Turku used to be the capital of Finland and is apparently its oldest city. If we hadn’t read that in our guide book, we wouldn’t have known it though – there was a lot of ‘development’ (although I’m not really sure what developed) in the 70’s and 80’s and our first impression was of dull tower blocks. Apparently the development led to a new national catchphrase ‘Turun tauti’ or Turku Disease. We did decide that we had become a bit blasé about places though – Turku had a really nice feel to it and some lovely areas.
It is also home to the most friendly, helpful and enthusiastic tourist information officer that we have met so far. He was so excited that we had no specific plans for Finland and spent ages circling places we should see on a map for us. He then highlighted all those that we really must see – I think only a couple of the circled places were missed! He told us about the city of Savonlinna in the Finnish Lakes District (his home town), a particularly beautiful road that crossed one of the lakes, the World Heritage site of Old Rauma, the Finnish ‘slow town’ of Kristinestad, the Finnish/Swedish border town of Tornio, visiting Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. He explained road signs to us, looked up details of one of Alvar Aalto’s houses, sympathised with our difficulty with the Finnish language and pointed out where there was 12 hour parking in Turku – 12 hour parking means somewhere to sleep in our language. He was quite simply brilliant.
The parking was on the river, alongside a couple of restaurant boats. It was quite busy early in the evening and I was concerned it was going to be too noisy later at night but D assured me it would be fine. As it turns out, it was a bit noisy as people headed home, or so D told me – I didn’t have a clue, I slept through it all!
The next morning, we had a stroll to Port Arthur, one of the oldest parts of the city and an area of lovely pastel coloured wooden buildings. Many share courtyards and as you wander around, you often get a peek through gates into a green oasis. Another thing I loved, and which we also saw in Sweden, was painted street furniture. A boring telephone exchange box or letterbox on the corner of your street? Paint it and make the whole street look a bit prettier.
We had formulated a very rough plan around the recommendations from our friend at the tourist office, but plans always change. A Finnish friend of D’s brother was excited about us being in Finland and had emailed us loads of information including mentioning that Finland was as flat as anything. Well, we found a hill. As we left Turku, we had trouble pulling away from some traffic lights on said hill – trouble in the ‘clutch slipping and smelling a bit yucky’ department. We had been keeping our fingers crossed about the clutch since we nearly destroyed it getting stuck in the Lake District (it smoked so badly it set our smoke detector off that time!), but it seems it is probably time to do something about it. We are about to head into the northern third of Finland which is home to only 2% of the population – now is not the time for crossed fingers. So, off to Tampere – a good sized town where we should be able to get the clutch done and at least a bit further north of Turku.