A Dream Weekend in Helsinki: What I would do if I won the Finnleo contest - by Craig Lahti
As one may tell by my last name, my ancestry is from Finland, and I have always wanted to visit there. With Finnleo's Win a Weekend for Two in Helsinki contest, I have started dreaming about what I would do if I won a trip to Helsinki. Since the contest is for a weekend, my dream focuses on my first taste of Finland.
Upon arriving in Helsinki mid-day on a Friday in September, I check-in to my hotel and board a tram for a Guided City Tour to introduce me to the city and to let me make final decisions on where I want to visit. Sites seen while on the tour include the historical center, the Presidential Palace, City Hall, the Parliament House, Finlandia Hall, and the Opera House. The tour stops at the Sibelius Monument and when possible, at the Church in the Rock.
After the tour, I decide to stretch my legs and begin my more intimate experience with the city by walking down Esplandi, a wide esplanade with trees, flowers, and benches, towards the Market Square. At the Market Square, vendors sell fresh Finnish food and souvenirs. With City Hall to the north, the harbor to the south and Uspenski Cathedral to the east, a view can be enjoyed while sipping a cup of coffee and eating a traditional meat pie. My interest in architecture draws me into the Uspenski Cathedral, where I view the ornate details of the church interior. The church serves as a reminder of the time when Finland was the Grand Principality of Finland and a part of the Russian Empire.
Uspenski Cathedral - Helsinki
Being satiated from my time in the Market Square, I walk back to my hotel to dress for a concert at the Helsinki Music Centre, the orchestra hall which opened in August of 2011. I make sure I leave in time to enjoy the architecture of Finlandia Hall (located next to the music centre and designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto) and the Parliament House, which is across the street. I make a mental note to revisit both locations on Saturday, when I can tour the Parliament House. After the concert, I begin my walk back to the hotel, reflect on the day's events, and begin to plan the day ahead. I sleep well that night.
Saturday morning, I awake, but it is the sauna that will help me fully prepare for my day of walking and exploring the city. As I leave the hotel, I set my course for the Market Square to enjoy breakfast and coffee at a cafe, and then head to Senate Square to see the government buildings and Helsinki University buildings on two sides of the square and boutique style shops and restaurants on the 3rd. The square is completed with the majestic Helsinki Cathedral, the most famous landmark in Helsinki.
Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral
From Senate Square, I head north to the Parliament House to take a tour of the building. After the tour, I cross the street, back toward Finlandia Hall, to see what used to be the main orchestra hall and where special sessions of congress are held.
Desiring to see a magnificent modern marvel, I head further north to Temppeliaukion Kirkko, Church in the Rock. This church was finished in 1969, and it was created by blasting 43 feet down into a solid granite outcropping which rose 40 feet above street level. It is illuminated by 180 vertical windows connecting the granite to the copper wire roof. The pictures are amazing, and I understand to hear music played in the church is awe inspiring.
The Church in the Rock
If I am fortunate enough to hear the pipe organ while visiting the Church in the Rock, I will likely be inspired to visit the Sibelius Monument in Sibelius Park, both of which are named after the great Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, who is largely credited for helping establish the Finnish national identity through his musical creations. Probably his most familiar piece to Christians around the world is Finlandia hymn, which is the tune used in Christian hymns like Be Still My Soul and I Sought the Lord, among other hymns. Sibelius also used the Kalevala, the epic Finnish poem, as inspiration for his piece Kulervo, a symphony. Besides honoring the man who did much for Finland, the park serves as a nice break on the walk to perhaps my final destination for the day: The Olympic Stadium.
In 1952, Finland hosted the Summer Olympics, and some would say that was the beginning of the "sauna being brought to the rest of the world when the Olympic athletes came back reporting of the sauna experience." Besides the connection to sauna, the Olympic Stadium has a 13 story tower, which is great for viewing the city. Perhaps, if I time it right, I can start to see a sunset before the stadium closes at dusk.
As I walk back to the hotel, I think of my first taste of Helsinki, and I realize that I have only begun to know the greatness of this city and country. There is so much more to see, to experience, and to learn. Since I am traveling home on Sunday, I head to the hotel to rest for the remainder of the evening. Of course, my legs and body could use another session in the sauna, so I head to the hotel sauna. While feeling the relief in my muscles as the heat soothes my body, I begin dreaming of what else I would have done, had I decided to stay longer. I could have visited the multitude of art museums, the historical Suomenlinna (an old fortress), and I could have traveled to other regions of Finland. I could have found a wood burning sauna and jumped in a lake, or perhaps I could find a savusauna and experience the difference of the smoke sauna. If I made it the Lapland, I could have visited a reindeer ranch and Santa's elves in the Arctic Circle.
What is your dream weekend if Helsinki? Not sure you can see it all in one weekend? If you win, you can plan for an extended trip, and you are simply responsible for what is beyond the prize package. Since your airfare and 2 days of hotel and food are covered, why not stay on for a few more days. When you are back home, contact your local Finnleo dealer, and tell them all about your trip and how you can't wait to get a sauna of your own. For now, you can request a brochure, and turn a dream of a sauna into a reality.