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Lahti (Part 2)

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We’re continuing with a walk around Lahti on a day trip there in November. The first part was here.

1. Lake Vesijärvi, from which Lahti gets its name (lahti means "bay"). If "bay" sounds like an unimaginative name for a city, consider that Vesijärvi means literally "Water Lake".

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Lahti (Part 1)

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It’s been two months since I last visited Finland. I kind of had to save up a bit of money and Finland trips, even short weekend ones, usually end up being quite big money-sinks (even when it doesn’t really feel you are spending money on anything in particular at all). In the end though I lost my patience and made a day-trip to the city of Lahti with my friend, in early November 2017.

Lahti and Kouvola are the only two cities in Finland (apart from Helsinki) which make sense as day trip destinations when going from St. Petersburg, because these are the cities the high-speed Allegro train goes through. A car trip practically requires an overnight stay; it’s a 200 km drive just to get to the Finnish border, and then crossing the border takes some time, and then you’ll need to drive to somewhere in Finland, and if you have to make the return trip on the same day it gets very exhausting and you end up with not much time in Finland itself at all. And it’s the same with Lappeenranta/Imatra buses, although at least you do not need to drive youself.

Allegro train, first introduced in 2010, on the other hand makes the St. Petersburg-Helsinki trip in about 3 h 30 min (and the border formalities are all done on board and don’t require any extra time), and it’s even faster if you only go to Kouvola or Lahti. There are four departures every day; the first train leaves St. Petersburg at 6:40, and the last one arrives to St. Petersburg at 23:27. So you’ve got plenty of time in Finland. The only downside is that it’s a rather costly option, several times more expensive than going on own car or by bus, unless you buy a ticket well in advance (which I never do).

Still, a day trip to Kouvola on Allegro was my first ever trip to Finland (in fact my first ever trip abroad) way back in February 2012, and this time we did the same thing only to Lahti, which incidentally was the Finnish city closest to St. Petersburg that I had never visited before.

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Nord-Norge '16. V: Murmansk

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The biggest city north of the Arctic Circle in the world! That’s Murmansk (Мурманск), thecenter of Murmansk Oblast region in Russia, located on the coast of the Kola Bay, a long narrow fjord of the Barents Sea of the Arctic Ocean. Like Petrozavodsk, Murmansk is the only major city in the region. Its modern population is about 300,000.

A small town at the bottom of the Kola Bay, named also Kola (Кола), existed for centuries (and still exists today as a suburb of Murmansk), but by the end of the 19th century the need for a major seaport on the Barentz Sea became quite urgent. The new city, originally named Romanov-na-Murmane (Романов-на-Мурмане, Romanov upon Murman) was founded in 1916 (when the railroad connecting it to the rest of the country was finished), the last city ever founded in Tzarist Russia era. Shortly after the February Revolution of 1917 it was renamed to Murmansk. The northern coast of the Kola Peninsula has always been known as Murman Coast; "Murmans" was an old Russian word for Norwegians (likely from Norwegian nordmann, "northern man"). The tiny town quickly grew in Soviet years, becoming the base for many Soviet explorations of the Arctic.

Murmansk was extremely important to the Soviet Union in the World War II, as a warm-water port which the Germans could not blockade. Much of the lend-lease aid from Britain and the US came through Murmansk, shuttled south on the railroad then. Despite bloody battles Nazi Germany, attacking from Northern Norway and Finnish Lapland, never managed to capture the port of Murmansk or sever the rail line. The city itself was nearly completely destroyed in the war, and had to be rebuilt afterwards. This was accomplished as soon as 1952.

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Nord-Norge '16. IV: Petrozavodsk

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Petrozavodsk (Петрозаводск, Russ. Peter Works City; known as Petroskoi in Finnish) is the capital of the modern Republic of Karelia (Russian Karelia), and its biggest city by far; with its population of 280,000 it is almost ten times bigger than the second biggest Karelian city (Kondopoga).

I do not often make posts about Russian cities, because I rarely actually visit Russian cities, because I’m just not interested in them much; over the latest years my heart has always been with the Nordics, and it’s likely to remain this way. Which is not to say Russia isn’t worth exploring! Most of its cities and regions do not really have any major sights, but then, neither does Finland, yet I find exploring Finland so interesting and satisfying. And indeed a great many blogs about Russian cities exist, and I know of a few good ones, though I’m not aware of any that post in English. And as for us, we were passing through Petrozavodsk on our way north and staying here overnight, so of course we didn’t sit around in a hotel room, and went out to have a look at the city.

