HELSINKI, Finland, Dec. 5, 2015 – First-timers to Finland are often amazed at the depth of creativity of the Finnish people. The inventiveness of Finland’s artists, architects, writers, dancers and composers has given this Scandinavian country one of the highest ratios of vision and originality of any nation in the world.
On Tuesday Finland will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of national composer, Jean Sibelius. With that in mind, here are three great little day trips than can easily be done from Helsinki.
1 – Iittala & Nuutajärvi (Finnish glass) – Finland is famous for superb ceramics and design that are national characteristics of the country, and nowhere is that creativity more visible than in the glass district.
Nuutajärvi Glass, founded in 1793, is Finland’s oldest functioning glass factory. The factory site itself is one of the country’s best preserved settings. Built in neo-renaissance architectural style, the bell tower dates to the 18th century while the manor house, constructed in 1822, remains active nearly 200 years later.
Today, one of Nuutajärvi’s most popular collections is Birds by Toikka, established in 1962 by Oiva Toikka,0 who remains one of the greatest names in the history of Finnish glass.
Nearby, another glassworks founded in 1881, Iittala, has expanded into other areas of design, such as ceramics and metal, including tableware and cookware. Over the decades, thanks to an all-star group of designers, Iittala has built an international reputation for elegance and timeless design.
Among Iittala’s most famous artists were Oiva Toikka and Alvar Aalto, who created his iconic Savoy Vase, affectionately known as the Aalto Vase, in 1936.
Not only are Finland’s glass products unique souvenirs, but the glass-blowing process is worth the visit alone. Here master craftsman breathe crystalline beauty from red-hot molten glass into incomparable glassware.
From the Aalto Vase to the architecture of Helsinki’s white marble congress center, nothing emphasizes the broad range of Finnish creativity more. Completed in 1971, every detail of the Finlandia Hall was designed by Aalto.
It is this diversity that makes Finnish design and craftsmanship “crystal clear.”
2 – Hvittrask – Speaking of building design, Hvittrask may represent the greatest concentration of architectural talent in history.
Located just 19 miles west of Helsinki, Hvittrask was originally built as a studio home for associates of a Finnish architectural company. It later became the private residence of Eliel Saarinen, Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren. Constructed of logs and natural stone, the studio was intended to be the ultimate working environment for architectural innovation. Among the innovative designs was a huge slanted skylight that maximized the natural light from the forest to its fullest advantage.
Hvittrask means “White Lake,” deriving its name from a small pond at the end of a wooded path leading from the house.
However, Hvittrask was not without scandal, making the site all the more intriguing. During their residence, Saarinen fell in love with Gesellius’ younger sister Louise, a sculptor in Helsinki. Following his divorce from his first wife, Mathilde, in 1904, Saarinen married Louise, which then made it possible for Gesellius to marry Mathilde. One can only imagine holiday gatherings at Hvittrask.
The site was also the boyhood home of Eero Saarinen, the son of Eliel and Louise. Eero primarily made his reputation in the United States designing monuments such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
During its heyday, Hvittrask was regularly visited by artist Axel Gallen-Kallela, writer/dramatist Maksim Gorki and composer Jean Sibelius.
3 – Ainola – Travelers will immediately recognize the Finnish passion for the outdoors. Ainola, which means “Aino’s place,” in honor of Jean Sibelius’ wife, is an ideal synonym for that zeal.
Situated on the shores of Lake Tuusulaniärvi in forested surroundings, Ainola was the family home from 1904 to 1972. During construction, Sibelius required only two things from architect Lars Sonck: a lakefront view and a green fireplace in the dining room.
The site was chosen for its solitude, which Sibelius demanded for his work. Don’t expect to hear the music of Finland’s national composer during a tour, Ainola remains totally silent out of respect for Sibelius’ need to concentrate.
So intense was Sibelius for quiet that water pipes were not installed in the house while he was alive because he could not deal with any distractions during construction.
Though isolated, the area attracted other Finnish artists, providing an active social circle for Sibelius and his family when he was not concentrating on his work.
Sibelius died in 1957 and is buried in a garden at Ainola. Today the home is open for visitors from May to September.
Among the most surprising things about Finland are the numerous contributions it has made to international culture combined with its contemporary lifestyle. Then again, perhaps we have known it all along from that familiar term we know as the “Finnishing touches.”
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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