Friday, 22 June 2018

Back from Holiday Again (part 6)

The coast line of the Baltic is a little frilly with many inlets and islands scattered along the coast. The region surrounding southern Finland is no exception and particularly around Helsinki. One of the island chains was built up into a huge military fortification, mostly by the Russians when Finland was still a Russian Province and today is a mixture of museum and nature reserve. It's a short boat ride from the city harbour and a "must see". So, off we went to Suomenlinna...

Looking back at the Helsinki skyline as we head to Suomenlinna. The large ship is one of Viking Line's fleet that sail daily to Stockholm

In addition to the main buildings and formal museums, there are a couple of other interesting artifacts to examine. One of these being a Second World War submarine. In fact, it is the only remaining Finnish submarine of the era, all others were destroyed at the end of the war, Finland being a member of the Axis forces having joined forces with Germany against Russia on the basis of "my enemy's enemy is my friend"
Situated at the southern end of the main island is the King's Gate. After an hour's walk to get there, the first impression was "is this it then?" It was... 
Close to the King's Gate in the fortifications, there is a small restaurant serving made to order pizza (delicious) As the rental car has gone back, beer is now permitted as well!

There's a huge dry dock on the island that is now used for the restoration of wooden ships and for storage during the winter when the sea freezes. Its last industrial use was building ships for the Russians, again as reparations.
Back in Helsinki, we visited the two Cathedrals. First, the Orthodox Cathedral, but managed to arrive at the same time as about 30 coach groups and during a service. Very ornate and lots of gold.


The Lutheran Cathedral is a few yards away and is one of the landmark buildings of the city

Ann stands on the steps of the Lutheran Cathedral

In 1981, Ann is in the square in front of the Cathedral. Sadly, this area has now been turned into a coach park for all the tourists that now visit Helsinki.
The organ is impressive!
A statue of Martin Luther

Helsinki is a city with much interesting architecture in many styles mixing the styles of the various countries that have claimed Finland as their own, but also incorporating features that would have you believe you were in Paris or Madrid.

Esplanade Park in the centre of Helsinki. Tres French ne c'est pas?
Around the harbour
The main street in Helsinki on a Sunday morning. Public transport is fast, efficient and reasonably priced. There is an extensive tram system in addition to the buses.
At the weekend, this historic tram is brought out for a tourist service

This just left us with a few things left to do. First on the list was the traditional end of the holiday meal, almost a re-creation of our first wedding anniversary that we had celebrated in Helsinki, but as I couldn't remember where the restaurant was we went instead to the landmark Vaakuna Hotel. Built for the 1952 Olympics, it overlooks the railway station and is a classic piece of mid 20th century styling. I stayed there several times in the 80s and, to be honest, I thought then that it had aged badly, but now it has somehow regained its style. I suppose everything from the 50s eventually becomes cool again (including your writer!).

The restaurant is on the 10th floor of the building and remains one of the tallest buildings in the City giving a spectacular view. Food is good, service is exceptional and prices are in keeping!

It's Prosecco Time!

On Sunday morning, we headed to the small island of Seurassaari, the location of an open air museum with a collection of building rescued from across Finland. Rather like the Weald & Downland Museum in Sussex. Here's a selection:

As we'd started the holiday visiting the home of Sibelius, we ended by visiting his memorial in Helsinki. As luck would have it, the park was on our bus route and as bus tickets are valid for an hour, no matter how many changes you make, we could stop off for free. Most people use pre-paid tickets in Helsinki, but single tickets can be bought for EUR 3.20. When our bus arrived, it seems that the ticket machine was defective. I suspect that in most cities, the bus would have been put out of service, or <shock, horror> the driver would have pocketed the fares, but here, we were given a free ride. So, here's the Sibelius Monument, again with hordes of tourists:

You need a vivid imagination to visualise a connection between a 20th Century symphonic composer and the sculpture.

Back to apartment, pack the bags and head to the airport. At which point we can declare the "Finnish" to the holiday.

Back from Holiday Again (part 5)

Two nights in Espoo gave us a chance to visit Hvittrask, a collection of houses built by the Finnish architects and designers Geselius, Lindgren and Saarinen, of which the most famous is probably Eliel Saarinen, father of another architect Eero Saarinen. The buildings are in what we would call the "Arts and Crafts" style and only open for a few days each week. Before emigrating to the USA, Eliel's most significant design was probably for the railway station in Helsinki which has been said to have formed the basis for the design of Gotham City in the Batman films. 

Son Eero made his name in the US, with numerous well known designs, of which the most significant are the Gateway Arch in St Louis and the TWA terminal at JFK airport.

The front of Saarinen's house at Hvittrask

Looking at the house from the side garden
Some of the design detail inside the house. In such a cold winter climate, fireplaces become important 
The main sitting room in the the house. There is a curious blend of styles with (at least to me) influences of Gaudi and William Morris
Helsinki's railway station as designed by Saarinen senior. It is a stunning design
The main entrance under the arch is bordered by two figures on either side each holding a globe, more detail of which can be seen in the picture below

 What to do next? We found a car museum with this parked outside!