It should be said that Petrozavodsk is not really a Karelian city; it was founded in 1703 by the Russians and its population has always been predominantly Russian (at the moment there are 4% ethnic Karealians, <2% Finns, and <1% Vepsians). You wouldn’t find signs in Karelian or Finnish there. In fact Petrozavodsk is fairly typical of a minor Russian regional center, with dusty streets, crumbling plaster on buildings, potholed roads, and the general air of underfunding and neglect. It doesn’t really have any sights either. At the same time I must say I oddly liked Petrozavodsk. It’s a pleasant city to be in; it’s hard to express, but the people in the streets just seem… so nice and friendly. Far less alcoholics and gopniks that even in my native Yekaterinburg which is like five times bigger. Petrozavodsk is fun to walk around, taking pictures of various minor details. So this post is going to be a really long one, with 75 pictures.

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Autumn in Finnish Karelia

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Just some pictures from Finnish Karelia (okay and a little bit of Savo too). I went there last weekend, this time not to explore anything new but mostly just for good company and some drinking in a cottage by a lake; thus I pretty much just revisited some old places. The weather however was exceptionally good (even more so considering the wet cold summer we had), and I managed to take some really nice pics

1. Imatra, a Finnish city right on the Russian border. For some odd reason despite its close location I never really visited Imatra, and only ever really saw the part with the dam.

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Nord-Norge '16. III. Kola Route

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It really took me quite some time to get to these trip reports again, didn’t it? Well, uh, better late than never :)

St. Petersburg — Petrozavodsk — Murmansk — Norwegian border highway was previously numbered M-18, but in the confusing renumbering of 2010 it was redesignated as R-21 (Р-21). Nonetheless, its popular name didn’t change: it is still the Kola Route (трасса "Кола", Trassa Kola), after the Kola Peninsula of course. At least in St. Petersburg it is also known as Murmansk Highway (Мурманское шоссе, Murmanskoye Shosse), or informally Murmanka, after its most significant destination.

The official length of Kola Route, from St. Petersburg to Norwegian border near Kirkenes, is 1592 km. Although our primary destination was Northern Norway, it was of course hardly possible to drive all those kilometers without an overnight stay. Thus we stopped in both major cities along the way, Petrozavodsk and Murmansk. I’ll tell more about both of them in the following posts, and this one is about the Kola Route itself and the minor cities along it.

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How Finland Works: Highways

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Let’s talk about Finnish highways. This is written from a Russian perspective and won’t be a new subject for many St. Petersburg, Leningrad Oblast, and Russian Karelia citizens (and of course not for the Finns as well), but still there’s quite a number of some interesting points to examine. This is mostly about highways only; we won’t cover city parking, traffic jams, etc. As usual, all the pictures are mine, shot over 2015-2017.

History

Over the centuries Finland had historically been known for its poor (or non-existing) roads, just like Russia. I once read some travel notes by an Englishwoman about Finland, dated to the beginning of the 20th century; she was writing that roads basically did not exist, and no one seemed particularly concerned about that; after all, snow covers everything for like half a year anyway.

Road 3513 (Hamina-Virojoki, in Kymenlaakso, close to Russian border). A museum road; a preserved section of the original medieval King's Road, Turku-Helsinki-Vyborg. The section is now paved but keeps original width and alignment. This was the main road to Vyborg and Soviet border up until the 1960s
Road 3513 (Hamina-Virojoki, in Kymenlaakso, close to Russian border). A museum road; a preserved section of the original medieval King’s Road, Turku-Helsinki-Vyborg. The section is now paved but keeps original width and alignment. This was the main road to Vyborg and Soviet border up until the 1960s

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Loviisa: Coastal Fortress

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Loviisa Coastal Fortress, also known as Degerby Fortress, is much less widely known than Svartholm (and Svartholm of course is probably not the best known fortress in general). This is easy to explain though; there’s simply not much of a fortress. All that remains of the coastal fortress are two bastions, a few moats (including one big one in place of an unfinished bastion), and the garrison neighborhood of old wooden detached houses (likely actually dating from after the Loviisa Great Fire of 1855). Not much more existed in the better days of this fortress, although earthen ramparts were probably more recognizable.

