Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Vaasa: sights and a walk by the seashore

Vaasa is a city of lovely esplanades, thanks to the Swedish architect Carl Axel Setterberg who was commissioned with drawing the city plan in mid-19th century after the old Vaasa had burned down in 1852. Thus, a pedestrian may choose to walk on a regular sidewalk on either side of the street or in the middle of it.

The two Mobitours, guided by a cellphone, also take you for a walk along the esplanades. However, I complement the cellphone guide with a printed map; somehow it feels nicer to see the whole route, not just what is the next stop on the cellphone screen.
Sights and a Walk by the Seashore is about 3.5 kilometres long and just like the shorter Mobitour walk, it begins by the church at Kirkkopuisto (Church Park). I have heard the church story before so I cross the street to the see the Empire style Church Pharmacy, Kirkkoapteekki (1860). The writer and poet Zacharias Topelius is engrossed in reading a fairytale for the children. 
The granite building next door was built for the Bank of Finland (architect: Johan Sirén) which may explain the artistic bars on the ground floor windows. The other decorations include granite reliefs.
I turn right to the alley surrounded by lime trees before the tall yellow Jugend style house. Hope also other residents plant some flowers on their balconies! After the little detour I'm again back at Kirkkopuistikko street, heading for Arbis and Wasa Teater.
The Swedish theater building of this bilingual city is nothing fancy, but there are some details in the next buildings on the way, like the simple doors of the Evangelical Lutheran Prayer House or the grey granite decorations on the beautiful pink Jugend style house that the Mobitour doesn't name.
In the old days, there used to be public wells in the esplanades but nowadays you have to carry your own drinking water with you. If only these wells were still in operation, it would be great to be able to fill your water bottle here.
I don't take the shortest route to Ostrobothnian Museum but make a detour via the wooden houses close to the shore. Pikkukatu street is indeed a little street! As I'm walking on a Monday there is no hope of getting in so I miss also the Terranova Kvarken Nature Centre which is devoted to the nearby archipelago, Kvarken, included in UNESCO's World Heritage site list.
There are some odd-looking laminated sheets hanging in the yard in front of the museum. A work of art, apparently. Nothing like a spider's web so what is it?
Then I notice a tiny dragonfly statue on a fairly high pedestal, and again two more; however, the statue in the middle is unfortunately missing. Cordulia aenea, Calopteryx virgo anc Aeschna grandis form Cyglys, a work of art by Stefan Lindfors, but it takes a while until I realise what the whole thing is about. The artwork must look stunning when the spotlights are illuminated at night and shadows start their play. Only it doesn't get too dark here at this time of the year!
I walk round the old Vaasa Steam Mill (Vaasan Höyrymylly) and finally arrive at the seashore. It is easy to forget that Vaasa is a seaside town if you remain in the city centre! There is no longer cereal or flour in the air because the buildings now serve Åbo Akademi university students instead, and the place is these days called Academill. I hope the thick walls can keep the fierce wind away in the winter; right now this is a perfect place for a walk.
The young oak tree in the corner of the now academic park is no ordinary tree. It was planted in 2006 in celebration of Vaasa's 400th anniversary by the bank Handelsbanken and the tree stands for Growth and Knowledge.
I return from the shore back to Rantakatu street and its old houses. The red brick building is reserved for the administrative office of Åbo Akademi, a Swedish language university which has a branch also here in Vaasa. Originally, the building was the residence of A. A. Lévon, the founder of Vaasa Steam Mill. At least the main entrance doors are well protected by the decorative cast iron shapes! But who is that guy in the middle - is it Mr Lévon himself?
A peek into the back yard of the administrative building reveals a funny bright red piece of art, apparently constructed of tractor seats. At least that's my guess. Is it a funnel of knowledge, or perhaps a flower? Or a horn of plenty?
Interesting houses continue on the sleepy Rantakatu street, with hardly any cars going by. This is a lazy afternoon indeed. A side door of Svenska Klubben (Swedish Club) says Odd Fellow. A strange guy? Interesting...  There is no entry right now to Setterberg Park which is under renovation, but the Mobitour guide leads me back to the large park by the sea. Also, time for lunch: Strampen serves excellent perch that is fished locally.
After lunch I continue down to the Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art but of course I only get to see its exterior, thanks to it being Monday. For me, this building, a former customs storehouse, is more pleasing to the eye than the magnificent red brick of Hovioikeus (Court of Appeal) a bit further at the Harbour Park.
The footpath by the sea leads me to the other side of the County Prison (nicknamed Vaasa Castle), safely behind massive brick walls. The basin in front of it is named after the prison (vankila) but the boats are free to go any time. A boardwalk leads to the small island in behind the basin for a more open view to the sea.
The yellow sedums are in bloom by the rocks. I walk round the tiny island. If only I hadn't just had lunch and I had a picnic basket with me; this would be the perfect spot.
On a lamp post by the boardwalk I encounter a mysterious sign but quickly recollect that this must stand for Vaasan Marssi, an annual walking event held at Vaasa in early August. The event is no race but it gathers together walking enthusiasts, and not only from Finland. There are walks of different length available.
My route takes me slightly uphill, to the fairly large old Barracks area that dates to the 1880's. It is great that so many of the wooden buildings are still intact. The Main Guard used to be in building marked with blue and white stripes.
The only remaining soldiers at the Barracks are now somewhat rusty, and I suspect that they are more than mostly harmless. They are actually guarding Kenraali Wasa Hostel which is located in an old military hospital building. I turn to head towards the Orthodox Church which is on the other side of the barracks square.
The entry to the Fria Kristliga Folkhögskolan building is quite stunning but I spot some rotten wood on the terrace beneath. Hope someone starts renovations soon! The lawn around the Orthodox Church looks very welcoming whereas the church doors are locked, as usual. Oh well, I'm used to that. Just keep going.
Next, I reach the statue erected for Carl Axel Setterberg; no wonder the city plan is also engraved in his memorial. Good work! Finnish towns are not usually this spacious; a typical town has pretty narrow streets whereas here you can really experience space. I know the walk isn't officially over yet, but I feel that I've almost had an overdose of beautiful buildings, parks and details for today...
There are a couple more old buildings ahead before I will call it a day. Last stop: the Water Tower. Locked. If it hadn't been, I'm sure I would have made the final effort and climbed up to get a full view of Vaasa and the sea.

I've just completed my second Mobitour in Vaasa, and but find that I've mostly clicked Next sight or Information links on the screen and haven't bothered to listen to the audio guide. It feels easier to walk with a printed map, and personally, I prefer a real person as a guide. You can't ask your cellphone any questions just like that (googling is not exactly the same thing) and you miss out great stories that a real person can tell. However, without the Mobitour guide, I wouldn't have done such an extensive sightseeing walk around town!
Finally, I take a left turn on Raastuvankatu street. What are the signs on that building? Kävely and käveleminen mean walking... Walking is one of the most important skills for an independent life. Quite right. The place, Kävelykioski (Walking Kiosk) gives training and guidance especially for older people who need to strengthen or regain their ability to walk. An interesting concept! It is so easy to take the ability to walk for granted.

Thank you Vaasa, let's keep on walking!

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