20-22 July 2013

I am travelling to Turku to visit my godson Viljam and his family. Viljam, who is turning 13 in August, is the son of my cousin and godmother Tiina, the oldest of aunt Sirkka’s 4 daughters. Living in Belgium I do not get to see him very often, and a trip to Turku is a must for my holiday in Finland. It is also a very nice place to visit. I love all of my relatives a lot, but Tiina and her family are the ones that I feel I have the most in common with. Their home is cozy with lots of books and books are also a common topic of conversation, especially among the two daughters, Emilia and Amanda. I arrive in the evening and after a meal of meatballs and potatoes we sample the older daughter Emilia’s delicious deserts and talk until late into the night. The discussion ranges from family gossip to politics and religion.

Turku is the oldest city in Finland (late 13th century) and used to be the country’s de facto capital while the country was part of Sweden, but when Finland became part of the Russian Empire Helsinki was made the new capital. I have planned one full day in Turku and we decide to visit the open air museum of Luostarinmäki. On the way we walk through a neighbourhood of traditional Finnish wooden houses.

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Luostarinmäki is an old quarter with wooden houses that survived the Great Fire of Turku, which destroyed 75% of the town in 1827. The houses, which are from the late 18th and early 19th century, have been furnished to show how different craftsmen worked and lived in those days. The area extends for 18 quarters and visitors are immersed in a sense of how the world looked back then. Luckily they have not managed to re-create the smell of a 18th century city which must have been quite an experience.

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After the museum we have some coffee/tea and walk along the Aura river. As is usual in cities built around a river, the river has become the heart of Turku, and it is a lovely place to enjoy the city. Next to the river is Turku Cathedral, the most important religious building in Finland. Originally built out of wood in the 13th century, the cathedral has been expanded later, and rebuilt to a large extent after the Great Fire. As we enter the church we are enveloped by loud and ominous organ music. This is not the uplifting choir music that can make even the least religious person (like me) feel a sense of spirituality, but music that brings to mind the wrath of the old-testament God. I look up at the ceiling and get a sense of how big and commanding the church must have seemed to the people living in the small basic wooden dwellings we visited earlier that day. The building and the music inspire a sense of fear and awe, which must have been several times multiplied in the days before skyscrapers.

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That evening we have another cozy meal, this time with another of my childhood favourites, jauhelihakastike, a creamy sauce with minced meat.

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The following day I am planning to leave with a train around noon, but at that point my cousin’s husband Gunnar begins baking korvapuusti (cinnamon pulla) and I cannot pass the opportunity to have some of my favourite pastry freshly baked, so I stay and take the train only at 16.00.

Next: Helsinki…

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