FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Warships on the Aura

Posted in Finland, Turku by folkestonejack on July 5, 2019

The corvette Karjala is one of the museum ships on the Aura, moored alongside the minelayer Keihässalmi, a short walk away from Forum Marinum. The Karjala was one of the first Finnish built warships after World War II along with its classmate the Turunmaa, constructed between 1963 and 1968. I took a look on board and was astonished by the fascinating story waiting to be discovered…

The Karjala

Although the Turunmaa class gas-turbine powered gunboats were originally designed to suit the needs of the Finnish archipelago their state of the art electronics and propulsion systems drew much international attention. The design was seen as a terrific export opportunity for the Wärtsilä shipyard, but despite talks with Ethiopia and Venezuela this led nowhere. The authorities did not grant Wärtsilä an export licence, fearing how the Soviet Union would view Finland muscling in on their territory.

The Karjala had a massive crew for its size (a total of 70, split between 30 regulars and 40 conscripts) and a wander around the decks soon revealed beds everywhere that it was possible to squeeze them in. The ship was preserved just as it was when it was decommissioned in 2002, bar the personal possessions. Today, the extensive accommodation is a plus point with the bunk beds seeing use for volunteers during big events such as the Tall Ships race.

The ship has certainly had its moments of drama. On the positive side they successfully shot down a missile they had fired themselves. On the negative side the ship had a near disaster in 1970 when a shell exploded while being loaded in the Bofors 120mm gun. The explosion sent part of the shell flying backwards through the ship and into a recently vacated toilet at knee level. Astonishingly no-one was killed. Three crew members were injured.

The Karjala saw service with the Finnish navy from 1969 until 2002.

The minelayer Keihässalmi

Other warships on display nearby, on the water and in the open air shed of the Forum Marinum, include the Wilhelm Carpelan (a transport vessel built for the Imperial Russian Navy, which served with the Finnish navy until 1977); the motor torpedo boat Tyrsky (built during WWII and later converted for use as a patrol boat); a 1930s coastal defence ship, the Ilmarinen.


Eight highlights from Turku

Posted in Finland, Turku by folkestonejack on July 5, 2019

Our stay in Turku was packed full of museums, art galleries and historic sights. Our pick of eight highlights reflects what we found the most interesting – sometimes quite unexpectedly so!

Turku Castle

Turku Castle has a history stretching back over 700 years, guarding the mouth of the Aura river and the approach to Turku. At its peak Turku Castle was the centre of power in Finland and the entire Swedish Empire, as well as being one of the most impressive castles in the Nordic region.

The castle followed the familiar path from medieval stronghold to renaissance palace, peaking in the late 1550s with the creation of richly decorated salons for the 18 year old regent, Johan, Duke of Finland. Once all the renovations were complete in 1588 the castle boasted 165 rooms. The glory days of the palace were remarkably short lived. A steady decline followed a terrible fire in 1614 that destroyed all the wooden interiors and fittings.

Turku Castle

The castle would go through a series of new uses that saw it adapted as a crown distillery, prison, garrison and storehouse in its later history. It was converted into a museum in the 1880s but plans for a full restoration were thwarted by the Soviet bombing of the castle on the first day of the Continuation War in 1941. The incendiary bombs spared little, destroying the roofs, the wooden structures of the interior and the 18th century castle church. The castle was once again left in ruins.

The restoration between 1946 and 1961 largely adopted a minimal modern Finnish design, though the chapel was fully restored to its original appearance. It makes an interesting change from the well-preserved or heavily restored castles that I have seen in other locations. We spent a good few hours wandering around the medieval and renaissance wings of the castle.

The Queen’s Hall

A terrific display of models helps explain the development of the castle and the displays in the bailey add to this with plenty of historical detail.

The latest temporary exhibition in the castle, A few words about Women, runs from 8th March 2019 until 8th March 2020. It’s well worth spending some time discovering the fascinating life stories of six women in 17th century Turku who ran successful businesses and worked as notable employers. One of the women featured was the ancestor of our family friend in Helsinki, adding an extra element of interest for us!

