Helsinki and Vantaa in Late November. III: Vantaa

Vantaa City (Helsinki suburbs), Uusimaa Region, Finland

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Vantaa is one of the two major satellite cities of Helsinki, along with Espoo. With the population of 215,000, Vantaa is a bit smaller than Espoo, and unlike Espoo it is landlocked, being located to the north of Helsinki (Espoo is to the west, enjoys a long shoreline, and includes a large number of islands and skerries). Otherwise it is mostly indistinguishable from Espoo though; a mishmash of mostly residential neighborhoods, most of them built from about 1950-1960s to the present day, often separated by small forests or other natural features.

I already told the brief history of Vantaa (formerly known as Helsinge parish village) in the previous part. Like Espoo, Vantaa predates Helsinki itself but it has been a minor village for the majority of its existence. St. Lawrence Church is one of the few relics (if not the only one) of the old Vantaa. The current administrative center of Vantaa is Tikkurila neighborhood as that’s where the city council and other services are located, but otherwise Tikkurila is not particularly special.

You might have heard of Vantaa from the name of Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, which is indeed located in Vantaa, 20 km from central Helsinki. In fact the airport splits the dumbbell-shaped Vantaa nearly in two. Like many big cities Helsinki outgrew its original airport named Malmi, which is located closed to the inner city, and has been repurposed for general aviation (and will probably be closed down in future).

We’ll have a look mostly at two Vantaa neighborhoods, named Kartanonkoski and Tikkurila.

1. This is Kartanonkoski (Finn. Manor Rapids), a purely residential neighborhood in 0.5 km to the southwest of the Third Ring and Tuusula Highway interchange, about 1×0.5 km in area. The southern part of Kartanonkoski (in the picture) consists of townhouses and detached houses, and the larger northern part is occupied by apartment buildings. I’m not sure what the exact population of Kartanonkoski is, but it is probably about 8,000-9,000. (Kartanonkoski is a part of Pakkala District of Vantaa, population 9,500, and Pakkala has no other major residential areas.)

The “kartano” (manor) part of the name referes to the old Backas Manor, to the west of the neighborhood, and “koski” (rapids) is for Ruutinkoski Rapids, beautiful rapids on Vantaa River adjacent to Backas Manor fields.

2. The first curious feature of Kartanonkoski that I noticed is this stretch of Tammistontie Road, connecting Kartanonkoski to the next neighborhood to the south, Tammisto. The most obvious way to drive from Kartanonkoski towards Helsinki would be using this road, then through Tammisto, and then onto Tuusula Highway using an interchange near Tammisto (Kartanonkoski does not have its own motorway interchange). Presumably the city planners wanted to prevent this scenario in order to avoid transit traffic in Tammisto, which is also a quiet residential neighborhood.

Hence the part of Tammistontie Road between Kartanonkoski and the last houses of Tammisto has been made a single-lane road, with traffic lights at the ends of 200 m stretch controlling access. It is intended for use only by the local buses. While the “entry forbidden except for buses” signs (which are also present) would be pretty easy to ignore, the narrowness of the road forms a natural obstacle, and it seems very unlikely that someone would ever use this shortcut. So the cars have no other choice but to use Valimotie Road to drive to the interchange, a slightly longer drive that does not lead through any residential areas.

On the other hard, the existence of this road allows both neighborhoods to be served by a single bus. Bus lines 614 and 615, starting at Rautatientori (at the Central Railway Station) in Helsinki, run on Tuusula Highway, and then go through Tammisto and Kartanonkoski. (614 then ends at Ylästö neighborhood, and 615 at the airport.) According to the timetable (which seems to be slightly adjusted for rush hours), it takes about half an hour to get from Kartanonkoski to Rautatientori by bus. (There are also bus lines to Tikkurila and to Itäkeskus in East Helsinki which do not use Tammistontie or Tuusula Highway.) Minor clever things and solutions like this one are what I particularly like about Finland. Although of course I do not live in Kartanonkoski and cannot really judge the quality of its bus service.

