Friday, September 23, 2011

FINLAND: PART I

Are you getting the feeling that we were on the "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" tour?  I think I've come to the conclusion that you can't get an accurate feel for a place unless you spend AT LEAST one night there, and preferably two.  That is one of the major downsides of a cruise like the one we took.  On the other hand, there is some benefit to being able to move quickly through several countries, getting an overview and being able to superficially compare and contrast.  At least we know where we would like to return.

Finland is definitely one of the places we would like to go back to.

Helsinki, the capital city, is neither as old nor as big as Stockholm.  Our guide told us that the Finns have never gone outside of their borders to conquer others, but have often been conquered (by the Swedes, by the Russians, and most recently by the European Union, according to our guide).  In fact, Finland was part of Sweden for 800 years and part of Russia for 100 years, but has been independent since 1917.

A few more random facts:

* The entire country is bilingual: Finnish and Swedish.  In fact, 6% speak Swedish as their mother tongue.  The two languages are completely unrelated to each other. Most Finns speak at least one additional language, and often two more.

* Helsinki has "only" 585,000 inhabitants, and there are just 5,000,000 in the entire country.

* There are at least 250,000 reindeer in Finland, and it is the home of Santa Claus. (Our guide was very firm on this point.)  All reindeer are owned as part of herds and are not hunted.  There are also 90,000 to 100,000 moose, and they ARE hunted.

* The ship building industry is very large; 60% of the world's ice breakers and 25% of the world's cruise ships are built in Finland.

* Of the Scandinavian countries, Finland is the only republic.

* Finland has three main resources: 1) forests, 2) forests, and 3) forests. In fact, forests cover 2/3 of the country.

Helsinki itself is a beautiful, clean city:

. . . completely unaffected by Western culture:

Our first destination was the medieval town of Porvoo, about 30 miles east of Helsinki. Our guide played the beautiful "Karelia Suite" by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius over the intercom as we drove through those beautiful Finnish forests, which were frequently punctuated by meadows bursting with wildflowers--purple, pink, and white lupine; yellow buttercups; and white Queen Anne's lace.  Those same colors were used to paint the buildings of Porvoo:
Bob and I ate lunch at a fish smorgasbord that had a snail theme (in the decor, but not on the menu):
I loved the old Porvoo Cathedral, built in the 15th century and so much simpler than most of the churches we saw on this trip:
We were lucky to be there for the noon-time bells:


After lunch we returned to Helsinki, and our guide turned us loose. (Yay!) Bob and I headed for the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, built firmly upon the rock--literally. Designed by a Russian architect (note the little golden onion domes), it was constructed between 1808 and 1862.  Unfortunately, it was closed, so we could only enjoy the exterior.

The main cathedral of the city is just a few blocks away from the Uspenski Cathedral.  It faces a huge open square that was filled with vendors when we were there. It is known as both the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral and St. Nicholas's Church (not after Santa Claus, but after Tsar Nicholas I). Neoclassical in style (think of the White House), it was built in 1830-1852.
I love these steps leading up to the front:

Rather than the dark, ornate interiors we had seen in so many other places, this interior was painted in tones of muted aqua, rosy pink, and dove gray.  Although there was very little in the way of decoration, it was wonderfully elegant, beautiful, and peaceful.

This cathedral was actually modeled after St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia, which is geographically closer than I had realized: Just a 3.5 hour trip away.

Our guide told us that Finns are very reserved.  Their quiet demeanor seemed to me to be perfectly exemplified by this cathedral.  And by the way, do you know how to recognize an extroverted Finn?  Instead of looking at his shoes when he is talking to you, he looks at YOUR shoes.

NEXT: FINNISH-ing Finland.

4 comments:

  1. These snapshots of various countries are interesting and fun. Thanks for sharing--I want to go there!

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  2. ps Other than the "what would Santa do?" problem, why don't they hunt reindeer?

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  3. Chris, I think the reindeer are more or less domesticated. They still slaughter and eat them, but they are all owned by reindeer farmers. It's a business. There are none just running around in the wild. Sad, huh?

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  4. How'd I miss this one? I enjoyed your Finn extrovert joke, and am happy you finally got to break loose from the tour guide and explore on your own. Beautiful pictures of that quiet church--reminds me of some we saw in Austria on our honeymoon, all those many years ago.

    E.

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