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The International Writers Magazine: Finland: From Our Archives

A weekend in Helsinki
Aurelie Montfrond

Its population reaching just above half a million inhabitants and its important size leaves the streets this extra space that you would not get in other cities that are generally smaller in size and more populated. Helsinki seems to be a calm city. As I arrived at Helsinki airport I couldn’t help but notice it s surprisingly quiet surroundings. There was absolutely no noise at all. I could barely hear the passengers leaving the airport. And then in the city centre, I was taken aback by its calm serenity. Disturbing noises which are commonplace in city life couldn’t be heard anywhere. There was something beautiful about all of this.

Images © Auriele Montfrond

Tall colourful buildings in a neoclassical and romantic architecture. its cafes with its terraces. Its Longchamp and Louis Vitton shops around the esplanade on Pohjoisesplanadi street. Helsinki has a Parisian sophistication and lifestyle. This is definitely the Paris of the north.

While at the same time large plazas with modern shopping centers and high glass buildings with flashing signs of brands and companies makes Helsinki being to Europe what Tokyo is to Asia.

There is much to do in Helsinki and most attractions can be easily done by foot. There are also a lot of transport between buses, tramways and the metro.

A walk around the harbour which it is part of the city centre is recommended for architecture sights. You can reach from parallel streets the famous cathedrals that are only separated a few meters from each other. The white Lutheran cathedral and the red orthodox cathedral in its Russian style stands out the rest. Souvenirs and design shops emerge around the square where the white cathedral stands along the statue of Alexander II.

Kiseleffin Talo or also known as Kiseleff house situated just opposite the statue around the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Unioninkatu street is a group of many small shops that sell hand crafted products. The prices are quite high there and it is almost the same everywhere in Helsinki as most of the products are made with wood and are all entirely hand crafted. You can actually see the shop owners making them as you have a look around. There is an obvious mix of Russian, Swedish and Finnish culture. An extensive choice of beautifully painted Russian dolls can be found in almost any shops as well as wood Finnish and design products. Souvenirs products represent anything as fishes, deers , hedgehogs and other animals from the forest. The national pride, which is a famous Finnish comic cartoon, called "moomim" for children and young at heart is omnipresent. For literature or casual reader lovers, Helsinki is a paradise of bookshops. They open later than any other shops. Finnish people like to read a lot. The immense bookshop near Stockmann the biggest shopping centre in Scandinavia is worth a detour. Not only but surprising is the extensive choice of books. Half of the bookshop contains books in English and French languages as well as Russian .You can find Finnish literature translated in any possible languages. Magazines and newspapers imported from all over the world. Most of them are in Finnish, English, French, German and Russian that covers from politics to rarities that you only expect to find in your own country.

The Helsinki card allows you free visit to most of museums and attractions as well as reductions to shops and restaurants. It is ideal for a short break and you can get it either for one, two or three days. You can enjoy for free with any of them a sightseeing tour by bus that takes you to the most important sights of Helsinki and lasts an hour and a half. For Architecture and Art lovers, a visit to the Museum of Finnish architecture where you can have a look at the models, pictures archives and drawings collection of Finnish architecture.

There are many Art museums; Kiasma the museum of contemporary art, Ateneum art museum which is part of the Finnish national gallery that hold the largest art collections of the country which contain Finnish art from the 1750s to the 1960s and western art from the late 19th century to the 1950s.

The Tennis palace art museum is situated inside a cinema that is one of the biggest in Europe. It looks like a small department store or a big train station waiting room. It has shops that sell quite a lot of sweets, cafes and rarities for comic cartoons collectors. The exterior facade reminds of the tennis court that was held inside the building. Its art museum holds changing Finnish and International exhibitions from various periods and related happenings. Exhibitions in 2008 include Pixar and Anton Corbjin.

For the best views of the cityscape you can climb to the top of the Hotel Torni where there is a rooftop bar terrace with a 360 degrees view of Helsinki or use the 74m-observation tower of the Olympic stadium where there is no event.
An escapade to Korkeasaari (Helsinki Zoo) is the last thing to do before leaving. It is close to the city centre and reachable by boat from market square. The sight of Helsinki harbour and its beautiful islands makes it worth a visit.

The zoo is dedicated to the protection of endangered species and covers a wide geographic area, from the Arctic tundra to the Amazon. You can see rare animals such as the snow leopard and the Siberian tiger.
Helsinki has everything for everyone and for every age. This is a place of culture, sophistication and intelligence. Lively at nighttime and calm during the day.

There is also a romantic feel about the place. It does not have to be only its museums, its designer’s shops or anything else but simply the envy of strolling through its beautiful streets, admiring the fine and outstanding architecture.

More info:
General and tour information, reservations:
Hotel Glo is situated in the city centre opposite the esplanade. This comfortable design and modern hotel recently opened in 2004 and is part of the Palace Kamp group.
Hotel Glo
Kluuvikatu 4,
00100 Helsinki,
-Kiseleff house
Aleksanderinkatu 28
Open Mo-Fr 10-18, Sa 10-16, Sun 11-16
-Stokmann department store
-Kamppi shopping centre
Sights of Helsinki:
-Stadium tower
Open Mo-Fr 9-19, Sa-Su 9-18
-Hotel Torni
Kalevankatu 5
Museums and attractions:
-Museum of Finnish architecture
Kasarmikatu 24
Open Tu-Su 10-16 and on We 10-20
-Tennis palace art museum
Salomonkatu 15
Open Tu-Su 11-20h30
-Helsinki Zoo
Open Mo-Su 10-18
Boat transport to Helsinki zoo departs from Market Square on every half hour from 10 to 18 every day. All Museums and attractions mentioned in the article including boat transport to the zoo are free with the Helsinki card.

© Aurelie Montfrond October 2008

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