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.
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