A long way from home and it only has one previous owner. Inside, the museum is huge with cars on two floors. The exhibits are not pristine, but represent what the cars would have been like when nearly new. Here's just a small selection of what we found:

Dating from the end of the 1940s, the DKW Schnellaster was a mixture of the ancient and modern. An ancient pre-war 2-stroke engine provided power for the monocoque body that featured trailing arm suspension. I can remember these still smoking their way through Germany in the early 1980s
NSU designed their K70 to complement their rotary engined Ro80, but having run out of money were acquired by VW, hence the badges on this, the first front engined, water cooled VW . Having also acquired DKW and Auto-Union, a new company, Audi, emerged and the design of the original Audi 80 and first generation VW Passat can be seen in the K70
Citroen's management obviously permitted their designers free rein when deigning their "Ami" model, a larger version of the 2CV. For many years in the 60s, this was the biggest selling car in France. Pity Citroens are now just bland boxes - much better when they had some individuality.

1970s Datsun 100A Cherry. At one time, these were seen everywhere, often as cheap second cars, but they didn't like salt on the roads and the body work rapidly returned to its organic origin

Morris Marina 1.8TC - one of the world's most maligned cars. Yes - it wasn't anything special, but it was designed in no time on a shoestring and stayed in production for too long. But it did sell in large numbers to both fleet and private buyers and wasn't really that much worse than the opposition of the time. The press hated it due to the original front suspension design, but this was improved prior to production even if the 1.8 litre cars did prefer to continue straight on at corners.

Originally an Opel design, this was built by Moskvitch as their 400 model, basically claiming the Opel design and tooling as war reparations.

Rear engined and with a body design by Giovanni Michelotti, the BMW 700 was pretty much the model that saved the company. It set the style for BMW from the 60s and if you look at it quickly, there is a slight hint of the Triumph Herald, also designed by Michelotti to it.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Back from Holiday Again (part 4)

Leaving Savonlinna, we were heading to Espoo via Kotka and Porvoo. Here's the route. You'll notice that we came within spitting distance of the Russian border. When we did this same journey in 1981, we noticed that many of the trees along the road had the Finnish flag colours painted on them, presumably in case anyone got lost?

First stop was Kerimaki, home to the largest wooden Church (pause, Jeremy Clarkson style)... in the World. It could well be the biggest wooden building in the World. The risks with mixing wooden buildings with candles are obvious. Once again, the belfry is a separate building but on the same scale as the main building.

This building isn't big, it is **HUGE**.  Rumours abound that there were errors in the plans with feet and metres being muddled, but this it seems wasn't the case. Instead, the idea was to allow for everyone from the surrounding area to meet on market days and so a building that was substantially larger than the local population would suggest was built.

Inside, looking up to the pipes of the organ
 Onwards to Porvoo for a wander around the old town, preserved as originally built in wood. A selection of images from wandering around are below. Although it was a bright and sunny day, the blue skies are a little enhanced as I had a polarising filter on the camera.

Stand by for part 5.

Back from Holiday Again (part 3)

Now we're heading off to Savonlinna and with the aid of a sat-nav, this time we know how far we have to travel! The route according to Google, via the town of Joensuu is here. The reason for the detour is two-fold: first we never go back the same way as we came and secondly, with most of the day to spare, we wanted to find something to visit on the way. A botanical garden in the far north sounded interesting. There we found a tropical house and a desert house. I don;t think I would like their heating bill for the winter, but flying around freely inside were a number of large butterflies.

We found our hotel in the centre of Savonlinna without problem and went for a walk before finding somewhere for dinner.

Looking over the town across the lake. Our hotel is the blue and pink building at the end of the bridge with a view across the lake. A bonus as I'd only booked the most basic room, but a smile and a friendly chat with the receptionist frequently results in the keys for a room upgrade.
A restaurant just around the corner provided a typically Nordic meal of fried fish, washed down with the local beer at (gulp!) £6 for a 33cl bottle. Next morning, we walked around the lake to Olavinlinna Castle, originally built by the Swedes to keep out the Russians, then as the border moved back and forth prior to Finland becoming a sovereign country, it switched between Swedish and Russian control before becoming redundant as a military asset and ending up as a cultural centre, most famous for an Opera Festival annually and occasional jazz festivals. There's a few images of the castle below:


Then, wandering around afterwards, we came across a selection of historic boats that form part of a cultural museum. Much later in the day, we discovered that we were supposed to have purchased a ticket to visit the boats. One is an express service passenger ship that came to an unfortunate end in 1898 when it was rammed and sank and the other is a steam powered timber barge

Salama, which means "Lightning" in English was built to carry up to 60 passengers on lake services until accidentally rammed and sunk

The stern of Salama which  was raised in 1971 from where it had been sunk and has now been restored

"Mikko" is a timber carrying steam powered lake freighter dating from 1914. Its main purpose was the carriage of lumber for construction and of firewood around the lakes
"Savonlinna" is another of the museum's collection, but was moored in the town on the day of our visit and surprisingly is newer than Salama despite appearances. Its main task was as passenger transport to Savonlinna, particularly bring guests to the spas in the area,
 After two days, we moved on again for two nights at Espoo, a modern suburban development to the west of Helsinki built around an historic settlement dating back to the Middle Ages. The area is a curious mix of modern concrete suburbia and typical Nordic countryside with trees, water and huge outcrops of granite. There are few hotels in the area and we managed to find one that is actually a massive, impersonal conference centre that is of a style that makes the former Tricorn building in Portsmouth appear to have a beauty of its own! It was just for two nights.

The journey to Espoo and what we did next will be told in the next instalment.