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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Eastern Europe Trip – Day 12 – Vienna, Austria

Today I woke around 7:00 am, as I had an early train to catch. I ate breakfast downstairs, before venturing off to Budapest’s main train station. I boarded the 8:40 am train to Vienna and sat next to two women who were from Ireland. We chatted about travel throughout the 2.75 hour train ride. When the train was crossing the border from Hungary to Austria some police entered and checked peoples passports. There was a group of younger Syrian men that were arrested by the police and taken off the train at the next stop. I presume that didn’t have the proper documentation, as I heard this is fairly frequent for this route.

I arrived in Vienna at 11:20am, and made my way to my hotel; Enziana Hotel Vienna. I was only going to be here the one night, as I booked this one free with a Hotels.com voucher. I booked another hotel for the rest of my stay in Vienna.

Before I dive into my day let’s talk about Austria’s history.

Austria’s History

Austria dates back to pre-Roman times and was settled by various Celtic tribes. The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was claimed by the Roman’s and made into a province. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was invaded by the Bavarians, Slavs, and Avars. Charlemange, King of the Franks conquered the area in 788 AD. As part of Eastern Francia, the core areas that encompasses Austria were left to the house of Babenberg. The first record showing the name Austria dates back to 996 AD, where it was written as Ostarrichi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March.

In 1156, the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy, and in 1192 the Babenberg’s also acquired the Duchy of Styria. When Frederick II died in 1246 AD, this brought an end to the Babenberg’s. As a result of this, Ottokar II of Bohemia assumed control of the duchies of Austria, Styria, and Carinthia. In 1273 Rudolf von Habsburg became Holy Roman Emperor and defeated the Bohemian (Czech) king and in 1282 he made his son Albert Duke of Austria. The Hapsburg’s rules Austria for centuries, acquiring more territory and building up quite the empire.

Rudolf IV became Duke of Austria in 1358. He founded the great Vienna University during his ruling. In 1437 Albert II Duke of Austria also became king of Hungary and Bohemia (Czech Republic). In 1438 he became Holy Roman Emperor.

Starting in the 1500’s it was quite the rocky time for Austria over the course of the next few hundred years. In 1529 the Turks launched a siege on Vienna, but failed to capture it. Then the Thirty Years War occurred in 1618-1648. In 1684 the Turks tried to attack Vienna again, but an army of Germans and Poles helps drive them back. In the 18th century Austria ended up being quite prosperous despite even more conflicts; the first of which was the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which ended up with Austrian’s capturing Sardinia from the Italians.

Emperor Charles IV didn’t have a male heir and had to persuade foreign powers and national assembles to accept his daughter (Maria Theresa) as the next ruler. In 1740 Maria succeeded him. The War of Austrian Succession occurred from 1740-1740 and Maria had to fight off the Prussians, French and Spanish.

In 1748 Maria’s husband Francis of Lorraine was made Emperor Francis I. He ended up dying in 1765 and was replaced again by Maria, and her son Joseph II (1765-1790). The Austrians and French ended up fighting a series of war from 1792 to 1815, and during the period in 1806 Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. The ruler of Austria gave up the title Holy Roman Emperor and became Emperor Franz I of Austria.

During the 19th century nationalism was a growing force in the Austrian Empire, with many Hungarians and Czechs becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Austrian ruling. In 1848 a wave of revolutions occurred across Europe, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Towards the end of the 19th century the area surrounding Vienna grew rapidly.

In 1914 Archduke Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne was assassinated, which led to World War I. In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Austria declared its independence on November 12 1918. During the 1920’s Austria was able to recover, but was soon hit with the global depression of the 1930’s.

In 1934 the German Nazis attempted a coup and shot Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. The Austrian troops were able to defend against the coup this time, but the Germans were keen on taking over Austria. On March 12 1938 the Germans took control of Austria until the Russians invaded in 1945.

Governance of Austria was restored in April 1945, and by July 1945 Austria was divided into four zones controlled by the allies (USA, France, Britain and Russia). In 1955 Austria became an independent nation again, and joined the United Nations in 1955. Austria had tremendous economic growth in the remainder of the century. Austria joined the European Union in 1995.

Exploring Vienna

After checking into the hotel it was time to search for some food. Since it was a cold day I felt like getting some soup, so I stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant close to my first stop at Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

After having lunch I walked across the street to Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, which is located at Maria-Theresien-Platz, a large public square and museum of modern arts located in the former Imperial Stables. Facing each other from the sides of the square are two near identical buildings, the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). The only difference between the nearly identical buildings are their façades. The Naturhistorisches’ façade has statues depicting personifications of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, where as the Kunsthistorisches façade features famous European artists.

Across the street from the Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum is Museums Quartier, which is a beautiful district in Vienna that contains Baroque and Modern style buildings completed by architects Laurids and Manfred Ortner. The Museums Quartier houses the installation of large art museums such as the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna). The museums were renovated between 1998 and 2001 at a cost of € 150M ($218M CDN).

