I am using this blog to tell everyone what I'm thinking and doing beforehand, during and after my exchange year in Finland for 2011.

Helsinki Project

In geography we had to pick one city and research different aspects of it. I choose to do Helsinki and I thought it would appropriate to post it here. 

Helsinki - Daughter of the Baltic
Finland is in northern Europe and is a Nordic country. It is on the borders of Sweden, Russia and Norway. Finland is quite a long way away from Australia. It is just less than 15000 kilometres from Adelaide to Helsinki and would take 19 hours to fly there direct! Helsinki is located on the southern border of Finland and it covers many islands and peninsulas. It is relatively flat area with many lakes. Helsinki is a key location for a capital because of the accessibility to St Petersburg, Tallin and Stockholm though the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.

Helsinki is a lot like Adelaide, with a city center and surrounding suburbs but all of the suburbs still counting as Helsinki. The three main suburbs are Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. All of the smaller islands of the coast are part of Helsinki. There is a lot of water in Helsinki, of the 700 sq kilometers that the city covers; only 200 of them are land! If you were walking around Helsinki, you can almost always see water, sometimes it is in front of you and beside you on both sides Most of central Finland is dominated by water and the western side of Finland is know as the Lakeland's. 

King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden founded Helsinki or Helsingfors, as it is known in Swedish, in 1550; it was made as a trading post to compete with Tallin, Estonia which was under Danish rule at the time. The growth of the city was slow until Sveaborg (now Suomenlinna) was established which was a Maritime fortress on an island off Helsinki. When the war with Russia was over the capital of Finland was moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 and two architects, a Finn and a German were in employed to rebuild the city in a very traditional way which can be seen now with the Lutheran church which has become a symbol of Helsinki.
In 1917 Finland declared itself independent, which was immediately followed by civil war which caused the government to flee the capital. The now independent republic continued to grow its city and the Helsinki Olympic stadium was completed in 1938 but didn’t see an Olympic games till 1952. The reason for this was because the soviet union attacked Finland during the winter war. Helsinki was also attacked from the air but suffered very little damage. Unlike all the other European countries involved in the Second World War. Finland was never occupied by foreign troops.  

Helsinki is one of the northern most city’s in the world which makes the winters dark and very cold. The average is about -5 but the chilly winds coming off the Baltic can make that feel much colder. Sometimes it can get to as low as -30 on a particularly cold day. The summer is quite pleasant but very short. The temperature can get over 25 on a good day and the sun makes everything very green and sunbathers can be spotted on the cities beaches. There is usually snow from mid October and continues through November and December but is mostly grey slush by January. 

One of the major tourist grabs for the city are cruises. Cruises throughout the Baltic and Gulf of Finland are very popular and are growing in popularity each year. The 2010 cruise season saw 247 international cruises take port in Helsinki. On the busiest day Helsinki port had 6 cruises docked! The classic architecture and the many museums in Helsinki are also a popular reason for tourist coming to Finland. The history in Helsinki is very rich and is very interesting to learn about.
Finland is extremely beautiful in both winter and summer and can be a popular spot for families who don’t want the over commercialism of some of the other European cities. Helsinki is perfect for a relaxed get away, with amazing scenery and activities that can be done on your own time. Helsinki is also a popular spot in June over Vappu because the Finns like to get very drunk then! Finland as a whole has a much better tourism industry than Helsinki because of the skiing and snowboarding during winter. The other major grab for tourists are Santa's village in Lapland and the northern lights.  

The transport around Helsinki is quite similar to that of Sydney. Travellers can buy a pass that allows them to ride on all the public transport (buses, trams, trains, metro and ferry). The trams are the easiest way to get around in the city centre and buses are best if your heading a bit further out. The metro runs from the center to the eastern suburbs but few of the stops are any interest to tourists. A lot of the buses and trams also offer free Internet connection. Cars are a really bad way to get around Helsinki because parking is limited and very expensive, about $4 an hour. Taxis are also more expensive than Australia’s taxi’s.

Although Helsinki is a big city, it is nowhere near as big as some of the other European capitals and the problems it faces reflect this. One problem it does face is transport options out of the city. If you want to go anywhere that's not in Scandinavia, you have to fly and when Iceland’s volcano erupted all flights in and out of Finland where held. The council is considering a train tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn, which would cost about 6 billion dollars but would mean that there are other options to reach the rest of Europe. The harsh winters sometimes pose problems for transport and also food too but Finland has learnt to solve these problems as they arise.

The Finns are stereotyped as very introverted, shy people and while this is true most of the time when you first meet a Finn, after they know you they will be as friendly as any Australian. In the urban areas the Finns sometimes come across the problem that if one of them has a problem with something someone else is doing, smoking on the balcony, etc, it isn’t socially acceptable to ask them to stop or move. They very much mind their own business and continue with their own lives, not interfering with others. The Finns are very advanced in technology and social networking is very popular. There is a little joke that the Finns invented mobiles so that they wouldn't have to talk to each other!

Major cities are always been looked at and being scrutinised and having idea made to improve them and Helsinki is no different. Plans to make Vantaa officially part of Helsinki city have been discussed within the last few years. The Helsinki planning development office have recently released details of plans to dramatically the city centre which has been made possible by the moving of the goods harbor further south to Vuosaari which cleared up heaps of space for new developments, some of those planned include; apartments, business premises and parklands.  The picture shows where plans for development have been made.