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The Island of Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna-flowers-BTSuomenlinna, Finland is one of those islands I used to imagine as a child reading adventure fiction. In my secluded cubbyhole I would be transported by particular tales to an ungoverned realm where magic and mayhem ensued. I was Karana fighting off feral dogs; I was Jim Hawkins on the trail of hidden treasure; I was Ralph attempting to corral my rag-tag band into order. There were no adults to supervise or rely upon, no escape possible, and illimitable potential for excitement. Rescue, when it came at the end of some of the books, seemed anticlimactic.

Suomenlinna-cave-BTExploring Suomenlinna gives me that spine tingle I once felt between the pages of thrilling juvenile escapades. Here was a cave in whose terrifying depths I might discover buried gold. I gingerly enter the dank interior, my eyes adjusting to murky shadows. What is concealed within that niche? It turns out to be an empty, squashed Coca-Cola bottle. I wrinkle my nose in disappointment, but the adrenaline rush of the chase stays with me.

Suomenlinna-fort-BTI head down a path around whose corner a bunker appears. Are pirates within plotting a takeover? I hesitate despite the idyllic bench winking at me to rest in front. I tiptoe forward, keeping an ear out for war cries, for the one-legged crook who evokes terror. A flicker at the edge of my peripheral menaces. I swing left to spy a barnacle goose flee. Its derisive yap taunts me.

Suomenlinna-garden-BTMy path curves gently up between swathes of yellow mustard blooms. The sky glowers, the waves whip into a frenzy. I am an isle upon this island: self-reliant, bold, full of clever survival techniques. I shall whittle a sturdy fort from fallen logs, fashion clothing from grass blades, repair the disused canon, make friends with a field mouse. There is nothing I am incapable of accomplishing in my tempest tossed kingdom.

Suomenlinna-gate-BTOn the far side of Suomenlinna I come across an overgrown white gate, half open, inviting me in. Who lives beyond it? Do I dare go through to find a Rumpelstiltskin or a hut made of candies? I crane my neck to glimpse a bit of roof obscured by shrubs. I decide not to disturb the locals. Instead I continue towards the pewter strait where daisies nod.

Suomenlinna-sea-BTI sit upon a boulder to watch the clouds shape themselves into sheep…pterodactyls…gargoyles. A sailboat nears the coast searching for marooned survivors. Its occupants scan the cliffs for evidence of life. I shall not let them know of my presence. I do not want to return to a hot supper yet. There are wild things to encounter, expeditions to plan, phantoms to conquer, locked doors to unbolt.
Suomenlinna-door-BTAt the beginning of another year, there is so much at stake. Hopes for good things to happen, yearnings for new adventures, wishes which might be fulfilled. There is also fear at the thought of failure, terror for the end of dreams, dread that another twelve months will pass without the progress I wanted. It’s like being stranded on an island. I think back to all my made-up games played on sidewalks, in back woods, on jungle gyms where the unknown was the exhilaration. I reflect upon my day spent on Suomenlinna where I briefly held the future in my palms, giddy to thwart whatever perils came my way. Here’s to meeting the challenges of 2018 with the enthusiasm I had pursuing monsters, defeating dragons, and evading buccaneers on my imaginary islands.

Suomenlinna-canon-BTThank you all for your unfailing kindness, support, and good wishes throughout the years as I travel through this life and our world. It has been such a joy to share my stories with all of you and to be invited into your own narratives of struggle and success.


Suomenlinna, Finland is designated automobile free, so the best way to explore the beaches, the fort, and the wilderness trails is by walking. While Suomenlinna is a popular destination for visitors, please be aware that more than 800 Finns call the island home.

Have a favorite island adventure you loved as a child? What challenge in the new year are you most looking forward to tackling? Tell me about it in the comments below.



139 replies »

  1. What a delightful mix of fantasy and reality….I bet that’s what Suomenlinna feels like sometimes, it sounds wonderful. Here’s to more creativity in 2018, more dragon slaying and fearless wandering!

