The building now known as Original Sokos Hotel Viru first opened in 1972, after construction delays and a fire in one of the upper floors. Apart from being a hotel the building and its secret history plays an interesting part in the history of the city.
The hotel is known for once hosting the KGB. Though, like anything involving the Soviet Union, the details are foggy. It is known that the 23rd floor of the building, now a museum, was home to a radio centre and that a number of rooms were under surveillance.
At the time the hotel was becoming a meeting point for international guests visiting the city and prime location for gathering information. Mystery still surrounds why information was collect, for what purpose and what was done with it after.
In 1991 the KGB quickly abandoned residence in the hotel when Estonia became independent. Now, the hotel is operated by the Sokos Hotel chain.
Over the years I have visited Tallinn many times thanks to it being only a short ferry ride from Helsinki. Each time visiting new places and getting to know the city that little bit more. Whatever my plans they always include a trip to its Old Town.
Tallinn’s Old Town refers to its medieval region that dates back to the 13th century in the heart of the city. Its cobbled streets, gothic architecture and well preserved city walls make it a must to people visiting the Baltic region.
There are plenty of small laneways to walk and discover. You don’t need to worry about get lost because, more often than not, you end up at the Town Hall Square, home to one of the best Christmas markets, and surrounded by authentic restaurants, bars and cafes.
There are two great view points over Tallinn’s Old Town. They can be difficult to find but after a climb up hill and winding through the small cobbled streets you will be rewarded with uninterrupted views, even on a snowy winter’s day.
Exploring Tallinn’s Old Town can easily take a day but make sure you spare some time to travel further afield. Telliskivi, Kadriorg park and the beautiful neighbourhood of Kalamaja are all worth a visit.
I recently wrote about Helsinki and put my case forward for it being the city with the best looking libraries, though I am completely bias as I have only seen a handful of libraries outside of Helsinki, I stand by this.
There were two libraries missing from that list though mentioned. The first was Oodi, the new addition to Helsinki that I am eagerly waiting to visit, the second was missing intentionally.
The National Library of Finland
The National Library of Finland is one of the finest buildings that Helsinki has, from the inside at least. From the outside the building is underwhelming and you would have little reason to believe that the inside would be any better. For me this is why I enjoy it so much. It is overlooked, underappreciated and visited mainly for academic purposes, which some may argue is the only reason needed to visit a Library.
The library was designed by architect C.L Engel, who designed a large majority of the buildings surrounding Senate Square where the library is situated, including Helsinki Cathedral.
Hidden away in the centre of the building is a large open atrium with a glass domed roof, on each level of course more books.
The National Library is a legal deposit library, which means it has an obligation to keep a copy of any printed material, as well as audiovisual materials produced in Finland or distributed in Finland.
A large percentage of the collection is kept in an underground bunker drilled 18 meters down into solid rock known as Kirjaluola in Finnish or Bookcave.
The rooms are large and lined with books, tall detailed pillars support the upper levels and painted ceilings. It’s these features and details that make the National Library of Finland such a magnificent building.
My interest in the libraries of Helsinki had first come through photography, inside there were these hidden architectural secrets I had to photograph. It took me to new places in the city and I was often hearing about others I had to visit.
It became such an interest of mine that one time while taking about Helsinki’s libraries I was asked, “Where do you study?” I replied honestly, “I don’t, I just really like libraries.”
Coming from a small city in England libraries were an underused service, often hidden away in a dying high street. Here, in Helsinki, they were vibrant, open spaces bringing all sorts of people and offering varied services to the public. They not only do this excellently, they look good too.
So, does Helsinki have the best looking libraries? Lets find out.
Abundant in work spaces and meeting rooms Töölö Library is always a hive of activity that it is often difficult to find a place to study. Meeting rooms can be booked in advance and come catered with all the necessities you may need.
But what brings other people here.
The staircase that runs up through the centre of the building has a unique shape that when viewed from the lower levels looking up gives the illusion of looking into an eye, with the skylight at the top resembling its pupil.
Helsinki University Library
In the centre of Helsinki you will find a number of excellent Libraries, its most central are Kirjasto Kymppi (Library 10) and the Helsinki University Library. Governed by the university but open to all, it is full of work spaces, some of which come with fantastic views.
