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Clare
Clare

Day 1: Home to Turku

We tried to get ahead of the game with booking bank holiday flights for 2018 and started looking for deals in autumn 2017, as soon as flights went on sale. Even with looking almost a year in advance it was difficult to find good prices for this August weekend though, and in the end the most promising flights we could find were with Finnair, from Heathrow to Helsinki. We'd been saying for a while that it would be nice to see more of Finland in the summer, and this seemed like an ideal opportunity :) 

The problem with flying to Finland is that you lose two hours with the time difference, so even a comparatively early flight from the UK doesn't arrive until around lunchtime. This meant we didn't want to lose too much additional time travelling on the other side, so we restricted our potential pool of destinations to places that were within about two hours of Helsinki. We eventually settled on the city of Turku, in the southwest of Finland. I'd wanted to go to Turku ever since I read a story about some tourists who flew there by mistake, thinking they were going on holiday to Turkey xD

Our flight was scheduled for 07.30, so we set our alarms on time to get up for 02.30 this morning.  As soon as I woke up, I saw that overnight I had received a notification about an email from Finnair on my phone.  I checked my emails... only to find it said that our flight was delayed until 09.40, but that we still needed to get to the airport two hours ahead of the original flight time. There was no explanation and it seemed a bit odd; how did they know that the flight was delayed already when it was still the middle of the night? Perhaps once we got to the airport it would all turn out to be some kind of mistake.

We made really good time to Heathrow and whizzed through security, only to find that the departure boards said the same thing as my email; the flight was delayed until 09.40, with gate information at 08.40.  It was barely 05.30 at this point, so we had a considerable amount of time to kill! We had a rather leisurely breakfast, before finding somewhere to sit and read, with some coffee to try and help us stay awake.

Our flight was supposed to have arrived in Helsinki at 12.20 and I had booked us on a train from the airport at 13.11, which (with one change) would have got us to Turku at 15.34. I'd bought the tickets several weeks ago, purchasing advanced tickets for this specific train in the hope of trying to save some money. If the flight was now not departing Heathrow until 09.40, it presumably wouldn't get to Helsinki until 14.30, which meant those tickets were wasted money :( 

Luckily Finnish trains have a good app, which I was able to use to consult the timetable over breakfast. We had the option of either a train at 15.11 (might be a bit tight, but the tickets were only €34) or a train at 16.11 (which we would definitely make, but the tickets were €72). We decided to gamble, buy tickets for the 15.11 train and hope that we would make it. If we did, we would get to Turku for 17.34 which ought to give us enough time to find our hotel before 18.00 (at which point the hotel reception would close).

I was worried that the plane might turn out to be delayed even later than 09.40, but luckily this wasn't the case. The gate was announced shortly after 08.40 and we boarded it more or less on time, with only the minimum of waiting around on the runway before we could take off. The pilot explained that the reason for the delay was that the final flight from Helsinki last night had been late, and therefore in order to comply with rules about rest breaks, the crew hadn't been able to fly any earlier than 09.40. It's a valid reason, and I'm sure no one wants to be on a plane flown by a pilot who hasn't had enough sleep, but it does really feel like this was Finnair's problem and not fair that we've lost money on our onward connection :(

Although I'm quite annoyed with Finnair right now, I have to admit that it was a lovely plane and far more comfortable than Ryanair :D By 11am I'd read an entire novel in Croatian, and so used the rest of the flight to have a nap. By 14.15 Finnish time, the pilot announced that we were getting read to land and so it seemed like we stood a good chance of being on time for our revised train... or did we?!

First of all, the plane seemed to fly low for a very long before it did actually land, so it was 14.30 before we were on the tarmac. Then it seemed like we had to drive several miles around Helsinki airport before getting to the final parking stop. We were sitting right at the back of the plane, so were able to get off fairly quickly once the doors were opened, but we then had to sit on a bus and wait for everyone else to get off. The bus also seemed to have a pretty long distance to cover, and drove very slowly. It was around 14.50 by the time we got off the bus, which gave us 20 minutes to get through passport control and find the train station.

