Sunday, November 6, 2011

My 'Kotka - Turku - Ahvenanmaa/Åland - Turku - Helsinki - Kotka' Road/Ferry Trip

So this was a trip which involved an aweful lot of organising but I don't regret a single second of effort I put into organising it as it was the best last week of Summer holidays I could have ever hoped for.

I had an early morning start, put my things in the car and headed to Kotka bus station. It was my favourite kind of morning - it's light out but the sun hasn't broken over the horizon yet, overcast, misty, nobody around except 1 or 2 others waiting for their respective bus and a general sense that today is going to be a good day.

The bus arrived and I took my seat 3/4 of the way to the back, my mind was whurling with thoughts so I wrote in my journal on the trip from Kotka-Helsinki... 5 pages and I hadn't even gotten off the bus!

my bus (photo taken in Helisnki bus station)

Arriving in Helsinki, actually listening to a song by Haloo Helsinki (Finnish band)


Countryside between Hesinki and Turku

I arrived in Turku late morning and was met by Jackie, Megan (two exchange students I know who live in Turku) and Pia who went to my sponsor District in Australia on exchange, it was really good to see them all and spend a day with them in Turku being shown around and catching up.

I then went to the harbour with Jackie in the evening and got the ferry going from Turku-Åland/Ahvenanmaa. I met a really nice woman in the line to get on the ferry who went on exchange to USA in about 1980 and now works in a job that requires almost weekly travel from Finland to Sweden and back again. We parted ways once on the boat and then I wandered the boat looking around then went to the deck to watch as the archipeligo passed on eithe side of the boat.

I then found a comfy spot and sat and wrote in my journal for a few hours, then attended a performance happening on the boat - dancing singing etc, it was really good. About 5-6 hours later the ferry arrived in Lumperland harbour where I exited the boat and got my 1st view of Åland... pitch darkness because it was about 12:45am. I met Tracey in the terminal and then we headed towards Mariehamn, the capital of the islands and where Tracey lives. It was actually really good to hear my local Australian accent (turns out it is different from other Australians!) and Tracey had been visiting in Australia less than 2 months before so we discussed how mutual friends are and Australia in general and also what life is like in Åland. Went to sleep around 2, stayed in their oldest sonäs room as he had gone to the army - not compulsary for boys in Åland to do the compulsary 6-12 month military service as (Åland is autonomous) but he decided to go.

Had a bit of a sleep in the next morning, then after breakfast drove to the Swedish castle, an old holiday house of the Swedish Royal family and then went to the open air museum just up the hill.

The Swedish castle, I love the design of scandanavian castles vs the ones you see in movies from Britain etc, they have a totally different atmosphere and personality.

traditional way of building fences, also seen in Finland

Part of the open air museum

the boatshed at the open air museum

warf near the boat shed, I donät remember how we got on the topic but whilst here Tracey told me about the famous Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen and how some people should stick to their sport and not open their mouth:

translated from Finnish to English:

'the odds are 50/60'

'Every time I jump and get to the ledge, I get that 'bon voyage' feeling. I mean it's like I've been through this before'

and there's plenty more where that came from..

me and the tallest midsummer pole on Åland - midsummer poles are put up all over the islands on Juhannus (midsummer celebrations) this isnt done in Finland so I am glad I still got the opportunity to see some.

road map of the entire Åland islands

Next stop was Bomarsund - destroyed Russian fortress from when Russia was in power in Finland and the Åland Islands.

(above) the outpost for the fortress, the only one remaining, the other was completely destroyed when the British and French navy came to destroy the fortress. What I found most interesting was the canonball damage, sure I've seen battles with canons in them in movies but it is quite different when it is the real deal, just seeing the points of impact and the damage rippling out from those points, you could even imagine what it must have been like to be there during the battle, it intrigued me a lot as we don't have this kind of historical buildings in Australia (or they are not that common in Australia).

We then visited the Bomarsund museum

the museum was quite interesting with lots of maps, pictures artifacts etc and also a quite interesting video of the contruction and destruction of the fortress. A quote that stuck with me about the ruins is: 'If Bomarsund fortress represented the enslavement of Åland's people, then the ruins stand for their freedom from Russian rule'

(above) all that is left of the fortress are parts of wall like these, personally I love how the road just goes straight through through the middle of the ruins, none of this preservation of sites crap, it is the narrowest part of the inlet therefore the spot that a bridge takes the least amount of money and resources to construct, therefore, the bridge goes here aha! 

Åland number plates, I loved how they all began with Å

The famous Åland pancake, on telling Finns that I was going to Åland at leat 70% of the time I would get the response: make sure you try the pancakes! and I must say, they did live up to the hype, rather like solidified rice porridge it was quite delicious, traditionally served with prune jam or also can be had with strawberry or rasberry (the option I opted for), in fact I liked them so much I got the recipe!

there was a lot of times when I saw flags being flown, in every case there was 3 flags showing, the Finnish flag, the Åland flag and the Swedish flag.

the lookout tower situated behind the cafe where we had the pancakes - it had an amazing panoramic view.