The library is full of open spaces and architectural delights. First there is the corkscrewing spiral staircase which can be quite a journey when climbing from the bottom to the top.
Make sure to visit the balcony on the top floor for one of the best views of Helsinki Cathedral over the cities rooftops.
The building serves as a excellent shortcut between Fabianinkatu and Vuorikatu, making it easier to reach Helsinki’s Metro. Overhead oval openings descending in size as the levels rise. Walking through it is almost impossible not to look up and admire its breathtaking architecture.
The last library I was to discover partly due to the fact that it is hard to notice from the street, which sees very little foot traffic. If you aren’t looking for it you will most likely miss it.
From the outside there is little indication to the size of Rikhardinkatu Library and that continues once you enter. It is not until you happen across the large hall with its demanding staircase that you realise the magnitude of the building.
Kallio Library is situated at one end of Karhupuisto, the centre of the neighbourhood in which it serves. The red brick building hides a beautiful atrium and grand staircase that connects the three floors of books.
Again, we need to ask the question:
Does Helsinki have the best looking libraries?
I think I have built a strong case and have only touched the surface. Helsinki has other great libraries waiting to be discovered, for example the exquisite National Library of Finland, and many more throughout Finland.
At a time where libraries are in decline in many countries Finland seems to be leading the way, providing services that its citizens use frequently but also focusing on design and innovation that will bring more than just book lovers through their doors.
Oodi, the newest library in Finland’s arsenal, has opened this month and it’s a library of a different class, its scale, services and design are something the city has never seen before. At the time of my last visit Oodi was still under construction but now open I am eager to visit the city’s latest offering.
Getting into Tiananmen Square was hard enough. We joined a large crowd of Chinese people, shuffling slowly forwarded. We waited while people looked at us strangely, pointed at our feet and laughing, not knowing if joining the group was even the right thing to do. Eventually we arrived at a security checkpoint, where our bags were x-rayed and our passports checked.
We were in.
Tiananmen Square was a large open space where traffic was prohibited and areas roped off from pedestrians with guard posts throughout. At one end Tiananmen Gate, which lead into the Forbidden City, where a large portrait of Chairman Mao hung.
At the other, Mao’s Mausoleum, a building built solely for the purpose of housing his embalmed body. Our first port of call.
But first we had to jump through a number of hoops in order to enter.
First we headed to an entirely different building, where we would have to check in any bags or cameras. While I was travelling in Vietnam I was able to visit the body of Ho Chi Minh so I had an idea of what may be required here in order to enter.
Back at the mausoleum we joined another queue, this one had a lot less people in it, and another security check point, this one just a visual inspection. As we approached the entrance there was a vendor selling white flowers. Almost every Chinese visitor in front of us purchased multiple flowers to take in with them.
Once we reached the entrance and went inside we were greeted by a large seated stone statue of Mao. In front of him a table so full of the white flowers they had been piled up on the floor behind. We watched as visitors placed their contribution with the others and then as a man with a large cart collected up the excess and wheeled them back out to the shop.
Moving through the corridors we came to a small room where the glass coffin was held. Inside lay a black haired Mao in a grey suit. It was a very strange moment which lasted less than a minute. We were ushered around the edges of the room before passing out the other side and into the gift shop.
No one was prepared for Mao’s death. Like Ho Chi Minh he had requested to be cremated but after his death it was decided his body would be embalmed. Accounts vary but it is thought the process was rushed and ill prepared due to rocky relations with the Russians at the time. They were thought to be the experts as they had already used the technique to embalm the bodies of Stalin and Lenin, as well as assisting the Vietnamese with Minh’s body. It is said that instead they had to settle with verbal instructions from the Vietnamese and try their best.
Since 1977 his body has been here, in his purpose built mausoleum for the world to visit, with some days visitor numbers reaching well into the thousands. Today, who really knows if the body that lies there is in fact Mao’s. Rumours persist and it’s often thought that due to the process not being entirely effective the body had been replaced with a wax figure, highly believable as the process leaves the skin looking shinny and even wax like.
