Finland Diaries - A Great Experience with Club Mahindra
Moomins | Angry Birds | Subtle Saunas | Salmiakki | Northern Lights | Museum of the Century
Finland – The land of Thousand Lakes, The most creative food scenes, one and only Santa Claus, the best place for skiing, the cleanest air, 3+ Million Saunas – Most per Capita, The safest place in world, Most coffee lovers, the one and only midnight festival, the angriest birds, the home of Moomins, boldest Designs, greatest Heavy Metal bands, the Largest Archipelago, rarest Seals in the world, Happiest country in the World and the world’s most Modest people. We Absolutely loved Finland. Here’s our journey..
Planned journey: Mumbai – Istanbul – Helsinki.
Journey using Turkish airlines was comfortable. Flight was smooth, fine food, helpful staff. Highly recommended. It was a great feeling when we started as the moment which we were waiting for months was actually happening. The plane took off, flew over Arabian sea, Snowclad mountains, Arabian desert and we reached Helsinki. Further travelled by the Majestic Euro Rail to reach our Holiday Club Tampereen Kylpylä resort situated in Tampere.
We decided to explore Tampere for one full day. You can purchase a day travel pass for unlimited travel via bus, tram, metro around Tampere. You can explore most of the city on foot as the must visit places are close to each-other and you can feel the vibe of the city. We started the day by visiting the most visited central square followed by Tammerkoski rapids and Bridge of Laukko.
We walked for 700 metres to reach Tampere Cathedral built in 1907. Its an iconic building featuring famous and controversial paintings of Simberg's The Wounded Angel and The Garden of Death.
We further walked 600 meters by th picturesque location beside the Tammerkoski rapids to reach museum of the century. Vapriikki is a museum centre that offers things to see and do for the whole family. They host about a dozen exhibitions each year, with varied themes, including history, technology, and natural sciences. During our visit, Dracula was the theme exhibition for that month.
Vapriikki is also home to the Natural History Museum of Tampere, the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, Media Museum Rupriikki, the Doll Museum, Tampere Mineral Museum, Postal Museum and the Finnish Museum of Games. You can serve yourself the local delicacies by museum restaurant Valssi and also buy souvenirs at the Vapriikki museum shop, which offers a wide selection of books, gifts, and souvenirs. It’s a must visit!
We took a bus till Pyynikintori to reach our next destination – Pyynikki Observation Tower. It is a 25+ meter tall tower with lot of observation windows as you climb stairs. One can also reach top by using lift. It is situated on outskirts of city besides a beautiful lake. You get a 360° view of Tampere. It was a pleasant view.
If you noticed, we skipped our lunch to visit the must-see places; But we did munch on wafers and dry snacks. It was 8 p.m. and we headed for dinner at an Indian Restaurant Nanda Devi. It had beautiful interiors replicating Indian culture on walls and ceiling. The hotel is owned by a Finnish person with an Indian chef. The food was delicious.
Helsinki is capital of Finland and is situated 170+ Kms. from Tampere. We travelled by Onni bus and decided to explore the capital city for entire day. You have the option to purchase the ‘Helsinki Pass’ which is available for 1,2,3 days and covers free entry to 30+ attractions and free bus, metro, tram travel for entire day. Totally worth it! Onni bus last stop was Helsinki Central Station i.e. Kampin Metroasema where we got down and purchased our Helsinki Pass.
We started city exploration by boarding the Helsinki excursion bus which is a 360° panoramic city tour bus. The Panorama Sightseeing tour showcases Helsinki’s key attractions, providing a good overview of the city’s past and present. Headphone audio guide is available in 10 languages. The tour uses a double-decker bus that provides a good view of the urban landscape. The bus stopped at Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church) and the Sibelius Monument.
Rock Church – The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock and is bathed in natural light which enters through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The acoustic quality is created by the rough, virtually unworked rock surfaces. We were lucky to attend a live prayer. The acoustics were truly amazing!
