Monday, 29 June 2015

The churches of Helsinki

Four of the most interesting buildings we visited in Helsinki were churches. It's not that I make a bee-line for churches when sightseeing, but these four contrasting structures highlighted to me the huge diversity in religious architecture in one small city.

You can't help but notice two of them, the contrasting edifices of the Lutheran Cathedral and the Russian (now Finnish) Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, both fighting for attention across the capital's skyline.

The Lutheran Cathedral, a beautiful neoclassical creation of CL Engels, was completed in 1852 and presides over the Senate Square. Tourists and locals congregate on the steps which lead up to its entrance, taking time to observe the city from this great vantage point.

The Uspenski Cathedral, which stands on Katajanokka island, was completed in 1868, a decade or so after its neighbour. It is an imposing sight with its golden-tipped onion-shaped domes.

The dazzling snowy white exterior of the former, I have to say, wins the award for eye appeal, when compared to the more functional red-brick exterior of the latter. Inside, the Orthodox church is more lavish, though still rather sombre. The more minimalist, simple decoration inside the Lutheran church is certainly more reflective of the Finnish culture, in my opinion.

The Lutheran Cathedral (Toumiokirkko)

Uspenski Cathedral (Uspenskin Katedraali)

From two churches which shout their existence from a height, is one which only just pops its head above the parapet. The 'Rock Church' - Temppeliaukio kirkko - is underground, hewn out of a massive block of natural granite. It's all the more unusual as it's situated in a residential part of the city, near apartments and a children's park. Two brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen blasted out the walls from within the rock to create this exciting space in 1969.

From outside, all you can see is its copper top peeping out of the rock like a flying saucer. Inside it's like a tardis - a vast airy space with tremendous acoustics. It's a real thrill to visit - certainly one of the highlights of our trip.

The exterior dome of the Rock Church

Interior of the Rock Church

Finally, my favourite church of them all, because of its utter simplicity and beauty. The Kamppi Chapel is a fairly new addition to Helsinki, situated near to the entrance of the shopping centre, in the heart of the city. It was designed by architects Sirola and Mikko Summanen of K2S Architects Ltd, an astonishing example of innovative wood design. The outer walls are constructed from spruce, the inner walls from alder and the interior furnishings from ash.

The building is exquisite - a bold design, yes, but when you enter, the noise from outside is totally removed. It is a space for reflection and allows shoppers and tourists the opportunity to find a sense of calm. Church services are not organised here - no weddings or baptisms - just the occasional prayers.

We happened to enter the chapel at 10.30am on 9th June - the exact time, 25 years ago, that Dougie and I were married. I suppose we could have walked into any of the churches in Helsinki to take a moment to reflect but this one was perfect. I will never forget how special it was and how happy it made us both feel.

Exterior of the Kamppi Chapel

The beautiful warm interior of the Kamppi Chapel. 


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Hello Helsinki

You can gauge a lot about a country when you dive into the nearest loo after entering the airport and hear birdsong playing through the speakers.. A few moments later, standing by the baggage carousel, you will see several glass containers showing stuffed animals in their native habitat. This is a nation that loves the outdoors.

A population which spends many months coping with cold, short days and a distinct lack of light, can't help but come alive in the Spring, with the promise of endless, sun-filled days ahead of them. We noticed this on our trips to other Scandinavian countries: they embrace the natural world and need to spend as much time as possible enjoying the sunshine while they can. However, they are realistic about the weather. Restaurants put tables outside but always with plenty of fleece blankets available. In the UK we would sit and shiver outside but go inside at the first opportunity, wishing we'd brought a warmer cardi.

Helsinki was a complete surprise to me. I had no clear idea about what to expect and there were no definitive must-sees on our sightseeing list. We had four nights in the city; plenty of time to explore but also time to absorb the atmosphere.

Olympic Stadium Tower 
(a passing cloud not a puff of smoke!)
The city is small yet spacious, the traffic is light and there never seems to be any crowds. The years under Soviet rule have left their mark on the handsome, low-rise buildings and the wide, bike-friendly boulevards help the capital breathe. There are lots of parks, including some right in the centre and there are even beaches within walking distance.

The two structures which do stand out on the horizon are the Finnair Sky Wheel and the Olympic Stadium Tower. Both of these attractions had no queues to buy tickets and when we did get the chance to see Helsinki from above, it was the green spaces which caught our eye and the amount of water that surrounds the heart of the city.

The harbour is the main focus of activity in Helsinki. The market stalls selling street food and souvenirs do a steady trade and the regular ferries plough the gulf of Finland across to Estonia and the nearby islands.

One of the most popular day trips by ferry is to the island of Suomenlinna, 15 minutes away. Built when the country was under Swedish rule, this 18th century fortress sounds as if it might only be a hit with history buffs but, in reality, it's a mini-paradise with craggy headlands, secluded bays and beaches. Tourists head to the museums to learn more about the history: the locals, on the other hand, bring blankets and picnics before spreading out on the grass.