Recently I found myself in Brighton hunting for a number of street art pieces that had been placed around the city.
The reason I was here was the Finnish street artist Jussi TwoSeven whose work I had been following since my time living in Helsinki, where I had first been introduced to his work. The most recent was a large roaring bear in one of Helsinki’s metro stations in co-operation with a city museum. He had now been in Brighton painting a number of pieces in co-operation with Brighton Fringe Festival, this time wolves.
Jussi TwoSeven in Brighton
All together there were five wolves dotted around the city and they weren’t too hard to find.
In the heart of Brightons popular Lanes is Bond St, a thoroughfare for exploring tourists and local shoppers. Bond St has it all, from small boutiques, cafes, vintage clothing and much more. A day could fly by weaving in and out of the narrow walking lanes with each turn revealing something new.
What I enjoy about Jussi TwoSeven’s work is his interpretation of nature, and especially wildlife native to Finland, using only black and white paint. Also the scale to which he often works is very impressive.
Just around the corner from The Victory Inn, down a small side road, was the largest piece in the city. A blank white wall on the outside of a hairdressers made the perfect canvas for Jussi TwoSeven’s monochrome work. The Location and size made this one on Middle St my favourite of the day.
From here I walked. down to the seafront, passing the pier before heading back into the city just before the Aquarium. I knew roughly where I was heading as I had been wandering through this part of town the last time I was in Brighton only a few months earlier.
Two smaller pieces were painted on the walls of the Brighton Youth Centre on Edward St. One along the main road, the other slightly hidden by a small car parking bay by the entrance. Can you spot the black and white wolf?
What finally brought all these individual pieces together was when I saw a video on Jussi TowSeven’s own channel of each wolf in sequence giving the appearance of movement. Though separated across the city the pieces worked together collectively.
I am interested to know if there are any other great works of street art that grace the walls of Brighton? What are your favourites and are there any you can recommend?
As we where staying in an Air BnB a short walk in one direction from Central Station and Queen Victoria Markets in the other, it was easy to get around Melbourne by foot. I find it’s the best way to see a city and stumble across a place you aren’t expecting.
And that was exactly what happened.
A short walk from Carlton Gardens on the way to Fitzroy we came across a neighbourhood of gothic houses, each one very different from the last. They had their own character and distinctive features that made them different but some how they fit together.
The same but different.
Free City Tram
To get further a field I wanted to take advantage of the free city tram that runs regularly in the central area between the hours of 10am – 6pm, with extended hours at the weekend. The tram provides connections for tourists but also information about the city and the areas in which it stops. It’s a fantastic way for people new to Melbourne to move around.
You’ll know the free trams from their distinctive appearance.
we jumped on the free tram outside Finders Street Station heading towards Docklands
Though billed as a tourist area it is difficult to see exactly why tourists would come here. During the months I lived in Melbourne I rarely visited this side of the city and wanted to give it another chance, especially as it was still under development back in 2009.
Docklands is home to the Melbourne Star, a viewing wheel much like the London Eye. When I arrived in Melbourne all those years ago it was in the news as an extremely hot summer had caused the structure to warp. Now it was up and running but we had very little interested in taking a ride.
It was a beautiful day and we walked along the water, taking in the views and admiring the modern architecture on display. After a couple of hours I felt like we had exhausted all the Docklands had to offer, though I hadn’t worked out what that was apart from residential buildings and offices. Feeling defeated we headed back to the tram stop for the pleasant journey back into the city, of course by the free tram.
One thing that for me made the free tram especially appealing was the complex MyKi card system used on all other trams and methods of transport. When I was last in Melbourne in 2011 the new system was being launched with a number of problems and much public criticism. It seemed that those problems had been eventually ironed out and locals were getting around freely.
From a tourists perspective it was a little difficult to comprehend. I had to first purchase a card, that I couldn’t return, then I would then need to added value to it to make my journey, but I had no idea how much that journey would cost. Tickets or cards cannot be bought from the driver or at the tram stops so planning ahead is vital.
Interested to find out about the face on the building in the background? Read my previous post The Face of Melbourne.