These houses are special as they are the only ones on the islands designed by a female arcitect, they were quite beautiful with lots of intricate detailing.

(Above) We then visited the Southern most point of Åland (that you can drive to) and I took some photos... surprising I know aha!

I finally got a picture of a white swan! (Don't have them in Australia), I don't know if Ive talked about this before but I have been trying since when I went to Sweden with my host family just before Easter, but, every time I take a picture it either blurred or something was suddenly in the way so I made the decision on Eurotour (after about my 10th time to get a picture) that me having a picture of a white swan just wasn't meant to happen. Who knew, all I had to do was travel to Åland to get one?

a park near the man made canal to allow small boats to take a short cut and not have to sail all the way around one of the islands.

A house style traditionally found in Åland where the entrance is painted a different colour to the rest of the house.

Åland is also a favourite destination for artists, there is a unique lighting which draws them there like moths to a flame. We went to an art museum of paintings done on the islands. Some of the works can be seen below:

(original story pictures for Muumin books - popular and well know Finnish children's characters)

Everyday, twice a day ferries leave for Stockholm, Sweden from Helsinki and Turku and also from Sweden to Turku or Helsinki in the opposite direction. These boats also stop at Mariehamn harbour which is situated approx. 1/2 way between then Swedish harbour and Turku harbour, there is also two ferry lines meaning that at around 12:00-13:00 4 ferries all pass through the entrance to the harbour, I went with Tracey and Will to watch this happen.

We walked along a path next to the inlet to the harbour whilst waiting for the ferries to come, along the path there were an assortment of different types of bird houses all different trees.

Tracey and Will waiting and watching the ferries

Thr moment all 4 where in sight

ANd it would appear it was just my lucky time for white sawns, after seeing one the day before I then saw a whole family the next day

I went to the gym with Tracey as she conducts a class and there was a giant beer can as part of the wall, I couldn't help but think it belonged in Australia, 'The Big Banana' 'The Big Merino' I think 'The Big Beer' can would make it complete.

'The Big Beer Can'

Also, whilst I was there it was the 150th anniversary of Mariahamn, there was celbrations in the centre although the main celebrating would start the night I was leaving.

The concert which was a part of the celebrations

a well known statue in Mariehamn by a local artist 'Mariehamn ram'

Jatski!!! slang for Jäätelö which is Finnish for ice-cream. These stalls appeared everywhere all over Finland (and Åland also, it would seem) as soon as it even remotely looked like summer.

We had a good ol' Aussie style BBQ for dinner on my final night, it was a really nice night. The next day we went and looked through town again, celebrations still continuing, I met a few of Tracey's close friends and one of the other Australians who lives on the islands.

At around midday it was time for my ferry back to Turku, I had an amazing time and so glad I got to see Åland, especially with a local to show me around. I couldn't thank them enough for letting me visit for a few days.

On the ferry home:

I arrived back in Turku and was met by JAckie as I spent the night at her house, she showed me around Turku some more and we went and saw a reggae concert which was happening, there was also bungie jumping and other such things happening althoguh I didnt do those. We then went home and watched the ice-hockey championships from this year on DVD acting as though we had no clue what would happen although we knew exactly, it was quite fun pretending not to know and reliving the excitement.

Flower bed saying 'Turku Åbo' on the side of the canal - Åbo is the Swedish name as it is one of the dual language cities, this is quiet interesting especially when the streets have 2 names, one Swedish one Finnish, posting a letter suddenly seems a lot more complicated.

The next morning I got on a train and headed for Helsinki where I spent the day exploring the city with my host sister and aunty - museums, churches and so much more, despite not being large by global standards, it is a truely beautiful city.


I loved this church, built into the landscape it is quite an amazing experience to be inside.

Helsinki Cathedral

My rememberence candle  

Helsinki railway station - statues at the front are quite iconic here

Helsinki National Museum

I think the sign explains all..

Traditional dress - reminds me somewhat of Lord of the Rings, possibly inspiration of costume in the movies as Tolkien was inspired by the Kalevala (Finnish national epic [book]) when writing the series.

Can't remember what this book was exactly but it was so old and amazing. like something out of a fantasy movie or something

Suit of armour - to put it's size in persective, it is on about a 30cm stand and when I stood next to it I was still at least 1/2 a head taller than it

Traditional weaved products from Lapland

A sterotypical, Finnish wooden house design

In the hands-on section of the National Museum... now would be a good time to play 'spot the foreigner'

I had an absolutely amazing week and feel it was the best possible way I could have spent the last few days of Summer Holidays, I then had 1 day for resting and back to school!

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