|Contemplating the sights of Turku, European Capital of Culture 2011|
“OK. How does nude karaoke, Hvitflet horse sausage and a visit to the donut and pea soup oasis sound?” As Captain it was my turn to brief my four burger munching companions on the day’s activities. Matthew eventually broke the chewy silence, “I don’t really like the sound of that.”
Luckily the Turku tourist office had catalogued 208 other cultural attractions, part of an effort to promote the town’s status as 2011 European Capital of Culture in waiting. I tested out a few alternatives, “How about the first ever fork in Finland, the invisible elf of Turku castle and Xylitol?” More silence. Boy was this a hard to please family. We had a day and a night in Turku before an onward ferry to Mariehamn and I was determined not to spend it sitting in a burger bar. But Turku’s bizarre offerings didn’t seem to be hitting the mark and planning was becoming the main activity of the day. So I gave up on democracy, wiped the ketchup off the map and unilaterally informed everyone we were going on a cultural stumbleupon, heading around town on our bikes visiting whichever of the 211 defining features of Turku we stumbled upon. Which was about all we could do since the listing gave no information about the location of many of the ‘attractions.’
Riding down near the river Cameron was quick to spot the unusual red brick cathedral, led there by a sporty white VW polo wrapped up in pretty pink ribbons. Groups of well dressed Finns stood at the bottom of the steps leading up to the church, waiting for a 2 o’clock wedding, while a bride, groom, bridesmaids and guests from the 1.30 affair swept out of small wooden doors at the top. We crept up behind the crowd to get a look inside this Finnish national shrine, trying not to gate crash the photos, only to be turned away by a curt cathedral attendant, “No tourists please. Wedding only.”
We must have looked unlikely guests.
“Just five minutes.. to say a prayer?” I begged, desperate for a quick look-see.
She paused momentarily to look at her watch, long enough to give me hope, “No prayers. Wedding starts in one minute. You must leave now.”
The usher herded us back out into the photo-call while efficiently filtering anyone more smartly dressed around us and inside for the 2 o’clock event.
|It’s not hard to stumbleupon Turku castle|
Smarting with rejection we stumbled out down the steps and over to the Sibelius Museum across the cobbled square. I felt sure we’d get in here, for a fee; in fact the kids got in free. Not that they were very into Sibelius until I offered them a sweet for every interesting fact they could find out about him.
“Sibelius looked just like you,” said Hannah dragging me over to see pictures of an archetypically scruffy haired composer. True. But not really very interesting.
“Listen to this Dad,” said Matthew thrusting a pair of headphones at me, “It sounds like eyes focusing on a bouncing ball.” Interesting but probably not what Sibelius had in mind when he composed Finlandia.
And finally Cameron, “Did you know Sibelius built a sauna and liked cigars and drinking so much he had more debts than assets even though he was famous.” Surely a fact worth a sweety? And as if to press the point, “And look I’ve found a picture of his sauna.” He pulled me towards the display he’d been memorizing until the headphone lead wouldn’t let me go any further. “And Dad, what is a debt?”
After fifteen minutes of badgering I paid my debts and gave them all the sweets to go away, begging them to leave me in peace to listen to Sibelius for myself. I remembered Finlandia from my childhood; as part of my youth orchestra’s repertoire. But it sounded different now, with our ride across Ǻland and
“Did you like the music?” I asked Matthew as we cycled off to stumble upon something else.
|Down on the docks – stumbling around|
Stumbling around is an interesting way to see a city. With no real plan there’s no guarantee you’ll see or do any of the things a guidebook will tell you a good tourist should. And you may actually miss some things of significance. But biking around randomly, with a map to hand, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon some of the main sights. And stopping and looking at things that grab your attention, speculating upon what they are (then looking up the answers) gives the alternative satisfaction of feeling like you’ve discovered something of the city for yourself.
|A rare statue of....|
Cameron was off the bike and studying the inscription before the bikes had stopped. “LENIN!” he shouted, “We’ve found the almost only statue of Lenin in the world.”
|What is this sequence I see before me?|
|What’s this we’ve stumbled upon now?|
We’d cycled past empty sand courts, sponsors tents and a grandstand a week earlier but now the whole beach front was buzzing with flags flying, with competitors and fans milling around and some kind of action just about to start. Loud catchy dance music had a crowd in the grandstand singing and clapping. “We’ve got a great afternoon of world class volleyball,” boomed the PA, “First China and
We stumbled up to the ticket office expecting it to be a sell out but instead got two adult tickets with kids welcome free. By the time we reached the grandstand, the players were warming up on court in front of a surround sound crowd rippling with the ‘whooooooooo’ of fast, slow and super slow Mexican waves. “Let’s make some noise, take your seats, get out of your seats and show these players your appreciation….” This wasn’t exactly staid and sophisticated
|The full international sporting event experience, dancing girls and all|
A supercool beach volley ball gig with spectator participation as much a part of the sport as the sport itself. None of us had ever seen a volley ball match before nor ever shown any interest in it, but it took only moments to draw us into the spirit of the action on and off the court. With funky music stings underscoring points, we were soon part of the a crowd that needed little encouragement to clap, hoot, wave or dance along to the music, the action on the court, or the beach babe dancing girls who entertained during time-outs. And before we knew it, it was , and time for that kebab. Hvitfelt horsemeat style perhaps.
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