Turku: I Bloomin’ Well Loved It!
“Don’t speak to strangers. Ever.”
That was the top tip given to me by my Finnish friend. “They will think you are either crazy or drunk”.
Unfortunately, I found myself confronted with the need to speak to a stranger within minutes of arriving into Finland.
I’d arrived into Turku by ferry from Sweden on a dark December (2014) morning, very excited to finally be in Finland, a country I’d been obsessing about for the past twelve months.
I walked from Turku ferry terminal in the pouring rain, my small umbrella just about keeping me and my bags dry hoping it was going to live up to my expectations. It was 7.30 and everyone else had driven off in cars or on buses. I knew my accommodation was a short walk away, it was a hostel on a boat: that shouldn’t be hard to find.
Struggling with my umbrella, trying to find the hostel on Google maps on my phone and pulling my wheelie bag at the same time proved somewhat challenging but I seemed to get closer.
Somehow though, I managed – unbelievably – to miss it. The boat was so big, I can’t even have registered it!
I found myself stood in the pouring rain, confused and lost. There was a stranger.
“Um, excuse me? (eeek, I’m speaking to a stranger, in Finland!!!!) I’m looking for Laivahostel? Borea?”
The man looked at me confused. “Eh?”
“Layva?(a wild, incorrect stab at the pronunciation) Liyver? It’s a hostel. On a boat. Borea?” (Laiva means boat in Finnish I soon learned). I showed him my booking.
“Ah! That’s it.” He points to the MASSIVE BOAT that’s right behind me emblazoned with the name Bore!
Oh! I felt a little silly (in my defence, it was still dark and it was raining heavily), but also massively relieved: I’d spoken to a Finnish stranger and he had been kind and helpful! It’s definitely ok to speak to a stranger if you need help!
He was actually very pleasant to me, he showed me how to get to it and where to go in. I thanked him with a confident “kiitos” and trudged through the rain to the boat’s ramp and checked in.
Despite it being super early I was still able to check into a room at the hostel, the girl behind the desk very kindly found me a free room as the one I’d booked wouldn’t be ready until later.
The SS Bore is a big ship, a warren of long corridors and random staircases. My two bed dorm room was in the bowels of the boat: it had wooden bunk beds and a porthole overlooking absolutely nothing. I had it to myself for my entire 3 night stay.
I’d talked about them lots with Jennifer on the ferry after learning of their existence on Pinterest. However I didn’t find this one immediately, I washed my cup and plate then searched high and low for a dish towel, then it hit me ‘I’m in Finland: dish draining cupboards! Of course!’ and there it was, right in front of my eyes!
There was hardly anyone else staying at the hostel, compared to the busy hostels I’d stayed in prior to arriving into Finland this seemed really strange. I had no one to talk to, and I could hardly go out chatting to the locals (“Never speak to strangers. Ever”).
Luckily I didn’t have to be silent for long; Jennifer, who I’d met on the ferry to Turku, met me for a coffee. We went to the lovely Cafe Art and spent an afternoon discussing everything from Blogging to learning the Finnish Language while sipping excellent coffee. Jennifer is Swedish and is currently living in Turku, she has lived in India, Germany, Canada and New Zealand: as you can imagine, we had lots to talk about! She writes a gorgeous blog, you should check it out!
It really made a difference being able to meet up with Jennifer, the other residents on the Bore seemed to be old Finnish sailor-type men who watched ice hockey in the common room in the evenings. It certainly felt like I was visiting Turku out of season!
But I loved it!
Turku is Finland’s oldest town, it was the main city for many centuries and it has a sturdy, handsome castle on the coast (more about that in a separate post: it is so cool it needs a whole post of its own!). The old quarter is on the right bank of the river and at its heart is the splendid Tuomiokirkko: Turku Cathedral.
Modern Turku as grown around the cathedral and the focus, and the market square, has moved across the river leaving this open space to peace and tranquility.
I enjoyed wandering around the old town, I found a great cafe/book shop with the help of Happy Cow (Veg/vegan food finding app): Turun Kirjakahvila is a wonderful co-operative vegan book cafe nestled in a courtyard down a narrow alley.
I ate vegan cheesecake (delish), sipped tea and rested my weary, walk-worn legs. It was a fascinating place to sit for a while, it was really busy with a studenty crowd and I’d experienced my second stranger kindness when a girl offered me her seat.
My favourite place in Turku was the Kauppahalli, a wonderful 19th century market hall filled with food stalls and cafes: from butchers, fishmongers and bakeries to souvenirs and spices.
There is a vegetarian restaurant towards the back of the market hall called Roots Kitchen and it serves absolutely delicious meals. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found it, it is funky and fresh, and the staff are very friendly.
The Sininen Juna cafe not only satisfied the train-geek in me, it also made me feel rather smug: I realised that I could translate the name of this train themed cafe in the market hall without the help of Google Translate! I’d been learning a bit of Finnish and I may not have known the word for boat but I knew the words for blue (sininen) and train (juna): The Blue Train!
This cute cafe is laid out like a train carriage, I just had to stop for a coffee. I had my very first Finnish pulla (sweet bun): it was blissfully scented with cardamom and my addiction began there and then. Coffee would never be the same again!
The Laivahostel Borea is a 2 km walk from the centre of Turku, a stroll I made every day admiring the many sculptures and statues along the riverside. I can imagine in summer this is a great place to promenade.
There is a free ferry, the föri, which connects the two sides of the river around halfway between the castle (and the Laivahostel) and the town, and rather handily there is a vegetarian buffet-style restaurant on the opposite side right next to the föri. The Kasvisravintola Keidas is only open for lunches and it is located on a boat. I seem to be spending a lot of time on boats recently!
I particularly enjoyed the Fibonacci Sequence art installation on the chimney of the Turku Energia building on the riverfront, it looked great at night, the neon numbers glowing in the darkness.
I left Turku by train and travelled to Tampere to meet up with a friend (not the friend who gave me the stranger advice).
For my first introduction to Finland, Turku was mahtava (that’s awesome to you and me)! It is a great city and even out of season it has plenty to offer. I thrilled at being able to understand the odd Finnish word: numbers, colours, pleasantries – who says Finnish is hard to learn? (I’ve since moved on to Finnish Grammar: those people are quite correct!) – and I finally got to use kiitos (thank you) for real, a word I’d learnt back on the Trans Siberian from a friend.
I am definitely coming back to Turku, when more stuff is open. By more stuff, I mean Moomin World in nearby Naantali: a Moomin theme park, hell yeah!
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Have you been to Turku?
By Rachel A Davis