Museumy / Day 37 of 64 / 15 June
It’s day two in Helsinki today. My first stop was the famous Market Square [Kauppatori] to get some breakfast. I reached the square at 8.15am, and already there was a healthy crowd strolling in between the rows of white tents. Merchants on Market Square sell everything from souvenirs to fresh fruits. There are also several cafes in the market, easily identifiable by their bright orange tents. I ended up having breakfast at a crepe cafe. I ordered a ham, cheese, and egg crepe and a coffee. Be careful when you eat in the square however: there are many seagulls in the area, and they are not afraid of humans. I’ve read many stories online of seagulls swooping in and stealing food right off diners’ plates.
Just watch out for the theives from the sky!
After breakfast, I was headed to Suomenlinna, a fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site located off the coast of Helsinki. The only way to get there is by the regular ferry service from Market Square to Suomenlinna. Conveniently, the Helsinki public transport day-pass includes trips made on the Suomenlinna ferry as well. If you don’t have a day-pass, you can buy a ticket from the counter or ticket machines for around 5 EUR.
The ferries depart around every 30 minutes, and I boarded the 9.20am ferry. The ride is rather short, only fifteen minutes, but the views it offers of the Helsinki harbour are amazing. For the best experience, get a seat on the outside deck facing the Helsinki harbour. The ferry arrived at the Suomenlinna ferry pier at 9.40am.
Suomenlinna is both a World Heritage Site and home to around 800 inhabitants. This means that the island isn’t just some tourist attraction: it’s an actual functioning district of Helsinki. As you explore the island, you’ll notice signs indicating which houses have inhabitants: respect their privacy. You can choose to explore the island with a walking guided tour or by yourself. As I didn’t have time to join a walking tour, I decided to explore alone. Although I still enjoyed marvelling at the well-preserved fortress ruins, I’d highly recommend a walking tour to better understand the rich history of this long-contested sea fortress.
In addition to the ruins scattered across the island, there’s also a museum located not too far from the ferry pier. The Suomenlinna Museum is a small museum, but it explains the history of the fortress and the many conflicts fought over its ownership, rather well.
Back to the mainland!
My next stop of the day was the Design Museum, Helsinki [Designmuseo], and I reached the museum at around 11am. The museum is a showcase of Nordic, specifically Finnish, design. All types of design are exhibited: glass, fabric, and product, just to name a few. More importantly, the museum aims to develop an understanding of the importance of design, not only as aesthetics, but in progressing democracy, peace, and accessibility. As with other Helsinki museums, the Design Museum is rather small, but it makes up for it in terms of the quality, interactivity, and depth of information provided by its exhibits. I left the museum at 12.15pm and had some lunch at a nearby cafe.
The final stop of the day was the Paivalehti Museum [Päivälehden Museo], a museum dedicated to news, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. The museum is located near the Design Museum, within the Helsinki Design District. Most of the exhibits in the museum revolve around the history of the largest Finnish newspaper, the Helsingin Sanomat. What I found extremely interesting about the museum was the way it explained the importance of ensuring the freedom and independence of the press. Not surprisingly, Finland consistently ranks as one of the world’s best countries for press freedom. In this museum, you will be able to understand why that is so.
Thoroughly inspiring displays and exhibits.
The museum also has exhibits providing an inside glimpse into the lives of Helsingin Sanomat journalists: such as their political correspondents, photojournalists, or conflict reporters. I especially loved this segment of the museum as it once again renewed my interest in becoming a political or conflict reporter. The journalists were constantly kept busy, either by developments in parliament or by rocket fire in Crimea. Yet, they all maintained a commitment to providing a glimpse into these traditionally hidden areas. They were the public’s eyes, and it was important that they represented the situation as it was, and not as they wanted it to be.
I spent quite a while in the compact museum, leaving at only 3.30pm. This is just proof of how rich the exhibits in Helsinki’s museums usually are. A single interactive display can easily occupy ten minutes of your time. After I left the museum, I headed back to my hostel. But, before heading up to my room, I stopped to shop for dinner at the ground-floor supermarket. More fish and meatballs for me again tonight.