3. One thing immediately obvious about Kartanonkoski is that this neighborhood it fact does not look Finnish at all! This is not a bad thing, in this case — it still looks very cozy and nice — it’s just that the style looks very off. It’s very obvious if you have ever been to a few Finnish residential neighborhoods. It looks more Swedish or Danish than Finnish. Indeed, the neighborhood, which was mostly built over 2000-2008, was designed by Swedish architects (although the houses themselves still were designed by the Finns). The Wikipedia article claims that it was inspired by Nordic Classicism style popular in 1910s-1930s, although I do not know nearly enough about architecture to comment. The project was a success; Kartanonkoski got several architectural awards. The rents in Kartanonkoski seem to be slightly higher than in the neighboring parts of Vantaa (although the apartments initially sold at a 50% greater than average price).

Despite the buses, Kartanonkoski was apparently designed as a car-centric neighborhood, possibly even for 100% car ownership, and while the townhouses can make do with street parking only, designated parking lots take up very significant area of the apartment buildings part of the neighborhood, which can be clearly seen on Google Maps aerial photo. (Kartanonkoski does not seem to have any multi-storeyed or underground parking lots.)

4. Like most neighborhoods Kartanonkoski has a comprehensive school providing 9 years long mandatory education for children. It also shares a building with a kindergarten. To enter a university/polytechnic school in Finland you generally need to attend a 3 years long academic secondary school (lukio, lyceum) after the comprehensive one; these are much rarer, and Kartanonkoski doesn’t have one.

5. A strip of park named Hagelstaminpuisto (presumably after some Hagelstam?) separates townhouse/detached house and apartment building parts of Kartanonkoski.

6. Some smaller townhouses. Note the amount of cars.

7. And these are apartment buildings, looking a bit less un-Finnish than the townhouses.

8. Kartanonkoski seems to have just one shop in the entire neighborhood, a fairly run-of-the-mill K-Market. There is also a bigger Alepa and some specialized big stores, but these are located outside the residential blocks, between them and the Tuusula Highway.

9. I spent the night at a hotel named Pilotti. Its looks suggest that it predates Kartanonkoski a lot. The name refers to the fact that the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is fairly close from here; they even offer free transfer to/from the airport. The hotel was quite nice, nothing to complain about. (When I had been entering the country the border officer on the train was a bit confused why I booked a hotel near the airport if I didn’t actually intend to fly anywhere. My answer “I’m going to see both Helsinki and Vantaa” seemed to satisfy him, although he was probably thinking “who the hell goes sightseeing in Vantaa”.)

10. The main access road for Kartanonkoski is called Ylästöntie, after Ylästö, a detached house neighborhood to the west of Kartanonkoski. Ylästöntie Road is one of the many roads that still follow the alignment of the medieval King’s Road (Kuninkaantie), the first Turku-Vyborg road ever. Since King’s Road predates Helsinki, it does not go through the modern Helsinki area, but passes near the old sites of Espoo and Vantaa/Helsinge villages instead.

The speed limit on the road is 40 km/h, usual for a residential area, and an electronic sign tells you your speed. I don’t think you can actually get a speed ticket here like with a speed camera; I believe these are just to shame you into not driving too fast.

11. Ylästöntie continues to the east beyond the residential area, passing by some huge stores.

12. Ylästöntie does not have an interchange with Tuusula Highway, simply going under it in a tunnel instead (since the Tammisto interchange would be too close). There is however a bus stop on Tuusula Highway at this place, and you can walk up from Ylästöntie to a bus stop, and board any of the numerous Helsinki-bound buses using the motorway. Of course the buses don’t stop at the shoulder of the motorway; the stop is built like a rest area, with a proper off-ramp and on-ramp.

13. Immediately to the east of the motorway is a small neighborhood of old-looking detached houses, which is in fact the original Vantaa/Helsinge village, named Helsingin pitäjän kirkonkylä (Helsinge Parish Village). It is a really small village, population less than 150.

