Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Greetings Helsinki!

Posing in front of Helsinki Cathedral.
Ready to go?

 Those were the words I had for Bro. It had been barely half hour since we had checked into our room when I was already to hit the streets of Helsinki. We only have two days here and as always, I want to make sure we don't waste a minute of our valuable time. Bro is as much of an eager beaver as I am so it rarely takes any convincing to get him going - he is definitely one to sit still.....just like his Sis :-)

We unloaded our backpacks, left behind our jackets, grabbed our map and closed the door behind us.

We stepped out into a gorgeous day.  Our hotel is on a pedestrian only stretch of street that is linked with plenty of restaurants and cafes.  It was around lunch time and there were a lot of folks eating al fresco.  The summer season is short here so they have to make the most of it!

With Bro navigating, we walked towards Mannerheimintie, the main avenue that runs through the city. Our hotel is just about a half block away.




Mannerheimintie borders Esplanadie, which is a small park that leads down to one of the ports of Helsinki. 

Mannerheiminti.  Bicycling is popular here and bike racks and lanes are common sights.

We had barely set foot in Esplanadie when I saw several folks lingering around a small kiosk.  The placard was our clue.  This was an ice cream stand.  I love, love, love ice cream.

It had been HOURS since I last ate (not true but hey....) and I was hungry (not true either but hey....) and what better way is there to satisfy the taste buds and fill the belly a wee bit than with ice cream (so true....)? 
Ice cream color matches my shirt :-)

I wanted a cone but what flavor to pick?  Couldn't read the descriptions which were in Finnish so I had to guess based on the picture.  One immediately caught my attention.  It was black in color.  Black colored ice cream.  Whoa!  I had no idea what the flavor was until the server told me it was licorice.  Licorice ice cream.  I love licorice.  Why had I never known about this?  Bro was a bit skeptical but one lick and he was a convert.  I was in ice cream foodie heaven.  For 3 Euros, the ice cream cone was not cheap, but I enjoyed every lick! I will have to try and recreate this when I get home.

Continuing on, we entered Esplanadi.  It was a lovely green space.  There is a center walkway between two large grassy areas, shaded by tall trees.  There were plenty of benches to sit and take a breather.  We found one with a bit of shade - a good spot to sit and finish off our cones and do a bit of people watching.



I've seen my share of street performers but this is the first time I've ever seen someone bring their piano to the park!

Esplanadi is just a few blocks long - probably took us 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

A cute fountain with a seal spouting water marked the start of the port area.

Sharp eyed me spotted the small green sign with the lower case *i* - the Information Center.  We would be back in a bit.

The daily market was still in full swing.  We had to check it out but just a quick look see as we planned to come back tomorrow.  It wasn't a large market by any means but we enjoyed walking through and seeing what's for sale.


It's berry season!  From left to right - sea buckthorn, red currants, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries.

Plenty of places to grab a bite or a drink.  Fish and Lappland cuisine reign supreme here.

View across the water to nearby islands.

Lots of fruits for sale, including apricots, plums, and cherries.

Produce is not cheap here but it's bountiful and fresh!

From the market, we took a slight detour to take in a quick view of Helsinki Cathedral. We have it on our itinerary to visit tomorrow so for now, it was just a stop for a photo op.


Our next stop was the Information Center.  We quickly darted in and got the information we needed about places to see and things to do. Several people had suggested that we take time to go over to Suomenlinna island and the young man in the Information Center said the same thing so it looks like that will be on our itinerary for tomorrow.  I'm hoping we have time to squeeze everything in!

Couldn't resist taking the photo :-)
Inside the Information Center.  No one but us so we got great service!

Helsinki is world renown for its arts, architecture and design.  Located right across the street from the Information Center is the Helsinki Design Guide.  Recently opened, the store (?) displays products from various Finnish artisans, provides a walking guide to Helsinki's Design District, and will even help you with arranging for shipping anything you buy.

