Day 11 St Petersburg – Helsinki,
Weather = Cloudy and Overcast.
Well – DRAMA ON THE HIGH SEAS – (so to speak) We were up nice and early (4.40am) as our driver was picking us up at 5.15am, to transfer us from the CROWNE PLAZA HOTEL to the FINLYANDSKY RAILWAY STATION.
This was not the same station which we arrived in as it was located a lot further away. We arrived at the station just on 5.45am as our train was leaving at 6.40am. THEN THE DRAMA REALLY STARTED. Cas said where’s my hand-bag. It turned out she had left it on the bed in the hotel room, SOOOOO we decided that I would stay with the luggage and she would get a cab back, as she knew exactly where it was. We had read previously that getting a cab from the railway station HERE was a DEFINITE AND BIGGGGG NO NO, BUT in this case we had NO option. YES, somehow she managed 2 find an honest cabbie who really tried his hardest 2 understand the situation. The biggest difficulty was when they reached the hotel she had to try and get the cabbie 2 understand 2 wait, so she could race in and get some cash and get someone from the desk to come and explain that he had to take her back 2 the station – VERY QUICKLY. WELL, when she returned she was VERY WHITE FACED – JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME, I MIGHT ADD & said, “He drove like a KAMIKAZE PILOT, but got her there”. It seemed they were holding the train for us WE ONLY JUST MADE IT! Finding our carriage which just happened to be right up at the front with the engine (14 carriages behind) and our seats was another obstacle which we mastered in record time.
Not long after we pulled out of the station they began serving breakfast, which was a welcome sight, HOWEVER, the hotel had also given us a picnic pack as well SOOOO there was ample to eat. lol It was between VYBORG and VAINIKKALA, that the train travels in a CUSTOM SURVEILLANCE/CONTOL ZONE. In practice, “A CUSTOM CONTROL ZONE”, means everyone remains in their seats until the RUSSIANS have completed their on board inspection. During this period, the restaurant is closed and nobody can leave the train without permission from the relevant officers.
Interestingly, CUSTOMS & IMMIGRATION CHECKS are conducted while the train is in motion. On board each passenger was visited by the FOUR OFFICIALS: A FINNISH PASSPORT CONTROL OFFICER, A FINNISH CUSTOMS OFFICER, A RUSSIAN PASSPORT CONTROL OFFICER AND A RUSSIAN CUSTOMS OFFICER. This obviously is standard procedure. They asked 2 sight our luggage, took one look, realising we were from the other side of the world and moved on. lol
Travelling on the ALLEGRO TRAIN was VERY COMFORTABLE. It showed on a screen at the front of the carriage, that we travelled at speeds of up to 220km/h, during the journey, which (BTW) took two hours and 50 minutes duration. It was obvious that all staff on board where very fluent in the three languages of RUSSIAN, FINNISH & ENGLISH.
For the RUSSIAN part of the trip, the speed was mostly 200 km/h as we raced through a procession of commuter stations with local trains parked up in passing loops and sidings. The scenery was a mixture of forest and open countryside through the St PETERSBURG OBLAST. For the last 45 minutes of the run into HELSINKI the train used a new high speed alignment and travelled at the full speed of 220km/h. 🙂 Now if we had been on the same time we would have been arriving into HELSINKI about 10am, HOWEVER, taking into account the time difference our arrival was just before 8.30am, local time. 🙂
It actually worked out really well, as it gave us time to go out the front of the station and catch a #2 TRAM, which delivered us right to the OLYMPIA SHIPPING TERMINAL, where we were able to put our bags into storage, (FOR FREE) as we were catching the 5pm overnight ferry to STOCKHOLM – SWEDEN in the evening.
Well as I said the timing was excellent, as we had also arranged to pick up a TWO HOUR CITY FAMILIARIZATION TOUR from the OLYMPIA TERMINAL at 9.45am. With the tour finishing around mid-day we had planned in the afternoon to drop in on the weekend markets which were also down at the waterfront.
Couldn’t complain about the bus – or should I say coach. It was a relatively new high decker, which allowed for excellent viewing, was right on time and when we pulled out was pretty well loaded.
