Thursday, September 5, 2013

Discovering Helsinki.

Uspenski Cathedral.

Grand Uspenski Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary, sits high up on a hill; we could easily see it as we were walking about Kauppatori market.  After our snack of fried vendace, we made our way towards the cathedral.  It wasn't quite clear on our map on exactly how to get up to cathedral from where we were standing in the market so we just followed our instincts.  Soon enough we met up with people heading in the same direction so we just joined the crowd.



The exterior of Uspenski Cathedral is striking with its red brick walls and thirteen green and gold onion domes, which represent Christ and the twelve apostles.


Construction on Uspenski Cathedral was begun in 1862 and completed six years later.  It is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe and for the Finns, one of the clearest symbols of the impact that the Russians had on their history.

The interior was small, for a cathedral but it was magnificently decorated.  As with the other Russian orthodox churches that I have been in, there are pews; you stand while attending service.

With the exception of a small area by the entrance, the room was cordoned off.




After a few minutes of taking in the gilded icons and beautiful chandelier, we stepped back outside.  There, we took in views of the surroundings, including Helsinki Cathedral, which is located just a short distance away.  We decided that would be our next destination.


Our walk to Helsinki Cathedral took us through another part of the town.  Here, older model cable cars still run through Helsinki.


You can't miss the sight of Helsinki Cathedral.  The lovely white church, stands all by itself, high up on a hill.


The Helsinki Cathedral, also known as the Lutheran Cathedral dominates the plaza area known as Senate Square.  The cathedral was built as a tribute to the Grand Duke, Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia, and was called St. Nicholas' Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. In 1959, it became an n Evangelical Lutheran church.

Zinc statues of the twelve apostles decorate the roof.

Very spartan interior.



We took a bit of a breather at the church, taking the opportunity to look at the map and see where to go next.   The giant green space caught my brother's eye.  It was a botanic garden and indeed it was.  More specifically, it was the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden which is part of the Finnish Museum of Natural History.  Naturally, being plant lovers, we had to go. 

From Helsinki Cathedral, we enjoyed a nice stroll through the neighborhood streets.  We soon arrived at the garden which was bordered by a high wrought iron fence.  We had to find the entrance.  Of course, had we been true to the savvy travelers that we are, we would have a) known the name of the botanic garden beforehand so that we could b) Googled to find the entrance.  The result was two clueless tourists, with feet that are now beginning to hurt from a day of walking, trying to find the front door.

It was a long walk but a very pretty walk.  Lots of greenery and even a small pond.

So, imagine a clock.  We're standing at 6 o'clock and we walk in a clockwise direction around the circumference of a VERY large green space only to find the entrance at 4 o'clock!  In the words of the wise Homer Simpson - doh!  The plus side was that even the area outside the park was a lovely for a daytime stroll.  We took our time; we were beginning to tire out.

The entrance to the botanic garden led us straight to their plant store.  Of course, we can't buy anything to bring home but nonetheless, we had to check everything out.


The garden path eventually led us to the greenhouse.  The greenhouse was closed so we did a bit of peeking through the glass panes but otherwise, wandered through the well tended garden in front.



I was totally pooped so after a quick circle around the garden, I took a spot on a garden bench.  I just soaked in the sun while Bro checked out the flora.  I am certain that he got lost for a few minutes in a rose bush patch or two :-)


Next destination was a food market hall.  This one I had caught my attention when I was looking at the map :-)

We exited the botanic garden the same way we came in.  The market was quite a distance away - back towards the dock were our ferry from Tallinn had arrived into.  We decided to take the tram

Walking along the main street, we could see trams going back and forth so we decided to head to one of the wait stands.  There were not ticket kiosks in sight.  Where to get the tickets?  Savvy traveler would have assumed you could just get one on board the tram.  Over prepared traveler thought otherwise.  In my pre-trip reading, I found out that you can get the tickets at local convenience stores so we set out to find one.  Of course, it's not like there's a convenience store on every block so after walking about a bit, we gave up.  It finally dawned on us to stop someone, explain our predicament to them, and ask for advice.  Not surprisingly, they said we could just get the tickets on the tram. Again, in the words of the wise Homer Simpson - doh!

We opted to explore on our own but for tourists, Helsinki does have a tram circuit that will take you around the city and the best information is available on TripAdvisor.

Patiently waiting for the tram.

Here comes our tram, number 6!

As we boarded, we told the driver where were going in hopes he would tell us where to get off.

Bro was getting tired at this point.  I could tell cause he was quiet.

Taking in views of Helsinki as the tram moved along.

The tram took us across town. It was well past midday and while there were people out and about, it was most certainly, not a crowded city.  I've only been here a little over 24 hours but I've already come to the conclusion that Helsinki is a very civilized kind of place - nice pace of life.....no crowds, no traffic jams, no graffiti, no litter, lots of awesome shops, restaurants, and cafes.  Too bad it's so darn cold in the winter.....and so expensive.