The two saleswomen were extremely friendly though I'm not sure what they thought of us as we were in no way fashionably dressed.  Nope.  We looked like two poor Asians.  Even so, they were very generous with their time, answering all my questions and showing off their products.  I was particularly fascinated by the small, charcoal black pottery ware which I discovered were made in Fiskars, a small town located about 100 km from Helsinki.  The company of the same name, located in the town, is the one that is world famous for making scissors with the orange handles.  They are the best scissors money can by. Up until now, I never knew that Fiskars was a Finnish company and that they've been in operation since 1649!

Pottery from Fiskars. 

We said our thank you's and good bye's and headed out the door.  Our walk was leading us back towards Mannerheimintie.  I spotted the Marimekko store.  Never knew they were Finnish either. The name sounded Japanese to me so that's what I thought they were. Couldn't be further from wrong!  I've adored Marimekko design since I was a child and here I was standing outside their flagship store.  I had to pop inside.  I left Bro outside figuring he would plop down on one of the hassocks next to the door but he eventually made his way inside as well.

I made a beeline for the fabrics.  Oh.....so wonderfully colorful and modern!

For a split second, I dreamt of getting a quarter yard of each fabric and making a quilt! 

From Marimekko, we darted down a side street.  Such different architecture from either Riga or Tallinn.  What I love about this city, though I've only been here a few short hours, is just how uncrowded it is.  I don't know where the tourists were hiding but there were definitely far and few between.



More street performers.  With a zylophone??  Finnish street performers don't believe in lugging along small instruments :-)

We somehow ended up in a large square. On one end was this building.  I had no idea what it was so I decided to post up the question on my Facebook timeline and directed the question to my friend Sami who is Finnish and my other friend, Johhny who travels so frequently to the Scandinavian countries that he might as well be Scandinavian.  Sami quickly replied that we were standing in front of the Finnish National Theatre.  So helpful to have friends from all around the world! :-)


Across the massive square, which I learned later is called Rautatientori Square, is very impressive looking building.  This is Ateneum, an art museum that is part of the Finnish National Gallery.


Entry to the Ateneum is free on the first Wednesday of the month but only from 5pm-8pm.  It was our lucky day and time!  We took advantage of our good fortune to go inside.  Photography was not permitted inside so all I got were a couple of photos taken in the lobby. 



Both of us can only spend so much time in a museum and even less so when it comes to art museums which means we weren't there for long.  It was a nice visit though.

By now, we were getting tired.  Though we hadn't spent much time in Helsinki, it had already been a long day for us.  I was ready to call it a day.  We headed back to the hotel to rest a bit before hitting the streets once again to find a place to eat.  The restaurants all around the hotel were bustling with people as was the case at the bar next door.  Happy Hour!

We headed back out before it got dark.  After our visit to the Helsinki Design Guide, we realized our hotel was just a few blocks away from the Design District.  We decided to head towards the district to find a restaurant. Maybe some funky, something cool.

After checking out a few menus, we were in sticker shot.  Helsinki is an expensive city but we're ready to splurge!

Eventually, we settled on a place that specializes in Lappland cuisine - Lappi Ravintola.  Helsinki will most likely be the closest either one of us will get to Lappland and it is Finnish regional cuisine so we decided to try it out.  Inside, it felt like what I imagine a home in the Finnish countryside would look and feel like - lots of handhewn wood furniture, kitchen crockware hanging on the walls.....very rustic.  We didn't have a reservation so we had to wait a few minutes for a table.

The menu had plenty of options for salmon and reindeer.  Yes, reindeer.  I've never had it so I decided to try it out in a salad.  The smoked salmon sounded good too so I asked if I could do half smoked salmon, half reindeer.  Bro opted to go with baked salmon.

Bro checking out free guide to Helsinki while we wait for our food.

The bread basket.  I am learning to appreciate the dark bread they eat in this part of the world.

Salmon on the left, reindeer on the right.  Verdict on reindeer.  Couldn't really tell
because it was so finely *grated*.  I've never eaten meat prepared like this;
I was expecting bits of meat.

Dinner was okay taste wise but the portions were so large, I left the table stuffed.  Back in our room, I was pooped.  I had just enough energy to take a shower, brush my teeth and get my pajamas on.  We did a bit of reading before turning out the lights.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Good night from Helsinki!