02 September 2007

Underwhelmed in Helsinki

Helsinki was the second port of call and a quick, overnight sail from Stockholm.

We had decided to do a short, overview tour of Helsinki and then wander about on our own for the afternoon.

The tour first went to the Sibelius Monument.

Johan (Jean) Julius Christian Sibelius was Finland's most famous and beloved composer. Born in Hämeenlinna in 1865, his music is stylistically unique. He is one of those composers you either love or hate.

The memorial itself was indeed impressive, but perhaps more impressive were the more than 20 tour buses parked in front. It's a nice memorial and all, but does it really call for this level of attention?

Our next stop was Temppeliaukion Kirkko, a circular church built in 1969 that was literally blasted out of the surrounding rock.

It is indeed a beautiful church, but it was actually difficult to see due to the mobs of people. The same tour buses that we saw at the Sibelius monument had all converged here.

This is where we decided we had experienced enough of the tour bus, thanked the tour guide and went off on our own.

As we now had a bit of time, we decided to try climbing the church itself. Since it was blasted out of a large rock formation that was there anyway, we went around to the back and found a path to it's roof.

Thankfully, it was blessedly free of others!

We then consulted our map and guide book and wandered towards town center.

We have to admit, we were disappointed in Helsinki. Perhaps it was our uninspiring guide, who we abandoned midway through the tour? Perhaps the places we visited were unpleasant because they were mobbed with tourists? Or perhaps Helsinki is simply not that fabulous of a city and to truly experience Finland you should head out into the countryside.

Neither of us has any desire to return to Helsinki, but we would both like to return to Finland. Next time, we will head north to visit Lappland, the Sami people and the reindeer!


Samantha said...

Oh, no! Helsinki is a great city - you just didn't see the right stuff! What about the beautiful church down by the port? Or Soumenlinna island? Or the Olympic Stadium with the tower that gives you a panoramic view of the city?

It's funny that you say it was robbed with tourists - I don't think I've ever seen anywhere in Finland robbed with tourists (except for maybe the Santa Village at Christmas). I lived in Helsinki for a year and have visited Finland more times than I can count and it was always pretty empty. But I haven't been back in three years now, so maybe things have changed?

Global Librarian said...

Mobbed with tourists is definitely what it was.

There were 3-4 cruise ships docked at the port with an average of 2,000-3,000 passengers on each ship.