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Helsinki

Helsinki is an interesting city to visit. Much of it can be explored on foot. I would recommend a walk around downtown just to see the various architecture and historic buildings. Most start at the iconic Helsinki Cathedral. A peek inside the university library next door to the Cathedral is highly recommended for its beautiful interior. The central train station is worth a look both for its interior and exterior. I would also recommend a long walk (or even better - a run) along the waterfront from the Uspenski Cathedral around the bay along the City Park and up to the Kompassitori.

 

I was especially excited to see the Olympic Stadium and statue of the great Paavo Nurmi. I had a good laugh after "racing" Lasse Viren in a virtual 200 in the Olympic museum next to the Stadium. Unfortunately, now parts of the museum and stadium are closed for renovation.

 

A highlight of a trip to Helsinki in the warmer months is to take the ferry out to the island fortress of Suomenlinna. There will can take in beautiful views of passing ships from the ramparts of the old fortress. This makes for a great day out in nice weather.

Check out these Helsinki Sites:

https://www.thecrazytourist.com/15-best-things-helsinki-finland/

https://www.heartmybackpack.com/finland/things-to-do-helsinki/

https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do/daytrips/daytrips-porvoo

Jyväskylä

Jyväskylä is a special place to visit for me. The city presents a great taste of Finnish culture as a medium sized town in central Finland surrounded by beautiful forests. The University of Jyväskylä is picturesque sitting on the lake with the design of Alvar Aalto evident in many places. The university buildings and lake in Jyvaskyla are a striking sight.  The setting is one of the best, if not the best, settings I've seen for a university campus. Your memories of Jyväskylä will surely include the bridge from Hoteli Alba running across the lake and the modern white sharp-lined buildings that seem to blend into the trees that surround them. If you want more Aalto you can tour his museum or visit some of the buildings on campus that he helped design. Also, check out the statue of the great Flying Finn Paavo Nurmi just behind the Aalto museum.

 

If you enjoy exercise, like most Finns do, then a great place to start in Jyväskylä is with a trek around the lake. If you really want to immerse yourself in local exercise there is Finlandia Marathon on the lake each September. I competed in 2010 and had a blast. If you go in the winter you can opt for skating on the lake where there is a maintained path for loops or cross country skiing through the many trails around town. You can also go downhill skiing or skijumping. You will see locals exercising in some form or fashion at the lake year-round and at all hours of the day and night. Another location for exercise is the ski area of Laajavuori that also has many kilometers of trails and a frisbee disc golf course.

 

At some point in your visit you will probably find yourself in the center of town on Kauppakatu street that is blocked off for pedestrians. While there you may want to visit Sokos if you would like to pick up some gifts for friends and family. You might consider some of the designer Iittala glassware or Marimekko products. Back on the pedestrian area you will sometimes find impromptu live music by street musicians. You can also find many other shops to fulfill your browsing desires. Just northwest of this area is a wooded hill with a lookout. If you want a great 360 degree view of Jyväskylä head to the top of this tower on the Harju ridge.

 

There isn't much of a tradition of eating out in Jyväskylä. I continue to seek out new restaurants to frequent. My current favorite is probably Base Camp, a Nepalese restaurant. As of now I can recommend Pizza Maria's for some affordable pizza and Ravintola Banthai for Thai at Kortesuonkatu 26. If you go for Thai consider trying their deep fried banana with ice cream dessert. I love to eat and thankfully I have been lucky enough to become good friends with some Finns who make all sorts of great dishes for me when I come. Blueberry pie and blueberry jelly are very special in Finland. If you are fortunate enough to be in Jyvaskyla in July try to go picking blueberries. In many locations they cover the forest ground like no other place in the world.

 

The tradition of hiking in the woods and stopping to cook sausages and Karelian pies is great in both the summer and winter. One very special thing about Finland is the care that is taken to maintain trails and cooking shelters all over the country. Most shelters are equipped with covered seating, fire pit, fresh firewood, and an axe. Taking a hike and enjoying a sausage in the beautiful forests will ingraine you in Finnish tradition. With regard to food I also have a very big sweet tooth and if you do too then visit the candy sections of the markets. There is typically multiple rows dedicated to sweets, licorice, and chocolate. I prefer the chocolates here but the Finns eat more licorice than any people I've met. Also, if you travel just to the outside edge of the city you can visit the Panda candy factory. Panda is sold throughout Finland and the world and here you can visit their store for great deals on candy that you won't find in the stores. Sadly, I go every year and come out with heavy bags that make for heavy luggage coming home. You will also want to check out the Fazer chocolates . . . the mints are especially recommended.

There are also many nice day trips around Jyvaskyla. You can go hiking numerous places like Hitonhauta or Leivonmaki National Park. You can also travel west of Jyvaskyla to see the Petajavesi Old Church, a UNESCO site, and also the very nice Ahtarin Elainpuisto animal park. The combination could be done in a day. Also, the area around Laukaa northeast of town is an interesting area to explore. There you can see the Saarakallio rock paintings that are thousands of years old.

 

In truth Jyvaskyla is far off the tourist track and that is what makes it so nice. And one would only come to realize this after spending some time there. Enjoy it's simple pleasures if you go!

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