I never in my life thought I’d visit Finland. I’d never heard of Turku before the cruise, so I had no real expectations. Exploring the unknown is always a real adventure.
At every port we had multiple excursions to choose from and Michael and I booked all of ours online months before the cruise to take advantage of the best options. We learned later that as tours filled up, often new ones were opened. For the most part, we got our first choices at each port.
Turku is the oldest city in Finland, believed to be founded towards the end of the thirteenth century. An important
Finnish city, it is probably best know as an important seaport for commercial and passenger ships.
Of the available tours, we chose “Turku Castle, Naantali & Ruissalo” giving us the opportunity to experience three different communities in Finland. There was also the opportunity to explore Turku on your own– but as first time visitors we thought we’d get the most from an organized excursion.
Let me say here, as a rule, I’m not a big fan of tours. I would prefer to move along at my own pace, taking more time in areas of interest, skipping through others and stopping for photos along the way. When you’re on a bus with a tight itinerary, or even on foot, it can get a little frustrating. I took very few photos on the buses because they just don’t turn out well. At every port we passed many areas I would have liked to explore. Throughout our trip though, we felt it was the best introduction to foreign countries. We now have a better idea of what countries and towns we’d like to return to for a longer visit. I’d also like to add, with one exception, all of our local tour guides were really great at what they do.
Our first stop was Turku Castle. Building of the medieval castle began around the year 1280 and then it was later expanded during the 16th century. Extremely well preserved, it is the most prominent symbol of Turku and a popular tourist destination.
I found great beauty in the massive structure and was particular fond of the inner courtyard and the surviving medieval paintings that adorned the inner walls. The large chapel also displayed some interesting and unique artifacts.
Our second stop was the city of Naantali. It is considered an important summer tourist destination in Finland. The year-round population is less than 20,000 but increases substantially during the summer months.
One thing I learned, that seemed to be a common theme in most of the countries we visited, is that unlike families in the United States, most families in these countries have some sort of a vacation home for relaxation in the warm summer months . In the US it is more the exception than the norm.
We had free time to wander around Naantali Old Town and harbor on our own. Though it was bustling with the activities of tourists and and summer residents, we enjoyed the peaceful, relaxing atmosphere it had to offer.
We wandered off the main street, down alleyways and through some of the residential paths lined with small cottages. Attracted by a bell tower, ended up spending the most time on the grounds of the medieval Naantali church and cemetery. It was all so quiet and serene. A nice contrast to the more densely populated city of Turku, giving us a broader glimpse of Finnish life.
Our final stop of the day was the island of Ruissalo, in the Archipelago Sea, southwest of the city of Turku. Ruissalo has a very small population of just a few hundred residents and is best known for their annual Ruisrock music festival.
We walked along the water, down a path past quaint, secluded homes and enjoyed the warm sunny afternoon and fresh air before returning to the ship for dinner, followed by Patti LuPone’s highly-anticipated concert.