Today we are all reacting to yesterday’s riots in Washington where Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building. Here’s an excellent story from the UK’s ITV News. Reported by its Washington correspondent Robert Moore, much of the footage is shot inside as the violent mob stormed in through doors and broken windows.
It’s well done and a shining example of great reporting. Cudos to Mr. Moore and his crew who reported what they saw, asked questions, and put together an extraordinary piece while being in significant danger.
— ITV News (@itvnews) January 6, 2021
— ITV News (@itvnews) January 6, 2021
My European Favourites – Rome, Italy
My European Favourites – Rome, Italy
Rome’s history spans three millennia and is one of Europe’s oldest occupied cities. The Eternal City was initially settled by a mix of Etruscans, Latins and Sabines. During it’s highest point, it became the capital of the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire. When Rome had a vast Empire, it gained the nickname “Caput Mundi” or “Capital of the World.”
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the west, the city came under control of the Papacy and it became the capital of the Papal States until 1870. The following year Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy which, in 1946, became the Italian Republic.
With close to 3 million residents in the city proper, Rome is the third most populous city in the European Union. The city’s culture, landmarks, monuments and myths have drawn visitors from every corner of the world.
The Vatican, the centre of the Catholic Church for billions of followers, is an independent state situated inside of Rome. The Vatican’s vast square, impressive museums, Sistine chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica require a full day of exploration.
The impressive ruins of Ancient Rome, which include Trajan’s Forums, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum are essential for any visitor of Rome. If you do a tour of Ancient Rome, be sure that you enter into the Colosseum. It’s an unforgettable experience.
We always include guided tours of the Vatican and of Ancient Rome on all of our Azorcan tours to Rome. Once we have completed those great tours, our travelers enjoy a free day in Rome to sightsee, shop and explore the city on their own. This story outlines a walk that we suggest to see some of central Rome’s great landmarks and squares at their leisure. You can find a google map of our walk at www.azorcan.net/media
Piazza del Popolo
Our walk starts at the Piazza del Popolo, or the “People’s Square.” The large oval square is located inside the northern gate to the city (Porta Flaminia). Just inside the gate you should pop in to the Santa Maria del Popolo basilica to see two magnificent canvases by Caravaggio.
At the centre of the square is an Egyptian obelisk dedicated to Ramesses II. The obelisk was once located in the Circus Maximus, where Romans enjoyed chariot races. By climbing the stairs on the east side of the square, you will reach the Pincio Hill Terrace (Terrazza del Pincio) and have a great panoramic view of the square and beyond.
On the south side of the square there are two churches, the Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Santa Maria in Montesanto. They look identical from the outside although they have different interiors. There are three main streets leading from the Piazza del Popolo. The two churches are separated by the main shopping street, the Via del Corso. The other two streets are located on either side of the churches. On the right is the Via di Ripetta and on the left is the Via del Babuino. We will leave the square on the Via del Babuino and walk for about 600 meters until we arrive at the Piazza di Spagna.
Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps
The Piazza di Spagna, or “Spanish Square” is named after the Palazzo di Spagna (Spanish Palace) which has been on the square since the 17th century and operates as the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican.
The center of the square has the Boat Fountain (Fontana della Barcaccia). The fountain was designed by Pietro Bernini, the father of the famous artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, for Pope Urban VIII in 1623. The fountain features the Pope’s family (Barberini) emblem with suns and bees.
Looking up from the square is the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The famous 135 steps connecting the square to the church were built in the 18th century. The Spanish Steps are a favourite place for tourists to sit, relax and enjoy the square.
A hundred meters south from the Spanish Square is the smaller Piazza Mignanelli. The square has a 19th century Marian column named, the Column of the Immaculate Conception. The ancient Roman column is topped with a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary with a crown of 12 stars standing on a globe. The interesting column has the symbols of the evangelists on the globe and statues of Moses, David, Ezekiel and Isaiah at the base. Worth the quick stop.
From the Piazza Mignanelli, we can take the Via Frattina back to the main Via del Corso to peruse the shops until we reach the Via delle Muratte and go left to the Piazza di Trevi.
Trevi Fountain and Galleria Sciarra
The Trevi fountain is probably the most famous fountain in the world. It’s actually the end point of the only ancient Roman aqueduct that is in continuous use today, the Vergine aqueduct. Architect Nicols Savi won the design competition commissioned by Pop Clement XII in 1732 but died before it was built.
