Helsinki’s Tall Spots # 1

An alternative title might be how high can you go? Helsinki’s skyline is quite low and characterised by a distinct lack of dominating high-rise buildings. This doesn’t mean that there is a lack of high places or look-outs that you can visit and enjoy a view of the city and surrounding environs.

This past weekend (August 26th, 2012) we were able to visit the lighthouse Söderskär, situated in the Porvoo archipelago in the Gulf of Finland (60° 6′ 33.6″ N, 25° 24′ 36″ E). Technically this is not part of Helsinki. However as you are able to reach the island and the lighthouse by ferry * from Helsinki, I’m invoking author privilege to include the experience for you also!


Söderskär is also a participating lighthouse in the lighthouse tourism group that has been set up to promote the lighthouses of Southern Finland and Estonia. Earlier in the summer we visited Utö, where we first heard about the lighthouse passport. Unfortunately, we didn’t take up on the offer to start collecting stamps. If we had, then this weekend we could have collected stamp # 2.

We were arriving under our own steam from the east, and even from a distance, the lighthouse is quite majestic.

Söderskär from afar

As always, the weather is key factor in the enjoyment or otherwise of outdoor activities. This particular day was warm, sunny and with a mild sea-breeze in the afternoon. We were not alone in taking advantage of the weather to visit. There were many boats moored around the small inlets and attached to the jetty. The island is off-limits to visitors for much of the spring and early summer due to bird nesting season. We arrived mid afternoon at the same time as the water police. They were on a ‘tour’ of archipelago harbours making sure that everybody was behaving themselves 🙂

Söderskär Prices

As with any visitor harbour, there is a price list of services. In 2012 an overnight stay will cost 12 € per boat, while a guided trip up the lighthouse is 14 €. You can also climb without the guide (and miss the story) for 10 € per person **

The lighthouse is situated on Majakkasaari (Lighthouse Island), while the mooring spots are situated on Luotsisaari (Pilot Island). That means that in order to reach the lighthouse you must first cross the (swinging) bridge:
Swinging Bridge at Söderskär

There was only capacity for three persons at a time, and walking over was not too uncomfortable, a little bit of bounce. I imagine that any more than three would create a large amount of swing!

It was a little bit disorganised at the base of the lighthouse. There were no real instructions about where or how to pay, also whether cards were welcome or not. In the end we paid at the base and then continued forward. We passed some groups along the way, fortunately when we climbing up there were only a few people heading back down.

I’m not going to write too much about the lighthouse itself, although I will give you a few links in order for you to find out something that YOU are interested in. I’d much rather give you a few hints than force feed you lots of information that is irrelevant to you. The lighthouse page has some information in English, the accommodation page tells about the suite available inside the lighthouse for overnight stays. I’m quite sure that it’s not possible this year (the season will be ending September 19th, 2012), perhaps we could organise ourselves to stay one night next year. Lighthouse Tourism also has some information and I found some very nice information about the current usage of island from the Forestry administration pages.

Söderskär: Up close and personal

My picture does not do it justice. There is something has very wonderful about old buildings (150 years young this year!), especially those that are built-in places where they are exposed to the extremes of nature.

The interior of the lighthouse is also used as a gallery space, and this summer there were works by Saara Kiuru, Paavo Halonen and Salla Savolainen. I really liked Halonen’s pieces, especially these swans (page 9 of the pdf). Of course it goes without saying that the view from the top is extraordinary. The light mechanism is still in place and glass is so beautiful:

Söderskär light

I was so busy walking around taking in the view, admiring the light and watching some young lads test aerodynamics of their paper planes that I forgot to look up. Rest assured the boys actually collected their flying machines afterwards, even taking a small runabout to collect the ones that made it into the sea! When I did look up, this was what I saw:

Söderskär ‘Lions’

Lions! With very long tongues for taking the water away. Touches like this will always bring a smile to my face. We descended back to ground level and into one of the main building where we discovered the lighthouse shop, complete with the ability to pay by card. Lesson of the day: ask! The shop had some very nice memorabilia, and if I wasn’t so keen on reducing the amount of things I bring home I could have been very tempted by the mugs, key-chains, pins and a very nice book. There was also an outdoor café selling tea, coffee and some very yummy looking pancakes. On way or another, we will definitely return, the only question remaining: this year or next?

* Ferry companies that offer trips to Söderskär in 2012 are:

Marival II (from Vuosaari) 40 € per adult (includes ferry trip & guided tour), 20 € for children (7-15)

Royal Line (from the marketplace) 49 € per adult (includes ferry trip & guided tour), 25 € for children (7-16); buffet lunch available for purchase onboard.

IHA Lines (from the marketplace) Cruises to Söderskär appear to be reserved for groups rather than individuals.

** This is what happened to us because we didn’t realise that card payment was possible inside the lighthouse keepers building. Our cash didn’t stretch so far… Definitely next time we take a guided tour too!


Helsinki Summer School

I’ve been a little absent lately, for good reason! I enrolled myself into a course at this year’s Helsinki Summer School. Yesterday the 23rd of August was our final exam and then wrap up session. Although I’d heard of the summer school previously, I’d never imagined that I would actually contemplate studying there, let alone enrolling! I actually read the course outline before I read the home page: research, advance degree students… my initial reaction was ‘hmm, I don’t think this is quite for me’. Yet, the course outline kept pulling me back to the page. ‘Service Marketing and Design’. In the end I bit the bullet, and sent a mail off. I explained that I wasn’t studying although I was establishing my own business and that I felt this course would be beneficial to this end. Feedback from both the university and the course co-ordinator was positive so it was on to the next step. Shortly after, my enrolment was confirmed!

Fast forward to August and now the mails have been arriving thick and fast: pre-course reading and assignment; social programme information; times, dates and places! Day one had no actual study, instead it was set aside for opening ceremonies and social events. Already at the reception I met a class mate, along with a heap of other students from around the world. Day two we met our class mates, co-ordinator and one key lecturer. We played the interview / introduction game and it turned out that we were a truly international group and coming from many different disciplines.

Our course comprised lectures, guest lectures, class presentations, field trips, field studies and the final exam. We also combined some social events of our own separate to the official programme. I led my first group tour from the school to the flea market Hietsu. As a tour leader I did get the group to the destination, although I was at the back of the group for more than half of the trip. Next time I’ll leave the bike at home 🙂

Our co-ordinator convinced Kunsthalle / Taidehalli to include us on the guest list for the opening of Tomás Saraceno’s installation 14 Billions (Working Title), which was also an opening night event for Helsinki Festival. I don’t mind spiders or their webs and this installation has plenty of the latter!

Inside the web! Tomás Saraceno at Taidehalli / Kunsthalle

One of my personal highlights of the Helsinki Festival is the Night of the Arts. There is always something for everybody, and this year’s grand event was the dominoes, winding through the city to Senate Square. At the time of writing the official site did not have any pictures or videos, however a quick search of YouTube has resulted with these to start: here, here and here. The first one shows the dominoes (and the eager crowd) up close, the second shows the finale and a good map of the domino route and the third one is Senate Square from a different angle.

Even though these studies are over, my ‘student career’ continues, Monday I’m off to an interview to undertake a course that will culminate in ‘Official Helsinki Guide’ status. Stay tuned!

Now I’ll take a brief moment to say a huge thank you to all the participants of the Helsinki Summer School 2012 Service Marketing & Design course. Best of luck in your future endeavours! It’s been a great three weeks and I hope that our paths cross again in the future 🙂