The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Monday, August 04, 2008

To Russia With Doug, Part 6: Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

A two-hour ferry ride across the Baltic Sea takes you from Tallinn to Helsinki. This was the first time I’d ever entered a country by sea, but in the days of the European Union this is pretty meaningless. Sad. Anyway, my ferry was the Superfast, which was rather ironic given that the other ferries in the fleet made the trip in two hours while the Superfast takes two and a half. Go figure:

On the mighty Baltic Sea:

Helsinki is a lovely city. Not the most beautiful city in the world, but beautifully situated on an archipelago of islands and containing a wealth of open green spaces and lakes. It feels rather “green” and natural and Nordic. Being my last “real” stop in the trip I was getting a little tired, so I didn’t see as much as I could have. The fact that I was using points to stay at the luxurious Hotel Kämp with extremely comfortable bedding and a spa also didn’t help to get me hurrying out the door every day. But here are a few things…

Perhaps the most recognizable building in Helsinki (at least to worldly folks like me) is the Tuomio Church, whose white neoclassical façade rises high above the city:

Another notable church is Uspenskin Cathedral, located on a different island:

Another famous attraction is Helsinki Central Station (Helsingin rautatieasema). It was designed by Eliel Saarinen and built about 100 years ago. If the design looks familiar to you, it is because it has often provided the inspiration for gothic comic art, like the city of Gotham in the Batman movies. And if the architect’s name sounds familiar, it’s because his is the father of Eero Saarinen who designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the TWA terminal at JFK, and the “tulip chair”:

Building at the University of Helsinki (more entertainingly called Helsingin Yliopisto in Finnish):

I found this little fountain strangely disturbing for some reason:

Helsinki was the site of the XV Summer Olympics in 1952. Given that we are in the midst of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, this posting seems particularly appropriate. Helsinki had actually been awarded the 1940 Summer Olympics and built this stadium before the Games were cancelled due to WWII. After the war they were awarded the 1952 Games instead. This Olympic Stadium was the centerpiece of the games, and is still at the heart of a major athletic complex. It has an iconic tower that offers great views over Helsinki. Still used, the stadium was being set up for a Bon Jovi concert:

This famous statue is called The Three Smiths. No one is really sure why they are smithing in the nude. Doesn’t seem safe to me:

That giant edifice behind them is a store called Stockmann. This department store is a cultural icon to Helsinki, as Macy*s is to New York. It is HUGE and sells anything and everything you could ever imagine. Two of the more interesting things I found inside were this entertaining backpack:

…and this peculiarly named item. As a family blog I won’t make any comments, but you can read it for yourself:

Here’s a nicely decorated SmartCar. I love these things: they’re so small that I swear I could pick one up! Note the words on the car:

A lot of people have asked me about speaking English in Russia. True, most Russians don’t speak English. I was glad that I learned the Cyrillic alphabet before I left, which made it much easier to read signs and get around. Once you can read it, there are really a lot of similarities between Russian and other languages. On the other hand, Finnish and Estonian are waaaay out there. Just to prove to my parents that my $100,000 Master’s Degree in English wasn’t a total waste, I’ll make one nerdly digression and point out that nearly all Western languages (including everything from English to Icelandic to Russian to Greek to Persian to Sanskrit) are descended from a common language called Indo-European; Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are the only major exceptions to this rule. They evolved separately and thus have completely different grammar and vocabularies, making them far more challenging than Russian! Luckily the people in these countries usually speak English, because to me Finnish—like on the hood of that SmartCar—looks kinda like an eye chart. I digress…

I didn’t go inside the National Museum, but the building itself was lovely:

The Finnish Parliament:

This is a statue of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who led the Finnish military through both World Wars. The Finns had a particularly hard time in WWII because the Nazis invaded from the West, the Russians invaded from the East, and the Allies turned a blind eye…leaving the Finns with no friends. I think they pretty much just hid and waited for it all to be over.

A popular attraction in Helsinki (especially to the classical music fan) is the monument honoring Finland’s greatest composer, Jean Sibelius. Actually, he’s really Finland’s only great composer, and maybe for that reason he’s taken on an iconic status in Finnish culture:


Finally, another shout-out to Carol DiSanto with a self-pic in front of the Tuomio Church:

Still to come… My night in Stockholm and a surprise visit to Greenland!! BUT BEFORE WE GO…A FEW PARTING SHOTS!

Hurtful sign for dogs on the ferry:

Bizarre sign for people in Sibelius Park:

The Finns have the world’s highest rates of both alcoholism and depression. No wonder if they drink like this!

Damn it! Did I wind up at the Wrong Noodle Bar again?!:

The north of Finland (called Lapland) likes to lay claim to Santa Claus, given that it is above the Arctic Circle and packed with reindeer. But apparently in the off-season Santa runs this downtown bodega:

I passed this photo studio that only seemed to take portraits of women in sailor outfits. Bizarre. Here is a particularly handsome example:

Everything in the closet at the Hotel Kämp was well labeled. It was like the Bat Cave. Here’s the spare pillow:

Finally, I was entertained to see “Oy” everywhere. it turns out that rather than representing an overwhelming influence by exasperated Jews, it’s actually the Finnish equivalent of the abbreviation “Ltd.”:

See you in Stockholm!


  • Hiya. I'm wandering around checking out the blogs of other other copywriters like myself. I wanted to find out what copywriters write when they're not writing copy.

    For the sake of introduction, here's my professional life in a nutshell: 20 years in copywriting; currently Senior Copywriter for MRM Worldwide (McCann-Erickson), Seattle. Private life: I write. I hike. I blog:

    By Blogger Thaddeus Gunn, at 12:01 PM  

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