Nordic Trip

It’s taken me all year, but I have finally finish writing about my fastastic Nordic Adventure. This spontaneous three week vacation, covered varies places in Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Finland. We explored large city metropolises, small coastal and inland towns, as well as parks, museums and natural reserves. We only scatched the surface of what the Nordic nations have to offer, but I hope it inspires you to visit this part of the world.

Below I have included links to all the posts in this travel series, incase you missed some. If you have any questions feel free to leave a message below and I would be happy to help as best as I can.

Norway

Norwegian Road Trip

Sweden

Finland

Estonia

Finnish Road trip

Finnish Roadtrip: Savonlinna to Porvoo (day 6-7)

This is the end of my Finnish Roadtrip and Nordic Adventure. Since this only covers and a half days I combined it all into this last post. One this day we departed from Savolinna, made a stop in Lappeenranta and arrived in Porvoo. We only stayed on night in Porvoo before making our way back to Helsinki for our flight. I am so happy we made this last stop, because I really loved exploring Old Porvoo.

Savonlinna

We woke up to a beautiful site out of the window of our summerhouse cottage. It was so nice to feel like we were walking up in the middle of nowwhere. It was so quiet and serene, but we need to get up and going to start our last day.

We arrived inn Savonlinna’s town centre for an early morning breakfast. Today was Monday, so we expected that today everything would be open, meaning an end to our Midsummer nightmare. I would have loved to spend time walking along this main shopping drag and also visiting Linnankatu to see the arts and handicrafts. However, we were up quite early and nothing was opening for another hour. So we had to decided if we waited or kept going to our next stop Porvoo.

We didn’t see a lot open for breakfast, but we did spot Herkku Pekka. This bakery offered a range of sweet and savoury pastaries, quiches, sandwiches and cakes. All of which looked delightful for three hungry people. I had the Salmon, Egg annd Salad Crossiant and Perunapiirakka. Marco just had a Crossiant and a coffee and O had a sweet Finnish pastry for the very last time. All the pastaries were freshly made and delicious.

So we decided to keep driving to Porvoo, which was going to take about just under four hours. This was the longest stretch of this Finnish roadtrip so far, so we were eager to get it over and done with.

Lappeenranta

On our way we stopped for morning tea in Lappeenranta. This town is about about two hours from Savonlinna. If only we had more time we could of visited its multiple attractions, but time was off the essence. We only stopped at the bakery, Kesämäen Leipomo Oy, which is somewhat of a workers stop. I read that they had a speciality, Liha-Piirakka, which is a savoury donut filled with meat and rice. Marco was more interested in trying the Hevosenkenkä maidoton (milkless horseshoe pastry) and Viinermukki laktoositon (lactose free apple donut). I don’t know if we ordered wrong or we were expecting too much but the were ok. We may have been happy with some jam danishes. However, on the bright side, most of this stuff was either vegan or lactose free.

Porvoo

Porvoo is the second-oldest town in Finland and was the perfect end to our Finnish roadtrip. This historical trading town was established back in 1380. The Porvoo Old Town is paved with cobblestone, lined with with colourful wooden houses and the waterway features Red shore warehouses, which once held exotic delicacies from distant lands. If you like to wander through bohemian and antiques stores and sample sweet delicies then this is the place for you.

One of the must visit stops is Brunberg’s Chocolate Factory, which has been in operation since 1871. . Here you can sample and buy a variety of different chocolate and confectionary, which I promise you as very high quality. Once we tried a few chocolates we couldn’t leave without purchasing some to bring back home.

A short walk north from the centre of the Old Town is the Porvoo Cathedral. It was originally built in the 13th century and was made of wood. However it was later expanded and rebuilt after numerous fires in the 15th century. It is quite pretty inside and retains medieval feel.

Nearby the Cathedral we came across the Iso Linnamäki Castle Hill. It is free to visit this park, but you do have to use your imagination. It was once the site of an old medieval castle, which overlooks the city of Porvoo. The first wooden castle would have been built here in the late 1200s by the Swedes. It was modernised at the end of the 1300s to include moats and a wooden bailiffs castle, which was built under Germ administration. It was later demolished and abandoned in 1400 by the Scandivians, to destroy any reminents of the German period. It wasn’t until the Great Northern War of 1700-1721 that Russians occupied the Finland and took this hill as a gunpost. Much of what had been preserved was later destroyed by local inhabitance, who illegally took gravel from the hill . Today Castle Hill is a serene, quiet space that has lovely views of the Porvoo. Albert Edelfelt used the view for his famous landscape in 1892, which looks verily similar today. You can even see the Red shore Warehouses, which are one of the most photographed buildings in Porvoo. We weren’t able to get close to them, but I did take a picture as we were driving past later.

