Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fintics #2 - Turku, Finland

We took a daytrip by train to Turku, the medieval city on the west coast, which was the former capital, from medieval times until the 19th century.

As we set out from our hostel in Helsinki, I offered Mom and M. part of the chocolate bar I'd bought, and they refused it, for the mere reason that they'd just brushed their teeth! (I don't understand such silly reasons for refusing chocolate... especially when we were planning to have more breakfast in the train station.) The train itself was very fast, modern, and comfortable.

Turku looks very different from Helsinki; the buildings tend to be shorter (1-3 stories instead of 3-5), older, often more ornate, plus there is a fair amount of clapboard-exterior-houses (vs non-flammable claddings in Helsinki, mainly stucco). Whereas Helsinki is a maritime city on a peninsula of sorts that juts into the sea and on an archipelago (you are never far from one of the many harbours), Turku lines a river as it empties into the sea, with the castle at the river's mouth and the other buildings either inland or river-side.

We visited Turku Cathedral (stunning!), and also a museum of medieval Turku (which had been buried and built over, then excavated to reveal impressive vaulted constructions). Turku castle was amazing. The castle was vast and overwhelming, built in phases from the 1200s through the renaisssance, and restored starting in the 1930s; it had played host to kings and queens, had great halls, small chambers, prisons, dungeons, hard-to-reach attics to keep the damsels safe, royal chapels, courtyards, balconies in the courtyard for the minstrels or the royals, fortifying walls, towers...

After the castle, we went to the Sibelius museum, where we checked out the collection of musical instruments. One of the more interesting instruments was called a mono-something (mono-chord?), where you played a keyboard to select the pitch, but drew a bow across the string (like a violin) to produce the actual sound and control the volume and expresssion. I didn't have time to get to Sibelius Museum's section on Sibelius himself because we had to go to a concert in the museum's concert hall given by a young classical guitar player. He was a young musician (music student), and played with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately, both M. and I were embarrassingly bad at keeping our eyes open, as we were quite tired.

After the concert, we made our way back to the train station, bought sandwiches from a cafe, and had a picnic supper in the facing park, before taking the train back to Helsinki.

Although the young woman in the Turku tourism office was not that great, others in Turku were so friendly and helpful, from one municipal bus driver (far too nice to ever work as a bus driver in, say, Montreal) to the Sibelius Museum clerk to another young woman on the street who leapt in to translate for us when we were trying to figure out bus directions.

Our train got into Helsinki around 11pm; you could say that sunset had taken place around 10:15 (while on the train) but it was still plenty bright out at 11:00 in Helsinki.

Food interlude: typical Finnish breads are rye. (In fact, rye bread has a special name distinct from wheat bread, in both Finnish and Estonian I think.) Some rye breads are variations on a moist, very slightly sweet, slightly spiced and caraway-laced loaf which I especially liked. There is also a small flat dark rye bread, kind of like a coarse moist pita, except that in size it is the diameter of a hamburger bun. In Turku, or was it elsewhere, my sandwich was made with this dark rye round, filled with sliced ham, a fried egg (!), lettuce, red peppers, and cheese.

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