The travertine stone fountain was completed in 1762 against the Palazzo Poli (Poli Palace) with the water cascading down three rocky cliffs that are decorated with plant sculptures. The water flows down each cliff into the large, 65 foot wide, fountain basin. At the center of the fountain is the ocean god Neptune in a shell shaped chariot that is being pulled by two horses. One horse is calm and the other angry. Each horse is being guided by a triton.
Placed into the façade on either side of Neptune are a statue of a virgin girl, who legend says, showed Roman soldiers the source of the water, and a statue of Agrippa ordering the construction of the aqueduct.
Ancient Romans threw coins into fountains so that the water gods would give them a safe journey or a safe return to Rome. Today, tourists throw coins into the fountain over their shoulder to ensure a return to Rome. A second coin is for love, and a third for marriage. About 3000 Euros is collected very day from the fountain and given to a charity that provides prepaid supermarket cards for the needy.
After throwing your coins into the fountain, walk to the left on the Via delle Muratte for about 120 meters and turn left onto Via Santa Maria in Via. A block in, you will be directly in front of the Galleria Sciarra. Enter into the amazing interior courtyard with a glass and iron roof, called an arcade. The richly Art Nouveau decorated walls, in celebration of women, were painted in the late 1800s by Giuseppe Cellini using a unique painting method using pigments and Punic wax called “encaustic painting.” I like to stand in the centre of the galleria and gaze upwards, admiring the brilliant colors. The intensity and shade of the colors change depending on the time of day and the intensity of the light spilling in through the glass ceiling.
Leaving the galleria, go back to the Via delle Muratte and turn left. A block away you will cross the Via del Corso to the Via di Pietra that will take you to the Piazza di Pietra (Rock Square). Traverse the rectangular Piazza di Pietra, and staying on the left of the square, take the Via dei Pastini until you reach the Rotonda Square and the Pantheon.
The Pantheon and the Ides of March
The Rotonda Square (Piazza della Rotonda) has a marble fountain with an obelisk at its centre. The fountain was constructed in 1575 and the Egyptian obelisk, one of 13 found throughout Rome, was added in 1711. The main attraction of the square is the magnificent Pantheon.
The Pantheon of Agrippa, or just the Pantheon, is an architectural wonder and one of the best preserved buildings from Ancient Rome. In 27 BC, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa commissioned the building of a circular temple to “all the Roman gods.” The temple burned down, but in the early 2nd century, the Pantheon underwent a reconstruction by Hadrian. Interestingly, the inscription to Agrippa still remains on the front portico of the temple. After the fall of Rome in the mid 4th century, and attacks by barbarians, the Pantheon endured many years of neglect.
In 609 AD, the Byzantine emperor Phocas donated the building to Pope Boniface the IV. The Pope consecrated it and dedicated it as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs (Santa Maria ad Martyres). It is more commonly called Santa Maria Rotonda. As a church, it was saved from the decay and destruction that many Ancient Roman buildings suffered during the middle ages. In 1625 Pope Urban VIII, the guy with his family crest on the boat fountain at the Spanish Steps, removed many of the bronze coatings that used to be on the Pantheon’s porticos. He used the bronze to create the canopy of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica and for fabrication of canons for the Sant’Angelo Castle.
In 1870, still a church, the Pantheon was turned into a memorial for famous kings of Italy and some famous artists. Amongst others, the tomb of Vittorio Emanuel II, the first King of a unified Italy, is in the Pantheon along with Italian Queen Margherita of Savoy and famous artist Raphael.
The Pantheon is most famous for its hemispherical concrete dome that is larger than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The dome is supported by eight large pylons and has an 8.92 meter opening in the centre, called an oculus, that allows natural light. The 43 meter height of the building is equal to the diameter of the dome. Two thousand years after it was built, it remains the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
The Ides of March
Taking the Via della Minerva on the east side of the Pantheon, you will quickly arrive at the Piazza della Minerva. The interesting statue of the Elephant carrying an obelisk is by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1667. The obelisk was discovered in 1665 when excavations were taking place for the building of the nearby church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The Egyptian obelisk was brought to Rome possibly in the 1st century for the temple that once stood there for the Egyptian goddess Isis.
