Journey to the North: Exciting Adventures in Finland

November 26, 2023 Adventure

We just returned from an exciting and informative trip to Finland. My primary purpose for the trip was to attend the 2023 International Directors Forum on Science Engagement, organized by the European Network of Science Centres and Museums (Ecsite). The convening, hosted at Heureka in the Helsinki suburb of Vantaa, was attended by over 100 leaders of science institutions from six continents. Over three days, we collectively explored two pressing issues impacting our collective work: misinformation and the triple planetary crisis. The Forum served as both a thought-provoking and exciting networking event.

Siim Kumpas, Policy Officer at European External Action Service, delivers a presentation called, Beyond disinformation: From problematic content to manipulative behaviour.
Maria Mäkelä, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Tampere University, Finland, delivers a talk called, The Dangers of Narrative – On our willingness to take stories for granted.

In sum, we spent six days in Helsinki and four days near Rovaniemi at the Arctic Circle. We added some vacation time onto this business trip to maximize our time abroad, enabling us to explore the Nordic nation. Here are some images showcasing the interesting and exciting things we experienced.

Helsinki, Finland

The Helsinki Central Train Station, where I began my daily roundtrip commute to Heureka, was designed by the renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and inaugurated in 1919. The BBC placed the station on a shortlist of the ‘world’s most beautiful railway stations’ in 2013. Its most noticeable exterior features include the clock tower and ‘The Lantern Bearers’ statues, both by Emil Wikstrom. The entire edifice is rich with Art Nouveau features.

Street scene outside Helsinki Central Station.
Helsinki Central Station shortly after sunset in the early evening.
Helsinki Central Station shortly after sunset in the early evening.

The Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Church of the Rock, situated in the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki, Finland. This unique church, built directly into solid rock, was designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened as a Lutheran Church in 1969.

Exterior view of Temppeliaukio Church.
Interior view of Temppeliaukio Church.
A selfie of us in the Temppeliaukio Church.

The Pohjola Insurance Building in central Helsinki was primarily designed by Gesellius, Lindgren & Saarinen and constructed between 1899 and 1901. It is adorned with mythical and grotesque characters from Finnish folklore.

Street scene and facade of the Pohjola Insurance Building.
Detail of the Pohjola Insurance Building.

The Helsinki Central Library, known as Oodi, is a stunning example of contemporary architecture and an embodiment of urban public space. Opened in December 2018, Oodi transcends the concept of a traditional library, emerging as a dynamic, multi-functional public space.

Designed by the Finnish architecture firm ALA Architects, Oodi stands out with its innovative design. The building features a wavy, undulating structure with a predominantly glass and wood facade, embodying openness and accessibility. It overlooks the Kansalaistori Square, creating a seamless connection with the city’s civic center.

Oodi is spread over three floors, each with a distinct function. The ground floor acts as an active, public indoor square with services and event spaces. I enjoyed watching tables full of people playing chess upon entry to the building. The middle floor contains flexible spaces for workshops and creative activities, equipped with modern technology (maker spaces, gaming rooms, recording studios, and much more). The top floor, bathed in natural light, houses the traditional library functions, offering a serene environment with stunning city views.

Oodi is a testament to the evolving role of libraries in the 21st century, emphasizing community, learning, and creativity. Its design and functions reflect a modern approach to public spaces, making it a popular destination for both residents and tourists in Helsinki.

Kamppi Chapel, also known as the “Chapel of Silence,” is an architectural gem located in the bustling heart of Helsinki. Renowned for its serene and contemplative atmosphere, this chapel stands out with its unique, oval-shaped design and warm wooden interior, offering a tranquil oasis amidst the city’s urban landscape. Designed by architects Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola, and Mikko Summanen, it was opened in 2012 as a space dedicated to quiet reflection and peace. Notably, to preserve its sanctity and the personal experiences of visitors, photography is not permitted inside the chapel, ensuring an undisturbed and introspective environment for all who enter. The experience inside reminds me of the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

A view of the exterior of Kamppi Chapel.

The Ryoji Ikeda exhibition at Amos Rex. Dharma and I previously experienced a performance of Ikeda’s work, “superposition,” which was presented by University Musical Society in fall 2014.

Firstly, concerning Amos Rex, the space is often referred to as a modern art museum. However, it functions more like a gallery or kunsthall. Known for its unique architecture, it features large, domed windows that protrude from the ground in its outdoor space, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding urban landscape. Inside, Amos Rex hosts a variety of exhibitions, often focusing on contemporary and 20th-century art.

Ryoji Ikeda is a renowned Japanese artist and composer known for his unique approach to electronic music and visual art. Born in 1966 in Gifu, Japan, Ikeda has gained international acclaim for his minimalist compositions and installations that often combine sound, visual elements, and mathematical concepts.

