The day after the party it was time to say goodbye to our newlyweds as they embarked on their honeymoon to Sint Maarten. You’ve got to hand it to them, Finns sure know how to pick a holiday destination! In case your geographical knowledge is as mediocre as mine, don’t bother opening google: Sint Maarten is a sunny island in the Caribbean! Here are a few of their holiday pics:
Beside Pascal and Martta, my other friends all had flights to catch too. After saying goodbye to all, my Finnish solo adventure began.
First stop on my carefully planned itinerary was the island Suomenlinna, only a short ferry-trip away from Helsinki. This island had made it to Unesco’s World Heritage list. This sparked my interest, although I have to admit, I didn’t really know what to expect. All descriptions I got so far were limited to “Fortress Island”.
Kauppatori = Harbor?
To get to the island Pascal told me I first had to make my way to the harbor (= Kauppatori in Finnish). Barely three seconds after he spoke those words, Pascal was fiercely corrected by Martta: “Kauppatori is not the same as a harbor! What are you talking about!? Why are you telling him to go to the harbor!? That’s just wrong!”
Yes, the roles of bickering husband and wife came natural to them 🙂 They will make an excellent pair: Pascal may be Mr. Right, Martta will be Ms. Always Right!
By the way, I looked it up on Google: of course Martta WAS right… Kauppatori means market (square).
On a sidenote: of all cities I visited, I prefer those where you can get around by foot (Firenze) or those that have a superb public transport system in place (London). I was relieved to hear that all the places I wanted to visit in Helsinki were well within walking distance: the railway station, shopping mall, restaurants, the rock church and yes, even the Kauppatori.
On the way to
the harbor the market, I snapped some shots* of the railway station and the statue of Finnish author Alexis Kivi.
(* Time for some shameless self-promotion now: If you are interested in seeing more of my photographs, just follow Nomoremovies on Instagram. That’s where I regularly post both old and new photographs. To avoid spamming, I don’t share ALL of them to Facebook, I also tend to process them a bit more agressively there.)
Back to Helsinki: Despite the fact that in 2013 the BBC chose the Helsinki railway station as one of the world’s most beautiful stations, it’s not really my cup of tea. Hold on with those torches and pitchforks! I don’t mean to offend anyone, it’s just a matter of personal taste! I’m just not into National Romantic architecture. (See I know the style, I just looked it up 😉
When it comes to architecture I’m a sucker for renaissance. The Duomo of Firenze remains perhaps the most beautiful building I have ever seen, both inside and out. Admittedly, I have not been to Rome yet, so the Sixteenth Chapel will probably top that. Yes, I know, it’s not fair to compare a renaissance cathedral to a railway station…
But sticking to my favorite railway stations, I don’t even have to leave Belgium! Belgians are lucky enough have both Liège-Guillemins and Antwerp. The latter of which was elected most beautiful railway station in the world in 2014! We Belgians DO have something to be proud of after all! On the other hand, we also have to account for Vilvoorde station, but that’s a seperate story.
Even if you do not “dig” National Romanticism, the statues guarding the entrance are unique and instantly recognizable. In short: I appreciate it, I just don’t think it’s beautiful per sé.
A few minutes later I arrived at the Kauppatori, just in time to embark to Suomenlinna.
As soon as I set foot on Suomenlinna, I was impressed! The entrance archway was very inviting and had something of a theme park feel to it. The nearby promenade was flanked by beautiful trees. Sofie is pretty sure they are Acer platanoides. I’ll take her word for it. They had just lost their leaves, coloring the cobbled streets a bright orange. Lucky me, all I had to do was press the shutter.
I don’t know why, but the movie title Autumn in New York sprang to mind. Although I never saw the film – or New York for that matter – this promenade was exactly how I imagine New York in autumn. I half expected Richard Gere to jump into frame, photobombing my photos. Luckily that didn’t happen.
I ordered a sandwich and some tea in a cozy coffee house near the quay and decided it was the perfect time for reading up on the history of Suomenlinna.