Sibelius Monument – 600 steel pipes unevenly grouped together at various heights with the highest pipe reaching over 27 feet in the air. The guide told us that, a smaller version of the Sibelius Monument is also located at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, but the majesty of the full-size statue is a much more fitting. If the wind is adequate, you can hear sweet sound coming out of the pipes. A good place to click group photos.
The panoramic bus tour ends at the Esplandi park. A beautiful urban park to view the city hustle, people and building structures. We walked 350 meters to reach the iconic Helsinki Cathedral which is a must-visit and most visited place. A white monument stands so tall, that it can be viewed from 300 meters radius from it.
We sailed from the market square to Suomenlinna fortress, built in 17th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is popular with tourists and locals. The 20-minute catamaran ferry ride (HSL) was fun, as seagulls flew close to us.
Swedish people built it to keep the Russians out of Finland when it was part of Sweden. The main sights are situated along the blue route which runs across the fortress. There are cafes, museums, Guided tours, warfare tools on the island. We opted to explore it on our own instead of a lengthy guided tour. When you arrive, head to the information counter to grab a pamphlet. The pamphlet contains a map of the best route to take so that you don’t miss any major attraction. All attractions on the island are also marked with visible blue signs. The Suomenlinna Church is the first main attraction that comes on the way. It was initially built to serve as a Russian Orthodox garrison church but was later converted into a Lutheran place of worship. There are six museums at Suomenlinna, located at different parts of the island. Although each museum sells its own entry ticket, during the summer one can buy a combined ticket for all the museums. Although we didn’t get a chance to see all the museums, the ones that I would recommend are the Suomenlinna Museum, Military Museum and the Vesikko Submarine.
Military Museum’s Manege – The “Finnish Defense Forces – 100 Years at War and Peace” exhibition tells us about the four wars Finland has fought during its independence. It portrays story of Finnish defence forces in the post-war period up to the present day
The island is 0.8 km² in area, and it’s easy to cover all the attractions within a few hours. Our next stop was the Vesikko Submarine which served in world war II which is converted into a museum. You can enter the submarine and tour the cramped interiors of the vessel. Unfortunately, when we visited, it was closed for repairs.
Museo Suomenlinna – As the name implies, it is the main museum of the island. Here you can learn about the history of the sea fortress through a short film that runs every 30 minutes. When we reached, the museum was about to close. So, we explored for 5 minutes. Noah’s Ark - Built between the years 1764 and 1771 for the families of officers stationed on Suomenlinna. It was one of the first residential multi-floor buildings in Finland.
On our way, we passed by the Russian trading block, a small neighbourhood with ornamented wooden houses along the road that used to belong to Russian garrison traders. Typical features include four-column verandas, high entrance steps and stone base, as well as ornamental eaves and window frames. The arrangement in which the building's gable ends face the road was copied from market squares in Russia as an appreciation of Russian folk architecture. All these wooden houses are cafes now.
The King’s Gate is the iconic symbol of situated at the southernmost end of the fortress. It was built in 1754. The builder of the fortress, Augustin Ehrensvärd, inscribed on a marble slab with a famous exhortation to the people of Finland. Translated into English, the text reads “Posterity, stand here upon your ground and never rely on outside help.” During the bombardment of in the Crimean War the stairs were almost completely destroyed. They are now reconstructed. The way to Kings gate has many tunnels. They are sheltered by bastion walls and casemates. They were used as storages, secret passages and as bombproof protection in wartime.
Many areas of the fortress were covered with snow. We did spend time making small balls and then throwing at each-other. The smile on my mom’s face was priceless. We stretched our legs for some time and had a cup of coffee. Soumenlinna is no longer a military base but was turned over to civilian administration in 1973. The Suomenlinna garrison houses the Naval Academy of the Finnish Navy. We spotted variety of cannons used in past wars and are maintained well till date.
We started walking back and reached Jetty barracks – The place where we would get our ferry ride back to back to Helsinki town. Following were the views while walking back.
