Day 1. The start of our weekend in Birmingham

Meeting my son for a weekend away in the U.K. has usually resulted in trips to London or Edinburgh so for a change  we decided to explore Britain’s second city, Birmingham.   Strangely, Birmingham isn’t a city I am familiar with, in fact I’ve only ever visited three times and then only to attend courses and conferences with little or no time to look around.

Main concourse, Grant Central, Birmingham New Street Station

Birmingham is located in the West Midlands, right in the middle of the country making it easily accessible from all parts.  My rail journey from home took approximately three hours including one change onto a Cross Country train for the longer part of the journey.  I’ve passed through Birmingham New Street station many times but as it is underground it never looked very appealing so I was quite interested to see what lay above.

The Place to Eat, John Lewis, Grand Central, Birmingham

After taking the escalator up from the dreary platform level I was transported into a glitzy modern shopping mall called Grand Central which includes a range of high quality shops, bars and restaurants.  Grand Central has only been open since September 2015 and its design is impressive with large circular balconies overlooking the New Street station concourse.  Noticing a branch of John Lewis I decided to take a look around and then proceeded to their top floor cafe for tea and cakes as I had some time to pass before my son was joining me.  The cafe was surprisingly very quiet on this a Thursday afternoon but they had a good selection of cakes and pastries on offer to tempt me.

 Birmingham Central Bullring Travelodge

Feeling ready to move on, I studied my map to find the way to the Birmingham Central Bullring Travelodge where we were staying.  It looked near to the station but not knowing which exit to leave from resulted in me walking slightly further to find it.  Checking in was quick and I was soon in the room unpacking my weekend bag and ready to continue looking around the city centre.

St. Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham

A few steps from the hotel lies Birmingham City Markets, a collection of indoor and outdoor market stalls selling almost everything.  I glanced in the enormous Bull Ring Rag Market and found it stocked with a mix of fashion, fabrics, haberdashery and household items.  The Bull Ring Indoor Market is one of the UK’s largest fish markets and also sells meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables.  It was a warm, sunny afternoon when I started my tour around the city, but all too soon dark clouds threatened followed by a heavy downpour sending me back indoors.

Interior of the Bull Ring Indoor Market, Birmingham

Between the markets and the Bullring shopping centre lies the Victorian church of St. Martin in the Bullring which contrasts beautifully with the contemporary modern buildings surrounding it.   The Selfridges department store featured below has an exterior which was inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequinned dress and is made up of 15,000 spun aluminium discs.

Selfridge’s Department Store, Birmingham

Standing proudly outside the Bullring shopping centre is a six tonne bronze statue of a bull.  It was created by Laurence Broderick and is officially known as The Guardian but is simply called The Bull.  The sculpture measuring 2.2 metres is two and a half times the size of a real bull to produce more impact and was installed in 2003 resting on a hidden plinth below the paving.

Bronze Bull sculpture outside the Bullring, Birmingham

The Bullring shopping mall is one of the busiest in Britain and consists of two main buildings, the East and West Malls which are bright and spacious with more than 160 stores and kiosks offering a wide selection of goods and services.

The Bullring, Birmingham

After enjoying some time shopping in the Bullring it was then time to meet my son at the nearby station and have a light supper ready for a full day’s city sightseeing the next day.


Lovely Lyme Regis

It was a sunny day, so we prepared a picnic and drove along the south coast to Lyme Regis which is located on the West Dorset / East Devon border.  Being a popular seaside town finding a parking place wasn’t easy.  Just outside town there were signposts for Park and Ride but ignoring these, we pressed on and eventually found a parking space at the third car park we tried!

High Street, Lyme Regis

Still, we were only a few minutes from the centre of town, at the top of a very steep hill, so easy to walk down but not so great on our return.  Wandering along the high street we admired the quaint old buildings, with bunting strung across the road adding to the cheerfulness of the resort.  The town is an attractive maze of narrow, winding streets with lots of little shops, several of them specialising in fossils from the Jurassic Coast.  The coastline here is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, a distance of 96 miles.  The town nestles in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is mid way along the Jurassic Coast.

The narrow road through the centre of Lyme Regis

From the town square we walked along Marine Parade towards the harbour.  The beach here is in a natural bay and as the water is shallow, it’s perfect for young children and was certainly popular on the day we visited.  All the benches were occupied so we perched on the sea wall to eat our sandwiches and enjoy the view.

Families enjoying the sunshine on the beach at Lyme Regis

Feeling nourished, we moved on towards the harbour wall which in Lyme Regis is known as The Cobb.  The Cobb wall dates back to the 13th century and provides protection to the harbour.  Some of you may have heard of The Cobb as it was made famous after Meryl Streep managed to battle her way to the end of it amid bad weather in the film ‘A French Lieutenant’s Woman’.  The Cobb was also the location for Jane Austin’s ‘Persuasion’ where Louise Musgrove jumped off its steps, fell and suffered concussion, so we had been warned to take extra care!

