The Retirees in Helsinki – Searching for Sibelius

As we enjoyed the weak sunshine on the ferry returning to the mainland (not the sloop shown in the picture below) we decided to go to the Stockman building. We had noticed a roof top something on the Stockman so our next port of call was the roof top of that department store. The roof top bar was exposed cold and windy – the girls tried to enjoy a G&T but an accident with the delivery lost part of the G&T and left us looking for a warmer spot. In front of the Stockman is the monument to the workers of Finalnd. It was getting colder and nearing our dinner time so we returned to the apartment to warm up.

The following morning Kerry and Rod were leaving us to visit an exchange student they had hosted many years ago. To use some of the remaining time together, we decided to find the church called the Rock. Walking through the village past the local museum we spotted an opening in the rock face in front of us – here was the church. Recently constructed and without any charm I saw it as a gimmick and soon lost interest. Rod and Kerry departed at the Rock church whilst we set out to find the Sibelius memorial.
Jean Sibelius (8 December 1865 – 20 September 1957), was a Finnish composer and violinist. He is widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.
Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s, but after completing his Seventh Symphony (1924), the incidental music for The Tempest (1926) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he stopped producing major works in his last thirty years, a stunning and perplexing decline commonly referred to as “The Silence of Järvenpää”, the location of his home. His home was named Ainola after his wife.
Our trip started by tram and then a walk through a park. On the way we passed an unusual church. Its colour first caught my eye then the unusual rounded end and the bell tower with its reliefs/murals on its ceiling. There was a service being performed and parents were dropping off and collecting children from the attached creche.

Beyond the church was the park and across the park is the memorial. The memorial acknowledges his connection with the Finnish countryside and his musical composition.

We then returned to the city and visited the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral. Helsinki Cathedral is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki, located in the neighbourhood of Kruununhaka in the centre of Helsinki, Finland. The church was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was also known as St Nicholas’ Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. It is a major landmark of the city. Austere and lacking the glitz of a catholic cathedral the building does not resonate with the riches of the roman church.


Having seen the Sibelius memorial I decided I wanted to visit Ainola so the following day we went to the bus station to catch a bus out into the country. Whilst waiting for the bus we walked through the station and out of the station onto another square where we encountered and odd structure that turned out to be a church and found that we were within walking distance of the Central Railway Station – in fact we could see the damn thing.

We returned to the bus station and awaited the arrival of our bus. It arrived shortly before the appointed time. we boarded and paid our fare took our seats and waited for departure time when the bus left precidely on time. Having caught our bus we found ourselves some what lost. Without a route map we were not certain where to get off the bus and missed our stop meaning a 15 min walk back to our stop. Fortunately, the only other passenger waiting at this bus stop spoke excellent English and gave us some further directions – which we followed and proved to be wrong. So here we are in the wilderness of Finland and not a clue where that was. One thing though, our bus ticket seemed valid wherever we travelled. We got onto back roads looking for a lakeside walk and end up at a resort at Onnela.

The resort was just starting to re-open for the spring (they were clearing the snow from the ground) but the restaurnat was open for lunch. After a simple lunch we got some further directions and made our way back to the highway to await and flag down another bus.
Finally, we arrived at Ainola although you would never know it from any street signs. We walked along the dirt track towards a suspicious group of vehicles suggesting a carpark. Arriving at a kiosk/café/toilet we were relieved to learn we had arrived – this was Ainola home of Jean Sibelius. And there was an English guided tour due to start. So we had struck it lucky.

The tour only covered the lower floor of the house as the upper floor was considered unable to handle constant trafic of visitors. The tour of the house was great. Here in this country cottage Finland greatest composer lived and worked or should I say his wife lived and worked – he spent a lot of time in Germany and the US and did not handle money well. Further he saw music in colour – the green fire place was “F” major. We went out to the grave site where he and his wife lay and the laundry and bath house, the potato store and the place where the sauna once stood. For most of his life the house did not have running water or electricity. They had two helpers – a cook and a house maid both who stayed with them for years. I cannot see anyone replicating this lifestyle today. Well you may be wondering how we got home – train. Yes we caught the bus again to the end of the line where we caught the train into Helsinki and the underground home.

The Retirees in Finland – Helsinki

Our time in Berlin had expired. Our flight to Helsinki awaited.

Helsinki is the capital and most populous city of Finland. Located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, it has a population of 650,058. The city’s urban area has a population of 1,268,296, making it by far the most populous urban area in Finland. Helsinki is located north of Tallinn, Estonia, east of Stockholm, Sweden, and west of Saint Petersburg, Russia. It has close historical ties with these three cities.
Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550. The construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki’s status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. Russian Emperor Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland, and to bring the capital closer to Saint Petersburg. Despite the tumultuous nature of Finnish history during the first half of the 20th century (including the Finnish Civil War and the Winter War), Helsinki continued its steady development. A landmark event was the 1952 Olympic Games, held in Helsinki.

