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  • Writer's pictureGregory T. Wilkins

Helsinki, Finland & Tallinn, Estonia (2023/4)



December 27, 2023 - January 2, 2024 Helsinki, Finland

Finland boasts tranquil forests and over 188,000 freshwater lakes. Even in the cities, nature is ever present. There is so much nature, in fact, that there are only 5.5 million inhabitants in this vast expanse that ranks Europe’s eighth-largest country by area.


Finland is surrounded by the Baltic Sea to the south, where Helsinki and neighboring cities Espoo and Vantaa grace its shores. To the west, the Gulf of Bothnia cradles its coastline, where Turku has held strong since medieval times. Inland, the lakeside cities of Tampere, Lahti, and Jyväskylä punctuate the landscape. The pulse of urban life in Finland beats down here, below the Arctic Circle. In the northern outskirts lies Lapland, bordered by Sweden, Norway, and Russia. Despite its vast size, Lapland, which makes up almost a third of the country, is home to fewer than 200,000 inhabitants—reindeer outnumber cars on the roads and is home to Santa Claus (https://www.visitfinland.com/en/articles/meet-santa-claus/)


The Nordic country did a 600-year stint under Sweden before falling to the Russian Empire for about a century, adding a touch of Eastern and Western European flair to its already eclectic personality. Since Finland’s independence in 1917, Finland has come into its own, and now the country is famed for its stability and serenity.


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Helsinki, Finland

December 27, 2023

I rise early like most days, shower, and prepare for my departure to Stockholm Airport (Arlanda). I decided to get out of the hostel as early as possible to get onward with my journey. I have done Stockholm and waiting half a day will do me no good. I would rather be at the airport than just hang out in the hostel.


I learned last night that there is an even more affordable way to get to the airport than the central station or Flixbus. I was advised to go like a local via Metro and bus. The hostel staff gave me directions. and I was off. I was told to walk to Odenplan Metro station and take it to the end. It is called Marsat Sigtuna. As soon as I get out, walk forward and take bus 583 to the Arland Airport. Since the Metro ticket is good for 75 minutes, it will give me plenty of time to do the journey for approximately $4US!


The excursion went flawlessly well. The Metro and bus were relatively empty, and the directions got me there without any difficulty. WINNING!

When I arrived at the airport, I got off at Terminal 5. I should have gotten off at Terminal 2 -- the opposite end. No worries. I stopped by Global Blue to get my VAT back and discovered I can't do it now but was told I had to wait until I left Helsinki. (I hope I don't lose the receipt in the meantime.) The bureaucracy makes no sense to me.


COSTS: $1 USD = 10.16 Krona

$39 - train and bus to the airport


COSTS: $1 = .90 Euro

$4.10 - airport train to Central Station $217US - Hostel Diania Park - 6 nights dorm w/o breakfast $818SEK - Finnair ticket from Stockholm to Helsinki

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Uspenski Cathedral


December 28, 2023

Uspenski Cathedral is an Orthodox cathedral in Helsinki, Finland, and the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Finland, dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). Its name comes from the Old Church Slavonic word uspenie, which denotes the Dormition. It is the largest Greek Orthodox church in Western Europe.

Uspenski Cathedral


Uspenski Cathedral


Uspenski Cathedral


Uspenski Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral


After Helsinki was made into the capital of Finland in 1812, Alexander I decreed in 1814 that 15 percent of the salt import tax was to be collected into a fund for two churches, one Lutheran and one Orthodox. Helsinki's Orthodox Church, considered to have formed in 1827 with the construction of the Holy Trinity Church needed a larger church than before for a growing Orthodox parish. The construction of Uspenski Cathedral was largely funded by parishioners and private donors. The cathedral was designed by the Russian architect Aleksey Gornostayev (1808–1862). The cathedral was built (1862–1868) after he died. It was inaugurated on October 25, 1868. Used in the construction of the cathedral, 700,000 bricks were brought over in barges from the Bomarsund Fortress that had been demolished in the Crimean War. The iconostasis is painted by Pavel S. Šiltsov. From the wish of Alexander II, the church was dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God, uspenie.


