Friday, August 14, 2020

Helsinki hurrah: Finland's finest city boasts art, churches, water, sauna

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers pay their respects to Jean Sibelius in Helsinki.
Cookie peeks out from behind a bronze of Sibelius, erected to appease
critics of the larger, abstract sculpture which remains dominant.


 AS MUSICIANS and artists, we made our first tour stop in Helsinki at the memorial to the famed Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. Aptly named the Sibelius Monument, it was erected in 1967 by Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen.
It is a striking abstract sculpture, as impressive to the eye as the dramatic composer's work is to the ear. It can be seen from a half mile away and  resembles clusters of organ pipes. 
Helsinki Cathedral is beautiful to admire from the outside.
The intriguing jagged monument consists of over 600 steel pipes unevenly grouped together at various heights.  Part of the monument can be "walked under," and the highest pipe reaches over 27 feet in the air. We watched people sing and shout at various places around the monument, as the pipes carried their voices.

The much photographed landmark was designed to embody the spirit of Sibelius’ music, but its abstract nature caused complaint from the people, so a more traditional image was commissioned. It rests near the larger original tribute sculpture.
ONE CANNOT miss Helsinki’s most famous landmark, the Helsinki Cathedral. The brilliant white building with the green dome dominates the skyline.  We'd seen enough cathedrals for this trip, so we admired its beauty from outside, making our way slowly up the steps to notice its sweeping lines.
Our fellow tour bus passengers view Uspenski Cathedral.
After Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square, our guide took us to nearby Market Square then we did a drive-by of the famous red brick Uspenski Cathedral.
Completed in 1868 in the Katajanokka district of Helsinki, the Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. With its golden cupolas and red brick facade, it remains a vivid symbol of the Russian impact on Finnish history.
NOT SURPRISINGLY, Finland's neighbors have dominated its history.  First it was part of the Swedish Empire, then of the Russian. Finland did not gain its independence until a little over a century ago, in 1917.
Its language and culture are neither Scandinavian nor Russian, but a Magyar-Estonian hybrid, the result of migrants who came from the southeast.
OUR FAVORITE view of Helsinki is from the water, and it's easy to line up a two-hour harbor cruise, where you'll see the iconic city images from the Gulf of Finland.   
Helsinki has lots of water besides the Gulf.  The Vantaa River, brooks, ditches, bonds and wells count for 500 square kilometres of Helsinki's total 686 square kilometres.

Helsinki from the water offers memorable views.
The M/S Helsinki offers lunch and dinner cruises, a relaxing way to enjoy a Nordic summer afternoon or autumn evening. We found the boat comfortable and the food fresh and with a Finnish flair -- rye bread, meatballs, smoked salmon, salads and berry pie. 
The Finns invented the sauna, here
at Loyly in Helsinki.

We couldn't "Finnish" our visit without a sauna, an invention of Finland.  The oldest Finnish saunas date back 10,000 years ago, after the Ice Age. Originally, saunas were earth pits covered with animal skins. The first saunas with stoves and chimneys were used in the western countryside and spread to 18th century city saunas. We spent a typical sauna evening in Löyly, a modern seaside sauna with a stylish, glass-walled restaurant and sweeping views. Löyly is the Finnish word for steam. The place is so named because of the steam released when water is thrown on hot rocks. The soft moist heat warms the body and relaxes the mind. A two-hour booking costs 19 euros and includes a towel, seat cover, soap and shampoo. A swim suit is the order of the day at a public sauna, but if you have friends in Helsinki, you'll likely use only a towel -- or your birthday suit.
Enjoy this link to hear "Finlandia," by Jean Sibelius: "Finlandia" Youtube video

The Gefion Fountain of Copenhagen features oxen pulling a
plow driven by the powerful Norse Goddess Gefion. 
UP NEXT: While we're in the neighborhood, we invite you on our continuing tour of lively Scandinavian capitals.  Next up, Copenhagen, then on to Oslo and Stockholm. Tourism is gradually opening up and Americans are beginning to travel again. Even if your journeys are strictly via armchair while we await a vaccine, come enjoy the cities we visited just before the virus curtailed travel. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, art, nature family and more:




  1. Pennsylvanians Missing TravelAugust 18, 2020 at 10:22 AM

    Uplifting to see travel photos and read lively commentary when we are incarcerated because of Covid. May the cloud lift soon. Thanks for reminding us of our life of travel.

  2. Scandinavia Fans in OregonAugust 18, 2020 at 10:24 AM

    We hope to be in Scandinavia this year -- an annual tradition for autumn. You've encouraged us to go and we see Finland has not banned us!