FINLAND: Exploring the UNESCO site & sea fortress of Suomenlinna in winter

Hi peeps! It’s me again. I’m finally settling down, after all the overwhelming events in my life the past two months. In the course of 3 years and 9 months, I have lived in 5 different cities in Scandinavia, three of which are in Denmark. How cool is that? Well, one just gotta keep trying until s/he finds the perfect settlement, ikke sant? Anyway, this entry is about our first stop during our “honeymoon” trip in Finland. The trip was spontaneous, and rather short. But I did enjoy the time spent with my husband. ❤

Last December, Carl took me on a wonderful holiday in the Canarian island of Tenerife. This year, we started the journey with our neighboring Scandinavian country, Finland, or Helsingfors in Norwegian. I’m really glad that I had the chance to book the tickets and the hotel, giving me some control of the travel! Hahaha I miss “planning”, but I guess, I have gotten so used to having my husband by my side whenever I’m out exploring (and wouldn’t change that in any other way!). Whenever I travel solo before, I was always in-charge of literally everything. But now, I have to consider my husband’s input. Although he lets me decide on the itinerary most of the time.

My self-made wedding bouquet <3
My self-made wedding bouquet ❤

So, we arrived rather late at night flying with Norwegian Airlines. There’s an hour time difference, so there was little to no body-adjustment whatsoever. We took the train from the airport to the central station, which took about 40 minutes, and then a taxi to Hotel Scandic Grand Marina. Book public transportation, buy ticket and find schedule and routes in Finland here: https://www.hsl.fi/en. I really enjoyed staying at the hotel. It wasn’t very expensive, and it was in close proximity to the ferry station and the sights.

After getting a good night sleep, we headed towards the port and took the boat from the east side of the Market Square to Suomenlinna, a sea fortress recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 as “a unique monument of military architecture”. Get travel brochure here. The boat trip took about 10-15 minutes, and docked at the Main Quay on the island. In winter, the ferry is the only available transportation to Suomenlinna, but in summer, the water buses also operate. If I remember correctly, the ticket is valid for 12 hours! So if you plan to visit the island only during the day, just keep your ticket and use it again going back to the mainland Helsinki.

The first building that welcomed us was the Russian-era Jetty Baracks. The pink building houses the tourist information center, art galleries, and the Restaurant Suomenlinna Brewery. There’s also the Viaporin Deli and Cafe. The thing about traveling in winter is I get thirsty all the time, and so there’s a need for some varm sjokolade from time to time, while my husband enjoys beer, so it’s a win-win situation for both of us. At Viaporin, Carl enjoyed a cold bottle of Sparre Pale Ale, a pale ale-American style beer brewed on the island!

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 Once warmed up, we continued our journey walking around the island. In summer, guided walking tours are held daily, but in winter, they’re only available during the weekends. Thus, my husband and I did the exploring on our own. It is recommended to follow the Blue Route when visiting the island, but we decided to walk along the coasts instead, passing by the 1918 prisoner-of-war camp memorial, on to some residential houses, the Manège of the Military Museum, and the Suomenlinna Museum. Not all museums on the island are open in winter, so it’s good to check the main website. By the time we reached the Artillery Bay Quay, my tummy was already rumbling, asking for lunch, so we stopped over at Restaurant Café Chapman, where we had some buffet. Their cream soup of black salsify root was really good! But the rest of the buffet was just not satisfying, in my honest opinion..

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Just some quick facts about the sea fortress: It was built by the Swedes in the 1700s to serve as a defence fortification and naval base. Originally called Sveaborg, or Viapori in Finnish, the fortress was not completed as planned, and in the early 1800s, the Russian forces besieged the island during the Russo-Swedish War. The Russians expanded the fortress, building barracks and a Russian Orthodox garrison church. By the end of the 1800s, however, Viapori fell into fast decay due to neglect and lack of renovation funds, until it was handed over to the Finnish government after its independence from Russia in 1918. That was also the time when they renamed the fortress to Suomenlinna, meaning the Castle of Finland.

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It wasn’t long before it started snowing, and boy, was the island fortress beautiful in winter! We continued our tour and reached the Vesikko Submarine, built in the 1930s and served during WWII. Unfortunately, it is one of the many sights on the island that are not open in winter. Afterwards, we walked to the direction of the Great Courtyard, where Ehrensvärd’s tomb was also located. Augustin Ehrensvärd designed the courtyard, which served as the main aquare and administrative center of the fortress. It was both creepy and interesting to go in and out the fortification. It felt like we were in another world in another time!

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A must-see during your trip to Suomenlinna is the Kustaanmiekka sand banks and artillery. This is where you’d find some of the most astounding views from the island, of the coasts and bastions and tunnels and cannons and underground houses! It was like a labyrinth that awakens a boy’s playful nature. I couldn’t get hold of my husband most of the time because he was busy exploring the tunnels and dungeons along the late 19th century Russian defence line. 😄

A couple of hills from the sand coasts is the King’s Gate. This is supposedly the main entrance to the sea fortress, and the waterbuses and ferries actually dock here in summer. But during winter, the port and coasts become very slippery, and thus, dangerous to roam (so be cautious!). The Gate also serves as the iconic symbol of the island, as the ship carrying the Swedish King Adolf Frederick was anchored here during an inspection of the fortress in 1752.

Lastly, we took a peek of the Dry Dock from the observation deck. It is one of the world’s oldest operational dry docks, where old wooden ships are being renovated.

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We really had a great time exploring Soumenlinna! It was a wise idea to allot one full day for the trip, as the islands composing the sea fortress were really big. On our way back to the hotel, we happened to see the Spårakoff pub tram! It is a special kind of tram operating along the main routes in the city, and features a pub onboard! 😀

SpåraKOFF pub tram
SpåraKOFF pub tram

Next on our itinerary was the cathedrals and the Helsinki Zoo, which I’d write about in the next entry. 🙂 Finland is my 17th country to visit and I really had a great time on the first day! So, see you again in a bit! 😉 Cheers! #spreadlove

Kustaanmiekka sand banks and artillery
Kustaanmiekka sand banks and artillery
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