Finland: May 30 – June 9
Hello from Finland – a fascinating, beautiful, friendly country! We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and put many, many miles on our weary bones. We are realizing we are not as young as we used to be and Joe’s hip starts to bother him after about 10k steps so we take some ‘hip stops’ instead of pit stops!
We can thank Finland for some important inventions including: the heart rate monitor, Linux, the Nokia phone followed by SMS, Angry Birds, ice skates, and the sauna.
The sauna culture is hugely important in Finland and is not considered a luxury but more of a weekly health activity with essential bonding time. Because saunas can be family affairs too; Mom, Dad, the kids and grandparents attend a local sauna together if they don’t have their own at home. Sometimes business meetings are held in the sauna too. So take your clothes off (oh yes, no clothes please), hit yourself with some birch branches, relax and enjoy!
All bathrooms in Finland are equipped with a small, handheld shower head near the sink. We scratched our heads on those for a few days and assumed they were to wash the floor, sink and toilet as there are large drains. We were partially correct but their main use is that of a portable bidet or butt shower. We didn’t even try to imagine the workings of this device.
Reindeer are a huge symbol of Finland. (Reindeer and caribou are the same species, just different names.) They are not wild animals; they are owned by hardworking farmers but are free to roam the land. They are also a popular food source plus the stores are filled with hides for sale. We tried some thin slices of smoked jerky and it was very good! (Joe started sneezing and coughing a few minutes after our snack so I told him ‘that’s what you get for eating Rudolph!’ Lol
We did have a gourmet preparation of reindeer at our hotel. The description was:
“Reindeer rack & sweet breads, onion purée, spring onion, béarnaise sauce with spruce sprout and wood sorrel”
It was very tasty! No sneezing from Joe this time!
Burger King is king in Finland and McDonalds are very rare! It seemed like most restaurants serve a lunchtime buffet here. But the breakfast buffets were more than enough for two people who love food. Here is my typical breakfast….
Here we are about to devour a 5 course tasting meal based on foods from the Laplands; ie game, (the reindeer chop above) fish and berries. Delicious!
Finland is very close to Russia; a large part of it borders Russia. We heard tales of KGB agents and defectors during our Hop On Hop Off tour in Helsinki. This map shows where we visited in Finland and where we are going next: Tallinn, Estonia. You can see the (red) border of Russia along both countries.
Education in Finland is free and includes meals to full-time students. ‘Education’ includes daycare, preschool, kindergarten and up to university plus adult education and foreign exchange students! (Norway, Sweden, Germany and Denmark also offer free tuition.) Anyone we spoke to in Finland could speak English, some so perfectly you could not detect their accent at all.
In Finland ‘conscription’ (the draft) is compulsory for all men (women can volunteer). Men (about 27,000 per year) must report to a drafting event in the fall of the year they turn 18 and they must serve either 165, 255, or 347 days, depending on many factors. They don’t have to report for service at 18 but, must report by 28.
Turku, a pretty city on the southwest coast of Finland, straddles the Aura River. There are ten bridges over the river and also a small ferry to make connections simple. Many floating restaurants and hotels dot the shores.
Restaurants and cafes also lined the cobbled riverside streets and the children seem to dress the trees! LOL This must have been a fun project!
On the eastern bank lies the Old Great Square with its grand buildings. The nearby Turku Cathedral houses a royal tomb and a museum.
Sitting at the mouth of the river, the 13th century Turku Castle is the oldest building still in use and the largest surviving medieval building in Finland. It is also the most visited museum in the county.
The extensive exhibition displays the castle’s history up to the present. The elegant rooms are filled with periodic furniture, costumes and stories. It was a huge castle and although it seemed never ending, it was very well done and enjoyable.
Turku has a large commercial and passenger seaport with over three million annual passengers enroute to Stockhom and Mariehamn; like we did in reverse, on our cruise ferry!