  2. Suomenlinna is full of little treasures. Looks like you went there in late spring? I was there in the height of summer and it was still so quiet. As for childhood island adventures…Easter Island was my imaginary escape. And I’ve been fortunate enough to visit as an adult. The magic never dies, as you so vividly described.

    • We’re both fortunate to have visited the real version of our childhood imaginary islands. Yes, I was at Suomenlinna during late spring and it’s lovely to hear that the island magic doesn’t vaporize with all the summer visitors.

  3. I can see how Soumenlinna is the kind of place that lets you escape to the far and wild of your imagination. I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance to parts of Newfoundland, Canada—another magical place. The bunker especially reminds me of remains of Viking settlements in L’anse aux Meadows. Lovely photos and prose.

    • Thank you. I have yet to explore Newfoundland, but its landscape sounds as marvelous as that of Norway. There’s something about spaces where wilderness and the edge of human community intermingle that really appeal to me.

  4. What a wonderful island to explore and walk about, or should I say, roam about? I did not get a good feeling for its size, but its mysteries and adventurous potential has transformed from your blog post into my mind. A wonderful tale that brings the reader back to fantasies of the past. I loved your word “illimitable potential”! It is what I feel each time I set out on a new adventure! May 2018 bring much illimitable potential for both of us! My hopes for the new year are two-fold: finish my memoir and become full-time campers again. I truly miss extended travel and adventures.

    • Thank you for that! It has been such a privilege to wander slowly, allowing myself to be immersed in the magic of this world. May 2018 give you the time and opportunity to realize your hopes. I’m looking forward to reading about your next set of adventures.

  5. I wonder if you met any more little girls clutching a teddy as at Stonehenge! With such a sense of imagination I can see you’d find interest anywhere. I’ve found that being a grandparent is a wonderful excuse to become a child again for a while. I can remember the pleasure of beating the Australians in an ‘Ashes’ cricket Test match played with other boys against our garage doors, also of climbing a tree to get a view from the ship’s ‘crows nest’ of the Treasure Island of Jim Hawkins!

    • No little girls clutching teddies in Suomenlinna! It’s lovely to discover how many spent their childhoods like me, reenacting favorite adventure book scenes in backyards, front lawns, driveways, or neighboring woods. When playing “Treasure Island” my friends and I would always fight over who got to be Captain Silver.

  6. Just yesterday I watched a travel program about Helsinki and Tallinn, and I was intrigued by this former Swedish fort islands. From the program and your photos I can understand why this part of the Finnish capital evokes that memories of reading adventure fiction to you. I can imagine a much younger version of me wandering around Suomenlinna and getting lost, both in space and imagination. I wonder if I’ll be able to relive that kind of memory from my childhood when I visit one day.

    • I’m sure you would! Though perhaps the landscape would differ slightly. Exploring these places brings history alive for me and I get to relive the excitement I felt while reading all those childhood books.

    • It’s certainly more difficult as an adult to have that same fearlessness, to allow ourselves the fun of play. Here’s to doing more of both in 2018! Thanks for all the wonderful chats about travel and life we’ve had. It’s been so great getting to know you along this journey.

      • The feeling is mutual! I used to be skeptical about the digital world and blogging. I’ve virtually connected with so many people, across the globe, who share similar traits and passions. I’m convert now! Here’s to 2018! xo

  7. This place does look like a childhood fantasy, Atreyee. Wonderful photos and narrative. I’m sorry we didn’t make it outside of Helsinki on our visit to Finland. Wishing you many happy adventures this coming year!

  8. What a lovely post. Finland has long been on my bucket list of places to see. At first I thought the Vikings had left these stone structures in place as fortresses against the winds and storms as they sailed their ships. So if people inhabit this place, do they shop for groceries via boats? How does one get to the island? Light planes? Schools, doctors, hospitals?

