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Helsinki Explored - in January!

abstract:I've just returned from a trip to Helsinki Finland where the temperatures dipped to -30 degrees Celsius from the balmy -10 on arrival. When most people escape to the tropics for a winter holiday, 60.1708° N, 24.9375° E is a latitude quite apart. But this nordic destination has manifold opportunities for the sophisticated traveler.

Sunrise began around 9am with tinges of pink appearing on the horizon of the frozen Baltic Sea viewed from my hotel room, the delightful HAVEN, located on the waterfront of the city's old town. It wasn't fully "light out" until 10am, but what a glorious day it was. Despite the frigid temperatures, everyone goes about their business unperturbed—suffice it to say there's a generous amount of fur and down.

Super ferries roll into port carrying 2-3,000 passengers from Stockholm and other parts of the archipelago. Locals recommend you book the highest level accommodation (from sea level) as the noise of ice-crushing during the voyage can become vexing.

Dusk starts at 3pm when the color of the sky turns a striking cobalt blue that contrasted with the golden lights of the city make photography effortless. It's no surprise that representative art from the area factors in starry night skies, expanses of snow, frozen lakes and boreal forest.

Helsinki was the Design Capital of the world in 2012. Names like Alvaro Saarinen (the architect responsible for the St. Louis Gateway Arch) Marimekko with their bright patterned textiles and dishes are worn by child and mother alike. I particularly love the boiled wool pieces and the laplander wooden cups. Glass work is big. Go to Uudenmaankatu and Iso Roobertinkatu, the arteries that feed the heart of Helsinki’s ultra-cool Design District.

As cities go, Helsinki is a stunner for architecture and cuisine. Starting with a span of period architecture from Byzantine ornate to Contemporary minimalist with a generous splash of Art Nouveau thrown in. The superb cuisine uses fresh local ingredients from the land—reindeer grazed on grass and lichen served with anti-oxident rich wild berry accents, and from the sea—hyper fresh Baltic seafood 'cooked' to perfection at 38 degrees with dill or juniper flavourings, and the smallest, most perfectly crisp, round, whole wheat breakfast bun with a doughy centre (can you tell carbs are off my usual diet?)

article:

January 20, 2013
— There's a rich blend of culture. I watched a film on late night television during my ijet-lag insomnia featuring the lifestyle of the hardy Sami peoples of the northern Lapland, which included sleigh transport over the vast tundra, and the harvest of a culled bull whose neck was expertly slit with members joining in the feast of (what appeared to be) a raw food diet!

Musically you can hear the romantic music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) in this performance of his Violin Concerto 2. A rebel under oppressive Russian rule, Sibelius' tunes have become synonymous with Finnish patriotism symbolizing the Finnish struggle for independence. Or you may prefer to sample to Finnish bands and artists with names like Eppu Normaali.
Finnish art has its own rockstar designers and products available worldwide.

There are 3 national languages derived from its Nordic, Russian and Laplander native residents. Helsinki is closer to St. Petersburg than it is to Stockholm, though many people speak Swedish from the period of Swedish rule. "There are over 130 nationalities represented in Helsinki. The largest groups are from Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Somalia, Serbia, China, Iraq, Germany and Turkey. Foreign citizens make up 8.0% of the population, while foreign born make up 11.1%. In 2012, 68,375 residents spoke a native language other than Finnish, Swedish or one of the three Sami languages spoken in Finland. The largest groups of residents with a non-Finnish background come from Russia (14,532), Estonia (9,065) and Somalia (6,845). Half of the immigrant population in Finland lives in greater Helsinki, and one third in the city of Helsinki." —Wikipedia, source.

Temppeliaukion Kirkko (Temppeliaukio Church)
The 'Church in the Rock', designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, was consecrated in 1969. The church is built into solid rock, with the inner wall left raw and unfinished, and is crowned with a solid copper dome. The wall surrounding the church is made from rock quarried on the site. Upon visiting the Museum of Contemporary Design I spent a lot of time in the wonderful art book store operated by a chain called Rosebud (yes, after the Elia Kazan movie!).

The best part of travel is finding new inspiration in topics you are currently interested in. (to be continued...)

 

 

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