Uspenski Cathedral


One thing I appreciate in all of my global travels is I have never witnessed an Orthodox church requesting payment at the door to enter. I applaud this behavior. It is what I believe Christ would want and is a testament to their teachings of Christ. While all the lights may not be turned out to witness the full majesty of the interior, at least visitors have the opportunity to bear witness to the space. ******************************************************************************


Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum

Kiasma is a contemporary art museum named kiasma, Finnish for chiasma - the X-shaped structure formed at the point below the brain where the two optic nerves cross over each other. Kiasma is part of the Finish National Gallery and is responsible for the gallery's contemporary art collection. I had wanted to see the Tom of Finland exhibition. Regrettably, it was over by the time I arrived at the museum. Only two floors of the four were open. Sadly, I was not enthralled by some of the work. (I wish a museum would have you pay half the price if half the space is open.) I was more impressed by the architecture than what I saw in the collection.


Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum

Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum

Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum

Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum

Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum

Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum *************************************************************************


Helsinki Art Museum Helsinki Art Museum abbreviated as HAM, is a contemporary museum. It reopened after renovations and rebranding (as HAM) in 2015.


The museum is owned and operated by the city of Helsinki. It looks after the city's art collection, containing over 9,000 works. Nearly half of these are on display in public places such as parks, streets, schools, and libraries. The art museum hosts a small permanent exhibition of the works of Tove Janson. What I did expect is the museum shares the building with a movie theatre as well as a hotel. It is a bit peculiar.


Tove Janson

Tove Janson

The art I enjoyed was the work of Erkki Pirtola.


Erkki Pirtola


Erkki Pirtola


Erkki Pirtola


Erkki Pirtola


Erkki Pirtola

Erkki Pirtola was a writer, art critic, journalist, and art teacher. He was also once the conductor of the Helsinki Computer Orchestra in 2003. In 2011, he was the recipient of the State Prize for Fine Arts.


Haegue Yang

There was an artist I had not heard of before - Haegue Yang - who had some kitschy sculptures. They were made with jingle bells and were quite interesting. Part of me liked them and another part of me was turned off. It felt contrived. I was particularly not fond of the ones with synthetic hair and fake flowers. While interesting, it did nothing for me.


Haegue Yang

Haegue Yang

Haegue Yang

Haegue Yang

Haegue Yang - Detail

Haegue Yang- Detail

Haegue Yang

COSTS: $1 = .90 Euro

$1.80 - Tom of Finland Postcard

$12 - Modern Art Musuem Kiasama (Univ. rate)

$14 - Helsinki Art Museum (Univ. rate)

$11.64 - grocery - 4 tangerines, 4 croissants, box of chocolates, cheese, ham

$6.60 - 2 tickets for tram

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December 29, 2023


Eckero Line

I took a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia on Eckero Line. Waking early, I shuffled out of the hostel and down to the tram. I was informed that the T1 would take me there directly and would be the last stop. I purchased my tram tickets the day before, and the directions they gave me were perfect. (Although, my GPS did come in handy.)


Tallinn is the capital of the country and the most populous city/town in the country (under 500,000 people). It rests on the shores of the bay in north Estonia on the shores of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. The 2nd largest city (Tartu) is about two hours away. St. Petersburg, Russia is 240 miles away. Tallinn was one of the last pagan countries in Europe to adopt Christianity. **********************


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of Tallinn is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. It was built in 1894-1900 when the country was still part of Russia. The cathedral was built on Toompea hill in central Tallinn in a traditional Russian Revival style. The church is dedicated to the grand prince of Kiev and later Russian Orthodox saint, Alexander Nevsky.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral


Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

********************************** The old town of Tallinn is quaint and gives me a feeling of being Disney-like. It has a storybook feel to it that gives me a Beauty and the Beast sentiment. I can almost hear Belle singing now as she wanders the streets.


