So to Finnish – Finland & Estonia July 2013

It’s been a long time between cathedrals but it has been a pleasant change to come in from the wilds and defrost among the architecture of Helsinki in Finland. Summer has been kind to continental Europe this year and the Finns are for the most part stereotypical tall, blond Nordics sunsplashed with a honey-gold tan.  Helsinki is a beautiful harbour city (like Stockholm it’s actually an archipelago of plentiful small islands facing the Baltic sea) shaped over its history by continental European, Swedish and Russian influence. Onion-dome topped cathedrals, needle -like church spires piercing the sky and renaissance style palaces face vast open public squares.

Modern Finland has led with some breathtaking architectural contributions among which are the sleek wood constructions of the Kamppi Chapel in Helsinki and the St Henriks Art Chapel in Hirvensalo. Sleek confident lines and curves are crafted from cedar cladding and the pliable form of mountain alder and ash. The spaces are uniquely Scandinavian and the wood embraces with a simple honesty and warmth.

While more cosmopolitan than adventurous it has been a pleasure to take the time to muddle around the city’s open air markets tasting fresh berries (including cloudberries and lingonberries), partake in the coffee and cake culture and linger on sunny esplanades where open air music concerts pop up in summer.

The final jaunt on my month of travels was to hop via ferry over the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, Estonia. The restored medieval old town of Tallinn sits atop a hill overlooking the harbour. It is a quaint tangle of church spires, baroque pastel coloured buildings, winding cobblestoned streets and guild shopfronts. Medieval pennants and banners flap from eaves, wrought-iron signs swing above doorways and ale houses suggest honeybeer and a “sensible cup of elk soup”. It has been a delicious experience to explore the jumbled streets, hoping to lose yourself in the colourful maze of buildings, alleyways and pastel facades – but always overhead somewhere there is a church spire or a rampart wall to signal the way. Ever the adventurous palate the elk soup was in fact surpassed by bear and wild boar sausages and a reindeer steak awaited me on my return to Helsinki. Alas it’s only been a Scandinavian tempter and as soon as time and circumstances permit I hope to be back soon to explore more of the Nordic lands.

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