Day 17 - Turku (FI)
Founded almost 800 hundred years ago, Turku is the oldest city and the former capital of Finland. It is also one of Finland's biggest cities with a population of approximately 180 000. It is located in the region of Southwest Finland and it is the capital of the Province of Western Finland at the mouth of the River Aura. The Swedes call the city Abo, which means 'living by the river'.
We arrived at the port and caught the train into the city centre which took just a few minutes. As we walked to our hotel, we were passed by hundreds of young people wearing very colourful trousers. We had been warned about some very strange Finnish customs such as 'wife-carrying' competitions and we wondered what this could be?
'Pikkulaskiainen introduces: Pikkulaskiainen 2023 – Slide back to the 90s! Get ready for the greatest winter festival in Finland!'
'The competitors race down a hill with their self-made vehicles while the audience cheers for them.
After the race and the surprise artist, it’s time to head out to a pub crawl.
The night culminates in wild afterparties that continue until morning accompanied by front-line artists!'
Sweden and Finland are geographically very close and Scandinavians have lived along the coasts of Finland since before the Viking Age. Sweden colonized, annexed, and ruled Finland for more than 600 years but in spite of these factors there is a definite cultural difference between the two countries.
Finns are part of the Baltic Finnic ethnic group (along with Estonia and Hungary) and are not part of Scandinavia although the sovereign states of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the autonomous territories of the Faroe Islands and Greenland and the autonomous region of Åland are all Nordic countries.
The language is so different too. I could recognise words in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian because of the Germanic link but now I am struggling to understand signs etc which are not always translated into English! Finnish is the language of the majority and Swedish is the native language for about 5% of the population but all children study both official languages at school. Additionally they start learning English from a young age and can then learn a 4th or even 5th additional language later in the school curriculum.
The Finns we have met so far have been very friendly and polite and it is difficult to generalise, but they are often considered less outgoing than their Swedish neighbours and prefer to avoid ‘unnecessary’ small talk. When they speak, it is to communicate something of importance - not like me!
In 1809 Finland went from Swedish to Russian rule following the Finnish War (part of the Napoleonic Wars) and in 1812 Russia moved the capital from Turku to Helsinki, nearer to their border and St Petersburg. Just over a hundred years later, Finland declared its independence on 6 December 1917 when it took advantage of the chaos of the Russian Revolution and after a civil war, the country gained autonomy for the first time in 700 years!
After a leisurely breakfast, we set off to explore the city of Turku and we managed to enjoy most of the sights and a walk along the river in the 4 or 5 hours we had before our train to Helsinki. We even managed a bit of retail therapy!
We spent quite a long time exploring Turku cathedral, the mother church of the Lutheran Church of Finland, and the country's national shrine.
The town hall and some other old buildings which were museums.
Some amazing food in the market and coffee in a railway carriage!!! Maybe not!!!
We caught the express train from Turku to Helsinki at 16.30 and it was a very quick and easy journey.
The Finnish Defence Forces is based on a universal male conscription. All men above 18 years of age are liable to serve either 165, 255 or 347 days. Yearly, about 27,000 conscripts are trained. About 80% of Finnish male citizens complete the service.