Eastern Europe Trip – Day 19 – Helsinki, Finland

Today is the last day of my Eastern Europe trip. I woke up early so that I could explore everything that I wanted to in Helsinki, Finland.

Near my hotel is Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was built between 1862 and 1868. It is the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Finland, and was designed by Aleksey Gornostayev. A fun fact about the cathedral is that over 700000 bricks were used in its construction, that were brought over in barges from the Bomarsund Fortress that had been demolished in the Crimean War. The church is designed in Russian Revival architecture style.

After snapping some photos of the cathedral I walked over to Senate Square, where there is a statue of Russian emperor Alexander II, as well as Helsinki Cathedral. The church was built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was known as St. Nicholas’ Church until Finland gained its independence in 1917. The Neoclassical church was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and Ernst Lohrmann.

Nearby is the Pohjola Insurance Building, built between 1899 and 1901. It’s a fine example of Finiish National Romantic Architecture. The building was the original headquarters for the Pohjola Insurance Company, and was designed by Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen. The soapstone, and granite facades are intricately detailed. The main entrance has troll and bear statues on each side of the door, and because the mouths of some of the characters are slightly open, sometimes when people are passing by they leave cigarette butts in the mouths of the characters as a prank.

Just down the street is the Ateneum Art Gallery, which is housed in a beautiful building designed by Theodor Hoijer, and was completed in 1887. The facade of Ateneum is decorated with statues and reliefs which contain a lot of symbols.

Across the street is Helsinki Central Station. The central train station was designed by Eliel Saarinen and opened in 1919. The design was finished in 1909, however the national romanticist style (similar to Art Nouveau) train station took 10 years to be completed. I love the four male statues holding the orbs; I think they look really neat. Over 400,000 people use the train station daily!

Right next door to the central train station is the Finish National Theatre, which is a 1424 seat theatre that was built in 1902. The National Romantic style theatre was designed by architects Onni Tarjanne and Heikki & Kaija Siren.

I then took a bus to Puu-Vallila, a colourful wooden house district that dates back to 1910. The district was built for the working classes during the 1910’s and 1920’s. It was designed by architects Karl Hård af Segerstad, Armas Lindgren, Jussi Paatela and Toivo Paatela.

I then took another bus to Kallio Church (Kallion Kirkko), which is a beautiful Art Nouveau style Lutheran Church designed by Lars Sonck, and built between 1908 and 1912.

A short walk away from the church is Mehiläinen Helsinki Ympyrätalo, also known as “Circle House”, a circular modern style office building that was built between 1960 and 1968.

I then took a bus to view a very strange piece of art called Sibelius-Monumentti. The monument is dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and was unveiled by Finnish artists Eila Hiltunen in 1967. The monument consists of 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern, and weighs over 24 tons!

I then took another bus to Temppeliaukion Church, a Lutheran Church that is built directly into solid rock. It is also known as the Church of the Rock. Plans for the church date back to the 1930’s, however construction was delayed because of World War 2. After the war construction didn’t start until 1989, and was finished the remaining year. The interior was excavated and built directly out of solid rock. Natural light enters through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome. The church is used frequently as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics. The church organ is comprised of 3001 pipes!

Kamppi Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Silence, is a very small, yet beautiful modern chapel located in Narinkka Square. It was built in 2012.

It was now time to get some lunch, as I was getting rather peckish. I took a tram to Löyly Helsinki Restaurant and had a delicious burger and seasoned fries. The restaurant is also home to a beautiful terrace overlooking the ocean, and saunas.

Final stop was Suomenlinna Fortress, located 20 minutes away from Helsinki by boat. It’s a maritime fortress built during the Swedish Era from 1748 to 1808 to protect their maritime fleet. It was taken over by the Russians from 1808 to 1917, when Finland gained its independence. It is.a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was now time to take the train back to the airport and check-in to my hotel; Hilton Helsinki Airport, which I received for free from a Hotels.com voucher. The room was very well appointed, and I ended up working, having a bath, and chatting with friends during the evening.

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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