What I learned: Turku

What I learned: Turku

Why I liked Turku more than Helsinki

If you have read any of my past posts, you will know that my opinion for Helsinki is not very high. I had a second chance to visit Helsinki on my way back to Tallinn, and I was open to changing my opinion, but if anything, I liked it less the second time.

I arrived, and I took some advice from a seasoned traveler to check out the central library, the national museum of Finland, and this stone church (I don’t feel like trying to spell it). I walked to these 3 landmarks, and they were certainly impressive, but nothing in them made me change my feelings about the city. I think the city is too big for how small it is and too spread out. Worst of all, after I walked for a long time finding the stone church, they wanted 5 euros to just go inside and see it. I told them that I don’t think paying to get inside churches is good practice, so I left.

Temppeliaukio Church (5 euros)
National Museum of Finland (15 euros)
Oodi (didn’t see a single book)

Then I went to eat at a nice looking corner cafe that I had spotted on my walk. I asked the waitress what was good here, and she recommended the grilled perch. I ordered it and a beer, paying 35 euros. The fish arrived in a small bowl on a bed of mashed potatoes and covered in some kind of onions.

The meal was incredibly unappealing to look at. All white. No greens or garnishes (okay… a sprig of something). But the way it looked could not prepare me for how it would taste. Sweet? Why are these potatoes sweet? Why is fish sweet? Who puts sugar on fish? I guess they do that in Helsinki. I scraped everything off the meager piece of fish and choked it down, but I wouldn’t touch the sugary potatoes. It has been a long time since I found a meal that I really couldn’t finish.

The waitress never came to check on how I was doing, so I just left a note saying that fish and potatoes should never be sweet.

This might have been the worst 35 euros I have ever spent.

Caveat: I have to admit that both times that I walked through Helsinki, I was saddled with my backpack and travel bag which likely had some influence on my feelings. With that said, I did try to store my bags, but every single locker at the train station was taken. Every. Single. One.


But this post is about Turku not Helsinki. The bulk of my trip was spent here in a small condo on Kakolanmäki Hill which is a famous place in Turku because this is where there used to be a prison which is now a museum and hotel. I did not have a chance to visit the prison, but I walked by and it is looks pretty epic. I chose the location because I wanted to be able to walk to the Punk in Drublic concert which was being held at the castle.

You should understand that when I travel, I don’t do much research. I know some people like to plan things, but I prefer the adventure of discovery. I did look at a couple of museums nearby that I wanted to see, but I didn’t really have an agenda. I had one full day of exploration, and I just wanted to see what I could see.

Turku, like other Finnish and Baltic cities, is based on sea trade with the primary heart of the city being the Aurajoki river which connects sea traffic through the Turku archipelago (which looks like it would be fun to explore). So I began my exploration by walking along the river which has a lovely river-walk on both sides.

Along the wide path are a series of restaurants, pubs, and shops. Some are on land and some are on boats. I also did not go to a boat restaurant which is something I would have liked to try.

One day in Turku

I walked down the river all the way to a big cathedral which I could see on the opposite bank behind some trees. Along the way there were lovely statues, people, and giant ducks floating in the river.

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Art museum or haunted mansion?

At this point, I decided to pick a destination. I wanted to go to a museum, and the art museum looked close on the map, so I chose to walk there. What I didn’t know after living in Riga for so many years is that hills exist, and in Finland, they like to build things on hills. I came to this beautiful park where I saw a group of kids and two daycare leaders, and I asked one of the women if this was the art museum. She didn’t know, but they were taking the kids there for lunch. I walked up the hill and saw the building which looked like something out of a horror movie, but before it goes all wrong.

I didn’t see any signs, but I went in and sure enough, it was the Turku art museum.

The museum was a bit small with only 4 rooms of art on display, but the friendly guard explained that they had many thousands of pieces and that they were between shows right now. It only cost 7 euros when it is usually 11, so that was fine. If a museum is too big or has too much, you get overwhelmed and exhausted. This was about perfect for an hour.

Then I strolled through the streets of Turku looking for interesting shops. This is when I found the gun store that I mentioned in my other post. I also found a nice used book shop with lots of English titles and very interesting historical works. The owner was friendly and let me take pictures and just look around the shop. I ended up buying a John Lennon biography.


