Finnish Roadtrip: Turku Castle (day 1)

The Turku Castle or Turku linna is the top attraction to see in Turku. It is a well preserved medieval fortress and one of the oldest buildings in Finland. It was founded in 1280 on the banks of the Aura River, after the south of Finland became part of Sweden. Its has been attacked, extended and renovated over the centuries. It has served as a defensive fortress, luxurious residenital palace, prison, administrative centre, granary, garrison, and lastly as a museum since 1881.

To get there we travelled by car, but you can also take the bus from the Market Square in Turku, which delivers you straight to the castle. The current prices are: Adults 12 €, Children (7–15 yrs) 5 €, free for younger children and discounted rates for students, pensioners, families, groups etc. They offer guided tours, which are currently an additional 3 €. We took the guided tour and it gave us a great overview of the castle history. They only take you through the medieval part of the Main Castle, which I have detailed below. Just note that the tour won’t take you through every single room. Each room does have text panels and there are also a couple of museum exhibitions, which you can visit. When we enquired about the tour, they weren’t too keen on us doing it with our small daughter. However, she found it interesting to wonder through the rooms and wasn’t too much of a nusiance. Other than that there is a restaurant and shop on the grounds, which we didn’t get a chance to see. We arrived quite late and did the last guided tour of the day at 4:10pm, before visited the exhibitions. We also didn’t see the Bailey, which has more exhibitions.

If you would like to see more this castle without leaving your home, you can actualy do a virtual tour. It gives you great panarama views inside the varies rooms in the main castle, bailey, courtyard, etc.

Turku Fortress

The photos below include the exterior of the fortress, the castle courtyard (bailey) and the main castle. During the Middle Ages, the castle looked more like an island, as it surrounded by a moat, which joined to the River Aura. However, the keep (fortified tower, within castle) was built in the early 15th century and the bailey was built towards the end of the 15th century.  The bailey’s hey day was during the 1600’s, when it served as the Governor-Generals office and was the centre of regional adminstration. It later served as a prison until 1891. Today, it exhibits the history of the Turku Castle, Children’s Castle and model rooms which are decorated in different eras. We didn’t get a chance to see this part of the Turku Castle, but you can see it on the virtual tour, that I mentioned above

The main castle is seven levels and is built from grey stone. The bottom level were built through the Middle Ages and the spaces are dimly light with low ceilings. The upper level were built later in the Renaissance period, so they are more spacious, bright and lite with natural light. There have been not extra modifications since the Renaissance era, so much of its character stems from this period. It’s gold age was during 16th century under the reign of Duke John of Finland and Catherine Jagiellon.

We began our tour of the main castle, from the reception area. The guide took us upstairs to show us a diarama of the castle in its current form, since the 16th century. The green roof building is the main castle, which is where we would be exporing on our tour. Within that building is an L shape courtyard, which is where were standing (in the photos above), between the grey stone walls.

The Porter’s Lodge

The next room we entered is the Porter’s Lodge on the fourth level of the main castle. During the Middle Ages, this room had a direct view of the castle and there was a window where the door to the Jordon’s Chambers its today. There was a control mechanism in this room for the lattice gate (to gateway) and the drawbridge. This was the only room that could be access from the gateway, via a staircase. The beautiful wall murals were painted in 1530, to celebrate King Gustav Vasa’s visit to the fortress. These were the best preserved murals we had come across on this tour.

Sture Church

In the next room was the Sture Church, which is the last monument in the castle to the Catholic period. It was built in the 1480s, by the order of Regent Sten Sture the Elder, when the most extensive renovations of the Middle Ages were taking place. The walls were adorned with 12 crosses, to celebrate the Apostles, as well as the coat of arms of Sten Sture and his wife Ingeborg Tott (on the alter wall). In the back corner of the room tehre is a piscina, which was used to wash vessels used for Mass. During the 18th and 19th century this space was used for storage for grain and weaponry, after the court left the Main Castle. Today, it is used to exhibit the sculptures of the saints, from the Museums collection.

The Gaolers’ Room

One level down on level 3, we came to the next space, the Gaoler’s room. It had perfectly polished wood from top to bottom and side to side and didn’t seem like much of a torture chamber. However, under the floor lays the prison cell, where prisoners would be detained. One famous occupant was Jaakko Ilkka, who was one of the leaders of the Cudgel War (1596-1597). Although this room is quite bright today, during the Middle Ages it didn’t have any windows, except for a small slit in the wall.

The Guest Room

The next room is the Guest room, which is currently housing a small exhibition. It was previously the space where vistors to the castle were accomodated. It is located near the entrance of the castle courtyard, so that guests could freely come and go. It was only furnished with benches and it had a large furnace to heat the room and the upper floors.

