Monday, July 29, 2013

european tour: helsinki

"If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest-- in all of its ardour and paradoxes--than our travels."
-Alain de Botton "The Art of Travel"

I cannot believe that we have now been back for 3 weeks.  It was, in a sense, a whirlwind trip (15 days, 11 hotels!) but at the same time an amazing opportunity to slow down and spend time exploring new places, visiting new sites and learning new things about each other.  I have been asked multiple times for pictures/details of the trip, so I am dedicating this week to cover our 2 week voyage through 4 countries and 250 miles of bicycling.

Our first stop was an 8 6 hour layover in Helsinki, Finland.  When we were booking flights, R and I debated on the merit of taking an extended travel time, but the allure to spend 8 hours in a city that was well off the beaten track proved to be too much for us.  
Even though I had went nearly 24 hours without sleeping and it was much, much warmer than I had expected, Helsinki did not disappoint.  Our flight out of New York was delayed, but even with 6 hours, we had enough time to store our luggage, take a bus to the city center and visit the gorgeous historic centre and waterfront.  

For such a short layover, we went straight to the tourist information desk in the airport to figure out the best/fastest way to get into the city.  The airport offers 2 different bus options that will get you to the downtown train station in around 40 minutes for 4-6 euros (cab will run your 30-40 euros).  

Our first stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, designed by Steven Holl (architect who did the Nelson Atkins--for all of you Kansans).  Being married to an architect, you get introduced to things like this.  Next was Esplanade Park.  We just walked through, but on the warm, sunny afternoon it was full of people enjoying picnics or one of the outdoor cafes.  It was beautifully green and manicured situated in the middle of food, shopping and entertainment.  

Where the local residents may have been lounging in Esplanade Park, we made our way towards Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square, which was buzzing with tourists, buses and guides.  The cathedral is an example of Neoclassical architecture and exudes a dominating presence on top of the square.  A few blocks away, on the waterfront, we visited the Upenski Cathedral, with a gorgeous red brick facade that represents classic Slavic traditions.  This cathedral as well sits on top of a small hill and is really a stark contrast from its bright white neighbor.   

After wandering through the Market Square (a harbourfront market selling food, handicrafts and souvenirs), R and I were on the hunt for food and a place in the shade.  Since we were in the tourist center of the city, it was difficult to find a place that was not super crowded and really expensive.  Cafe K√∂ket, a tiny cafe with a salad bar and cold drinks finally drew us in.  With its red gingham table cloths, outdoor seats in the shade and super friendly staff, it was a perfect retreat was the endless crowds. 

With a sufficient break, R and I took to wandering along the harbor, enjoying the classical architecture and finding a small island/park to sit and have a quick beer before heading back to the airport and onto our next leg of the trip.  I will say that despite our quick view of the city, Helsinki has piqued our curiosity enough to have both R and I longing to go back and explore further!

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