Old Town

Old Town of Tallinn has managed to wholly preserve its structure of medieval and Hanseatic origin. Old Town represents an exceptionally intact 13th-century city plan. Since 1997, the area has been registered with UNESCO. The old town is bordered by the Walls of Tallinn. The majority of the Old Town's structures were built during the 13th–16th centuries.


Old Town

Old Town During World War II, while the German army occupied Estonia in 1941–1944, Tallinn Old Town suffered from aerial bombings by the Soviets. During the most destructive Soviet bombing raid on March 9 -10, 1944, over a thousand incendiary bombs were dropped on Tallinn, causing widespread fires, destroying about 10% of the buildings in the Old Town, killing hundreds, and leaving over 20,000 people without shelter. Today. Old Town has been rebuilt and has brought back the days of yesteryear in this charming city of cobbled stone streets and classic architecture.


Old Town

COSTS: $1 = .90 Euro FREE - Alexander Nevsky Cathedral FREE - Old Town $89 - round trip ferry ($54) from Helsinki to Tallinn plus Christmas buffet ($35) -- I bought my tickets in advance when the Euro cost less than the US dollar. Also, by buying the buffet in advance you save two Euros. $88.77 - Finnair ticket from Helsinki to Oslo $5 - handmade wool brooch $15 - black wool gloves from the Christmas market


Tallinn, Estonia - Christmas Market


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Ateneum


December 30, 2023 The Finnish National Gallery is also known as Ateneum and is one of three museums forming the Finnish National Gallery. It is located in the center of Helsinki and about 15 minutes away from my hostel. It has the biggest collection of classical art in Finland. Before 1991 the Ateneum building also housed the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Art and Design Helsinki.


Paul Gaugin


Paul Cezanne


Max Ernst


The Ateneum building was designed by Theodor Hoijer and was completed in 1887.

The facade of Ateneum is decorated with statues and reliefs which contain many symbols. Above the main entrance, on the second floor, are busts of three famous classical artists: architect Bramante, painter Raphae, and sculptor Phidias. The facade culminates in a collage of sculptures in which the Goddess of Art, Pallas Athene, blesses the many artistic forms. Below the pediment's collage is the Latin phrase Concordia res parvae crescunt (with concord small things increase), which is usually understood in Helsinki to refer to the long-lasting battle of the Finnish art circles to establish the museum.


It was a happy surprise to see the works of Gaugin, Cezanne, Max Ernst, et. al. in the collection. It was a pleasant surprise to turn a corner and see something you recognized. They also had works of Monet, but I have never been very fond of his work.


Akseli Gallen-Kallela


Le Corbusier


Magnus Enckell


Sirpa Alalaakkola


Tyko Sallinen


Paul Osipow

Ulla Rantanen


Camille Pissaro

I discovered today when I was at the museum that their general admission fee is going up 10% in 2024. RIDICULOUS! How is that sustainable? If anything, it becomes a financial gatekeeper to those who have money and those who do not. And this is not the only museum in Helsinki that is bumping up their prices. It's like one of the museums got the greed bug (like the flu) and passed it around to all of the other museums. This is a disturbing trend.

COSTS: $1 = .90 Euro $12 - Ateneumin Museum (Univ. rate) $4.95 - 5 pastries **************************************************