The Cobb, Lyme Regis

We climbed some stone steps next to the RNLI Lifeboat Station to get up onto The Cobb’s outer wall.  There are no barriers but it’s wide enough to be safe as long as you concentrate on where you are walking and it’s not too windy.  We saw a child darting towards us on a scooter, certainly not to be recommended, he did indeed fall, but thankfully not off the wall.  There were good views of working fishing boats as this is the deepest part of the harbour and from the far end of the quay we could see as far as Golden Cap and Charmouth further along the coast.

Boats sheltering in the small harbour, Lyme Regis

Stepping down from the harbour wall and onto Victoria Pier we noticed that one of the old buildings had been converted into an aquarium.  Lobster pots and nets were strewn all around drying in the warm sunshine and children were leaning over the harbour wall with lines and plastic buckets hoping to catch a crab.

Beach huts, Lyme Regis

Returning along the promenade to the town square we took a right turn towards the Lyme Regis Museum which is built right into the sea wall.  A wedding party were just leaving, it must be a delightful location for a marriage ceremony as the interior of the building has a splendid spiral staircase and balcony as well as being home to the town’s historical artefacts.

Town Mill Courtyard, Lyme Regis

Continuing further my husband noticed a small signpost to The Town Mill so we decided to follow the little path along a stone walkway with a stream on either side.  It was worth our detour as the mill is set in a secluded cobbled courtyard surrounded by restored mill buildings, nowadays used as artisan craft workshops, galleries and a charming cafe.

Sampling the local beers in Lyme Regis

On one side of the small square we found the Lyme Regis Brewery and taking a look inside, we sampled some of the draught beers and local ciders and were also able to glance at the brewing process which was very interesting.  It was then time to climb up the steep hill to return to our car after a lovely day out in Lyme Regis.

If you have enjoyed this post you may also be interested to read my other posts on Dorset:


Bournemouth Air Show


Kingston Lacy

A week in Dorset

The Rochdale Canal in Central Manchester

One sunny afternoon in Manchester, instead of shopping we decided to take a 7 km canal side walk through the heart of the city.  The Rochdale canal runs from the Bridgewater canal at  the Castlefield basin across the Pennines to join the Calder and Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, a distance of 32 miles.  We commenced our walk at Piccadilly Railway Station, leaving from the main exit, down the station approach ramp.  After continuing along the road for approximately 100m we reached the canal, just needing to cross the road and descend a short flight of stone steps leading down to the Rochdale canal towpath.

The starting point of our canal walk

The towpath is quite wide along here and cycling with care is permitted.  We enjoyed the peace and tranquility of viewing some of Manchester’s historic buildings beside the canal, there’s a mix of converted old warehouses, bars and modern style urban waterfront apartments.  The city seems to take on a different perspective along the canal bank, away from the hustle and bustle of Market Street and other city centre thoroughfares and it makes for an interesting stroll.

Lock on Rochdale Canal

We passed three locks on our way, sadly no canal boats entering the locks for us to watch but numerous brightly coloured canal boats were moored in the dock basin further along.  We found several inviting bars with balconies overlooking the canal where locals were enjoying weekend drinks in the sunshine.

The Rochdale canal with the Beetham Tower in the distance

As the canal reaches the junction with the Ashton canal, the towpath changes sides and we needed to walk across the lock gates to gain access to the other bank.  The towpath then changes back again a little further on.  In the above photograph the Beetham Tower can be seen.  This landmark 47 storey skyscraper was completed in 2006 and at a height of 169 metres is the tallest building in the U.K. outside of London.  The Hilton Hotel occupies up to Level 22 and on the next level, 23 there is a bar known as Cloud 23 which is cantilevered out by 4 metres,  this can been seen by the dark ‘stripe’ on the tower. The above floors are stylish apartments with the top floors having triplex penthouses!

Crossing the bridge to the other towpath

Our walk continued under the short Deansgate tunnel, past one more lock and into the Castlefield basin where we found several canal boats some of which were privately owned whilst others were holiday hire boats.  Reaching the end of the canal we headed back up Liverpool Road then turned onto Deansgate, taking us back into the city centre.

Manchester Town Hall

If you are planning a visit to Manchester it might be worth considering this canal side walk and you can reward yourselves after completing it by stopping off for drinks in Cloud 23.

Other posts I have written on Manchester may also be of interest :

BBC MediaCityUK Tour

Salford Quays and MediaCityUK

Manchester Christmas Markets

A walk through Manchester

Day 3.   Exploring Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

After eating breakfast in our hotel located in the Docklands we took the DLR the short distance to Stratford to visit Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which was the venue for the Summer 2012 Olympic Games.

