Saturday, December 1st 2018 – Helsinki, Day 3
And so on Day 3 we knew we had several Christmas-related things to do, so after running Tokoinranta parkrun, and coffee and cake for breakfast for me, we headed down the Esplanadi again with intent to go over to Suomenlinna, where I’d been told there would be some special events for Christmas.
The market square was much busier than it had been on Friday, with quite a few stalls selling various craft items, jewellery, reindeer skins, and all sorts of souvenirs including moose fridge magnets. We didn’t buy anything and squeezed onto the ferry (which is included with a Helsinki Card because it’s considered part of the city’s public transport network) with seconds to spare to its departure time. It was surprisingly busy, with lots of people warmly dressed and wearing good, solid footwear, and it was probably needed despite the glorious sunshine and the lack of snow and ice.
We staggered off at the other end, and waited to let the hordes head off to wherever they wanted to go, and decided that a drink a light lunch would be a good plan before we set off ourselves to nose around at least one of the seven islands that make up the complex. The Viaporin Deli and Cafe was nearby and looked welcoming. And so it proved, with a massive portion of mushroom soup setting us up for the rest of the day, especially with the complimentary bread and the huge dollop of sour cream that was added to the soup on serving. It also had a lovely spicy kick that meant it was the perfect soup for a freezing cold Saturday afternoon.
After that we made our way to the Tourist Information desk in search of knowledge, wanting to find out what was going on where, because the islands cover quite a large area, we already knew quite a lot of the history from our previous visit, and we didn’t want to miss anything interesting by running out of daylight! I will say up front that there was a distinct lack of much in the way of Christmas decorations, though some of the houses had lights up. It was all pretty low key really and actually none the worse for it.
Last time we’d visited the church had been undergoing restoration, and that was now complete. It’s an interesting church, very plain inside now, which is a complete change given it used to be a Russian Orthodox church (and I’ve seen what they are like inside since our last Helsinki trip), but it has very pleasing proportions both inside and out and it looks considerably better not covered in scaffolding.
From there we headed for the artisan Christmas shops but got side-tracked into the Military Museum’s Manege (again included in the Helsinki Card), which contains the exhibition, Finnish Defence Forces – 100 Years at War and Peace and is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Finland’s military history up to the end of WWII and the Finns complicated part in it, thus covering the 1918 Civil War, the Winter War (1939–1940), the Continuation War (1941–1944) and the Lapland War (1944–1945), the latter not something I knew anything about.
The second part looks at the Cold War and “Finlandisation” as they tried to keep peace with their less than friendly neighbours in the USSR, moving on to post-Cold War modern army life, including the presence of women in the military now, and the actions of the Finns in the UN Peace Keeping forces.
It’s informative, fun, and occupied us for a good hour or so. After that we poked our heads into the Ehrensvärd Museum (again included in the Helsinki Card), in the official residence of the fortress’s commandants. We’d visited before, but we’d been told they had a Christmas-related item or two on show. This was true, in that there was a table holding some decorations that had belonged to the last people to actually live in the house. To call it low key would be overstating it in the extreme!
The light was pretty amazing by now, so it was a pleasure (a very cold one admittedly) to walk about outside.
We checked in to the various artisan shops set up for Christmas, but with lots of pottery and glass there was no way we could buy anything and guarantee we’d get it home safely, so we admired but didn’t purchase. We did probably spend more time in the glassblower’s shop than was justified, but it was toasty warm in there with the heat from the furnace!
It was getting dark and we still wanted to get to the newly-opened Christmas Market in front of the Cathedral before going back to the hotel and getting ready for dinner. We strolled back towards the harbour, past the jetty barracks, crossing paths with a crowd in evening wear who’d obviously just come over from the market area. No idea where they were going, but they looked very elegant (and slightly precarious in dress shoes on the ubiquitous cobbles). They could have been aiming for the church and some sort of concert, or even a wedding.
As we ducked back through the tunnel to the harbourside, we realised the ferry was about to go and there would be a 40 minute wait if we didn’t get on this one. We just squeezed in before they closed the doors. It was warm in there so we thawed out for 20 minutes, and I didn’t take any photos until we ran alongside the Allas Sea Pool of which more in another post.
We decided we’d stop for a hot drink before hitting the market. The day light was almost gone by now, which meant that the Christmas lights were showing at their sparkling best. I really loved what had been done along Esplanadi; it was classy, tasteful and very attractive, none of your mad flashing multi-coloured lights, just gold and silver done with restraint.
We considered getting a gloggi at one of the market stalls but that would have meant standing outside to drink it, so we decided we’d go into Kappeli instead. It’s not cheap (what is in Helsinki) but it’s a gorgeous building, and we managed to snag one of the little “turret” tables, a table set in a round outcrop of the building so it has great views of the outside.
A gloggi later and we were ready to go back outside and do battle with the Finnish-style festive crowds.
The market was also quite restrained and tasteful, with a food area selling mostly Finnish foods, and lots of craft and jewellery stalls. There were some lovely things, and I was slightly tempted by some of the jewellery, but after an amber buying spree in Copenhagen last month, I figured I had better restrain myself. The trees were nicely placed to show off the statue in the middle of the square, and the cathedral was lit up as well. It was lovely!
We headed back to the hotel where we spent an hour in the bar before heading out for dinner. The bar is great usually, but with Pikkijoulu (little Christmas) in full swing all over town they’d pulled the cocktail list and were offering a rather more limited selection because they only had one barman in place. The English barman offered a gin-based fruit sour made with “local” berries, and I persuaded him to make it with Finlandia vodka instead given that we don’t like gin. He wasn’t sure it would work; I was. I was right!