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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.



141 replies »

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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).

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