We continue on the Via della Minerva until we reach the Largo di Torre Argentina on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. You will see Roman ruins that were unexpectedly discovered in the 1920s during the demolition of old buildings. The square contains the remains of four temples from the era of the Roman Republic in the 2nd and 3rd century BC and remains of the Theatre of Pompey that was built later in 55 BC. The curia in the Theatre of Pompey was the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated by being stabbed 23 times on the Ides of March in 44 BC. The Largo di Torre Argentina site is also famous for having quite a few cats wandering the ruins. Mice beware!
After checking out the ruins, go west long the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II for about 350 meters and go south on Via Dei Baullari until you reach the Campo de’ Fiori.
Campo de’ Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori means “field of flowers’ as it was a meadow during the middle ages. Over the centuries, the Campo de’ Fiori was notorious as the place for public executions. At the centre of the rectangular square is a statue of Dominican Friar Giordano Bruno, a philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, that was burned alive for heresy at this very spot on the square in 1600. His statue, completed in 1889, looks defiantly in the direction of the Vatican, who placed his works on the “list of forbidden books.”
During the day since 1869, the Campo de’ Fiori has been a bustling market with stands selling flowers, fruit, vegetables and fish. The historic streets surrounding the square are named for various trades include Via dei Balestrari (crossbow makers), Via dei Baullari (coffer makers), Via dei Cappellari (hat makers), Via dei Chiavari (key makers) and Via dei Giubbonari (tailors).
Leaving Campo de’ Fiori, walk back to the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II where you will see the small Piazza di San Pantaleo across the street. Located at the back of the square is the Museum of Rome in the Palazzo Braschi. Take the street on the right of the palace, Via della Cuccagna, which will lead you to the Piazza Novonna.
The Piazza Navona’s elongated shape is a result of it being built on the former site of a stadium whose remains sit about six meters below the square. The Stadium of Domitian, built in 86 AD, was used for games and horse races. Some of the stadium’s ruins can be seen underneath some of the surrounding buildings.
Over many years, the Piazza Navona has been a centre for markets, festivals, races, and theatrical performances. On weekends in August from the 17th to the mid 19th century, when the square had a concave bottom, it was partially flooded to offer Romans a cool place to congregate and enjoy the summer. In recent times, a Christmas market is held annually on the square.
The Piazza Navona is dwarfed by the 17th century Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The church is named after St. Agnes, who was martyred in the Stadium of Domitian. The white church is situated on the west side of the square, and is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Rome. Located at the south end of the square, the Palazzo Pamphilj and the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart are other notable buildings.
The Piazza Navona has three impressive fountains. The Fontana dei Fumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Bernini in 1651, located at the centre of the square, has statues representing four major rivers (Nile, Danube, Ganges, Rio de la Plata) on four continents. Above the statues, sits a copy of an Egyptian obelisk topped with the emblem of the Pope’s family, a dove carrying an olive branch.
Completed in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta, the Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) is located at the south end of the square. It features a Moor standing in a conch shell, wrestling a dolphin and surrounded by four tritons.
One the north side, the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) was originally designed by Giacomo della Porta at the same time as he designed the Moor Fountain. The initial fountain was just the basin without any statutes. In 1878, Antonio della Bitta, added the central sculpture of Neptune fighting with an octopus. A few year later, artist Gregorio Zappalà, was commissioned to add surrounding sculptures of sea nymphs, cupids and walruses.
From the Piazza Navona, you can continue north on the Via Giuseppe Zanardelli and across the River Tiber on the Ponte Umberto I (Umberto I Bridge) to the front of the massive Supreme Court building. From the bridge you will see the Castel Sant’Angelo on your left. That is our final destination on our walk.
Castel Sant’ Angelo
The round structure on a square pedestal wasn’t originally intended to be a castle but was built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian in 139 AD. The burial chamber at the center of the mausoleum contains an urn with the ashes of Hadrian plus those of future emperors from the Antonin and Severi families. The mausoleum was turned in to a military fortress in 401. When the fortress was besieged and sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD, the ashes were scattered by looters. When the Goths attacked in 537 AD, the tomb statues and decorations were destroyed.