Ikeda’s work is characterized by its precision and use of digital technology. He often explores themes like data, sound, and light, creating immersive environments that challenge the senses. His compositions are usually marked by high-pitched tones and rapid sequences of pure sine waves, exploring the extremities of sound and the thresholds of auditory perception.

While Ikeda has exhibited in Finland in the past, this marks his first solo exhibition in Helsinki. Ikeda’s exhibition at Amos Rex draws inspiration from the museum’s extraordinary architecture. On view are five installations, which explore the invisible dimensions of the universe and pushes the limits of perception: Mass, Spin, Data-Verse 1, Data-Verse 2, and Data.Gram [No.5]. The works were created between 2019 and 2023. Among the five installations are two new works that Ikeda created on the basis of his immediate spatial experience of our subterranean museum.

He has been involved in multiple artistic collaborations and has presented his art and music in various prestigious venues worldwide. Ikeda’s art transcends traditional boundaries between music and visual media, making him a significant figure in contemporary electronic music and experimental art.

Exterior view of Amos Rex in Helsinki with Ryoji Ikeda exhibition advertisement on the digital display.
Entrance lobby to the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition.
A view of the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition.
A view of the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition.
A view of the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition.

Alvar Aalto, a renowned Finnish architect and designer, is celebrated for his significant contributions to modern architecture and design. His home in Helsinki, a testament to his innovative spirit, mirrors the principles he championed: harmonious integration with nature, functional simplicity, and a warm, humanistic approach to design. Built in 1936, this residence, which also served as his office, is a marvel of modernist architecture, showcasing Aalto’s mastery in blending space, light, and natural materials. It stands today not just as a house, but as a living piece of art, embodying the creativity and vision of one of Finland’s most influential architects.

Facade of the Alvar Aalto home.
Work studio at the Alvar Aalto home.
Living room in the Alvar Aalto home.
Dining room in the Alvar Aalto home.

Helsinki is truly a city of multi-modal transportation. There is robust rail and cycling infrastructure. Additionally, Helsinki is a port city.

Relandersgrund, anchored in the heart of Helsinki’s vibrant harbor, is a historic lightship that has been transformed into a popular floating restaurant and bar.
Light rail passing by the Ateneumin Taidemuseo (Art Museum Helsinki) in the Helsinki city center.
Impressive cycling infrastructure through Helsinki. And, yes, Finns do bike in the cold!

Some additional sites we enjoyed visiting included a variety of museums: the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Designmuseo (Design Museum), and Arkkitehtuurimuseo (Museum of Finnish Architecture). We also delighted in exploring the renowned Design District, with stops at acclaimed stores like Artek, Iittala, and Carl Hansen & Søn. Our culinary adventures included savoring sumptuous tasting menus at respected Nordic restaurants such as Muru, Nokka, and the Michelin-starred Demo, as well as enjoying delicious fish soups at Story in Helsinki’s Old Market and Fisken på Disken in Kamppi. Finally, in addition to walking miles throughout the city, we had a rejuvenating sauna experience at Löyly, which included a few dips in the Baltic Sea to cool off!

Apukka Resort near Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, in northern Finland

Following the conclusion of the 2023 IDF in Helsinki, we headed north to enjoy Finnish Lapland with a stay at Apukka Resort. Apukka, located just outside of Rovaniemi, is a mesmerizing destination known for its pristine natural beauty and unique Arctic experiences. Nestled in the lap of the Finnish wilderness, this area is a haven for those seeking to immerse themselves in tranquil nature and witness the spectacular Northern Lights. Apukka stands out for its variety of accommodation options, including traditional cabins and unique glass igloos, offering a perfect blend of comfort and adventure. It’s a place where visitors can indulge in a range of activities like husky sledding, snowmobiling, and ice fishing, making it an ideal spot for experiencing the magic and wonder of the Arctic Circle.

Transporting our luggage by sled!
A view of the Aurora glass igloos cabins at the Apukka Resort. 
The view from inside our Aurora glass igloo was breathtaking, with the rooms designed specifically for skygazing directly from the bed!
Norwegian Fjord Horses.
Snow blanketing the tree canopy.
Traditional wood-fired saunas with swimming holes cut into the frozen Lake Olkkajärvi.
Dharma taking a dip in the frozen Lake Olkkajärvi.
Me taking a dip in the frozen Lake Olkkajärvi.
Inside the traditional wood-fired sauna.
Dogsledding with a pack of Siberian Huskies.
A short video of our dogsledding adventure!

All in all, our trip was both stimulating and adventurous. We highly recommend a visit to Finland. We’re now hoping to return to the Nordic region in 2024. Perhaps we’ll explore Denmark next!