It's really compact... and quite chilled out, this town!

Helsinki Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 14 › view all entries
I guess all roads lead to Rome! Marimekko is by far the most popular Finnish brand (other than airline Finnair), and there are no fewer than 8 stores in the central part of town. This is their very plush flagship store

You've been warned, this is a long, long entry!

Highlights include Helsinki and the Orthodox cathedrals, the ice-breaker ships (yeah, the what?!!) and my first look at a Finnish sauna.

I've clearly learnt that when on vacation, not to rush it! The Vikram of 2005 would've set the alarm at 6am despite going to bed at 2am. Not the 2017 Vikram! Indeed.... I didn't rise, rather, peel out of bed till about 9a. I had a relaxed breakie (bread and cereal, courtesy hostel), a long, long shower and finally left the hostel past 1030am. I grabbed a town map. The hostel front desk did a good job walking me through some of the top sights but the overall message was that "this town is really small".

Helsinki Cathedral
 

I walked through the city centre (which, technically is where our hostel is located at). I peeped into a Marimekko store as, well, isn't that the thing to do in Finland?! The prices were exorbitant but I did know I'd be taking back some crockery with me. Expensive yes, but I'm sure they'll make our morning oatmeal taste a whole lot better! I then turned  right to head to the Esplanade (which houses some of the top jewellery and fashion brands in town) as well as a more affordable open  air market and food stalls that continue on till the harbour. This was really fun to see. And even though it kept raining in and out, it was  a pleasant day out (and heaven knows I needed the teens after being in 40C+ the previous week in Israel). 

Anyway, I  continued on and the first stop was the landmark the town's probably best known for.

The famous icebreakers (see blog entry for explanation)
...

Helsinki Cathedral! Unbeknownst to me at the time, this Cathedral sits proudly atop Senate Square which is the oldest part of Helsinki. Not only that, unlike other towns where several architects were responsible for designing bits and bobs, the buildings in this entire square (that comprise of a University building, The Goverment buildings and Palace and of course, the Cathedral) were all designed by a Carl Ludvig Engel in the early 1800s. It made sense because I remember seeing those buildings and thinking "that's a lot of homogenity there!". I spent a lot of time taking photos here, by the main statue and then on the steps overlooking Senate Square. Whilst probably not the most picturesque in Europe, it certainly looked  so pristine despite the tourist hoardes arriving.

That's one thing I was beginning to notice about Helsinki - there was a certain amount of calm and vastness about the place that led to this overall feeling of peace. The inside of the cathedral wasn't anything that spectacular, was almost sparse. 

It had started pouring cats and dogs when I headed outside. I stayed in a bit longer and when the rain ceded, off I went to the market for some hot soup. Most shops were selling fish based soup, only one with vegetarian and some wheat'ish thing. Was very tasty, but again, I was very hungry! 

The next stop was Uspenski Cathedral, or the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. More than the Cathedral itself, I liked the rather quiet leafy suburb this was set in. There were again, lots of tourists here. I went inside but the church which is normally open to tourists during regular hours was closed due to a wedding.

Helsinki Senate Square
They did let us in through the side door (there were strict barricades) and the priest kept reducing the surface area by manually moving the poles closer and closer to the doors till we all got out. This was enough time for me to get photos, but side shots of the altar aren't really as grand as the ones from the centre or front. 

The front desk at the hostel had asked me to spend time wandering around this tiny island as it contained some pretty nice homes, but also the waterfront which was hangars and warehouses converted into fancy restaurants and coffee shops. She even mentioned one particular coffee shop (forgot the name now). I did wander into it but it was unnecessarily expensive and I wasn't in the mood for yet another muffin and coffee, so decided to skip.

My highlight of walking around this area was really learning about the icebreakers.

Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
What you say? So, every year the Baltic sea that plays a huge role in exports of Finnish goods freezes. This means ship movements could be restricted. So icebreakers help other vessels to port, free them from ice and provide towing. When I first saw 3 ships parked next to one another, I wasn't quite sure what they were, till I got to the explanation boards. I was quite impressed. This country seems to dominate in the production of a lot of marine equipment around the world.

I cannot say how much I was enjoying walking around this part of town. So quiet! Mostly all houses...very few tourists (who prefer to stay around the city and the market square). So it was really nice wandering the bylanes and alleyways by myself. 

I returned to the main market square/harbour area shortly after 1pm.

Helsinki Cathedral
I was in that state where.... well, I wasn't really tired. And so I  decided to go to the sauna that the reception front desk had mentioned. The best part about getting there was the walk. It was diagonally opposite to the Market square and I walked along the coastline through a park and roads with some fancy architecture (all nouveau art, very Riga'esque) to get there. 

When I was reading up about Finland, or rather, Helsinki - I learnt that it's a town of islands. What I saw on my walk along the harbour is that some islands are so tiny they can just about fit a house. And indeed, the Fins built restaurants complete with a boat-taxi service to get to the restaurant. You have flyers with boat times. On one hand, I'm tempted to say "how cool"  but I do presume there's some amount of money and investment that goes into the requisite infrastructure needed to get this restaurant up and running.