Before leaving the centre of Porvoo, we had a later lunch at Hanna and Maria. This little Finnish restaurant is in the centre of the old town and has been arounnd for 30 years. It was named after the daughters of the merchant Oskar Simolin, who resided in Porvoo in the 19th century. It is only open during the day from about 8am until 4-5 (depending on the time of year), 7 days a week. They offers a variety of homely Finnish dishes, prepared with mostly local ingredients and the prices are quite reasonable. They have an variety of steaks and schnitzel, reindeer and liver, served with mash potato and salads. They also have a variety of cakes and sweet treats. Octavia and I shared the Sauteed reindeer/Renskav with lingonberry jam, mash potatoes, salad and bread. Marco had a Wienerschnitzel/Vienna Steak, with mash potatoes and salad. The dishes tasted as good as any homemade dish you would loved to be invited over for and the salads were very fresh.

Our last stop before going back to our apartment was Porvoo Art Factory/Taidetehdas Konstfabriken. Here you can find a few stores, including H&M, a cinema and a gallery. In regards to shopping there is really not much here. Since I arrived quite late I am not sure I was mean to be walking the halls of the gallery, since there was no one around. I only saw a little bit, but I think they were probably setting up for a new exhibition. I’d probably skip this unless your coming for a big show.

Our last accomodation on this trip was at this beautiful Airbnb, located in the suburbs not far from the centre. It had a glorious garden in the backyard and was beautifully decorated inside as well. One of the nicest features was the large bathroom and sauna. It was the perfect place to relax and stay in.

While we were enjoying our accomodation we did get a little bit peckish again, so we ordered some takeaway from Thai Street Food Porvoo. They offer a small, seasonal menu of Thai favourites and they are pretty popular rated place. The dishes we ordered Phad Thai and Stir fried chicken with cashews and noodles. They were both generous portions, tasted spot on and served with a fresh little salad.

The next morning before leaving Porvoo we made one last stop to a bakery Marco had already scoped out the day before. Tuorila’s Home Bakery is a Finnish artisan bakery thats been around for 25 years. They offer quite a variety of fresh breads, sweet and savoury pastaries. The prices were extremely reasonable for some of the best delicious pastaries we had found in Finland so far. We ordered a sweet donut, blueberry danish, and savoury LihaPiirakka (meat and rice filled). I can’t recommend this bakery enough if your in town.

The drive back to Helsinki from Porvoo only took about 30-40 minutes. Since we had a couple of hours before we had to be at the airport to go back home we stopped at Kauppakeskus Jumbo (shopping centre). This is only a 7 minute drive from the airport, so its perfect if you need to waste 1-3 hours. Upstairs we found a nice little coffee shop, called Coffee House, which had decent coffees and a variety of lunch and snack items. As for shopping, you can find all the big brands as well as smaller boutiques.

We that is the end of both my Finnish roadtrip and Nordic Adventure. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did reminising about our trip. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a comment.

Finnish Roadtrip: Olavinlinna Castle (day 5)

In the afternoon of our fifth day on our Finnish Roadtrip, we visited the Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna. This is a must-see attraction if you are visiting this town, as its one of the best-known sights in Finland. We had a really great time exploring and learninng the history of this medieval castle

Olavinlinna is an imposing medieval construction, which was built from 1475 by the Swedes. It was designed as a military base to protect the Savo Region from Russian attacks from the east. It is located on a rocky islet on the Kyrönsalmi strait. The castle was founded by the Danish-born knight, Erik Axelssonn Tott, under the name Sankt Olofsborg. This was to profit on the political tumoil of Ivan III’s conquest into the Novgorod Republic and thus laid claim to the Russian side of the border. It survived several sieges by the Russians, druing the First and Second Russian-Swedish wars. It was never captured by force but it was under Russian rule of Empress Elizabeth as a result of the Treaty of Åbo.

Olavinlinna holds several small exhibitions, which include the Castle Museum and Orthodox Museum. It also hosts the Savonlinna Opera Festival every year since 1912.

The Olavinnalinna Castle is open 7 days, from 11am until 4pm (earlier in summer season). The admission fee is 10 euro for adults, 5 euro for children (7-17yr) and there are discounted prices for students, pensioners, families and groups. Guided tours are included in the admission price and run throughout the day. We took the last guided tour that afternoon, so I will take you through everything we saw. I really recommend doing guided tours, especially if they are free. Even if you have little kids, they don’t have time to get bored, as the pace you move from each room is relatively quick. There are text panels through the different rooms in Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian. So I assume the guided tours would be available in just these languages.