The system may seem complicated at first but if you really want to explore Melbourne and its vibrant neighbourhoods then becoming familiar with its extensive tram network is a must. Fitzroy, Carlton and St Kilda are all worth a visit and of course are connected by tram.
The first time I noticed the building was from the ANZAC memorial, far off in the distance a black and white face 32 storeys tall staring back at me. It was far away but I could make out the portrait clearly. I was intrigued and needed to know more about the building and, more importantly, whose face it was.
The face belonged to a man named William Barak.
William Barak was born into the Wurundjeri clan in 1823. After serving as a tracker in the Native Police at 19 he followed in his fathers footsteps and became ngurungaeta or clan leader. Throughout his life he became a political leader and spokesman for his people, becoming a prominent figure in the struggle for Aboriginal rights and justice.
Barak lived during a time of great change. During his lifetime the number of white people living in southern Australia had climbed from almost none to over a million. As a young boy he witnessed the signing of John Batman’s 1835’s land purchase contract, which would have large consequences for his people.
Today Barak is remembered for his artwork. They depict indigenous life during that time and their encounters with Europeans, many of which have a permanent place in the National Gallery of Australia.
During the few days I was in Melbourne I came across the building a number of times, mostly by accident, but it was always a pleasant surprise. The building uses shadows created by negative space and white balconies to form the portrait of William Barak which can be seen from many angles.
Though having the face stand out in the Melbourne skyline is an example of times changing many feel that displaying the face of an Aboriginal elder and land rights activist on the front of high-end city real estate is a huge juxtaposition.
Being in Melbourne was the first time I had seen an example of architecture like this. Have you heard or know of any other examples of people or faces used in architecture? Share them in the comments below, I would be interested to see them.
Views of the building from above and why Melbourne’s new William Barak building is a cruel juxtaposition from The Conversation
My first day in Melbourne I knew exactly where I wanted to go. From my time there eight years ago I had become familiar with the city and knew that one of the best views was found from the roof of the ANZAC memorial, a 15 minute walk from the construction site that was currently covering Flinders Street Station.
In 2009 a friend encouraged me to travel to Australia and I did. I stayed for two years working and traveling around the country, before returning home. During that time I got to know Australia very well and made some great friends. It was a shame to leave but I knew some day I would be back, even if it was only to visit.
That very friend was now getting married and I was in Melbourne again, walking similar footsteps to those I had trod for the first time years ago and seeing those familiar sights.
I would be spending a few days exploring Melbourne before travelling down to the Mornington Peninsula to meet my friend and his future wife, then the wedding would be held there in a couple of weeks.
But first I had to see melbourne.
The weather was overcast but that didn’t spoil the view. From the roof of the memorial you can see 360 degrees, but looking north across Melbourne’s skyline was by far the best. I tried to think back to the last time I stood here and wondered what had changed since then.
There was only one thing that I could notice. Straight down the middle, a building I am sure I would have remembered if I had seen it before. Can you spot it?
Melbourne Then and Now
Of course the two photos are taken years apart on two different cameras but look closely at the skyline and see if you can see the face of an unknown person. I was intrigued by the building and its mysterious face, during my few days in Melbourne it became an obsession. I had to know more.
The last few months have been a whirlwind, devouring all my time and this blog has suffered as a result of that. This is something I want to remedy starting now.
Last year I packed up my life and moved countries, back home to the UK. Before getting completely settled I took a month holiday and went to Australia for a friends wedding, visiting Amsterdam and Beijing along the way.
But the one thing I can blame for my silence is the destruction of my computer (largely from my own doing). It has played havoc with my workload and productivity, which is partly my fault as I am still procrastinating over which one to replace it with.
Though, I will not let these problems stand in my way any longer. I have been working on a few ideas in my head and it won’t be long before I put them together for you to see. Because of my recent travels and the change in my living situation I am sitting on a bunch of great content that I need you to see. I hope that I can find the words (and the time) to bring these to life.
I would greatly appreciate that you stick around and see what I have been up to in my absence, as well as what I am will be doing in the future. 2018 has started well and I aim for that to continue.
In the meantime visit my other accounts where I try to post more frequently: