Friday, July 9, 2010

Helsinki, Finland

Map picture

Beautiful Finland

We arrived at the city of Helsinki on a beautiful sunny Thursday morning, and immediately set out on an hour drive into the countryside to visit the small medieval city of Porvoo. DSC_0818 Originally founded in the mid 1400’s, it is today inhabited by 45,000 people, but still the old city retains its old charm of narrow cobblestone streets and colorful buildings.

We drove around the new city and then went for a walking tour of old town, ending our journey at the very top of the hillside where the old Porvoo Cathedral is located. DSC_0846 This beautiful church was first built around 1450. Over the centuries, it has been burned, and pillaged several times, but always it is rebuilt. In fact, we saw this church about three years ago and since then the entire roof was burned by arson. Several young men got drunk and thought it would be fun to stuff newspapers under the eaves of the roof and then set it on fire. The fire department let the fire burn itself out and spent their resources protecting the surrounding structures. They reasoned, and correctly so, that if they had put water on the roof structure the resulting weight would collapse the roof supports. As it is, the building was saved, and now it has a new roof at the cost of many millions of Euros. The young men responsible will be paying for that mistake the rest of their lives we were told.

After a delightful stop for espresso and a stroll around town, we drove back to the city of Helsinki. This is a charming, clean and utterly delightful Scandinavian city. Even though it was approaching mid-day on a Thursday, the streets were almost deserted. We learned that most families own a small summer cottage on the surrounding lakes and that they spend their holidays there during July. The city has an efficient mass transit system consisting of trolley cars, subways and electric busses. The shops were very upscale and clearly the standard of living here is quite high. Historically Finland derived its income from the sale of wood products, since most of their land is covered with forests. However, in recent years, this has shifted so that now Finland is involved heavily in electronics assembly. DSC_0877 We visited a beautiful old Orthodox Church on the outskirts of town and then in the center of the city stopped for photographs in front of the Lutheran Cathedral.

They have a beautiful harbor which was filled with pleasure craft of all kinds. But lurking in the background were four very large ships at a separate dock by themselves. Our guide explained that all the waters in Finland during the winter would turn to solid ice, so that all the boats we saw had winter homes on land. The four large ships were the country’s icebreaker fleet, which attempted to keep the main harbor open as much as possible. She also brought to our attention the fact that we did not see any fishing vessels. That is because the Gulf of Finland has no commercial fishing. The water is too salty for fresh water species, yet it is not salty enough for salt water species. So it is a Gulf of mostly brackish brown/green water.

Finland is part of the European Union and uses the Euro for its currency. We learned that they pay income taxes that are similar to ours, plus in addition they have an 18% Value Added Tax. Education and healthcare are provided by the government.

All in all, our short visit to Finland was delightful. So tomorrow we will be at sea on our way to the port of Wandermunde, Germany from which we will drive to Berlin for an all day tour.


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