Turku Cathedral and Cathedral Museum

Turku Cathedral was consecrated on 17th June 1300 and since then has been the most important religious building in Finland, befitting of the most important city in the country for most of its existence (the capital only moved to Helsinki in 1812). The fire that ravaged the city in 1827 made no exception for the cathedral – the interior and the roof of the cathedral were destroyed.

The cathedral was refurnished after the fire, so much of the interior decoration can be dated to the next three decades – such as the beautiful ceiling frescoes in the altar choir painted by Robert Wilhelm Ekman between 1845 and 1854. The cathedral museum holds some of the rare items not to have perished in fire or pillaged in war, included a 17th century funeral coat of arms salvaged from the fire.

Turku Cathedral

Many important figures from Finnish history are buried inside the cathedral, including military commanders, bishops and royalty. However, we were looking for the Schulz ancestors of our longtime family friend in Helsinki – discovering their tombstones on the floor in front of the altar and just inside the entrance. It was hard to imagine a more prominent position!

Forum Marinum

Forum Marinum is a pretty extensive maritime museum by any reckoning, comprising two exhibition halls taking in an impressive sweep of maritime history that covers the ferries of the Baltic Sea, the Finnish navy and much more besides. The museum also has a collection of over 100 ships and some of these can be visited at the riverside in the summer months, including the tall ship Suomen Joutsen, the the barque Sigyn, the passenger ship Bore, the corvette Karjala and the minelayer Keihässalmi.

One of the museum curators took some time to tell us about the astonishing collection of in-board and out-board motors. If you told me that I would pick this out as a highlight of our visit to Turku before we arrived I would have suggested that you were nuts, but it really is quite something else to enter a three storey tall room and see motors on display in every inch of space available.

A small selection of the 300+ in-board and out-board motors

One collector is behind this incredible display, Jouko Kurri, which spans 17 countries and a period of over 70 years. When the collection was first presented here there were 150 motors, but today there are 312 and no room for any more. It is apparently a devil of a job to catalogue and it’s not hard to see why!

The collection holds so many interesting stories, from Soviet attempts to copy successful western designs through to motors that double up as chainsaws. However, my favourite would have to be the rarest – a wooden outboard motor created by a farmer in the early 20th century. The farmer had watched rich city dwellers heading to their summer houses by motor boat at the weekend and thought – why should they be the only ones to be able to do this? Impressive stuff.

Amphibian 3000 hydrocopter

The museum is overflowing with ships – outside the museum, throughout the museum halls, on the river and in a sheltered open air gallery. One of my favourites was the Amphibian 3000 border patrol vehicle which could be used on water, land and on ice! The hydrocopter on display was built in 1979 and saw service with the Hiittinen coastguard station until 2002.

Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova

The Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova is a museum of history and contemporary art, built around the Aboa Vetus’ archaeological site. Once you descend to the basement level you find yourself wandering the ruins of six medieval buildings, once home to the wealthy merchants whose grand houses were prominently positioned near the waterfront in the Convent Quarter (including the preserved vaulted cellar of the Schulz family).

Biological Museum

The Biological Museum was one of our quirkier visits from our trip and one that we were lucky to be able to get into, as the museum has only recently re-opened after water damage that saw it close for renovations for around a year.

The Biological Museum

It’s a small museum housed in a beautiful wooden building (constructed in the National Romantic style) which presents 13 dioramas that show the wonders of Finland’s natural world from the Turku archipelago to Lapland. It doesn’t take long to walk around. A large part of the charm of the museum is that it hasn’t changed since it opened in 1907. Some might not see this as a plus, but so long as you don’t mind seeing stuffed animals in beautifully set out landscape scenes you should be alright.

Museum diorama

A sheet with the English names for the animals is available from the reception desk and we had fun learning some of the Finnish names for animals along the way.

