Bringing Salford to Turku
Turku is one of two cities which are the new European Capitals of Culture in 2011, the other being Tallinn in Estonia. That alone should guarantee them at least an additional 10% extra visitors as curious visitors go to see what each has to offer. They replace the three who shared the honour in 2010, Essen, Istanbul and Pecs.
Tomorrow, an introduction to Tallinn, today Turku. It is a largish, coastal city of nearly 180,000 people in southern Finland and isn’t twinned with either an Irish or any British place which may explain why we don’t hear about it a great deal. It is also the oldest city in Finland having been founded in the thirteenth century. Turku begins its celebration with a three day event starting January 14th. (for more see www.turku.fi and click on the English link.) It is launched, as befits a port, on a slipway and tells the story of Turku with aerial performances, fire and fireworks called This Side, the Other Side. This has been created by the Salford based company, Walk The Plank that, well for want of better words, create stunning visual shows.(it was they who were responsible for the fireworks at the BBC Proms in Salford and the Newcastle Winter Carnival that saw in the new year.)
During the rest of the year there are well over 120 events planned such as the story of the Great Fire of Turku which burnt most of the city to the ground in 1827 and many music and light shows and winds up with its traditional Christmas festivities in December for this city is the birthplace of many of the traditions of Finnish Christmases.
Apart from the planned events, Turku can offer a variety of museums to visit such as Kuralan Kylamaki, the village of living history which is like an expanded version of our children’s farms but with costumes, archaeological events that you can join in with and a wilderness to explore. You might prefer the Pharmacy Museum or the outdoor Luostarinmaki Handicrafts Museum instead. There are more traditional museums like The Biological Museum (like our Natural History Museum) and the Waino Aaltonen Museum which not only houses the city art but celebrates the sculptor after whom it is named.
Being a water city it is heavily influenced by the sea so, apart from a large marina, there are 14 different water buses/ferry routes to the islands in the archipelago plus the free city ferry, Fori, that takes you from Turku to Abo. Everyone should try that especially as it takes minutes. The journey is under 250 feet in length! There are cruises on the river (River Aura) but they only run from June till the end of August – about 8 weeks in all.
The old town (the part not destroyed in the fire) is where you’ll did the market square and its where the Medieval Fare and the Christmas festivities are held. It is also an area of art galleries, craft shops and restaurants and where some of the old mansions are open to the public.
Whilst there is more than enough to keep you occupied, it is the culture that dominates the city. Which probably explains its winning of this award. There are no direct flights from the UK. You will need to get to Helsinki and then the choice is by plane, train or hire car.