Here is an introductory film made in the Olavinnnalina, to illustrate how life was in the castle. It’s a little long but it gives you a good glimpse into the past and what we saw on our visit.

We arrived from the Bridge and entered into the Watergate Bastion, which is where we bought our tickets and assembled for the guided tour. From there we moved through to the Courtyard in the Shelter of the Inner Bailey. This small courtyard was secured by the three towers that overlook it and the curtain wall between each. The northern wing was used living quarters, the eastern wing was used for festal and household rooms, the southern wing was the castle’s kitchen (demolished).

We then quickily moved through the small exhibition into the Central Hall. This is part of the Castle Households on two floors, which were the living quarters. Castle workers would have been paid in food and these accomodations. They were able to access this area through a central spiral staircase, as the northern wall would have been solid for defene purposes. The first floor would have housed the men-at-arms and the servants. The baliff’s arched residential rooms were found on the second floor. The large statue is the patron St Olaf, didn’t arrive to the castle until after 1911.

The Bell Tower (St Virgin’s Tower) was located on the highest point of the island, for best visible defence. The Storeroom was located in the first floor shelter of the Bell Tower. It was used for storage of food and clothes and was protected by a 3 metre thick stone wall. These items were collected as taxes from the nearby provinces or produced by the crown estate. It included dried grain, salted/smoked fish and meat, metal dishes, furs, hides and other textiles. The would have been a housekeeper in charge of the clothing and a scribe in change of the tax collection accounting.

Adjacent to the Bell Tower was the Church Tower (St Olaf’s Tower), which was probably part of the first fortification of the castle. This is evident by the arching technique and masonry, that would have been constructed by the 16 foreign masons during the 1470s. The stone was locally acquired, the mortar was made from sand from Kuhaslmi and the lime was made of lime kiln cape.

Next we came to the Chapel, which is located on the third floor of the Church Tower (St Olaf’s Tower). There remains some fragments of medieval lime paintings on the chapel walls and ceiling. On the walls there are twelve cross for each apolstle. This church as been Catholic, Luthern and Orthodox at different times. So today it change be used by any of these religions for religious purposes including weddings.

Next we walked down a long thin hallway until we came to the Outer Wall of the Courtyard. From here we could see one of the towers and the different materials that were used to construct it. From here, there would have been men stationed with longbows and crossbows. The longbow was made of pliable wood and the string from plant fibres or animal tendons. The arrows were made of wood and iron. It could shoot arrows 120 metres and six per minute. The crossbow was alot slower weapon to operate and could only shoot one arrow per minute. However, these arrows could shoot 360 metres.

We took a spiral staircase down to the highest floor in the Bell Tower. This was a bit difficult to maneuvre since they were built uneven to slow down a potential intruder. The Tower Room would have been occupied by defended during a siege, since it has a broad area to fire from. It would have been cold and damp place to reside. These rooms had a fireplace, wall closest, toilet, and benches. The small recesses in the walls would have been covered with thin parchment made of sheepskin, to allow some light and shelter from the wind. Light would of mostly been givenn from candles and the fireplace,which would of made this space quite smokey. Also visted the the residential rooms, which had leaded glass windows, by the end of the 16th centuryand heat-preserving stoves by the end of the 17th century. These rooms were lined with skis annd colourful textiles. Its a bit hard to imagine how opulent they would have been, but the guide painted a picture in our head.

At the very top was the the Lookout Storey, where we were able to see from the Outer Wall of the Courtyard.

Next we went down to the Medieval Armory, still in the Bell Tower. This was the important defence junction within the inner bailey. This is where weapons were held, such as longbows, crossbows, harquebuses, gun barrels and projectiles.

Next we walked through a well lite and darken Defence Passage. There were great views from beyond the outer walls of the castle.

The last spaces we were taken too was a large banquet hall and a room which had a model of the castle. This gives a good depiction of a birds eye view of the castle, which is hard to gauge when your inside it.

Before we left we had a bit of fun in the castle’s playroom. Here you can try on outfits armor, weld a sword and have a fake medieval feast. This was really great to relax and let our daughter touch everything without worrying she was going to break something priceless.

Well thats the end of my tour of the Olavinlinna Castle. My next post were will be our last stop on this Finnish Roadtrip and for this Nordic Adventure.

Finnish Roadtrip: Kuopio to Salonlinna (day 5)

On our fifth day of our Finnish road trip we travelled from Kuopio to Salonlinna. We didn’t get to see much of Kuopio due to the Midsummer holiday, but we were able to visit the Puijo Tower. In Savonalinna, we made a scenic trip to a crepe house, visited the Olavinlinna Castle and had dinner on the water. So it was a pretty good day.

