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Playing tourist in Helsinki

Started: 2017-09-04 12:57:16

Submitted: 2017-09-04 16:45:08

Visibility: World-readable

13th August 2017: In which the intrepid narrator skips the last day of Worldcon 75 to see an open-air heritage museum, an impressive church, and the National Museum of Finland

Sunday 13th August was the last day of Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, and on the schedule the con was clearly winding down. Kiesa and I looked at the schedule and found things that looked like they might be interesting, but nothing that looked especially compelling. I was moderately interested in the closing ceremonies, but nothing else looked like a must-see panel or event. We decided instead to skip the last day of the con and head out into Helsinki to play tourist.

Our first stop was the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, an island in a bay on the western side of Helsinki where houses, farms, and other buildings had been moved from across Finland a a centralized heritage museum. (The setup reminded me of the Highland Folk Museum in the Scottish Highlands, which we visited in 2014.) The best least-bad way to get there was a bus that meandered from somewhere near our Airbnb to somewhere near the island, but it's possible that the bus might have been running better than the train. After the previous night's epic thunderstorm, the suburban trains were not yet running at full capacity; there was a train parked on the track running into our station into Helsinki, visible right in front of our Airbnb, and they appeared to be running trains in both directions on the remaining track. (I did notice that the suburban trains in Helsinki consistently ran on the left track, while the metro and trams followed the habit of the roads and ran on the right side.)

Julian and Calvin wait for the bus in Helsinki
Julian and Calvin wait for the bus in Helsinki

It resumed raining as we were walking to the bus stop, so I ran back to the Airbnb to pick up my rain coat, and by the time we reached the bus stop we had a lengthy wait for the next bus. It arrived, at some length, and we had trouble getting the transit passes we got from Worldcon to work (I think they were supposed to work on the bus; they did work on the trains we rode for the remainder of the day) so we paid cash for single tickets.

Apartment building in Louhela
Apartment building in Louhela

The bus meandered through suburban Helsinki, which was laid out in ways that felt both familiar and foreign. The apartments, office buildings, big-box stores, and car dealerships all resembled better-designed versions of their American counterparts, and felt vaguely European (probably even Scandinavian) in ways I couldn't properly articulate.

Bridge leading to Seurasaari
Bridge leading to Seurasaari

Our route to the museum included a brief walk through an arboretum still recovering from the storm. We walked across the bridge to the island, bought tickets to go into the buildings, and wandered around the island, looking at the buildings and trying to imagine what living in them might have been like. We saw a water-powered mill and a number of farmhouses with various outbuildings for housing the farm workers. I was fascinated by the baby swing and cradle I saw in one of the kitchens.

Baby swing at Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Baby swing at Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Baby cradle at Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Baby cradle at Seurasaari Open-Air Museum

At one of the farms (a tenant farm that was the first set of buildings moved to the site) we saw a large piece of art that was identified as "Y Installation". It was built out of rectangular wood boards joined together in to form a tapering curved shape.

Julian investigates Y Installation at Seurasaari
Julian investigates Y Installation at Seurasaari

The interpretive sign suggested it was supposed to remind one of both the natural and manufactured. I wondered if it could be disassembled and shipped in an Ikea flat pack.

Y Installation at Seurasaari
Y Installation at Seurasaari

We ate a quick snack and continued our way around the island and saw a large manor house with a bunch of tiny children's beds.

Kahiluoto manor at Seurasaari
Kahiluoto manor at Seurasaari

The interpretive staff confirmed that the beds would be expanded as the child grew.

Small child's bed in Kahiluoto manor
Small child's bed in Kahiluoto manor

We saw a house moved from a part of Finland that was lost in the Continuation War (the Soviet-Finnish war coincident with the Second World War) and is now part of Russia, a large chapel, a windmill, and a general store. The general store was split between a recreation of the town store and a modern gift-shop.

Karuna church at Seurasaari
Karuna church at Seurasaari

We caught another bus into central Helsinki, ate lunch at a coffee shop, and visited a little wood-wrapped chapel down the street from the central train station. Kiesa thought our children would not especially appreciate the experience, so I dropped in by myself.

Inside the Chapel of Silence
Inside the Chapel of Silence

The interior was neat -- a small oval room with walls tapering outwards wrapped in strips of wood -- but the inside echoed every sound and shuffle. (It was also hard to photograph the inside, since it was an immersive experience and the camera would only really capture a small part of it.)

Outside the Chapel of Silence
Outside the Chapel of Silence

We walked down the street named after president and war hero Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim and found a statue of the great man himself astride a horse.

Statue of Mannerheim astride a horse
Statue of Mannerheim astride a horse

We walked to the Rock Church, a Lutheran church built into a glacial knob in the middle of a residential neighborhood a few blocks away. The church was surrounded by six-story postwar apartment blocks.

Roof of Rock Church in Helsinki
Roof of Rock Church in Helsinki

The sanctuary was dug into the rock at the top of the knob, with the drill marks still visible on the exposed rock face. The ground above the bedrock had been filled with loose rock to make a retaining wall. The entire floor was ringed with drains for the ground water that seeped in through the exposed rock.

Inside Rock Church in Helsinki
Inside Rock Church in Helsinki

Above the retaining wall thin concrete ribs supported a massive dome covered in copper wire.

Ceiling of Rock Church in Helsinki
Ceiling of Rock Church in Helsinki

The entire building was an amazing work of design, incorporating the natural rock at the site along with elements of mid-century design and brutalism. I was also impressed by the glacial polish on the bedrock surrounding the church, which reminded me of hiking above treeline in the Rocky Mountains.

Outside Rock Church in Helsinki
Outside Rock Church in Helsinki

We walked to the National Museum of Finland (back on Mannerheimintie, the street named after Mannerheim). It appeared that a good chunk of the museum was closed for renovation, so we spent our time in the exhibit The Realm, with somewhat-random artifacts from Finnish history (mostly the 19th century, when Finland was a grand duchy of Russia in the part we visited), and a temporary exhibit showing photography from Finland's first hundred years as an independent nation-state, from 1917 to 2017.

For supper we took the metro to Kinapori, the same neighborhood we ate supper in the previous night. (This involved another trip through the diagonal elevator in the metro station; this time I managed to take pictures.) We walked to Just Vege, another vegetarian restaurant on the same street, serving a similar selection of fast-casual meals as Soi Soi down the street. I had a pita with an interesting cheese whose name escapes me.

Calvin and Kiesa ride the diagonal elevator
Calvin and Kiesa ride the diagonal elevator
Diagonal elevator at Sörnäinen metro station
Diagonal elevator at Sörnäinen metro station

After eating we took the metro and the train back to our Airbnb, then worked on our plan as tourists for our last day in Helsinki.

Theft is wrong. Proprietary software is mostly crap.
Therefore, we don't need to either steal it or condemn
it as wrong, just write better code.
- ESR, "Samizdat: Stinks on Ice"