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With the unemployment numbers rising amid the global downturn, thousands throng job fairs that are becoming a common sight in the city state.

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By day, they are lawyers, bankers and traders. When the sun goes down, the business suits come off and the gloves come on. Jennifer Alejandro gets a ringside view of Singapore’s fight club.

(Filmed with JVC handycam and edited using Adobe Premiere Elements by Jennifer)

TRAVEL FEATURE

Autumn in Helsinki

by Jennifer Alejandro



When somebody mentions Finland, Vodka is the first thing that comes to mind. That or it’s a land with 4 months of daylight in the year. This Nordic nation of some 5.3 million people is overshadowed by the fame of its neighboring countries such as Sweden’s design prowess, Norway’s shipping empire and Denmark’s dairy produce. Temperatures can go down to minus 20’C in winter. Helsinki is rarely in most people’s list of places to visit.



But what most people don’t know is that Finland has a very interesting history. For much of its past, it was a territory of the old Russian imperial empire after which it became a part of Sweden.  The country became an independent nation in 1917. 40 percent of the population of Finland still speak Swedish.



In the fall, the mean daily temperature rises from 0°C to 10°C.  If you easily get cold, pack a thick jacket, socks and gloves. Better yet, just buy it there so it’s cheaper!



Take a walk along the central shopping street of Aleksanterinkatu with two-lanes of trams  which is bustling with bargain-hunters. All shops and restaurants close on Sundays. Checkout Aleksi, the local department store that offers bargains on almost everything from gloves to shoes to homeware. Mid-range clothing stores such as British chain H&M and the Spanish label Zara are just two or three doors down.



Over on the other side of the street is The Kämp Hotel at Pohjois Esplanadi with views of the city park. The lobby is done in old European deco and it’s the city’s oldest and poshest hotel. Along the same row are stylish Finnish home and fashion shops such as Marimekko (colorful coats and lots of patterns on their clothes but they have classic black bags and arresting diningware) and Iittala that has modernistic glasses, plates and cookware (think Ikea streamlined design but more expensive).



What really makes the city charming however is the Old Market Place which is a block or two down from the Pohjois Esplanadi. This area lends a postcard perfect scene, where one could find a daily flower –vegetable-craft market with an old Russian orthodox church and the Helsinki harbour as backdrops.

Sit in one of the food stalls and try some local delicacies such as reindeer meat or buy fresh produce.



When you look up at the skyline, you can’t miss two spectacular domes. The nearest one to the market is the Russian Orthodox church, or the Uspenski Cathedral that’s brown and gold and has a commanding presence. From the Orthodox Church on top of the hill, one gets a good view of the old and new parts of Helsinki but standing out is the white beauty and green dome of the Lutheran Cathedral .  



Walking across cobbled streets, one reaches the Senate Square with Tsar Alexander’s statue right smack in the center. Atop the high steps, sits the pristine cathedral with its late 19th century architecture. It is best to explore the city on foot because the picturesque district is just a small area, If you don’t want to walk, take the tram. Ticket is 2 euros, and it’s ride-all-you-can for one hour. So go anywhere you like. A lot of the Finns can speak English and they are quite helpful.



Highly recommended is Suomonlinna, one of the largest naval fortresses in Europe.  Along the lakeside, posh villas line the coast. In winter, the whole harbour freezes solid that one could drive a car across it and go to the neighboring islands. Ice skating and hole-fishing are also popular winter activities.





For bars and restaurants, there are many in Helsinki but for traditional Finnish fare, try Elite ravintola or restaurant. The interiors are art deco and it used to be the meeting place of Helsinki’s intellectuals, writers and socialites in the 1950’s -60s era. The house specialty is reindeer meat. Go give it a try!



If you have a weekend to spare, guided tours to Moscow (Russia) and Stockholm (Sweden) are available. But take note, Russian visas take 4 to 6 days to process by Helsinki travel agencies.



So take a trip to the wildside, or better yet the cold side — go up north to the heart of Finlandia. #

Uspenski Cathedral

Old Market Square

A stall in Helsinki Old Market

Aleksanterinkatu

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