Sea Fortress Suomenlinna, Helsinki

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December 18th 2013
Published: December 19th 2013
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This morning we wanted to make the 10.20am ferry to Suomenlinna the sea fortress museum that can only be reached by water. After breakfast we walked down to the ferry terminal at Market Square where we purchased a two day public transport ticket each. After our experience in Stockholm we're a bit over city passes so we decided to just wing it with a two day public transport ticket and pay the entry fee for any museums that we visit. Unlike in Stockholm we had no trouble at all taking the ferry to where we wanted to go.

The sea fortress was established on islands off the coast of Helsinki in 1748 when Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. Ramparts on the western side of Kusstaankiekka date from the period of Russian rule in the 19th century. The fortress was built from stone that was hewn from the granite outcrops on the islands so many of the buildings feature incredibly picturesque stonework walls.

In 1991 Suomenlinna was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is an outstanding example of the European military architecture of its time. It is an irregular bastion-style fortress that was built on uneven terrain over several islands. While Suomenlinna is a huge outdoor museum it is also home to 800 residents and about 350 people are employed full-time on the islands. We walked the islands' blue route that took us past key sights including the church, the courtyard, the dry dock, Kustaanmiekka and King's Gate.

The church was built as a Russian Orthodox garrison church in 1854. In the 1920s, during the early days of Finnish independence, it was converted into an Evangelical-Lutheran church. Bernie was quite amused by the fact that a lighthouse still operates in the steeple. The courtyard was designed by the founder of the fortress, Augustin Ehrensvärd, and has served as the main square of the fortress since the 1760s.

Kustaanmiekka offered a view of the original bastion fortress and the coastal defence line with its earthworks and guns constructed by the Russians at the end of the 19th century. Facing the sea on the western side of the island, there was a brisk wind blowing that made us wish we had put more clothes on!! We thought is was going to be a balmy three degrees ABOVE ZERO, but the wind chill factor made it feel much colder ... and we were pining for our onesies! They were daggy, but warm. On the other side of Kustaanmiekka Island is the rather impressive King's Gate. It was built between 1753 and 1754 as the ceremonial gateway to the fortress. The gate was built on the site where the ship carrying King Adolf Frederick of Sweden anchored while the king inspected the construction work in 1752.

Having reached the end of the blue route we retraced our steps to Suomenlinna Dock, one of the world's oldest dry docks still in use. The ships of the Swedish Coastal Fleet were built in the dry dock during the 1760s. Nowadays the dock is used to restore old wooden ships. Because it is a working shipyard we couldn't get very close to the dry to dock to fully appreciate its size.

We had some lunch at the Café Vanille, housed in one of the quaint timbered houses, before visiting the Suomenlinna Museum. There are six museums on the islands, but this one is the only one that is open at this time of the year. The museum really rounded out our visit providing some interesting details about the construction and history of the fortress and the current restoration and maintenance activities.

We finished up in the museum just in time to walk back to the main quay to take the 3.40pm ferry back to the city. We docked at the eastern end of Market Square so wandered through the stalls that were still open at this stage of the afternoon (not many). Bernie thought that he had read that the Christmas markets were to be found in the area between Pohjoisesplanadi and Eteläesplanadi so we headed in that direction and found nothing at all in the way of a Christmas market.

We took a left and wandered through the side streets looking in vain for some Christmassy stalls. Where do they hide the Christmas market(s) in Helsinki?? We walked a big circuit past the railway station and then towards Mannerheimintie where the tram back to Katajonokka Skatudden (where our hotel is) runs. We found a small group of about half a dozen Christmas stalls, BUT no mulled wine! We were so cold that we had bought new mittens and we were really hanging out for hot booze to warm us from the inside!!

Finally, we found another small group of Christmas stalls which included one that was selling mulled wine. It was very nice to wrap our hands around hot mugs while we sipped on the glühwein. With warm wine in our bellies we decided that the Christmas markets in Helsinki are very disappointing so we caught the tram back to the jail.

When we went through reception we asked about the Christmas markets in Helsinki and if there was a good restaurant close by for dinner. The girl on the desk suggested a Finnish restaurant at the end of the street and told us that the main Christmas market is at the front of the big, white cathedral with lots of steps. Huh? we hadn't seen a big, white cathedral with lots of steps while we were out and about. How had we missed such a landmark??

We walked to the end of the street to try out the restaurant that had been recommended, but they couldn't fit us in without a reservation. We decided to take the tram back into the centre of the city where there would be lots of restaurants. Lo and behold, we disembarked in front of the now flood-lit HUGE, white cathedral with lots and lots of steps AND a Christmas market out the front ... that closed at 7.00pm! What the? The Christmas markets in Germany stayed open much later than that. Oh well, it opens at 10.00am daily so we can have a look tomorrow.

Italian restaurant for dinner. Bernie had the seafood pasta and I had overcooked pork. The pork was so tender it melted in my mouth while Bernie worked up a sweat over the chillies in his pasta. My thigh is feeling better. I even managed to run for the No.4 tram that would take us 'home'.

20,350 steps / 13.86 km

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