The London Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
On leaving the station we took the escalator up to ‘The Street’ which is an outdoor part of Westfield Stratford City, one of Europe’s largest urban shopping centres located next to the park.   Folllowing the path we glanced in several of the shops before turning right at Fountain Square, this walkway taking us to the entrance of the park.
Waterways surrounding the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Walking towards the London Stadium, we crossed one of the bridges over the loop of waterways surrounding the park which are now open for public navigation and pleasure boat trips.  The 6 kilometres of rivers in the park were once a key transport network for the industries that lined the river.  A decline in canal freight combined with a build up of silt resulted in the rivers becoming unnavigable and derelict until restoration work took place as part of the preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
London Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Park

Built to host London 2012, the former Olympic Stadium was modified and renamed London Stadium and is now jointly used by West Ham United Football Club, U.K. Athletics, World Rugby League and as a concert venue.  It seats 57,000 for football matches and up to 80,000 for concerts and has the longest cantilevered roof in the world.  Stadium tours are available and details can be found here..

Directly opposite the London Stadium stands the London Aquatics Centre which was used for swimming, diving and synchronised swimming events for the London Olympics.  After modifications it opened to the public in May 2014 and has two 50 metre pools plus a 25 metre diving pool with boards at differing heights.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Before leaving the park we took a look at the ArcelorMittalOrbit which is sited between the stadium and aquatics centre and is a permanent lasting legacy to London 2012.  The name ArcelorMittal combines the name of the Mittal company who were chief sponsors, with Orbit,  the original working title of the project.  The art installation which combines sculpture with structural engineering has divided opinion being both praised and criticised for its radical design.  It is the U.K.’s tallest public artwork and has two viewing platforms on its observation deck.   In June 2016 ‘The Slide’ opened measuring 178 metres which is the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide with riders hitting speeds of up to 15 miles per hour – its definitely not for me but has proved extremely popular for thrill seekers wanting an exhilarating experience.

Westfield Stratford City

After enjoying our visit to the park we strolled back across the bridge into the Westfield shopping centre, stopping off for tea and cakes in the John Lewis department store before making our way back across London for our train home from Kings Cross Station.
Main concourse, Kings Cross Station, London
If you have enjoyed reading this series of posts on London and would like more ideas for places to visit in the capital, you can follow my link here.

Day 2.  Exploring London’s East End

Buffet style breakfast is included in the room rate at Ibis Styles hotels and there was a good selection of both hot and cold dishes to set us up for the day in its brightly coloured restaurant.  Setting off, I walked the short distance to Prince Regent DLR station and made my way via Canning Town and Stratford to the Central Line as I wished to visit Bethnal Green.

The Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

I’d never been to Bethnal Green before and the reason for my visit was to take a look inside the Victoria & Albert (V & A) Museum of Childhood  which is located a few steps away from the underground station.  I’ve visited the V & A main museum in South Kensington many times and having enjoyed the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh I was eager to see how this compared.  Entrance to the museum is free of charge as for the main V & A museum in South Kensington.

Interior of the V & A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

The building was completed in 1872 and officially opened as the Bethnal Green museum but after the First World War it began to focus collections of interest to children.  Since 1974 the decision was made to dedicate the museum to the subject of childhood and the V & A’s collections of children’s costume, books, nursery items, art and furniture were relocated to Bethnal Green alongside the museum’s existing toy collection.

Dolls houses in the V & A Museum of Childhood

I adored everything about this museum from the magnificent large hall with its wrought iron pillars to the exhibits on display.  One of my favourite displays was of an art installation featuring 150 vintage dolls houses in a variety of architectural styles and averaging approximately one metre high.  The ‘village’ sits on a stepped platform evoking a sprawling hillside community.  Some of the toys featured I remembered from my own childhood and there were board games and Matchbox cars on display that even my own children had more recently played with.

Traditional rocking horse in the Museum of Childhood

In addition to toys there are galleries displaying clothes including uniforms which were popular for dressing up in and playing pretend occupations such as soldiers and nurses.  The nursery equipment also fascinated me, being able to see how prams have evolved from coach built steel bodied versions to what we use today.  Before leaving I had to take a look at the collection of traditional wooden rocking horses two of which were available for children to ride on.

London Underground Roundel, Bethnal Green Station

After leaving the museum I returned to the nearby underground station in search of a National Trust property in Hackney.  Getting there was quick and easy, taking the Central Line to Stratford and then hopping onto the Overground a few stops to Hackney Central.

