January 20, 2006
An island in the sun, -20°C
I start my travelogue from an exotic spot on the map. It´s an island called Katajanokka (Cape Juniper), in the centre of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The island is separated from the heart of the city by two small bridges and two remarkable buildings which are like symbols of our recent history. One of them is a magnificent Russian orthodox cathedral with recently polished golden onions on top. The other one is a cubic marble block, the headquarters of the paper industy company Enso, one of the (less praised) creations of the great Finnish modern architect, Alvar Aalto.
I like midwinter days when the sun is shining low and hard. White powder snow covers the old trees and elegant jugendstil buildings. One should have proper equipment to fully enjoy that all because it´s –20°C. When I´m in town I often go to greet the massive ice breakers waiting for their turn to open a narrow path through the desert of ice for the boats arriving Helsinki. I feel at home in harbour cities; Helsinki, Amsterdam, Venice, Tokyo, Bangkok, New York...soon you will be there with me!
I agree with the Lonely Planet travel guide guru, John Wheeler, who recently visited Helsinki, and found ice breakers in my neighbourhood as the best tourist attraction in Helsinki. They also are like symbols of this small nation, stubborn and proud, strong in a quiet manner, well designed, equipped with the last high tech and in a humble relationship with mighty nature. The boats carry names like ”Kontio” and ”Otso”, both meaning the bear, a sacred animal in the Finnish mythology, or ”Sisu” (guts), the national attitude.
Last year when I spent the spring in Tokyo I thought a lot about our strong relationship to nature. A japanese friend suggested that Finnish and Japanese are both sort of animists. I remember his words when I stand on the last shore of my home island, observing how the shining desert of ice steams. On the other side of the island, next to main market of Helsinki, people calmly take baths in icy water.
Posted by sob at January 20, 2006 03:00 PM