Thursday, July 31, 2008

Helsinki Basics

Helsinki is a city of about half a million people. It's extremely clean, quiet, uncrowded, and gorgeous in the Summer. For some reason I thought it would have a lot of modern architecture, but most of what I've seen so far is in that kind of "Imperial" style that I know from Vienna and from pictures of St. Petersburg. I started out this morning by walking down to the Market Square and browsing the good-sized Farmer's Market there. The berries were plentiful and gorgeous, and there were stalls selling all kinds of grilled and fried fish. There were some typical totchke vendors (shot glasses, magnets, t-shirts) and also a number of arts and crafts people. One artisan makes trays and serving utensils out of steel, sandblasted with modern designs, another had bowls made of birch, others had fur hats and winter accessories like mittens and woolen socks.

I've never been in a Russian Orthodox church, so I climbed the hill above the market
to visit Uspenski Kathedralen. I believe that this is the largest Russian Orthodox church outside of Russia. The inside was full of very colorful paintings and ornate icons trimmed with gold and silver. I found out that the "onion" domes on top of these churches represent flames.

There were a lot of people inside lighting candles placed near the various icons. My favorite feature of the inside of the church is that the interior of the main dome is painted with stars. I like that you can look up at the highest point of the church and see "heaven." It was very lovely and even peaceful, considering how many people were milling about taking photos.

When I boarded the bus for my afternoon tour of the city, I noticed something extremely interesting:

As you can see, the bus tour is even offered in Latin. And you thought that was a dead language. I should have tuned in to hear what it sounded like....

The most interesting stop on tour was Temppeliaukio Kirkko, also known as the "Church of the Rock." The architect brothers who designed it decided to quarry into the hill of rock at the site rather than blast it all away, and the result is a very beautiful, very modern yet very "organic" church. The interior dome is made of a sort of woven copper wire, and seems to float above the ground.

After following a self-guided walking tour for a couple of hours, I stopped at the Ateneum Art Museum. The main draw there was the exhibition of paintings by Finland's foremost artist, Pekka Halonen. My favorite works of his are his paintings of the Finnish forests in winter. They're sort of impressionistic, and sort of like Japanese woodblock prints, and evoke my own memories of the woods in New Hampshire. Trees are covered with soft mounds of snow, branches bending down to the ground, everything is very still and quiet and calm. The Ateneum is not a huge museum, it took me about an hour and a half to survey it all. By this time my feet were killing me and my jet lag was in full swing so I stopped by a supermarket to pick up something for dinner and headed back to my comfy hotel room for a long soak in the very deep bathtub.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Latin channel on the Helsinki tour is part of an ongoing, elaborate in-joke. The Finnish national radio and television service, YLE, provides a webpage and a radio broadcast news report in Latin.