The Old Guard Room

Besider the Guest room, was the Old Guard room. Today this room is filled with models of the castles various construction stages from the 13th century to today. The castle began as a small fortircatio on a rocky island, surrounded by sea water. By the end of the 13th and early 14th century, a two-storey residential building was built inside the fortress, with a three-storey palace extention. During the middle of the 16th century the Main Castle received a new Renaissance floor, for the Duke John. However, a fire damanged the Main Castle in 1614 and the entire court had to move into the bailey. By the 18th-19th century the castle became a base for the Swedish and Russian armies, storage and prison. It was lastly renovated again at the end of the 19th century to become a museum.

Medieval King’s Hall/State Room

Back up on level four we came to the Medieval King’s Hall, which was Finland’s most important secular room from the 14th to the middle of the 16th century. Both Finland and the rest of the kingdom has been governed from this very space and many celebrations were held here. Nearly every Medieval Swedish ruler has graced this hall. This room has large gothic windows, which open out to the courtyard. There are two small rooms within this room. One is a medival privy (toilet) and the other was a storage space

The Youth’s Quarter

Above on level 5 is the Youth’s Quarters, which was the very first room to be converted in the Renaissance Style in the 1530s. The valuted ceiling was replaced with a flat ceiling and window openings were enlarged to let more light in and make the room seem more spacious. Open fireplaces and tiled stoves were also added to provide more heat. John, the Duke of Finland and son of King Gustav Vasa , resided here between 1556-1558 while the renovation to the residential floor was being completed. After it was used by the children of Duke John and his mistress, Karin Hansdotter.

The Ladies’ Parlour

Next we arrived at the Ladies Parlour, which was a workroom for the women. It is located in the West Tower, which was contructed in the early 14th century and until the early 1580s it was only accessable from a gangway mounted on the outerwall. This room served as an entrance this floor (third) and upper levels, via a spiral staircase. This room has a beautiful large bay window with a benhc, which was added in 1585. Beside the window there is a labyrinth motif, carved on the wall. Supposely, it was meant to travel evil spirits that entered the room to protect its occupants.

The Scriptorium

On the same level, was the Sciptorium, which was a workroom for the castle scribe. The oldest ledger that would have probably written in this room, was from the middle of the 16th century. It told of everyday life, renovations and how the storerooms were used. The recesses in the walls were used as bookshelves. This room was later used as a guest room and some of the names of the guests have been recorded on the wall.

The Stone Chamber & The Great Guard Room

Next we went up to level four and first entered the small room, the Stone Chamber. This was the bailiff’s chamber, where the bailiff levyed taxes and acted as an assistant to the lord. Below this room is a medieval storeroom/pit dungeon. We continued into the Great Guardroom, which is a large room built in the 15th cenutry. During the Middle Ages it was was the gathering place for the castle garrison. Today it is a temporary exhibtion for various castle objects.

The Castle Church

Next we went up level six to see the new Renaissance style floor. The Castle Church was built during the 1550s, to serve as a residence for Duke John. Originally, it was a the Duke’s banquet hall, however after the fire of 1614 it furnished and conscrated as a church in 1706. This church served both the castle residents and local from the region. The church was destroyed during the war in 1941 and has seen been restored to its likeness from old photographs. It is still used today and is a popular wedding church.

The Vestry

Beside the church is the Vestry, which was the bedroom of Duke John. It was considered the most imporant room in the castle. The Duke also recieved imporant guests in there. It was converted into a vestry after the church as consecrated in 1706

The King’s Hall

The next room was another great hall in Renaissance style. This style was more spacious, had large windows, repetitive patterns on the ceiling and floor. During the 16th century it was known as the Duke’s Hall and the people of the court dined here on weekdays. It was later served as an armoury in the 18th century, but today it again serves as a banqueting venue.

The Queen’s Hall

Beside the King’s Hall is the equally beautiful Queens Hall. During the 16th century it was known as the Duchess’s Hall, as it was used by Catherine Jagiellon and her caught. Back then the walls and ceilings were panneled, fabrics hung from the ceiling, large tapestries lined the walls and rugs covered the floor.

The Queen’s Chamber

The Queen’s Chambers was the bedroom of Duchess Catherine Jagiellon. It was richly furnished with a canopy bed made of damask, drapes and rugs. Today it looks to be a banquting venue.

The Queen’s Dressing Room

Beside the Queen’s Chamber is the dressing room of Catherine Jagiellon. She brought many fashionable dresses from Spain, whch were hung on beams and kept in chests. She had 113 skirts with matching bodices, sleeves and headdresses. They were made of velvet and silk and were decorated with gems and pearls.

