HELSINKI, FINLAND: BEAUTIFUL VISTAS, CUTTING EDGE DESIGN AND 250,000 SAUNAS
Entering Helsink Harbor
To get to Helsinki by sea, ships wend in between gorgeous forested islands before arriving at the harbor in the center of the city. By the time we were approaching Helsinki, the weather had turned and was absolutely beautiful. The little islands sparkled in the early morning sun as we wove our way past them and into the harbor, mooring right near the center of town.
Helsinki is infinitely walkable. It's pretty, it's mostly flat, there is plenty of shade on the Esplanade if you need to stop and cool off, the sidewalks are filled with little cafes (in fact, it's said that Finns drink the most coffee in the world, although I had heard that about Norwegians, too). It's a charming, welcoming city and I loved being there.
At the top of the harbor is an open market, chock full of handicrafts and edibles. Everything from art-glass necklaces on leather laces to thick, heavy, colorful wool felt boots are on sale, side by side with beautiful and tempting fruit, sandwiches and sausages. Tented eating areas are scattered about; a smoked-salmon sandwich can be had for about 3 euros; a baked potato with filling for about 6.
I had chosen a short boat trip around the archipelago for my shore excursion and on this gorgeous day, it proved to be the ideal little jaunt. Our guide pointed out the interesting aspects of the islands surrounding the center city, the ones that are privately owned by wealthy families, the ones that had been developed as protective forts and are still administered by the Finnish military, and she told us about the culture of saunas in Finland. I can still hear her cheery voice as she pointed out the small, elaborate houses at the shore on many of the islands, large villas in the background, looming over these little structures. They are saunas, she explained. These little cottages looked like guest houses but they were the saunas of wealthy people who had island villas.
Boat Excursion in Helsinki
“Finland,” she told us, “has a population of just over five million people, and a sauna population of approximately 2.1 million. Everyone has to have a sauna; even those who buy the tiniest studio apartments immediately set about installing a sauna.”
I finished my day in Helsinki with a walk around the design district and an amble through the old mercantile building at the harbor's edge en route back to the ship, thinking all the while how much the area reminded me of Seattle and Puget Sound. It was easy for me to see why so many Scandinavians ended up in the Pacific Northwest.
The following day was to be the piece de resistance for any Baltic cruise, our arrival in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the long run, I decided that I had enjoyed my day in Helsinki more than any other on the entire voyage.
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