Holidaying in Helsinki!

Day 10: Tuesday – Finland here we come

A particularly early start to the day had us leaving Dublin and flying into Helsinki, Finland.

Boy was I impressed. Finland is just a beautiful, beautiful country.

We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the gorgeous city, stopping first by the Uspenski Cathedral, which is set on top of a large hill near the sea port.

We then visited the Helsinki Cathedral, a beautiful Lutheran city closer to the centre of town.

Getting hungry, we visited market square and enjoyed a Finnish pancake or two at a beautiful little street stall.

We then wandered through the rest of the inner city, visiting the central railway station and surrounds and snapping the Swedish Theatre.

Late afternoon saw us catching a boat tour around the islands, getting to see some of the beautiful scenery throughout the multiple islands of Helsinki.

Our boat
On the boat
Oh how jealous was I being on the boat and not here
Not our boat but wouldn’t it have been nice

After hopping off the boat, we had a “traditional” dinner of reindeer and beer. And it was surprisingly nice. Sorry Rudolph but, when in Rome…


Day 11: Wednesday – Suomenlinna

The next day we headed off to Suomenlinna, an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands (Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari, Iso-Mustasaari, Pikku-Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari and Långören. The fortress was originally built in 1748 by the Swedes to protect themselves the rapidly growing Russian forces. However, it did not prevent the Russians from taking Finland in 1808. The Russians further fortified the area and it helped to protect them during both the Crimean War and World War I.

Finnish independence came in 1917, however civil war began in 1918 between the socialist “Red Guards” (supported by Russia) and the non-socialist “White Guards” (supported by Germany). Upon victory by the “Whites”, Suomenlinna held “Reds prisoners” until 1919. The defeat of Germany saw Finland emerge as an independent, democratic republic.

Forces remained on Suomenlinna, particularly during World War II but were diminishing rapidly. In 1972, the island was handed over to civil administrators and only the Naval Academy remains on the island, along with a minimum security prison.

We thought it wise to take a tour, perhaps to learn a little more about the site than if we just wandered around.

Pathway leading to the cannons

Part of the outer fortress

As part of the tour we also visited the dry docks, built in 1750 and operated as the base for the Swedish Coastal Fleet’s Sveaborg squadron until 1808. The ships of the Swedish Coastal Fleet were built there in the 1760s under the supervision of the famous naval architect, Fredrik Henrik af Chapman.

From 1918, the dock was used to build the first aeroplanes built in Finland and in the 1930’s it was used as a naval submarine base. It is the oldest dock in Finland and one of the oldest operational dry docks in Europe.

Nowadays the dry dock’s historical large basin is used for repairing wooden sailing ships. Today, the Viaporin telakka ry foundation runs the dock. The foundation’s task is to conserve the knowledge and skills related to old sailing ships and their renovation.

Dry docks

One of the stories we heard during the tour was about a high-ranking officer’s daughter who fell in love with a foot soldier. Since her family would not grant the pair of young lovers their blessings, the pair decided to end their lives together by leaping off a fortress wall into the pond above. That night, the soldier jumped first, and with his heavy boots, quickly sank to the bottom of the pond and drowned. The young lady followed suit. However, she could not drown as her big skirts and pants trapped air in the water and became some sort of a float, keeping her head above the water. Cold, scared and quickly losing interest in getting herself killed, she called out for help. Another officer passing by heard her cries for help and quickly came to her rescue. Rumour has it that the pair fell in love with each other at first sight, and with the blessings from the lady’s family, they married soon and lived happily ever after. According to our tour guide, this is how the saying “Ladies should always go first” came about.

“Ladies should always go first”

After the tour ended, we wandered around the island, taking in some of the cannons and the fortress walls.

We also visited the Kings Gate, built on the site where the ship carrying the founder of the fortress, King Adolf Frederick of Sweden, was anchored while he inspected the construction of the fortress in 1752.

The façade of the two-storey King’s Gate is concave, and the gate, framed with marble stones, is made with rustic masonry. In the 1770s the fortress gate was transformed into a double drawbridge. A pier and wide stairs, constructed from limestone excavated from a site near Stockholm, were built in front of the drawbridge.

King’s Gate

Finally, we went and visited the Suomenlinna Church, which was built as a Greek Orthodox garrison church for the Russian troops of Suomenlinna sea fortress in 1854 and originally had five onion domes. It was converted into an Evangelical Lutheran church during the 1920s. Today its central dome doubles as a lighthouse making it one of only a few churches in the world that double as a lighthouse. The signal blink is the Morse code for the letter “H” for Helsinki. It is a very popular wedding church and one of the first landmarks for people arriving at Helsinki by sea.

Inside of the church
The beautiful chandelier
The entrance to the church

We headed back to Helsinki mainland to pick up our bags, run to the ferry and manage to fluke the fast boat to Tallin, where our next adventure begins.

Michael in front of the express boat to Tallin