Finland is a country, which boasts the happiest people on the planet. I wanted to see if this was true so I began my adventure in Helsinki, the capital of the country.
The city is extremely modern, yet maintains old architecture, such as the train station used by approximately 200,000 passengers per day, making it Finland’s most visited building.
A well-known structure in the entire capital is the Helsinki Cathedral, a Lutheran church located in the centre of the city. It was built in 1852, as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas 1st of Russia, and was known as St. Nicholas Church, until the independence of Finland in 1917. The cathedral boasts a beautiful white exterior with green domes and columns. It is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city, and attracts visitors from all over the world. It houses various religious events, and serves as a popular tourist destination.
Helsinki is located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It has a population of 1.3 million inhabitants, making it the most populous municipality in the country. The city is situated some 80 km or 50 miles north of Estonia, and 300 km or 190 miles west of St Petersburg. Consequently, Helsinki has close, historical connections with Estonia, but not so much with Russia. Last week, Finland was granted admission into NATO, strengthening the western alliance against potential Russian threats.
Another fantastic site is Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The cathedral is set upon a hillside on the Katajanokka peninsula, overlooking the city. Interestingly, on the back of the cathedral is a plaque, commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was the sovereign of the grand duchy of Finland during the cathedral's construction in 1862. Uspenski Cathedral is claimed to be the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe. About 500,000 tourists visit the church annually.
Located along the harbour is Helsinki's market, which is home to dozens of vendors selling vegetables, fruits and a variety of dry goods. Being a seaside port, fish and seafood products are of course, a big commodity.
The harbour in Helsinki is the largest in Finland, with over 5 million people passing through each year mostly on their way to Stockholm and Estonia. There are 330 islands located throughout the harbour, the most famous being Suomenlinna, which houses a large fortress and maritime museum.
Until 1918, this fortress, built on six islands, was used to protect the city against potential invaders. Built in the mid-1700s to fend off Russian attacks, the fortress was eventually handed to the Russians in 1809, making way for the occupation, which lasted until Finland gained independence in 1917. Today, the fortress is used mainly by tourists and locals, who enjoy picnics on warm summer days
Many private homes and government buildings are found throughout the harbour, as are fisherman, cruise ships, restaurants and a variety of water sports.
Moving away from the harbour there are various buildings, statues and houses, which make up the diversified architecture of Helsinki. Some of the stately mansions date back hundreds of years, whereas others are relatively new. A small, one-bedroom apartment costs approximately 500,000 Euros or 750,000 Canadian dollars. The cost of living in Finland, and all of Scandinavia for that matter, is extremely high compared to North American or Western European standards.
The plans for yet another church, the Church of the Rock, were designed in 1930 but construction did not begin until 1969. Natural light filters in through the glass doors, and the acoustics are fantastic, mostly due to the design of the ceiling
Finland’s government is ruled by a parliament. The building, which is home to the government, was constructed in 1931, and adorned with statues.
I continued east from Helsinki to visit the quaint and picturesque village of Porvoo, one of six medieval towns in Finland, first mentioned in texts dating back to the 14th century. It received its name from a Swedish Fortress near the river Porvoonyoki, which flows through the town.
The old town came close to being demolished in the 19th century, by a new urban plan for the city. The plan was cancelled, however, due to popular resistance.
The red coloured, wooden storage buildings on the riverside, are a proposed UNESCO world heritage site. Instead of tearing these structures down, the authorities understood the value of the old town, and a plan was made for a new town, built adjacent to the old one.
The central point of the old town is the stone and brick Porvoo cathedral, which was damaged by fire in 2006. The roof was destroyed, but the interior is largely intact.
Porvoo is primarily a tourist haven with its many shops, restaurants and bakeries. Strolling through the cobblestone streets was fun, especially considering the weather was warm and sunny.
I talked with many locals during my Finnish adventure, and decided they truly are a very happy people.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com