Walled Garden Walk, Hackney

It was a pleasant short walk to Sutton House along the pedestrianised Narrow Way and then through St. John’s churchyard gardens which led to the Walled Garden Walk.  Along there I found a wrought iron sign pointing to Sutton House which is located on the corner of Homerton High Street.  At nearly 500 years old Sutton House is the oldest home in East London.  Originally built as a Tudor Palace, its final occupants were squatters in the 1980’s before being bought by the National Trust to be saved for the nation.

Sutton House, Hackney

Some original features remain such as intricate patterned woodcarving in the parlour but various modifications have taken place over the years reflecting changes of ownership.  Before Sutton House was built the site was used for manufacturing leather, later becoming a car breaker’s yard.  The garden features planting in old tyres and the shell of a campervan being used as a greenhouse to celebrate the industrial heritage of the site.

Breaker’s Yard Garden, Sutton House

After enjoying my visit I headed back to Piccadilly to find somewhere for a snack and a short rest.  It had just started raining heavily so my cafe stop was well timed.  Later I enjoyed a walk through St. James Park, along The Mall to Buckingham Palace before returning to our hotel in the Docklands.

St James Park, London

Related posts:

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh

Finnish Toy Museum

Day 1.  A Short Break in London

I never tire of a few days in London so recently I managed to fit in a short break to the capital.  Travelling by train took just under three hours from my home in the north of England enabling me to arrive into the city around lunchtime.

Piccadilly, London

My first stop was at Piccadilly,  a short hop on the underground.  Piccadilly Circus is the beating heart of London, a vibrant square that’s always crowded and where traffic moves extremely slowly.  The iconic Piccadilly Lights advertising screens are currently out of action whilst a new, single screen is installed.  The new screen due to be operational in November 2017, will be the largest digital advertising board in Europe, retaining its curved style.  Whilst the installation takes place, advertising banners are covering the scaffolding.

Buckingham Palace, London

After pausing for a quick lunch I continued along Piccadilly to Green Park which is one of the Royal Parks and a pleasant open space in the centre of London.  Walking through the park the path leads to The Mall and Buckingham Palace.  Returning to Green Park station along yet another path I noticed deckchairs set out on the grass.  A few were in use but at £1.60 to relax on one for an hour it wasn’t surprising that many were unoccupied.

Canary Wharf Station, London Docklands

Moving on, I took the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf in London’s docklands and on leaving the station I paused a few minutes to watch some Filipino dancers who were helping to promote tourism in the Philippines.  I was asked to take part in a free prize draw for a week’s holiday in Palawan so I gladly entered my details, I never win anything but there’s always a first time, one can dream.

Philippines Tourist Board Event

My tour of Canary Wharf started at Reuters Plaza, recognisable because of its series of clocks, an art installation entitled Six Public Clocks.  Konstantin Grcic’s clocks were the winning design in a 1999 competition and were based on the iconic Swiss railway clock but here each of the twelve faces displays a single and different number.

Six Public Clocks, Reuters Plaza

From Reuters Plaza I walked along to Canada Square to take a look in the delightful Crossrail roof garden, a calm oasis above the yet to be opened Crossrail Station.  The roof garden is free to visit and is open daily.  It features a self watering roof with the planting reflecting the docklands heritage as a trading centre with plants native to the countries visited by the ships.

Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf

I then met up with my son and we ate dinner in the nearby Ledger Building which was constructed in 1803 to the designs of the West India Dock Company.  The building was used to house the ledgers from all the various departments of the docks.  It remained in use as the Port of London offices until the 1970’s and has since been transformed into a J.D. Wetherspoon public house.

The Ledger Building, Canary Wharf

After enjoying steak and chips we caught the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Prince Regent which was then about a 7 minute walk to our hotel the Ibis Styles London Excel. Directly opposite the hotel stands the Custom House DLR station but this is undergoing major renovations and is closed for 11 months necessitating a slightly longer walk.

Ibis Styles Hotel, Custom House, London

Check in was quick and the receptionist kindly gave us extra supplies for our tea maker which was very useful.  After enjoying cups of tea and Kit Kat we felt tired and it was not long before we were tucked up in our comfortable bed fast asleep.

Exploring Winchester 

Having read that Winchester was taking part in the National Heritage Open Days with over 70 events taking place over four days, we decided to spend a day in this Hampshire city to view a selection of its historic sights.  Approaching the city from the M3 motorway, we followed signs to the St. Catherine’s Park and Ride car park where we just managed to secure one of the last remaining spaces.

The Westgate, Winchester

All day parking including a free shuttle bus into the city centre was only £2.50 as we had, by chance, arrived just after 10.30 a.m. from when it is cheaper.  The bus journey was very quick and we chose to alight at the furthest point near the top of the high street.  Winchester is also easily accessible by train taking only one hour from London Waterloo.  Before embarking on our day of sightseeing we called in the Old Gaolhouse pub for cooked breakfasts and cappuccinos.  A quick glance at our map and heritage open days booklet and then we were ready to set off.