A short walk away is Volkstheatre, also known as the “People’s Theatre”. The theatre was founded in 1989 by the request of the citizens of Vienna to offer an alternative to the Hofburgtheater (Burgtheater).

A couple blocks away is the Palace of Justice building, which is a beautiful Neo-Renaissance building that was built between 1875 and 1881 The building was designed by architect Alexander Wielemans von Monteforte as the new residence of the Supreme Court that was established after the 1848 revolutions.

The Austrian Parliament Building is next door, however I wasn’t able to take a great photo of it, as it was currently under renovation. The Austrian Parliament Building is where the two houses of the Austrian Parliament conduct their sessions. The building, designed by Theophil Hansen, was built between 1874 and 1883 in a Greek Revival style. He designed the building holistically, aiming to have each element harmonizing with all the others, including the interior decoration, such as statues, paintings, furniture, chandeliers, and numerous other elements. The building was heavily damaged during World War 2, but was restored afterwards. The building contains over 100 rooms! One of the most famous features of the building is the Pallas Athens fountain in front of the main entrance, which was designed by Carl Kundmann.

Nearby is Rathausplatz, which is a beautiful large square in the centre of Vienna that is often used as a Christmas market. It is built right in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). The city hall building, designed by Friedrich von Schmidt, was built between 1872 and 1883 in a Neo-Gothic style. The building is used by the Mayor of Vienna, as well as the chambers of the city council and Vienna Landtag (German) representative assembly.

After enjoying a bratwurst, and some mulled wine I walked over to Burgtheater, which I could see across the street from the Christmas Market. Burgtheater originally opened in 1741 and is one of the most important German language, and most important theatres in the world. It moved into its current building, which was designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer, in 1888. In World War 2 the theatre was heavily damaged, and wasn’t rebuilt until between 1953 and 1955.

The University of Vienna is just half a block north of the theatre. The University of Vienna has some absolutely gorgeous buildings. The University was founded in 1365 by Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria, and his two brothers, Dukes Albert III and Leopold III. The impressive library at the University has over 7.1 million books!

Nearby Votivkirche Church was under renovation. Votivkirche Church is a beautiful Neo-Gothic style church that was designed by Heinrich von Ferstel, and built between 1856 and 1879. Following the attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853, the Emperor’s brother Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian inaugurated a campaign to create a church to thank God for saving the Emperor’s life. Funds for construction were solicited from throughout the Empire. The church was dedicated in 1879 on the silver anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Empress Elisabeth. The church stands 99 metres (325 feet) tall!

The sun was starting to set, however I wanted to check out a few more places before I went back to the hotel for the night. A ten minute walk away was Strudlhofstiege, an outdoor staircase in Art Nouveau architecture style, that was opened in 1910.

My second last stop for the evening was the Spittelau Incinerator, which is waste-to-energy incinerator in the center of the city. It was built between 1969 and 1971. In 1987 a major fire destroyed major sections of the facility. Instead of tearing it down, it was rebuilt and it was decided that it would also become a public work of art. The environmentalist, nature lover and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser was tasked with designing the new plant. The building was finished in 1992. Its colourful façade, the golden ball on the chimney, roof greenery and planted trees have made the new Spittelau unmistakable and a Viennese landmark. The facility processes 250000 tons of household waste every year and turns it into 120000 MWh of electricity, 500000 MWh of district heating, 6000 tons of scrap iron, and 60000 tons of clinker, ash and filter cake. This is enough energy to heat over 60000 homes!

The final stop of the day was Vienna’s Amusement Park, which houses Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel, and Prater Turm, among many other rides. It was amazing walking around the amusement park during dusk with all the rides lit up.

Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel, also known as Wiener Risenrad, is a 65-metre-tall Ferris wheel located in the Prater amusement park. The Ferris wheel was designed by British engineers Harry Hitchins and Hubert Cecil Boots, and constructed in 1897. It wore the crown as the world’s tallest extant Ferris wheel from 1920 until 1985. Prior to 1920 the 100-metre-tall Grande Roue de Paris, which was constructed in 1900, was the tallest Ferris wheel, but it was demolished in 1920, leaving the Risenrad to became the world’s tallest.

Prater Turm is a 117-metre high swing carousel in Wurstelprate amusement park. It is the world’s second tallest chain carousel, followed closely behind Eclipse in the Gröna Lund amusement park in Sweden. Prater Turm was opened on May 1st 2010. The tower has a mass of 200 tons and is anchored into a 16-meter diameter slab foundation that is two meters deep and weighs 720 tons. On the top of the tower there is a shiny gold onion done, which houses three 2.7 m clocks. There are also 1,200 LEDs in the top of the tower for night-time lighting.

After exploring the amusement park I took the metro back to my hotel, with a quick stop at a donair shop for dinner. I spent the rest of the evening working, before heading to bed.

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