It was when people started to stand up in the tram aisle that I guessed we were nearing the market.  The sight of a small group of flea market vendors was the confirmation that we had arrived at Hietalahti Market Hall.  We spent a few minutes walking about the flea market which sold the usual assortment of bric-a-brac except the *treasures* here have a decidedly European touch to them.

In planning our trip to Helsinki, I had also planned a visit to the Hakaniemen Market Hall (located catty corner from Kauppatori market) only to find out, after we arrived in Helsinki, that it was closed due to renovations.  Disappointment soon turned to joy them moment we stepped inside Hietalahti Market Hall. The market hall was built in 1903 as a fresh produce market and at one point in its history, even functioned as an antique and art hall. In 2012, the hall was revived as a food market, accommodating the displaced vendors from Hakaniemen while the latter undergoes renovation. Hietalahti Market Hall is a relatively small market with all the purveyors on just one floor. The interior has a very elegant feel to it; sectioned into stalls framed in dark wood. Colorful flags hang overhead.


At Hietalahti, you can find everything from locally grown produce, smoked meat and fish, sausages, breads, cheeses, imported foodstuffs, and last but not least, the pastries that always seem to be calling my name. There are also a few eateries serving soup and sandwiches, perfect for a quick bite.


Hietalahti Market Hall is considered to be a neighborhood market but it wasn't crowded like many other such markets I've been to around the world.  To me, prices were high but I think it's the norm here.  The quality and variety of the produce and other food times was phenomenal.  If I could afford it, I would shop here as often as I could!



We arrived late afternoon, just in time for a coffee and two of those pastries!  We also decided to buy some plain bread.  Two days ago, I had bought some smoked salmon from the Rimi supermarket in Tallinn.  Somehow, I had overlooked it when I unpacked the groceries.  Yesterday, I found it.  Smoked and salt preserved, it's still edible so Bro got some bread to go with it.


When in Finland, go with a berry dessert!

I tell you, he cannot resist pastries....especially anything made with puff pastry!

We found a table to sit at and enjoy our sweet thing and rejuvenate our senses.

From Hietalahti, it was pretty much as straight shot walk back to our hotel, albeit a long walk. 

Plenty of city parks to sit and rest for a bit.

We passed through the Design District.  I had to pop into a home furnishings store to check out the cool, modern items, a reminder that just because the thing is practical and functional, it does not mean it has to be ugly!



We were both really tired and the hotel seemed sooo far away.  The park bench called our name.  We responded.  It was just such a beautiful afternoon - sunny and just a tad warm.  We people watched.  Like all other Europeans, Finns are very fashionably dressed - not a single sweatshirt or sweat pants in sight!  They somehow know how to dress up ordinary t-shirts and jeans too!  Overall, it's conservative dress here - maybe the chilly weather limits how much skin one exposes.  The only funky dress related thing we saw was a guy bicycling through the park wearing a white bathrobe.  Luckily, it was tightly belted enough that we were not able to see what he was/was not wearing underneath ;-)

Only after sitting for a few minutes did we realize that we were actually sitting in an old cemetery of a church.


We eventually dragged ourselves back to our room and we just flopped on the beds.  Definitely worn out but also hungry!  The only thing we had eaten since breakfast was the plate of fried vendace and the pastry at Hietalahti.  Bro opened up the package of salmon and tore into the bread.  I sniffed the salmon, nibbled on a small piece and gave the thumbs up that it was okay to eat.  Bro tore into the bread and we devoured everything in a matter of minutes.  Bro topped off his salmon and bread snack with an apple.  Yes, he brought a few with him from Tallinn!


After a short rest, we headed back out in search of a place for dinner.  We decided to head in a slightly different direction along Mannerheimintie and ended up in a small neighborhood - definitely off the tourist path.  We ended up on a quiet pedestrian only street lined with apartments (condos?), shops and restaurants.  Worker bees were arriving home from their day of work.  We checked out a few places but nothing really appealed to us.  Our stroll took us back towards our hotel, through the streets that make up the Design District.  For dinner, we opted to not go back to Lappi Ravintola for another Lappland meal.  Instead, we came across a restaurant that had the word "Garlic" in its name - Kynsilaukka Ravintola Garlic.  Hmmm.....I love garlic so why not try it?


Famished Bro ordered a salmon dish and very delicious seafood stew.


I settled for the salmon tartare.


Everything was tasty but I couldn't detect any garlic so if any was there, it was really subtle.  I guess I like my garlic way stronger.  Final verdict on our dinner?  Better than last night....much better and the bill came out to be about the same. 

Dinner was the end to our day.  We had a great time exploring Helsinki.  As I write this post, it is still light outside but we're both too pooped to do anything but relax, shower, and hit the sack - we're calling it a day.

We have close to a full day tomorrow as our ferry back to Tallinn does not leave until 4pm. I need my beauty sleep so I have the energy to tackle tomorrow.  I'm ending this post now.

Good night from Helsinki!