Day 8, Tuesday 12th July (Turku)
Moose count = still none!
I started the day by going for a run, foolishly assuming I would find my way back really easily. I hadn’t thought that the river I crossed might be more complicated than it seemed, and that there could be more than one area full of old wooden houses in Turku. I only managed to sort myself out by navigating in the direction of the Cathedral tower, which I could see from most of the streets I ran along, and – grateful for the low-rise nature of Finnish towns, I made it back about 20 minutes later than I’d intended.
A breakfast of yogurt and berries from the market, plus bread and cheese and sausage set us up for the day and we set out to explore, using a tourist information map left for us by our host. It proved very handy and we started by walking to the cathedral from the apartment, through a lovely old town area, full of well-preserved old wooden buildings and cobbled streets (the latter making walking slightly hazardous if you didn’t watch where you were putting your feet.
The Cathedral was the nearest sight on the walk to the apartment if you didn’t count the Sibelius Museum (which was closed till later in the morning) and it was still quiet at this stage of the morning though it would start to fill up with coach parties while we were in there. It’s slightly odd looking in that there seem to be dozens of former doors and windows that have been bricked up, which makes what would be an elegant brick facade look a bit messy.
Inside it’s clear that this was once the main religious building in what was the capital of Finland for a very long time. It was originally wood, with the inevitable problems that caused. The tower has had to be rebuilt more than once. The current tower was built after the Great Fire of Turku (1827) and I was very glad they opted for such a tall tower. Apparently it’s 101 meters above sea level and can be seen from a long way off, as I’d already proved. Although a lot of the medieval features are gone, there’s some beautiful vaulting, and lots of side chapels including one containing a Swedish queen, Karin Månsdotter.
Most of the chapels and the vaulting is 15th century and utterly lovely. There may have been things to see in the museum too but we couldn’t find anyone to take our payment and let us in so after waiting fruitlessly for 10 minutes by the cash desk we gave up. It also meant I couldn’t buy a guidebook.
Outside it was a lovely sunny day, with the light glinting off the five huge plastic ducks floating on the River Aura! I’d thought I was hallucinating initially when I saw them as I came back from my run. But no, there they were, large as life, way larger in fact, and twice as weird. They have apparently been there since 2011 when Turku was European Capital of Culture. They’re wonderful, if a bit odd.
From there we crossed the river, eyeing the ducks as we went, and arrived at the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova museum. It started life as the Rettig Palace (Palace being basically the word used by Finns for pretty much any large, grand house and this one is definitely both large and grand) in the 1920s, but then was converted to a contemporary art museum back in the mid-1990s. Or at least that was the plan. While the museum was under construction the several medieval structures were discovered, and then the artefacts that are on display today began to appear as well. The obvious solution was two museums, one highlighting the medieval history of Turku, the other displaying the impressive collection of modern art. The two museums became one back in 2005 and you can now have a guided tour (included in the entry price) of both sides taking around 90 minutes. Luckily we arrived just as the 11:00 tour in English was about to kick off and we were the only people wanting it. We had ‘Santeri all to ourselves and were thus able to ask lots of questions as he guided us round. What was interesting over and above the exhibitions was the way things were supplied that you could try out, like recreations of medieval toys. Again, this seems to be a very Finnish thing with all sorts of distractions/toys supplied to all ages in various locations, right up to real, full-sized armour in Hameenlinna castle! In the contemporary art side there were a number of rather wonderful things, but I was probably most taken with two of them in the 15 Rooms exhibition, a Hockney painting, and a piece of sculpture I suppose where the stars seemed to leap out at you as you entered the room (and where I failed to get the name of the artist).
After all that what was needed was a coffee and a bun in the museum cafe before we continued on the walk which would take us to the castle at the entrance to the river.
The entire riverside is full of boats and ships of every sort and size, including masses of exhibits from the maritime museum.
Apparently Turku will host the 2017 Tall Ships Races and I can’t help thinking that will be a stunning sight. And to continue the sporting theme, there was also a replica of the Helsinki statue of Paavo Nurmi, who was born in Turku, so I got my photo after all, just not where I’d expected.
We meandered along the Aura, looking at the ships, many of which seem to be either restaurant/bars or museum exhibits (or possibly both) and the old houses, and considered nipping into another museum or two on the way. However, we were keen to get to the castle, and so we put all else on hold, using the free ferry to cross to the correct side of the river before we ran out of options.
From there we continued down to the mouth of the river, passing the rather fabulous looking Forum Marinum which we kept in reserve in case the castle wasn’t interesting enough! It was. We reached it passing some amazing public art on the way!
We also passed a slightly worrying sign!
They were only for the ferry line, but it amused me anyway. The castle itself is another one that was formerly on an island but is no longer cut off. It’s a massive construction, well restored after being comprehensively fire-bombed by the Russians in WWII (it was also burned down more than once prior to that).
The job done means you wouldn’t know it had happened, were it not for the photos and film about the event being displayed in one of the rooms. It was also home to a very odd exhibition about humans and their relationship to animals that contained some very peculiar imagery including a model of a child with a teddy bear’s head which was quiet disturbing, something the artist clearly intended, and some stuffed wolves, which may or may not have been real.
A restorative cold drink and a blueberry ice-cream were needed to get us moving again after we’d been round all of the castle’s interior. The exterior is interesting too, with a variety of architectural styles on show.
By the time we’d finished we were hot and sweaty and tired so we caught a bus back to the kauppatori, which had some entertaining kioski, and walked the rest of the way to the apartment to shower and change for dinner.
We decided we’d eat at Mami but call in at Turku’s oldest restaurant Pinello for a pre-dinner cocktail on the basis that a) it was Turku’s oldest restaurant and b) it had a very pleasant looking terrace overlooking the river. The barman made a rather good mojito so it was the right choice.
Dinner turned out to be an impressive tasting menu, especially when paired with the exceedingly well chosen wine package. We drank a glass of prosecco each and were brought some excellent fresh breads and butter (with one of the breads having a very malty, almost sweet taste that was hopelessly addictive).
Next up came gazpacho with scallops marinated in lime, the flavour of the tomatoes packing an incredible punch.
The second course was described as new potatoes from Hannu Katunpää´s farm served with herring, and made me realise, not for the first time, that the majority of potatoes we can but in England are pale imitations of what other nations can get. These were little beauties and I was forced to admit that actually, when they’re good, I do like potatoes after all!
The main course was also a lovely thing with fried fresh fish served with sauce Remoulade which has been one of my favourite sauces since I first encountered it smothering some celeriac in France a number of decades ago!
There was a cheese course of a local goats’ cheese with apple which was a lovely interlude.
We finished off with home made vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries, and we were right back with those amazingly sweet and sticky Finnish strawberries. It was a lovely way to finish off a meal.
And then it was back to the apartment for one more night because we’d be moving on in the morning and there was a good chance that things were going to get a bit odd!