14. Apart from St. Lawrence Church (see below), the oldest buildings in the village date to the early 18th century. It seems likely that these barns built of rough-hewn boulders are among them. The parish village is in fact considered the best preserved in the entire Uusimaa Region.

The building visible to the left is Helsinge Gymnasium, an academic secondary school. As its name (gymnasium rather than lukio) suggests, it provides education in Swedish rather than in Finnish language, so most of Kartanonkoski residents probably need to go to some other lukio instead of this one which would be really close. Indeed, Helsinge Gymnasium is the only Swedish language lukio in Vantaa. Vantaa’s Swedish-speaking population fraction is only 3%, as opposed to 6% in Helsinki and 8% in Espoo; however here in Helsinge Parish Village this fraction is much higher, about a third of the total. Is that because of the distant descendants of the original Swedish colonists? That would be really cool if that’s the case.

15. And this is the oldest building of Greater Helsinki itself, the St. Lawrence Church. It was built in about 1450 right next to the King’s Road. The design is immediately reminiscent of a few other medieval churches of Southern Finland, like the Porvoo Cathedral or Pernaja Church. All of these 15th century churches are believed to be designed by the same person, the Pernajan Master as he is referred to, as his identity was not preserved (although he likely was a German architect).

Like many other medieval churches, St. Lawrence Church didn’t survive unscathed through all those centuries. It burnt down in 1893, leaving only walls standing, and was rebuilt by the following year, but of course the original interior was not preserved. The original bell tower in particular was completely destroyed in the fire.

There was probably a service ongoing in the church at the moment (the parking lot in front of the church was packed), so I didn’t dare to peek inside. I feel uneasy walking into churches alone anyway; it always seems as if I’m somehow trespassing.

16. There is a large graveyard behing the church. I always pay attention to Finnish/Swedish surnames proportion on the tombstones of Finnish graveyards. It seems about 20-35% of the surnames here were Swedish, which matches the current population.

17. There are a few burial vaults. This one belongs to von Wendts, the owners of Linna Manor, in a different part of modern Vantaa. More notably, there’s a vault of Carl Olof Cronstedt, also known as the guy who inexplicably surrendered Sveaborg (Suomenlinna) Fortress and essentially the entire Helsinki to the Russians in the last Russo-Swedish war in 1808. Sveaborg was well-equipped for a long siege at the time, considered nigh impregnable in fact. A bribe of course remains the most popular version to this day, although it is possible that he just wanted to prevent unnecessary bloodshed; it is very doubtful that any actions at Sveaborg could make an impact on the outcome of the war, as the rest of the Finland had been all but overrun by the Russian army already.

18. I walked out of a side exit from the graveyard, on a dirt road through a field, and ended up at the shore of Kerava River (Keravanjoki). Kerava River is the biggest tributary of Vantaa River, flowing into Vantaa just a few kilometers downstream. It looks very similar to Vantaa, being just a little bit narrower, and just like Vantaa it has long footpaths along both of its shores.

And also just like Vantaa, Kerava is mostly known for its namesake city. Kerava the city is an outer suburb of Helsinki, the next one to the north after Vantaa. Kerava is much smaller than any of the inner suburbs (population 35,000) and I don’t really know much about it.

19. Ring III, the main ring road of Helsinki, is very close from here. It forms a sort of a natural boundary of Helsinki (including its inner suburbs), but both Espoo and Vantaa in fact stretch quite far to the north beyond Ring III. I’m crossing Ring III on an overpass used by a local road.

20. Kerava River flows under Ring III too, of course.

21. North of Ring III Kerava River forms the southern border of Viertola neighborhood. Some nice new townhouses are being constructed on the shore.

22. There appears to be hardly anything unique about Finnish construction methods. Just concrete panels and thermal insulation, same as in Russia. The construction sites usually look quite a bit cleaner though.

