A Travellerspoint blog

Finland

Helsinki and beyond!

The Russians are calling!

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The first day in Helsinki we decided to go for and explore using our travel cards which we purchased from the hostel lobby. Smith had suggested that we looked into going to see a Ice Hockey game, so we set off for the arena where it's played in Helsinki, once arriving though the impressive arena was completely closed. We were getting the hang of the tram system so hopped back on one and headed for central. Once deeper into Helsinki we got to a square with the large white cathedral perched on top of probably the highest point of Helsinki. We couldn't have chosen a better day to see it, the weather was hot and there was some event taking place on the steps that led to the cathedral. At the time we were unaware to the nature of the event taking place, as it turned out it was for a children's charity in which people had knitted hundreds of patterned squares which would later be auctioned off. It set an impressive picture in the cathedrals square of all the multicoloured pieces of knit-work laid out over a set of easily 40 or more steps, with the elegant White cathedral behind with a blue sky backdrop. The cathedral was originally built like many buildings in Finland in a Neo-classical style by the Russians after the Finish War. The cathedral was a tribute to Grand Duke, Nicholas I, the Tsar of Russia. It was called St. Nicholas' Church until Finish independence in 1917. Later in the day we arrange our tickets between Helsinki and St. Petersburg the only bit of travel be hadn't arrange until Beijing before we left the U.K. Which fingers crossed will be ok, Russia after all being the biggest pain to sort out our visas for!

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The following day we took a trip to Suomenlinna island and fortress. As I described in my previous blog this place is a world heritage site due to it's military and maritime history and many years of rule under three separate sovereign states (Swedish, Russian and Finn). It's building work therefore shares influence from all of these cultures and it's dry docks on the island are still in use. There are a mix of housing, small offices and a library on the island which is a 10 minute boat ride from the mainland. It's been under civilian administration only since the early seventies and even still has a naval marine academy on it. We luckily joined a guided tour that was in English which was great in helping us understand the history of the island. 

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The weather unfortunately turned drizzly and stoped us from doing a great deal of sightseeing! We decided on our last day to go to Helsinki zoo, on arrival to our pleasure we found out the entry was free as the season had finished! Due to the weather being quite cool all of the animals were out and about. We had also arranged in the evening to go see an Ice Hockey game on tuesday evening which was exciting, I wasn't a hundred percent certain on the rules but the atmosphere was great and the home team which we were supporting, HIJK came back from two points behind to win!

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(the cheerleaders proved distracting as they danced about in the seating area when play stopped during the game!)
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We set off for Russia at 10am on the Wednesday, and after a pain free three and a half hour train ride, which included passport control, and the use of the first visa that was sorted in the U.K. The subway in St. Petersburg is very unique, building finished apparently in the 50's and it looks like it's stayed that way, it is very ornate, decorated with gold light fittings and marble flooring. The carriages of the train are dark and poorly painted but hold a certain charm and character, as well as filling you with a slight fear to keep you on your toes, even more so when you realise that the subway is one of the deepest in the world!

St. Petersburg is an amazing place but very unique, where most cities juggle a mix of old and new, where you can see different influences and periods in history in the architecture. St. Petersburg offers all but nothing in modern architecture, but a history lesson in buildings in neo-classical/baroque styles. After only a little while of searching we located the hostel which to our initial horror seemed to be in a building of very bad disrepair. A very old cage lift that was out of action, which regardless of our heavy bags didn't upset us too much due to it's condition! The stone staircase with tiled landings are uneven and the woodwork of the huge single glazed windows is rotten and stripped of paint. This we have come to realise is just the Russian ethos, like many of the buildings, the attitude seems to be only fix it when it's broken, which is also adopted with Their mechanics too!

its really starting to feel like we are experiencing something completly different from what we are used to, there is thousands of museums in St. Petersburg and there is lots to see of the history and culture, but I'll save that for the next blog!

Posted by Christian25 07:42 Archived in Finland Tagged travel finland russia Comments (0)

Final days of Stockholm and the road to Helsinki.

Leaving Stockholm

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Stockholm is a great city that merges the old and the new, like most cities, however, due to it being built across an archipelago, certain islands remain full of it's old charm and other offer new architecture and high rise buildings creeping up into the skyline. On our last few days we spent in Stockholm we fitted in quite a lot considering we took a strangle hold of our budgeting after our lapse!