And then, you power up an island (run electricity and internet cables, etc.) just for one house/establishment?!

So, the sauna - Hernesaaren Löyly Oy is one of Helsinki's latest tourist sauna traps. Whilst walking from a distance, I could see folks dipping into sea water and I was highly anticipating my experience. Turns out you needed to book in advance as all their slots were filled. Boo! I'd have muchly preferred this had I not removed my shoes and stored my bag in the safe locker just to proudly walk up to the reception to find that they're full. The staff was very sweet though and promised me a slot on Sunday evening. I'll write more about my sauna experience in the next journal entry, when I really did try one out!

I returned to the hostel that night, an egg sandwich in tow (I discovered a grocery store nearby open 24/7).

Whilst the myth is that eating out in Helsinki is expensive (it is, btw!), grocery and deli food is quite cheap when you takeaway. Which is what I'd end up doing the next few days. After dinner, I was chatting to all the roommates (Stefan from Amsterdam, Aussie Jacob and the 2 girls - Finnish and German). The 3 left for a party whilst Jacob and I went down for a drink. He suggested I try this local thing called "the long drink" but was really $5 for what was poured out of a can, and tasted like a alcoholic fizzy drink. Nothing special. But at least, I tasted it.

We returned to our room around 11pm. He had to pack and head out early morning to Stockholm whilst I wanted to just sleep.

Overall, I  really enjoyed my first day in Helsinki.

Helsinki Cathedral
It wasn't my usual European "visit half a dozen museums" kind of day, but a very nice chilled out wander-around kind of experience. The city's infrastructure, wide roads, promenades, amazingly quiet and clean parks, etc. make it all the more conducive. Plus, the people are incredibly nice and speak very good English.

Vikram says:
thanks Ils. Although when May had read this blog, it was only 2 paragraphs long!
Posted on: Sep 09, 2017
Ils1976 says:
hahaha, love May's comment and yep she is right Vikram, it isn't that long and a joy to read. I hope you'll get your sauna experience. Ever since coming back from Finland now almost 20 years ago, I got hooked ... I love sauna! :)
Posted on: Sep 09, 2017
cotton_foam says:
I thought this journal is lonnnggg?
No one would beat mine! :D
Posted on: Aug 27, 2017
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I guess all roads lead to Rome! Ma…
I guess all roads lead to Rome! M…
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
The famous icebreakers (see blog e…
The famous icebreakers (see blog …
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Senate Square and statue …
Helsinki Senate Square and statue…
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Inside Helsinki Cathedral
Inside Helsinki Cathedral
Inside Helsinki Cathedral
Inside Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square
Market Square
Market Square
Helsinki Market Square: fresh salm…
Helsinki Market Square: fresh sal…
Market Square: fried fish
Market Square: fried fish
Helsinki Market Square
Helsinki Market Square
Market Square
Market Square
Helsinki Market Square: the Finnis…
Helsinki Market Square: the Finni…
Market Square
Market Square
View of stalls at Market Square
View of stalls at Market Square
Market Square harbour
Market Square harbour
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Russian Orthodox church
Russian Orthodox church
Russian Orthodox church
Russian Orthodox church
View of Helsinki Cathedral
View of Helsinki Cathedral
A wedding underway at Uspenski (Or…
A wedding underway at Uspenski (O…
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
parents of the bride and groom, Us…
parents of the bride and groom, U…
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
Uspenski (Orthodox) Cathedral
The wedding couple, Uspenski (Orth…
The wedding couple, Uspenski (Ort…
Fancy architecture
Fancy architecture
View of the Old Port
View of the Old Port
Selfie by old port
Selfie by old port
The icebreakers
The icebreakers
Warehouses turned into fancy resta…
Warehouses turned into fancy rest…
Warehouses turned into fancy resta…
Warehouses turned into fancy rest…
Warehouses turned into fancy resta…
Warehouses turned into fancy rest…
Market Square - at a walking tour …
Market Square - at a walking tour…
Random
Random
Random
Random
Supposedly the prettiest street in…
Supposedly the prettiest street i…
Hernesaaren Löyly Oy sauna
Hernesaaren Löyly Oy sauna
Taking a break from the hot sauna …
Taking a break from the hot sauna…
View from the Hernesaaren Löyly O…
View from the Hernesaaren Löyly …
Taking a dip in the sea, at Hernes…
Taking a dip in the sea, at Herne…
Hernesaaren Löyly Oy sauna entran…
Hernesaaren Löyly Oy sauna entra…
By Helsinki Senate Square
By Helsinki Senate Square
View of the sauna
View of the sauna
Drinks with Aussie Jacob who was h…
Drinks with Aussie Jacob who was …
Random photo whilst walking to one…
Random photo whilst walking to on…
Random photo whilst walking to one…
Random photo whilst walking to on…
Overlooking the harbour
Overlooking the harbour
An example of a restaurant on a se…
An example of a restaurant on a s…
Harbour
Harbour
Helsinki Hostels review
Even the crockery is Marimekko!
You have hostels, and then you have the fancy boutique ones. Located in the heart of Helsinki, this boutique hostel has been around for less than 5… read entire review
Helsinki
photo by: portia