Suomenlinna – Finnish Castle or Swedish Fortress?

A seagull perched above the King's Gate at Suomenlinna

Helsinki, Finland – June 30th, 2008

Whenever anyone asks me what they should do in Helsinki, I know exactly what to tell them – take a ferry to Suomenlinna. A boat runs all through the year, breaking ice when it needs to, so brave souls can even visit the Unesco World Heritage Site during the cold Finnish winter. But summer is Suomenlinna’s best season. The sprawling fortress is built on six islands,  and tourists and locals alike love to visit the cafes, have a picnic on the rocks by the sea, or explore the network of tunnels and gates. The place is today so park-like and peaceful that its military history is difficult to imagine. Children climb on old cannons as if they were playground slides, and subterranean walls and gunpowder magazines are now mistaken for gentle, grassy hillsides.

Most of Suomenlinna's tunnels are on the islands of Kustaanmiekka and Susisaari.

On the surface, Suomenlinna is not terribly different from many other Baltic islands. But the best part of a visit there is going down into the tunnels. Although visitors are advised that they enter at their own risk, entrances to the accessible tunnels are clearly shown on the map, and they are easy to navigate (even if I once or twice wished for a flashlight!)

You may not get lost in the tunnels, but you will get disoriented. Liisa and I were constantly surprised to emerge from the tunnels far from where we had first entered. And while we always felt quite safe, there was still an element of adventure. As we walked down one tunnel, we realized it sloped down to the sea when we got our feet wet… in another, we found the remains of a little campsite.

Suomenlinna was so named in 1918, when the newly independent people of Finland named it “Finnish Castle” in their own language. The Swedish speaking world still calls it by its former name, Sveaborg, or “Swedish Fortress.” It’s easy to see why both nations would like to claim this beautiful place as their own!

/A Taste of Scandinavia

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The Window

Where: Suomenlinna, Finland

When: June 2008

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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My friend Liisa and I were playing in the Suomenlinna tunnels when we encountered the brilliant light of this window-frame, and had some fun taking silly photos there.

Naantalin Aurinkoinen (Turku, Finland)

Naantalin Aurinkoinen is a small chain of cafes in Southwestern Finland, mainly Turku and it’s suburb of Kaarina. The name means “like the Sun of Naantali” -Aurinko means sun, and Naantali is a nearby town known for it’s lovely sunshine, even spawning the local idiom “to smile like the sun of Naantali”.

The cafe and bakery has a wide variety of goods, from fresh bread and the Finnish favourite ‘new potatoes’, to pizza, pasta, salad, hotwings, and panini sandwiches. The pastries looked the most tempting to me, though, and I picked the Mansikkajuhlawiener (strawberry pastry) because if you go to Finland in the summer you should eat strawberries at every opportunity.

Liisa's photo of my Mansikkajuhlawiener. It was five times more delicious than it looks!

The storefront of the Kaarina branch I visited.

Their website is only in Finnish, but your mouth will water just looking at it.

No Google Map this time, because there are multiple locations. This page on the website shows all the addresses.

/A Taste of Scandinavia

Chokladkoppen (Stockholm)

No matter the season, Stockholm’s Chokladkoppen is delightful. Perfectly situated in the Stortorget square, the center of Gamla Stan, it neighbors the Nobel Museum and the Swedish Academy, and only the imposing Stock Exchange Building separates it from the Cathedral and the Royal Palace.

Everything in Stockholm is expensive, so once you surrender yourself to that idea, Chokladkoppen, where you can put down about 14$ on a slice of cake or pie and a drink and call it a meal, is a bargain.

The guilty pleasure Liisa and I counted as a meal.

I’ve heard the cafe is a lovely, cozy place in the winter, where you can duck in out of the cold for bowls of cocoa and hot pie. Liisa and I visited in the summer, so we sat outside in the square with iced chocolate and white chocolate cheesecake and watched the world go by instead. Everything tasted creamy and fresh, and the orange slices added a bright, tangy note to both the flavour and the presentation.

The food is delicious, the atmosphere and the location are top notch, and you won’t even have to go broke to experience it. I’ll definitely be returning to Chokladkoppen during my next trip to Stockholm.

/A Taste of Scandinavia

Chokladkoppen is the orange building in this picture from Wikipedia's Stortorget article.

Wooden Reindeer

Where: Stockholm, Sweden

When: June 2008

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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I loved this little wooden reindeer in Skansen, an outdoor museum in the middle of Stockholm. I noticed the way the face is suggested with broad, simple cuts from the wood, as well as the cute pose and the real antlers.

/A Taste of Scandinavia