Monday, 9 July 2012

Vaasa: A glance at local history

I step into the tourist information kiosk at the market place in Vaasa. I know Vaasa city has published some walking guides but they are not available here; need to visit the Raastuvankatu tourist information for more information. *However, if you don't know Finnish or Swedish language, you can find most information about walks and hikes in Vaasa in English online only, not in print. Lucky me! I can also benefit from the excellent printed brochures and their maps. After the tourist office, I stop at the neighbouring building, House of crafts Loftet to decide where to head next. Someone has marked Loftet with a pretty knit graffiti :)
Loftet building dates back to 1860 and there is a handicraft shop in addition to the cosy café Konsulinnan kahvihuone (The Consul's Wife's Coffee Room) which has an excellent choice of teas available. I can feel the eyes of the Madame herself, Tulla Whittington-Moé as well as those of her sons Dick ja Cyril, on me while I sip my tea. 
In this charming old building there are many fine details, from the decorated glass cabinet by the window to the  neat woodwork. Glancing at the books on the shelves, I'm not surprised to see Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice there. I can well imagine someone reading her novels here.
There are beautiful details in the next room as well. Just look above to the ceiling where there are classical, delicate female profiles as well as partly faded ornaments. In the room itself there is also something more modern to see right now: Tina Nylund has created fantastic, unique dresses (90 % recycled material such as old men's shirts) - which are on display together with stylish photographs of each dress.
After careful consideration, I choose my walk. Vaasa offers something I haven't yet experienced in Finland: Mobitour. There are two "personal guides" available for walks (in English, Swedish and Finnish) and each can be followed with a cell phone, provided that you download the Upcode onto your phone with the phone's Internet browser first. Just note the data transfer fees during the walk! You can both follow the route with your cell phone and read or listen to explanations at the marked stops, as well as see some photos. The code is usually visible also at the marked stops.
I choose to do the short walk first. The walk titled A glance at Vaasa's history begins at the lovely Kirkkopuisto (Church Park) and after a little negotiation with my cell phone, I start listening to the introduction to the church itself. Unfortunately the doors to the church are closed today and I miss the paintings, one of which was painted by Finnish master painter Albert Edelfelt.  The next stop is at the Sea pilots' statue, Luotsipatsas at the very same park. Oh no, the Mobitour commentary worked so well by the church, but it keeps stopping here. Better read the text instead.
After leaving the City hall, I skip Loftet (been there already!) and walk to Hovioikeudenpuistikko street on the corner of which there is quite a jewel: Kurtenia House.
The Jugend style is rich with details, starting from the doors and doorways. A crowned eagle is guarding one of the doors, but in the corner entrance there are lizard-like fantasy creatures on the oak doors. If you are looking for Brasilian Honorary Consulare, this is your door!
I hesitate only for a second before stepping in through the corner entrance which leads me to Il Banco restaurant. The name is appropriate because there used to be a bank right here, but what's more, there is still a bank as well. Ålandsbanken just happens to be behind the restaurant... Just keep walking through the glass doors to the magnificent bank hall with its stained glass ceiling!
Besides the beautiful ceiling, there are lots of fine details on the walls and ceiling above. Unfortunately I don't have any bank business to take care of, so better not linger there too long...
It would be nice to stop here for lunch to see some more of this place, perhaps next time! They really knew how to make a pretty entrance back in early 1900.
After I leave Kurtenia, I enter a wide pedestrian street which is decorated here and there by artwork. The statue of this couple taking a walk (Erkki Kannosto, 2006) is for some reason called Varjoja metsässä (Shadows in the forest) although there are not too many trees right here... I'd rather rename this Walkers in the forest.
The lamp posts designed especially for the pedestrian street are great! They are less than 1 metre tall and resemble lighthouses. It must be a cute sight in the evening (although at this time of the year, there are hardly any dark evenings!).
When I reach the market place, I notice I'm standing on slabs that list Vaasa's twin cities around the world. Morogoro, Tanzania, is 8,000 km from here, the German twin towns Kiel and Schwer less than 2,000 km away... So I'd better pay more attention to the blue signs above which include more tolerable distances for someone on foot. What does Mobitour say? Right behind me there is the great Hartman Business Palace with its grey granite statues. Wow!
Next, I walk diagonally across the market place and ignore one of Vaasa's busy shopping areas, Rewell Center which was named after the Vaasa born architect Viljo Revell. Unfortunately I'm not a great fan of his, even if he designed also the Toronto City Hall... Therefore, I'm happier entering Vaasa's market hall which has kept something from the old days although at first it seems that perhaps the stained glass could be all there is left...
As it is, you don't first meet this type of traditional style stalls when entering the market hall from Vaasanpuistikko street! It is only after navigating through the clothes shop that you find the 'real' market hall with its cafés and delicacies. The sign at stall number 60 is mysterious as it says Ostrobothnia Museum. I wonder if the museum used to have its own stall there...
After the market hall stop, there are only two more official sights to see on this Mobitour to local history. I take the Vaasanpuistikko street towards the railway station (the very last stop) and stop on the way at the classical style hotel Astor. However, I wish there had been a mention of the Wasa Yllevarufabrik (literally: Vaasa Woollen Objects Factory) which I pass on the way. What is the story of this red brick building?


I think it is great that Vaasa city offers a cellphone guided tour - never been on one before. A Mobitour enables you to walk with a "guide" at your own pace and you can choose whether to read more or listen to the commentary about the places you're passing. However, the application could perhaps be somewhat improved...

Personally, even though really not rushing through the route, I was getting somewhat impatient with the continuous clicking and especially zooming in on every other screen to be able to click the right link or to move forward. So... I ended up using a printed version of the map to lead me to the next place and used only the commentaries or texts of the Mobitour guide to learn about the places.

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