Jetty Barracks - The pink-plastered Jetty Barracks, built during the Russian era, is the main gateway to the fortress. It is the first building visitors see as they arrive at the main quay. Built in 1868–70, It was designed to accommodate 250 soldiers in peacetime. Today, the Jetty Barracks houses the tourist information office, Suomenlinna Brewery and its restaurant, the Jetty Barracks Gallery of the Helsinki Artists’ Guild and Viaporin Deli & Café, a microbrewery, an art gallery.
As soon as we got down from ferry, we rushed inside the famous Hietalahti Market Square. We purchased some souvenirs and got a glimpse of Helsinki culture / Systems / people talking / food etc. The reindeer horn keychains were fascinating.
Next, we headed towards the city centre, walked 300 meters to Kamppi Centre, which is close to Helsinki Central Station (HEC). We visited Kamppi Chapel of Silence. The chapel was constructed as a part of the World Design Capital program in 2012 and won the International Architecture Awards in 2010. The chapel demonstrates how contemporary architecture at its best can fascinate and inspire. You literally forget, that, you are in a busy city. It stands 38 fool tall and is made of lumber wood.
We clicked random photos while moving around the city. Saw Esplande park street, Presidential Palace, Helsinki, Koskia Oy near World Trade Centre, Espan Lava – Iconic Place for Live music concert, National Museum of Finland, Parliament Building, Helsinki, Forum – Biggest shopping centre of Helsinki, 20th Centure Eira Hospital, Finnish Museum of Natural History, Iconic Esplande park street, Helsinki, Swedish theatre, Erottaja – Since 1915, Economicum - National centre for economic studies, Mannerheimintie street – City centre of Helsinki, Tilkka-former military hospital & cultural heritage site. While there were 100+ more places to visit, the day was about to end, and we headed for dinner. While we had already tried the traditional Finnish food for lunch, we found out this famous Asian restaurant called – Kamppi Namaskaar.
We started our return journey with Onni bus and reached our hotel in Tampere.
Tampereen stands for Tampere and Kylpylä means Spa
Situated in front of a lake made the hotel have amazing views from each room of the building. The lake was frozen, and many yachts were parked on the it. There was bright sun outside, but the atmospheric temperature was 10°C to 13°C. This was a unique experience which you can feel only in the Nordic countries. When you enter the hotel, the temperature is normal. The first thing you notice is the fresh seating area along with the reception area. The ground floor you enter is huge with pleasant colours complimenting walls and floor.
Our new friend Jerry (Receptionist), was very supportive. He helped us with the Omni bus bookings, verify our itinerary, suggest local dishes and a promise to stay in touch forever.
The hotel rooms were huge too; Stocked with all the amenities required for a comfortable happy stay. Every hotel room has a unique arrangement where the bedroom was on top of the living room. You must climb up the wooden stairs to reach the bedroom. The view of room from the top of stairs is beautiful. In a glace, you can scan the entire room.
Finnish culture believes in consuming food raw and emphasizes on adding probiotics and protein rich food in daily food. All this was reflected in the breakfast we had. Kitchen and cafeteria were placed adjacent behind the reception. Every day 20+ fresh dishes form part of the breakfast menu. We tried the different breads and jams. Variety of cereals, juices, yogurt to try.
An iPad used for dispensing juice, tea, water was a unique experience. Instead of traditional tap system or physical button system, an iPad was integrated to a liquid dispenser. This demonstrates the technological prowess of Finland to drive innovation in daily life.
The Naistenlahden voimalaitos power station is to the left and Naistenlahti bay lies at front and right side of hotel. Here the word ‘lahden’ or ‘Lahti’ means ‘Bay’. The bay was frozen and hence we got a chance to walk over it. It was scary but fun too as we never walked on a frozen water-mass. You can see the famous Näsinneula tower from the hotel entrance.
- By Anshuman Reza and Mitesh Jadhav, 2019
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