November 4, 2018
We awoke to a day filled with sunshine and clouds, chill and wind. A perfect time for a day trip outside of Helsinki. Knowing that we wanted to take the ferry out to Suomenlinna, an island fortress off the coast of Helsinki, we had strategically checked the weather and chosen this day specifically because it was supposed to be partly sunny. Since it is exposed to the elements, Suomenlinna is not a place to be on a rainy day.
We thought we’d timed our walk to the harbor perfectly, but as we walked up, the ferry we had wanted to take was just leaving the dock. Oops.
We walked around the open air market that was just beginning to open and then boarded when the next ferry became available. It was toasty warm inside the cabin, but I chose to spend most of the time on deck taking pictures as we crossed among the small islands off the coast.
Despite its name, which translates to “Castle of Finland,” Suomenlinna is not a castle, but a fortress against the advances of Russia. Built over six islands beginning in 1748, Suomenlinna (originally named Sveaborg) was one of the most imposing fortresses in the world, second only to Gibraltar – in fact, it was nicknamed “The Gibraltar of the North.”
There are approximately 8 kilometers of fortified walls with the capacity to house more than a thousand cannons.
Once a thriving, bustling town of thousands, the permanent population now stays around 850 people, 100 of them under the age of 10. Most of the apartments on the island are rented year-round and one hardly ever becomes available. In fact, there is a long waiting list to live on the island and any dwelling that does become available has at least 50 applicants and is snapped up immediately.
The Naval Academy still resides on the island, but we didn’t see any movement about, so they must be on break.
There is one church on the island, that doubles as a lighthouse. It was once a Russian Orthodox Church, but in 1928, after Finland’s independence, the church was consecrated as a Lutheran Church and the fancy exterior was removed.
Suomenlinna is a favorite leisure spot for the Finns (a million visitors per year). During the summer, there are tons of activities and the restaurants and shops are busy. In the off season and winter, not so much. We were able to find a small cafe that was open in which to get coffee (and a pretty decent Korvapuusti), but other than the main museum, not many other places were open.
Not to be deterred, we spent a lovely day walking among the buildings and along the coastline. In some areas, it was as if we had the island to ourselves, which was nice.
The views were divine, despite the ever increasing wind.
Luckily, I had thought to wear extra layers (thank you long underwear) against the chill. Unfortunately, Steven had not followed my lead, but he was able to seek refuge in the sun blocked by the garrison walls as I stopped to take photographs. Here he was practicing his “Finnish smile.”
On the far side of the island, over towards the King’s Gate, there were a few guys parasailing, taking advantage of the winds. It was so graceful, but I would have been terrified of ending up in the ice cold water of the Gulf of Finland.
All in all, we had a wonderful time roaming around the islands with very few other tourists. On our next trip, during warmer weather, we will definitely come back.
Back on the ground in Helsinki, we wandered around the harbor area and did a bit more shopping – while we were out and about, we actually ran into Anna, one of the Scouters Steven had met with yesterday. What are the odds that in a city as large as Helsinki, we would actually see someone we know.
Due to our early morning return flight home, it needed to be an early night. After packing, we went off down the street to a local bar for pizza and a salad (both were pretty good) and one last stroll around the neighborhood.
We are both just a little enamored with Helsinki. We will be back!