The Great Hall, Winchester

Located at the top of the high street is Westgate, one of only two surviving city gates.  We passed through the arch onto the cobblestones of Castle Hill to visit the nearby Great Hall.  Entrance to the hall is normally £3 but all venues were offering free admission for part or all of the heritage weekend.  The Great Hall is one of the country’s finest surviving halls dating back to the 13th century.  It is the only remaining part of Winchester Castle commissioned by Henry III.

The Great Hall, Winchester

We were thrilled to be able to view King Arthur’s round table, the greatest symbol of medieval mythology.  The round table has dominated the Great Hall for centuries and together with the marble pillars and stained glass windows the hall is an impressive sight.  Around the edge of the table are painted the names of King Arthur’s knights.

King Arthur’s Round Table, The Great Hall Winchester

Stepping outside, we strolled through Queen Eleanor’s garden which was small but filled with 13th century fragrant plants sheltered by beech hedges.

Queen Eleanor’s Garden, The Great Hall, Winchester

Back indoors we admired paintings in the Long Gallery  and had an opportunity to look in the 18th century former Grand Jury Room which is not normally open to the public.  Having enjoyed our visit here, we strolled down the delightful high street where we found shop fronts with mullioned windows in half timbered buildings.

High Street, Winchester

At the foot of the high street stands the Guildhall, an ornate Victorian building housing the civic offices.  As part of the heritage weekend, free guided tours of the building were available at set times with self guided tours during the rest of the day.

The Guildhall, Winchester

We took a self guided tour which was easy to follow with all the main rooms being open for viewing.  For many years the Guildhall served as an art gallery showcasing works by local artists but is now primarily used as an events venue with rooms created from the original 19th century chambers designed for civic government functions.  The wide, sweeping staircases were lined with a collection of paintings and corridors contained glass cabinets displaying the city’s highly polished civic silver.

The Mayor’s Parlour, The Guildhall, Winchester

I enjoyed viewing each of the rooms but the Mayor’s Parlour was probably my favourite with its oak panelling and photographs of many of Winchester’s mayors from the past 100 years.  Before leaving the building we glanced in the Tourist Information office located on the ground floor where we picked up a few leaflets of places we might enjoying visiting in the future.

Abbey Gardens, Winchester

Next to the Guildhall lies the Abbey Gardens where we enjoyed a short stroll in the sunshine.  Originally a Georgian house with a garden temple, the grounds were bought by Winchester County Council in 1890 and converted into public pleasure grounds.  The house is now used as the mayor’s official residence.  As we walked through the gardens we noticed office workers relaxing on park benches eating their packed lunches whilst children played on the lawns.  The gardens comprise formal flower beds, a rose garden and a scented garden and everything was in full bloom during our visit.

Winchester City Mill

Across the road from the Abbey Gardens stands Winchester City Mill.  This watermill dates back to Saxon times and is thought to be the oldest working watermill in the country.  It was rebuilt in 1744 and is a rare, surviving example of an urban corn mill.  It is now owned by the National Trust and further details can be found on its website here.

Winchester City Mill

On the upper floor there were milling displays and an exhibition explaining how the water wheel was powered.  Outside we noticed that the mill was built on a small island with a fast flowing stream on each side.  Descending the narrow steps to the lower level we observed the water wheel in action and were surprised at the strength of the current.

Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

After leaving the water mill we followed a path alongside the chalk stream of the river Itchen through the water meadows. Our route took us beside the remains of the city walls and on to the ruins of Wolvesey Castle.  This was the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester.  The site is managed by English Heritage but is free to visit.

Kingsgate, Winchester

A little further along we turned onto College Street which is dominated by Winchester College founded in 1382.  It is the oldest continuously running public school in England.  As part of the Heritage weekend activities, guided tours of both the College and its treasury could be arranged.  Unfortunately, there was insufficient time for us to visit the College but hopefully we can return to take advantage of a tour at some time in the future.  We then passed through Kingsgate, the second of Winchester’s surviving gates where we admired the lovely buildings of the Inner Close and the Pilgrim’s School where the cathedral choristers are educated.

Cathedral Close, Winchester

Continuing, we admired the half timbered Cheyney Court (feature photo above) formerly the Bishop’s courthouse.  Our visit to Winchester concluded with a visit to its magnificent cathedral.  Supporting the heritage weekend, cathedral guides offered tours which included some of the buildings not normally open to the public.  This tour included the apothecary garden and stonemasons’ and carpenters’ workshops.

Winchester Cathedral

Returning to the high street we only had a few minutes to wait for the free Park and Ride shuttle bus back to the car park.  I would recommend a visit to Winchester at any time but if you are able to visit during its heritage open days in early September then you will be able to visit attractions free of charge and enjoy access to places not normally open to the public.