Kakolanmäki Hill Museum

The Kakolanmäki district is currently undergoing a hefty amount of transformation as the former prison buildings (out of use since 2007) are in the process of being converted into luxury apartments. There is a brand new funicular up the hill, with something of a troubled history, but when we visited it was out of order so we took the zig-zagging path up the hill. At the top the locals we spoke to denied any knowledge of a prison museum, leaving us scratching our heads for a bit.

In the end we stumbled across the museum by accident. It turned out that we needed to ignore the main prison block and head to Cafe Kakola (Kakolankruunu) and speak to the cafe owner. The museum, open only in the summer months, is located in a stable block in the grounds of the old prison director’s house which the cafe owner has to unlock for you to get inside. Three rooms explain the fascinating history of the museum, illustrated with photos and a few exhibits.

Kakolanmäki Hill Museum

The story the museum tells is fascinating. The prison was built by convicts imprisoned in Turku Castle with the first detainees transferred in 1859. The prisoners were employed quarrying the distinctive Kakola granite and when this ended the quarry was filled in with water and used as a pool, complete with springboard, nicknamed ‘the Kakola Riviera’. The prison closed in 2007.

St Michael´s Church

St Michael’s church (Mikaelinkirkko) is an unusual mix of styles. On the outside you have a red-brick, neo-gothic design, but on the inside you have a much warmer art nouveau design.

The church was the creation of Lars Sonck, a 24-year-old architectural student, whose successful design caused much consternation when it won the competition to design the new church in 1894. Although little known at the time, Lars Sonck would go on to be one of the foremost proponents of National Romanticism alongside Eliel Saarinen. Sonck was responsible for many of the most significant buildings in Finland including Tampere Cathedral and Kallio Church in Helsinki.

Interior of St Michael’s church, Turku

The church was damaged in the Winter War of 1939-40, depriving us of the original art nouveau windows, while later works in the interior saw other art nouveau features painted over in an attempt to match the interior to the gothic exterior. Thankfully, these changes were reversed in the restoration of the 1960s. The interior is quite simply stunning and well worth seeking out.

Luostarinmäki handicrafts museum

The open air museum at Luostarinmäki allows you to wander the streets of nineteenth century Turku and step into some of the oldest wooden buildings in the city. Unlike most other museums of this type, these 200 year old buildings are still in their original location, an area spared by the great fire of 1827.

The long term survival of these buildings was not guaranteed. The town planners charged with re-building Turku saw the district as a fire hazard and planned to demolish the cottages. The slow progress with this work provided the opportunity for preservation.

Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum

The first proposal for the museum was made in 1908 in the wake of the loss of other wooden buildings in the district, but it took a while for the idea to gain acceptance and it was not until 1940 that the museum opened to the public. Unusually, when the museum first opened there were still people living in some of the houses that their families had occupied for over 100 years. Over time these passed to the museum as generous bequests.

Sometimes these places feel like deserted ghost towns, but not at Luostarinmäki. Most of the buildings we took a look in had costumed museum staff on hand, ready to explain the crafts they were engaged in.

In addition to the sights listed here, we made visits to a couple of art galleries (the Turku Art Museum and the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art) and enjoyed a visit to the Sibelius Museum. All very enjoyable.


Two days in Turku

Posted in Finland, Turku by folkestonejack on July 5, 2019

Our two day stay in Turku gave us a good opportunity to see most of the sights, armed with a Turku museum walk card (available at a cost of 38 euros from the Tourist information centre). It was a little too ambitious to fit everything in to the time we had – we could really have done with a little longer to wander round the museum ships and there were a couple of museums we never made it to. However, we thoroughly enjoyed what we were able to see.

Harmonia (Achim Kühn, 1996)

On our first day in the city we took the number 1 bus (a handy bus which runs from the airport to the harbour, via the city centre) to Turku Castle to start our day of sightseeing and then steadily worked our way back along the sights on the western side of the river taking us to the Forum Marinum, Kakolanmäki Hill Museum, St Michael´s Church and Turku Art Gallery. I was hoping to try out the troubled new funicular up the Kakolanmäki Hill that received global media attention for all the wrong reasons, but it seemed to be out of order when we stopped by.

