In July 2009, I spent ten days in the southwest of Finland, experiencing the great Finnish tradition of roughing it in a small summer cottage out in the country. For most of the time I was too busy relaxing and gaining my qualifications as a grillimaisteri (barbeque master) to worry about taking any photos, but I did find a couple of days to explore the surrounding area.
The main city of the southwest is Turku, home to around 180,000 people. Turku is said to be Finland's oldest town, having been established in 1229, and was the capital city of Finland under Swedish colonial rule.
First stop in Turku was the large cobbled Kauppatori (market square), which caters to both tourists and locals, selling everything from t-shirts and trinkets to fresh local farm produce. There's an interesting mix of architecture around the square, with modern apartment and office buildings crowding around much older buildings, such as the domed church of Empress Alexandra Martyr (picture 1), which opened in 1845, on the north side the square.
From the market square, I headed a couple of blocks south before turning east onto Linnankatu, where I passed by a delivery van covered in astroturf (picture 2). At the time I thought this was something quite unique, though subsequent research has shown that there are a few people in the world who have decided that astroturf is a good covering for their vehicle.
Linnankatu also has an interesting variety of old and modern buildings, with the new public library dominating one intersection (picture 3) and the spire of the Turku Cathedral visible in the distance. Before long, Linnankatu reaches the Aurajoki (picture 4), the river that runs southwest through Turku before flowing into the Baltic Sea.
Following the riverbank upstream towards the next bridge, I discovered that some of Turku's cobbled streets might not be quite as ancient as they appear to be (picture 5).
Crossing over the river I reached the forecourt of the Turku Cathedral (picture 6), which is the headquarters of Finland's Lutheran Church. Outside the entrance of the cathedral is a statue of St Mikail Agricola (picture 7), a Finn who translated the New Testament into Finnish in the mid-16th century, while surrounding the building are some pleasant gardens (picture 8).
The cathedral was originally built of wood in the late 1200's and expanded using stone over the following two centuries. On September 4, 1827, the cathedral was severely damaged in the Great Fire of Turku, which destroyed three quarters of the city in one night, claiming 27 lives. The Great Fire was a major contributor to Turku losing its place as Finland's capital city to Helsinki.
Large parts of the cathedral were rebuilt after the fire, though there are still many surviving parts of the original building inside, where almost every one of the flagstones bears an inscription indicating that a distinguished person from Turku's past lies beneath. Some of these inscriptions are so ancient and worn that they are no longer readable, while a significant number of those that are still readable denote the final resting places of Swedes; another reminder that Sweden was the colonial power of Scandinavia for centuries.
After stopping for a snack in a small café housed in a chamber of the cathedral's crypt, I headed back along the south bank of the Aurajokia towards the city centre. There were many people enjoying the summer sun on the grassy river banks (picture 9), while a little further along somebody had spelled out the Finnish and Swedish names of the city (Turku and Abo) in flowers (picture 10).
Further downstream there were several large boats moored by the south bank, serving as floating restaurants and cafés. Choosing at random, I boarded one called Papa Joe (picture 11) and acquired a more substantial lunch, which I enjoyed in the sun on the upper deck of the boat.
After lunch I crossed back over the river to the city centre, where I wandered about for a while before coming across the Kauppahalli (market hall), just a block from where I started the day in the market square. The long Kauppahalli is a large food market, packed with food stalls and cafés and the aroma of all sorts of fresh produce.
Emerging from the far end of the market hall, I found myself outside the Panimoravintola Koulu (picture 12), Finland's largest brewery restaurant (the Finnish version of what the Americans would call a gastropub). Panimo means brewery and ravintola means restaurant, while koulu means school -- the brewpub is housed in a former Swedish school.
The main bar occupies an old classroom (picture 13), with plenty of shiny brewing gear on display, including ten large lagering tanks above the bar.
In my time in Finland, I'd picked up a few words of the language, but not enough to hold a useful conversation. I'd heard that it was possible to obtain small samples of the available beers here (picture 14), but something must have been lost in translation (or else I must have looked very thirsty indeed), as I was soon presented with three two-thirds-full pint glasses (picture 15). All the beers served here are made on the premises in accordance with the old German purity law, and all three "samples" were superb fresh beers with loads of fresh barley aroma. The beers at either end of the line-up were called Lehtori and OPE, both light lagers, while the slightly darker beer in the middle is a Kesaolut (a Vienna-style lager). It was hard to pick a favourite, though I tested each very carefully (picture 16).
The cottage I was staying in was a few kilometres outside the small town of Vehmaa. There were many such cottages scattered around the countryside (picture 17), most of them only occupied for a few weeks in the middle of summer.
A short distance from the cottage is one of Finland's many lakes (picture 18). I visited this one several times, but the only time I remembered to bring my camera was late one evening. Lying only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, it doesn't get completely dark here in July -- the sun sets around midnight and rises again about three hours later, leaving twilight in the interim. Picture 19 was taken looking across the lake towards the southwest at precisely midnight.
The supermarket in the village was well-stocked with beer and I took the opportunity to try a few of the local commercial brews (picture 20). The best was Karhu III, a malty pale lager at 4.6% abv, which was brewed about 100km to the north in the coastal town of Pori until the brewery was taken over and moved in 2010. Many Finnish beers are labeled with Roman numerals as a rough indication of strength.
About 50km around the coast northwest of Turku is Uusikaupunki (literally New Town), a pleasant seaside town set around a busy harbour (picture 21) with many waterside cafés (picture 22) and interesting shops (picture 23). Away from the harbour, the town is dominated by the tall church spire (picture 24).
At one of the harbourside cafés I found a nice German-style smoked beer made by the small Prykmestar Brewery, located in the town. Unfortunately the brewery is only open to the public one afternoon per week, so I missed out on the tour, but that'll be on my list if I make it back to Uusikaupunki again.
Around 40km further north along the coast is the town of Rauma, my final stop in this corner of Finland, where six hundred wooden buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries have made the town centre a Unesco World Heritage Site. The town was established in the 14th century around a monastery, and since World War II has become an industrial town, home to around 40,000 people.
The cobbled main street (picture 25) has some colourful buildings, including the Old Town Hall with its magnificent clock tower (picture 26). A block back from the main street is the stone Church of the Holy Cross (picture 27), which was built in the 15th century. Inside the thick stone walls, the interior is just as impressive as the outside (picture 28).