By Don George
Our ship docked in Helsinki at dawn, and we began a sun-drenched midsummer day by taking the Crystal shuttle bus to the city center, where we wandered through the Finnish capital’s vivacious version of a farmer’s market, the Kauppatori Market Square, with stall after stall displaying fresh fish, flowers, vegetables and fruit. I was especially tempted by the sumptuous strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries — a visual feast.
We ambled on to the sweeping Senate Square and the elegant Helsinki Cathedral, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in the mid-19th century. After admiring the cathedral’s surprisingly austere interior, we repaired to the Cafe Engel across the square and installed ourselves at a sidewalk table to savor the street theater and delectable lingonberry pie with whipped cream.
Then we wandered on to the spectacular onion-domed Uspensky Russian Orthodox Cathedral and walked back through the open-air market, where, if I hadn’t been so stuffed with lingonberry pie, I would have devoured one of the delicious-looking grilled salmon fillets on sale at successive stalls. We strolled through a long, green park populated by people lying on blankets or sitting on the grass, talking, laughing, sun-bathing — the wonderful weather seemed to have conjured the whole city into bloom.
My wife then returned to the ship, and I went to the Temppeliaukio Rock Church, which turned out to be the most moving site of all. A pure space hewn out of rock and filled with heavenly piano music, the Temppeliaukio plucked at my soul and transported me to an unexpected place of peace and repose.
Before we visited Helsinki, others had told us not to expect much, that there wasn’t any compact Old Town as in other European capitals, and that the city was too diffuse to have much effect on a casual visitor. But even on this all-too-quick tour, I was charmed and moved by Helsinki’s sites and spirit — and reminded yet again that the world is full of so many more wonders than we can imagine, and that our job is simply to be open to them, to let them work their magic on us.
Visit Helsinki — plus compelling Copenhagen, cosmopolitan Berlin and spectacular St. Petersburg — via luxury cruise on Voyage 5219: Round-trip Copenhagen – A Mermaid’s Tale.
(Featured image of Helsinki Cathedral by Don George)