23. There are several pedestrian bridges of a common design over Kerava River. Similar bridges exist over Vantaa River. Note the widening in the middle, with benches in case you just want to sit there and gaze upon the river.

24. Another construction site, this one obviously at an early stage.

25. Crossing over into Tikkurila neighborhood. This building was occupied by a silk factory and is still known as Silkkisali (Finn. Silk Hall); now there is a theater, a dance studio, and various small artisan workshops. A similar industrial building upstream is similarly converted to a culture center (Vernissa).

26. The biggest sight in Tikkurila (probably the only actual sight) is Heureka Science Center, a huge science museum, likely the biggest one in Finland. I should have probably visited it, as later I ended up waiting five hours for my return train to St. Petersburg anyway.

27. There’s a pretty huge exhibition of various rocks from all parts on Finland in front of Heureka.

28. It has probably every kind of rock you can think about. Well, I don’t really know much about rocks anyway. This is rapakivi (Finn. crumbling stone) granite, a characteristic reddish kind of granite very common on the Karelian Isthmus and in parts of Finland adjacent to the Russian border. Rapakivi constructions are very ubiquitous in St. Petersburg; various embankments, old stone bridges, columns of old buildings and cathedrals were all made of Vyborg and Virolahti rapakivi. The huge boulder which serves as the Bronze Horseman’s pedestal is rapakivi too, although it was extracted much closer to St. Petersburg. And the red tint of gravel on various footpaths in St. Petersburg parks suggests rapakivi as well, although I’m not sure of that; there are other kinds of Finnish and Karelian granite widely used in St. Petersburg architecture.

29. Heureka Science Center is located near Tikkurilankoski Rapids on Kerava River. A railroad bridge carrying the Main Line of Finnish railways is built just over the rapids.

30. A beautiful cable-stayed pedestrian bridge connects Heureka to the rest of Tikkurila. This is where we leave Kerava River to take a closed look at Tikkurila itself.

Tikkurila is a somewhat generic-looking neighborhood in Vantaa. It’s not a purely residential one, consisting of apartment buildings, shops and malls, and some businesses; I don’t think there’s any significant industry remaining. In fact the population is not that big, only 5,600 (although there are several other residential areas immediately adjacent to Tikkurila); with 22% speaking a native language other than Finnish or Swedish, i. e. immigrants. More than a half of Tikkurila apartments are rented.

Tikkurila has been known since the 16th century as a marketplace (tikkuri refers to some old measurement unit), but the true growth in the area started in late 19th century with the construction of the railroad and the railway station. At least in Russia the word “Tikkurila” is actually very well known as a paint brand which ran some memorable TV commercials in the 2000s. Tikkurila factory has in fact existed since 1862, and is apparently one of the (seemingly few) Finnish industries which are still Finnish-owned, still keep their facilities mostly in Finland, and remain consistently profitable. The modern Tikkurila Oyj headquarters and factory are located just across the Kerava River, in Kuninkaala neighborhood.

Tikkurila is the administrative center of Vantaa and also a major transport hub. There is a huge bus terminal, and Tikkurila Station is where the new Ring Rail Line splits from the Main Line. The Ring Rail Line (Kehärata) is a very recent project; it opened only in 2015. The new 18 km long line linked the Main Line to the formerly dead-end Vantaankoski Line, forming a circular (actually heart-shaped) circuit where trains run in both directions. The line includes a huge 8 km long tunnel under the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, as it was first and foremost meant for airport access; apart from that it serves a number of Vantaa residential areas.

31. The modern Tikkurila Station building, visible in the distance, is built over the railroad tracks in 2014. This is the last stop of the Allegro train before Helsinki, so I intended to board the return train here in Tikkurila, and bought the appropriate ticket in advance.

32. Immediately next to the railway station is a huge shopping/business center under construction named Dixi. In fact it seemed pretty much finished, but the adjacent streets were still closed for traffic.

