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.

Helsinki: Urban Green City (day 2)

Its day 13 on our Nordic Adventure and we are on our 2nd day in Helsinki. On this day we had enjoyed a sweet pastries by the seaside, made a few tourist stops, including the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress; caught up with some friends and strolled through the parks and ended the day with some much missed Italian food. Sounds pretty perfect doesn’t it!

Breakfast

This morning we were meant to grab some quick pastries on our way the Free Walking Tour that left from the Helsinki Cathedral. However, with a difficult toddler we reconsidered this idea and went to have a seaside breakfast at the Cafe Regatta. This cafe was on my to-do list for the night before but we were too exhausted to walk there.

Cafe Regatta is country style cafe located on the water in the city park, Sibeliuksen Puisto (Sibelius Park), in Töölö . It is open from 8 am until 9pm, so if your visited the Sibelius monument, this is the perfect place to stop in for some warm cinnamon buns or grill a sausages by the fire. This adorable cafe is set in a 115 year-old red cottage, which has an eclectic vintage interior. It is just so delightful and homely and is the perfect place to enjoy some hot coffee and homemade pastries. To drink they serve filtered coffee, tea, hot chocolate and hot juice (not sure what that is). To eat they have a section of cakes and pastries and savoury goods, including cinnamon buns, blueberry pie, croissants, broccoli pastry, Carelian pastry, quiche, salmon on bread. They also offer some vegan, gluten free and raw food options.

For breakfast we shared the blueberry pie, broccoli pastry and cinnamon bun, with a side of coffee and tea. Everything was as delicious as it looks and very fresh. I can’t decide what I liked the most out of all these things. So I recommend trying as much as you can, since the prices are pretty reasonable.

Tourist stops

After breakfast we didn’t have to walk very far to see our first tourist attraction. The Sibelius Monument is located with the Sibeliuksen Puisto. I wish we had visited the night before because its a very popular tourist stop. The monument is called Passio Musicae and was made in 1967 by female Finnish artist, Eila Hiltunen. It was dedicated to the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius and was created for a competition organised by the Sibelius Society. It consists of over 600 hollowed out steel pipes, which were welded together to appear like a cluster of organ pipes. The piece on the side was also made by the artist and features Sibelius’s face.

Next we caught a tram to the Senate Square to see the Helsinki Cathedral (Hesingin Tuomiokirkko). This gorgeous Evangelical Lutheran cathedral is one of the most iconic sites in Helsinki. It was built between 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Just like nearly every other cathedral I tried to see on this trip, this one was also closed. I have no idea why since it was a Monday morning. At least the outside was a gorgeous site to see. You can see some of the interior pictures here.

Just around the corner from the cathedral is one of the most famous markets in Finland, Market Square. This open-air market has been a trading site for hundreds of years. Today you can buy traditional souvenirs, coffee, fresh and cooked foods. If you are wanted to visit the Suomenlina Sea Fortress you can buy your tickets here, as it leaves from this port. It only costs 5 euro for a return adult ticket and last for 12 hours. It only takes about 15-20min to get across to the island, so you can make a spontaneous trip if need be.


Adjacent to the Market Square is the Old Market Hall. This the oldest market hall in Finland and was built 1888-1889. Prior to this, groceries were sold outside. However, with the new awareness of food hygiene and a need for organisation, market halls began to be built. Originally this hall had 120 stalls and 6 shops in the central gallery, which sold meat, eggs, butter, cheese and garden produce. However after WWI, Finland suffered four decades of scarcity, famine and rationing. Although this ended in post-war Finland, the market halls didn’t get a revitalised until Finland joined the EU in 1995. This meant that the forbid products, like unpasteurised cheese from France and cold cuts from Italy and Spain, could now be sold. Today, this Market Hall sells a variety of imported products, as well as many Finnish delicacies. As I was walking through I was blown away by all that delicious salmon and the variety of reindeer specialities. I had originally planned to have lunch here since its very inexpensive.

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

Suomenlinna is an mid-18th century sea fortress, built on a cluster of islands, just off the coast of Helesinki. It was built when Finland was under Swedish rule, to project the again a Russian explansion. In 1991 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site and is an iconic tourist attraction . Today, it has several musuems, restaurants, cafes and over 800 residents. It is free to wander the grounds if you want to learn a bit of Finnish history or have a picnic on the beach. There is a small fee catch the ferry or water bus, visit musuems or take a guided walking tour. We didn’t visit any musuems or do a tour today, as we only had a couple of hours. We did have the tourist map, which does point out all the important sites, which have some text panels for historical context. Also check out out the children’s map, which gives more information the cafes and restaurants, playgrond etc. You can also see a Virtual 360 map of the island which gives more information on its history.

