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Finland
 
Finland (Suomi) is a country of lakes and forest, with 80% covered by one or the other. It ranges from beautiful beaches, such as Hietaniemi adjoining the capital Helsinki, to the arctic tundra of Finnish Lapland in the north, complete with Northern Lights displays. Independence from Swedish and Russian influences came in 1917 and the country rapidly became a modern European leader, notably in design and music. In both the sub-arctic winters and short but brilliant summers, Helsinki is a city for visitors to enjoy. Start at the granite-faced Central Railway Station which has a thriving underground shopping mall, Asematunneli, and a large colorful ice rink just outside (take care - the metro station name is Rautatientori). Senate Square is another focal point with some excellent architectural examples … as well as proximity to the richly varied shops and restaurants avenue, Aleksanterinkatu, that includes the ‘meeting-place’ clock of Stockmann department store. It’s one of the great Christmas shopping streets of Europe. The 1952 Olympic Stadium is a model of how to host the Games and create an enduring city resource. A still-magnificent tower, a much-used triple-pool swimming area, a great business and leisure centre.
 
Helsinki
 
Invented and reinvented, Helsinki is a city layered with contradiction. The neo-classical wedding cake cathedral may be emblematic of the city, but many will argue that the capital’s Art Nouveau gems are more representative of its architectural value. The Functionalist legacy of architect Alvar Aalto fuels the debate, but those with an open mind will recognise the merit of Helsinki’s most modern and controversial structures. Not to be missed are the Kiasma Museum, showcasing contemporary art, walks around Sibelius Park or along Esplanadi where designer shops line up. Add to that the buzz that summer brings, the experience of saunas as they should be and nightclubs that guarantee you’ll leave by daylight (thanks in part to the midnight sun).
 

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