Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Parading through Helsinki

by Dariusz Hareza and Lauren Ceckowski

As much as we enjoy learning about the history and culture of Scandinavia in the classroom, we knew that experiencing it first-hand would be far more enriching. So part of the group from U of I studying at KTH this summer decided to immerse its weekend in Finnish culture by traveling to Helsinki on a cruise ship. The moment we stepped off the ship the contrasts of the city caught our eyes. Old red-brick industrial buildings housed the latest exhibits on innovative designs. Trams rumbled through streets lined with sleek new department stores. We were immediately taken in by the open air markets housing stalls filled with various trinkets dear to the Finnish identity. With a little bargaining, one could buy a well-groomed mink hat to face the terrors of a Scandinavian winter. After a long night of sailing through the Baltic, we were absolutely ravenous. Luckily, with great Finnish hospitality a buffet was able to accommodate us. We were thrilled with the choices that included salmon, trout, and assortments of breads, salads, cheeses, and jams. Needless to say, we took full advantage of the opportunity to satisfy our hungry appetites. Now we could slowly take in the sights and sounds around us.

In front of the great Helsinki Cathedral, we noticed that there was a lot of commotion stirring. Apparently, we struck gold with our timing of the trip as various dance groups from the city were preparing to put on a parade. The colors of the costumes were absolutely stunning, as were the themed floats. Peacock feathers, sparkling wings, and theatrical masks are just a few words to describe the breadth of different styles we saw. As preparations for the parade were made, we decided to visit the inside of Helsinki Cathedral. The cathedral’s simplicity on the outside directly matched it on the inside. It was very much less ornate than the Uspenski Cathedral we had visited earlier in the day. Yet Helsinki Cathedral’s simplicity does not take away from its majesty. Clean curves and high ceilings give it a very light feel and exemplify the boldness of the architecture. Later we learned that the seats in the pews were all made using horse hairs. Not having noticed that the first time we entered, we returned to the Cathedral to marvel at the lustrous black seats that filled the Cathedral’s hall.

After taking in the architecture, we decided to do a bit of shopping in the fashion district where the city truly burst with life. Street vendors and musicians added to the unique atmosphere we had not yet experienced anywhere else. Once we had taken a few turns we quite accidently ran into the parade we had seen being prepared. We looked at each other in awe at how loud and flamboyant the whole spectacle was. As we returned to the ship, we were truly disappointed that we could only spend a day in Helsinki; the city still had so much to offer us.

Dariusz Hareza is a junior studying Molecular with a Cellular Biology Honors Concentration, minoring in Chemistry, and is Pre-Med. He is from Oak Lawn, IL.

Lauren Ceckowski is a senior studying Earth, Society, and Environment with a concentration on Society and the Environment.  She is from Gurnee, IL.


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