It was cool when we arrived at the airport and joined the queue for a cab. There is a flat fee for a cab from the airport and the volume of our luggage proved to be a difficulty until one fellow took the attitude that he would make it fit which he did. The trip into town seemed quite long and on arriving the apartment seemed not to exist. Eastern European architecture (and this looked familiar to St Petersburg architecture) approaches things differently. In this case there were two entrances one for apartments 1 -20 and another around the corner for 21 to 40. We unloaded our luggage and took a walk to get a meal. Just down the road was a Nepalese restaurant completely empty save for a little brown fellow behind the bar. Yes they were open but the kitchen would be closing in an hour. With no pressure from other customers we were soon enjoying a variety of Tibetan meals. It turns out the restaurant has been there for 25 years – just odd! At least I thought a Nepalese restaurant in the heart of Helsinki was a bit odd.

The following day we made our way to the bus station/underground station and purchased a multiride ticket and caught the underground to Central and the CBD. Later we were to find out that had we walked through the bus station we would have viewed the central railway station – we were literally 10 mins walk from the CBD. The escalator into the underground was very steep and long. That’s because the bus station is underground but on top of the underground if you get my meaning.

On board the underground train we travelled 1 station and surfaced at the Central Rail Station and a department store called Stockman. This store was to become a landmark for us to orientate ourselves. From there we walked down a park lined avenue to the markets and the wharves. Trams were everywhere. We were to learn that the trams all ran through the CBD. Each route would start outside of the CBD run through the CBD to the suburbs on the other side. There did not appear to be any inter suburban connections.

The sea is a major part of life for the Finnish people. Car ferries (moving mainly semi-trailers) criss-crossed the Gulf of Finland uniting Tallin and St Petersburg. However, we were down here to catch the ferry to the naval fortress Sveaborg. Helsinki is sheltered by a host of islands but unlike Brisbane which is sheltered by some large islands, these islands are rocky outcrops up to a few acres in size the biggest being Sveaborg. The trip was very pleasant, provided you stayed inside out of the icy wind that represented Spring and the cost was included in the bus pass.

Suomenlinna (or Sveaborg (Swedish), literal translation in Finnish is Castle of Finland and in Swedish Castle of Sweden is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands and which now forms part of the city of Helsinki. Originally named Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), or Viapori as called by Finnish-speaking Finns, it was renamed in Finnish to Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalistic reasons, though it is still known by its original name in Sweden and by Swedish-speaking Finns.

The Swedish crown commenced the construction of the fortress in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism. Sweden started building the fortress in 1748, when Finland was still a part of the Swedish kingdom. Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710–1772) (his grave is located on the island) and his gigantic fortification work on the islands off the town of Helsinki brought the district a new and unexpected importance. Fortifications were also built on the Russian side of the new border during the 18th century and some of the Swedish ones were added to. In addition to the island fortress itself, seafacing fortifications on the mainland would ensure that an enemy would not acquire a beach-head from which to stage attacks. The plan was also to stock munitions for the whole Finnish contingent of the Swedish Army and Royal Swedish Navy there. In the Finnish War the fortress surrendered to Russia on May 3, 1808, paving the way for the occupation of Finland by Russian forces in 1809.

Arriving at the Island you first observe the naval academy still in operation on one of the adjoining islands and a long low set pinkish building forming the boundary wall to the community/fortress inside. Cobbled streets abound creating a real problem for Kerry’s feet. Still she soldiered on (pardon the pun).

To access the fort you pass through a tunnel out into an unexpected domestic looking scene. The island also supported the families of the sailors stationed here. Timber houses with odd rain catcher/water heads? In a climate as cold as this it seemed strange that timber was the predominant building material and those rain water heads must have had something to do with snow. In the centre of the island sits a very plain church far more like I expected of a protestant congregation. The fence however is made up of Swedish cannon and boat chain. The island still functions and in the distance we could see apartment accommodation. There was the occasional brick home with their own style of double insulation with memorabilia filling the voids.

As we crossed the island we came upon a bridge over a streamor canal. Internally the island supports a vibrant shipyard repairing sailing vessels but the original purpose is never far from view. We found the dry dock which once must have catered for very large vessels but today hold sundry ships awaiting attention. Stacks of cut and drying lumber stand protected and awaiting the call to service. We found a little restaurant in the boat yard and enjoyed fish soup with crusty bread. After lunch we continued our walk through the tunnel in the fortifications to a central square. The tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd is prominent in the square and our walk continued onto the batteries hidden in their grassed mounds facing to the sea. Resting in the residential blocks behind the batteries are a number of museums, including the last surviving Finnish built submarine, Vesikko.

Having toured the battlements, we returned to the wharf where we had arrived and returned to the city. Despite it being the middle of the day I was happy to have my ski jacket to protect me from the wind.