit down immediately. Across the street, I saw an El Jeffe sign. I had to snap a photo of that since that is how my team in Madrid referred to me. At the same spot was the Erottaja Bar. While that may sound like the word “erotic,” it is a nod to the name of the street, Erottajank.
The bus deposited us back at the dock within about 15 minutes. There was a large tent under which were more vendors. We bought a couple of packages of some type of rye cracker. It ended up that Leslie did not like them at all. I thought they were good. There was a photo of a statue with the face cut out. Leslie was a good sport, allowing me to make her crazy photograph there.
Coincidentally, Lorraine and Arlene were there too. After we all had our fill of looking, it was back on board to relax and wait for the second formal night for dinner. While Leslie and I waited, I sat on our balcony and took photos as the ship departed Helsinki. The most striking thing I saw was Pihlajasaaren Beach. It is located on a small island just about a half-mile from the mouth of the port. The colorful beach cabanas are what made it so picturesque. While we passed the beach, I found it surprising the number of seagulls flying beside the ship as we sailed. I heard the captain on the intercom warn the passengers that it was illegal according to maritime law to feed the seagulls from the boat.
Leslie and I dressed for dinner. We sat and had a glass of wine, overlooking the piazza area of the ship where a quartet was performing. The ensemble was there every evening, just before the first dinner seating. When we finished, we went into the dining room to meet Lorraine and Arlene for another of our delicious meals.