The island you never leave

There’s a joke in Helsinki that the residents of Katajanokka are so content with life they never leave the island. Which is particularly funny because this island is connected to the city by a short bridge and is two minutes walk from bustling Market Square.

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It’s a great place to walk around because you really do feel as though you are away from the city, despite the proximity. Your tour begins once you find yourself looking up at the Orthodox church of Uspenski Cathedral.

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There’s some beautiful housing to see on your walk. Katajanokka is described as one of the ‘most distinguished’ suburbs of Helsinki and used to be home to Finland’s former president.

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It’s also home to wonderful examples of Art Noveau architecture, or Jugendstil as it is known here. (Kataja means juniper).

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The details on the window frames and arches are incredible. (I had a bizarre experience this day, in that every time I photographed a door to a building, it would open and someone would walk out).

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Not being too tall can be an asset on this island. I had to crouch quite low to get into this store, where entry is only available through the window.

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Any hobbits visiting from New Zealand would feel quite at home, I’m sure.

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As well as being home to a major port for cruise ships, Katajanokka is also home to the huge ice breaker ships that churn up the Baltic Sea during the colder months.

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The red-brick style of architecture is more evident on this side of the island too and some official maritime offices are housed here.

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Katajanokka is also home to one of Helsinki’s best cafes: Johan & Nyström. It was in their Stockholm branch that current Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese honed his craft, after discovering coffee culture while living in New Zealand. You can read my interview for Creating Helsinki with him here.

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Just outside you can often watch hardy Finns walking from the sauna to the frozen water for avanto (ice swimming). From the cafe it’s just a short walk back to the base of Uspenski Cathedral and over the bridge to the city.

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Unless of course, like the residents, you also decide that you never want to leave. In that case, the island’s former prison has been converted into a hotel where you can sleep in a renovated cell.

Which brings to mind the Eagles song Hotel California every time I think of it. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….”

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Katajanokka

Uspenski Cathedral

Johan & Nystrom Cafe

Creating Helsinki: Kalle Freese Interview

Distracted by Design

Like many people, I hadn’t stepped inside a library for years until I had a child. We don’t Wriggle & Rhyme no more but my love affair with libraries has, ironically, been rekindled.

Photo credit: Petteri Kantokari

Photo credit: Petteri Kantokari

Of the five Helsinki libraries I’ve been to, Rikhardinkatu is my favourite. Opened in 1882 it was gifted to the city by Anniskeluyhtiöa company licensed to serve alcohol.

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Designed by architect Carl Theodor Höijer, it was the first building in the Nordic countries to be built as a library. It is spread over four floors and has lots of great different places to sit and read.

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I popped in early yesterday to do some printing and had a great time taking photos before the library filled with different discussion groups and people making use of the study areas.

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There’s a big room full of children’s books in different languages and the top floor is home to the library’s British collection.

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Although quite large, the smaller spaces on each floor create a cosy feeling and there’s one to suit every mood.

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The library is also unique in that it has a large collection of art work, built up over 20 years, from which you can borrow.

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As I walked out of the library I had a smile on my face thinking of all the lovely design features and how someone takes good care of all the plants. I got about three blocks before I realised I had left 17 pages of paper sitting on the library printer.

Rikhardinkatu Library

Art Collection for Borrowing

This is the sound… of silence

It was Miko’s final day at childcare before the July break. How best to use my time seeing the sights of Helsinki without my two-year old in tow? The Chapel of Silence? Sounds perfect!

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Like the hull of a giant wooden boat, Kamppi Chapel looms high above a bustling market square outside one of Helsinki’s busiest malls and transport hubs. We have walked past it numerous times and I have to admit I’ve never given it a second thought.

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It’s a lovely sight, the warm wood rising above as students, workers and tourists move about like pieces on a giant concrete chessboard.

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It’s easy to get church-fatigue when sight-seeing in Europe, and an edifice made of wood is no big deal to New Zealanders, but this is an architectural pleasure and a welcome relief from high-vaulted stone cathedrals.

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The chapel doesn’t hold services or events such as weddings and is operated by a partnership of Helsinki parishes and the city’s Social Services Department. When I entered I could hear someone behind a screen weeping softly as they spoke with the Social Worker on duty. I was ushered into the chapel where I sat down on a pew and just absorbed absolute silence. It was an incredible contrast to the noise and hustle outside. I felt like I was inside a giant, warm wooden egg.

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The Chapel contains pews, a pulpit and a place to burn thin tapered candles. There’s also a pile of cushions shaped like rocks that reflect the colours of river stones. I sat for about 15 minutes before heading back out into the hustle of the streets and off to pluck Miko from a mob of excitable kids at daycare. Being in the Chapel is not quite like taking Valium, but it was all the Mother’s Little Helper that I needed.

Kamppi Chapel of Silence