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Finns Design 1986 Welcome Mat With Packages

February 02, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

HELSINKI, Finland — The words of Shakespeare, the music of Sibelius and a poem by Runeberg read quietly after a sauna in the early twilight of a winter afternoon . . . these become the national anthem in Finlandia Hall.

In Sibelius Park, the cross-country ski trails close to the organ pipes memorial to the great composer pick up a glow from the noonday sun that promises flowered walking paths under the midnight sunshine of summer.

These are part of the harmonies of Finland that are translating early projections for tourism in the '80s into the realities of 1986, with such results as a report from Finnair in Los Angeles that travel from California to Finland has increased by 22%in the past year.

Most tourism to Finland has traditionally come from the other Scandinavian and European countries. Now bargain rates and special packages to Finland's natural and cultural attractions are offered to the U.S. traveler. The Finns believe that a blending of adventure travel with performing and visual arts has a particular appeal to Californians.

East Meets West

Packages for this year also focus on Finland's historic role as a place of communication between East and West, symbolically expressing the renewed hopes for world peace that have followed the summit meetings between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

One such two-week package includes a cruise on a comfortably appointed icebreaker from Helsinki to Stockholm, followed by another short sea excursion to Leningrad, then a trip by rail and three days in Moscow. The package, including all meals for 11 of the 15 days, comes to $1,385 plus air fare from Los Angeles.

During the winter the round-trip air fare has been reduced by Finnair to $695;the polar flight takes about nine hours. The summer fare will be $1,190, starting in June.

Don't be confused by the fact that these fares are listed as Group Apex. Groups leave weekly and individual travelers can book at the same time to take advantage of the reduced rate. Non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Helsinki start in March;until then there is a brief stop in Seattle.

A three-day "Reindeer Safari" for $100 includes travel within Finland, accommodations, meals and, of course, that national institution, the sauna. Cross-country and some downhill skiing are part of the Arctic tour packages.

800 Special Events

The summer season of some 800 festivals and special events in Finland has become part of a year-around program. Momentum toward this accelerated during the 1984 Olympics when Finland, while sending a strong team to Los Angeles, also invited the world to participate in its own all-year Olympiad of athletic and cultural events.

In the spirit of Paavo Nurmi, the Finnish runner who collected nine gold medals in three Olympiads half a century ago, there'll be an ice-skating marathon across a frozen lake at Kopio March 1. It's expected to draw some 5,000 participants, world-class competitors as well as "joggers-on-skates," for events ranging from 6 to 124 kilometers.

There'll be reindeer racing at the Lady Day Church Festival in the Lapland village of Hetta on March 15, and then the next day an Arctic Circle ski race at Rovaniemi. Less than two weeks later, the Europe Cup ski jumping and racing events get under way on Mt. Ruka in the eastern town of Kuusamo.

This winter there is a memorial exhibit to the world-known Finnish glassware designer Tapio Wirkkala, who died last year. It has opened in the town of Iittela, less than an hour from Helsinki, and will be a permanent display there. Last fall, Wirkkala's designs were on display in New York City.

Glassware to Fabrics

We've found winter to be the most leisurely time to enjoy the works of Finnish designers in many fields, from glassware to the fashions and fabrics of Marimekko. Mannerheim Street, the Champs Elysees of Helsinki, is a delight to stroll from shop to elegant shop as mid-afternoon merges into twilight.

The majestic spires of the Lutheran Cathedral in Senate Square, consecrated in 1852, become a silhouette in the early darkness and signal the beginning of the evening, which can be as full of life in winter as in summer. The opera and ballet, the concerts of Finlandia Hall and on the stage of the Rock Church, set into a rock formation and capped with an acoustically perfect glass dome, are both a prelude to and part of the coming festivals.

The Savonlinna Opera Festival, set for July 5-26, is offered as part of the new Finnair Savonlinna package. This is a two-week mix of operas, lake cruises and sightseeing, including most meals and first-class accommodations, at $2,185 plus air fare.

Bridge to 'Tempest'

The operas in the Eastern Lake District of Finland are reached by a pontoon bridge into Olavinlinna Castle, built in 1475 when Finland was under Swedish rule. When Shakespeare's "Tempest" is presented this summer, the score will be the music of Sibelius. Mozart's "Magic Flute," Verdi's "Aida" and the Finnish opera, "King Goes Forth," will also be presented.

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