At the end of June I had the opportunity to visit Helsinki as part of a business trip.
Obviously, my Leica followed suit.
During the summer months, there’s almost 20 hours of sun in the Finnish capital, and at the peak of summer there’s hardly a dark night – merely a dusk for a couple of hours, before the sun rises again. Experiencing the mid-summer sun for the first time, it was a very memorable, fascinating, and exhilarating (as well as, to some point, exhausting) experience. My inner clock got confused, refused to signal “bed time!”, and I hardly slept. The hotel wasn’t located in the centre of the city, but actually quite a bit outside. But I was lucky: instead of spending the wee hours asleep in my bed, or hanging around in some bars, I was outside, taking photos by the lake/sea (I still don’t know which is the right term there, if you do: there’s a comment box). The midnight sunsets and panoramic views of the Baltic sea at 4 am, accompanied by the singing and chirping of Curlews were absolutely wonderful, and something I shall remember for a long time.
All in all, the calm waters surrounded by dense conifer forests have become one of my favourite landscapes in Europe.
Many of the beaches/coastlines, if not dominated by tourists and seagulls, are populated (and polluted) by geese. They are large, loud things that don’t shy away from decorating the beaches they visit with scores of droppings. Luckily they don’t have the habit of circling over people’s heads. I can imagine that to the local Finn they might be quite a nuisance (or alternatively, a tasty roast on the dinner table), but to us ignorant visitors, they’re quite entertaining.
There are piers, and parking spots for boats every couple of hundred metres. In fact, if you need a good ice-breaker for conversations (with a bartender, for example), bring up the topic of salmon fishing. The Finns eat salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It tastes absolutely delicious. And they love talking about their fishing trips, the “salmon weather”, and how to cook the fish once you’ve caught some. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to join some locals on their early morning fishing routine.
Note: I love the rough graininess of Delta 3200 Pro, even when shooting landscapes in bright daylight. Certain information undoubtedly gets lost due to the large grain… But the contrast and character of the resulting images are simply gorgeous. You could not replicate this on a digital camera.
The first day in the city was a bit of a surprise. It was very quiet. There was hardly anyone on the streets. This allowed for some undisturbed classic sightseeing shots of the famous churches and governmental buildings.
Helsinki was founded by the Swedish in the 16th century, where it remained a small, insignificant port town until it was annexed by the Russians in the 19th century. The Russian czar then declared Helsinki as the new capital of Finland, and sent architects to model the new capital after the czarist metropole St. Petersburg. It was only after this transformation that the city of Helsinki started to look like the place it is today.
The Russian-influenced development also explains why one of Europe’s largest Russian Orthodox cathedrals is located there, even though there’s only a small minority of Orthodox folks left in the city. The cathedral is located on a small pensinsula in the east of the city. As the rest of the city, there was hardly a soul in the street (it was a Wednesday afternoon).
On the other side of the peninsula is where some ferries and ships dock, and where the Saturday market is.
The market, like most other city centre markets, is one of those places where you can get fridge magnets, mugs, but also fresh fish, seafood, and foods to go. Those poor souls who do decide to grab a bite to eat (like me) will hopelessly fall victim to the hordes of seagulls circling above the heads of people. Another useful thing you can find at the market are sauna branches, for in-sauna self-flagellation.
One morning I got up early to go for a walk on Seurasaari, located just to the west of the city. A small island which serves as a cultural heritage open-air museum. Buildings and houses from all over Finland (and Lapland) were transported to this island, where they have been restored, preserved and displayed for the public.
We can all imagine that life in the far North can be somewhat dangerous, especially if a bear finds you; which is why someone thought of putting houses on top of a tree trunk. Smart!
Eventually buses with Russian and Chinese tourists, aswell as school kids on day trips started arriving, which is when I made my way off the little island, and back into the city centre. Musicians were playing on the streets, and things were starting to get busy.
Soon, I there got to experience one of these memorable “happened to be there” moments, which I will write about in another post very soon. At this point, if you happened to get this far, I should say: Many thanks for reading.
Part two of the blog about my visit to Helsinki can be read here