Treasures of Scandinavia & Russia

Helsinki, Finland

Monday July 21, 2008

From the Navigator

After departure from St Petersburg, the ms Rotterdam sailed on a westerly direction into the Gulf of Finland. We will approach the pilot station through a traffic separation scheme; designed to separate opposing traffic. We will approach Helsinki from the south and expect to pick up our pilot around 4:30am.

Barbara and I were on deck during our departure from St. Petersburg, and were amazed at the countless ships on the horizon. The vessels ranged from small coastal freighters to sea going ferries the size of large cruise ships, however we did not see any of the huge container ships. During the time we were in Helsinki, at least three large Tallink Shuttle ferries loaded and unloaded. These car ferries are equipped with double vehicle decks and can easily carry long haul trucks on both decks. It would appear that they also contain staterooms, for overnight passage. All loading and unloading is done from watertight doors in the stern.

Our Visit: Helsinki Highlights and Country Home Visit

Welcoming us onboard our most comfortable, quiet tour bus, was a young Finnish lady, Hessa, with an excellent command of the English language. We later learned that she was a Certified Public Accountant, and this was her part time summer job. It soon became evident that she loved sharing with others her love for her country, and jokingly, the fact that Finland was no longer a part of Sweden.

Departing the terminal area we motored past the colorful open-air market, the Presidential Palace, Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, the icebreakers docked for the summer, the Bank of Finland and the House of Estates. .

Leaving the city we headed out to the farming community of Sipoo, close to the city yet very typical of the Finnish countryside. Our drive took us down a narrow gravel road through the forest to the countryside home of Harriet and Reijjo Nurmi . We were immediately invited inside and served coffee or tea, pastries that we could top with “egg butter”, Rhubarb pie, and homemade ice-cream. We were also invited to tour their two-story home and stroll the grounds as our hosts shared stories about Finnish life. Our guide then invited those who were able to climb the hill to a spot where our hosts had constructed a permanent picnic area overlooking the lake. As we descended the lookout on the way back to the home, we were warned, that their neighbor (n his 80s) occasionally takes a morning dip in the lake… au natural. The countryside felt extremely familiar as the flora reminded us of the Pacific Northwest. The family has a web site at that you might enjoy visiting. A short distance from the main house is their “smoke sauna” with a pond in front. Here is where Harriet takes her daily swim, summer and winter, occasionally in the winter; Reijjo will have to chop a hole in the ice for her.

We were told the story of Harriet confiding in Reijjo, that since they had so many nice things on the family farm, shouldn’t we have a gun around the home. “Yes” was his reply, “I will get you one”. Sometime later he returned with a WWII surplus Arm Howitzer! Their “Gun” now occupies a prominent place at the entrance to the farm.

On our drive back to the city, we stopped by the 15th century St. Sigfrid’s church, the oldest in the community. The floor is cobblestone which makes for tricky walking. In an alcove to the right side of the sanctuary sits the “hand stocks” that were used to punish members of the congregation for the sins they hand committed against one another. These stocks were normally placed at the front of the sanctuary during services.

Entering the city we drove along Mannerheim Street, the main street of Helsinki, viewing the Parliament House, Finlanda Hall, the National Museum, Kiasma and the Olympic Stadium (1952). Next was a visit to the magnificent Rock Church, where we paused for 20 minutes for a look inside. Our final stop was at Senate Square where our guide told us about the history of Helsinki and the neoclassical-style buildings that date from the mid 1800s. In the center of the family friendly square stands a statue of Czar Alexander II (Russian), a symbol of an otherwise unhappy historical period. This expansive square and its monuments were featured in the Hollywood films of Reds, Gorky Park and White Knights. We were given the opportunity to leave the bus and return to the ship via shuttle buses that ran frequently ($6US). In the time allotted, Barbara was able to find the bargain of the day; A Helsinki polo shirt for $24USD. The reason I called this a bargain is because she paid $48USD for one across the street from the Rock Church!! Here in Finland, all goods and services are taxed at 25% VAT. Since we did not feel like spending anymore time in the downtown, we opted to stay on the bus. The drive along the harbor area as we returned to the ship was one of the best parts, as our guide continued to enhance our experience of the city.

Impressions of Finland:

Aside from the high cost of living, this beautiful country is one that I would especially like to revisit. Although our contact with the local populous was limited, we did feel a warmth and kindness from those we briefly encountered.

Tomorrow …. Stockholm, Sweden (these port intensive days are wearing us out!)

2 thoughts on “Treasures of Scandinavia & Russia

  1. Jack & Barbara,
    Sounds like you are having a great time!
    Of all the countries or region of the world where I missed making port o' calls in my Navy days, the Scandanavian countries are those I most wish I could have visited.

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