Later, in the 14th century the castle’s walls were fortified and towers were added. A secret fortified passage from Castel Sant’ Angelo to the Vatican was added to protect the papal community. The castle has also been used as a prison where many were tortured, starved and even executed in the courtyard. The Dominican Friar Giordano Bruno, who was burnt to death in the Campo de’ Fiori, was a prisoner here for six years.
Since 1753, the Castel Sant’ Angelo has been topped by a bronze statue of Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword. The Castel Sant’ Angelo bridge has ten angel statues holding up instruments of the passion of Christ including a pillar, whips, a crown of thorns, Veronica’s veil, his garment and dice, nails, the cross, the superscription INRI, the sponge and the lance.
The Castel Sant’ Angelo is located in the Parco Adriano (Hadrian’s Park) and is now a museum that is visited by more than a million people each year.
Let’s Go To Rome
Rome is full of historic buildings, squares and ruins. There are places we could have easily added during our walk, but just as “Rome was not built in a day,” it is also true that “Rome can not be seen in a day.” I included the most interesting and significant stops in Rome’s Centro Storico.
In the evening, I suggest going to the medieval Trastevere neighborhood located just south of Campo de Fiori by crossing the River Tiber at the Pont Sisto. Partake in the evening walk or promenade (passeggiata) while checking out the artisan shops. After working up an appetite, there is no shortage of trattorias, restaurants, beer pubs and bars to enjoy “la dolce vita” late into the night.
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Images compliments of Paul Almeida and Azorcan Tours.
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My European Favourites – Helsinki, Finland
Founded only in the 16th century, Helsinki is the geographic, political, financial and cultural capital of Finland. In addition to the area Helsinki encompasses on the mainland, it includes over 300 islands on the inlets and bays of the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Finland. Combined with Stockholm and Tallinn, Helsinki is one of our top tour destinations for youth hockey and ringette teams for over twenty years. Finns are avid sports people and great hosts for our Canadian groups.
Before gaining independence in 1917, Finland was ruled by the Swedes and Russians. The city was founded by Sweden’s King Gustav in 1550 to rival the Hanseatic League member city once known as Reval. Today, Reval is known as Tallinn, Estonia, and it can be reached by a two hour ferry ride.
In 1809, Russia gained control of Helsinki, and in 1812, moved Finland’s capital city from Turku to Helsinki. The decision was made because Helsinki was closer to St. Petersburg and easier to defend because of the Sveaborg sea fortress which guards the sea entrance into the city. Today the sea fortress is named Suomenlinna, and is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The population of Helsinki proper is about 650,000, and it has a metro population of around 1.5 million including its neighboring municipalities like Vantaa and Espoo. This makes it the 3rd largest city of the Nordic countries, after only Stockholm and Copenhagen. While having all the conveniences of a modern city, Helsinki is a great destination for nature lovers. There are parks and vast areas of unspoilt nature to explore year round. In the summer months, when days are long, there are beaches, boating and watersport opportunities on the sea or at nearby lakes.
Helsinki has an interesting mix of various architectural styles including modern structures that are on the cutting edge of design. The city has a vibrant nightlife with many clubs, bars and late night eateries. The culinary scene is varied from the popular local hamburger chain, Hesburger, to Michelin-star restaurants. There is even a restaurant in the city centre decorated with rustic tables and old tractors serving traditional reindeer dishes. If you want to enjoy a beer while passing Helsinki’s main sights, you may be interested in the Sparakoff Pub Tram. The red colored tram with the destination board reading “PUB” takes about 45 minutes to make a round trip. Plenty of time to enjoy a beverage or two.
Inaugurated in 1868, the Uspenski Cathedral is the center of the Eastern Orthodox faith in Finland. The cathedral was built using 700,000 red bricks that were brought in by barge from a demolished fortress in the Baltic. Entrance to the cathedral is free, and about half a million tourists visit it annually to see the elaborately decorated interior and several valuable icons. The cathedral was built upon a hillside of the Katajanokka island, which forms the eastern side of the city center and the Helsinki harbour. Overlooking the city, the cathedral is a great place to start our journey through Helsinki.