Still, it could be fun to visit this part of Loviisa if you’ve got some time. Mind you, that won’t take long. Loviisa town has actually created an easy 2 km long walking route in the area of the former fortress, with insightful information signs (with English translations!  Yay!). It’s called Ehrensvärdinpolku (Finn. Ehrensvärd’s Trail), after the principal designer of the fortress back in the 18th century. There’s a map available on the town’s website, although you won’t really need it except to find the start location.

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Loviisa: Svartholm Fortress

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Svartholm (Swed. Black Island) is a ruined 18th century Swedish sea fortress on an isle in the Gulf of Finland, in the mouth of Loviisanlahti Bay, 8-9 km off the coast of the town of Loviisa. The biggest sight of Loviisa, Svartholm is absolutely worth a visit. Unfortunately it seems it is only really possible for less than two months in summer (mid-June to early August), when a scheduled boat from Loviisa operates. With a private boat it should be possible to visit Svartholm any time around the year. (Loviisanlahti freezes over in winter but I’m not sure whether the ice is normally thick enough as far out as Svartholm.)

I’ve briefly covered the history of Loviisa and Svartholm in the previous post, so there won’t be a big history lesson. The fortress was constructed by Field Mashal Augustin Ehrensvärd (same guy who designed Suomenlinna) after the War of Hats of 1741-1743. It was square-shaped, with four bastions in the corners, two ravelins beside the fortress, and an irregularly-shaped wall around the isle. The fortress was used as a sea base, but due to insufficient funding and incomplete construction it wasn’t able to put up real resistance in the Finnish war of 1808-1809, and surrendered to the Russians. After Russia annexed Finland Svartholm was used as a prison. Some of the Decembrists (officers who rebelled against Russian absolute monarchy in 1825) were imprisoned here, although the same can be said of virtually any fortress that belonged to Russia at the time. Svartholm was shelled and destroyed by the British fleet in 1855 as part of the Crimean War (even though it didn’t have any significant military value at the time). Ruins were well-preserved and partially restored in the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays Svartholm is a great picnic destination as well as a historical monument; visiting Loviisa is worth it for Svartholm alone. It is administered by Metsähallitus, Finnish Forest Administration.

Visiting Svartholm (including its small museum) is technically free, but the round trip on a boat from Loviisa currently costs 18 €/person (9 €/child). Boat schedule is available here: https://visitsvartholm.fi/reittiliikenne/ (Finnish only but should be clear enough). As you can see the 2017 season is over. Note that the boat, as of 2017, operated only from Wednesday to Sunday (Keskiviikosta Sunnuntaihin). The website suggests buying tickets online in advance, which could make sense during Finnish vacation season in July. Myself, I travelled to Svartholm the very last day of the season; there were only a few other passengers, and I bought a ticket when boarding without any difficulties. The boat, named Taxen, departs from the end of a long pier (the one with gas station for boats) at Laivasilta Harbor. It’s not big and might be a little difficult to find, but can be also identified by a small blue "Svartholm" sign on its front.

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Loviisa: The Town

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Loviisa (Swedish spelling: Lovisa) is a Finnish town in the east of the capital region, 90 km east of Helsinki, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland, about halfway between Helsinki and Russian border; a rather small one, with the population of about 15,000.  Of the four cities along the National Road 7, commonly passed by Russian tourists (including myself) on their way to Helsinki, Loviisa is the smallest, and likely the least often visited.  For me it was the closest Finnish town where I had never been before, so that’s why I decided to choose this destination in first place.

Loviisa was founded in 1748, soon after the Russo-Swedish War of Hats (1741-1743).  In the period between the Great Northern War (1700-1721) and the War of Hats Sweden, for some reason, mostly ignored the question of defense of its Finnish territory, despite having just lost a good chunk of it (including Vyborg) to Russia.  The War of Hats was revanchist in nature, and apparently Sweden assumed it would generally be on the offensive side in that war.  Well, they were mistaken, and another chunk of Finnish land, including fortresses of Lappeenranta, Hamina, and Savonlinna fell to Russian hands.

Thus Sweden was in a great hurry to build some new fortresses: Sveaborg and Svartholm.  Sveaborg, near the (then very minor) town of Helsinki, was to be the great impregnable fleet base; it is currently also known as Suomenlinna, and is the best known attraction of Helsinki.  The much smaller Svartholm was to be the new frontier fortress, replacing Hamina (Fredriskhamn) in that role.  The construction of both fortresses started in 1748, under the command of Field Marshal Augustin Ehrensvärd.

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