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.

For dinner we headed to Savonlinna Market Square, where there were quite a few restaurants open and food stands. Some of the ones on my list included Restaurant Muikkuterassi, Ravintola Majakka and Kalastajan Koju.

I really had my heart set on going to Kalastajan Koju, which I read offers fresh seafood caught by the owner at an affordable price. I just had a little trouble finding it because according to Google maps it was located in the adjacent building to where I found it. The menu offered a variety of dishes with muikku fish, as well as salmon, perch, soup and sausages. Since I had eaten vendace at the night before, which is similar to muikku, I wanted to try the something different. I was yet to try Elk in Finland, so tonight was the night. I ordered the Bratwurst and Elk Sausage with Potato and Salad, as well as the Fish, chips coleslaw and remoulade annd a couple of local ciders. The food was simple, but flavoursome and delicious. The ciders were also pretty great.

The last thing we did attempt to see was the Savonlinna Cathedral. However, it was closed when we got there. With such a bright sky we forgot how late it was. This churhc was designed by A.H. Dahlstrom in 1858. It was damaged in 1940, by air raids, but has been reconstructed. It is a relatively plain church, but you can see the interior here.

Next I will take you on a tour of Olavinlinna Castle and to my last stop in Porvoo.

Finnish Roadtrip: Jyväskylä to Kuopio (day 4)

On day four of our Finnish roadtrip we began our morning Jyväskylä and make our way to Kuopio. Despite the national holiday we were able to see many beautiful parks, as well as a wonderful wildlife park. We did have a little bit of rainy weather, but overall it was quite a beautiful day to be outdoors.

Jyväskylä

This morning we walked though town to again find everything closed. I was actually planning for us to have breakfast at the vegan cafe, Beans and More, which looks amazing. Thank god the Espresso House was open. We had so far stayed clear of this generic coffee house, prefering boutique coffee shops. However, it was such a lovely site to see this hip coffee chain open for business.

The Espresso House is actually the largest coffee chain in the the Nordic coutries of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. It is very similar to a Starbucks, but the coffee is much better and the food is far better quality. The fridges were stocked with fresh salads, juices, bircher museli, sandwiches, pastaries, cakes, muffins and powerballs.

For breakfast I had a oat milk coffee and O and I shared a ham and cheese croisant and a chia seed and fruit pot. The coffee was pretty good and the food was nice for a quick bite.

After breakfast we had a walk around town to make sure everything was shut. I was planning to do some shopping on Kauppakatu on the pedestrian street. If your visiting on a regular day, check out these tips on Shopping in Jyväskylä.

So after we packed our bags and we made one last stop in Jyväskylä. Puutarhurin taivas or the gardener’s sky, is a installation that overlooks the Jyväsjärvi lake. It was made by the Finnish sculpturer, Pekka Jylhä. It represents a cultivated carrot and pays homage to all Finnish home farmers, who enjoy gardening, tracking growth, harvesting and consuming their produce. The watering can represents man’s attitude for care. Adjacent to the sculture there is a text panel, which is in Finnish unfortunately. It is quite a serene, quiet place which is nice to take children and some family photos.

On our way to Kuopio we had to meet our Airbnb host at Jari-Pekka Hankasalmi. She was actually hiring our her apartment for the Midsummer holiday, while she was at a summer house with friends. This traffic station has cafe, shop and a variety of fastfood dining options. It also has tractor and grassy area for kids to play. It was actually surprising to see so many people inside considering we had hardly seen anyone this morning. While we were there we found a filer for another zoo, which we would pass by on our way to Kuopio. Luckily it was open today, so we could take out daughter for some animal fun.

Kuopion Elainpuisto Zoo

Kuopion Elainpuiston Zoo is only an hour from Jari-Pekka and another 20 minutes from the centre of Kuopio. It is one of several wildlife parks in Kuopio. These are perfect for young families and animal lover alike.

Kuopio Elainpuisto Zoo is a family friendly wildlife park, which features traditional farmhouse animals. Many of the animals live permanently in the zoo and others visit to graze during the summer season. So you will probably see different animals when you visit. So its a great place to interact with happy animals, have a picnic or a nice meal in the cafe in this beautiful natural setting. There is also a small playground and lots of grassy areas for kids to run around.

Kuopio Elainpuisto Zoo is open most of the year. The ticket price is per adult is 10 euro and 8 euro for children between 2-12 years. It has a small cafe for lunch or snacks and a store with merchandise.

The zoo has has a duck pond with quite a few geese. I was glad to see them behind an enclosures becuase they can be a little agressive. They also had an array of birds in the Bird Garden. These included Silkie chickens, Golden pheasant Guinea fowl, turkeys, peacocks, and ducks .

Probably O’s favourite enclosure was the cat house. Shes a bit of a cat lover. She also loved the bunnies too, but she couldn’t annoy them too much as they were safe in their enclosure.

There were only a couple small cows and one large highland bull. He was gorgeous and very friendly to anyone who wanted to give him some long juicy grass.

O’s second favourite animals were the ponies, who were absolutely adorable. They do bite, so we had to be carefully not to get too close to them.

The horses were definetley more gentle and just as friendly. There was even one that looked a bit like Spirit.

There was a mother and baby donkey, which were my favourite. Very friendly and also very smelly.

The very fluffy friendly pig is a Villasika eli Magalitza, which is means wooly hog. It is a Hungarian breed of domentic pig. I’m not sure what type the rest were.

The sheep and goat were fairy friendly and were smaller breeds.

Probably the most exotic farm animals were the alpaca and reindeer.

The zoo also had some old style trackers and bikes in the shed.

And lots of beautiful flowers growing in the grass and potted plans.

We had lunch at the cafe on the grounds. It offers a variety of quiches, sweet and savoury pastries, hot and cold drinks, baby food and gluten free items. They also offer other items during the year, including crepes and panini, but I am not sure how often this is. Everything is relatively cheap, costing no more then a few euros per item. You can enjoy your meal inside or on the balcony. There are also plenty of toys for little ones to play with.

For lunch we ordered ham, cheese and capscium quiches, sausage roll, filtered coffee and jam donuts. It was pretty nice for such a cheap lunch, so we can’t complain.

Kuopio

After the zoo, we drove straight to lakeland habourtown, Kuopio. It is located in the Northern region of Savonia and is the 9th most populated place in Finland. Much of its land is covered by bodies of water and lush forest and there are plenty of green spaces through out the more densly populated areas. It is a bit of a cultural hostpost and hosts many events, incldig Contempory Arts Festival, Kuopio Wine Fesival, Kuopio Dance Festival and Finland Ice Marathon.

My orinally plans for Kuopio was that we would visit the, Kuopio Market City Hall and Pikku Pietarin Market Alley, Kuopio Cathedral and Puijo Tower. We were able to see the catheral and tower the following day, but the shops and markets were all closed for the weekend. I also wanted to visit the Hanna Partanen’s bakery, which is the best place in the city for Karelian pies and Kalakukko fish pastries; as well as the first Mommin cafe, Muumi Pannari Kahvila and old Finnish caf, the Trube Cafe. However, they were all closed. We did attempt to visit this cafes the following without luck.

By this time it was late afternnoon, so we went straight to our Airbnb. This had to be one of the most stylish apartments we had stayed in during this trip. It was also incredibly warm, spacious and modern. So we were very happy here for the evening.

Since it was still early and we weren’t ready for dinner, we walked down to Pikku Kakkosenn Puisto Leikkipuisto/Brahe Park. This park has situated on the coast line of the Kuopio gulf and the Kallavesi lake, so it has a beautiful view of the water, and plenty of lush grass and gardens.