Helsinki Travelogue | Part 1
HELSINKI, FINLAND THE BACKGROUND:
Before our trip, when we were trying to explain it to Ingrid, we'd tell her that we were going to take an airplane across the ocean to Stockholm, Helsinki, and Paris. And whenever we'd ask her where we were going, she'd shout, "Helsinki!", having forgotten the other two. Let's face it, "Helsinki" is the most fun to say. But it also has a lot of other great things going for it: Marimekko, Alvar Aalto, great seafood and chocolate, fewer tourists, outdoor markets, a pedestrian friendly downtown, and did I mention Marimekko?
Kirk and I used Rick Steves guide books back in '05 when we backpacked across Europe together, and I've been a big fan ever since. They're great when it comes to nailing down the nuts and bolts of a trip: transportation, museums & monuments, background info, etc... Since we only had about 2 1/2 days in Helsinki, we decided to take the public tram route that he recommends. It passes by several of the main monuments, and is a fraction of a cost of the touristy hop on-hop off buses that take you along a similar route. Since we were with traveling with a toddler, we decided to narrow our focus and pick two places where we'd get off and spend more time looking around: the Sibelius Monument and the Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Church of the Rock).
The Sibelius Monument is named for a famous Finnish composer. I'll be honest -- I was not familiar with him before our trip. But the monument is a huge, striking sculpture located in a beautiful park with a view. If you take one of the tourist buses, you get dropped off right in front of it and have about 5 minutes to hop out, take a photo with all the other tourists, and get back in. (We know, because we saw about three groups come through and repeat this while we were there.) But if you take the tram, you get to walk down shaded paths through the park until you reach the monument, and then you get to have it to yourself in between bus groups. Or at least, we did. If we did it again, I'd plan for a picnic in the park at the same time, to fully take advantage of this lovely spot. And for those of you with kids, there's a nice little playground just a few steps away from the monument.
Next stop: the Temppeliaukio Kirkko or Church of the Rock. It's an incredible modern building that's carved out of solid rock with a copper roof. These photos do it no justice whatsoever, of course. I hear the acoustics are amazing, so if I were to go back, I'd plan it around a performance.
Now, I feel like I should backtrack a little and explain how we got to Helsinki from Stockholm. We used points for all our airfare and our hotels on this trip, but Rick Steves "told us" that the overnight cruise was a great deal and experience, so who are we to argue!? And yes, when you consider you are getting a night's lodging as well as your fare between the two cities, it is a good use of your travel budget. There are two competing lines to choose from - Silja, which is known for being a bit nicer and a bit pricier, and Viking, which has a party reputation. We decided it was worth paying a little bit more to avoid a bunch of drunken teenagers, so we chose the former.
We boarded in the early evening, and let Ingrid play in the kids' playroom until the boat took off. (It was hard to pull her away... very fun place.) Then we headed over to the dining room for the smorgasbord. (Reservations required.) I'm normally not a big fan of all-you-can-eat buffets because I feel like the quality of food suffers. And guess what!? The same was true for this one, wah wah. But I still don't regret the decision, because it did let us try a lot of traditional Scandinavian foods that we wouldn't have otherwise. After dinner, we headed up to the deck to get a glimpse of the Stockholm archipelago in the last of the evening light. Beautiful, but did I mention that we were doing this in late October? We didn't last long out on that freezing deck, but we did have it to ourselves! Next we headed downstairs for some duty-free shopping. Apparently, some people take this cruise for the sole purpose of buying alcohol and other goods tax-free. We loaded up on European candies and treats to share with family back home. (Although not much of it made it that far... whoops.) Then we headed up to our cabin, which had just enough floorspace to squeeze in Ingrid's travel toddle tent. The following morning, we were just finishing up breakfast when the ship docked. Perfect timing.
I'll work on getting the next installment of our time in Helsinki up by next week, if possible. In the mean time, you might like our favorite museums in Stockholm, traveling abroad with a toddler, and 10 Hip Swedish shops. - Eva