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Monday, February 27, 2017

Hell yeah Helsinki

Uspenskin Katedraali

Our second full day in Helsinki wasn't as sunny as the first one, but it would turn out to be the only day of our trip to Finland and Estonia where the temperature climbed above the freezing point. The documentary on life in the Arctic Circle that was on TV in our apartment as we were getting to ready to go out set an appropriately Finnish tone:


Back on the streets of central Helsinki:


The Tuomiokirkko (Luthern Cathedral) was designed by the German architect CL Engel and completed in 1852. It dominates the Senaatintori (Senate Square):



The interior is suitably spartan as the likes of Martin Luther keep a stern watch over visitors:



In contrast to the Lutheran church stands the red-brick Uspenskin Katedraali (Uspenski Cathedral), standing on nearby Katajanokka island. It was built as a Russian Orthodox church in 1868, and now serves as a Finnish Orthodox house of worship:


The interior is suitably Orthodox:




The Tuomiokirkko is visible from the Uspenskin Katedraali:


We returned to Senaatintori for Sunday brunch at Ravintola Sunn, somehow managing to get a table without a reservation:


Next on the Helsinki sightseeing itinerary was Finland's premier art gallery, the Ateneum:


I don't claim to know much about art, but I was completely ignorant on the topic of Finnish painting and sculpture. I'm still largely ignorant, but some of the nation's art is impressive, such as Pioneers in Karelia (1900) by Pekka Halonen, a celebration of the Finnish landscape and people:


The Fighting Capercaillies (1886) by Ferdinand von Wright, one of the country's most famous paintings. His brothers Magnus and Wilhelm were also famous painters:


The touching Old Man and Child (1913) by Hugo Simberg:


Pride of place in the museum's collection goes to Aino-taru (1891), a triptych by Akseli Gallen-Kallela depicting a scene from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, in which the central character Väinämöinen pursues the maiden Aino (who drowns herself instead of marrying him):





It isn't all Finland all the time at the Ateneum. The museum also boasts a small but interesting collection of 19th- and early 20th-century foreign art such as van Gogh's Street in Auvers-sur-Oise (1890):


Le Corbusier's Two Women (1939):


Gauguin's Landscape with a Pig and a Horse (Hiva Oa) (1903) and Degas' Woman Caught Unawares (1919):


Warhol's Electric Chair (1971):


Back into the real world, and an ice-skating rink across the road from the Ateneum:


A gathering by the rink (with the Ateneum building in the background). The sign reads "Refugee in not your enemy. Enemy is who make them refugees". Finland, unfortunately, hasn't been immune from the growth of nationalistic, populist anti-immigrant parties:


Beer in Finland tends toward lagers, but there are also brewpubs like Teerenpeli to provide much-needed alternatives:



We ended our day with dinner at a Japanese noodle restaurant, where the old cliche about it being a small world played out: the woman sitting at the table behind my wife and daughter turned out to be a colleague who had been in the same Mandarin program with me at the Foreign Service Institute four years ago (she went to Beijing while I was posted to Shanghai).

Amber strikes a pose outside the natural history museum

Due to its relatively short history (it didn't start developing as a major city until after Finland was annexed by Russia following the latter's victory over Sweden in the Finnish War in 1809), Helsinki doesn't have many historic sights. What it does have is a lifestyle rich in cultural attractions (with several museums and concert halls located in the center of the city) and international restaurants (though going out to eat can be expensive). It wouldn't be a bad place to be posted someday - I'm already used to long, dark winters!

It should come as no surprise that hockey is the national sport




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