00 Helsinki

Helsinki in August is not the same place it is in December. The days are longer in August, and are short, very short, by the end of the year. Even in summer, Helsinki can be brisk, although the days we were there it was warm, shirtsleeve weather and the skies clear. Don’t bank of it when you come, no matter when you come.

Built on islands that are often flawlessly connected (although not as flawlessly as Bombay/Mumbai where the islands have virtually ceased to exit), Helsinki is tidy, well kept and geographically gorgeous, and there is plenty to see there, from the Rock Church carved from one piece of rock to the Seballius and the Street Museum.

1 helsinki white church DSC03148 usemeThe White Church, Helsinki, Finland

We flew from New York on Finnair to Helsinki, joining friends in Helsinki already in Helsinki. Together, after a few days, we continued on by train to St. Petersburg, Russia (roughly five hours east). The contrast after crossing the Russian border was stark – Finland was neat, tidy and comfortable. Russia was unkempt.

In Helsinki we were hosted and toured by Finns who were long time friends of our traveling companions. Neither Carol Anne nor I knew much history of the area, but it soon became clear that the Russians, Germans and Finns have a long and contentious history. The Finns fought on the side of Nazi Germany during World War II (1939-1945) and held the northern flank for the Nazis during the siege of Stalingrad (then known as St. Petersburg). Russian later invaded Finland where it went badly for them. A great number of Russians are buried in a cemetery still maintained by Russia near Hanko, west of Helsinki. Russian troops who went north encountered the Laplanders and were slaughtered. In the end a portion of pre-War Finland is now Russian soil; it may or may not ever be reunited with Finland, and the Finns we visited expressed ambivalence whether they want the land back or not.

Mistrust continues. Our hosts said they had never been to Russia although it was only a few miles east and south. The day before we left they urged us not to go to Russia feeling we would be unsafe.
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2 helsinki countryside DSC08115 usemeHelsinki

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2a statute bird 3.5 DSC08391 usemeStatute and Bird, Helsinki

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3 helsinki rock church DSC02881 usemeThe Rock Church, Helsinki

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4 helsinki seballius DSC02860 usemeSeballius, Helsinki

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5 helsinki phonebooth DSC03154 usemePhone Booth, The Street Museum, Helsinki

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6 hanko DSC08258 usemeHanko, Finland

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estonia DSC08232 usemeHanko, Finland, looking south toward Estonia

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8 helsinki train station DSC03066 usemeThe Helsinki Train Station

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9 map JFK-HEL DSC02805 usemeMap // JFK, New York to HEL, Helsinki, Finland (credit, Finair)

The photos and copy on “Finland & Russia / 2009” are © Copyright 2009, Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California. All rights are reserved.

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