Moving right along through Scandinavian waters, our next cruise port was the capital and largest city in Finland---Helsinki! You can go ahead and add this destination as another place I never thought I'd travel...and end up liking. Thanks to some travel-savvy friends (that was one awesome thing about living abroad with the military...we had lots of friends interested in the very same activities we were!), we teamed up and Google Mapped out a few of the must-see attractions in Helsinki. I'm less spontaneous when it comes to cruise travel, so having a plan to maximize our limited time in each port is crucial. With our map and plan in hand, we hopped a bus from the port to the city center and got exploring!
Wandering on foot is our ideal way to take in a new city, but I've got to say, Helsinki is a pretty big place. When we started our walk from where the bus dropped us off to our first sight, the Rock Church, we had no idea how far we would be walking. We wandered for what seemed like forever, finally reaching the Rock Church, sweat dripping off our foreheads. The weather was much warmer than we expected in Finland...you just don't think of the Baltic states being hot, even in July! But I digress. Upon arriving, you could tell Helsinki's Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church) was quite unique. It's basically an entire church excavated into a mound of rock. The exterior was interesting, but it was the interior that really wowed. The ceiling skylight was made entirely out of copper and it shined as the sun blazed through its panels sending this ethereal glow throughout the church. I've really never seen anything like it. After spending some time in the church, we decided we couldn't hoof it to all the sights we wanted to see around Helsinki, so we snagged a ride on one of the city's many trams and made our way to another famous Helsinki church.
Helsinki Cathedral had a much more commanding exterior than the Rock Church...the white stone literally radiated down the alleyways. It stood perched atop a hill of stairs that overlooked the cutest square, complete with bubbling fountains and happy tourists. The interior, compared to the Rock Church, was nothing to write home about. In fact, it was modest compared to most cathedrals we'd visited around Europe, a testament to its neoclassical style and construction time period. After snapping a dozen photos and enjoying a rest on the steps, we decided lunch was in order. Enter, Bryggeri Helsinki!
It was here that we experienced local Helsinki brews (as well as their versions of world favorites) and tried one of Finland's traditional dishes, reindeer stew! I was a little hesitant at first, but when in Finland, right? The reindeer was surprisingly tender and not as gamey in flavor as I expected...in fact, it fell right off the bone. The price tag, however, was steep...so we ordered 2 dishes and shared it among the 8 of us. We all much rather spend our money on beer...and that we did!
With full bellies, we set out for some shopping and to find Helsinki harbor & Market Square (Kauppatori) where we knew a large market was held daily. There were stalls upon stalls of craftsmen selling their wares and even more food tents with traditional snacks to sample. We tried some of the fresh fish caught that morning and even sampled fried anchovies. Not too shabby!
While not my favorite of our stops along the Baltic Sea (not enough kitsch for me), any city you tour with friends becomes a city to remember. We had a lovely day and tried lots of new things, a cruise port nicely explored. :)
[Additional photos courtesy of our travel buddy's Helsinki album! Thanks for sharing, Jon!]