Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Luminous jubilee

I hope you’ve had a very good start for 2018. Here in Finland, the new year meant the closing of the centenary festivities of our independence. The year 2017 was filled with all kinds of events and happenings observing the landmark. Yet many celebrations both at home and abroad took place in early December just before or on our Independence Day the 6th.

Numerous monuments, buildings and natural sites around the world were illuminated in the blue and white colours of our flag, such as the Colosseum, the Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, etc.

A unique Luminous Finland 100 light art tour was also arranged domestically lighting up several historical and natural sites, such as the Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna and the Saana fell at Lapland’s Kilpisjärvi. Most appropriately, the tour culminated in our beloved Turku, the oldest town in the country believed to have been founded almost 800 years ago. And naturally, the venue was the Turku Castle, one of the oldest surviving buildings in the country.

We went to have a look at the lit castle on the first night. As if on cue, some slight snowfall started the very night painting the act all the more magical. By the entrance, scenes of winter landscapes with a few wild animals were projected onto the walls of the Renaissance bailey. The windows around the courtyard were shimmering in changing colours.

And so were those of the medieval main castle and of the towers at both ends of its courtyard. Light artist Kari Kola had turned the old stone structures with the old-style, although renovated, windows mesmerisingly beautiful. Some of these photos will definitely be on my Christmas greetings cards next time.

That night, access to the park in front of the main castle was denied because of preparations of a production for the second night. Despite the minus degrees I walked around the fenced area admiring the colours and marvelling the fresh snow. We haven’t seen much of that this winter. The facade of the main castle was decorated with a projection of a delightful summery seascape with two swans flying over it.

I returned the second night for the grand finale. It being the Independence Day it offered not only a walk through the courtyards of the colour-lit castle but also a five-hour nonstop spectacle of light, sound, dance, fire and acrobatics at the park with an ensemble of dozens of performers. The show titled ‘The Nature of Finland’ was designed and directed by the local circus artist Antti Kulmala, in collaboration with choreographer Iina Ahola and sound designer Ilmari Tiitinen.

As the weather felt freezing many people hadn’t followed the advice to arrive by public transport disturbing the traffic flow, not to mention the experience at the courtyards. I was very pleased we had paid the visit the first night as mass events most certainly aren’t our cup of tea, especially in hubby’s case. I stayed for an hour or so and actually chatted with a couple of fellow spectators managing to make it a memorable shared experience after all.

The first luminous visit to the castle was one of the rare highlights of this winter so far. We haven’t had any snow since early December until a few days ago so you can imagine it’s been depressingly dark most of the time. All our hope is not lost yet. Should we be lucky, even this time the season might develop into something radiant in the end. And if not in southwestern Finland there is always Italy...

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Big and tall

Some of you may have wondered about my very sporadic presence on the blogosphere these past several months. It’s not that I would have been busy but because I’ve had such a lot of disturbance on the blog for almost a year now it has eaten out much of the joy turning my feelings ambivalent, at times almost estranged from the whole thing.

When a trivial little blog of a retiree like myself suddenly gets hundreds of additional clicks day in day out for months whether you post anything or not the largest group of ‘visitors’ being male in their late 20s and early 30s interested in sports, computing and electronics, and when you realise your platform provider doesn’t even acknowledge there is an issue you can’t help feeling discouraged knowing there’s nothing you can do about it but either quit or wait. So I’ve waited. As I am finally seeing some indication the problem may be settling, I will hopefully start catching up soon.

Meanwhile, I am returning to the summer season I’ve almost completely ignored here so far. It offered some fabulous local events I just cannot skip posting about. One of the most memorable and certainly the most international of those we attended was the four-day stopover of The Tall Ships Races 2017 in July.

Mircea from Romania.

The Tall Ships Races are an annual series of events arranged in European waters by Sail Training International, a non-profit organisation encouraging international friendships by promoting sail training to young people. Every few years, the sailing route will take dozens of sailing ships to harbours of the Baltic Sea. This time, Finland actually had two host ports. The first leg from Halmstad, Sweden, ended in Kotka on our south-eastern coast. From there the ships sailed to Turku, and then further to Klaipeda in Lithuania and finally to Szczecin in Poland.

