Archive for the ‘Finland’ Category

From Helsinki I caught a bus to Turku, on the western coast. It’s Finland’s oldest town, founded as a Catholic settlement in 1229. I spent an afternoon wandering around Turku castle, built by the Swedish rulers at the mouth of the Aura River and intended as a military fortress. Construction started in 1280 and continued into the 19th century, and the tourist literature bills it as one of the oldest buildings still in use in Finland. It’s variously served as a fortress, mansion, prison and now museum and conference venue. The medieval keep (built in the early 1400s) and renaissance bailey (late 15th and 16th centuries) had interesting and different styles.

Rauma is about 1.5 hours north of Turku, also on the coast and the old part of town is UNESCO listed for the collection of around 600 wooden buildings that are found there. It was beautiful to wander the cobbled streets between colourful low rise wooden buildings that are still lived in and used today. The sun also made a rare appearance, though it was a winter sun that warms nothing apart from photographer’s hearts. Rauma’s prosperity came from its proximity to the sea and in 1897 the town had Finland’s largest sailing fleet with 57 boats. From here goods were exported to Germany, Stockholm and the Baltic states.

Back in Turku I headed out to karaoke with my couchsurfing host. It was so long since I’d done karaoke that I was pretty excited until I realised it was public karaoke, not the private little booths I was used to in Japan. It was fun though, and I got to see a guy “sing” Metallica’s “One” while a drunk guy slow danced with his girlfriend, regularly stepping on her feet. The next morning I caught a day ferry to Stockholm, a 10 hour cruise that took me out through the archipelago with its many islands. In Stockholm I met a guy who also led tours in China while I worked for Intrepid. Pawel moved back to Sweden and has settled down with his girlfriend, bought an apartment and four months ago became a father. Little Ines was gorgeous and Majda was a calm and patient mother. I have to admit I felt a twinge of life envy.

Read the rest of this entry »


Week 31: Finland

   Posted by: Rhona Tags: , , , ,

For someone who doesn’t usually do country hopping I’ve certainly been racking them up in the last little bit, and it won’t stop for another couple of weeks. I’m still in Finland but now in Turku, from where I will take the boat to Stockholm. Country number 5 in as many weeks and unfortunately currency number 5 as well. I did have to choose European countries that haven’t adopted the Euro didn’t I? Apart from Finland of course.

Last I wrote I was in Estonia, hanging out in Tallinn. I spent a few hours at the Tallinn City Theatre with a couchsurfer and got a great tour of the backstage areas and building. The building is actually 3 different adjacent houses that have been renovated to make one impressive complex. There are 5 stages in different parts of the building and we walked up stairs, along corridors, down stairs, around corners, up stairs, past pool tables and into dressing rooms and basements as we visited them all. It was amazing; I could spend my life exploring all the nooks and crannies. I’d order delivery pizza to a different corner every day and play hide and seek with the delivery man. One of the stages is in the basement and apparently quite difficult to work with, though it looks fantastic. A few weeks ago when it rained the water came in through the power points, which can never be a good thing. Unfortunately I didn’t see a play as those showing while I was there were in Estonian and a little esoteric. As the woman showing me around explained, they can be difficult to understand for a native Estonian speaker.

The ferry ride to Helsinki was short (and had wifi!) and once on land I met up with a guy who was a passenger on one of the tours I led in Japan. We’ve stayed in touch and caught up in Sydney when he was in town late last year (and by random coincidence I was home). He took me to a smoke sauna which is a particularly Finnish style of sauna. The wood is burned in a large stove and the smoke is kept inside due to a lack of chimney. When the sauna is hot enough the smoke is let out and the sauna is ready to be used. My first image of the sauna was two steaming people standing outside the door in the semi-darkness of a northern winter evening. We stripped down to swimmers and headed in, Anders explaining the protocol to this bumbling tourist. We poured a few ladles of water over our head, sat on wooden boards to protect our behinds from being blackened with the residual soot and sat down to sweat. And sweat we did, huge drips of it. There was a lake outside and after a bit of working up to it I went for a quick swim. The water was 3 degrees, and as Anders cheerfully pointed out it doesn’t get much colder than that, even in the depths of winter, before it turns to ice.

Read the rest of this entry »