Suomenlinna - Finland in Spring

It’s fair to say there are quite a lot of islands in Finland, I think Finland is second only to Sweden. These islands in combination with the sea and the city centre make Helsinki both very beautiful but also very functional On a nautical map the Helsinki area is awash with cardinal markers to warn ships from potential danger alongside some good depths allowing ferries to dock directly in the city centre. Some of the islands in the city area have small houses where people live all year round, the island in the picture below, Ryssänsaari has it’s own small slip way, jetty and submarine power cable!

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One of the most famous islands around Helsinki is Suomenlinna, a fortress built several hundred years ago during Finland’s Swedish era to protect against Russian expansion. The island still has some military presence although this has been scaled back significantly. Instead it is now a very popular destination for Finns and tourists, there are museums, small cafes and attractions.

To reach the island there are two ferries, one is state-run and part of the HSL travel area and another is JT-Line, a private ferry. The HSL ferry is free to anyone with a valid travel pass and runs between Helsinki’s main harbour and the main quay in Suomenlinna, this ferry is reasonably large (see picture) and when we took it a number of motorcycles drove on! The other ferry is a hop-on-hop-off and calls at a number of other places on Suomenlinna, it’s not included in the HSL scheme but isn’t too expensive, the most significant difference is that it had a working bar! Both ferries take around 20 minutes so it’s only a short trip.

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One of the attractions on Suomenlinna is it’s very own brewery, built into the pink gate building which can be seen immediately after landing on the island. Beers from the brewery can be found on the mainland and even in the K-Mart on Suomenlinna, they’re quite popular. We opted for a flight of beers and dinner in the brewery which didn’t disappoint, they even had reindeer which is how you know it’s a real Finnish resturant!

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After dinner we explored the island and found the Submarine Vesikko, one of the last submarines to operate in the Finnish navy. The submarine saw action in WW2 after being launched in 1933 and during her career managed to sink a soviet merchant vessel. The boat is really quite big and a significant landmark on Suomenlinna, unfortunately we arrived a little too late and weren’t able to take a look onboard.

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Walking on from the submarine we found the island’s fortress, it was in surprisingly good condition with barracks, bunkers and gun emplacements all still visible and with some accessible. Time and weather had taken it’s toll but I was impressed just how good of a condition everything was in. We were able to get up close to the some of the (presumably WW2) guns and some even had the rifling inside the barrel visible, which isn’t something you see too often. Nature very present and amongst the guns and fortifications there were the most delicate little flowers growing across the grass.

Amongst the fortifications we found a gorgeous beach area, which had steps, a changing area and an absolutely gorgeous view. Despite the cool water I couldn’t avoid going for a paddle, although didn’t do so for long! I can imagine this area in particular being very busy during the summer time so we were very fortunate to enjoy it to ourselves while we watched the sun set to the west. We enjoyed some Finnish Long drink courtesy of the K-mart which was really rather lovely.

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We walked back to the JT-line ferry point via the King’s gate (Kuninkaanportti) which is where King Adolf Frederisk of Sweden anchored his ship when inspecting the fortress in 1754. It’s a grand and brutally strong looking entrance, behind which there is a lovely pizza restaurant in summer! We timed the ferry very well and got back to the city centre for a few quick drinks before work the following day. A fantastic evening trip out and a very special and beautiful part of the world.

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CoolHead Visit London

What do you do when your favourite Finnish brewery has a tap-takeover in London? Well, there’s only one option. Hosted at the fantastic Brew By Numbers in Peckham Rye, CoolHead brought ten beers to showcase for one day only with a chance to meet with their Head Brewer.

Brew By Numbers or BBNO have a great unit under two railway arches in Peckham Rye, only a short walk beyond a few trendy bars including Brick Brewery, just around the corner from the station. Their taproom unit is kitted out with a stack of large barrels which sit behind the prominent wood and stainless steel bar. There must be at least twenty lines feeding back to chillers and kegs sat behind the barrels, all visible when you walk to the loo! There’s plenty of dog-friendly space inside and out with sofas and festival-style benches where people were happy to share and discuss beer.

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CoolHead aren’t something you see much of in the UK, but they are a very up and coming Finnish Brewery, known well in Helsinki and beyond for their sour beer specialities. My personal favourite is the Salted Liquorice Raspberry Sour which is like nothing else, an explosion of flavour with a sour kick to stop It from being too sweet. I tried all of their beers while at BBNO, my favourite of the day was Haziness, a chilled out Session IPA which was a welcome treat on a sunny Friday afternoon. Others were a little too strong for my taste but they were certainly worth trying.