Walking down from the cathedral to the waterfront, we immediately see the 40 meter tall Sky Wheel Helsinki. The wheel offers great views of the city, the sea and the surrounding islands. The wheel has two unique gondolas. One’s interior has leather seats with a glass floor and includes a bottle of champagne for a 30 minute ride. The other is the SkySauna. Yes, we all know Finns love their saunas, so why not combine a ferris wheel ride with a sauna.
Next to the wheel, we find the Allas Sea Pool which has three pools right in the Heslinki harbour. One pool is for lap swimming, one is for families and one is a salt water pool. The fresh water pools are heated, the salt water pool is not. In addition to the pools, there are saunas and a restaurant with terraces to enjoy the views. For those looking to experience a Finnish sauna, it’s a convenient location. If you have time, I would recommend the Löyly sauna which is located near the Tallin ferry terminal. There are many places in Helsinki offering a sauna, so finding one is easy.
Kauppatori Market Square
Taking one of the little bridges from Katajanokka island to the market square we will pass the yellow Presidential Palace. The former Russian imperial palace, contains the Office of the President of the Republic and is used for official functions and receptions. Continuing past the palace, we arrive at the Kauppatori Market Square. The square has been a marketplace for hundreds of years and is a popular tourist attraction. The year round market’s kiosks sell fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, handcrafts, clothing and souvenirs. There are also stands that sell prepared food and beverages. A warm bowl of salmon soup with rye bread or a plate of grilled fish with vegetables make a quick, inexpensive and tasty lunch. The square faces the busy Port of Helsinki (Helsingen Satama) and from here you can take boat tours of the archipelago or to the Suomenlinna Island fortress. You can also see the huge Viking and Silja Line ferries arriving in the morning and departing in the evening for Stockholm.
The light blue Helsinki City Hall is located right in front of the Market Square. Taking a side street along the City Hall we will arrive at the expansive Senate Square with a statue of Russian Czar Alexander II at its centre. The white neo-classical Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral, built in 1852, dominates the north side of the square and towers over the city center. The west and east sides of the square have two similarly looking yellow buildings. The eastern building houses the offices of the prime Minister of Finland and the cabinet. The one on the west side is the main building of the University. North of the University building is the National Library of Finland. The ‘Sederholm house” on the southeast corner of the square is the oldest, built in 1757. The square is used for many events including art displays, food festivals, concerts, New Year’s celebrations and the Christmas market.
The Old Market Hall and the Esplanadi
Walking back towards the harbour, we will go past the market square on the west side of the harbour to Helsinki’s Old Market Hall. Open in 1889, it is Finland’s oldest indoor market. In the lively market you will find merchants selling meat, fish, shellfish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, spices, coffee, tea and even a small wine and spirits shop. The cafés and restaurants in the Old Market Hall are a great place to have a break from sightseeing or have a nice lunch.
After grabbing a coffee at the Market, we head back towards the market square and to an interesting fountain that was built in 1908. The Havis Amanda fountain has a nude female statue, often referred to as Manta, at the centre. It was created by Finnish artist Ville Vallgren at his studio in Paris, France. The fountain has four seals looking up to the sea nymph as she rises out of the water. The first of May is the start of the summer for students and in celebration they would don a white cap. Since the early days of the fountain, students have celebrated “May Day” by placing a cap on the head of Manta.
The Havis Amanda fountain sits at the foot of the National urban park called the Esplanadi. This elongated park, opened in 1818, has a wide pedestrian center with numerous benches and green space on either side. The historic Kappeli restaurant, open since 1867, and the Espa Stage, used for concerts, are at the eastern entrance to the Esplanadi. There are pieces of art throughout the Esplanadi including a statue of Finland’s national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, at the very centre of the park. At the western end of the park, we find the Swedish language theatre aptly named, the Swedish Theatre. Originally built in 1860, it burned down just three years later. In 1866, it was rebuilt in neo-classical style, but in 1935 it was renovated and the richly decorated exterior was changed by the architects to a simpler “functionalist” style.
The Esplanadi has a street on either side of the park and the surrounding buildings, especially on the north side, have upscale shopping and restaurants. On the north west end of the park just across the street from the Swedish Theatre is the Stockmann Department Store. The iconic Stockmann building, the largest department store in the Nordic countries, was built in 1930 and the brand’s history dates back to 1858.