Kuopio

This morning we walked down to the Kuopio town centre. We were hoping that cafes and shops would be open. I really wanted to have breakfast at Trube Cafe, which is inside the Apaja Shopping Center. It has been around since 1913 and they sell baked Finnish baked goods and served their coffee in Moomin mugs. Unfortuately everything was closed, except a few food stalls. Since we didn’t have cash we decided to do breakfast elsewhere.

Before leaving we went past the Kuopio Cathedral. The building was built in 1806-15 and is a stone Neoclassical-style construction. Since there was a service I wasn’t able to take photos inside. The interior is quite plan and is mostly white walls with touches of gold Empire features.

Luckily, the Puijo Tower was open today and they have a cafe, so that was our next stop. This observation tower is located on the top of Puijo hill and is one of Finland’s oldest tourist attractions, visited by over 80,000 tourists per year. The original tower was build back in 1856, standing 16m high and was made of wood. The second tower was build in 1906, standing at 24m tall and was made of stone. The current tower was built in 1963 and is now 75m tall. It gives an unobstructive 360 degree view of Kuopio and beyond and thus is a symbol for the city of Kuopio. During the WW2 the Women’s Voluntary Defence Corps of Kuopio were able to carry out air survelliance from the Puijo tower.

On the first level you can find a tourist shop, where you can buy tickets to visit the tower. It costs about 6 euros for an adult or 4 euro for a student. You can take the lift up to the first observation platform, which is enclosed and has a cafe area. Here they sell a selection of pastarie, snacks and drinks. We got some Puolukka-vaniljapulla (lingon-berry vanilla scroll), Feta-tomaattihyrrä (tomato feta scoll) and some filtered coffees. They were not the best pastries but they weren’t too bad either.

After satisfying our hunger we walked around the observation deck. Every few metres there are photographic panels of the different viewing perspectives. These panels have markers which give context to the different locations you can see from that point of view. We were also able to go up to another viewing platform which is outside. These views were even more spectacular without the glass. However, it was pretty cold and windy so we couldn’t stay too long.

Adjacent to Puijo tower is the Hotelli Puijon Maja and a few text panels. These panels are in Finnish and English and describe different aspects of the Puijo ridge.

Now it was time to drive for us to drive to Savonalinna. This took about two hours by car, taking us from Northern Savonia into Southern Savonia. If you have more time you can make a stop to the Monastery of Valamo, which would add another hour to your trip. It is the only remaining Orthodox monastary and is believed to be about 800 years old.

Savonalinna

Savonalinna is located in southest Finland and it’s name means Castle of Savonia. That is because the Olivinalinna Castle, which was built when the city was founded in 1639. This 15th century castle is the main tourist attract for the town and the reason we had to visit. They also offer a range of summer and winter activities, local handicrafts, shopping and restaurants. So there are more then one reason to visit Savonalina.

When we arrived we first had to check into our Airbnb. This accomodation was a small summer cottage on farm land. Our hosts were a young hip Finnish couple with some beautiful dogs. They were very friendly and helpful and lived just behind the small house. As for the accomodation it wasn’t stylish as others, but it was comfortable, clean and had a lovely view of the green clearing. It gave us a taste of what it would be like staying in a typical summer house during the Midsummer holiday.

By now we were getting pretty hungry again and luckily the next stop on my itinery was open today. Lettukahvila Kalliolinna is located on Sulosarri island and they serve sweet and savoury crepes, icecream and coffee. To get there we drove as close as we could to the walking trail, which took us to a bridge that we walked over. Its not a long walk and its quite lovely and scenic.

Lettukahvila Kalliolinna is in a small summer house, which was built in 1899 for Saint Olaf`s sanatoriums guests. The menu offers crepes with a large list of sweet or savoury toppings to add. Since we were unsure what to chose we went with a few of the suggested combinations. After ordering we first sat inside admirig the artworks, but once there was a table available outside we moved. It was so pretty out there and the perfect place to relax with someone delicious.

So the crepes we ordered were the Pesto and feta cheese with artichoke, Salted peanuts with carmel sauce and whipped cream; and the Smetana (sour cream) with pickles and honey. It’s hard to chose the best because they were all pretty yummy. The two sweet tooths prefered the sweeter options, but I also love a savoury crepe.

After lunch we made our way to the Olavinlinna Castle, to do the castle tour. I will do a dedicated post for this visit, since we covered alot of ground there.