A weekend in Helsinki
I was given orders. We were going to Helsinki for the weekend.
Dutifully, I booked the requisite ferry tickets.
Then came the message via Whatsapp: “There are €2 return tickets to Helsinki for Black Friday :(“
Jacqui had just been alerted to this fact by one of her colleagues. And, when she admitted that I’d booked us tickets the night before and had paid full price, another message came through: “Now everyone’s laughing at me :p”
Thankfully, I was the scapegoat (nobody has met me yet, so I don’t have a reputation to uphold, thus making me the perfect scapegoat :D). So Jacqui cancelled the tickets (minus 20% fee due to date proximity) and bought the black Friday deal instead. So we came out in front by 56 Euros. Not bad!
The departure wasn’t too kind though… 6am… Not lots of fun, but deal with it we did. By forgetting stuff!
We had our passports with us, because we were going to a different country, and also we weren’t residents of the Schengen zone. Nor Europeans in general. But what happened?
Getting on the ferry in Tallinn? No problem. So long as you have a valid ticket, no passport required.
Getting off? No problem. Although there are some random inspections of documents… 2 officers checking randomly as hundreds get off the ferry… Not much of a drama!
Not making a statement either way, it’s just… Odd. Interesting.
Now, back to Helsinki!
Anyway, Helsinki is a beautiful city. Around 650,000 live there, which is very surprising, as it seemed much more of a city than Tallinn. It felt larger, it felt more refined, and it felt far more populous.
But back to the beauty. There was so much architecture to admire – particularly from the mid to late 19th century; I felt that I was strolling around Ballarat or Melbourne at times. I was pleasantly surprised. I realised that I didn’t have any expectations at all, and perhaps that’s why I was so taken by it all.
The cathedral was on the northern part of Senate Square; where they were setting up the main city Christmas market. The neoclassical square is also flanked by government palace and Helsinki university. I think.
Just directly east of the cathedral was the Helsinki National Library, which is also the library of the uni of Helsinki. It was an extremely pretty building, both inside and out, and genuinely felt like a shrunken-down version of the Stephen A. Schwarzman building in NYC, part of the NY public library.
What a truly lovely place, which featured books in German, English, and Swedish, other than the expected Finnish.
You also have the parliament building; a somewhat monolithic place, finished in a stripped classical architectural style, combining Neoclassicism with early twentieth century modernism. Tours are run there, but we didn’t have time to do that on this occasion: today, we were visiting the fortress.
Construction on this multi-island fortress began in 1748, when Finland was still part of the Swedish kingdom. It was designed to help defend the area against Russian expansionism. You can read all about it here, or catch these cliff notes, followed by some pics:
- 1748: Building of Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea/Sweden – Swedish), later to be named Suomenlinna in 1918 (Fortress of Finland – Finnish), begins under command of Augustin Ehrensvärd.
- 1808: Sveaborg surrenders to Russia without any opposition during the Finnish War.
- 1809: Treaty of Fredrikshamn: Finland becomes part of Russia.
- 1855: Crimean War: Anglo–French navy bombards Suomenlinna and causes substantial damage.
- 1906: Viapori Rebellion: Russian soldiers plan to depose the tsar.
- 1914-1917: A ring of ground and sea fortifications, called Krepost Sveaborg, is built around Helsinki.
- 1917: Finland becomes independent after the Russian Revolution.
- 1918: Name Suomenlinna becomes official name of the fortress in Finnish, it retains its Swedish name Sveaborg in Swedish. Prison camp of Red rebels is located in Suomenlinna after the Finnish Civil War.
- 1921 Valtion lentokonetehdas (State Aircraft Factory) starts building aeroplanes and powered ice sleighs in Suomenlinna for the Finnish Air Force. In 1936 the factory moves to Tampere.
- 1973: Suomenlinna becomes civil administration area.
- 1991: Suomenlinna becomes UNESCO World Heritage site.
We explored and took photos as much as the frigid weather would allow our fingers to work. It’s a fascinating place, and doubtless, less enjoyable come the warmer months, when I’m sure the islands would be chock-a-block with humans.
After this, we sought a warm lunch, and then scurried back to our home-bound ferry to Tallinn. We copped musical entertainment for the last 40 minutes. It was odd, if not un-fun.
Finally, we are like our other European friends; spending the weekend in a nearby overseas locale, just because it didn’t take the entire weekend to get there 😛