Thursday, 13 August 2015

Stop 14: Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki: so much to do and so little time.  We've finished up not visiting some of the sights we intended to ... but had a great time including hearing some good music and catching up with people.

The ferry from Tallinn was straightforward, until we reached Helsinki.  

And then it was very slow disembarking us ... and again, big roadworks just north of the downtown area meant we crawled towards our apartment in the Kumpala/Käpylä area. But we made it, a little late, and our host was waiting to wave us into a parking space and introduce us to our apartment ... looking out onto some wooded areas. 

A great neighbourhood, with some older wooden houses and good transport connections to downtown, but singularly lacking in restaurants that were open after 8 pm. (So it was takeaway pizza one night, takeaway Egyptian falafel another, and takeaway Thai a third night - not bad out of four nights in town.)

During our stay, we met up with a few new and old friends: Sanna, an academic who I (Roger) had met through the Youth Research Centre at Melbourne University - and went for a drink locally with her and her husband on our first night; with Philip Page, manager of Kimmo Pohjonen, in an old bar (Corona Bar) downtown; and with Karoliina Kantelinen (also locally at a little pop-up kiosk on the edge of a nearby park), singer with the group NOL etc, who we saw with that group at a free concert (part of Etno-Espa) in the downtown Esplanade (more on that in a moment): .

We'd been alerted by Sanna to this series of free concerts that were happening late afternoons in the small park that runs off the downtown Market Square (on the harbour). We caught two afternoons' of these. The first had the trio Celenka playing Finnish and Balkan music for voice, kantele, trumpet and harmonium: .  After their lovely and interesting set, we chatted with Emmi Kujanpää (singer, kantele) and Jarkko Niemelä (trumpet, singer) from the band and got a copy of their impressive CD. 

The second group that evening were NOL (No One's Land), with Karoliina fronting the group (ex-Värttinä). Again, an interesting mix of Finnish and Bulgarian sounds. 

However, the threatening rain realised into heavier showers and, unprepared, we retreated to the tram back to the apartment before their set finished. We did, however, then e-mail Karoliina and, as noted above, this resulted in meeting her the next day to chat and get copies of some of her releases.

The next afternoon, we again heard some interesting music at this Etno-Espa concert series: first a Sami duo presenting some Sami pop ... interesting, but not our thing, especially as their explanations, initially in English as well as Finnish, 'dried up' and all we heard were covers of American pop sung in Sami.

They were followed by a Nepali quartet ... again, interesting to hear for a while, but not that engaging ultimately.

So we broke away early and took an early evening ferry ride around the Helsinki bay islands ... a long and enjoyable water trip ... with blankets to keep us warm!!

Afterwards we hunted for something to eat downtown and finished up in a Chinese restaurant.  So, our Helsinki dinner eating experiences were typically Finnish ... not! Though two occasions where I had salmon soup for lunch made up for this a little.

We spent another day out on Suomenlinna, the Sea Fortress island. This is a short public ferry ride across the bay and has some great sights and walking, as well as giving a good view back to the Helsinki old town ... and the cruise ships.

It took a few hours to walk from one end to the other and back again, popping into some of the highlighted areas, and stopping for drinks and lunch.

Of course I dropped into Digelius Records briefly ... and was self-restrained.  And we saw some perhaps 'spontaneous' choirs on the street downtown one evening ... without any knowledge about what that meant.

After a wander around the nearby Arabia quarter, where factories have been turned into design museums and outlet shops, and new smart design waterside apartment built:

our final 'excursion' from Helsinki was a drive to the small town of Porvoo, eastwards along the coast. It's quite close to Helsinki and hence an easy day trip. The old town is made up of painted wooden houses ... quite pretty, but there was a sense that we were staying (or had stayed) in similar districts, so the novelty had worn off, and this was very tourist-oriented.

So we wandered along the riverside for a short way, had some lunch, and drove back.

But we didn't visit the churches or museums on our list ... and the #3 tram (which became #2 halfway around the loop, and then reverted to #3 elsewhere) provided us with a bit of a circular look at the city's layout. This convinced us that Helsinki deserves a longer stay at some future time.

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