#14: Explore the isle of sheep (Lammassaari)

All year, Birdwatching, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Sea, Walk

I know what you are thinking – yet another Isle of Something, get a life, how can this get interesting. Well it does, because islands in and around Helsinki (aka Helsinki archipelago) constitute such an inseparable part of the genius loci. If you liked Suomenlinna (everybody does), chances are you will like the islands I’m writing about – and you can be sure that the experience delight will rise as the number of tourists drops.

Most of the islands are only accessible during the summer season when the ferry service operates (unless you have your own boat – good one, I know). That’s the case with Pihlajasaari for example. Some islands are however accessible via bridges and man-made earthwork, such as Matosaari I wrote about some time ago.

Today we will move slightly toward the north, to the area of Vanhakaupunki (Old Town). This area should be on a list of anyone visiting Helsinki for longer than a few days or hours – and that does not only apply to nature freaks! Having said that, do not get deceived by the name. Indeed is this place of historical importance, apparently that’s where the core of Helsinki was before Helsinki the way we know it came into being:) yet don’t expect a number of monuments, museums and what-else-not touristy things. Tourists usually stop at the Arabia factory (see below) – and actually even most Helsinki residents have no clue where or what Old Helsinki is, my guess is they think it is some kind of a pub.

Take tram number 6 or 8 toward Arabian ranta, get off at Arabiankatu – and pay a visit to the Arabia factory (and museum and a well-equipped factory shop selling Arabia, Iittala, Fiskars and Finlayson goods). By now you must surely have come across with the moomin mugs or other items you will find in each and every Finnish household.

In close vicinity you will find Kumpula, a lovely area with a botanical garden, wooden district not unlike Käpylä and an outdoor swimming pool. I hope you won’t mind if I write about all of these places a bit later on this year..? Unless someone is eager to see pictures of a pool full of slush. Another couple of hundred metres along Hämeentie take left to Vanhakaupungintie, you will find Kellonmäki hill there with some spectacular landmarks, such as an obelisk to the remembrance of founding of the city of Helsinki. Return to Hämeentie, now cross the road and enjoy a short walk around the bay towards the Museum of Technology (ummm… looks like a big water pump really). Enjoy the little “waterfall”, turn right onto the Viikintie, walk for a little bit, take another right to Katariina Saksilaisen katu and keep walking until you reach the end of civilisation and arrive at a car park slash field. This won’t take long, believe me :)… and Bob’s your uncle, we are close to Lammassaari, all you have to do is keep crossing the field toward Lammassaari…

… this fieldy foresty area, in fact, is the Viiki natural reserve, a popular destination for bird-spotters and families with small children (not THAT kind of popular, more like behaving curious kids popular). The wooden path leads you across the area – you will most definitely come across a few bird-spotting towers (look out for Lintutorni).

The views from these are stunning, but what stuns you even more is the peace. You can hear the humming city, yes, but it does not bother you. Overlooking the marshlands, the water, the greenery makes you smile inside (and outside, unless it’s raining).

And one of those magical paths leads you across the marshlands (or meadows? It is hard to say in winter) to the Lammassaari.

An island accessible on a wooden path from the Viiki side and by boat from the half facing Herttoniemi. A popular recreational area guessing by the number of cabins. Superpeaceful during the winter. Probably even more magical during the summer.

Interestingly enough, some of the largest buildings on Lammassaari (wooden Leppola house and Pohjolan pirtti from 1904-05) are owned and managed by this abstinence society, Kottio ry, promoting active and culturally rich lifestyle. I understand that the nature surroundings contribute to the ethos of the organisation – but the number of cabins and Finnish style grilling (involving cheap sausages, avocado and LOTS of beer and “cider”) probably not so much. The dominant of the island is definitely the Pohjolan pirtti

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… owned by the above-mentioned, a restaurant and event venue. Naturally this was deserted in February, and there is currently no mention of summer events, opening times, etc., but I believe that I will revisit again.