The Ladies’ Drawing Room

Next we visited the Ladies’ Drawing room, which is part of the West Tower. It was used by ladies as a workroom and sitting room. In the 1580s there was a open doorway between this room and the Queens Dressing Room. Prior to this it could only be access from downstairs spiral staircase which lead up from the Ladies’ Parlour. We had to climb many spiral staircases on this tour. They were often built in a way, so that one had to climb them in a clockwise direction, which would make it difficult for a right-handed attacker to weld his sword arm.

The Silver Vault

The last room we visited was top level (seven) of the Main Castle. The Silver Value was a storage room for valuables, such as weapons, ammunition, tax revenue, money and furs. It could only be access from the Ladies’ Drawing Room. It was built in the 15th century with a a vaulted ceiling, which is quite well preserved. It has small openings, which were used as medieval heating ducks.

The Exhibition Rooms

After our tour we visited the Exhibition rooms, which are in the attic floor (level 7). It exhibits the collection of the Museum Centre of Turku, which is comprised of over 280,000 objects of cultural and historical significance. The objects we saw were more from a more modern era, then we just came from.

One of the more interesting things we saw was the Dinner table at the end of the 1800s. It is in revival style, which featured the romantic idealization and imitation of past centuries. This was the only group of objects that a text panel English, the rest was in Finnish in Swedish, which was a bit disappointing.

This Finnish dresses were made in different eras, between the 1830s to the 1950s. Unforuntunately the text panels were not in English either, but you can get a good idea of the chronological changes to fashion that occured over time.

The first display case is called Evening coffee in the 1950s. It tells the story of the importance of coffee in Finland, which has been band three times in the past 100 years. This also happened in Sweden, which is probably why the coffee culture is so strong here. The second display case has a variety of Finnish toys from the same era, including Moomin of course.

The last small room had a beautiful doll house and a couple of display cases of boys toys. There was no information the era of these toys, but I assume from around the 1950s to the 1990s.

Well thats the end of our visit to the Turku Castle. I hope you enjoyed getting a little walk through. Next we are travelling from Turku to Tampere…

Finnish Road trip: Helsinki to Turku (day 1)

The last leg of our Nordic Adventure was our Finnish Roadtrip. This was over seven days (6 nights), which would return us back to Helsinki to fly home. We didn’t follow anyone elses recommended roadtrip. We designed ours as a round trip, with drive lengths between 2-4 hours. We did consider going along the coastline to Oulu and up to Rovaniemi, Lapland to see Santa and that is definetely do-able in 7 days. But when travelling with a toddler who doesn’t like the car, we thought we would leave that for another holiday. Also because we were travelling early in the summer season, we would not be able to see the Northern Lights, which can be seen between mid-August until early April.

We made six stops on this roadtrip, which included Turku, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, Savonlinna, and Porvoo. We booked Airbnb for every location except for Turku, so we got to stay in some very interesting locations. We did make a few stops between these towns, but not as many as we did on or Norwegian roadtrip, just because there wasn’t as many tourist stops that we came across.

Something that needs to be mentioned as well, is that we were travelling during the MidSummer holiday or as I like to refer to, as our Midsummer Nightmare. I don’t recommend booking a trip during this time and if you do try to stick to Helsinki. The reason is because all the Finnish leave and go to their summer homes in the country. They enjoy time with their family and friends in their cottage, light bonfires, have sauna’s, which is all very nice. This also means that all of the shops, restaurants and attractions are closed. The supermarkets were open, but it was hard to find restaurants or cafes open and definetely no clothing or sourveir stores. So all my well researched plans to see and eat the best that these towns had to offer were ruined. It’s our own fault not doing more research on this Finnish national holiday. Everything was shut for 3 days and some shut for a whole week to give employs a longer break. So this Midsummer Nightmare affected our trip by day 3 and we also had rainy weather to top it off. We didnt stay in our apartments and complain, instead we made new plans to see what we could. So in the following posts I will detail what we did and also what we would originally planned to do.

Breakfast in Helsinki

Before we started our roadtrip we needed some Finnish pastries. So we began the day at Finland’s oldest bakery, patisserie and cafe. Ekberg 1852 is located on Bulevardi, in Helsinki’s city centre, which is lined with many restaurants, cafes and art galleries. For the past century Ekberg 1852 has been serving Finnish and international pastries and other delicacies.
Now something we didn’t realise when we arrived is that are two parts ot Ekberg 1852, the cafe and the bakery/patisserie. We were expecting to see the bakery, but because we arrived from the left we found the cafe first and didn’t stumble across the bakery until we were leaving. In hindsight I would of prefered the bakery, because they had so much more to offer and we could of got some takeaway items and kept going.

