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Thursday, September 15th, 2005

Architecture In Helsinki

Finlandia! Today’s excursion was a somewhat short (three hour) bus tour that hit a lot of the key tourist-y spots with great efficiency. We first toured around the harbour area and then headed up into the downtown area to see Senate Square and the adjacent cathedrals, university and open-air marketplace. Then up past the new Opera House, Olympic Stadium, up and around the Meilahdenpuisto region (where the President lives) and down to Sibellius Park, dedicated in honour of Finland’s favourite composer whom I’d never, ever heard of before setting out on this trip (not that I’d claim to be an expert on 19th century Finnish composers). I really liked the monument there, which is a fascinating sculpture composed of hollow steel tubes meant to represent music (as well as a bust/sculpture of the composer to appease the less imaginative). Unfortunately, it had started raining just then, so my photos have a little bit of water blotching to them. It wasn’t raining hard enough to actually get me wet, just enough to muck up the camera.

The next stop was Temppelaikukio, or the “Church in the Rock”, which was quite accurately a church built into a huge chunk of granite. Located mostly underground, the round Lutheran church was built around three decades ago and is quite stunning inside, with it’s large copper dome ceiling and stone walls. The acoustics are also supposed to be superb, making it a popular venue for concerts. The tour bus then swung through the more modern, commercial part of downtown en route back to the ship where I grabbed a quick lunch and then caught a shuttle back into the city. I then engaged in some general wandering and photography. A stop in a record store gave proof to the rumour that metal is still very big in Scandanavia, with Iron Maiden sharing feature rack space with Sigur Ros. Unfortunately, the intermittent rain was getting more mittent and heavier so after a couple hours it was time to duck back on a bus and retreat to the cozy confines of the Star Princess.

So what about the architecture? Everything has a very clean, classical look which is pretty remarkable considering that most of the city’s buildings are less than 200 years old (the country in its current incarnation hasn’t even been around for a century yet). It helps that much of the city’s public buildings were laid out to a master aesthetic plan by the architect Carl Engels and the rest of the city seemed to follow along, stylistically. I didn’t get to see too many of the modern buildings (Temppelaikukio notwithstanding) except from the bus, so most of my up-close-and-personal experience is from the older-styled building around Senate Square and the downtown commercial area. As I wandered, I couldn’t help thinking how drab and uninspired Toronto is in comparison to here (and everywhere in the world, it seems). It’s like that almost every building there is remarkable in some fashion, and there’s so many of them that rather than being made heritage buildings and tourist destinations the way they would at home, they’re turned into retail shops, drug stores, etc. And even with the bar set that high, buildings like the train station or Museum of Modern Art are as simply made even more spectacular. I can understand why Helsinki’s buildings have such an excellent reputation.

Like Stockholm, I found Helsinki wonderfully understated and charming. Even the Presidential palace was impressively subtle. Despite the somewhat dodgy weather, I found the whole place to have a real nice feel, like a perfect blend of modern and classic influences. I also liked that I was able to spend more time in the less tourist-y part of town than I did in Stockholm and I daresay the women here are better looking than in Sweden…

Tomorrow we hit Russia, which necessitates turning the clocks ahead yet another hour. Just when I get adjusted to one time zone, we go to another. Overcoming jet lag is like a moving target. What’s most nuts is that by the time my day is almost over, most people back home are just getting started. It’s like I’m in the future.

By : Frank Yang at 12:39 pm
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Gary Campbell says:

    Glad to hear you’re continuing to have a good time. Still jealous here. And yeah that Jean Sibelius guy is following you around. That park in the Annex at the West end of Bernard St, near where you lived on Madison? Also named Jean Sibelius Park in honour of the Finish composer. That Sibelius gets around.

  2. Garnet Fraser says:

    It’s funny. We all think we know music, and we all have gaps in our knowledge. If we surveyed the globe I’d bet Jean Sibelius would be, to pick a number out of the air, 100 times better known than, say, Sufjan Stevens.

  3. thomaus says:

    According to blogpulse, Jean needs to release a new album. Sufjan has him beat in the blogosphere: http://…/

  4. Rachel says:

    Postcards, you say? Like, from St. Petersburg, you say? I am seriously jealous. Some of the most beautiful women in the world are from Russia. Lucky, lucky man. I remember the food not being so good, though. Enjoy!

  5. Andrew says:

    Jean Sibelius totally needs a tribute album.

  6. thomaus says:

    But, the critics would pan it…

  7. David says:

    Hello/Moi!

    I somehow stumbled on your blog from a link on "against the grain".. I then noticed that you’ve been to Helsinki 2 days ago.. I’ve been staying here in Helsinki now for 3 weeks (Working for Nokia – I live in Pretoria, South Africa), and today my friend from Stockholm (also from SA working for SAAB)visited to check out Helsinki a bit. And we actually did exactly the same bus tour you were writing about.. After that I went to Stockmann centre to gather some intelligence relating the sigur ros tour.. Ever since I set foot here in Helsinki I’ve tried to get a ticket. But apparently the 30th Oct concert sold out within 15min. I’ve now heard that a second concert will be held due to high demand (29th Oct). So Wednesday, 09:00 Finnland time, ticket sales will start. Wish me luck! If I fail, I will probably never be able to see Sigur Ros play.. Which would really suck.. And South Africa is not the greatest HOT SPOT for indie bands.. Only the shit like Bon Jovi and Right Said Fred, reaches that far.. (since a large part of SA is still living in the 80’s and they’re the only remaining fan base left in the world ). Anyways, good enjoy the rest of your tour,, and you’re right the "Girls in Helsinki" are better than "Architecture in Helsinki"..

  8. maria in hel says:

    Oh theĀ“girls are more beautiful than in Stockholm, huh…? Well the aesthetically trained eye should know….:D :D

  9. edifik says:

    Hello !

    Your blog is very interesting and i’ll keep on watching it.

    If you’re interested in 3D for architecture you might have a look at mine !

    http://…/

    it’s in french, but you can easely translate it !

    you can also find interesting topics about architecture at http://…/