Information: http://www.koitto.net/

Accessible on foot: park your car on Joukontie, take the bus (57, 68, 71, 71V, 74, 74N, 506) to Viikinranta – or if you have a lot of energy in your legs I can recommend taking the tram and

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#13: Visit the mystical Island of Worms (Matosaari)

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, History, Sea, Spooky

This island just off Jollas (just after Lauttasaari) – or a peninsula, as it has been connected to the mainland sometime in late 19th century – has one heavily loaded karma. Atmosphere. Genius loci. Tiny in size and not attracting crowds of tourists, green, quiet and unwelcoming (compare to for example Kivinokka or relatively nearby Korkeasaari).

On the way to the island… 

When Finland was still a part of Russian empire, the island served as a part of the coastal fortification, during the Crimean War (1853-1856) a fort was raised there to protect the Grand Duchy from attackers. After the island has become a peninsula it was sold for civilian use. First land owner, K.H. Lindh built a lovely villa on the island – the house is still standing nowadays and is owned and used by by Helsingin meripelastus (Helsinki Lifeboat Association). In the 1920s, a certain Uno Björklund built another fancy villa on the island. Garden architect Paul Olsson was appointed to re-design the house’s surroundings in 1928; in his plans he included the remains of the fort as well as natural stone walls. The plan, however, was never carried out since in 1963 the villa was destroyed in fire, all what is left nowadays includes piles of stones and beams in the middle of island overgrown with grass and lichen. It gives shivers.

Walking around the island among the ruins.

Some views from the island. Note Hamina island in the third picture serving as military training facility.

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Location: 00850 Helsinki. If you are travelling by car I recommend parking next to Jollas Institute (Jollasvägen 89) and continue on foot. Alternatively, take bus number 85 from Herttoniemi (direction Jollas) to Kellaripellonpolku and walk from there.

More information (in Finnish): http://www.kysy.fi/kysymys/mista-voisin-saada-tietoa-laajasalon-matosaaren-historiastaneuvosta 

 

#12: Explore Helsinki Synagogue

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Walk

Visible to thousands of Helsinki inhabitants and commuters to the capital city passing Kamppi every day, yet very few locals know the answer when you ask them where the Synagogue is.

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(Photo: Peter Marten – I would love to go out and take own pictures of the area, but the weather is so unbelievably rubbish that I had to borrow this picture)

Yes It is located right off Kamppi, and it is the building with the golden dome roof, reflecting morning light. As I was told by Andre, my guide at the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), when the nearby Radisson Hotel was being designed, the architects made sure that the Synagogue’s roof remains visible from Kamppi. I’m not sure where this condition comes from, but it surely werved the JCC and the whole Kamppi area well.

I, too, stumbled upon the Synagogue quite randomly – there were not too many clues at the outside of the Synagogue, with exception to stars of David on the outside fence. And a pretty tall wall. And an automated gate. And a security guide.

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Security measures are still quite high – prepare to be ID:ed and assigned a guide and leave any larger bags at home, but visitors are always welcome: it is possible to visit the Synagogue and the adjacent Jewish centre every week (Monday to Thursday at 10am and 2pm), the best way to secure the tour is to get in touch with the Jewish Community Centre in advance.

And what is behind the walls?

Well, first of all, a group of kids playing in the inside yard (there is a Jewish Kindergarten and School at the centre which I did not know). Social areas and offices of the JCC. And the Synagogue, which due to the security measures and alike looks quite modest from the street.

The interior, however, is pretty stunning. The Synagogue, designer by Viipuri-born Johan Jacob Ahrenberg, was finished in 1906 and is very likeable and very art-nouveau and definitely worth a visit.

The opinions and suggestions in this blog are mine and mine only (unless of course stated otherwise) and I’m not planning to serve as marketing agency, but I have to mention that Andre Zweig, my (own) guide, was really friendly and knowledgable, showing me around the JCC and telling me about the history of Jewish community in Finland. If you would like to know more about this topic, or would fancy a tour of your own, do drop him a line.