It wasn’t that cold while we were visiting Helsinki, around -6 degrees, but apparently we’re wimps after living in Vancouver and it was quite cold being outside all day. So on our second full day we decided to shake things up a bit and start with a visit to the Winter Garden, which is actually housed in a greenhouse. I was fully expecting to pay entrance for the garden since it’s indoors, but we were thrilled to discover that it’s actually a city space that’s free to visit! You don’t need a lot of time to see the whole thing, but it was a nice green activity on a cold day.
Plus it’s near the Helsinki Aquarium, so we decided to visit that afterwards. Katie didn’t even know Helsinki had an aquarium, but it came up in my google search, and being married to a biologist, we have a bit of a tendency to visit aquariums whenever possible. We’ve also been to the SeaLife aquariums in Portugal and New Zealand on previous vacations (and of course, Vancouver Aquarium, our personal favourite). The Helsinki SeaLife was a lot bigger than I was expecting; it wasn’t unique to the sealife in the region, but still made for a fun visit. Great if you have kids!
We still had a bit of time to kill before Katie finished classes, so we decided to go skating! There are several free ice skating rinks around the city and we hit up the one at the Tapiola metro station. We had to pay to rent skates, but if you bring your own, you can use the rink for free. There’s a large area that’s great for beginners, and then a big loop skate going around the lot. I don’t really go skating a lot, but I’ve come to really love it over the past few years! We warmed up with hot chocolate before meeting up with Katie to go to Kiasma, an art museum in downtown Helsinki.
The Kiasma had a special exhibit on Markus Copper that Katie wanted to see. He’s a Finnish artist that seemed to specialize in art that makes people feel uncomfortable. He definitely succeeded, a little too much in that his art made me feel too uncomfortable and I had to tap out. It was a bit of a marriage of mechanics, engineering, and sound, but with a bit too much focus on torture and destruction for my liking, although the engineering of his work was definitely impressive. Katie loved it and did the whole exhibit, but Seth and I popped out a did another exhibit they had on Lapland instead. The exhibit usually lives up north in Rovaniemi and features work by all kinds of Lappish artists. It was still a bit weird (I admit, I’m not that cultured), but I preferred it.
On our last day in Helsinki, we finally got some sun and had the full Finnish experience by going to the sauna. Sauna is huge here and Katie recommended Loyly, which is located right on the water. We went early to get a proper seafood lunch (we had Pike Perch and it was delicious) and then spent an hour at the sauna. It’s a public sauna, so they have it set up with a shared area and 2 large saunas. It was a bit of a trial by fire entry to sauna starting with the public sauna though. The Finns prefer their sauna REALLY hot and it was a bit of an adjustment for me. At first I’d be okay with it, but every time someone would pour water on the rocks I’d feel like I was choking and have to leave for a minute. Not to be deterred though, we did it several more times after that and it grew on me a lot! The public sauna was actually a wood sauna, so I didn’t like the smoke, whereas all the other saunas we did were electric.
But my favourite part of Loyly is that it’s right next to the sea and they have it set up so that you can go outside and do a proper dunk in the cold salt water! So of course we had to do it. It was -12 degrees on the day we visited and the water was -0.6 degrees and just starting to become slushy and frozen. It’s actually not that bad when you’re doing it right after sauna (because you have lots of body heat) and you can immediately go back to the sauna after, so I ended up jumping in the Baltic Sea 3 times! But it’s definitely a totally different experience for the people that walk to the Sea, swim, and then have to get out and get dressed while still being cold. I’m not ready for that yet, but the cold water therapy while doing sauna was actually really lovely.
We spent a bit more time exploring the city after that and went to the Kamppi area of town to see the library. As a book nerd, I love libraries and this might possibly be the coolest library I’ve ever been to! Lots of libraries have really neat architecture (I’m a big fan of the Vancouver library for example, and even the MUN library), but not only did this library have cool architecture, it was just a really cool contemporary space. The bottom floor had reception and a café/restaurant, and some larger event spaces with big windows and high ceilings. The middle floor was the least interesting to look at, but had the coolest amenities. The center of the floor was just a big tiered hangout space where people could meet or study and they had all kinds of break-out rooms focused on creativity.
There were sewing stations where you could rent a sewing machine for the day; there were instruments to rent and recording spaces you could use; there were VR and video gaming rooms; there was a huge 3D printer you could make use of; and tons of bookable rooms for collaborating. In short, it’s everything I think a modern library should be. It was really all about meeting the needs of the community and providing access to things the average person might not have otherwise. And it is clearly appreciated because the space was packed with people! Then finally, the top floor housed the books, another small café, and lots more hangout and study/reading space. It was just one giant room, with floor to ceiling windows and a profile that matched the external architecture. It didn’t have as many books as I expected if I’m being honest, but again, I think it was focused on being modern and mostly housed contemporary texts instead of academic ones. Personally I appreciated this – there’s always going to be universities for that purpose and I liked that this library kept in line with its theme of primarily being a community space.