Suomenlina consists of six islands, however only a few of them are available to visit all year around. The entry port is on the largest island of Iso Mustasaari, which is where we started our visit. If your hungry when you arrive I recommend Viaporin Deli & Cafe, which we visited at the end our visit (see below). You can find it here at the entry.

When you enter the main route into Iso Mustasaari you will first come across some old ornamented wooden houses. This is the Russian trading block, which was owned by the Russian garrison traders. They sold goods and services for the miliary and civilian residents and also held food incase of a siege. These houses were privately owned and built during the first stage of construction, in the late 18th century. They were originally located near the church, but had to be demolished or moved. These houses are special because they are unlike the other homes in the fortress or in Finland. They feature four-column verandas, high entrance steps, stone base and ornamental eaves and window frames. They are reminiscent of Russian folk architechture. This block consisted of shops, storerooms, a bakery, an inn, and a liquor store. The owners and their families resided in the yard outhouses and the attics. Today only six building survive and they are occupied by cafes, a shop, a photographer’s studio, a kindergarten and a cobber’s workshop.

Nearby is the Suomenlinna Church, built in 1852. It was originally a Russian Orthodox garrison church, but it was converted to a Lutheran church in the 1920s and the stylistic Byzantine-Russian features were removed. It also contains a lighthouse in its tower, which has been adding air and sea travel since te 1920s. It is also popular site for church weddings. The Church Park was designed in the 1850s and has been extended over the years to a more open Baroque style garden.

From there we passed through the Cromwell, playground, Manège of the Miltary Museum and large Suomenlinna Centre/museum, which had some nice snacks.

To get to the island of Susisaari, we needed to cross the Susisaaren Silta bridge (1982). We then made our way to the Great Courtyard. It was originaly built in 1750s, and is the middle of three courtyards inside the ring of bastions on this island. We first came apon the Bastion Höpken, which is the oldest part of the fortress. It was built in 1750 and is connected to the Commendant’s house. This house originally had 16 apartments. You can freely walk though this stone structure, but there wasn’t much information about it. Just outside in the middle of the Great Courtyard is the tomb of the Swedish military office, Augustin Ehrensvärd, who designed the fortress. Although he passed in 1783, the tomb wasn’t completed until 1807, which was 6 months before it was surrended by the Russians. hence the neo-classical style of the tomb.

Just nearby is the Dry Dock, which was built in 1747 by the Swedish for their Finnish squadron. The ships were built and stored in this dock. Under the Russian rule these dock fell into disrepair and was further damaged like most of the fortress in the Crimean war. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the Finnish forces built aircraft and stored submarines in the dockyard. Today you can view the Dry Docks from the observation deck, however there are plans to renovated it and add a new restaurant and a museum.

As we continued south down the island of Susisaari we came across Piper Park. This is the most important park on Suomenlinna. It was constructed under Commandant Petter Bernhard Piper under the Swedish rule. It was to have trimmed hedges, fruit trees, flowers, a summer-house and a pond. In the early 19th century there were also vegetable gardens. However, since the 1840s the whole area became a public park.

Lastly we visited the island of Kustaanmiekk, which is the most southern part of Suomenlinna. It’s name means ‘Gustav’s Sword’, after the Swedish Crown Price. It was the first part to be fortifed in 1748, but the earthworks and guns were added under the Russian rule. For me this was the most scenic part of Suomenlinna and if wasn’t so windy and cold would of been a great place for a swim and a picnic. There was a nice pizza restaurant, Pizzeria Nikolai, which was open, when we visited. But we decided to save ourselves for a cafe at the entry docks, so back we walked…

By the time we got to Viaporin Deli & Cafe, I was starving. It is located at the entry dock on
Iso Mustasaari, This casual little eatery has lunch specials and quite a few other options, including salad bar, pizza, sandwiches , wraps and hot beverages. Marco had a slice of pizza with chicken, carmelised onions and cherry tomatoes. Octavia and I shared this delicious Salmon and Leek Fetticini (lactose free!), with pickled red onion and shaved parmesan. I was pretty impressed with this pasta, it was really well made and so delicious. I assume the creamy sauce was made with oatmilk, but it was hard to tell.

Afternoon Stroll

After our visit to Suomenlinna, we made our way back into Helsinki to meet up with some friends. On our way we passed through the beautiful Esplanade Park. It is lined perfectly manicured hedges and green grass and has a few of beautiful fountains and statues. It a popular place for people to pass time and see popular community events. From there we made our way to Stockman shopping centre and I explored the amazing Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (bookstore), while we waited.

