Before I left New Zealand, a family friend of mine showed me a book she had made of photos she had collected of “Doors and Windows of Europe.” I guess it must have made quite the impact as it really made me notice and appreciate the charm and individuality found in shuttered windows with peeling paint, or elaborately decorated medieval doors, as spotted all over the continent.
I think there’s a few reasons I find them so charming. First, I find the old buildings that characterise each location beautiful, and a real novelty when you come from a very young country. Second, every window or doorway offers a hint of who might be behind it – from pot plants on a balcony to clothes lines between buildings – and each has its own individual character.
In Amsterdam, I really loved walking through the centre of town, along the canals and admiring all the buildings – especially as, unlike much of Europe, the adjoining buildings all had their own individual style as opposed to being one giant Coronation Street block. The same was true for the details of the buildings. So here’s a collection of photos of spots I found interesting, beautiful or unique, including Rembrandt’s house (below) and some really great, well designed shop fronts.
As I wandered around Helsinki I found the architecture really interesting. I couldn’t help making the comparison between Stockholm and Helsinki. There were many similarities, particularly in the basic styles of the buildings, but the details were really different. To me, Helsinki felt like Stockholm’s younger brother who quit his job as a successful financier to run off to the summer house with his Eastern European wife and become a struggling writer.
I reached that conclusion, based on the fact that Helsinki is a much younger city, with a huge art-deco influence which gives it a really laid back, beach-y kind of feel, especially being a port town. There is also a huge eastern european influence, which I later learned was due to the fact that Finland has been tossed between Sweden and Russia like a ping-pong ball. Add to that the feeling of old money – a lot of the older buildings are very grand, but overall there is a feeling like the city is a little more run down, like over the years less and less has been spent on its upkeep. The sun constantly being in a 4:30pm position also helped impart the relaxed vibe on the place.
When I was roaming around the Design District I came across the Museum of Finnish Architecture. After the great success that was the design museum, and the fact there were so many interesting and diverse buildings that I had been observing and admiring around town, I had high hopes for the Architecture museum. Sadly, the changing exhibits were all closed and there was really only a timeline of how the archtecture had evolved over the years on the top floor to look at. It didn’t fully disappoint, with a lot of interesting facts about the styles, the socio-economic influences on them and other such happenings that lead to their creation. One such interesting fact was that the details on each of the old (more Swedish) style buildings are meant to represent what went on inside each one. To me they all looked like variations on the same floral theme, so I guess people at the time must have known what they meant. Call it early branding, I guess. When the main exhibitions are open it is probably a more interesting museum to go see, but at least it was only 3 euro. I would definitely recommend just walking round and seeing the buildings yourself instead though. Perhaps a google search if you are that interested.
Here’s a few snaps from what I saw around Helsinki