Turku to Helsinki: 193 kilometres
I am so happy to be in Finland again! I traveled here 4 years ago with my mother, and we visited southern Finland before we went on to St. Petersburg. I was impressed with Finland – beautiful, clean, birch and pine covered land with outcroppings of granite – just like northern Ontario but with fewer people.
We are in Turku, the capital of Finland when it was a Swedish province (from the late 1200s until the early 1800s). We head for Turku Castle, beautifully restored, and spend some time wandering around there. Unfortunately, the weather is not co-operating, and we decide to head for Helsinki rather than exploring further into Turku.
Mid-way to Helsinki the day changes – the sun comes out and it warms up. We decide to leave the main road and go the rest of the way on quiet country roads, hoping that we will see a quaint restaurant where we can stop for lunch. The drive is beautiful, but we pass through few settlements, and see no restaurants, quaint or otherwise. Wild lupins, purple and pink, are in full bloom interspersed with delicate white Queen Anne’s lace. We occasionally drive by huge fields of mustard seed, vast seas of yellow edged by brilliant green fields. The lilacs are at their peak. We see many rose bushes that I grew up calling Russian roses, pink with 5 petals and reddish leafs – my parents have a couple of these in their yard; they too are in full bloom.
The Nicest of the Three Nordic Capitals
We find our hotel easily – it is a bit outside the downtown core, but right on a tram line, so a 10-minute ride into the heart of town. We head downtown, and I show Greg around – I am surprised at how much I remember of the layout of town. To me, this is the nicest of the 3 Nordic capitals I’ve been to – it has the old beauty of Stockholm or Köpenhavn, but is also resolutely modern, full of beautiful buildings built by those amazing mid-20th century Finnish architects. On its way into town, the tram passes the site of the 1952 Olympics, still used as an athletic facility. Some of the facilities are quite beautiful, but all of them are so tiny by today’s standards that it is virtually impossible to think that all of the athletes at today’s games could fit into the stadium, let alone any spectators or TV cameras.
A Beautiful City Sprang Up
When the Russians took control of Finland in the early 1800s, they moved the capital of what they called the Grand Duchy of Finland to Helsinki, and changed Helsinki’s fate. A beautiful city sprang up, and much of what we see today is still original from this period. In particular, Senate Square is a beautiful area created soon after Helsinki became the Russian colony’s capital – dominated by the Cathedral, with government buildings on one side and the university and library on the other.
After a few hours exploring town, we head back to the hotel for naps. A couple of hours later, we head downtown again for dinner (Thai – Helsinki is full of ethnic restaurants of all kinds) and some internet time. We head for home about 10:30 p.m., and the sun is still way up in the sky. We still aren’t used to the light – it doesn’t feel right, somehow, to eat when the sun feels like it is at mid afternoon height; and it doesn’t feel right to go to bed in full sunlight, even though it is bedtime. And we have both been wakened by the sun, even through drawn blinds, at 3:30 a.m. or so, as it makes its appearance for the new day.