Saturday, December 15, 2007

Helsinki in One Day

If you have only one winter day to explore Helsinki, here's how you should do it. Take the 4T tram and get off when you see the Uspenski Cathedral. It's the red-brick cathedral up on a hill. Hard to miss as it's the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. Admission to the Cathedral is free, though it's closed on Mondays during winter.

Walking towards the wharf, you'll pass by the Presidential Palace on your left. The wharf is where you can take the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. I didn't take the ferry anymore because I'm sure it'll be freezing cold and I'm short of time. Instead, I check out the stalls at the Market Square (Kauppatori). Items on sale are gloves, beanies, shawls, scarves, knives, crafts, keychains, fridge magnets, small toys and dolls, etc. Definitely more stuff to see during the summer.

Also in the Market Square is the Old Market Hall (Vanha Kauppahalli). Completed in 1888, the red-and-yellow brick single-story building is full of shops selling local food and delicacies, chocolates, fish, souvenirs, cheese, coffee, etc. There's also a few restaurants and cafes inside. West of Market Square is the Havis Amanda fountain. The bronze sculpture of a naked woman is supposed to symbolize Helsinki, daughter of the Baltic. Further on is a statue of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Finland's national poet, at the Esplanade Park.

Going north, we see one of the hallmarks of Helsinki, known simply as the Cathedral, also sometimes known as St. Nicholas' Church. It's the white church with the green domes on top, and a statue of Alexander II in front of it. Facing the Cathedral, the building on the left is the Helsinki University Library. On the right is the Palace of the Council of State. Inside, the church is pretty bare - just the pews, the organ, the pulpit, and the altar.

From the Cathedral, you walk down Aleksanterinkatu, checking out the signature shops and boutiques until you hit Stockmann. Parts of the store is under renovation, but the Christmas windows displays are up, which explains the huge number of kiddies and parents milling about. In front of the Stockmann is the Three Smiths Square. Behind the sculpture of The Three Smiths is the Old Student House, built in 1870. It's currently open for the Christmas markets. Very nice architecture inside.

Crossing Mannerheimintie, I end up at the Forum shopping mall, where I had my lunch/dinner at the Manhattan Steakhouse in the food court. Walking along Mannerheimintie, I pass by the Kiasma museum, the statue of Mannerheim in front of it, the Finnish Parliament Building, the National Musuem and Finlandia Hall. I take a short stroll along the frozen banks of Toolo Bay until I reach the Finnish Opera House. Lots of parents and kids about. Apparently, there's a matinée for Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. Would've loved to watch the ballet if only I had enough time. I continued on to the Olympic Stadium, then headed back to my hotel, where I rested for a while before catching the Finnair bus to the airport.

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