    • The fort was actually built by the Swedes to protect themselves from the Russians when this area belonged to the Swedish empire. Russia eventually took over and expanded the fort. There is a school, a church, a grocery, a cafe, a library for locals. There is regular ferry service to the mainland running throughout the year.

      • No wonder artists live and create there. It sounds wonderful. The winds must blow all the time though. I know I could spend time writing there. So much poetry to fill pages. Thanks for the information. I read some of the history about the island. I suppose one flies into Helsinki and then ferries over. ^__^

      • It’s a perfect place for artists. As you supposed, the easiest way to get there is from Helsinki. The ferry to Suomenlinna leaves from the Market Square and takes about twenty minutes.

      • Yes, Finland is a pescatarian’s delight: lots of herring, smoked salmon, pike, and perch. My favorite things to eat were the sweet breads, called pulla, made with cardamom and their berry soups.

  9. I was right there with you from the very beginning ‘I used to imagine as a child reading adventure fiction’. We are both so lucky to have had our imaginations to carry us through our childhood and to have moments like you had in Suomenlinna to bring us back there again. I recently had an experience in Vietnam that made me feel like I was finally getting a chance to live my childhood Little House on the Prarie fantasy – yes, I know that seems odd to have found my ‘little house’adventue in SaPa, but there it was. Anyhow, I know how you feel …AWESOME. And gorgeous pics every one.

  10. Nice piece; the text, the photos, the imagery. Imagination does add spice to adventure, I’ll need to remember that the next time a trip begins to seem ho-hum.

  11. What a great beginning for the blog posts in 2018! I feel that the magic of winter is still there, and when one watches these pictures, surely is looking for a fairy, an elf or another character. Have a wonderful year! Cătălin

    • Thank you Agness. Suomenlinna is actually a group of eight islands, five of which are connected through bridges. The main one which features the ancient fort (and the one I spent time on) is about twenty minutes ferry ride from Helsinki. It is a very popular picnic site for Helsinki locals in the summer. If you have time during your Helsinki visit I would recommend spending a few hours or perhaps longer there to hike the trails, picnic, or even take a dip in the sea (in warm weather).

  12. This is a beautiful place. It feels like one could strip off the stresses of the modern world here. There are so many gorgeous images here, but that mighty door speaks of the hint of mystery. You weave a tale that draws in the reader.

  13. A gem of a post and I was so happy to join you on your adventure of the island! I just adore the way you linked this visit to your childhood reading of adventure books – glad I’m not the only one who retains that sense of excitement, drama, adventures in visiting places like this…it was full of possibilities, foreboding! Beautiful atmospheric photos and wonderful descriptions. As for the anticlimactic endings of certain tales, I wholeheartedly agree with you…

  14. These photos are very enticing. I love the bunker house and the mustard flowers. The door is pretty incredible too. Your post captures the mood and feel of the place and it is as if I just travelled there for a brief lovely moment in time. Thank you.
    A wonderful and illuminating 2018 to you.

  15. I appreciate Your post very much. Very enjoyable reading and beautiful photos. To Suomenlinna there is also a narrow tunnel. It is not intended for visitors and it is just under renovation.

  16. You brought me back to the days when I buried myself in children adventure books, without any adults supervision as you nicely put it. A world of our own. Thank you so much for sharing your imagination. I feel like I’m there in Suomenlinna walking in your boots. One day, I hope I will travel to Scandinavia with my dragon slayer sword, find them and ride them high up in the sky. 😀

    • 😊 I hope you will get the chance to travel to Scandinavia and let your imagination run wild there. The scenery calls for it. Though I am no longer a child, I often return to those beloved adventure books in order to rediscover once more the worlds I used to inhabit.

  17. Extraordinary writing, but I think I said so on these pages before. 🙂 You pull us in and we wish to be friends with that cannon too and smirk at the can and that door… oh that door is just an extra. ❤

  18. I love how you always manage to introduce me to new places and destinations, and the fact that it is automobile free adds to its attractiveness to me, so it is definitely going on my ever-growing bucket list. Maybe not for the coming year, but definitely for some future adventure in the years to come. I can see how this island awakened childhood adventures.

