Friday, August 30, 2013

Norse saga. Part III - Far from Finnished

Saturday 10 August

Suomenlinna: The Fortress of Finland.
Upon arrival at Helsinki, it transpired that the ferry port and our hotel were at opposite ends of town. A €20 taxi ride sorted that out, and we also learned that the tram would take us directly from the hotel to our return ferry on Monday.

The tram trip into town cost €2.60 each. Then we bought day passes, which would be valid for 24 hours of unlimited public transport, except for the ferry we took to Suomenlinna (The Fortress of Finland). Having got there, we discovered that a different ferry service would have accepted our day passes, although it went to and from different quays.

I was actually glad I’d decided to wear my new Vibram® hobbit feet today. Every surfaced area on Suomenlinna was either sharp gravel of massive rounded cobbles, except for one grassed area that was covered in goose poo.

Suomenlinna: The King's Gate
Suomenlinna church is used as a lighthouse.
You can just see our ferry over there in the far right background.
Suoemlinna is a group of small islands covered with fortifications dating originally from the mid 1700s, and also various wooden and brick-built buildings. The church has a dome that includes an extant lighthouse some 52m above sea level. Wandering around the islands, we discovered the First Helsinki Classic Boat Rally, so the yacht harbour was chockablock with glorious wooden yachts and motor boats.

Yachts, yachts everywhere

Wood or Tupperware? What would you choose?

I think this motor cruiser looks wonderful.

Is this a Riva?
Another boat worth a look was a 1933 submarine with its three torpedoes, two engines, and two enormous doorways now cut into the hull to provide access and egress. I chatted to an American who was busy telling his small son how Grandad used to sail in a larger version of this vessel. Grandad never got to launch a Trident missile in anger, for which we are probably all grateful, but having retired from the US Navy, it seems he got a more satisfying job at Cape Canaveral putting space shuttles into orbit.


Submarine stern gear.

Engine room: the electric bit, for use when submerged.

Torpedo tube.
We returned to Helsinki’s mainland and sought food. The guide book mentioned that Café Kappeli was a good place for traditional Finnish fare. The bouncer on the door looked us up and down. A kilt is National Costume (just not mine, but I wasn’t going to say so) and anyway there’s a long and auspicious tradition of Kilted Warriors this far north. Vibram® hobbit feet don’t violate any No Shoes: No Service rule, and they’re not sandals either.

I had the reindeer tongue starter, on a bed of reindeer mousse, and that was followed by medium-rare roasted reindeer with vegetables and a delicious rowanberry sauce. The whole thing was delicious, actually, for someone who enjoys meat that’s slightly gamey. Beloved Wife had the beef, but because she’d not had a starter, a dessert was justified. Blueberry cheesecake with blueberry ice-cream and drizzled with blueberry juice. Mmmmm!

Only for people who like blueberries.
All the shops were shut by the time we emerged from the restaurant, so we wandered around and resisted the dubious allure of buskers, caricature artists, and a religious orator. We checked out some of the architecture and then rode the tram to the end of the line and back again to our hotel. Plans to alight at the end and look at the sea were abandoned when it became obvious that there was no entertainment to be had in the residential suburbs. Our day passes would expire at 2000 on Sunday, so some exploration of Helsinki was planned. We both hoped that the place wouldn’t be shut on Sunday.

Sunday 11 August

According to the guide books, the Finns are avid coffee drinkers. This seems to be confirmed by the kitchen area of a downtown department store that was mostly devoted to coffee machines. I suspect Mellow Birds may be a prohibited substance in Finland. This keenness to make decent coffee didn’t stop me experiencing a particularly revolting cup this morning at breakfast. I don’t care that it was from a machine: a device that grinds beans and pours liquid should be capable of making a decent cup. The other apparently identical machine was much better, so I suspect dirty filters or some such. The hotel staff were hugely apologetic, and the following morning the errant machine had been fixed.

Our first port of call was a spectacular modern church hewn out of solid granite. Temppeliaukion kirkko, the Church in the Rock is basically a circular hole in the ground covered by a huge copper dome that’s supported by concrete flying buttresses. The place was packed with tourists. Now, I’m not in any way religious, but even I know that it’s considered bad form to wear a hat in church. Tell that to Indiana Jones’ grandson and the host of back-to-front baseball caps.

