We flew into Turku to face what we left behind in Mass–the chilly breezes and cold temps of early spring. Turku is Finland’s oldest city with about 189,000 inhabitants on the Baltic sea. Here, the biggest industry is a German-owned shipyard builds the largest cruises ships in the world.
Carnival Cruise Lines’s, Oasis of the Seas, which accommodates 9000 people was built here, and new megaliners are in the drydock for German cruise lines. We learned that this yard has won worldwide respect because the Finns are some of the world’s most advanced environmental engineers, and that appeals to Carnival as they face headwinds over pollution and accidents.
The city is built around the river Aura, with many docked barges that serve as nightclubs and restaurants and a thriving ferry business with daily departures for Stockholm, a 10-hour passage, and many smaller ferries that ply the archipelago of more than 30,000 islands. We crossed the river on a small ferry pulled by a cable from one side to the other, blown by gusty winds, and glad we had dressed warmly after our spell of spring warmth at home.
People here speak Swedish and Finnish and of course, perfect English. At lunch in a restaurant called Target, we were told about the recent election that brought conservatives to power. A party called “True Finns” is gaining steam, famous for their anti-immigration and for policies like ceasing teaching Swedish in schools.
One topic that came up frequently was a general Finnish unease about their biggest trading partner, Russia, right next door. With the EU ban on exporting meat and dairy products with Russia hurting the local economy, the Finns are in a tough spot. We heard many stories about encounters with Russians here. Truck drivers cross the border and inevitably don’t speak any language except Russian. “When we take our Russian visitors into a store, they love picking out the most expensive things in the store to buy,” said a tourist guide.
Nearly every family here has their own little rustic summer cottage, the equivalent of the Russian Dacha, where they retreat to during their long summer vacations. The thousands of islands here allow for privacy and the houses are bare-bones basic, nothing we’ve seen in Finland is ostentatious or showy.
Janne Juvonen, a restauranteur who owns three restaurants in Turku told us over dinner in his wonderful place, Smor, Finland was a poor country until the ’70s, and people did not eat at restaurants in small towns. Where once every menu had to include pepper steak, Finish cuisine has evolved in recent years and today at Smor it’s all about eating what’s local and what’s in season. So in the winter months it’s local venison, moose and reindeer, and last night it was salmon, pork and a variety of beautiful vegetable garnishes. www.visitturku.fi