Earthhhhhhh! The captain’s announcement wakes up: “Dear passengers, I’m glad to inform you that we have arrived to Helsinki, Welcome to Finland! ”, in a series of incomprehensible guttural sounds. I must confess that the Finnish language is “unusual”. I go to take a quick shower, however Fredrick informs me that there is no rush since the ship will stay there all day and will leave at 18.00. I look through the window and see that the weather is against us. I hope it doesn’t rain.
The strong smell of fresh fish from the market in front of the harbor wakes me up more than a cup of coffee. The Finnish name is “Kauppatori” and derives from Kauppa = market and bulls = square.
A Kauppatori market is set up almost every summer and throughout the winter weekends. In the center of the square, stands the Keisarinnan kivi, an obelisk built by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1835. At the top of the obelisk, there is a bronze ball where an eagle with two heads stands. The monument pays homage to Tsar Nicholas I and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna Romanova, who visited Helsinki during the period of Russian domination. There are many stands where fish like herring or salmon are cooked and served in dishes with potatoes and traditional Finnish sauces. A girl looks at it and takes the opportunity to ask me if I want to try toothpick delicious fish already prepared in a bag and topped with the Finnish flag.
The square is full of tourists who stare at me, and maybe you will agree with my question: “How can you eat fried fish at 10 am?”
Some tourists have just left the vessel and are ravenously searching for souvenirs made of wood. Other stands serve coffee and the famous pancakes with cream and jam (pannukakku) instead. I’m tempted, but we have already decided where to go for breakfast: FAZER, the most famous cafe in Helsinki.
Among the various ships moored on the harbor, there is one with the inscription: HELSINKI. I take the opportunity to snap a picture and then I ask a Japanese family to take a picture of Fredrick and me with the ship.
The Japanese are popular for being photographers, because they always have their own cameras and take thousands of pictures. Therefore, I’m sure they will shoot the best photos… WRONG!. The object wasn’t so difficult to photograph. It was the ship with the inscription “Helsinki” with Fredrick and me. After several attempts, we give up. “Mission:impossible”; they took a picture with only the ship, then only the words, then just us, even one with half of our faces! After so many failed attempts I take the camera and thank them in diplomatic Japanese. My mouth was saying “ARIGATO”, but in my mind words were totally different!
Before breakfast, we go to the Orthodox cathedral located on a hill close to the Market Square, in the district of Katajanokka.
Uspenski cathedral is one of the most touristic destinations in Helsinki, because it is the biggest Orthodox Church of northwestern Europe. The origin of its name derives from the Slavic word uspenje, which means “Dormition” (or death), because the cathedral pays homage to Mary, mother of Jesus, who is said to have fallen into a deep sleep before going to Heaven.
The church, completed in 1868, was designed by the Russian architect Alexey Gornostaev, who died in 1862. Several modifications were made when a wealthy Russian merchant donated a bell. The new bell was so enormous that part of the original bell tower had to be dismantled. The Cathedral is the largest Orthodox parish in Finland since 1872.
In many ways, it reminds us of the Church of the Ascension of Kolomenskoje, in Russia. Uspenski cathedral has an external structure according to the Russian criteria but the interior is inspired by Byzantine canons. It is spacious and there are four large columns covered with granite. The domes of the church are covered with gold, and they are shaped in dubbed sipulit (“onions”).
The location of the cathedral, on a high rock formation, offers impressive views over the center of Helsinki. From there I can see the landscape as if it was a postcard. Another cathedral, Tuomiokirkko or the White cathedral.
Uspenski cathedral is famous not only for its size and its similarity to the Russian Church, but it also recalls the period of Russian domination. Actually, at that period Helsinki was a cosmopolitan city!
The city was composed mainly of military fields, mounted Cossacks barracks, and garrisons along the coasts. Everything was surrounding this.
The military’s needs were enormous and profitable. This fostered many Russian merchants to invest in Finland. Many Russians moved and learnt both Swedish and Finnish languages, mixing with the locals but keeping their identity in educational, cultural and religious fields. The city was still intact in regards to the artistic and architectural treasures of that period. Another presence during the Russian domination was the Casino Katajanokka, which used to be the old depot of the city. Typically constructed in red brick, in 1911 it was turned into a Casino by the officers of the Russian Imperial Navy.
-During the Russian Revolution of 1917, it was the scene of the executions of rebels, and where soldiers used to wave the flag of anarchy on the roof. In 1918, it was occupied by German officers who had taken part in the assault of Helsinki, and in 1919 it became the settlement for the Union officers.
The flourishing period at the architectural level, it wasn’t a human being. The Finns prefer Swedes to Russians, so they keep the Swedish language as the official one.
Now that my curiosity on the Russian domination is satisfied, I need to fulfill another thing: my tummy.
While we walk in front of the White cathedral to go to Fazer, Fredrick tells me something about the church, but my brain is like Homer Simpsons’; the only words that stand in my mind are COFFEE and CHOCOLATE!