For our second day in Helsinki we left the apartment around 9am and made our way towards Market Square, where we would be catching the ferry to Suomenlinna. The Swedes started building Suomenlinna sea fortress back in 1748 to protect them against the Russians. It was surrendered to Russia during the Finnish War and was only returned to Finland after they gained their independence in 1917. Today Suomenlinna is an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most visited tourist attractions in Helsinki.
We made it to the island just a few minutes after opening. After picking up our tourist maps, we started following the route which would take us to all the main points on the island. We saw the church, toured the museum, and walked all the way to King’s Gate. We spent a solid two hours on the island before taking the ferry back towards Market Square.
For lunch we ate at this cafe called Cafe Engel. Even though their Sunday brunch menu looked really appealing, I ended up ordering meatballs again. Hehe. The meatballs this time were almost the size of tennis balls and I would have to say it tasted better than the ones I got in Sweden! I didn’t manage to finish it cause it was sooooo filling.
After lunch we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus which would drive us to Rock Church. It seemed like a good idea initially because we wouldn’t have to walk very far and could enjoy a more scenic route, but the bus took forever before we finally reached the church! I think I dozed off sometime during those 45 minutes we spent on that bus!
Once we finally made it to the church we lined up to get our admission tickets to go inside. The church itself is not much to look at from the outside, but the interior is just stunning.
After the church we did really quick tours inside both the National Museum and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. Neither of the museums were very big to begin with and even though we weren’t rushing through the exhibits, we finished each in under an hour. Aura and I weren’t very impressed by the selection of work at Kiasma, so maybe that’s why we went through it relatively quickly. We even had time to squeeze in a visit to the Sibelius Monument. =P
For dinner we ended up back at the restaurant we visited the day before. This time we had no problem getting seated inside Zetor. Aura introduced me to Finnish long drink which I absolutely love. I also tried reindeer stew for the first time! It’s very similar to lamb and I really liked it.
Once we finished dinner it was still early, so we went on a hunt for cake to eat after our sauna later than evening. I swear it was only 7pm and ALL the dessert and coffee shops were closed! The only one that was open was selling gluten-free cakes for 8 euros a slice! Needless to say we gave up and headed back to the apartment.
After grabbing our towels we headed straight towards the Kotiharjun Sauna, which was only a few minutes walk from where we were staying. I had wanted to try a traditional Finnish sauna even before I booked my trip to Helsinki. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but walking up to the entrance we could already see a row of men sitting outside with only their towels wrapped around them.
Aura explained to me that it’s really common for people to cool off after their sauna by swimming in the lake. Obviously there wasn’t a lake nearby, so people just improvised by sitting outside drinking beer. Usually families have saunas inside their homes, so there’s definitely a lot more privacy than at a public sauna. I’ve seen pictures of Kotiharjun where both men and women are wrapped in towels chilling outside the entrance. Just for the record, neither of us went outside in our towels after our sauna. =P
The sauna experience was different from what I had in mind. I thought it would be more of a steam sauna, but it was definitely very dry and very hot inside. Since we got there fairly late we had the entire sauna to ourselves. Aura wasn’t as impressed with the sauna, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to so I was fine with it. Once we finished we stopped by the supermarket on the way back and managed to buy ice cream for dessert. It wasn’t the same as eating cake, but at least it was a cool treat after the sauna experience!