Even saying that we've seen Helsinki feels like we're telling porkies - a bit like those round the world jet setters who set foot in the country for two hours and say they've been - guilty!!!
But we had fallen in love with Stockholm after a glorious week in Sweden last summer and could only hope that it held the same feeling.
We caught an early ferry from Tallinn and whizzed across the Gulf of Finland. Sadly we could hardly see a thing through the heavy fog as we'd imagined a wonderful view of the Finish coastline, islands and Helsinki. The view did improve a little and we were soon admiring some of the natural beauty of these smaller islands. Not unlike Stockholm, there are over 300 of them in varying sizes dotted around the Helsinki archipelago. The waters around the city offer some great sailing and are easily accessible and popular for day and weekend trips with both the locals and tourists.
The ferry comes in right beside Market Square so we're greeted with its brightly coloured tents housing the outdoor market. Fresh foods, baked goods, crafts and souvenirs and a wonderful array of fresh and smoked fish. Some delicious smells lingering as they cook up various fish and meats.
Helsinki is known as one of the coldest cities in the world , so once again we timed it well. Chilly and dark in winter - it has over 50 consecutive days of no sunshine and averages over 100 days of snow during the winter!! With population of a little over 600,000, it's still small enough to get around easily but a bit of an unknown quantity of what's on offer.
The Senate Square was was a focal point but very touristy . I counted nineteen tour buses parked around the square, with various groups pushing and strutting their way around. If you're a local business owner its a great site but to wayward travellers like us we kind of pride ourselves on travelling out of season and not seeing sites like this.
Perhaps it was then a spot of luck that we couldn't find our free walking tour so headed off to do our own thing. David Lines sidled up to the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour and aquired a map so we had our trusty leader.
Helsinki is known as a 'city of architecture' and it seems to have a diverse selection of creations. There's no old town or historic core, like many others, it's a young capital and doesn't initially strike you as being a beautiful city. But as you wander on, it seems to unfold with a variety of architectectual delights, some of which weren't really appealing but definitely thought provoking and interesting.
I preferred the classic feel of the Esplandani, which is a stretch of classic garden and trees between two main streets leading to and from the Market Square. The buildings linning the right hand side in particular are magnificent. Somebody described it as Austrian influenced art nouveau, I think more like Neo- Renaisance but the jury is out. All i know is that I felt like I could be in Paris or Milan exccept for a Scandinavian feel, as people sat outside enjoying their glass of wine under the arches of these beautiful buildings lined with designer shops and smart restaurants and cafe's.
The city as whole is big and bold, clean and crisp, impressive but almost austere at times. The people are delightful, helpful and very friendly. We found a great cafe just out of the city centre and sat outside on the street enjoying the sunshine and were delighted by the wonderful service and chatty locals who were surprisingly forthcoming.
The Temppeliaukio Kirkko or Rock Church was a refreshing change from the other monstrosities we see. It is built inside a massive block of natural granite, nothing much to look at from the outside but once inside it has a serene aura. The ceiling is made of copper wire, the walls are bare rock and the whole thing is totally circular. Very simple and plain, such a nice contrast to other houses of prayer, we were quite content just to sit and contemplate for a while.
Then there's the majestic looking Lutheran Cathedral, known to many as the symbolof Helsinki. And strangely, after reading about the proud Finish architects, we discover this has been designed by a German. From the outside it is very impressive, up the top of all those stairs and towering over the Senate Square. But inside it seems strangly simple and almost spartan, cold and bland.
The Square is sometimes used for concerts and other art inspired activities while winter time the Christmas markets, snow buildings and even snow boarding keep the place humming.
And then there's the striking Uspenski Cathedral, which you can also admire on the skyline as you sail into the port. The walls are of red brick and on top shiny green and gold onion domes - great from a distance but I'm not so sure a out it as you get close up. Inside it's totally different from the other two church's. Rich ornate decorations with some impressive chandeliers.
The Bad Boy statue down on the the harbour's edge is not your usual sight but certainly eye catching. Its stands eight metres tall, and not exactly a handsome boy, stark naked and is peeing into the sea. No doubt just like many a small boy has done before him.
Heres a bit of useless information. Helsinki does have something in common with New Zealand, it is apparently almost overrun by rabbits!! Not that we saw any.
As we wandered back towards the ferry we meandered through some quieter streets although come nightfall I think they were to come alive. A really enjoyable day in a wonderful city that I feel we only scratched the surface of.