How we chose to spend our first full day in Helsinki won’t be a shocker to anyone who’s read this blog before. That’s right, we started with a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
Having already seen the Market Square, there were three stops we figured we would hop off and take a look around, the Temppeliaukio Church (aka the Rock Church), Sibelius Monument, and Olympic Stadium.
Rockin’ out at church
I will readily admit that I was even less prepared for this trip than usual. Things have just been hectic enough of late that I hadn’t taken the time to do much reading in advance of our departure. As for my plan of reading up during the flight, well I think Ella got just about as much done as me.
With the lack of preparedness, I really wasn’t sure what to expect of the Rock Church. I was definitely thinking more medieval and less 1960’s though and was pleasantly surprised. Though plans for a church on the spot had existed since the 1930’s (hence the name Temple Square), WWII and economic considerations meant it wasn’t built until the 1960’s. The church itself carved directly out of solid rock. Instead of the typical cross shape, it’s a round space with a large skylight that means it’s amazingly bright inside. Wikipedia has more to say on the details. The rock walls also offer great accoustics and the the church is often used as a music venue. With 500,000 visitors a year, they also have live music playing all the time. Fortunately we were spared the painful pun of any Christian Rock and were instead welcomed by a classical pianist.
Johan was here
Interesting as the church was, it was a quick visit and we were able to hop back on the next bus that came by. From there we went just one stop further to check out the Sibelius Monument. For those heathens among you, Johan Sibelius is a ” Finnish violinist and composer of the late Romantic and early-modern periods. Widely recognized as his country’s national composer, Sibelius is often credited for supporting the rise of the Finnish national identity in the country’s struggle for independence”. But you knew that, right?
The monument was completed in 1967 and includes two components the main abstract statue and a secondary face. The latter was apparently only added after complaints that the abstract original was… well, too abstract for the national composer.
While she loves Sibelius as much as the next person, Ella was much more excited about the fact that there was a playground about 50 metres away.
“You can come run too daddy”
Our next stop was the Olympic stadium. Originally built to host the Olympics in 1940, those games were cancelled due to WWII and Helsinki didn’t host the Olympics until 1952. There’s no big show to see at the stadium but for a mild track nerd it was still pretty cool to see. In case you’re wondering, signs that you’re a track nerd include being excited by the Paavo Nurmi statue outside the stadium and that you were right earlier in the day when you said to your less than interested spouse that Paavo Nurmi was probably the best known Finnish runner.
The one thing you can do at the stadium is go up the 70 metre tower for a view of both the stadium and the city. When I said to Ella that if she was really fast when she got older maybe she could run on that track one day, she replied that I could run there too. Clearly she meant I could carry her bags after warm up or something.
Ice cream, champagne and beer. The perfect end to a great day
From the stadium we rode the bus back to the Market Square for a quick lunch before heading back to the apartment for some well deserved rest, i.e. jet lag naps for everyone. After that we headed right back to the Market Square for a ride on the Finnair Skywheel (aka ferris wheel), or as Ella prefers to call them ‘ferry-go-round’. A bit pricey and with a weird blue tint to the windows, Ella loved it and we got a family-selfie with the Uspenski Cathedral in the background.
Perhaps better than the ferry-go-round was the pop-up bar, actually bars, at the bottom. Built with shipping containers, they meant that Ella, Katy and I could get ice cream, prosecco and beer respectively and enjoy a little late afternoon sun before heading to dinner.
After our first day, I have to say that I’m impressed. Helsinki is a really nice and seemingly very livable city. I’m sure it’s not quite as charming in the depths of winter, but few cities are so you can’t hold that against them. They seem to place a priority on pedestrians and bikes, including the recent addition of the Baana Bicycle Corridor the conversion of an old train right-of-way into a cross-town bike and pedestrian route. While Copenhagenize may not be totally enthusiastic in the linked article, it’s certainly better than Toronto.
For those of us from Ontario it feels like they stuck a very modern city of about one million people in the middle of Muskoka. You’re never far from water with a similar rock and tree landscape, only here it’s in the middle of the city.