On board Statsraad Lehmkuhl from Norway.

Bow of Statsraad Lehmkuhl.
And what a feast is was! Turku is quite a professional in arranging major maritime events having hosted The Tall Ships Races in 1996, 2003 and 2009, as well as a unique Culture 2011 Tall Ships Regatta that marked Turku’s European Capital of Culture year. The special vibes could be felt all over downtown. The actual event area stretched on both sides of the river Aura from the Forum Marinum maritime museum by the passenger harbour to the first bridge 1.5km away. The weather was quite cloudy during the opening ceremony that culminated in flybys of the Midnight Hawks aerobatics team of the Finnish Air Force. However, it turned most lovely by the weekend when there was simply no end to the pouring crowds.

Sørlandet from Norway.

Dar Mlodziezy from Poland.

Sedov from Russia behind the Finnish Anya.
There are a few prerequisites for participation in The Tall Ships Races: the sailing ship must be a monohull vessel with a waterline length of no less than 9.14m (30ft) and at least half of the crew must be aged 15-25 years. Therefore, the vessels attending were quite versatile in size and status from smaller domestic yachts to spectacular large training vessels from far-away countries.

Rupel from Belgium.

Kapitan Borchardt from Poland behind Achim Kühn's sculpture Harmonia (ie Harmony).
This time, the number of ships moored on the river for the public to marvel was slightly short of 100. You could also step on board several of the larger ones to have a closer look. According to the local organisers, the City of Turku, the event attracted a record-breaking 544,000 visitors, making it the largest of the many Finland 100 events celebrating the centenary year of Finnish independence.

Shtandart from Russia and the Föli waterbus operating between the town and the Ruissalo island.

Some inventive measures were necessary to help the pedestrian masses move from one side of the river to the other. An island ferry had been hired to complement the transport capacity of the Föri river ferry running all year round and the ‘Little Föri’ ferry operating during the summer holiday season. Because of this and the sightseeing cruises of local entrepreneurs, the river never stopped looking busy although it was closed to private boat traffic throughout the event.

Cisne Branco from Brazil marked the centenary of Finland with a cool specially designed banner.
There were lots of activities, music performances, catering sections, vendors’ stalls, etc, all around the area to charm, refresh and entertain the visitors. I must admit I would have preferred a tighter focus on the subject matter with less on-site hassle as was the case at the Helsinki event in 2013 (my post here) but the many families with young children probably felt differently.

We spent practically the whole of Saturday walking with our weekend visitors from ship to ship only to find we hadn’t reserved enough time to see everything there would have been to see. We also returned after dinner to watch the fireworks highlighting the last night of the event. Now that I’m looking at these summery photos I can’t believe they were taken only four months ago. Even if the temperature still stays most of the time slightly above freezing point, at this precise moment in November it seems unlikely I would ever feel warm again...

Above and below Sabab Oman II from Oman.

Figurehead of Sabab Oman II.
Next year this great event will be arranged in the North Sea. The Tall Ships Races 2018 will be kicked off in Sunderland in the UK on July 11, from where the voyage will continue to Esbjerg in Denmark and Stavanger in Norway and finally to Harlingen in The Netherlands closing there on August 6. But already before that – between May 25 and June 18 – The Three Festivals Tall Ships Regatta 2018 will be visiting Liverpool in the UK, Dublin in Ireland and Bordeaux in France.

Roald Amundsen from Germany and Royal Helena from Bulgaria.

Kruzenshtern from Russia.
I do recommend not to skip these events if you happen to be close by. What’s more, if you have a 15 to 25-year-old in the family they could sign up for a leg as a trainee. No previous sailing experience is required. How is that for a treat!

If you missed my post on the extraordinary Swan sailing yacht regatta held in Turku in 2016 you will find it here.