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My craft beer friend Heidi joined us live from Finland when we met CoolHead at Brew By Numbers and we shared the dangerous 10.3% Sapphires on draft in London and by can in Finland! A great evening which was followed up with a quick visit to Brick Brewery before heading back to Central London. Will certainly come back here, eager to try BBNO’s beers too, this is a great little beer spot without the crowds and expensive prices.

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After a recent trip to Finland Heidi kindly gifted me a supply of canned CoolHead beers which I successfully smuggled back home! It’s been rather difficult pacing myself with them, very much looking forward to the Deep Double Apple Crumble which I’m saving for a special occasion! If you see CoolHead beers in the UK (or anywhere else) do give them a try, you can’t go wrong.

Taking the Train to Turkey

One of this year’s goals is to tick something off from the bucket list, another of this year’s goals is to try and see as many new countries as possible. What better way to do so than by taking the train to Turkey?

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This trip has been some months in the planning and after many different iterations of the route we’ve agreed on taking the more traditional route from London to Istanbul, via Belgrade and Sofia instead of Bucharest. This is the route that the 1920s Orient Express would have taken so should give us a real feel for the Balkans while also taking us through some counties neither of us have been to before. The exception to the traditional route is that we’re going to travel via Brussels and Cologne instead of Paris, because, well, the beer is much better in Cologne.

In addition to the Cologne detour we’re going to start the trip in Penzance, Cornwall because Cornwall is Owen’s home and starting in London sounds really rather dull. We’re also going to end the rail trip in Ankara, Turkey, that way there’s no disputing that we made it to Asia (the other side of the Bosphorus may be considered Asia, but only just), it should give us a chance to really experience Turkish railways too. To top the trip off we plan to fly home via Kiev, Ukraine with time to briefly visit the city and have a celebratory lunch (it was also the cheapest flight home).

Since we’re going to be trapped on a train for many, many hours during our trip I hope to photograph and blog as much as possible, so do stay tuned and expect updates. We’re both very excited and can’t wait to get going.

Tallinn, Estonia

This was not a planned trip! Over the last four months I’ve been working closely with our Finnish business headquartered in Helsinki. Most trips out to Finland have been weekdays only, limiting options for truly exploring the city. Fortunately one weekend trip came up and we managed to complete all the planned work in good time on Saturday.

Whenever you ask a Helsinkian what they do for fun, most of the time they will tell you that they like to take a cruise. To me, as a Brit, a cruise is a serious affair, it is usually a substantial holiday - to Finns a cruise is usually a trip to Stockholm (over night) or to Tallinn (during the day) the purpose of which is usually to relax and enjoy alcohol at discount rates. Quite literally it is a booze cruise - frankly it puts what I knew of a booze cruise (the Dover-Calais run) to shame, because this is a serious affair.

The ferry to Tallinn we booked the night before for the quite remarkable price of £10 each. The plan was to take the 2 hour trip to Tallinn in the morning and head back to Helsinki later in the day, ready for work on Monday.

View to Helsinki

View to Helsinki

The ferry trip was superb, the terminal was brand new and everything was incredibly well organised and efficient. The departure area appeared to be considered outside of Finland for licensing purposes so several passengers were enjoying a morning beer, looking forward to their cruise.

The ship, M/S Finlandia was similar to a Dover-Calais vessel except that it had day cabins, bars, shops, restaurants and to my surprise even a stage(!) where on the way back we would enjoy some entertainment. The voyage was a short 44 nautical mile journey south, on a very calm morning.

Port of Tallinn

Port of Tallinn

We arrived in Tallinn ready to explore the city and since the centre is only a short walk away went straight at it! We first visited the city walls, encasing the old town of the city, which is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tallinn Old City Walls

Tallinn Old City Walls

The architecture is a little similar to that of Trakai in Lithuania, with circular towers and tall walls backed by wooden walkways. There are a number of sections of the wall which are accessible, some of the stairs were very sketchy but the views were impressive.

City View, Tallinn, Estonia

City View, Tallinn, Estonia

From the walls we walked up a steep set of stairs which took us to a viewing platform with a stunning sight across the city. This area of the city has a number of embassies and consulates along with government offices.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn

Walking through this part of the city brought us to the 19th century Orthodox Church, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It was constructed while Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. The interior of the church was absolutely stunning with ornate gold decoration everywhere.

After the church we explored some of the city’s bars and restaurants. The highlight was an Indian restaurant called Restoran Chakra where the food was absolutely devine!

The ferry back to Helsinki was very easy and we enjoyed watching the singer and guitarist on stage while enjoying a Long Drink (which is a gin-based hard lemonade) - lovely!