The Museum Walk card worked out pretty well, though we discovered that it didn’t cover the museum ships at the Forum Marinum, so we needed to pay a bit extra to see the Karjala corvette and the Keihässalmi minelayer. If we had wanted to see all the museum ships it would have been cheaper to pay for a full museum and ships ticket, but it worked out fine for us as we simply didn’t have time in our tight schedule to see all the ships.

Along the way we caught some of the sights from the Sculpture Trail, such as Harmonia by Achim Kühn, which resembles the tail of a whale diving underwater. The 280 hand-forged stainless steel plates that make up the tail were specially treated to show variances in colour, making it stunningly beautiful when it catches the light. One of the more surprising sights was a statue of Lenin which was apparently a gift from Turku’s twin city, unveiled on Leningrad Day in 1977.

One of the art nouveau marvels in Turku

In addition to outdoor artworks, there are many architectural marvels around the city. I was surprised to see just how many art nouveau buildings could be seen around the city, including the Market Hall (1896), an apartment block on the Aura that housed the Turku City Offices for a few decades (1908) and the former bank (1907) designed by Frithiof Strandell. There is a good walking tour of the art nouveau buildings described in the article Kävelykierros jugendtalojen Turussa from the Turun Sanomat.

Turku offers many maritime treats, including riverboat restaurants, tourist boats and museum ships moored all along the river Aura. It makes a walk along the riverside a pleasure. I took a walk out one morning from our hotel, the Radisson Blu Marina Palace, along the eastern bank of the Aura as far as the expensive apartments at Viimeinen ropo 2, which gave some superb views over the museum ships, the Viking Line terminal and Turku Castle. I hope the residents have hard hats as the seagulls that attacked me here were pretty vicious!

It is easy to switch between each bank using the bridges in the city centre or Föri, the free foot/bicycle ferry, which is roughly ten minutes walk away from the maritime museum. Föri shuttles back and forth between 6.15am and 11pm in the summer months, taking just a couple of minutes to complete the crossing. I would never have guessed that the cute little orange ferry is over 100 years old and was originally steam powered (switching to diesel in 1953). It’s a neat way to get a different view of the river.


Our second day started at Turku Cathedral (and the Cathedral Museum) and then took us on to Luostarinmäki handicrafts museum (an open air museum of historic buildings spared from the Great Fire of Turku in 1827), the Biological Museum, the Wäinö Aaltonen Gallery, Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova and the Sibelius Museum. As we had to catch the train to Helsinki in the late afternoon it was a little bit of a squeeze.

Overall, our trip worked out well but was inevitably constrained by the need to keep our travels in Estonia and Finland to around a week. I had also rather underestimated the time you need for a visit to Turku! If I were repeating the trip I would look at a minimum of three full days and perhaps look at some of the boat trips to the fortress island of Örö or to Naantali. Maybe we’ll make a return when the planned interactive Museum of History opens in 2029 to coincide with Turku’s 800th anniversary!


Ferry through the archipelago

Posted in Åland, Finland, Mariehamn, Turku by folkestonejack on July 3, 2019

Our short stay in the Åland islands came to an end all too quickly. We picked up our cases from the hotel in the city centre and made the fifteen minute walk to the ferry terminal at Västerhamn, checked in and waited for our ships to arrive. You might think that the middle of the afternoon would be a relatively quiet time at the terminal, but not a bit of it. There is actually something of a mini rush hour which sees four ships comes and go within a half hour window.

A view of the Amorella at Mariehamn from the top deck of the Viking Grace

Two Tallink-Silja ships were in when we arrived – the Baltic Princess, bound for Turku, and the Silja Galaxy, bound for Stockholm. Fifteen minutes after they left their berths were taken up by two Viking Line ships – the Viking Grace, bound for Turku, and the Amorella, bound for Stockholm. The boarding gates for both Viking Line ships opened at the same time, with a brief pause on the passenger walkway while the connection to the ships was established.

