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Friday, May 13, 2011

Quest for King's Gate

On my last day in Helsinki, Kiri and I took the ferry to the island of Suomenlinna, where we spent the afternoon exploring the old fortress.

Our first stop when the ferry landed was the Visitor Information building, where I picked up a map and immediately started looking through the "special attractions" page.  I don't often follow the guides very closely, as my sightseeing strategy falls into the "wander and see what happens" category, but I always browse the recommended достопримечательности (say "dostopreemyechatyelnostee," the Russian word for "tourist attractions") and usually pick one or two of them to set as my destination.  You should never wander without a final destination.

We decided that King's Gate would be our terminus, and very quickly our capricious exploring turned into the "Quest for King's Gate."

Waiting for our ferry to depart from the mainland,
we walked around the market at Kauppatori
(in Finnish 'kauppa' means 'market' and 'tori' means 'square')

and....we're off!
It was the perfect sunny day for a ferry ride!
One of our fellow ferry passengers in some
interesting attire.

Chief Navigator Kiri consults the map and evaluates our progress

View of Helsinki from the fortress wall

This was a false alert....I thought I spotted King's Gate
but then realized we were on the complete
opposite side of the island.  This must be some other gate.

We found what seemed to be some type of catacomb labyrinth in the
fortress, and from there I found this fairy tale picture window.

We happened upon this beach, and although it was still a little
too chilly to swim....
....we did find some time for sunbathing on a huge rocky cliff.
Straying a bit from the path, we paused to try out the cannons.
An inner view of the fortress wall.
 Suomenlinna was originally built during the Swedish era, to protect Helsinki during a war with Russia.  Unfortunately for them, Russia won that war and all of Finland came under Russian rule for a time. Suomenlinna was turned into a Russian military stronghold. When the Finns gained their independence in 1917 (the same year the Russian Revolution started), control of Suomenlinna was taken back by the Finns and now 800 people live there year round.  The fortress was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My Finnish cousin Maya tells me that there's actually a waiting list of people who want to live on the island.  Apparently there are some pretty strict entrance requirements, and building codes won't allow anything new to be built, so the population is and will remain stagnant. It was a nice place to spend an afternoon, but I was surprised how much of it was public access. We almost stumbled into a few people's front yards without even knowing it. In the end it was the kiddie pool and tricycles that gave it away.

Finally....Quest Completed!

The infamous King's Gate.

Final destination reached, the victors bask in the glory
of their accomplishment.


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