I also saw the smallest, cutest dog ever. His name? Napoleon.

Now I could see the river again, and I found an ice cream shop where I sampled several licorice flavored ice creams. I ended up getting two scoops, and one was a Moomin flavored one. Finns love Moomin, but the ice cream was too spicy for me.

I could see the large cathedral, so that was my next stop. It was hard to tell if it was open or not, but I walked up the steps and sure enough, it was open and I decided to just go into the main hall and light a candle for my mom. It happened to be the 10th anniversary of her death. The cathedral is the oldest in Finland and is made of stone. It is actually a pretty impressive structure. I did have to get rid of my ice cream before going inside, but it wasn’t a big loss.

I learned that there was a great Turku fire that basically burned everything that was old, so that is why most of the buildings in Turku look pretty new. Luckily the cathedral is mostly stone, so it survived. Although the bell tower had to be rebuilt a few times.

I did a bit more urban exploration—saw an archeological dig, learned about some more things, but I went back to the condo to refresh and eat.

One evening in Turku


After some food and a little nap, I was ready to go out to see the Turku evening life. But I hit a snag. I was all ready to leave, but I could not find the key to the condo. I looked “everywhere” but I was really panicking. Not on the tables. Nowhere on the floor. Not behind the washing machine. Not in the garbage. I even texted my Airbnb host to say that I might have lost it. I was frantically texting people asking for suggestions.

One friend said that they left their keys on the counter under something. I went to the kitchen and picked up everything, and like a squished spider, the keys were under a bowl. I have no idea how that happened or how I couldn’t have noticed, but there they were as plain as day.

By now it was about 8 p.m., but I was still determined to get out to see the city and have a few beers at a local bar. You know, get a sense of the nightlife. I did a quick search for bars with pinball machines, and I thought I found one, so I set it as my exploration destination.

If I haven’t said it before, scooters are a great way to explore cities. I know they get a bad rap, and people on scooters can look pretty douchey, but when you have a lot of distance to cover, but you still want to see things, they are a fantastic tool—unless there are steep hills.

Were there hills? Of course there was a hill. In fact, the path to the bar took me right over the hill with the museum. The scooter struggle to carry my above-average frame up the steep grade, but we got to the top where people were lounging watching the sunset. It was gorgeous.

I rode down a little hill, but soon found myself stranded in a cul-de-sac with no way out. I had to ditch the scooter and walk the stairs.

Along the way, I started seeing lots of people with name tags in small groups. There was a convention nearby. I came to this beautiful, modern bridge that went over the railway and seemed to end (not unlike a rainbow) at the Teatro bar, which claimed to have a pinball machine.

Sure enough, there was a medical conference of some kind at the very hall where the pinball machine was supposed to have been. But it wasn’t really a bar. It was a convention center, and the lounge that was attached on the outside was closed.

Bars close early and you can’t buy beer

Not to let this completely ruin my evening, I found another scooter, and scooted my way back to the river front. The scooter stopped working in a construction zone where there was also no parking of scooters, so I had to manually scoot. It was much more exhausting than it should have been.

I finally came to a bar, and I went inside almost desperate for a drink after the scooter episode, but it was 10:08 p.m. and they already had last call. It was the same everywhere I went. Bar after bar was closed or closing. The night was over.

I knew that the market near my condo stayed open until midnight, so I went there to buy a few beers. I picked out 3 overpriced cans, and went to check out. I was told, in a very friendly and polite way, that I couldn’t buy those beers because it was after 9 p.m. So that was kind of a sad story.

I just went home and had a root beer (why is it two words???) float because they did sell root beer and ice cream. We don’t have root beer in Latvia, so this was kind of a special treat.

I will stop here and pick up with Part 2 of Turku next. Here are some photos of Turku.

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Side note

When I got to my condo, I had a plan to buy food and make food to save money on the trip. In the cupboard, I found a giant bag of unused spaghetti. I cooked it, and it ended up being literally enough pasta to last me all 3 days in Turku. I had other things to eat as well, but it was so nice to have delicious food at home for very little money. I guess this is a traveling tip.




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