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Sunday, November 3, 2013


My big interest in design brings me to Helsinki. The city that’s been labeled “World Design Capital” has much to offer.

Waterfront in Helsinki
GUEST BLOG--By Sofie Kinnefors--It’s my first time in Helsinki. Despite growing up in Stockholm, Sweden, I never made it to nearby Finland. My family always vacationed in the US or France. While visiting parents in Stockholm, I decide to take the approximately 450 km flight to Helsinki for a long weekend. Air, however, isn’t the only way to get here. Connections can be made for adventures like mine by train, bus or ferry. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is located 19 km from Helsinki center. A bus or cab will get you there in about 25 minutes. Cost for cab is 45-50 Euros. (1 EUR= 1.3 USD)

Sokos Hotel
Traveling solo, I take a taxi to my stay headquarters, Original Sokos Hotel Helsinki. I arrive fairly late in the evening so that my room will be ready. I decide to go to bed early so I can have a fresh start to my Helsinki stay tomorrow.

My first stop is the Old Market Hall (Wanha Kauppahalli) on the south quay, a popular tourist attraction built in 1889. The Market Hall is the oldest one in Finland and fascinates with all its colors and smells. Enjoy sushiLappish specialties and delicacies such as seafood, cheese, coffee beans and candy. I try a Karelian pie; a type of pirogue made with a rye crust and a rice and egg filling. It tastes good.  

Helsinki Cathedral
Eastern influences are common in Helsinki and can be spotted in the city’s architecture. The Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkkoSuurkirkko) is a fine example. Finland was under Russian rule from 1808 to 1917 when it became independent. The cathedral, which stands tall with its great mint green domes in the center of Helsinki, was built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of FinlandTsar Nicholas I of Russia.

After walking the streets of Helsinki for awhile I stumble upon another Finish landmark, Temppeliaukio Church (Temppeliaukion kirkko), located in Töölö. This non-traditional looking Lutheran church is built into a cave. Once inside the church, I’m surrounded by walls of rockIt’s rather dark, but sunlight is allowed through the roofs ceiling windows. The church was designed by Finnish architect’s Timo Suomalainen and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened up in 1969. The church offers tours daily.

Kosmos Restaurant
Once hunger kicks in I head for Kosmos, a Finnish restaurant famous for its traditional Finnish food. The place is usually full of hungry guests, so I’ve made reservations. The restaurant opened in 1924 and offers what’s called a ”Helsinki cuisine”. Once again influences from the east meet influences from the west. The restaurant mixes Finnish, Russian, Swedish and French cooking traditions. Feast on specialties such as Fried Baltic Herrings with mashed Potatoes, Borsch Soup or a Fillet of Reindeer with a Sauce of Shoots of Spruce and Rosemary. This is a popular restaurant for politicians, artists and actors.

Academic Bookstore on Espandi (Street) is a world famous
bookstore designed by Alvar Aalto, one of Finland's
iconic design geniuses.
I end my day at the three stores high Academic Bookstore (Akateeminen Kirjakauppa.) The bookstore opened up in 1969 and was designed by the famous designer Alvar Aalto. The store is packed with books; everything from cookbooks to history to a great selection of fiction. Many of the books are in English or Swedish. During my stay I meet many Swedish-speaking Finns and most bookstore clerks wear a Swedish flag next to their Finnish flag.                                                              
Finland was part of Sweden from 1157-1809 and Finland is officially bilingual; Finnish and Swedish being the two main languages. (Lucky for me, as my Finnish is not that great!)                                                                                                        
Café Aalto is located on the second floor of the bookstore. They serve coffee, pastries and a delicious apple pie with vanilla sauce. 
Design Museum
On the second day of my stay I decide to visit the Design Museum, founded in 1873 and located in the Punavuori neighbourhood. An exhibition of Finland’s inventions and designs from 1945-1967 is being shown at the museum. Beautiful patterned garments by Marimekko, glasware, and Nokia telephones are on display.

Helsinki was named World Design Capital of 2012. Textiles by Viola Castlerock and MarimekkoIittala glassware, ceramics from Arabia and Aalto bentwood furniture have made Finish design worldwide known Finnish design label Marimekko, famous for its charismatic colorful large patterns, was started in 1951 by Viljo Ratia and Armi Ratia.  Marimekko has a wonderful store on Pohjoisesplandadi 33 (Mikonkatu).  The store is filled with garments, textiles, bags, accessories, cups, notebooks--all with the beautiful patterns by Marimekko.  Probably the all time, most-well known Marimekko design is the Unikko (poppy) print from 1964 by Maija Isola, considered at that time to be very bold.  
If red is your color then you'll love Marimekko's

According to Marimekko's Marketing Director and Head of public relations, Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, it is the mix of constrasting stylistic directions that makes Marimekko so unique.  "Marimekko's distinctive design language fuses together functionality and unique aesthetics that reflect Finland's location in between East and West," said the Marimekko spokeswoman.  "On one hand, Marimekko design transmits the Scandinavian influence with the clean, graphic, simple design language, while on the other hand it also features a rich, ornamental, surprising style stemming from the Slavic influence," she said.

When thinking about Finnish Design, architect and designer Alvar Aalto and his bentwood furniture is likely to pop into mind. Alvar Aalto was inspired by nature and he tried to adapt his architecture to the nature around him. Alvar Aalto was also famous for having a great eye for details. Some of his famous works include his chairs with birch legs and plaited webbing seats, brass lamps and the savoy vase from 1936, used by restaurant Savoy in Helsinki.             
Helsinki is a wonderful city that has much to offer. Design, great cuisine and and fascinating history. My first time in Helsinki won’t be my last.

Editor’s Note: After her internship at San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles in 2011, Sofie Kinnefors is now an internationally published travel and freelance writer, who lives in Stockholm and Encinitas, CA.  This is her first article for Pillar to Post.


Intersection of Mannerheimintie (left to right) and Alexandersgatan (behind trolley).
Stockmann is a large department
store chain in Scandinavia.

Upenski Cathedral

Old Market Hall on the Helsinki waterfront

View from the mezzanine of the three-level Academic Bookstore

Fruit stall along the waterfront

Street side cafe of the Hotel Kamp along the Espandi
Marimekko Store along the Espandi
Cafe Aalto upstairs over the Academic Bookstore
Finlandia Hall designed by Alvar Aalto
Readers in the stacks of the Academic Bookstore
Aleksanterinkatu, a popular shopping street in downtown Helsinki

 Inside the Old Market Hall
Roe, chopped onion and butter at Kosmos Restaurant served
with a Karhu beer, one of Finland's best selling brews.

Sidewalk cafe in sunny Helsinki along the Espandi
Interior of Temppeliaukio church

Brilliant fabrics inside Marimekko store

Perno, the restaurant at the Culinary School Balsamic, has a microbrewery that
produces a courageous brand called Balsamic Beer.

Fish stall along the Port of Helsinki waterfront. That's the Old Market Hall in the background

Images: Sofie Kinnefors and web sources.

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