Trip to Savonlinna on Juhannus

Went to Savonlinna, Finland on June 21, 2009

Juhannus is the mid-summer celebration. The tradition is that people go on various trips on this holiday. So I decided to go to Savonlinna, a town in Eastern Finland to check out the only castle that I have not visited yet тАУ Olavinlinna. As usual, taking train was the cheapest and fastest option. However, the above map shows that there is no direct train between Tampere and Savonlinna. The train network is going pretty much in north-south direction with short distance connecting trains that allow to jump between one branch and another. In this trip I had to take four trains which sounds like a crazy idea. In addition, the day before the departure an accident happened on Tampere-Helsinki branch, thus the delays were introduced.

So I started the trip 10 minutes late. The chances to make it to the first connection were really minor because the time between the trains was only 6 minutes. Thus the whole trip was in danger. Of course, I thought of back up plans but it would not make me happy to start the trip with a backup plan. But it was amazing how well the railroad network adapted to this delay. Basically, it was propagated to all related trains. I guess the algorithm that controls this network has a notion of relevant train. For example, if lots of people are expected to change trains at a certain station at a certain time then the connecting train waits for all the incoming trains. It is an interesting algorithmic problem.

I was also impressed with the extremely mobile connecting trains. It can have as few as just one car as this connecting train in Savonlinna.

Because of that, I made all connections on time! I could not believe it but I arrived to Savonlinna as planned! I stayed in a hotel with swimming pool and spas situated on a lake. Upon arrival I checked out its saunas. Nice place. Then in the evening I went to the town and walked around the castle. Because of the holiday it closed earlier in the afternoon thus I only walked outside. The castle is very impressive. It is built on an island which is basically rock. It occupies the whole island in order to prevent the medieval warriors from getting hold of it. During the opening hours a bridge connects it with the mainland. I did not take a boat trip around the castle. Instead, I jumped from one island to another taking pictures.

I like building 3D models of various castles and churches but this time I used Nokia Maps 3.0 on my Nokia 5800 to get the model of the castle. Surprisingly, the map is not aware of the island which the castle is built on, it is showing it on the water.

Here is part 2 of the description of my trip to Savonlinna. Earlier in part 1 I described getting to Savonlinna and walk around the castle.

On the next day the castle opened and I went into it. Upon entering you can see a huge statue of St Olaf.

Then the guided tour goes up to the middle level. From there it is possible to see the inner court. Then the tour goes up to the towers. Earlier there were five towers in the castle but two of them were destroyed. In part this is due to prominent history of the castle. During numerous wars the castle was sieged a number of times. Their duration and severity varied. During one siege a huge hall in the wall between two towers was made after two thousands canon shots were fired.

There is a whole maze inside the castle. This is why going on the upper level is allowed only with a guide. After the one-hour guided tour ends tourists are told that it is possible to explore the ground levels on your own but you cannot go into towers. This is a bit frustrating because there are so many things to see in those towers!

After the not so long tour of the castle I went to explore the lake system on a boat trip. A variety of them are offered. The lakes span huge territory reaching Russian border areas. Earlier it was an important trade route.

I went to a 1.5 hour cruise on a steamboat. It goes through a beautiful archipelago with a thousand of islands. I guess earlier it was a convenient area for independent people because it was possible to live free on any of these islands. Most of the islands are habitable these days, that is a number of cottages are visible on the shore. But I wonder if they have electricity and water supply.

After looking at the archipelago I wonder why that particular island was chosen as the location of the castle. There are bigger islands, thus it was possible to build a bigger castle. Olavinlinna is a strong castle but it is quite small. In case of a war not too many people would find protection in it. This only means that the surrounding villages would get destroyed. In Russia, each major city had a Kermlin тАУ a strong castle which size was 5-10 times the size of Olavinlinna. I also noticed that the elevation of the island on which Olavinlinna is situated is low. Going on the neighboring island lifts you above the walls of the castle.

Thus to me Ovalininna looked like a Trojan horse. It is attractive because it was a stronghold situated on an important trade route but it is an easy vulnerable target. The history proved that as the ownership of the castle was transferred many times during its prominent history.

There is a museum of history in Savonlinna but it was closed when I visited the city. Thus, after visiting Olavinlinna I have more questions than answers. The castle hides lots of mysteries within its walls.