Sat, May 29 (Day 5): A Day in Helsinki

Welcome to Helsinki, capital of Finland. This afternoon after check-in there’s time to relax and unwind. This evening, we will enjoy a Welcome Drink with our Tour Director and fellow traveling companions.

The Raddison serves a great breakfast, apparently designed for the high-volume escorted travel lines that operate out of Helsinki. Our formal travel begins tonight at 7pm, so to fill in the time, we decided to get acquainted with the city by taking a "Helsinki Expert" bus tour. It's a 1.5 hour of highlights throughout the city, with audio headphones that select 1 of 12 languages.
This is the Park Runebergin in the center of Helsinki. The bus picked us up at hour hotel, then filled up with additional tourists at this park. Little did we know that they would simply drop us off at this park after the tour, and leave us on our own to find our way back to the hotel!
This is THE renouned poet from Helsinki, but I don't remember his name. The reason I took this picture is the bird sitting on top of his head. The bird flew off just after I took this photo.
We were surprised that most of the buildings in Helsinki are described as "functional," which means simple and ugly. It seems that after building many unique and architecturally interesting buildings, they have settled in to plain concrete facades, almost indistinguishable from one another. This (obviously not "functional") is a building that Linda really liked. Fortunately, they have protected a number of these earlier buildings.
This lady in the center of this fountain, while being spat upon by the surrounding seals, represents the city of Helsinki. Apparently, once a year, the university students, wearing white hats, celebrate around this fountain. Of course, this is during the summer. Most of the year, Helsinki is very cold, the harbor is covered with ice, and the only reason people go outside is jump through the ice holes in preparation for the sauna. Yes, they live for the sauna here, beginning to end, literally. They used to birth babies in the sauna and lay out the dead there for a few days.
This is an open market, one of several we visited in the city. They sell all kinds of merchandise, but mostly fresh vegetables and fruits. In addition to vending, these markets seem to serve the need for a social gathering place during the day.
This is what the Helsinki Cathedral looks like out the window of the tour bus when it is raining.
OK. Here's a better picture. You can read about the building here.
Our tour guide says this is the most visited site in Helsinki, the Rock Church. It is entirely underground, basically a cave carved out of solid rock. Unfortunately, it was also closed when our bus pulled up, so we didn't get to see inside. But you can see inside, by reading about it here. And, yes, that is my finger in the picture ... evidence that I am not the best photographer in the family... that's my brother, Steve.
This is the Sibelius Monument, built to honor the national composer. It looks like a bunch of organ pipes (though he never wrote any organ music). You can read more about it (and the public debate it stirred) here.
Linda's brother, Bill, arrived from the airport today. We ate an early dinner, and are heading off to a meeting with the tour group this evening.
This is called "The Three Smiths" and is located in downtown Helsinki. I saw it on the tour earlier today, but didn't get a picture until we walked past it while looking for a place to eat.