Day 1.  A walk from Helsinki’s Market Square to Tervesaari island

With Finland celebrating its centenary this year and the country being a firm favourite of ours, it seemed only natural that we should make a return visit this summer.  On arriving into Helsinki airport late the previous evening, we spent our first day enjoying a walk around the market square which is always a beautiful sight.  The square is the beating heart of the city bustling with activity.  The small orange and white canvas roofed stalls sell fresh berries, flowers, vegetables and gifts and are always crowded with tourists, many from cruise ships looking for the perfect souvenir to remind them of their visit to Helsinki.  The market square is also the starting point for boat trips and a regular ferry to Suomenlinna island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, just a short 12 minute journey away.

Helsinki Market Square

Strolling across the footbridge we were interested to view the Allas Sea Pools which were nearing completion when we visited last summer.  Allas is located in a prime position at the side of the harbour next to the Ferris Wheel, affording stunning views of the harbour and the market square (kauppatori).  Wide, wooden steps lead up to the terrace and these have been cleverly designed to act as seats as well as a staircase with large bean bags to relax on.

Allas Sea Pools, Helsinki

Tickets are not required for access to the terrace areas but are needed to use the pools and saunas.  Allas boasts three pools located on a floating basin on top of the sea.  The Big Pool is filled with heated tap water and is a very comfortable 27 degrees Celsius all year round.  The Sea Pool is filled with sea water pumped from further out to sea where the currents are cleaner and then filtered.  The temperature of this pool is the same as the sea with warm water in summer and ice swimming during the winter months for the brave or should I say foolhardy!  The third pool is primarily for children and their parents and this is also heated to 27 degrees Celsius.

Wooden steps leading to the upper terrace of Allas Sea Pool, Helsinki

The complex also has three luxury saunas taking between 15 and 20 people at one time.  We climbed to the uppermost terrace from where we had splendid views of the pools and the harbour setting.  Here we found a rooftop bar with lots of wooden deck chairs to soak up the sunshine whilst sipping cool drinks.  On the lower level there is also a restaurant and cafe.  The site is spacious and can accommodate up to 2,700 customers, we were very impressed and will definitely be returning again during our stay.

View from the upper terrace of the Allas Sea Pools, Helsinki

Continuing our walk along the waterfront we admired some beautiful buildings from the Art Nouveau / Jugend style and boats moored in the harbour opposite.  Slightly further on, we followed a path along a causeway to Terversaari island.  This causeway was constructed in 1939 when it was used as a storage area for tar awaiting exporting.  After the final industrial units were removed in 1970 the island was opened to the public and in the mid 1990’s it was enlarged by means of land reclamation and transformed in to a park like setting.

Jugend architecture on Helsinki’s waterfront

Hedges of wild roses line the path and were awash with colour as the flowers were in full bloom.  Small boats were bobbing in the water on the causeway moorings and views back to the mainland were stunning.

Carpet Washing Pier, Helsinki

Starting our walk around the island we passed a traditional Finnish carpet washing pier ‘mattolaituri’ where people bring their rugs and carpets and wash them in the sea.  They are then left to dry in the sunshine on the wooden racks to be collected later.  These washing piers are a common sight along the Helsinki and Espoo waterfront.

Icebreakers in Helsinki harbour

From the island there are some good views of the Finnish ice breaking fleet in their summer home of Katajanokka.  These ships work hard at keeping the ports free from ice during the winter months and are now celebrating Finland’s centenary with a large banner.  Further round we could see Korkeasaari island which is home to the Helsinki Zoo.

Korkeasaari Island, Helsinki

We also passed a dog park which even has its own designated swimming beach for dogs, a children’s playground and an outdoor theatre where regular summer performances take place.

Designated dog park and beach, Helsinki

The island also features a traditional Finnish style restaurant ‘Savu’ which is located in the last remaining storehouse.  The restaurant specialises in smoke curing and is located in a beautiful setting.  After completing a circuit of the island we continued to Hakaniemi from where we caught a tram to the Kamppi bus station to return to our accommodation in Espoo.

In this, my second series of blog posts on southern Finland, my plan is to mainly visit places that I have not previously written about.  If you are interested to read about my month long stay last summer you can find a link to it here.

Day 2.  Exploring Senate Square Helsinki

Dominating Senate Square is Helsinki Cathedral, built in the neo-classical style this landmark building was completed in 1852 and its tall green dome can be seen from many parts of the city.  Senate Square was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1852 and the cathedral was his masterpiece, majestically dominating the surrounding buildings.  The large flight of steps leading up to the cathedral act as seating when performances are taking place in the square below.  I’ve visited the cathedral before so if you would like to read about the interior you can do so in my previous post here.