Well, for an “out of the way – place” HELSINKI fairs pretty well. Being the capital of FINLAND, it has a general population of around 1.5 million people, with approximately 600,000 calling the inner-city home. Located on the shores of the GULF OF FINLAND, which is branched on an arm of the BALTIC SEA. ANDDDD as an added bonus has to be that it also is on the doorway to over 315 islands. Add to this 300 CRUISE SHIPS carrying around 360,000 CRUSING PASSENGERS visit the area yearly, adding life and colour to the city life.
Perhaps hard to picture in one’s mind but THE FINNS live mostly in darkness for up to six months of the year. Their lengthy winter usually runs from NOVEMBER all the way up to MARCH, which is usually dark and freezing. During midwinter the whole area is CLOCKED IN TOTAL DARKNESS! THEN if u take the summer, there is virtually no darkness at night from early JUNE UNTIL MID-JULY.
The sightseeing tour by bus affords you an excellent view of HELSINKI’S past and present. It’s not of a long duration, (just under two hours) and takes in all the “PRIME POINTS”. 🙂 During the tour we saw the most interesting parts of HELSINKI, such as THE HISTORICAL CENTER, THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE, SENATE SQUARE, THE PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS, THE CITY & FINLANDIA HALLS AND THE OPERA HOUSE AND of course we can’t forget the two main reasons for doing the tour – THE SIBELIUS MONUMENT AND THE TEMPPELIAUKIO KIRKKO ROCK CHURCH.
When THE SIBELIUS MONUMENT was first put forward as a possible contender (to honour the national composer Jean Sibelius 1865-1957) the result of a public fundraising campaign and a two-stage competition back in 1961-62, it created a storm of controversy amongst the public. At all stages, the project stirred an unprecedented public debate, as the entire FINNISH POPULATION seemed divided into two camps, THE CONFORMISTS urging for a figurative solution, and THE MODERNISTS accepting an abstraction as well. Although Ms EILA HILTUNEN (the artist) was declared the winner, only after months of heated public debate was she finally & formally commissioned to realize her project.
The main part of THE SIBELIUS MONUMENT consists of approx. 600 acid-proof stainless steel tubes of various diameters, welded together individually AND HAND-TEXTURED by Ms HILTUNEN. While several specialists were consulted on metallurgy, structural calculations and welding methods, the physical accomplishment of this structure, which measures 10.5 (length) by 6.5 (depth) by 8.5 (height) metres and WEIGHS 30 TONS, is the work of two people, Ms EILA HILTUNEN and her assistant-metalworker Mr EMIL KUKKONEN, aged 21 at the start.
Its silvery pipes reflect the change of season and light, echoing birds’ song, sighing in the sea breeze and resonating furiously during a storm. People walk below it, place their heads to the tubes, pose for pictures or just choose one of the nearby benches to enjoy the season.
Generations pass, opinions and attitudes change. While seen radical at its birth, THE SIBELIUS MONUMENT continues an ancient tradition and objective of monumental sculpture: permanence. It is the symbol of a genius composer, a grateful nation – and a gifted, determined sculptor. (The above comments are excerpts from the Eila Hiltunen website, of which your most welcome to view – PLS CLICK HERE) We would also like to mention that on OCTOBER THE 10th 2003 – AGED 81, sadly the country of FINLAND lost a wonderful and gifted artist, Ms EILA HILTUNEN passed away. As we understand it Ms HILTUNEN was creating right up to the very end.
From THE SIBELIUS MONUMENT we travelled on-bound to the famous TEMPPELIAUKIO KIRKKO ROCK CHURCH – ALSO KNOWN AS, “THE CHURCH OF THE ROCK”. From the outside all that was visible was a dome shape, it was rather difficult to imagine how this was a church and that it could actually seat 750 parishioners and then add by connecting the parish meeting hall a further 80.