Our travels would take us on the Viking Grace to Turku, a journey which takes around five and a half hours. It was notable that there were more passengers and cars on this daytime crossing than we had seen in the early hours of the morning, but we were still only talking about something like 30 foot passengers. On this occasion we had booked a cheap but rather smart inside cabin to store our bags and as a retreat for the less enthusiastic ship-goer! We were on board at 14.10, ready for the 14.25 departure.

The Amorella heads away from Kobba Klintar towards Stockholm

The Amorella left first, closely followed by our ship. It was lovely to get a daylight view of the harbour, which I have only seen in the low light of the evening and early morning. A few teenagers sprawled out on the concrete towers along the coast watching as our ship passed by. We followed the Amorella as far as Kobba Klintar and there our paths diverged, with the ships going either side of the famous rocky outpost.

The Viking Grace is an interesting ship with a number of measures designed to minimise her impact on the environment, powered by sulphur-free liquefied natural gas (LNG). The hydrodynamic design of the hull helps to minimise waves which makes a big difference in the five hours or so that she spends in the Turku archipelago. However, the The most most visually impressive feature of the Viking Grace is a 24 metre high rotating sail.

The rotating sail uses the Magnus effect to reduce fuel consumption. I was astonished to learn that this technology was originally devised in the 1920s and that the first rotor ship crossed the Atlantic in 1926! The winds were quite blustery on our crossing, resulting in the rotor sail spinning faster and faster. As we set off you could easily read the words printed on the sail but once we were midway that became an impossibility. Perfect conditions for a bit of fuel saving!

The impressive rotor sail on the Viking Grace

It slightly screwed with my head that we were starting in a location running on Finnish time, heading to a destination running on Finnish time, but had a late-lunch (or was it early dinner!?) sitting timetabled in Swedish time. Our meal was booked in the Aurora, one of seven restaurants on board, which serves a buffet. If you have booked in advance you get a meal coupon at checkin which has your table number printed on it, so there’s no need to worry if you are not part of the initial surge into the restaurant on opening. So far I have been impressed with the food offering on every crossing we’ve made in the Baltic and this was no exception.

The Viking Line buffet offered a vast and utterly marvelous array of dishes – lots of variations on herring (such as aquavit and juniper flavoured dill herring; pickled fried herring with leek; and blueberry herring) and an assortment of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes. Alongside this were some tasty specialty breads (such as nettle+buck wheat crispbread and black bread from Aland), cheeses (great with the sea buckthorn and apple marmalade on offer); small desserts and macarons. All washed down with lingonberry juice and Lapin Kulta beer. It all seemed much better organised and replenished than the Tallink equivalent we had experienced a few days earlier.

The rocky islet of Loistokari in the archipelago

The Turku Archipelago made quite a sight, so much so that I found it hard to stay away from the upper decks to soak up the view. The archipelago is made up of between 20,000 and 50,000 islands and skerries (estimates in the sources I read seemed to vary wildly), which stretch all the way from the Åland Islands to Turku. Many are in a pristine natural state, while others were populated with wonderfully positioned summer homes a few steps away from the water.

On our passage through the archipelago we caught sight of a few interesting ships such as the FinFerries commuter ferry Stella which operates between Korpo and Houtskär. In these waters FinFerries and Rolls-Royce have been conducting some fascinating work, leading to the launch of the first autonomous ferries in the archipelago. The first autonomous ship, Falco, can conduct its voyage without human intervention but a captain monitoring the autonomous operations from an office in the city centre of Turku can take over at any point if required.

Other ships we saw in the archipelago included the tourist ship M/S Rudolfina, the vintage steamer S/S Ukkopekka and the cargo ship Fjardvagen. On our approach to the port of Turku we could also see the Silja line ship that had left Mariehamn just before us, the Baltic Princess.

The Viking Line terminal at Turku

Our ship arrived in Turku just before 8pm and for convenience we jumped in a taxi for the relatively short ride to our hotel – the Radisson Blu Marina Palace. I would like to say that I chilled out in our room but the evening light was too perfect to resist. I walked back nearly all the way to the port to take some photographs of more ships!