December 31, 2023 Many places in Helsinki are closed on December 31 and January 1. Not to worry... I make the most of every occasion. It was particularly cold today, so I stayed close to the hostel knowing I was going to need all my energy for New Year's festivities at Kansalaistori Park which is next to the museum and around the corner from the library. I attended festivities and bundled up extra warm knowing that the chill in the air would frighten a meek soul. With my double wool sweater plus all my down layers, I walked roughly 20 minutes to the festivities. The place was active but not yet filled when I arrived at 11:00 p.m. There was free music on the stage with great lights and entertainers. One of the contestants on Eurovision was the headliner -- Kaarja -- who played his hit Cha Cha Cha. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-b5gDWVnps The other big hit was https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtOlguB6lg0. By 11:30 p.m. the park was packed with folks wrapped head to toe in scarves, parkas, and wool mittens. I could feel my fingertips going numb. As soon as the festivities were done, I decided to get back home so I could warm up. The fireworks were not as grand as I had anticipated, but it was still a good time. It was fun to see another city come alive and to bring in 2024. If you go, be prepared for slippery, icy sidewalks because everything is covered in clear glaze ice across the city. It's not for the faint of heart. ********************************** As the year draws to a close, I must admit that it has been a whirlwind of adventure. I was blessed to have a sabbatical from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I was able to spend significant time in North Carolina at my alma mater, Warren Wilson College. I was also able to travel extensively throughout the world -- France, Spain, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, and Finland. I was awarded two grants this year for 2024 - Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals Grant in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and a Professional Mid-Career Artist Grant from Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council funded by the McKnight Foundation. In addition, I had a solo show at The Grand Center for the Arts in New Ulm, Minnesota called Tryin' to Get Home. And, I was in several group exhibitions: Unconnected Yet at Lorne Community Connect Incorporated in Lorne, Australia; St. Paul Art Crawl at ArT @967 Payne Gallery in St. Paul, Minnesota by Juror: Stephan Kistler; 2023 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition in St. Paul, Minnesota where I won I Third Place in my division of fiber; the Carnegie Art Center Juried Exhibition in Mankato, Minnesota by Juror: Ben Gessner; Unconnected Yet at the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta, India with Juror: Todd Bartel, and lastly at the Seattle Erotic Art Festival at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall in Seattle, Washington. This year I was published in several publications: "Tryin' to Get Home" Exhibit Opens at the Grand, October 21, 2023, The Journal. “Tryin’ to Get Home” exhibit opens at The Grand | News, Sports, Jobs - The Journal (nujournal.com) 


Wilkins, Gregory. (Spring 2023) The Radical Faery Digest, Volume 193, 8, 54.


Lin, Julia. (2023, January 26) Greg Wilkins’ artwork sheds light on social issues in new global exhibition. MSU Reporter, 1.


Wilkins, Gregory. (Winter 2023) The Radical Faery Digest, Volume 192, 18, 36, 51. As I prepare for 2024, I have a lot on my books already. The world premiere of PORTRAITS will be showcased at the Kennedy Center in June. In July, it was accepted as one of the music commissions for GALA International Music Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I also have a solo exhibition at Red Rocks Center for the Arts in Fairmont, Minnesota, and I have another at Unity Gallery in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition, I received notice that my work was accepted for the Winter 2024 Radical Faery Digest. ****************************************************************** January 1, 2024 Is a day for rest and chill before I leave tomorrow morning for Oslo, Norway. It has been an adventure. I paid $8 Euro for my laundry at the hostel only to find the dryer was broken. It has been broken for the last week. I am keeping my fingers that they will be dry by this evening so I can pack and prepare for my journey onward. This left me time to write in my blog, watch Netflix, and begin preparing for winter 2024. I am thinking I may go to Warsaw, Poland with train travel to Riga, Latvia as well as to Vilnius, Lithuania, and possibly Belarus (but Belarus may be more difficult to get to b/c of transportation). If I could get a fair price, I think it would be eye-opening and rewarding. Let's see what develops as the year unfolds -- particularly with the war in Ukraine. COSTS: $1 = .90 Euro $8 - laundry at hostel *****************************************


