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July 2012 Archives

July 1, 2012

Friday - Beginning Juhannus Weekend

Stocking up on food and wine was our first task for the weekend, so we wouldn't be caught hungry or thirsty when everything closed up. Once that was completed, we headed into the city center to meander around a bit before heading to the Finnish Design Company shop in the Old Customs Warehouse. Besides seeing all kinds of great design displayed on the first floor of the fantastic old brick warehouse, including my favorite Aalto up/down light, one of the saleswomen offered to show us the upper floor, another incredible space that seemed more like being in a chapel than in a warehouse. Then in true tourist fashion, and as a respite from all our walking, we took a one and a half hour boat cruise around the Helsinki harbor islands. Back on land and still enjoying a glorious sunny day, we walked past Uspenski Cathedral, along the Kruununhaka waterfront and all the way back home. Here's what the day looked like.

Saturday - Juhannus, Midsummer Day

Just as people warned, Helsinki was shut down and emptied out for this Juhannus celebration marking the start of summer. We did find an open brunch spot, where the waitress had brought her toddler along to play behind the bar while she waited on the handful of customers that arrived. Seeing place after place closed up when we walked back to the apartment, we decided to check out public spots that might still be open.

First stop was the Kallio Church, right across the street from the apartment, designed by Lars Sonck and built between 1908 and 1912. Happily the door was unlocked, and even better, the organist was practicing, so we were treated to a private concert while we explored the Finnish national romantic and art nouveau style interior. Later research mentioned that the melody of the seven church bells we often heard from the apartment had been specially composed by Jean Sibelius and the tower we could see from all parts of the city was 213 feet high. Stop number two was the Central Railway Station by Eliel Saarinen, designed in 1904 and completed in 1919. Not only was it contemporary with the Kallio Church, it was also cited as an important structure in both the art nouveau and Finnish national romantic movement. Photos tell the story.

July 3, 2012

Sunday Outing

This was a bit of a mixed up day because it started off looking like rain but then it never really did. However the ominous morning sky sent us first off to the Stockmann Department Store to replace our battered umbrellas with new sturdy ones, where we also located an authentically great-tasting pain au chocolat at Robert's Coffee. With umbrellas at the ready, just in case, we took a meandering walk past still more of the pervasive Jugend style buildings, heading toward the Pavilion behind the Design Museum. Once there, and still with no rain, we walked down to explore the Ullanlinna neighborhood and a bit of Eira before coming back to actually go inside the Museum of Finnish Architecture. Perhaps because we sat down and watched some videos while there, we felt obliged to walk again, eventually coming all the way round to the Kaisaniemi Metro and home. See some sights from the day.

July 8, 2012

On Monday it Rained

We got a late start on our planned walk to the old wooden houses in Valilla and just as we got out the door, the rain began in earnest. Instead of Valilla, we made it only as far as the coffee shop on the other side of Bear Park. In good weather it's closed, because the same folks also run the outdoor Bear Park kiosk. Today though, it was a good place to take shelter and meet the owner who is also a fourth grade school teacher. We had an interesting talk about the freedom of Finnish teachers to set their own classroom goals and teach to the moment, rather than following a strict curriculum. He admitted that often he went into school in the morning with no particular plan in mind other than to let the children and their mood direct that days lesson. Even better, he stays with the same group of students over two or three years, sometimes getting to know them better than their parents do. Best of all, he's never given his students a test; none are required.

Still trying to keep dry, we hopped on the 3B tram and took it the long way around to the Rock Church. We'd thoroughly explored the exterior last week at the end of a sunny day when the church was closed, so we spent an equal amount of time today in the dry interior. Most surprising was how bright the space was, in spite of the rainy gray skies. Back on the tram again, we rode into the city center and walked across Esplanadi to the just-opened Design Helps Living Room for the first day of an exhibit organized by Tikau, an NGO that connects Finnish design sense with African and Indian crafts to promote sustainable products and support the local skilled craftspeople. We did our part with a purchase of a hand-embroidered pillow cover, in black and white, with outlines of cars and trucks and trams. See photos.

