Call of The North – 8ème Étape

HELSINKI – Assorted Pictures

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The Unicorn Block, city block 33 in the Kluuvi District
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Fabian street in block 32, called the Dromedary Block

Johan Albrecht Ehrenström, of whom we shall hear again in a paragraph or two, initiated the custom to name the city blocks in the central districts of Helsinki after animal and plant species, and one single imaginary creature – the unicorn. During the 20th century, the block names fell into disuse only to be resurrected by clever merchants in the late 1990s to add charm to busy tourist areas. In our district, the Kaartinkaupunki, although one of the historical districts with block names, the signage was not restored. The original Kaartinkaupunki block designations were names of aquatic mammals and fish. On line, I found out that we stayed in block 52 called the Sturgeon Block. Since I like caviar, it was a perfect fit!

Our time in Helsinki came to an end much too early. In hindsight, we should have allotted more time to explore the city at greater depth and also to travel through the country. There’s only one solution, we’ll come back! For now, in-between one last load of laundry and packing for the next leg of our trip, Estonia, we had to see one more major highlight of any visit to the capital, the Helsingin Tuomiokirkko or the Helsinki Cathedral.

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Years ago, I watched a broadcast on television highlighting Mika Häkkonen’s career as an F1 pilot. In one scene he was standing on tall granite steps in front of a brilliantly white building. I don’t remember anything else, just that white edifice, so I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

Helsinki Cathedral dominates the vast Senate Square which is flanked on the eastern side by the Palace of the Council of State, now housing the offices of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet …

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Statue of Tsar Alexander II by Walter Runeberg, 1894

which mirrors the library building of the University of Helsinki to the West.

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Between the cathedral and the South Harbor stretches a row of important buildings along Aleksanderinkatu, including the currently super-cool shopping area called Torikorttelit.

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Senate Square and its surrounding Empire-style neo-classical buildings were erected by German architect and Building Intendant Johann Carl Ludwig Engel [Carl Ludvig Engel in Finland] under the direction of the before mentioned Finnish aristocratic politician and city planner Johan Albrecht Ehrenström. After substantial damage to the wooden structures of the medieval city center in an 1808 fire, Ehrenström envisioned a city with generous avenues laid out in a grid pattern after the concept of city-states in antiquity. His plan for a modernized city was approved by Tsar Alexander I who wanted Helsinki, which he had chosen as his capital for the newly created Imperial Russian Grand Dutchy of Finnland, to resemble St. Petersburg. Ehrenström’s dream was brilliantly executed by his architect Engel, to still be enjoyed by today’s visitors to the capital of the Republic of Finland. The statue of Tsar Alexander’s grandson, Tsar Alexander II graces the center of Senate Square. Alex2 was a very forward-thinking autocrat for his time and age in the still feudal Russian Empire. He is the only one of all the Swedish and Russian monarchs subjugating the Finnish people who allowed greater autonomy. He established the Finnish Markka as an independent currency and elevated Finnish as an official national language alongside Swedish, he expanded the rail system and encouraged foreign investment into the Finnish economy. Thus, Alexander II has long been regarded as the “Good Tsar” among Finns. His epithet was The Liberator because he emancipated the Russian serfs in 1861. This is the tsar, by the way, who sold Alaska to the US in 1867 for $7.2 million.

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Perambulating hither and yon from Senate Square, we passed by Saarinen père’s famously designed Helsinki main train station and noticed this and that along the way.

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Not my favorite design, sorry Eliel.
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A sushi-burrito? Really??

Yes! We had never heard of this concept to combine Japanese and Latin flavors into an easy-to-eat on-the-go wrap.

My last picture for you from Finland is a rengaskorkki from a soft drink we enjoyed in the cafe of the Designmuseo.

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See you on the ferry to Tallinn tomorrow!

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