The Central Station, Art and A Chapel of Silence
Turning right at the Mannerheimintie street, we walk about 200 meters to Kaivokatu street where we can see the train station on the right. The Helsinki Central Station is the main hub for commuter and long-distance trains for approximately 200,000 people per day. The impressive Finnish granite building was inaugurated in 1919 and has a pair of statues standing guard while holding spherical lamps on each side of the grand entrance. Along with the “stone men,” the station is known for the clock tower on its east side. The Helsinki Central Station has a city metro station, restaurants and an underground shopping centre.
Beyond the train station is a huge open space called the Rautatientori, or Railway Square. On the south side of the square is the Ateneum, the museum of Finnish and international art. The museum, in a beautiful 1887 building, has Finnish works of art from the 18th century to the 20th century and is one of the three museums that form the Finnish National Gallery. In addition to the extensive art from Finland, it has over 600 international pieces.
Going back on Kaivokatu street we cross Mannerheimintie street to Simonkatu street and walk about a block. We will see a curious looking oval cylindrical building with a wood exterior. This is the very unique Kamppi Chapel or the “Chapel of Silence.” The chapel holds up to 60 people and is intended to be a place of calm and silence in a busy urban centre. The chapel is free to visit during opening hours.
Parliament and Museum District & Rock Church
After enjoying a moment of silence, we make our way back to Mannerheimintie street and continue along it until we reach Mannerheim Square and the equestrian statue of Marshall Gustaf Mannerheim. The bronze statue of the Finnish military leader and statesman was erected in 1960. The statue sits in front of the Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art, which was built in 1990. Like the Ateneum, the Kiasma is part of the Finnish National Gallery. Near the Kiasma, you will find the architecturally striking Helsinki Central Library Oodi, the Helsinki Music Centre, the National Museum of Finland and the event and congress center, Finlandia Hall. Across the street from the Mannerheim statue, we also find the Finnish Parliament building. The red granite parliament building with fourteen Corinthian columns was built in 1931.
Only a couple of minutes walk from the Mannerheim Square is the Temppeliaukion Kirkko, which is better known as the Rock Church. Designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969, the Lutheran church was built into solid rock, and is filled with natural light from the large skylight that leads up to the copper dome. The acoustics in the church are exceptional and it is frequently used for concerts. The exposed rock walls of the church create an interesting backdrop for the altar and an interesting contrast with the church organ with 3001 pipes. The church welcomes over half a million visitors a year.
The Sibelius Monument and the Olympic Stadium
West of Helsinki’s city center is Seurasaarenselkä Bay. On the eastern side of the bay, you will find Sibelius Park and the Sibelius Monument. The monument, made from more than 600 hollow steel pipes, is dedicated to Finland’s greatest composer, Jean Sibelius. He is noted for having encouraged, through his works, the rise of a Finnish national identity and independence from Russia. In the center of the bay is the densely forested Seurasaari island which is home to the Seurasaari Open-Air Musuem. The museum has transplanted wooden buildings from throughout Finland.
In 1952, Helsinki was the host city for the 15th Olympiad and is the northernmost city to host the summer Olympics. The flame was lit by Finland’s greatest Olympian, runner Paavo Nurmi, who won 9 gold and 3 silver medals at the 1920, 1924 and 1928 games. The Olympic Stadium is located only two kilometers north of the city centre and was originally built for the 1940 Olympics that were cancelled due to the second World War. The stadium has undergone renovations in the early 1990s, in 2005 for the World Championships in Athletics, and another renovation phase was scheduled to be completed in 2020. Over time, the stadium has gone from being able to host 70,000 spectators to just over 40,000. The stadium today hosts mainly soccer games, athletics competitions and concerts. The stadium’s 72 meter tower is a Helsinki landmark and its height is equal to the length of Matti Järvinen’s gold medal javelin throw in the 1932 Summer Olympics. The stadium visitor center is located at the foot of the tower. While in Finland, you may want to try the alcoholic “Long Drink” that was developed to serve visitors to the 1952 Olympics. Locally the Long Drink is called a “Lonkero” and the original, a mix of gin and grapefruit soda, is made by Hartwall.
Not far from the Olympic Stadium is the Linnanmäki amusement park, which opened in 1950. The park is owned by a non-profit agency that operates the park to raise funds for Finnish child welfare programs. South of the park is Töölö Bay with a surrounding green space, walking paths and two important cultural centres, the Helsinki City Theatre and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet.
