Just north of the centre of Helsinki and at the terminus of the No. 6 and 8 trams lies the Arabia district where we found much of interest to occupy us for several hours. Starting off by the tram terminus is the Iittala and Arabia design centre and outlet store where we were able to browse the latest ranges from these iconic Finnish glass and ceramic manufacturers in room layouts and on table settings. The Arabia factory was founded in 1873 and at one time was the largest porcelain factory in Europe.
The store has had a complete makeover since our last visit and its new, minimalist style is easy on the eye. My all time favourite is the Alvar Aalto vase and, of course, who could resist the delightful Moomin cartoon range of tableware. At the far corner there is a sleek kitchen layout where we were even able to help ourselves to complimentary cups of coffee, served in designer mugs.
Leaving the outlet store we took the lift to the 9th floor to take a look inside the Design Museum. This museum displays the products of the Arabia ceramics factory and Iittala glassworks from 1873 to the present day. Products are displayed in a timeline indicating the years when specific items were manufactured and it was interesting to view how designs have evolved over time. Entrance to the museum is free and further details can be found here.
The group is now owned by Fiskars, manufacturers of household and garden products and probably most recognised for their orange handled scissors which have been produced since 1967 and are most likely to be present in nearly everyone’s kitchen drawers.
Just along the corridor from the outlet store you will find a cafe to the left and slightly further on next to the attractive Pentik store is the Fiskars pavilion which is open to the public during working hours.
On display here are some of the company’s iconic home and garden products that have been fashioned into art installations. It was fascinating to view mundane household items such as scissors, axes and plates in such inspirational ways.
Leaving the building, a flight of steps leads down towards the sea where we enjoyed a stroll along the tranquil waterfront towards the old town rapids. Modern, tastefully designed apartments with huge glass balconies overlook the waterside park and bay enabling residents to live in a calm, natural environment yet only a short tram ride away from the city centre.
Reaching the old town rapids on the Vantaa river we crossed the bridge to the Museum of Technology which occupies the site of the old waterworks and is spread over several buildings. The museum documents the history of technology and industry in Finland from the late 19th century to the present day. We began our tour in the main building, the History of Innovation section which shows the history of metals, building materials, communications and computer technology. Here we found telephone devices from more than 100 years ago, the first generation of computers and domestic appliances through the ages.
Over in the Hydro Power Plant building we were able to learn how electricity was generated by hydro power a hundred years ago and discovered that it is still produced here today. The Steam Plant, located next door was built in 1931 and was used as a reserve power plant, producing electricity for the use of the water treatment plant if the hydropower plant could not operate due to low water levels in the river.
If you are interested in visiting this museum further details can be found on its website here. The museum offers free admission each Thursday but the Power Plant is only open during the summer months and closes earlier at 5.00 p.m.
It was then time for some lunch so we called into the Koskenranta restaurant which occupies an idyllic spot on the banks of the old town rapids very close to the Museum of Technology. On a sunny day it’s a lovely place to sit out on the terrace enjoying their buffet lunch and at under €10 it’s very good value. We tucked into creamy salmon soup with rye bread followed by lamb meat balls, salad, coffee and biscuits.
Needing to walk off the excesses of our lunch we decided to take the Pornaistenniemi nature trail which is located just across the bridge from the cafe. A wooden sign indicates the start of the trail which begins along a gravel path then just after crossing a small wooden bridge continues onto a newly laid boardwalk of a good width. This has replaced the very narrow two plank wide one which was starting to disintegrate.
Arriving on Lammasaari island we could see small summer cottages tucked away in the trees and at the far side of the island a small jetty with views towards Herttoniemi. A narrow, winding gravel path leads to the Lammasaari birdwatching tower and from the top there are far reaching views across the reed beds to Vikki. We then slowly returned to ground level and retraced our steps back along the boardwalk towards the tram stop to take us back into Helsinki after a fun filled day in the Arabia district of the city.
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