July 9, 2012

Tuesday of Contrasts

Good weather sent us back to our original plan for yesterday, to visit Vanha Vallila, the neighborhood of original wooden houses dating back to the 1900's through the 1920's. After our walking tour and a stop for my new favorite, pear cider, we checked the tram map and discovered we were right by the #7 line, one of the great things about Helsinki and its ever so convenient public transit. Since the sky still looked mainly sunny, we decided to take the 7 to the Metro and then to the complete contrast of Kalasatama, a planned neighborhood under development, where the still open space has been co-opted by the community for skateboarding and the longest graffiti wall in the world. When the sky grew gray and threatening it was back to the Metro and in to the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, a place in the center city meant for quiet meditation and the final contrast to our day. Between the architecture and graffiti, we took many, many photos.

July 13, 2012

Wednesday - Johnny Cash Day

Who knows why Wednesday started with Johnny Cash playing when we walked into Good Life for our morning coffee, but there it was, twanging in the background. And when we heard it again that afternoon in the cafe at the Cable Factory - not just any Johnny Cash but the exact same song we'd heard in the morning - the day was christened.

A metro ride to the end of the line at Ruolahti brought us to a more recently developed area of the city, where tech office buildings and modern apartment buildings were linked by the surprise of a canal. Sadly, the Cable Factory Museum was closed so we explored the neighborhood instead. Peter even hiked over the bridge to see the construction around Jatkasaari, another newly planned city residential development. As he came back by the tram stop, he was photographing an interesting modern building, when a worker noticed his interest and invited him inside for a quick look at the lobby and open reception area. The building turned out to be a private cancer hospital, with its own hotel next door for out-patients and visitors needing a place to stay. It was another bit of Helsinki serendipity for Peter to get a chance to see the interior, full of light and views in clean Nordic detail. Waiting on the other side of the bridge, I thought he'd gotten lost.

Then the rain came and even the new umbrellas were not enough. The downpours were short but heavy, and the sheets of rain sent us running for whatever overhang we could find several times during the late afternoon. Eventually we headed back to the center city and ran into Bryan Boyer again when we stopped for a light dinner at Latva. Helsinki is, as they say, a small place, where even when you only know one person, you meet up with them without planning it. Photos from the day.

July 15, 2012

Aalto Thursday

The day began with Aalto, because we had to get an early start for the scheduled studio and house tours. The first tour was of the Aalto studio, though that building actually was built after his house. The house was originally used both for living and as a studio for his work, where employees came and went on one side while the household was somewhat separated on the other. I can well imagine how pleased his wife, Aino, must have been when the new studio was completed several blocks away. Both buildings were wonderful to see - for the way light was captured by well-placed windows, how the unusual angled skylight on the wall of the studio brought light onto conference room displays, the clever drawers and cabinets that could open from either side to the dining room or the kitchen, and the early uses of undulating forms for foundation walls and a planter, most obviously precursors to the Aalto vase.

Correction - 7/16/12. Peter has pointed out that the planter may have been a precursor, but not the foundation wall. Aalto's Savoy vase is from 1938, while the Studio was not built until the 50's. But were these forms just destiny? In Finnish, the word aalto means wave.

There was lots more to our day, including the discovery of a rug washing pier and a lovely cafe on the Munkkiniemi waterfront, a sun shower that produced a rainbow and some terrific gray clouds over a bit of clearing blue skies from Kaivopuisto, the park at the southern tip of Helsinki. The photos show it all.

July 19, 2012

Friday - Our Last Full Day in Helsinki

Just a perfect weather day welcomed us for our final exploration of Helsinki. We set off on the 3B tram, walked through Punavuori to the waterfront, stopped to see the WDC Pavilion in sunshine instead of rain, and visited the Finnish design second hand furniture store, Artek 2nd Cycle, and the Uspenski Cathedral, both of which had been closed when we'd try to see them earlier. We tied up the loose ends of some things we'd missed seeing, but of course, there's always more. We'll just have to come back again. Last day photos here.

About July 2012

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