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.