January 2 - 3, 2024

Rising first thing in the morning on January 2, I was ready to head out to the airport even if it meant getting there five hours before departure. Giving a big thank you to the host team at the hostel, I was off. The sidewalks were especially icy this morning as I tried not to fall and bust my butt. I must admit, this whole time I have been here I was blessed to not have fallen even once. I had some near misses but was able to catch myself. The Metro was going to take me 40 minutes to get to the airport, and after arrival, I was going to go to Global Blue to get my VAT back and have it placed back on my credit card (roughly $20). I was able to beat the rush to the security and meander about the airport as well as check my email before my flight departed at 12:30 p.m. Like all good adventures, everything must come to an end. I have had a fun-filled and full schedule. I was able to see some great art, see wonderful UNESCO sites, visit churches and cathedrals, as well as connect with other global travelers. While this trip started with some hiccups because of Iceland's airport strike, everything else ran smoothly from country to country -- boats, trains, planes, etc. If you have the opportunity, come. It's worth a visit - though be sure to save your money because it can be a pricey place to visit with lodging and food. ********************************************************



I am leaving Oslo, Norway, and I am heading back to the USA on January 3. I will fly from Oslo to Iceland and then Iceland to Minneapolis. Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Depart OSL 1:00 PM

Jan 3, 2024

Arrive KEF 3:05 PM

1h 40m wait over

Jan 3, 2024

Depart KEF 4:45 PM Arrive MSP 5:25 PM

Arriving at the airport in Oslo, I was swept into the terminal in seconds flat. With my suitcase in hand and my backpack stuffed, I waited for four hours before the departure gate was ready for guests. There was a call for passengers with suitcases for free stowage to their final destination. I jumped at the chance. It would save me from having to hull my things from the plane, and I would not have to keep within the 20-pound restriction. I took off my snow pants and Icelandic wool sweater and placed them into my suitcase. I also took out my toiletry bag and stuffed it into the bag. Thankfully, my suitcase had a zipper to allow for an extra 2 inches. I pushed it to the limit. This saved me $75. WINNING! Another win was I was seated in aisle 5 which is exactly behind Business Class. This was a real treat because I did not select my seat to save money on my flight. I was placed there by the airline, which was another $75 savings. The real plus is it provided me extra legroom for the long haul. Another win! The travel gods have been in my favor. **************************** Upon arriving at MSP, I got my suitcase and walked through customs and then over to land transportation in Terminal Two. I arrived there at approximately 5:00 p.m. to wait for Land to Air. They were to pick me up at 6:55 p.m. for the bus ride back to Mankato. Well, 7:00 p.m. came and went. No one came into the area to call for passengers. I was not a happy camper. I called the main office, left a message with Land to Air, and shared my frustration. T There was one more bus to Mankato at 9:40 p.m. This time I sat by the window. I was not going to miss them again. Sure enough, they did not come in again! I took my bags to the bus and expressed my frustration to the driver. I highly suggested he go into the waiting terminal and make an announcement. Sure enough, three more people came running out. Well, the last bus was $15 and the earlier one was $27. I had booked my ticket in advance and was now out $12. Fortunately, they credited my account the difference for a future ride. *********************** Brad and Ann Hendricks will be away seeing family in Nebraska when I return home to Mankato, Minnesota. Fortunately, Crystal Watts will get me back home from the university when I arrive around 9:00 p.m. Land to Air will get me to school, and then from there she will get me to my apartment. I am delighted that everything aligned. I am blessed to have good people in my life. As I end this journey, I am reminded how fortunate I am to see the world. There is much to see and witness. I am blessed to have good health, the financial means, and the opportunity to explore Earth. I look forward to seeing where the road leads next time in my big adventure. COSTS: $1 = .90; Euro, $1 = $10.18 SEK. $138 ISK to $1 US $4.10 - Helsinki Central Station train to the airport $63.54SEK - grocery - 3 tangerines, 5 raisin buns, and a package of cheese $118SEK - train from the airport to Oslo S $118SEK - train from Oslo S to airport 62,000ISK - wool ear warmers and wool half gloves

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