Church in the Rock interior.
Church in the Rock exterior.
Other churches we visited today were Uspenskin katedraali, the Russian Orthodox brick edifice near the port and the largest in Europe, and the Helsingia tuomiokirkko, a huge white Lutheran cathedral atop an enormous flight of steps. It’s surprisingly plain inside, except for the organ whose pipes are decorated in Baroque on Speed.

Russian Orthodox church.
Plenty of ornamentation in the Russian Orthodox style.
A classic onion dome.
Helsingia tuomiokirkko.
Inside, the church is surprisingly plain...
...except for this vast musical instrument.
A little shopping and photos, then back to the hotel to drop of purchases before heading out for something to eat and drink. Isn’t a day ticket of unlimited public transport great?

St Peter. He with the keys to the Pearly Gates.
Trolls guard one of Helsinki's department stores.
A rather disturbing lack of PPE whilst metal bashing.

I can't work out if this Viking has an agricultural implement or a musical instrument.
An exomis probably doesn't count as Personal Protection Equipment.
Love the Art Deco.
Zacharis Topelius, lyric poet, writer of historical romances, professor of Finnish, Russian, and Nordic history, and editor-in-chief of the Helsingfors Gazette.
Atlantes, which is the correct term for male caryatids I hear.
After ‘deer’ [sic] pizza - another first - and a beer brewed in Bergen, (Beloved Wife had ham and pepperoni and a Blueberry Collins), we took the scenic route by tram back to the hotel.

The pool and sauna was still open for an hour. I managed fifteen minutes at 100°C and 70% humidity. Then a couple of Chinese guys joined me and poured water on the hot coals. None of us could breathe superheated steam, and they ran howling from the sauna. I bent double until the steam evaporated. I’m not used to saunas, and the one at Fitness First in Dubai is set at a mere 80°C.

Monday 12 August

Our last day in Helsinki. We checked out of the hotel and then took the tram into town, leaving our bags for collection later. It was raining really quite hard, but after the squall had passed we found our way to St John’s church. But first we visited the Design Museum. This one was rather better than the one in Copenhagen, not least because it wasn’t half closed for refurbishment. There were plenty of IKEA chairs, of course, and blasts from the past that included Rukka motorcycle gear and a 1985 mobile phone stuck to a car battery. Odd, isn’t it, that state-of-the-art furniture from 1940s Scandinavia still looks modern? Compare with the furniture we grew up with.

St John’s is a huge church that includes rows and rows of pews in a Circle as well as the Stalls. It’s possible to walk right around the church on the upper level and look down at the congregation from behind the altar. Apparently the church is used for concerts as well as for worship, and can’t half pack them in.

St John's church. The twin spires are visible from most of Helsinki.
The nave of St John's church
Carving detail on the screen behind the altar.
Looking down the nave from the upper storey. An angel's point of view, perhaps.
 As rain was still threatening, Beloved Wife decreed that we go into town and buy a new umbrella. The new device is magnificent. Push a button on the handle to deploy, and then push the same button to collapse. I’m officially impressed.

We retrieved our luggage from the hotel and found our way to the ferry terminal in good time. It transpired that no cabins were available, and so once on board, Beloved Wife and I found a quietish corner and set up camp. Immediately after casting off, she tried again, and by some miracle a cabin was now available, and we wouldn’t have to spend all night listening to the Whack-a-Mole and the pinball machines in the next room.

The moral of the story is to ensure that cabins are booked both ways at the same time as the ferry tickets.

Beloved Wife collapsed for an early night. I discovered Finnish kåråøkë, that wasn’t bad on the whole. I tried to sing along under my breath but was continually thwarted by all the diäcrïticål marks in the Finnish sübtitlës. After a snack at the tapas bar and some Jägermeister, I went back, but by now the kåråøkë had been replaced by a disastrous Finnish püb sïngër. I can tell when an early night is called for.



Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

I am still smiling from reading this:

"Tell that to Indiana Jones’ grandson and the host of back-to-front baseball caps."

Anonymous said...

tmil really liked the simple refreshing after so much gold and glitter.


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