A couple of kilometers north of Linnanmäki is the 14,000 seat Hartwall Arena, which is the home of the KHL’s Jokerit hockey team. The arena was built in 1997 and is used mostly for basketball, hockey and concerts. In 2016, we had a large group of Canadian hockey fans in Helsinki for the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, and the Hartwall Arena was the main venue for the tournament. Finland won gold with a team loaded with future NHLers Sebastian Aho, Patrick Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Kasperi Kapanen, Olli Juolevi and tournament MVP Jesse Puljujarvi. The atmosphere in the arena was electric with thousands of patriotic Finns erupting in joy at the final whistle. If Canada can’t win, the next best thing is to get caught up in the passion of the local fans.
In the fall of 2018, we had a group of Edmonton Oilers fans in Gothenburg, Sweden for the NHL season’s opening game against the New Jersey Devils. At the end of the tour, we took the overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. During our city tour, we stopped at the Hartwall arena and we surprised the group with a meeting with Oilers legend Jari Kurri. After many photos and autographs, Kurri, who was the General Manager of local team Jokerit, graciously talked hockey and watched practice with us.
The Suomenlinna, or Sveaborg, is an inhabited sea fortress built on eight islands south east of the city centre at the entrance to Helsinki harbour. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it was originally founded by the Swedes in 1748, but in 1808, the fortress was overtaken by Russia. It remained in Russian control until Finnish independence in 1918. The fortress welcomes over half a million tourists and locals annually. The summer months are especially busy and Suomenlinna can be easily reached by a short ferry ride from Market Square.
There are just under 1000 permanent residents on Suomenlinna and just under 400 people who work on the island year-round. Some of the reconstruction of the fortifications and general maintenance is done by volunteer inmates, who are part of an on-site minimum-security penal labour colony. A guided visit to the fortress includes Great Castle Courtyard, Piper’s Park and the large Dry Dock. There are various museums at Suomenlinna including one detailing the life of Swedish officers in the 18th century, a toy museum, a military museum, a submarine museum and a customs museum. The main Suomenlinna Museum, located in the Suomenlinna Centre, details the history of the fortress and its restoration.
Ferry to Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga and St. Petersburg
Getting around the Baltic Sea is easy with the numerous daily sailings by large ferry boats that include onboard shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and cabin quarters for overnight trips.
From the Helsinki Harbour in the city center, there are two sailings per day to Stockholm, Sweden. The Tallink Silja line uses the Olympia Terminal on the west side of the harbour, while the Viking Line has their terminal on the east side of the harbour on Katajanokka island. The overnight ferries leave in the early evening, and arrive in Stockholm the next morning, about 17 hours later. Prices for a return trip are very affordable.
The newer West Harbour outside of the city center is where you can catch the numerous daily two hour ferries to Tallinn, Estonia. A day trip to Tallinn departing Helsinki in the morning and returning in the evening is common although I would recommend a stay in Tallinn if you have time. The West Harbour is also where you can take the St. Peters Ferry to St. Petersburg, Russia, and with a stay of less that 72 hours you can do it without a visa. These are the main ferry routes, but there may be ferry services to Latvia, Germany and other destinations available.
Lets Go To Helsinki
Even though Helsinki is young city by European standards, it is a great place to visit. In addition to the activities and sights I have outlined here, other parts of Finland, including Lapland, are worth exploring. I have found people in Finland to be friendly, warm, open and sincere. Finland is very safe, and the country regularly ranks high on the list of the best places to live in the world. With convenient and low cost travel by ferry to neighboring countries, it is an easy add to any itinerary of the Baltic region. I look forward to returning to Helsinki with a hockey or ringette group very soon, and in 2027, Finland is scheduled to host the World Juniors again.
Explore Europe With Us
Azorcan Global Sport, School and Sightseeing Tours have taken thousands to Europe on their custom group tours since 1994. Visit azorcan.net to see all our custom tour possibilities for your group of 26 or more. Individuals can join our “open” signature sport, sightseeing and sport fan tours including our popular Canada hockey fan tours to the World Juniors. At azorcan.net/media you can read our newsletters and listen to our podcasts.
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Images compliments of Paul Almeida and Azorcan Tours.
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