Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. The city carries a population of just under 700,000 and a greater metropolitan population of just under 1.3 million. It sits 50 miles north of Tallinn, Estonia, 250 miles to the east of Stockholm, and 240 miles west of Saint Petersburg. Its identity is very much held in relation to these three cities.
We flew into Helsinki amidst a bout of rain and the forecast was not looking too sunny for our time there. We had been blessed with pleasant weather thus far in the trip and we knew being rained-in was going to happen sooner or later. During our cab ride into town I could immediately perceive a transition from the rest of Scandinavia. The architecture, and written language felt distinctly Eastern European – almost Russian. It was the first time in our trip our destination felt anything different than a traditional western European culture. Finland has historically been in a tug of war between Russia and Sweden over the last five hundred years and maintains an identity distinctly torn between east and west.
We were fortunate with no major downpours our first day in town and had the opportunity to explore. We first stopped off at the impressive Helsinki Cathedral. It is an Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral built in the early 1800’s. Upon entering the cathedral, you get the immediate sense that it is not a Catholic church and lacks much of the ornate posture of similarly sized Catholic churches we have seen in our travels. We hadn’t eaten yet and entered an indoor market that had been adapted from an old shipyard industrial building where you could visit any number of bars, restaurants, or retailers. We decided on pho and Vietnamese iced coffee – it hit the spot. We then decided to make our way to the nearby design museum. I had heard that Helsinki was a big design mecca but had not truly grasped the impact of Finland on the design world. We finished the day off by wandering the streets eating local berries we bought at the street corner and scarfing down some incredibly tasty hamburgers downstairs from our apartment. Our visit to Helsinki marked the end of our Scandinavian adventure and the beginning of our Eastern European adventure. // Jeff