Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Helsinki on the Way to St. Petersburg

After saying goodbye to my shopping friend in Stockholm,

 we boarded a ship bound for Helsinki, Finland.

We floated out of the Swedish harbor past charming houses,
and lovely gardens which reached right to the shoreline,

passing numerous islands which buffered the ship from the waves of the open Baltic Sea. After enjoying the scenery for about three hours, we ate a Scandinavian smorgasbord before retiring. Our wake up call was shortly before we entered Helsinki harbor. 
The city feels closer to Russia than to Sweden. Historically, Finland was controlled by Sweden for nearly 600 years. During those years, the capital was on the west side of Finland, facing Sweden. In 1812, Russia defeated Sweden annexing Finland and moving its capital to Helsinki closer to Russia. A little over 100 years later, Finland declared its independence, but left its capital on the east coast.

Located only 190 miles west of St. Petersburg, Helsinki is a gateway to Russia. We were using it as a point of departure, so we were only in the city one day. To see the highlights, we took a city bus tour. 

For me, the most memorable building in Helsinki is the Rock Church. The exterior is impressive in its lack of beauty and certainly does not prepare the visitor for the interior. 

Inside, you can't help but be amazed at the sanctuary hewn out of bedrock. The architecturally pleasing slender windows encircling the space bring plenty of light into the grotto. 

When you look heavenward you are mesmerized by the texture of the copper wire ceiling.

The combination of rock and copper result in unbelievable acoustics. No wonder music students gladly perform in the underground cathedral daily over the noon hour.

Leaving the Rock Church, the bus stopped at Sibelius Park honoring the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

 In the heart of the park is a gargantuan steel sculpture of 600 hollow pipes welded together, an abstract expression which was to capture his music.

After the city tour, we took a taxi to the ship bound for St. Petersburg, our final destination. Although we could have omitted Helsinki from our itinerary, in retrospect, I am so glad we saw the city. Rock Church and the Sibelius Monument were certainly unforgettable. 

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