    • Hooray! I love hearing that I introduce you to new places as I often don’t feel that I go to destinations which people would think of as novel or unique. I believe that even popular sights have untold tales though, which I like to discover. Your own travels and stories have been an influence to me and I thank you for that and your lovely support.

      • That is what I love about the blogging community: how we influence one another by making one aware, not only of new places to visit, but also different ways of travelling and seeing the world! And I completely agree with you on the popular sights.

  19. I think the workings of our minds and imagination are wondrous. Thank you for sharing your fantasies triggered by your visit to this beautiful Finnish island.
    I hope your dreams and wishes for 2018 will come true.

  20. Happy New Year to you! That door! What a beauty! And the paragraph just below it — just as beautiful and your thoughts ring so true. Wonderful post to begin the coming twelve months. Thank you!

  21. It definitely looks adventurous but it also looks like a cold climate. Seems like it would have a lot of fun places to explore. That door looks positively medieval and the blocks surrounding it shine like blocks of silver! It must be a tiny island if there’s no transportation other than foot power! 🙂

    • It is a very tiny island and one that’s easy to explore on foot. Scandinavia is in general chilly at the best of times for me, so if you are a warm weather lover, I would definitely suggest visiting during summer months! 😊

  22. I so enjoyed my time on that little island, both for real a few winters ago and in this return visit, replete with your childhood stories. There are certain places that unlock that kind of memory in me, too! Mine are mostly woods-based since those were the places we went to escape the grownups and their rules. Happy New Year!

    • I have the same feelings in the woods as I played in them too for much of my youth! Happy New Year dear friend. Thank you so much for the wonderful chats we’ve had. It has been wonderful to share all sorts of adventures from travel experiences to childhood memories with you.

  23. Beautiful photos and nice story. I visited this island on a perfect summer day a number of years ago. I didn’t have any sense of adventure because I’m more the type who can picture myself twisting my ankle on any uneven surface. However, the island was gorgeous and I felt all upbeat. As I was riding the ferry back to Helsinki, I noticed that my ankles itched. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but the itching increased. When I got back to my room and raised my pants legs, I saw my ankles and calves on fire. I had been bitten by something. I got a little relief standing in cold water in the bathtub. The pharmacist said it was yellow ants. Moral of the story – don’t walk over the grass on Suomenlinna Island in sandals. It was still a very nice day. Happy New Year and Happy Adventures!

    • 😫 How horrible for you! I do try to always hike in socks and ankle boots regardless of the weather for this reason. Glad the incident didn’t totally spoil your enjoyment of Suomenlinna. Thank you so much for coming along on my journeys and for your always thoughtful perspectives.

  24. How wonderful, your story! While reading I became the child-explorer myself, the small but fearless warrior, afraid of nothing, ready to conquer. I sometimes dream like this. There is potential danger lurking around the corner, but I’m not panicking, I know I need to be on guard, but I’m never afraid, I carry on with conficence. We are kings of our island. We are masters of our universe.

    • I am grateful for your kind words. What wonderful dreams to have! I find it fascinating that as children play-acting we allowed ourselves to be fearless in the face of danger. All those feelings you describe came back to me while I was on Suomenlinna, and I’m hoping to keep them with me as I tackle 2018.

  25. 800 inhabitants? It hardly looks the place, does it? That’s a mighty fine door. Looks like it would resist a small battering ram. 🙂 🙂 Good luck with the travel writing journey of life, and a hope for minimal disappointments.

    • I was surprised myself to learn so many lived so well in such a tiny space with so much nature left still to play! Everything about the island, including its ancient fort ruins was fodder for childhood memories of magic.

      Thank you so much for all your years of encouragement and support. It has been a privilege to have you as a friend on this journey.

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