The Retirees in Helsinki – Preparing to move on – Princess Cruise around the Baltic

The excitement of Porvoo behind us we decided we would determine the best means and route to our cruise ship – another excuse to use our pass for free rides on the trams. We walked away from the bus station and caught a tram which we had determined would take us to our cruise ship terminal. Well we took the wrong tram in the wrong direction. It took some time for us to wake up and but for a monumental church which we had not seen before we would not have worked it out. So we got off the tram and investigated the church and the surrounding apartments in their art deco style.

Kallio Church is a Lutheran church in the Kallio district of Helsinki. It was designed by Lars Sonck and represents National Romanticism with Art Nouveau influences. The National Romantic style manifests itself in the use of traditional Finnish materials and in the massive body of the church, as well as in nature-inspired colours and decorative motifs. The grey granite church, completed in 1912, is one of Helsinki’s most readily identifiable landmarks. The church has a height of 65 metres, and its cross is 94 metres above sea level. The Estonian coastline can be seen from the tower. The church is on a hill, and it forms the northern end point of a 2.5 km long street axis made up of three streets.
Kallio church is a hall church with a transept. The load-bearing walls are built of red bricks and clad in Finnish granite. There is seating for 1,100 worshippers. To stand below it looks more like a skyscraper than a church. We circumnavigated it and then entered. It is plain interior when compared to Italian churches. The church is decorated with Christian symbols such as roses, lilies, palm branches, laurel crowns and pearls to pass on the message of the Gospels.
Across the road is a block of apartments continuing the art nouveau theme. That is as far as we got when our return ride arrived. This time we did make it to the cruise ship terminal, but it was the wrong one. Helsinki has two major terminals and below are pictures of the wrong one so far as we were concerned. It appeared there is no tram goes to the new terminal.


Not only was this the cruise ship terminal it was the tram terminal. We alighted our tram unsure about how this was going to work. The tram moved off and stopped at the next stop 100m away. So, we walked up and reboarded the tram and after an appropriate waiting time (no ships no people) the tram returned to our stop – again we were surprised how close we were. If Kerry had not recognised the tunnel to the bus station, we would still be on that tram. We walked to the apartment put our feet up and had a drink – less to carry on the ship. We cleaned out the fridge for dinner then packed for the cruise ship tomorrow.

As usual we had to vacate by 10.00am. We decided to catch an Uber to the cruise ship given we had all this luggage and there is no tram will take us there. Fun and games ensued. Once we walked out of the apartment we had no internet and therefore no contact with the Uber driver but somehow we found each other. A friendly chatty Muslim from the middle east or Africa originally, we could not understand him nor could he understand us so he took us to the cruise ship terminal we visited yesterday. Fortunately, our ship was docked and in view so we frantically pointed out the ship and he obligingly searched out the terminal delivering us safely to the SS Regal Princess. We made our way to the check in tent where we were issued with an electronic tag. this was to prove an interesting experiment in big brother.

The Regal Princess is a mighty big ship. Here are the stats;
Class and type: Royal-class cruise ship
Tonnage: 142,714 GT
Length: 330 m (1,083 ft)
Beam: 38.27 m (126 ft)
Height: 66 m (217 ft)
Draft: 8.57 m (28 ft)
Decks: 19
Capacity: 3,560 passengers
Crew: 1,346

After finding our cabin down the back of the boat (in proper naval parlance – the stern of the ship), we took a walk around and I took some initial photos of the distance from our cabin to the lifts to take us to the brasserie on floor 16. We also went to the centre of the ship (midships) and the marble stair cases, the casino and the gift shop.

We decided there was plenty of time to explore the ship, so we found a good possie on the stern deck near the bar and watched as the ship cast off and set sail. Nearby was the SS Sapphire Princess and the musical exchange on the ships horns as we left was interesting as the Regal Princess’s horn plays the tune to “Love Boat”. This gave us a chance to see the islands sheltering the harbour of Helsinki and some of the other vessels plying the water ways.

So life aboard the ship began and I am confident there were 3,500 plus passengers on board. Our first port would be St Petersburg where we would anchor for two days. But before then we had our first experience of dining on board and taking in the show. At dinner we purchased a bottle of wine for consumption over the next few nights and there is a story about this bottle of wine. However the show was superb. A Beatles cover band, they dressed the part, played the music and sang the songs just like the Beatles. It was not long before we were on our feet singing and dancing along.


And so ended our embarkation day from Helsinki. St Petersburg tomorrow.

