Turku, Finland – Friday 16th June to Monday 19th June
We had been toying with the idea of making a trip up to the Arctic to experience the midnight sun. However, we’d been lucky enough to experience truly white nights on the farm, and the distance and price to get that far north proved too much. So instead we went the other way, and ventured south to the coastal town of Turku.
We took the Omnibus all the way down from Tampere, discovering that not all coaches are created equal. This was not Lux Express, but it was cheap, at £8.40 each. By coincidence our Airbnb host was driving through town when we arrived, so we even bagged a lift to our accommodation from the coach station! Given that it was close to mid-summer and we’d left it so late, we were lucky enough to pickup an apartment for just £38.50 per night.
Our host had mentioned that there was going to be a block party that night, and said we were welcome to join… The Finns love to party! We decided this time around that we’d forgo as there were no saunas involved (see last week’s post!) and decided to see what Turku could offer instead.
We were rewarded with an international market, a cheap student dive bar; an old pharmacy-turned-artisan-beer-house; and an upmarket Italian restaurant. All bases covered, we returned to our Airbnb to find only a few revellers still sitting around on garden chairs outside.
Hannah in the old pharmacy bar:
The draw for Turku is the archipelago which reaches out towards Sweden, so on Saturday we made a break for the island of Vepsä; an hour’s boat ride away from the city.
Vepsä is a 60-acre holiday island for the city, with a few cabins, a café, and an artificial sandy beach. In all honesty, it wasn’t much to write home about, but was a pleasant enough diversion for a few hours. The best part about the excursion into the archipelago was the £14 ferry trip out there; gently chugging down the Aura and out into the island-filled sea.
On Monday morning, we ventured into a Hesburger for a coffee before our coach back to Helsinki. Maybe an odd thing to mention, but Turku was the birthplace of the Hesburger fast food chain; one which is ubiquitous in the Baltic States, with more restaurants than McDonald’s!
Helsinki, Finland – Monday 19th to Thursday 22nd June
We still had three days to kill before we entered Russia, so it was back to Helsinki for us for a few days’ admin. Last week we’d made friends with Ansu, who had given us a lift up to the farm, then, amazingly, offered us the use of her apartment in Helsinki for a few days while she was out of town. Such an incredible offer, and perfectly timed!
So, after another couple of hours on an Omnibus (£7.50 each) we arrived at her beautiful apartment; then hunkered down to catch up on life and shelter from the rain. We ventured into the city proper just once, to post some bits back to the UK and buy Phil some pyjamas!
Finally, it was time to end the EU leg of our trip and head to Mother Russia!
Making sure we gave ourselves plenty of time, we boarded the fast train to Saint Petersburg and took our seats; ready to begin the next phase of our trip. We’d booked our tickets through Finnish Railways, VR, for £59 each, and the the train was full; clearly we weren’t the only ones crossing the border today.
We cruised along in beautiful Finland for a couple of hours. Then, over a level crossing and past a barbed wire fence, there it was: Russia.
At the border:
Travelling through the EU has been an incredible experience; though on a personal note, one which I cannot help feel tainted by a little sadness. Every nation we have visited has had a truly unique character, and yet all have been connected, and are proud of that connection to each other. The peace, the trade, the understanding, the open borders and the unity all working together.
Britain’s decision to leave the EU was also one which we could not escape. Nobody we spoke to could understand why – and they all asked. They thought it was a crazy thing to do.
We can’t know what will become of it all, and this isn’t really the forum to speculate; though we both feel incredibly privileged to have been able to travel from the UK to the edge of Finland, and still feel at home. Let us hope that that will always continue to be the case.
Next week, we tackle Russia’s largest cities: Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Until then…
Hannah and Phil x