Suomenlinna Fortress – The Russians Came!

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Suomenlinna Fortress is one of the islands in the Baltic Sea that surround Helsinki‘s harbor.  When we told a Finnish gal that we were going there, he said “it a great place to shoot Russians from.”  Historically, there has been more than a little tension between Finland and its close neighbor, Russia.

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In the mid-1700’s, Russia under Peter the Great was rising as a power.  Pete had just built a shiny new capital called St. Petersburg nearby and had his binoculars trained on the west.  Sweden built the Suomenlinna Fortress (christened Sveaborg by the Swedes) with French financial assistance to address the threat Pete posed.

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The second largest or of its type (after Gibraltar), it is a serious fort to counter a serious threat.    When it was built, it was high-tech and a big deal.  It had the world’s largest dry dock, over 5 miles of walls and hundreds of cannons.

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We checked out the museum to learn a little about its history (there are several others on the island, but the weather was so good that we wanted to be outside).  There, about defenses and battles.  In 1808, the Russians came, led by Alexander I, who had colluded with Napoleon, and began bombarding it (see below).

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When no Swedish reinforcements arrived, the Russians took the fortress, occupied it, and called it Viapori.  The Finnish war ended with the Treaty of Fredrikshamn under which Sweden ceded Finland to the Russian Empire in 1809.  Part of the reason Finland is an independent nation today is because it became an autonomous grand duchy within the empire.

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The Russians expanded the fortress, building extra barracks, a bigger dockyard and extra fortifications.   The English and French tried unsuccessfully to take the fort during the Crimean War.  Unfortunately, they only succeeded in damaging it.  Fortunately, the damage was repaired after the war.  In the build-up to World War I, the Russians used it as part of its defenses to designed to safeguard the capital, St. Petersburg.

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Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Suomenlinna became part of an independent Finland.  Later during and after the Finnish Civil War, the island held a prison camp.  The island’s museum has artifacts from, paintings and photos of all these events.

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Today, Helsinki’s Suomenlinna Fortress is more than just one of the largest maritime fortresses and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s a cool place to hang out.  It’s only a fifteen minute ferry-boat ride from the center of Helsinki.

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We wandered around the grounds and scampered on the rocks, enjoying the sun, picnicking and taking pictures.  While taking this one, I slid on the slick rock and fell into the Baltic (thank goodness the camera didn’t go under.  He sat there and laughed at me trying unsuccessfully to scamper out on the algae covered rocks.  Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t the only one.  Suomenlinna is the place to hang on a nice summer day.  We saw Finns lazing on the rocks and picnicking in sunny fields.

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The island is home to 850 residents, who have a pretty cool little town.  There’s a nice brewery, a bar, nice cafes, and a general store.  Many of the residents are artists who sell their wares on the island.  I bought a beautiful pair of earrings that were way cooler than their relatively inexpensive price tag.  The island is especially relaxing because there are barely any cars on the island, although I hear that people used to be able to get to Helsinki via snowmobile in winter.

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We explored the ancient fortress walls and tunnels, checked out the rusty cannons and peered through the gun holes.  There’s a submarine from the cold war to tour and the museum.  The island also houses military barracks.

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We Stormed The Kastell – Vaxholms Kastell Fortress

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For centuries, Vaxholm Fortress (Vaxholms Kastell) guarded a crucial entry route into Stockholm’s harbor.    King Gustav Vasa (yep, the same one who commissioned that famous ship) built a fortress here and filled in other waterways to ensure that this channel was the only way into and out of Stockholm.  He had good reason to strengthen his defenses.  In 1612, Christian IV of Denmark tried to invade.  Czar Peter the Great of Russia tried to invade in 1719.

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In the mid 19th century, they upgraded, well sort of.  Sweden tore down the old defenses and built a giant new granite fortress there.  Unfortunately for them, the technology of warfare advanced between the time the new fortress was designed and when it was completed some 30 years later.  In its first test, a shell (instead of the old technology of cannonballs) tore a hole in the wall.  The fortresses high guns couldn’t really reach the new style of lower design boats.  Oops.

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Since it couldn’t really serve as a bastion of defense, Vaxholm Fortress was used as a prison.  I don’t think I would have liked to be incarcerated here.  The citadel seemed a little cold and wet.  The uniform didn’t look particularly warm either.  Can you imagine spending a Swedish winter like that?

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In addition to covering pre-20th century history, the museum contains exhibits on its more recent uses.  During World War II, Sweden remained neutral but heightened its military preparedness by strengthening its defenses and drafting conscripts.  The Swedes placed mines in the nearby Sea of Åland.   Polish ORP RyśORP Żbik, and ORP Sęp submarine crews were detained in Vaxholm’s Citadel.