The Retirees in Helsinki – Passing time in Porvoo

Today we are off again on the local bus this time towards the east and Russia to a town called Porvoo. Porvoo is situated on the southern coast of Finland approximately 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Helsinki. It is one of the six medieval towns in Finland, first mentioned as a city in texts from the 14th century. Porvoo is the seat of the Swedish-speaking Diocese of Borgå of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

The Porvoo Old Town is a popular tourist destination, known for its well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings and 15th century cathedral, the Porvoo Cathedral. The Old Town is recognized as historically and culturally significant as one of the National landscapes of Finland.

Once again we walked over to the bus station. Now familiar with how it operated we waited at gate 1 first in line to board the first bus to Porvoo. As our bus left the bus station, I noticed that two giraffe were keeping an eye on us so I took a precautionary photo to identify them should there be trouble with giraffes later on. We travelled for an hour to the east of Helsinki and arrived at the bus station of Porvoo. Very ordinary. An open square pocked with bus stop signs from and to various places and a municipal building that looked like a public toilet block – which it was and it was locked of course.

We were seeking the old town and there was plenty of signage but we had arrived on Mothers’ Day and before 10.00am so nothing was open. Or so we thought. We walked into the old town finding old style Finnish homes with narrow cobbled streets becoming more and more prevalent. Without knowing where we were going Kerry smelled out an open shop – a mixed tourist shop/fabric shop. I had been looking for a new shaving brush and lo and behold what should I find in the most unexpected place.

But that was the highlight until the Fins started to move about. We made it up to the church square to view the 15th century cathedral the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. From there we wound our way through the old town with its well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings. Whilst strolling through these back streets a local hare hopped into view. We accidentally encountered this hare as we moved around the village – he must have thought we were hunting him. Once we reached the highest point in the village we discovered a set of natural stone steps which have some folklore around them – apparently a witches path where many people suffered damaging falls. Long dark winter nights, a vodka shout and voila those steps become a bitch.

At the end of the natural stairs we found the Manse – so out of keeping compared to the size and style of the village you had to guess it belonged to the church. As commented earlier it is Mothers’ day and the church is open with early morning services. Inside is an austere dome and walls unadorned with any artwork. On the one hand this is suggesting the church utilises its funds for the community but on the other it is suggesting the congregation doesn’t care for their church. Outside the church gate we encounter a bust of Albert Edelfelt and an example of the his art making Finnish culture visible.

Edelfelt was born in Porvoo. He began his formal studies of art in 1869 at the Drawing School of the Finnish Art Society. He married Baroness (friherinnan) Ellan de la Chapelle in 1888, and they had one child. He also had romantic relationships with many other women. He lived in the Grand Duchy of Finland and made Finnish culture visible abroad, before Finland gained full independence.

We made our way down into the commercial section of the village where things were becoming more alive. Kerry was taken with the animal pelts on sale at a shop. However, what did surprise us was the old river warehouses where traders would land goods and collect products for sale in Helsinki. Speaking of trader/travellers I thought we had found where Robert of Umbria had left his Fiat but he flatly denied it.

Remember I said this was Mothers’ Day. Well we chose a hotel for lunch, but it was a special menu for Mothers’ Day and we had a window before the dining room would be full of local families celebrating the day. Well we had a 3 course lunch finishing inside our window of opportunity. Nothing remarkable about lunch but we were stuffed and needed to walk it off. We crossed the river giving us a bigger view of the wharf area and the size of ship visiting Porvoo wharves. This side of the river has undergone redevelopment but in a style sympathetic to the old village. In a park surrounded by the modern Finnish style we encountered a monument to the three distinct cultural influences on Finland – Russia, Sweden and since the beginning of the 20th century Finland.

At the end of the park is a footbridge connecting the new with the earlier and old. We crossed and were stunned to be confronted with a jumble of rusted bikes looking as though they had been dredged from the river and carelessly cast on the bank. Tangled into the knot of bicycles were a few chairs. No indication as to whether this was recovered litter or a symbolic piece of street art. However, a few hundred yards along the bank another pile and this time a shopping trolley included. We encountered 2 further piles of junk which answered the question of the reason and origin.

Parvoo is very pleasant with parks scattered throughout and a strong historical connection with Finland. We were making our way back to the bus station and in a small park running down to the river we came across a monument to J L Runeberg (featured image) . Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a Finland-Swedish lyric and epic poet. He is the national poet of Finland and the author of the lyrics to Vårt land (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) that became the Finnish National Anthem.

Our trip to Parvoo was coming to an end. Sitting on a bollard each we waited patiently for the bus back to Helsinki which eventually arrived almost like an afterthought. The journey back to the city allowed us to rest our weary feet and relax before our walk back to the apartment.

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.