The Northern Diaries: Suomenlinna
As the thick blanket of snow enveloped the earth and the blue sky of the Alps is replaced by grey, a trip down to the memory lane took me to the warmer days in autumn. Northern European countries have always fascinated me and last October, I had the pleasure to visit Helsinki. Initially, it was the Nordic capital that I had the least interest in. On top of that, my colleagues found Helsinki to be the least exciting city, compared to the other Nordic capitals such as Copenhagen or Stockholm.
I’ve always been fond of travelling alone, perhaps a characteristic attributed to my introversion. My fondness for seeking solitude in foreign lands is a strange concept of travel. Instead of visiting crowded tourist spots, I have a penchant for solitary walks in the most random neighbourhood.
My flight back to Switzerland was cancelled and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was a sunny day in Helsinki, thus I decided to take a walk around the port of Kauppatori. I was astounded by how blue and clear the water is, despite of being a rather bustling port. Upon my stroll, I came across a ferry that was shortly departing to Suomenlinna Island. Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World heritage site that came highly recommended by the friendly Finnish couple whom I shared a table with during a dinner the night before. The houses and fortress there are kept in a pristine state, unspoilt in their traditional architecture. I impulsively bought a ticket and hopped aboard, hoping that the tiny tourist destination would have a quiet nook where I could find solitude.
As the ferry approached the dock of the tiny Island, I was rather relieved to see a large group of tourists waiting for the ferry to take them back to the main land. My hope for solitude was reignited. Coming from a generation guilty of heavy reliance on GPS, I made a promise to myself to rely only on the printed map. It’s a small island that you can walk around in an hour so it would be impossible to get lost. Despite of the wave of tourist who shared the ride with me from the main land, I rarely encountered other visitors during my stroll.
It was astounding how 20 minutes ferry trip took me to an entirely different atmosphere. Unlike Helsinki, Suomenlinna is slow-paced and tranquil. I often found myself alone in an entire road. After walking aimlessly for half an hour, I decided to follow a road sign leading to a small beach. Although it was a warm autumn day, it appeared that taking a dip in the water was off-season as I was the only person there. The beautiful lazuli water, the clear sky, the gentle sound the water made as it kissed the pebbles on the shore, they were all there for me to consume alone. It made me feel infinite, as I melded into my surroundings. Growing up in a big city, solitude was limited to the sanctuary of my own bedroom. In Suomenlinna however, the complete absence of other human being in such vast space was a rare luxury that one must be so lucky to encounter.
Heavy-heartedly, I left the serene shore and continued my stroll around the island. Before long, I stumbled upon a wooden staircase descending from the main path to a cliff that appeared friendly enough to a big city girl with minimum outdoor experience. There, I found a cosy spot to sit down as my eyes feasted on the breath-taking view whilst my fingers danced with a pen, blethering on my notebook. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and unspoilt the landscape was, despite of it being a tourist attraction.
This surreal experience made me lose track of time but the growing ferociousness of the wind took me back to reality. It was the signal for me to complete my stroll before I lose daylight. With remnants of the war to my left and the sea to my right, I spent the remainder of my stroll learning about the history of the fortress, before taking the 5PM ferry back to Helsinki, just in time to capture the beautiful sunset at Kaivopuisto.
I did not bring a souvenir in the form of self-portraits taken with a selfie-stick (who invented those abominable objects anyway?) but I did leave the tiny haven with an invigorated mind, multiplied gratefulness, and inner peace. It was an unforgettable journey, albeit short and unpremeditated. Funny thing is, the city that I thought I would never visit again ended up being the one that stayed in my mind. Helsinki, the small city by the Gulf of Finland has captivated me with its inexplicable charm
Greta Sept is an aspiring poet with acute nomadism and nihilistic tendencies. She enjoys traveling to northern seaside cities, as she loves cold climate and the sea. Her fascinations include Egon Schiele, Sylvia Plath, and neo-classical music. When she’s not busy indulging her obsession of making playlists, you may find her taking pastoral night-strolls around her village in the Swiss Alps.