Sveaborg and Ehrensvärd
As it turns out, Suomenlinna, or Sveaborg in Swedish, was built in the mid-1800s to serve as a Sea Fortress. It’s purpose was to protect Sweden from a possible invasion by Russia.
At the museum I learned that building a sturdy stronghold on a cluster of islands was not easy. Augustin Ehrensvärd, military engineer, possessed that electrifying mix of skill, persistence and true passion for his project. He was the kind of guy who, when his construction workers were succumbing to scurvy, succeeded in providing them with a more balanced diet. Easier said than done those days.
You have got to respect men like that: not listening to naysayers and finding solutions to see their projects carried out to perfection, no matter what. If only there were more like him around these days.
After his death he was buried on the island, surrounded by his life’s work. plus, he got one of the most beautifully designed tombs I ever saw.
Walking tour of Suomenlinna
The beautiful church on Suomenlinna is the only one I know of that doubles as a lighthouse. Another eye catcher is the red WWII submarine named Vessiko. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t open to the public this time of year, but hey, you can’t have it all.
The warfare museum gave a short overview of the history of the armies of Finland and their gear. Also very nicely presented!
Walking routes were easy to follow and along the way there were shops, cafés and bistros. Several of them were located in traditional Russian houses that were over a century old.
That’s right, even though the sea fortress is an impressive sight, it didn’t keep the Russians out. The soldiers were willing to fight for their fortress tooth and nail but a cowardly commander surrendered as soon as the Russians were knocking at his door. Luckily for him his soldiers didn’t get hold of him afterwards, they would have torn him apart. All said and done, it was the Russia that changed the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki, which was closer to their border.
All history aside, Suomenlinna is a beautiful place and fully deserves its title of World Heritage. Just fifteen minutes from Helsinki it is the number one thing to do on every list you find. Even if you’re not interested in its history, it remains a lovely place for a stroll.
Benches on the meadows give you the means to relax with a good book and places like Piper’s park are sure to grab the attention of any garden enthusiast. I learned that in the 1760’s, the island’s original trees were cut and Acer, Sorbus Crataegus and Syringa were imported. In the 18th century Quercus, Tilia, Acer and Fraxinus were among the species brought to the island.
Lelumuseo (or Toy museum)
Toys have always fascinated me, even long after I outgrew them. Even today I have a room (and part of the attic) full of original eighties toys. Apart from my own nostalgic memories, I’m curious to see what children played with during different eras and in different places. This is the reason I love the Belgian Toy Museum in Mechelen. It’s a must-see if you are into toys and visiting Belgium…
I was delighted to find out Suomenlinna had a toy museum too. Situated in an original house with a cozy cafeteria, the Lelumuseo holds an extensive collection of doll houses (complete with toy portraits of a looming Russian tsar), teddy bears, wooden cars and of course the Moomins! These friendly trolls most resembling hippos have been around for more than seven decades. Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator and writer Tove Jansson created a series of books and a comic strip.
Between the fifties and today they made it to television in several forms: puppet animation, Dutch/Japanese hand drawn animation, cutout animation and even stop-motion.
The museum also had the one and only Charlie Chaplin action figure.
Apparently, Disney was also loved in Finland. Judging from the overall creepiness of Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, I doubt they were officially licensed by Walt.
Pizza at Leonardo’s
Suomenlinna was built over an interconnected cluster of islands. By dusk I had visited them all and hopped on the ferry back to the mainland.
I turned to Foursquare and found myself a cozy, delicious Italian restaurant called Leonardo’s. You cannot go wrong with a place called Leonardo, right? It’s the name of my favorite inventor, my favorite actor-turned-activist and my favorite Ninja Turtle. No kidding, I still have the action figure dating back to 1985, in mint condition. That’s thirty-one years old already!
As I was enjoying my pizza and sipping my “forest Mojito” (blueberry-flavored) I couldn’t help wondering whether my action figure collections would ever end up in a museum. I think they should!