33. On the ground floor of Dixi, next to the exit from the railway station, is a huge bus terminal with bus lines connecting Tikkurila both with Helsinki and with other parts of Vantaa.

34. Next to the railway station there are several huge park-and-ride parking lots. Park-and-ride services are very common in Helsinki region. Parking lots exist at most if not all railway stations, at major bus terminals, and at Helsinki metro stations outside the downtown. The time limit for parking is 12 hours. Nearly all park-and-ride parking lots are free, except a few in inner Helsinki. The capacity of course may vary a lot; Tikkurila park-and-ride lots have over 500 parking spaces in total, and that’s about the top that you can expect. Smaller stations or stations in densely-populated areas with not a lot of space around may have as few as 20-30. Well, there is a map, so you can see for yourself. I would be very curious to know how high the actual park-and-ride occupancy is on workdays in various parts of Greater Helsinki. Anyway this seems like a genuinely useful system; suburbs of major Russian cities utterly lack anything like that. Oh, and there are usually bike parking places too, in case you do not actually live far enough from the station to justify driving there.

35. In case of Tikkurila at least, that new Dixi mall/business center (to the left) has its own huge multi-storeyed parking lot (although it’s not free), in case the park-and-ride ones are full. The few parking spots on the street are meant as a waiting area where you can pick someone up from a train or a bus; the time limit is 15 minutes or so.

36. Tikkurila apartment buildings represent eras from about 1960s I think (1950s?) to the present day. There’s nothing unusual about them, so now we’re basically looking at a generic Finnish apartment block.

37.

38. A local arts and music school.

39. The local police station has a statue of some… um… horseman?

40. Tokmanni discount store in an older building. I somehow always assumed that Tokmanni was a smaller/cheaper version of Stockmann the department store; “Tokmanni” sounds exactly like a Fennicized version of “Stockmann”. They are actually unrelated.

41. One thing that always makes me curious near Finnish apartment buildings is where the parking lot is and whether there are enough spaces for all inhabitants. This parking lot has about 150 spaces which actually sounds sufficient, unless the apartments here are really small. (The block consists of four similar six-storeyed buildings.)

42. This new building on the other hand seems to have no parking lots at all. Underground parking maybe?

43. Gas station with a restaurant and a food store.

44. There are some occasional office buildings, too. This one houses the headquarters of Destia, for example. You might remember this name if you’ve been to Finland and paid attention to any information boards at roadworks and the like; very often the company doing the repairs is Destia. It specializes in road maintenance and overall infrastructure construction; in fact it is a former government road maintenance agency, privatized in 2008.

As for other signs, if you’re curious, they stand for: Osuuspankki Bank (one of the largest Finnish banks, local branch), SpecSavers (global optical retail chain, Finnish branch headquarters), and MTR-Isännöinti (residential building maintenance company). No idea about the oil pumpjack in front of the building though. Finland has zero oil; it has a major oil refining company, Neste, but I don’t see their sign here.

45.

46. Tikkurila even has a designated pedestrian shopping street, Tikkuraitti, which is more typical of a self-sufficient town than of a city neighborhood. There is a Prisma supermarket and a McDonald’s here, among the things that count.

47. Some benches near a statue of bears on Tikkuraitti. I hate bears. Why did it have to be bears?

48. And this is the Vantaa city hall. You can tell from the fact that it displays Vantaa’s coat of arms, with a fish tail. The city hall looks mostly unremarkable. Across the road are Tikkurila Church and Tikkuri Mall, also unremarkable enough that I don’t even have a good picture of them.

49. Some of the newest Tikkurila apartment buildings.

50. And a Christmas tree! Apparently late November is not early for Christmas trees at all!

With that, I returned to the Tikkurila Railway Station, and spent the next five hours waiting for the Allegro train back home. It turned out I forgot to take my Finnish SIM card to this trip, and the station had no Wi-Fi on its own, but at least I got a rare opportunity to read a (paper) book I had with me. That’s all for this trip, thanks for reading!

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