I was up early again today and stepped out onto the balcony and saw cloudy skies and thick fog as we made our way into our next port-of-call, Helsinki, Finland. As we prepared to start our day we both hoped it would clear away for when we went ashore.
Helsinki is the capital of Finland and has a population of over 600,000 people, many green parks, 300+ islands and 1 sea fortress.
We made our way up to the lounge where we met Doug, Sue, Karen and Dale and had a great time chatting away while we sipped delicious cups of café latte and ate a small continental breakfast.
Today we planned to go ashore and take a Hop On – Hop Off bus to the center of town. Randy and I visited Helsinki last year and took a very nice bus tour all around the city and made many stops at lovely points of interest. When Sue and I talked about what we would like to do in the city I only had two wishes.
I wanted very much to return to Senate Square and visit the Helsinki Cathedral which I had fallen love with last year and find a really good sidewalk café and have a great lunch. So, that is what we did.
By the time we boarded the bus the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was very comfortable. It was a very pleasant ride as we wound our way around the city passing beautiful neighborhoods, a beautiful waterfront, a beautiful parks, museums, statues, churches and finally arriving at Senate Square.
At one point I looked over at Doug and Sue and smiled as I watched Sue painstakingly taking notes about the city highlights we would see along the way for her blog http://www.suestravelupdates.wordpress.com.
There were so many buses around the square, there were people everywhere. It seemed as though everyone was in one spot taking a picture of the statue of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. What was funny is that most of the people were drawn to the statue because there was a pigeon perched on top of Alexander’s head. Sue was drawn to this sight too. It was very funny.
We walked around a bit taking a few photos and decided to find a restaurant. We did not see any restaurants immediately around the area so decided to walk down a nearby alley and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the city center.
What a lovely street. Down of the middle of the street was the beautiful park that ran down the entire length of the area. We walked along admiring the architecture of the buildings stopping periodically to look at the menus displayed at the outside cafés. The menus were varied and very expensive.
One sight that caught our eyes was the many trees in the park that were draped in polka dot fabric. I was curious if there was some significance to the polka dot trees. What I learned is that Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known for her public works of art, draped 20 trees in the Esplanade park and the Winter Garden with the polka dot fabric in a ceremony called ‘Ascension of Polka Dots on the Tree’ on June 12th of this year. I must say it was wonderfully eye catching as we walked by. From what I read, “The polka dots represent many things to the artist such as the Sun, which provides energy for life and to the entire planet”. I must say the trees were wonderfully eye catching.
As we continued our walk we started to look down the side streets to see if we could find a more reasonably priced café to have lunch. On the way we stopped at a storefront that I knew would make my daughter Kristine smile. We stopped at the Louis Vuitton store and took a picture of me pointing to the name. I did the same thing outside the Louis Vuitton store in Paris. Very funny!
We walked a few more blocks and finally found a side street that had a very wide pedestrian walkway lined with shops and restaurants.
Again, we read several menus finally choosing a restaurant called Stone’s that advertised that the restaurant put on emphasis on locally produced and organic ingredients and an extensive selection of specialty beers. What a find, I thought.
Randy and I looked over the menu and chose beers that sounded interesting. I chose the Plevna Mosaic Vehna/Wheat and Randy chose the FlyingDog Doggie Style Pale Ale. Both were cold, refreshing and delicious.
We all love burgers so we all ordered the “Jack & Jones” a homemade organic beef burger served with bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce, their own ketchup and fries. What surprised us though was when the waitress mentioned that included in this meal we could go inside and enjoy the soup and salad bar.
The soup was a creamy carrot and delicious. The salad included marinated cherry tomatoes that were just wonderful. By the time the burgers came I thought, can it get any better than that? It did, the burgers were placed between a wonderful seeded roll, the burgers were plump and juicy and the housemade tomato ketchup was very different and delicious. This restaurant was a great find!
We just sat for the longest time enjoying our lunch, soaking up the sunlight and watching the many locals and tourists that passed by. The one sight that I was a little saddened by was seeing a woman down on the ground with her hands in a prayer position begging. I watched for quite a while and never did see anyone stop. By the time we left the restaurant she had gone away.
We decided to walk back to Senate Square passing by the Helsinki Central railway station and the National Theater with the Alexis Kivi statue in front.
We enjoyed our walk back to Senate Square. Sue and I decided to go inside the Helsinki Cathedral. The interior of this beautiful church is very simple. I love this church. From the moment I stepped into this church last year I felt a sense of serenity that I had not felt in a long time. I was surrounded by that feeling once again as Sue and I entered.
According to the churches’ official site, “The beautiful and historically significant Helsinki Cathedral is an Evangelic Lutheran church, and for many it is the symbol of Helsinki”. The church was completed in 1852.
We spent a few moments inside then went outside to stand at the top of the stone steps facing the square. Randy came along and took a panoramic picture for me.
We then made our way to the bus stop and started our bus ride back to the cruise terminal. We rode the rest of the way passing by many other important sights in the city.
We returned to our cabin for a bit of a rest before preparing the evening. I stepped out onto the balcony for a few moments and spied a pair of sea gulls flying around the ship and finally coming to rest on the railing. I love watching sea birds as they fly past our balcony and then soar high above the ship.
Cocktails and dinner were, as always wonderful. We listened as Vilma and the others talked about their day hopping around the city.
After dinner, Randy, myself, Doug and Sue made our way to the Safari Lounge for a ‘Top Tier’ event being hosted by the Crown & Anchor Society. It was a lovely event as top cruisers were recognized some receiving bottles of champagne and others certificates.
I knew that Dale and Karen had recently become Pinnacle members (700 nights) but what we all learned this evening is that our friend Craig had become a double Pinnacle member having spent over 1500 nights on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. How wonderful, I thought. I jumped up from my chair and ran to capture the moment.
It had been a long, fun day and Randy and I were very tired. We returned to our cabin for an evening of rest and relaxation.
Tomorrow we are at sea.