Helsinki 2003

From Tampere to the capital and back

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Uspensky Cathedral

Saturday, November 29th 2003

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Trip number 10 of 2003 was to Finland. As my desire to go to parts of Europe further afield was increasing, so was Ryanair's, and when I saw that they had started flying to Finland, I decided it was time for me to head that way as well.

I went with John and Moh. For no clear reason, when we arrived in Tampere, the immigration formalities were desperately slow. For about an hour the queue inched forward, frustration boiling over among some of the passengers. When we finally got to the end, completely inexplicably John and Moh got Finland stamps and I didn't. I felt robbed as we got the bus into Tampere, and then found our way onto a train to Helsinki.

There was snow on the streets of the capital when we arrived. The morning was grim and cold, and we wandered from our hostel towards the city centre. The first thing we passed was the Uspensky Cathedral. Finland had been a province of the Russian Empire until 1918, and inside the cathedral, it felt like I was back in Russia.

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Kiasma

Saturday, November 29th 2003

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We went to Kiasma after the Uspensky Cathedral. Generally with contemporary art galleries I find that I think about a third of it is a complete waste of time, a third I am more or less indifferent to, and a third I really like. Kiasma pretty much followed the rule.

The exhibit that impressed me most was one that I initially put into the first category. It was a darkened room, containing a chair, a table, a lamp and a mirror, and that was it. "This is rubbish", I thought, and I was about to walk out in disgust. But then I thought that surely there had to be more to it. This couldn't be as banal as I thought it was. At the entrance to the darkened room there had been a sign saying do not touch or move any part of the installation. And then I twigged - the mirror was not a mirror but an opening into a second room, which was an identical mirror image of the first room. I was impressed. The illusion was so convincing that even once I'd worked it out I kept having to stick my hand through the 'mirror' to prove to myself that it wasn't there.

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Suomenlinna

Sunday, November 30th 2003

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We went to a club on the Saturday night, and got back to the hostel at about 3am. In the hostel there was a sauna, available from 6am until 8am, and me and Moh decided to get up early to take advantage. It was a good way to return to consciousness.

We got a ferry across the harbour to Suomenlinna, a fortress on one of the many islands. Before Finland was a part of Russia, it was a part of Sweden, and the fortress is still known as Sveaborg (Swedish fortress) in Swedish and Suomenlinna (Finnish fortress) in Finnish. It was grey but not too cold, and we sat outside watching boats coming and going for a while. Looking back to the skyline of the city, it was surprising to see so many Russian-influenced buildings. Apparently during the Cold War, Helsinki was often used in films that required a Russian-looking backdrop.

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