ONE PERFECT DAY HELSINKI
One Perfect Day Helsinki - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Glenn A. Baker, Issue 49 Summer 2012|
|GLENN A. BAKER GETS OUT AND ABOUT IN THE COMPACT FINNISH CAPITAL EXPLORING MARKETS, MUSEUMS AND MARIMEKKO.|
First up, the funky, friendly and decidedly stylish Klaus K Hotel, tucked neatly downtown five minutes walk from the plush and popular Stockmann department store, fits the bill for a perfect day, and a perfect stay in Helsinki. It helps that it is part of the 200-strong Design Hotels chain because design is the byword, keyword and password in the Finnish capital at the moment. Decreed World Design Capital 2012, the city is touting its wares as: Open Helsinki – Embedding Design in Life and is declaring, as a matter of policy, “Our Helsinki is also an open Helsinki. For us, openness equals transparency, curiosity, global responsibility and innovation. We believe that design can create happiness. Design exists even if we don’t see it.”
However I do want to see it, which is why I romp through a richly diverse Nordic breakfast, heavy on berries, at the Klaus K and set off down the hill a few blocks to Market Square and the Marimekko shop – the current centre of cool for all things visual, from clothes to kitchenware to furnishings.
It’s a day to be in the park, to be sure. First year university students are out in force on a sort of rag day going through initiation escapades that have them dressed as cowboys and indians, mad surgeons and ghouls, promenading purposefully and stuffing themselves into sacks for racy races.
A compact, cultured and comfortable city, Helsinki was first the capital of an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian Czar before it became the principal city of the independent republic of Finland in 1917, as Russia was falling into revolutionary turmoil. While the Soviet experiment was being conducted next door for
the next 73 years, Helsinki stood as a fearless example of prosperity, artistic endeavour, individual freedom and efficiently ordered society.
Metropolitan Helsinki, safe, modern and progressive, is a Mecca for arts, boasting fine galleries, theatres and more than fifty museums. A great strolling city it pleases the eye and senses with its churches (one of which, Temppeliaukio, is cut into rock on the side of
a hill), botanical gardens, open markets, street cafes, manor houses and fine public buildings. In Sibelius Park Finland’s loved classical composer is honoured with a striking monument sculpted in the shape of soaring organ pipes.
Roll a little further down Pohjoisesplanadi to the busy dockside area and that becomes readily apparent. A market hall more than 120 years old teems with meat, fish, pastries, bread and cheese, while rows of tented traders offer souvenirs, handicrafts and a great many berries. All around are craft of every size, plying the myriad waterways from Sweden, the Baltic States and the far flung ports of the world. From here there are ferries and waterbuses leaving for Korkeasaari Zoo and Helsinki archipelago islands, including the one bearing the vast Suomenlinna Fortress declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. In fifteen minutes I’m wandering its precincts, lost in another, older world.
Returning to the city requires a certain discipline but lunch seems logical and not far along Pohjoisesplanadi from the Marimekko shop is the much-recommended Salutorget Restaurant. Once a stately old bank it has been refurbished with a design (there’s that word again) that includes Asian fabric screens in its bar area. Then, refuelled, I take advantage of the inexpensive tramcars which whisk you every which way every few minutes, and reasoning that one is not likely to get too lost, found it an amusing exercise to jump off one and on to another, poking my nose here and there into suburbs, docks, shipyards, museums and statues. Theespionage aficionado in me is drawn inexorably to the American and former USSR embassies, around which once swirled considerable intrigue and skulduggery.
The elegance of Helsinki’s architecture grants the city a distinction and charm. There’s also Art Nouveau and National-Romantic structures gracing the compelling city. But my heart is stirred most powerfully by Eliel Saarinen’s bold green granite central railway station, from where Lenin departed to ferment revolution in the Russian city that would eventually bear his name, for a time. Today, you can recreate his journey, arriving in just two and a half hours in the city that is once again known as St Petersburg.
The Nuuksio Wilderness Park on the outskirts of Helsinki is a reminder that Finland, a country of five million, is a 1,865 mile long country which reaches well into the Arctic Circle and contains some extraordinary natural beauty, regularly drawing many thousands of hikers, campers, climbers, skiers, cyclers, hunters and horse riders out beyond the city limits.
But that’s another perfect day. One after I check out the night-time frolics in Helsinki’s vibrant music clubs. I’ll need the stamina of those grains and berries, especially since I bypassed the Herring Market down by the docks.