Let me say that calling around to view this complex on a SUNDAY MORNING isn’t the brightest of ideas, given that it’s mainly used for religious services. (Saturday would be a more prudent day to visit) HOWEVER, our timing seemed good as a service had just finished and we were permitted to view through this fabulous structure. The church is of an EVANGELIC-LUTHERAN denomination AND the great news is the complex is open to everyone with viewing being “FREE”. As we understand it it’s open most week days from 10am-5pm, local time.
From the outside, it is really well camouflaged on the top, as it appears as a mound of rock, which u can walk around, the edge of being the roof. AND what really makes it feel odd is it’s set in the middle of a housing estate, surrounded by apartments. At night it seems the roof takes on the appearance of a space ship from an alien world which has just landed.
This unusual piece of modern architecture was designed by the brothers TIMO & TUOMO SUOMALAINEN who won a design competition back in 1961. Construction started in 1968 and was completed in September 1969.
The interior of the church was excavated, built into the rock and is lit by natural light streaming through 180 vertical window panes that connect the dome and the wall. The sanctuary floor was located at the level of the highest street that ended at the FREDRIKINKATU SQUARE, so that the entrance leads the visitors directly inside the church without the need of stairs/steps. The 24 metre diameter roof is made up of a copper plate-covered dome, connected to the natural rock wall by 180 window panes (each pane had to be individually hand-cut) that lets in the natural light. Due to the varying height of the rock wall, each glass pane of the roof is different in size, hence the HAND-CUTTING. According to the studied disposition of the dome, this causes a stronger natural illumination of the altar area. Add to this, THE CHURCH has a MASSIVE 3001-PIPE SUBTERRANEAN ORGAN EMBEDDED INTO THE ROCK! Surprisingly, due to the excellent acoustics from the rock wall THE CHURCH is often used also for hosting classical concerts. It has to be said, THAT THERE IS NO UNDERSTATING, “that this space is beautiful and there’s a sensation of peace and quietness all around” – it is just sooooo simple and functional“!
We finished the tour just after mid-day and got dropped off just round by the weekend markets. These were interesting as they were down by the water and were primarily made up of three longggggg rows of stalls, where people were selling there wares. The make up was predominantly, WINTER CLOTHING, BOOKS & FOOD – plenty of it, I might add. Now, I must admit I was getting a little peckish, Cas was fairing reasonably well as she’s not a big eater when it comes to market food. lol. A number of the stalls were selling hot cooked food. I saw some meat which looked real tasty UNTIL I over-heard someone asking – WHAT WAS IT? and the answer came back, BEEF, PORK AND REINDEER ALL MIXED INTO TOGETHER, AS A STEW. As soon as we heard the REINDEER PART we sorta went cold. lol I suppose it would b like us eating SKIPPY THE KANGAROO!
From the markets we made our way back into SENATE SQUARE, which is the main collection area for pedestrians. Being a SUNDAY not a lot was open, but was enough for us to get a few souvenirs and then we made our way casually back to the OLYMPIA TERMINAL for the boat, which started boarding at 4.15pm.
With the HELSINKI – STOCKHOLM route, there are two shipping lines servicing it – THE SILJA & VIKING LINES. It’s said that both are pretty much on a par service wise. They both leave the ports within about 1/2 an hour of each other and arrive likewise. We chose THE SILJA LINE – SYMPHONY. With it the room we had was pretty much as expected, quiet, “compact”, with a private shower. MAN, the water was HOT, SCALDING if u didn’t watch out & good pressure. 🙂 In our package we had included the buffet dinner which was certainly well laid out and produced from the well-honed skills of their master chefs. Of particular interest was the seafood delicacies sourced straight from THE ARCHIPELAGO.
Picture this, in the heart of the ship, along the centre/middle, is a whole pedestrian street called “THE PROMENADE”, where they have a variety of shops. This is also used for entertainment and of course ur standard duty-free purchasing area.
As the anchor was lifted we made our way to the back of the ship, watching as we left the port. It was great as it gave some fabulous views of looking back to the CATHEDRAL perched on the steps. The harbour was obviously the heart of the city.
After leaving port we changed and headed for dinner AND it wasn’t long after before our heads were hitting the pillows, b/c it had been a BIGGGG day!!!.