We went as fast as we could through the terminal, weaving in and out of slow people with trolley cases xD The EU passport queue wasn't too bad because there were plenty of self-service machines, but Helsinki is quite a large airport and we seemed to be running down corridor after corridor after corridor. Eventually we got out into the arrivals hall but we hadn't taken the train from the airport before, so were unsure about how far away the station was. We followed a succession of signs, along more corridors and down several escalators. At one point I thought we were just going to have to give up. But after yet another escalator we finally caught sight of what looked like the correct platform. It was 15.05, so we'd actually made it with six minutes to spare :) 

One potential disaster had therefore been averted, but there was still a chance that things could go wrong. The train we needed to catch at 15.11 was a slow commuter train into Helsinki. We were due to get off it before the centre of Helsinki, at a station called Pasila, where we would change onto our intercity train to Turku. Finnish Trains had given us a window of eight minutes to change in Pasila which ought to have been fine... but 15.11 came and went with no train... as did 15.12.... I was starting to get nervous but finally, at 15.13 the train rolled in. Phew! If I'd had to buy a third train ticket to Turku then I think this would officially have become the worst bank holiday trip ever xD

We ultimately got to Pasila a few minutes behind schedule, but still with enough time to spare to find the correct platform for Turku. We had reserved seats on the upper deck of the train and enjoyed a very comfortable journey, as we passed through miles of flat, densely forested countryside. This train ran perfectly to schedule, so we arrived in Turku at 17.34 and managed to locate our hotel, which was about a kilometre away, before reception closed :) 

We were pretty hungry by this point as we hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, but we also wanted to make the most of the remaining daylight hours to actually see some of Turku. Turku is one of the oldest cities in Finland and used to be the most important, until Finland became part of the Russian Empire in 1809 and the capital was moved to Helsinki. Unfortunately there aren't many really old buildings in the city, because much of it was destroyed in a dreadful fire in 1827. But from the pictures we had seen online, it looked like an interesting place.

Our hotel is situated not far away from Turku's cathedral. A Catholic cathedral was originally built here in the late thirteenth century.  Today's cathedral is Lutheran, and was extensively rebuilt after the fire in 1827.

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The cathedral is surrounded by some pretty grounds and colourful buildings :)

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We found a war memorial, with inscriptions in Finnish and Swedish.  Turku is officially a bilingual city, with over 5% of the population having Swedish as their mother tongue.

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We also found a model plan of the town, which helped us to orientate ourselves slightly :) 

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Turku is situated at the mouth of the Aura river.

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There's a nice walkway alongside the river, which we were able to follow for several kilometres. The route was punctuated by occasional bizarre sculptures.

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This was potentially the strangest!

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There were also loads of really beautiful flowers.

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If there's a 'Finland in Bloom' competition, then Turku deserves to win :)

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As we got further down the river, the surroundings became a bit more industrial so we figured we must be getting close to the harbour.

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We came to a little area of parkland where there seemed to be a music festival going on. There was a very large daisy! And in the background, we caught sight of what we thought must be the turrets of Turku Castle.

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Sure enough, we were soon at the castle :) 

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A castle was first built here in the late thirteenth century, though what is left today definitely looks more modern than that (and also seemed to be undergoing some renovation).

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From the opposite side, the castle looks like a completely different building, being white and much lower.

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It was around 19.30 by this point and we were pretty hungry, so we decided to start walking back into the centre of town to find something to eat. We eventually found a small restaurant where I had pizza and Tim had a burger, followed by a Lidl where we stocked up on some chocolate to give me some energy to get through the blog :D 

It feels like it's been a very long day with a lot of travelling - hopefully everything will go more smoothly tomorrow!!

Edited by Clare




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