Bringing Cricket to Finland

Trip Advisor is a good way to find things to do in your city. I recommend it even if you have lived somewhere for a long time. A recent browse led me to Pihlajasaari (Rowan Island) – a small island 3km off the coast of Helsinki.

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After fearing summer would never come, July has been amazing and it was on a very sunny day that Miko and I walked to Ruoholahti and caught the boat across. They seem to leave every 15 minutes in summer. The return fare is 6 euro and as usual, children under seven travel free.

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Pihlajasaari is actually made up of two islands connected by a footbridge. It has an area of about 26 hectares in total and has no permanent residents, although you can camp on the eastern island. There is also a restaurant and a sauna you can hire.

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Back on the main beach there’s a gorgeous row of wooden changing sheds. Pihlajasaari is also home to a unisex nudist beach, one of only two in the whole country. That beach apparently has very little sand though and is not suitable for swimming….

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The view back to Helsinki is of Länsisatama (West Harbour) where some of the big cruise ships to Tallinn and St Petersburg berth. It’s quite astonishing to be relaxing on the beach, hear a loud noise and then see a huge 3000-passenger ferry the size of a large building come sliding into view.

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Miko slept for two hours in the stroller so I enjoyed the luxury of reading my book before he joined me in the water. It’s quite different to the beaches we are used to, as although it is the sea, it is not very salty at all, there is no surf and swimming is hardly affected by the tides.

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As we got off the boat on the way home Miko dropped his cricket bat about 10 feet down into the water. I was ready to kiss it goodbye but a small rescue effort was deployed which ended up involving a man in a fishing boat coming across and hauling it out for us. A small cheer went up from the crowd that had gathered, which was really nice considering some may have not even known what a cricket bat was!

Pihlajasaari

Where the Wild Things Are

I’ve mentioned before the wild abandon with which Finns let nature explode in the warmer months. The changes in our natural surroundings are incredible as trees and plants accustomed to the harsh climate come to life with just the smallest amount of encouragement. Hedges and edges are left untrimmed and greenery grows out of cracks in walls and pavements. Nowhere was this more evident than on our recent trip to the island fortress of Suomenlinna.

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Suomenlinna (Suomen: Finnish, linna: castle) is not actually a castle but a sea fortress built on a series of islands 15 minutes by ferry from Helsinki’s Market Square. It is quite unique as it has played a part as a defence base for three different states: Sweden, Russia and Finland.

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Construction began in 1748 when Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden. King Frederick I named the fortress Sveaborg and visited four years later to see how the construction was going. King’s Gate was built on the site where his ship anchored and is now considered the most emblematic site of interest on Suomenlinna.

King's Gate

King’s Gate

In 1788 the fortress served as a naval base during the Russo-Swedish War. Twenty years later the fortress surrendered during the Finnish War and became a Russian naval base for the next 110 years.

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A Russian Orthodox church was built on the island in 1854. During the early days of Finnish independence the church was converted to an Evangelical-Lutheran church and all signs of Russian decoration, including the onion domes, were removed. A lighthouse still operates within the church steeple.

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Moss graffiti!

During the Crimean War of 1855 the fortress was damaged during bombing by the Anglo-French fleet. At the time of the Finnish Civi War in 1918, a prison camp was set up on the islands and the fortress was renamed Suomenlinna.

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The fortress went on to play an important role as a base during the start of the Second World War. As well as cannons and guns still in place there is a submarine you can pay a small entry fee to explore. In 1991 Suomenlinna was added to UNESCO’s list of unique monuments of military architecture and became a protected World Heritage Site.

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Skimming stones

The islands are also home to tunnels you can explore if you bring your own torch. It reminded me of Kirrin Island in the Enid Blyton books I read when I was younger and I wonder if there’s a Smuggler’s Cove.

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If you look close enough you may spot the man sunbathing on this beach

More than 800 residents now call Suomenlinna home and there are art galleries, museums, shops, cafes and wonderful lookouts. We briefly considered living here when an apartment became available but we wondered about accessibility during the winter months.

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The beauty of the wild flowers was my favourite thing about Suomenlinna as we stopped for ice cream and later for a beer in the late afternoon sun. But I know it will be worth another visit during winter when the landscape will be transformed by ice and snow into a surreal frozen scene. And lying underneath will be the the seeds of the wild flowers and grasses, resting until the warmer months.

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Suomenlinna

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

With thanks to the Suomenlinna Tourist Guide.