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On the Tuesday evening we went round to see Patrick and Iris at their apartment. Iris had cooked us dinner and we were also joined by Christian, which was nice as we had had little time to catch up when we saw him working at the bar at the weekend. The food was delicious, I think Iris was a little worried about our reactions, but I think our second helpings reassured her! She had even gone to the trouble of making a cake for afters, I had teased her at the weekend about how much I liked carrot cake when she had suggested she might make one! So I think she was worried to see my reaction. I was very impressed, and I think that view was shared round the table as the cake was virtually demolished! After the food we sat about making jokes, listening to music and discussing travel plans. I hope they might read this blog as I would like to make clear what fantastic hosts they have been while visiting Stockholm, Christian very much included in that too and also the Swedish guide we had in Oslo, Amanda! You have done Sweden proud!

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(Patrik & Iris live in a cool suburb)

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For our last few days sightseeing we had a wonder round areas of Stockholm we hadn't yet visited, or if we had it was at night and under the influence, so I didn't have my beer compass switched on! We decide we would do one of the paid museums that we had been avoiding in order to save money! The whole time we were there I was keen to see the Vasa museum which Patrik had recommended, which contains an old ship which sank in 1628. It doesn't sound the most interesting place, but we were all very impressed! The boat was huge and covered in ornate carvings with a double gun deck! The ship was ordered to be built by King Gustav II Adolf, and he wanted it to be the jewel of his navel fleet. However, his over zealous demands of the ships specifications and the lack of knowledge of building double decked gun ships by his navy led to the Vasa being built with a hull that was too narrow for it's enormous size an weight, especially when carrying it's guns, which led to it sinking on it's maiden voyage! Interestingly in a stroke of luck, not for the 12 or so people who unfortunately lost their lives, it sunk still in the archipelago, where the waters are less salty. This  allowed the ships hull and the main bulk of the ships contents to be preserved, particularly the wood work which on most shipwrecks is destroyed by a type of worm that eats away at it. 

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(This was exhibit was showing the natural source of the colouring they used to paint the statues and carvings on the Vasa)

The museum was had lots if interesting exhibits based around the vasa, as well as some of the many items salvaged including some if it's victims. The museum had interesting told the stories of the individuals from looking at their bones, personal items found on or around them and from rough records from the disaster itself. I would recommend the museum as a must see to people visiting Stockholm!

The last day in Stockholm was spent milling around in the sun in different parks due to the fact that we had to leave our hostel at 11am, however, due to a lack of forethought when me and smith booked our travel, our flight to Helsinki was not until 6:40am the following morning! After a very uncomfortable 10 hour wait at the airport resenting Smith and Kailey for managing some admittedly poor sleep we boarded the plain were I fell asleep instantly! That 45 mins was my fist bit of sleep in 24 hours after a very busy day. Therefore my initial outlook of Helsinki was tainted by this growing feeling of frustration inside of me. Even once arriving at Helsinki's main square, to find none of the transport info in English. This of course is not their fault and is a very British reaction to a situation, but being tired, hungry and lost made it difficult to remain calm and deal with the situation. We eventually sorted things out and got to the hostel, which through tired eyes and the fact that we arrived at about 10:30am but couldn't have our rooms til 4pm, was close to tipping me over the edge! After a nap on the common room sofa, a venture out to get some food, I was starring to feel more human. In the time of waiting we looked at what Helsinki had to offer and after getting our rooms, having a shower another little sleep I was full of beans and looking forward to this next leg of the journey! That sounds like a rant, but i thought I'd be honest of my first impressions of the place seen through very groggy eyes. 

Helsinki already seems to have a vibe of Russia, even the people look slightly more of a Russian decent. I think that it's a logical step on the direction we are taking to visit Helsinki to help us prepare for our exploration of Russia, which deep down I feel might be a challenge! The hostel is situated at the back of the Olympic stadium which was suppose to host the Olympics in 1940, but was cancelled due to WWII, it was later held here
in 1952. The stadium is now used for big concerts and is the home of Finland's national football team. The area is very sporting as literally a stones throw from the entrance of the hostel is another impressive stadium and training ground for Helsinki's biggest football team HJK. There are are over 80 museums in Helsinki so I expect we will find something of interest as well as a zoo, which for me is always a must, due to my love of the natural world and animals. Another place if interest is Suomenlinna fortress on an island just off Helsinki, which is one of seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. After the initial tiredness and frustration I'm looking forward to exploring the place described as the worlds northernmost urban area with a population greater than 1 million.

Posted by Christian25 09:10 Archived in Finland Tagged travel_sweden_finland Comments (3)

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