Back in Helsinki we woke to find the clouds had cleared leaving us a beautiful day to continue our exploration of the city. With perfect weather we decided it was about time we took to the water to get a different perspective on the city.
The Castle of Finland
To start we headed back to the harbour and caught the ferry over to Suomenlinna which translates to ‘castle of Finland”. Located about 1km from the harbour the castle dates back to the mid 18th century when Finland was then part of Sweden and the fortress was started as a defence against Russia. Clearly not that effective as it was surrendered to the Russians in 1808. It remained under Russian control until 1918 when it finally came under Finnish administration during the Finnish Civil War when it was renamed Suomenlinna. More on the history of the fortress here.
Once on the island we stopped at the little grocery store to pick-up some picnic supplies (the island has a small population of inhabitants) and headed off. We opted to skip a guided tour and follow the well marked “Blue Route” that takes you roughly 1.5km to the King’s Gate at the other island. Besides, why pay for a tour guide when you bring your own.
Oddly, given how central water is to the city, I don’t think Helsinki is a city best seen from the water. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy a boat ride and it was interesting to slip in and out amongst the islands, it was just more about those islands than the city itself.
Our trip did highlight just how much the Finns, at least those in Helsinki, love the water. There are some 10,000 boat slips in the city, according to the tour for a population of just under 600,000. For an equivalent ratio our home town, Toronto, would need to have over 43,000 slips. Google didn’t provide a quick answer, but I think I can fairly safely say that we are nowhere near that number, or even 10,000 for that matter.
Our tour took us back out past Suomenlinna which gave us a different view of the island but I was more interested in watching the cruise ships slip out. As it came toward us, and what seemed like far too small a gap between islands for such a large ship, all I could think was that I was glad I wasn’t on that sailboat.
On our way back to our apartment we decided to stop for some dinner. Earlier in our wanders we had seen a restaurant called Boulevard Social that looked pretty good and thought we would stop and give it a try. We hadn’t noticed the first time, but it was actually a Michelin recommended restaurant. They didn’t have a michelin star, but still worth a shot.
It turned out it was well warranted, as the food was really good. After a busy day stopping at a nice restaurant with a two year old might have been a bold move but fortunately Ella has recently discovered an interest in videos. We don’t give her much opportunity so it’s a pretty great secret weapon when we want to ensure some quiet sitting (relatively) still time. Ella’s good in restaurants generally, but this is some adult conversation, hands-off parenting. Beautiful.
Our friend Haseeb recently came back from his first big trip since they had their daughter. He seemed a bit distraught about how much it changes travel. Haseeb, hang in there, it won’t be long.
How does one end such a busy day? Why the only way a self-respecting Finn would, a little time in the Sauna.
Some fascinating facts we’ve learned about saunas:
- There are over 3 million saunas in Finland; enough for the whole population to be in them at the same time;
- Sauna is the only Finnish word to make it into everyday in English language;
- 99% of Finns take at least one sauna a week; and
- there is a hockey rink in Helsinki where you can watch the game from the sauna box.
Intrigued? This BBC article gives an interesting perspective on what saunas mean to Finnish culture.