Helsinki Cathedral

To the left of the cathedral stands the University of Helsinki and just beyond it is the National Library of Finland.  Being a lover of books it was only fitting that we should take a look inside this building.

National Library of Finland

The library is both the oldest and largest library in Finland and is responsible for the collection and preservation of Finland’s printed national heritage.  Anyone is welcome to visit the library and it is unnecessary to hold a library card.  Bags and coats must be left for safe keeping in the ornate wooden lockers near the door and there is no charge for this service.

Reading Room at the National Library of Finland

The library is divided into two principal buildings, its large halls all being connected to each other.  Leaving the foyer we stepped into the splendid Cuppola Hall, connected to two ornate side rooms, the North Hall and the South Hall which are both now used as reading rooms.  The columns are coated with stucco marble and each hall has its own colour scheme.  I just loved the exquisite painted ceilings which are from 1881.  The three halls form a unique suite of rooms in Finnish architectural history, an academic temple devoted to research and science.

The upper level of the National Library of Finland’s Reading Room

Connected to these rooms is the annex called the Rotunda which was built between 1902 and 1906 and designed by architect Gustaf Nyström.  The Rotunda has six floors and its semi circular extension is surrounded by curved bookcases.  Creating natural light, the glass roof is made of iron and its pillars are ornately decorated with reliefs.

View of the Rotunda and its curved book shelves in the National Library of Finland

From the top (6th) floor of the Rotunda we could see all the way down to the ground floor level.  The bookcases have intricately engraved numbering on the ends to enable readers to find their required books and the hall is furnished with some delightful antique chairs.

Interior of the Rotunda building of the National Library of Finland

Interestingly, the bulk of the collection is stored in an underground bunker drilled into solid rock below the library.  The library collections, the largest in Finland include a total of some three million books and periodicals.  We very much enjoyed our visit here, so if you might be in Helsinki and have an opportunity to visit, do take a look for yourselves, the library’s website can be found here.

The Bank of Finland Museum

Strolling across Senate Square we turned left onto Snellmaninkatu to visit the museum of the Bank of Finland.  This museum is open daily except Monday and has free admittance, more details can be found on its website here.  Being interested in economics we found the galleries very informative.

Old and new Finnish banknotes on display in the Bank of Finland Museum

The museum is divided into three sections.  The main theme focuses on the operation of the Bank of Finland and the European system of central banks and their monetary policy.  The history section details the history of cash and monetary developments in Finnish society.  The third gallery focuses on banknotes and displays the developments in banknote design since the early 19th century.

The House of the Estates, Helsinki

On the opposite side of the road to the Museum of the Bank of Finland lies the majestic House of the Estates.  This building was constructed in 1891 and is currently used for occasional government meetings as well as being the location for official coalition talks after general elections.  From there we walked the short distance to the market square passing Helsinki City Museum on the far corner of Senate Square.  This museum depicts city life through the years and offers a fascinating insight into how the capital has evolved.  We then took a tram back to the Kamppi district to return to our accommodation after an interesting tour of Senate Square.

Day 3.  A Day in Tallinn

We often visit Estonia’s capital Tallinn whilst we are staying in Helsinki as it makes for a pleasant day out or overnight stay.  Several ferry companies ply the route taking between 90 minutes on the fast ferry to two and a half hours on the larger, more comfortable car ferries.

Enjoying the entertainment on board the ferry in Tallinn

This summer we spotted an offer on Viking XPRS leaving Helsinki at 8.00 p.m. including an overnight stay on board and then returning the next evening allowing a full day to explore Tallinn for little more than the price of a standard return ticket.  The outbound boat was full of Estonian under 11 football teams returning from a day of matches in Helsinki but they were very well behaved and seemed to have more interest buying chocolate and crisps in the shop rather than watching the evening entertainment.  We settled down near the stage and listened to the house band ‘No Mercy’ who were of a good standard and watched people enjoying a whirl around the dance floor.  Surprisingly, when the boat docked in Tallinn at 10.30 p.m. almost everyone disembarked but the band kept playing for another hour and we had the lounge almost to ourselves, there appeared to be as many crew around as overnight passengers.

The view from on deck at 11.30 pm in Tallinn harbour

We found our cabin which we knew would be small but was even tinier than we had expected, in fact the bathroom was almost as large as the sleeping area.  However, it wasn’t a problem, our beds were narrow but comfortable and we had a good night’s sleep as the boat was in its moorings.  We were slightly later leaving than the designated 6.45 a.m. time for vacating our cabin and had to rush as the chambermaid was knocking on our door.  Breakfast was available on board until 7.30 a.m. but at the excessive cost of €10 for dubious quality we decided to go ashore where we found a pleasant cafe for early morning warm croissants and cappuccinos which brought us back to life.

Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn

It was a dull morning with occasional spots of rain but we continued with our original plan to visit areas of Tallinn beyond the historic old town.  The first place on our list was Kadriorg Palace and park just outside the city centre.  We started off to walk but as the route appeared to be along a boring main road we changed our minds and bought two travel cards at a cost of €2 each and loaded day tickets on to them costing an additional €3 each.  This enabled us to catch a No.3 tram to Kadriorg allowing us to rest a short time before exploring the park and its buildings.

The gardens of Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn

Kadriorg Palace was constructed in 1725 for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great.  The palace now forms part of the Estonian Art Museum displaying overseas art from the 16th to 20th centuries.  The museum is closed each Monday (the day of our visit) so we were unable to take a look inside.

Guards on duty outside the Estonian Presidential Palace in Tallinn

Located just behind Kadriorg Palace lies the Presidential Palace constructed in 1938.  During Estonia’s first period of independence between 1918 and 1940 the Head of State was based at Kadriorg Palace but it was felt that a purpose built palace was needed.  The Presidential Palace is closed to visitors but it’s interesting to take a walk in the grounds and watch the Changing of the Guard.

Signposts for the Cultural Kilometre in Tallinn

Leaving the palace we boarded a tram back into the city centre where we stopped off for our mid morning cups of coffee before taking a bus to the Cultural Kilometre.  Starting from just north of the old town this footpath passes through a stretch of post-Soviet post-industrial Tallinn.

Patarei Prison, Tallinn

Our walk started at a former power station known as the Creative Hub which is now an arts venue.  The building has retained its distinctive large chimney and is usually open to the public but was closed when we visited as an event was taking place related to the start of Estonia’s rotating presidency of the EU.  The path then starts off along the water’s edge but veers inland after a short distance.  We thought the signposting was vague and at times we were unsure which way to go but I think we were still able to locate most points of interest.

The Patarei prison viewed from the Seaplane Harbour

The route passed the former Patarei prison, a nineteenth century fortress that became a prison in 1920 and after being abandoned in 2004 opened as a museum.  We had hoped to take a look inside but the entire site was cordoned off which was a disappointment.  Continuing, we passed more abandoned buildings from the Soviet era that had been left to ruin.

Estonian Maritime Museum, Tallinn

Moving on further around the bay we came to the Estonian Maritime Museum at the Seaplane harbour.  This museum is open daily and is located inside the historical Seaplane hangar which at one time held 21 seaplanes.  Now it is home to over 200 exhibits including the Lembit submarine built in 1937.  Numerous boats are on display outdoors including Europe’s oldest steam powered icebreaker Suur Töll which was built in Germany in 1914.  Further details can be found on the museum’s website here.

Suur Töll icebreaker at the Estonian Maritime Museum

After an enjoyable time spent viewing the historic ships we rejoined the Cultural Kilometre route to view the delightful old wooden houses in the Kalamaja district.  This used to be Tallinn’s main fishing harbour and the surrounding neighbourhood of pastel painted homes remains.  It was very tranquil strolling along these tree lined streets admiring the collection of well preserved houses of various shapes and sizes.

Old wooden homes in the Kalamaja district of Tallinn

Our stroll along the Cultural Kilometre ended at Tööstuse Street but we still had more places to explore.  Walking back towards the centre we arrived at Telliskivi Creative City, a hipster hub that sprang up in several old industrial buildings close to the railway station.  It’s home to locally made crafts, small boutiques, pop up shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

Depoo Locomotive cafe in Telliskivi district of Tallinn

Old locomotives and shipping containers have been transformed into cafes and bars helping to make the creative city a vibrant part of town.  It was certainly buzzing with activity on our visit and we were unable to get a table at one of the restaurants and had to go elsewhere.

Old railway carriages now transformed into a cafe in Telliskivi

Before returning to the old town we found time to take a look inside the new market hall located just behind Balti Jaam railway station.  Known as Turg, it’s built in a contemporary style with lots of natural light and seems to sell everything from fruit and vegetables to antiques, gifts and clothes.

Tallinn’s new market at Balti Jaam

Before returning to Helsinki on the early evening crossing we walked through the cobbled squares of the quaint old town reminding ourselves of how beautiful it really is.  We were pleased though to have spent the day beyond the old city walls exploring some parts of Tallinn that were new to us.  Back at the ferry terminal we returned our travel cards and obtained a refund of €2 on each card making our day’s travelling good value.  The return ferry had similar entertainment to the previous evening and was of a reasonable standard but overall we preferred the Eckerö Line ferry company that we had travelled on previously for comfort and service.

On previous visits to Tallinn we have explored the historic centre and for more details on the old town you can read my previous post here.