Friday, 25 July 2014

Lakeland visit

A couple of weeks ago we spent a couple of days in Savonlinna. This time we had bought the tickets to the annual July opera festival with performances in the Olavinlinna Castle and booked the hotel ages ago ensuring a stay at a downtown hotel.

So we could take a most delightful evening stroll on the picturesque lakeside on both nights. First you just have to head to have a look at the castle. And the steam ships at the harbour by the market square are not to be missed, especially if the weather is fine and the evening sun is shining low.

If you are lucky – as you often are even in our July – you won’t be cold when dining at one of the outdoor restaurants. The pike perch we had on the first night at Valo, although mouth-watering, was such a small portion we went for pepper steak and some mud cake at Sarastro on the second night before crossing the pontoon bridge to see Carmen.

If you happen to be in Savonlinna in July on any other day than Monday do pay a visit to my niece’s gorgeous Paloni pop-up shop selling clothing, jewellery, accessories and gift items by dozens of independent designer brands, all handmade in Finland. You’ll be amazed. It is located in a charming old house by the tourist office next door to Café Alegria and feels nothing like a pop-up but a thoroughbred store, which is no wonder. She used to have a store in Helsinki but times are hard and she had to close it down a few months ago. Now she is continuing her great work for individual design and conscious consuming at major (design) events. And of course there is always the online store. Let’s hope we’ll see her in Savonlinna again next July.

Photo by Minna from Paloni.
I didn’t take any photos at Paloni so I’m posting one of hers. (I never publish other peoples photos but this is the exception that proves the rule. I hope you don’t mind, Minna.Some more beautiful photos on Hunajaista blog here.

Here is what I posted on Savonlinna when we fell in love with the town and the festival last year: Castle on an islet, On a steamship, Proud maiden. By the way, we missed the Master Sculptors of Zimbabwe this season. The Friends Forever International opened the sculpture exhibition on the Riihisaari rock plateau only yesterday.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Back to normal

Hello there! Life has finally returned to normal after the FIFA World Cup. I’m not at all a sportswoman – very far from that to tell the truth – but such major events tend to get me carried away. There is something addictive in watching top-class team sports. The entertainment, excitement and skill will turn anyone into a fan, at least for a while.

It might have been annoying to spend so many hours with the matches had we not had such a cool and rainy June. However, the further the World Cup progressed, the better the weather turned. We are now back to normal summer conditions. Not perfect but tolerable, with quite a lot of sunshine and an occasional shower.

So we are again occupying ourselves most of the time outdoors and are finally having most of our meals on the patio, terrace or balcony.

A moment or two in the hammock by the clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’ or under the maple on the hanging chair facing the blooming mock orange and loosestrifes is all you need to feel completely happy: life is good!

Instead of sitting by the screen watching soccer into the small hours of the night I’m again free to sit by my laptop, in principle that it. I’m trying to force myself to bed by midnight, at least every once in a while. I do hope this will be the new normal one day.

More about my clematises here.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Patterns from Paris

The other day, I was driving by the Church of St Lawrence at the Helsinki Parish Village or Helsinge in Vantaa, the northern neighbour of Helsinki, and decided to have a look inside. I’ve visited the church just once at a concert years ago. It must have been a late evening and I must have been sitting under the gallery because I was under the impression that the interior is rather gloomy dominated by dark wood.

Now that I had the whole church to myself, I walked around and the feeling was different. I even climbed the stairs to the gallery stretching on three sides of the church. With the white-washed walls and pillars leading up to the richly decorated vaults, the interior is simply beautiful and far from gloomy.

The Church of St Lawrence was built around 1460. It was located on the so-called King’s Road, the coastal road leading from Turku, the oldest and for centuries the most important town in Finland, to Vyborg and further to St Petersburg. Thanks to its convenient position it used to be the principal church for a vast area, including most of that of the present-day Helsinki.

In 1893, however, a fire stripped the church to the bones. A few items such as the altarpiece, brass chandeliers and liturgical vestments were saved but other than that nothing but the stone structures remained intact.

The church was repaired already by the following spring according to a plan made by architect Theodor Höijer from Helsinki. The result is a unique mixture of medieval and ‘Höijerian’ styles. The neo-Gothic windows date from that time and so do the galleries, pews and pulpit. The stained-glass window is a private donation made at that time.

But the jewel in the crown are the fabulous ornaments and floral decorations painted on the vaults. In the Middle Ages, the walls and vaults were decorated with simple paintings of humans and animals which were white washed after the reformation. The fire revealed some of those. They couldn’t be saved but were copied for the archives of the National Board of Antiquities.

Höijer’s solutions for the vault decorations are striking, almost too good to be true in a small country church like that. When I finally believed my eyes I couldn’t help wondering about their origin. Little did I know Höijer had patterned the stylized Gothic paintings after the decorative friezes of the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris!

I’ve been to the Notre-Dame twice but both times before the digital camera era. I do not have any recollection of any resembling paintings in the cathedral. It is such a huge construction full of details a humble visitor will be overwhelmed, afterwards finding it hard to remember anything of it precisely without photos. I must definitely start planning a new trip to Paris to pay a third visit.

The Church of St Lawrence is a very popular church for weddings. In fact, it is so popular that since 2009 the parish has arrange a special ‘Wedding Night’ when up to a few dozen couples will have a chance to experience an unpretentious church wedding. In recent years, this delightful practice has spread from Vantaa to several other parishes around the country.

(Carl) Theodor Höijer (1843-1910) was the leading Finnish architect of his time. Höijer’s designs represented mostly neo-Renaissance, his best-known work being the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

An earlier post of mine on another medieval Finnish church here.

Laurentius, the summer café by the Church of St Lawrence, opens at 11 am (closed on Mondays and Saturdays).