Some of you reading this blog will probably know little about Finland, just as I did once upon a time. Most of what I knew usually involved snow, Santa Claus and film locations for old spy movies. Add to that names such asMannerheimSibeliusVirenHyypiäRäikkönenLitmanenHäkkinen,GrönholmLordi and that was about it for me. Ten years later including three years living here and the story has changed. I now know more about Finland, a lot more. 
Visitors to Finland will most likely arrive at Helsinki airport and continue on to the capital.  Helsinki’s a great place to start, full of all the amenities and attractions a modern city should have. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do and see. However, I would recommend seeing it in the summer months, as the winter cold might get a little uncomfortable if you’re not prepared, especially down by the harbour. I still get the chills thinking about all that ice on the harbour. Indeed, summer would be my preference in any case. In fact you might find yourself as surprised as I was on my first summer visit to Helsinki. It was a lot warmer than I expected, and there was so much colour in the city from a variety of trees, flowers and even the buildings. It has a kind of Parisian feel to it in a certain places.
Helsinki Esplanade in the summer.
However, if you do have more than just a long weekend, I can recommend looking beyond Helsinki.
Yes, there’s a lot more to see in Finland, and unfortunately this blog post isn’t big enough to tell you everything. I’d love to tell you all about the nice nature spots I’ve seen and my encounters with deer, elks and snakes, but that’ll have to wait for another blog. 
Instead, I will tell you about another city in Finland which I discovered since moving here. It’s the oldest city in Finland and it lies about 150 km west of Helsinki. The city is called Turku and it is also known as Åbo to it’s Swedish-speaking inhabitants. However, I prefer to call it Turku, even though I have learned to speak Swedish. I’m not being biased or disrespectful towards any one language, it’s just that I find Turku is easier to remember and easier to say. And hey, if my hometown in Ireland sounded better in Irish I’d use it all the time, but for now it will always be ‘Dublin’. Anyway, here's a little video I made from some photos I took while visiting Turku. I hope it gives you a mild impression of the city.

Nowadays Turku is probably best known for constructing some of the largest cruiseliners in the world. Coming from a part of Europe that also produced large ships at one stage long ago, it’s great to get the chance to see these giants of the sea this time around. I can almost imagine what the shipyards of Belfast must have been like in their day. It's sad to see what happened to the industry back then. I believe however that they have finally found a new use for the Titanic's old yard. I recently found out it is now used as a facility for culture and film. In fact I found out from a documentary while watching a dvd movie that it has the largest indoor film-set in the world. The film I watched was a fantasy adventure made here called ‘City of Ember’. It’s good to see some enterprise, employment and rejuvenation being brought to this old part of Belfast.
Now you'll have to excuse me for rambling, I tend to get sidetracked in my typing sometimes. More often I forget my initial subject completely. I suppose I'm not getting any younger, and anyway I’m no Charlie Brown,... or is it Dan? ....I don't know anymore!!  Anyway, getting back to Finland before I really do forget where I was, let me say a few more words about the city of Turku.  Last summer during the month of July I was lucky enough to be presented with a voucher from some Finnish friends to a luxury spa hotel in the small town of Naantali near the city of Turku. This gave me the chance to spend some time in this part of Finland. Naantali is a nice place were the Moomins live, and you can read about it in a previous blog I posted by clicking the word Naantali here or at the end of this blog. Normally I would only go to Turku to take a ferry toSweden or whatever, so I never got to a chance to see much of the area. The first thing I noticed about Turku was the larger amount of public bars compared to Helsinki. Being Irish I’m probably more qualified than most to notice these differences. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right but there just seemed to be more bars in Turku. I get the feeling that this is perhaps due to its rather large population of students. Then again, Helsinki has an even larger population of students, so I don’t know why there aren’t more bars in Helsinki. I should check the facts and statistics out before writing any of this really, but hell, it's only my small observations that are at stake here! Or maybe I'm just conjuring up a subliminal message aimed at certain readers to make more bars! :)I got a more relaxed feeling as I walked about Turku. Was it because of the lazy river Aura running through it? Or was it the lack of traffic congestion I always see in Helsinki, I really don't know!  It put me in mind of two cities in Ireland, Cork and Dublin. The city of Cork can feel more relaxing than the capital city Dublin, which also has a lot of traffic congestion like Helsinki.As in Ireland and perhaps in Finland, it’s a well-known fact that where there are students, there are bars! It's a social thing for many students. 
One such bar I discovered in Turku was an old converted schoolhouse called ‘Koulu’ (Finnish word for School). This is a big old building containing different sized rooms all full with school paraphernalia from bygone years. The bar serves a vast selection of beers and ales, some of which I believe are made here in their microbrewery. I was very tempted by the interior décor to stay and enjoy my pint indoors, but the warm sunshine outside got the better of me. And with the added bonus of an outdoor bar in their beer-garden how could I resist!

Like a lot of European countries, Finland also has a few Irish-themed bars, most of them being in the major towns and cities. And Turku is no exception. Usually I prefer to go to a Finnish bar and meet the locals, but a lot of Finns seem to like their Irish bars and tend to party harder than any of us Irish, hence I usually end up in an Irish bar by the end of the evening whether I like it or not!  After spending my day walking around Turku, and popping into one or two Finnish bars and restaurants, I happily ended up in The CastleIrish bar. It was an average Irish-themed bar inside, with a good crowd of people, most of whom seemed Finnish, all having great fun, or as we Irish say "having a bit of craic!". In fact I didn't meet one Irish person there. The bar staff were mainly English I think, and very friendly they were too. They also served a nice pint of Guinness!  It's a shame it was so expensive though, I could have drank a lot more. There were a few good singers performing in the bar also. Two Finnish guys singing covers of their favorite songs. A good night's entertainment!

During my evening in the Castle bar I had the honour of bumping into this guy in the photo here. He's a local guy called 'Tumppi' who I first seen on YouTube last year. I found a very informative tourist video for the city of Turku on YouTube featuring Tumppi and his weird brand of humour. You can watch his little video clip here,

While the Christmas lights are well packed away in Turku, people are still persevering with the cold Finnish winter and there's a desire to see the snow disappear at some stage. Christmas is a busy time in most places, and Turku is no exception. In fact, Turku is traditionally known as the Christmas town here in Finland, so I imagine some extra attention is required every year. And those busy people responsible for it down at Turku City Hall can't put their feet up just yet, because another party of sorts has just begun.Indeed, Turku happens to be sharing the title of European Capital of Culture with Talinn this year. This title brings with it many roles for the city in promoting itself as a true centre for the arts and culture in Europe. A host of activities and exhibitions are planned throughout the year involving many local artists and public events from the city of Turku. The schedule has already started recently with the official opening ceremony. In case you may have missed it, here it is!!

Finally, here's that link I promised for the blog on my visit to Naantali.
Thanks for reading my blog and please share it with all your friends.


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