After we found our friends they took us for a walk in one of their favourite parks, Kaivopuisto. This is one of the oldest and most popular parks in Helsinki. Its quite expansive and very scenic. There are so many ducks that were interesting to watch and fun for O to chase. The only thing we found was that they poop all over the grass, so you may want to clean your shoes if you get too close. There are so beautiful views of the coast line and the nearby islands between Helsinki and Suomenlinna.

Dinner

After we parted ways we were eager to get something to eat before going back to the apartment. There wasn’t alot open on a Monday night and it was already getting pretty late. We found the Italian restaurant Italo in Forum shopping mall. The resturant had beautiful decor, a kids play area and a pretty impressive adult and kids menu that was reasonabily priced.

Marco and I ordered the Risotti Allo Stracotto di Maile (grilled pork cheeks, beef broth and pesto) and Pizza Sette (king prawn tailes, garlic, chili, bacon, red onion and rocket). For Octavia, the server recommend the kids pizza with the toppings of bolognese sauce and cheese. Everything tasted fantasic and was an rivalled some of my best memories of Italian food. The pizza was nice and thin, but not soggly with great fresh ingredients. The risotto was also cooked perfect and the pork cheeks were exactly what we hoped for. I don’t know about Octavia’s pizza because she gobbled that all down and didn’t want to share.

Well thats it for our last day in Helsinki. Tomorrow we catch the boat from Helsinki to Tallin, Estonia. This was one of my favourite stops, so I can’t wait to share it with you!

Helsinki: Museum of Finland (part 1, day 1)

On our first day in Helsinki we wanted to get a little introduction to Finnish history, so we spent most of the day at the National Museum of Finland. Since I took so many photos I will dedicate my next couple of posts to this museum. These exhibitions I will take you through today, were mine and Octavia’s favorites. They were the temporary exhibition, Barbie: the icon and Workshop Vintti.

The National Museum of Finland (Kansallismuseo) is located a short distance (walking) north of Helsinki city center. It is housed in an large castle-like building, which is very Finnish in its architectural design. It was designed by architects Herman GeselliusArmas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen and built in 1905-10. The exterior is National Romanticism and the interior is Art Nouveau. Some of the exterior features that we saw as entering the museum was a statue of Finland’s national animal, the brown bear; and a bullet hole left in the glass door from the civil war of 1918. Upon entering the museum we saw the beautiful ceiling frescoe, depicting that national epic Kalevala. It was painted by Akseli Gallén-Kallela in 1928 and are based on the frescoes painted by Gallén-Kallela in the Finnish Pavilion of the Paris World Fair in 1900. Another beautiful feature was the stain glass windows in the main staircase.

The museum is opened Tuesday to Sunday (or daily in the summer months), from 11am to 6pm/8pm (on Wednesday). The ticket price on our visit was 12 Euro for an adults, 9 euro for concession and free for people under 18. We did pay a little extra on our visit to see the temporary Barbie exhibition. The museum also offers guided tours, workshops, children’s birthday tours for additional fees. There are also free audio guides available for some exhibitions. If you get hungry you can visit the cafeteria inside or go across the road to Café Huvila like we did.

The museum presents Finland’s history, chronologically from the Stone age (1700s), up until today. It is split into six sections, which include Treasure Troves, Prehistory of Finland, The Realm, The Land and its People, Exhibition on 20th Century, and Suomi Finland 1900. We weren’t able to see all of the exhibitions, but we did get around to see
Finish Prehistory, The Realm, Story of Finland, as well as the kid’s Workshop Vintti and the temporary exhibition, Barbie: The Icon.


Barbie: The Icon


The first exhibition we saw visited was Barbie: the Icon, since it was located on the first floor, across from the foyer. I didn’t plan on seeing this exhibition, but I also had to see it. When I was a growing up, Barbie was my favourite toy. I will never forget my 10th birthday when I got the Barbie Fold n’ Fun house, the convertible and a extra Barbie cloths. I haven’t encouraged Barbie for Octavia at all and she prefers to play with animal toys. But I could see she was just as mesmerized by all those beautiful dolls in this exhibition as I was.

This travelling exhibition was curated by professor Massimiliano Capella and produced by 24 ORE Cultura and Mattel. It was exhibited in many European cities, including Milan, Rome, Bologna and Madrid. This exhibition tells the story of Barbara Millicent Roberts aka Barbie. It features 450 original Barbie Dolls, which were from private collectors and Mattel. The exhibition is split into eight theme, which define the life of Barbie over the past six decades. There is no denying Barbie is symbolic figure, who is constantly evolved to represent the modern woman.