At the cafe they had a breakfast buffet, which included breads, crossiants, cheese, cold cuts, vegetables, porridge, eggs, hot and cold drinks. At the counter they had sweet and savoury pastaries, sandwiches and cakes.

We arrived just before buffet was going to close, so we just ordered a few of the times at the counter. Octavia and I shared the Brioche and Korvapuusti (cinnamon roll) and Marco had a poppyseed roll with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, pesto and lettuce. We also ordered oak milk coffees. Everything was nice enough, but it didn’t wow us and lacked atomosphere I was expecting. I think I would have found that in the bakery next door, but it wasn’t meant to be.

From there we had make our way on foot to pick up our rental car from Eurocar. So we first cross through the Vanha kikkopuisto/Old Church Park. It is also known as Plague Park, as it is the resting place of over a thousand victims of the plague of 1710 and was previously a cemetary. The 40 gravestones and memorials commemorate the plague victims as well as victims of the Finnish Civil War and Estonian War of Independence.

Not far from there we came across the Three Smiths/Kolme seppää monument in the Three Smiths Square, between Kamppi and Kluuvi districts. It was made by Felix Nylund and was unveiled in 1932. The statue represents there smiths and is thought to symbolise human labour and cooperation.

Turku

From Helsinki we drove straight to Turku, which takes about 2 hours by car. We arrived into Turku after midday and checked into the Scandic Hotel. We didn’t get too much time to see the centre of town as we had to have lunch and have enough time to visit the Turku Castle, so these are a few photos I took from the car.

Before we go on I’ll tell you a little bit about Turku. It is situated on the southwestern coastline/region of Finland and is mostly likey the oldest city in Finland. It was founded as early as the 13th century and remained one of the most important cities over the centuries. Until the 1840’s it was one of the most populated cities in Finland and thus, has had a big impact on the history of Finland. It is also known as the ‘Christmas town’ of Finland, as it has been celebrating Christmas celebrations annually since the 13th century.

Turku Market Hall

On this trip we had seen so many amazing Market Halls, but hadn’t got a chance to have a proper lunch at one. Today we were able to visit the Turku Market Hall with the intention of lunch.

The Turku Market Hall/Turun Kauppahalli was open in 1896 and was designed by the architect Gustaf Nyström, who also designed Helsinki’s Market Hall. It was built to address the unhygienic and disorderly 19th century food trade. Turku’s Market Hall originally had 151 shops, with 53 dedicated to meat products. By 1905, running water was installed, so there were aquariums, with live fish to buy. However, electricity wasn’t installed until 1932, so gas lamps had been previously used. Modern refridgerated counters were installed in 1957, as well as its first florist and stationary store. The hall was nearly removed in the 1960s, to make way for a new market hall and office buildings. This eventually resulted in a renovation in 1976, which replaced the marble counters for stainless steel and reduced the number of stores by half. The front facade of the building remains unchanged.

Inside the market hall today you can find butchers, fish mongers, cheese shops, bakeries, stores selling Finnish and Scandinavian foods, spice stores, resturants and cafes. There are a few international stores/cafes, offering Mexican food, Vietnamese, sushi, hotdogs, kebabs, pizza and vegetarian/vegan food. There is also a tiny little Museo and a text panel with old photographs, so you can imagine what it use to be like and see how much it has changed.

I really wanted to try something Finnish for lunch and preferably with fresh seafood. So we stopped in at Herkkunuotta, which is a fishmonger with a small cafe attached. They had a small menu, which utilised their fresh seafood, cooked right in front of you. Octavia and I shared the Fried Catfish with Roasted Potatoes, Vegetables and Citrus Sour Cream. Marco had the Crayfish Burger Happy meal, which also included a salad with prawns, spinach, roasted potatoes and herb cream, as well as a coffee. These dishes were quite well priced and were very generous portions. The fresh seafood and other ingredients was high quality and so was the presentation. We just loved every bite of it.

Before we left we got some takeaway pastries from the market bakery Hallin Herkku, which we enjoyed at our next stop for afternoon tea. These treats included Raparperipulla (custard and rhubarb), Kotkanwiener (strawberry-apple jam & custard) Kinuskimunkki (carmel donut). They were all so delicious and tasted very fresh, which to be honest I wasn’t expecting from the donut. My favourite was the rhubarb and custard pastry. We enjoyed them at the Turku Castle, which we visited just after this. I will write another post dedicated to the castle as its the major attraction in Turku and a must-see when you visit.

