After 16 hours of travelling from Stockholm, we dumped our stuff in our hostel and immediately headed out for some food. We took in our first afternoon in the city sitting by the river, and the sun came out in force while we were relaxing there, making for a very peaceful start to the city.
Next stop was the Kampii Chapel of Silence, which is really what it says on the tin. It’s a deceptively sized wooden church in a huge oval shape. Whilst appearing enormous from the outside, once you get inside it’s surprisingly small. There are ten rows of pews and some bean bags shaped like rocks, but the most striking thing is, as you might expect, the absolute silence. No-one makes noise of any sort, and at first it seemed like an oppressive silence, but after a while it became incredibly peaceful. It was hard to believe that you’re in the middle of a square in a capital city.
We wandered away from the silence of the church to Senate Square, where the city’s government buildings are, and then further down to the waterfront, where the Old Market was just shutting up for the day. The stalls mostly seemed to sell food, but there were a few arts and crafts stalls that displayed unique wares and homemade gifts.
Just a short walk up the hill, we visited another church with the most lavish decorations I’ve ever seen. Everything all over the walls was either made of gold or covered in gold, and piles of golden ornaments surrounded the altar.
All the walking and church appreciation left us starving hungry, so we legged it back to the city centre and began a shockingly difficult search for food. We eventually found a Mexican called Iguana ten minutes from our hostel that hit the spot perfectly.
The next day we met up with a friend we’d met in Stockholm and went for a walk around Hagasundsparken. It was quite pretty but the sky was pretty grey and, coupled with the mostly grey buildings of Helsinki, the scenery was a bit uninspiring. The architecture of Helsinki in general was underwhelming in comparison to the bright colours and bizarre shapes of the other Scandinavian cities. Of course, Helsinki had much more of a Soviet influence than Sweden, Oslo, or Denmark, resulting in a more harsh architectural style.
We had lunch in our beloved Expresso House again, and then headed to yet another odd church. This one is called Rock Church and, as the name suggests, it is carved out of rock. Even the pews are hewn from stone, and the overall effect is stunning. I’m not a particularly religious person and I never really appreciate churches as much as most people, but this was definitely my favourite church that I’ve ever visited. It felt so natural and had an almost humming atmosphere that made it feel intrinsically spiritual.
Carrying on our walk out of the centre of town, we headed towards the Sibelius Park and Monument. The monument itself was made out of huge hollow tubes of different sizes, creating an organ-like effect, with a sculpture of Sibelius’ face along side. It was impressive to see, although it was rammed with tourists, and the park itself was too small to spend much time in.
We made our way back to town by walking down the coast, stopping off in a picturesque but deserted beach, where we skimmed stones and enjoyed the view. Even this beach was marred by the industrial side of Helsinki though, with the towers of factories obscuring the view of the otherwise scenic expanse of the river.
Our last dinner of the trip was chosen largely by our lack of money: we got a huge pizza for €5, the perfect choice for when you’ve drastically run out of money. In keeping with the trend of window-shopping when we’ve run out of sights to see, we spent an hour or so abusing the wifi and make-up selection in the central shopping centre before eventually, unfortunately, heading to the airport to finally end our fortnight trip around the Baltic Circle.