In the 20th century, Turku was considered “Finland’s gateway to the West”. In the 1960s, Turku became the first Western city to sign a twinning agreement with Leningrad in the Soviet Union, bringing greater inter-cultural exchange. After the fall of Communism in Russia, many prominent Soviets came to Turku to study Western business practices, including Leningrad’s then deputy mayor, Vladimir Putin.
Some big stars of the NHL were born in Turku including Miikka Kiprusoff, Sami Salo and the 2019 NHL Draft top prospect, Kaapo Kakko. One young taxi driver told us everyone plays hockey here, and he did for 12 years until he was drafted.
Next we visited Tampere; Finland’s second largest urban area and the third most populated. Tampere is wedged between two large lakes. There was so much road construction going on it was difficult to walk around.
Tampere has a lot of large malls, a ‘Stockmann’, (Scandinavia’s largest department store), plus small shops on the streets. It is a shopping heaven for anyone interested but for people with zero room in their small suitcases, it was window shopping only.
Tampere is also home to one of the last museums in the world dedicated to Vladimir Lenin. It is housed in the same building that Lenin met Joseph Stalin for the first time.
Two lovely churches
Tampere’s sporting scene is mainly hockey. So of course we headed for the Museum of Hockey and found a few familiar faces on their wall of fame.
There were several small museums in the same building including this Doll Museum that I found interesting and a touch creepy…
The 26 meter Pyynikki observation tower was a long walk and a short climb. But it gave us good perspective of the surrounding area and lakes
Nice visit to one of the beaches in Tampere
When your Holiday Inn only has a view of the train tracks, you search out the best view in the downtown area, which was The Solo Sokos Hotel Torni. It’s the highest hotel in Finland and we enjoyed the view and a cocktail from here. Beautiful hotel!
We took the double decker train from Tampere to Helsinki that was pretty cool.
With a population around 650,000, Helsinki has one of the highest urban standards of living in the world – no wonder they are also the happiest! The average max temperature from June to August is supposed to be 19 to 22c, but we enjoyed 25c weather on each day of our 4 day visit. Finally, we are jacket free!
Helsinki had two Market Halls filled with food vendors that we liked to have lunch in.
Helsinki was awarded the title of ‘Capital of Finland’ in 1813, leaving Turku empty handed. The Russian Emperor wanted less Swedish influence and more Russian. So similar are buildings in Saint Petersburg and Helinski, that films based on the Cold War were often shot in Helsinki.
The gorgeous Uspenski Cathedral is the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe and clearly shows Russia’s influence. We could see the top of the cathedral from our deck.
Helsinki Cathedral built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia
The Sibelius Monument is a dedication to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Oddly, Sibelius never wrote any music for pipes, keyboard or organ though. And the pipes don’t make any sound but make cool pics if you stand under them.
Central Library Oodi opened in December 2018 at a cost of €98 million. The massive 17,250-square-metre building only has around 100k books but uses online services to give users access to another 3.4 million books, which can be delivered to the library. Most of the space is taken up by a cinema, recording studio and 3D workshop, and exhibitions.
Temppeliaukio Rock Church was built into solid rock in 1969, covered with a copper lined dome and supported by reinforced concrete beams. The lighting inside and out of the church is spectacular and with excellent acoustics, it is a popular venue for concerts.
The National Museum of Finland is filled with Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day.
Several Finnish people we spoke to mentioned they thought Canada and Finland were similar. Similar how, geographically? Perhaps. Canadian mining companies have a large presence in northern Finland with about one third of all Finnish mines being Canadian-owned. That makes Canadian companies the largest employer in ‘Lapland’, the northern part of Finland. Lapland is also were Father Christmas lives!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Helsinki. It’s big, but not too big and has so much to offer. Our hotel was fabulous; our room was complete with sauna and sun deck. The weather was perfect and 4 days was our longest stint in this trip; we needed the standstill. We will be missing Finland and the rest of Scandinavia as we continue our adventure on the Baltic Coast.