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The end of the Second World War in 1945 signaled the beginning of “Cold War.” Swedish military was  on high alert.  The USSR was as close as nearby Estonia and the Russians had come sniffing their way before.  The archipelago became important because it was a gateway into the country.   Vaxholm’s Kastell Fortress monitored the area.  The military stopped occupying it in 1993 and in 2000, the absence of an external enemy meant all stationary batteries were deactivated in Sweden.  Today, its museum has artifacts thoroughout its history, from royal times to the mines and radar.  The incredible setting makes it all the more interesting and it’s well worth a visit.

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One of the coolest things about it today is that in addition to functioning as a park, it contains a hotel.  The best part is that nothing is closed.  If you stay, you can wander around, picnic, sit on the ramparts with drink, enjoy the quiet and watch boats go by.  Since the rooms have no radio, TV, or internet, you might not have much else to do.

Escalade

No, I’m not talking about a giant SUV.  I’m talking about a pretty cool party. Geneva’s Escalade commemorates the Protestant city of Geneva‘s defeat of the Duke of Savoy‘s Catholic troops in 1602.
I’m not really sure, but these might be Geneva’s version of Paul Revere?  If you’re going to visit Geneva, this might be the best time to do it.  It’s a really cool festival that’s part spectacle, part party and very accessible.  You’re in the middle of it so you’ll experience it with all of your senses.  The sounds of drums and fifes echoed through the city walls, while the smell of mulled wine (vin chaud) wafted through the air.

Here’s the deal. Charles Emmanuel I the Duke of Savoy wanted Geneva’s wealth. Genevans wanted their independence.  Many of them were religious refugees and would have had no where safe to go if Geneva had fallen to Catholic France. They also wanted to keep their money instead of giving it to the Duke.

When the Duke’s troops attacked, grandma threw a pot of boiling soup over the city walls as they attempted to climb them.  She then woke up the city so that it could defend itself.  Pretty much, they celebrate not their city not being overtaken by the Savoy and not becoming part of France.

It’s historic in the best possible way.  They have parades.  The old town is lit up by people carrying torches.  They really did fire the muskets!  They were so loud.  It scared the heck out of me… and the kid next to me.  They fire cannons too.  People dress up in period costumes.  Some are even on horseback.  The Passage de Monetier, a secret passage in Geneva’s old town is open for only this one night.
How do you celebrate grandma’s victory?  In the most quintessentially Swiss way. Chocolate!  They make giant tureens (cauldrons) of chocolate with marzipan vegetables (to be like granny’s tureen of soup).  Stores like Migros and Co-op sell the “vegetables.”  I bet it’s really easy to get kids to eat these vegetables.  They also have tasty street food and (of course) mulled wine.

Children dress up in costumes, kind of like they would in the US on Halloween.  We didn’t see any risqué costumes like you do there.

The cannon was louder than the muskets.  Unfortunately, there are not enough occasions where shooting off a cannon is permitted.  If you can get away with it, it definitely says celebration (or attack). There’s also a race/run that takes place weekend of or preceding the night of the 11th It usually starts in the  Parc des Bastions, where the Savoy troops congregated before attacking the walled city, and goes through Geneva’s old town, before finishing near the start. It’s a big deal here and everyone gets involved; you’ll even see families and running together.   There’s even a youth race and a costume run.

*Escalade translates from French into English as climbing.

 

 

No Body Bags in this Morges

 
Sorry for the bad pun, I just couldn’t help it.  I’m also sorry for the excessive “Cute Swiss Towns” posts.  You might have guessed.  We’ve had visitors and have been busy showing them around.  As a visitor, I really appreciate anything my hosts do to show me or teach me about where they live.  I, perhaps erroneously, assume that the rest of the world appreciates this as well.   As a result, staying with us can be a sort of boot camp.  If you give me the slightest indication that you want to see and do things, it’s on.  You were warned.
 
When my mom was here, we went to Morges.  It’s located between Geneva and Lausanne, near Nyon, on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  Some people commute from there to Geneva (the housing is so tight in Geneva that some people don’t have a choice, others like this adorable town).  
It is adorable and while it doesn’t have lots of fancy museums, it has cute streets, nice cafes and beautiful views.
 
 
Boot camp looks really rough

It’s Switzerland.  Of course they have a castle.  He, as always, liked the cannons best.

Don’t plan on attacking Morges; they have at least two cannons.  Vaud is the name of the canton (the Swiss version of a state).