The highlight of our day was a tour led by Michael, a very amusing and informative Helsinki University graduate. Michael told us fascinating detail about the battles that had been fought here and the dedication of Field Marshal Augustin Ehrensvärd. We also learned that 1952 was a marvellous year for Finland: the Olympics were held in Helsinki, wartime reparations were completed and Coca Cola arrived from the United States.

You won't need a ferry to reach another popular island destination, Seurasaari, as the Number 24 bus will take you as close as possible. Walk over the pretty white bridge and this delightful wooded island is there to explore. Wander around its coastal paths or take a peek at the collection of old farmhouses and cottages which are dotted around the island as part of the open-air museum.

During the summer months, Finland is naturally bathed in light until the wee small hours so there is ample time to take in the sights and explore. But it's also important to do as the Finns do: find a quiet spot, kick off your shoes and just listen to the birdsong.

This is as busy as it gets down at the harbour

Tiny island spotted just out of Helsinki harbour

Vessels negotiating the narrow channels around Suomenlinna

View from the top of the Olympic Stadium Tower

Bridge across to Seurasaari island

During our stay I was given a free 72-hour Helsinki card thanks to Visit Helsinki. My husband bought his and we were able to use these cards on the ferries and buses throughout the city, as well as gain free entry into many museums such as those on Suomenlinna and Seurasaari. 

More to come on the blog soon - Cultured Helsinki, Foodie Helsinki and the Churches of Helsinki. 


Monday, 22 June 2015

A place to celebrate: review of Klaus K Hotel, Helsinki

Room 707, Sky Balcony, Klaus K Hotel

There can't be many hotel rooms in the world where, hanging up on the wall near the mini-bar, is a guitar. A full size Spanish guitar and in tune too. How do I know? I took it off the hook and had a strum.

The Klaus K Hotel is a member of Design Hotels situated, unsurprisingly, in the design district of Helsinki. Room 707 is a Sky Balcony room, one of a number of new Sky Lofts which have been created on the top floor of this stylish bolt hole.

Inspired by Finland's epic poem, Kalevala, Klaus K's bedrooms feature four emotional themes: mystical, passion, desire and envy. The Sky Loft rooms are unique but all have access to a private terrace with views across the city.  Our room had a comfortable lounge area - ideal for guitar playing and coffee drinking -  with the bed positioned on a raised platform and doors leading to the larger than expected balcony.

The little music touches, to complement the guitar, included a selection of old vinyl records, though these were just for decorative purposes: sadly, no turntable. The mini-bar itself was more like a snack station - a coffee machine, very cute tea bags and a fridge full of goodies. For once in our lives, throwing caution to the wind, we actually purchased something, albeit only a small bag of crisps. The row of upside down wine glasses often clinked against each other as we filled up the kettle: there was a real temptation to play them, to accompany the guitar.The management will be grateful we resisted.

 I loved the large bottles of Malin + Goetz toiletries in the bathroom and adored the bright turquoise bathrobes which I discovered were the same colour as my iPad case. This was extremely handy as I could browse the internet on the balcony, post shower, without being told that I'm 'forever on that blasted computer' because, of course, I was camouflaged.

The rest of the hotel oozed style with unusual artwork, cool lighting and smart areas to sit and people watch. The Living Room was the place for breakfast, Toscanini restaurant the perfect spot for an Italian evening meal with the Finlandia Bar and club Ahjo providing liquid refreshment.

We had chosen to stay at the Klaus K hotel because it was our 25th wedding anniversary (maybe that's why Dougie splashed out on the crisps?) and it was the perfect choice for a special celebration: chilled, relaxed and very chic.

What was it Shakespeare said? If music be the food of love, play on. 
Pass me the guitar - I feel a tune coming on.

I've so much more to tell you about Helsinki and our magical break but if you can't wait and want to know why you should consider Finland's capital for a holiday, here's my latest Lincolnshire Free Press column with reasons why...

 Top Ten reasons to holiday in Helsinki


Sunday, 31 May 2015

Four from Trish Takes Five

The show's over! Our production of The Magic of Music at the South Holland Centre seemed to go down well with audiences and critics. The cast and crew certainly had an enjoyable few nights. Since then I have been trying to catch up on household chores and it was lovely to have my mum to visit this week: lunch out, a bit of shopping, some wine and the odd G&T.

My columns in the Free Press will give you more detail about our show, a trip to the Norfolk coast and a fairly successful quiz night - I hope you enjoy them.

An early start meant that Dougie and I made the most of a fantastic day in Norfolk.

Whistlestop tour of Norfolk coast

Loving Peter Kay's latest TV programme, Car Share. Reminiscing about car journeys and music memories.

Car journeys - heaven or hell?

Quiz night at the local cricket club. All those questions we wish we'd known the answers to...

Four beards win it by a hair's breadth

Countdown to curtain up. What it's really like backstage before a show.

It feels much more like Broadway than Broad Street!