Shopping in Turku

After the Turku Castle, we did a bit of walking and window shopping in the city centre. Turku city centre has a mix of gorgeous old buildings and modern ones. There quite a few shopping malls, filled with Finnish designers and restaurants. One store that I was really excited to see was the PUF Design Market, which offers over 20 eco Finnish brands. I was expecting it to be more of a market, rather then a medium size clothing store. They did have pretty unique stuff though. It is located inside the Forum Kortteli, which has other Finnish designers and International restaurants. We also visited the oldest and large shopping mall, Hansakortteli and walked along the main pedetrain street. Since it was quite late in the afternoon most stores were closing or closed, but it was still worth seeing the centre.

Aura River

Our last stop for the evening was the Aura River. This river runs through the heart of Turku and is lined with museums, city buildings, parks, cafes and restaurants. It is the perfect place to take an evening stroll along the promenade and dine overlooking the water. Even though it looks pretty deserted, the restaurants were all full.

As ususal I had already planned where I wanted to have dinner. It was a beautiful Mediaterrean resturant, Tintå. However, they were completely booked out and we had no luck of getting a table this evening. We did checked out Pub Niska, but ultimately decided on, Ravintola Sergio´s.

Dinner

Ravintola Sergio´s is an Italian restaurant located along the promenade, in an old wooden house. They are known for their authentic Italian pizza, which won the Pizzamest championship in Finland in 2017. They menu offers a selection of pizza, pastas, traditional Italian starters and mains, as well as an imported wine selection. I was quite impressed with the offerings and the atmosphere inside was also very authentic.

Marco and I ordered a couple of dishes to share and Octavia had her favourite Margherita pizza with sugo, buffalo mozzarella and basil. We had the Lasagne with veal ragù, white wine and parmesan cheese sauce and the Capricciosa pizza with sugo, mozzarella, ham, artichoke, salami and mushrooms. I was a bit unsure how the lasagne was going to be since its usually a hit or miss dish and when it came out I was suprised to see the sauces underneath the lasagne. Well, it was to die for. It was just perfectly made and the sauces just added to the favours hit. The pizza was also excellent and was the same quality that I would expect from a good pizzeria in Italy.

Well thats part 1 of our first day in Turku. Next I will take you to the Turku Castle and then on day two we will visit the Turku Cathedral before driving to the city of Tampere. I just thought I would mention that we only scratched the surface of what Turku has to offer. Two or three days would of been idea to visit some of the many museums, such as Aboa Vetus Ars Nova Museum (historical and contemporary) or Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum (pre-industrial open-air museum) and see the Turku Archipelago.

Tallinn: Medieval Baltic Fairytale

Today I will share with you one of my favourite cities that we visited on our Nordic Adventure. Tallinn wasn’t a place we intended on see, but with it’s close proximity to Helsinki, it wasn’t a difficult journey to make.

Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia. It has one of the best intacted medieval hanseatic old town in the world and retains it old world flair through both its architures, crafts, cuisines and residents. Its medieval roots date before 1219, when it was first mentioned in text. However its been a human settlement for over 5000 years. Today it is under independent Estonia, but it had previously been under the rule of the Danes, Swedish and Russian, who have all left their own mark.

Since we only had the day we couldn’t see everything. The highlights include Sadama district, Old Town, the Town Square, Town Hall Pharmacy, St. Catherine’s Passage,
Danish King’s Garden, Toompea Hill, Freedom Square, Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform, a few interesting old churches, a Medieval feast and Estonian sweet treats. There are plenty of free experiences to be had in Tallinn and it was one of the less expensive destinations so far on this trip. If you have the time and are less incumbered, there are so many museums and shopping centres as well.

Travel from Helsinki to Tallin

So to get to from Helsinki to Tallin, we took the Tallinki Shuttle Star, It left from West Harbour terminal 2 and arrived D-Terminal, Lootsi 13. The entire journey takes 2 hours. I was originally a bit unsure about making this journey, because we would loose 4 hours of our day in travel. However, we were able to board the ship at 7am for a 7:30 departure and arrive by 9:30am. The cost was 36 euro per adult and free for 5 and under, one way. We decided to add the buffet breakfast for an additional 21 euro per adult. However, in hindsight I would of preferred to grab a pastry and coffee from the cafe. I wasn’t that impressed by the buffet. On the plus it was free for O to eat and it did make it easy to let her choose what she wanted. On the Star there are a couple of shops, a few cafes and eateries, and a kids play area. You can book in for the lounge areas but its quite unnecessary as there is plenty of places to sit.