Last time I told you what it was like to sail via Saimaa Canal to Russia. After sailing for five hours, we spent a day in Vyborg and quickly toured around. Just seeing the Saimaa Canal was interesting, but for us, seeing Vyborg was the highlight of this trip. We started our tour from Vyborg Castle and continued towards Lenina park. When a police car drove in front of us with squealing tires and we had to jump out of his way, it really felt like we are on a movie set. And it definitely felt like we were no longer in Finland. Vyborg showed both it’s sides right away.
THE CITY OF VYBORG
Vyborg is located by the Karelian Isthmus on the shores of Vyborg Bay in Russia, and it has about 80,000 inhabitants. In medieval times Vyborg was ruled by the Swedish, then Russians and from 1812 it belonged to the Grand Duchy of Finland. Eventually Finland got it’s independence, and Vyborg was very much part of Finland until after the winter war, when it was returned to Soviet Union. In 1941 Finland tried to annex Vyborg again, but it was lost once more in 1944. Due to this history, there are still many Finnish buildings in Vyborg. Finnish people were evacuated and had to move elsewhere in Finland, and people from the Soviet Union were brought in to inhabit the city. Some Finns later returned to Vyborg in between wars, but they had to leave again when the Soviet Union got Vyborg back in 1944. Due to this history, Vyborg has always had a special meaning for Finns, and many people still feel strongly about it.
Today Vyborg is an industrial city which also gets income from tourism. Besides Vyborg Castle, the sights to see are it’s many stylish old buildings, Market Hall and Montrepo Park. In recent years Vyborg has gone through a face lift and many old buildings have been restored with financial help from Finland.
At the end of the day, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the city since our ferry was really late from it’s schedule. The very first thing we wanted to do was to visit Vyborg Castle which was right next to the harbor. The castle is located on a small island, Linnasalmi, which can be accessed via bridge. Vyborg castle is known for its white tower; The Tower of St. Olav, from where you have a great view to the city.
Vyborg Castle is the only completely preserved medieval castle in Russia. The construction of this castle started in 1293 and continued through years. Later it has been repaired and built up higher. In 1710 the Russians took over the castle, though it was damaged in a fire in the 1860’s. It was repaired again and survived the Winter War.
We had been told, that the entrance fee to the castle can be anything, depending on who is working that day. Especially for the kids. I guess the local kids have free admission and sometimes they let all the kids go in free, and sometimes they make tourist kids pay. So it is always good to check the fee and opening hours beforehand. The castle museum is usually closed on Mondays. Before purchasing the tickets we realised, that if we go inside the castle we would not have time to see the city itself at all. So we decided to take pictures from outside and skip the tour. Too bad.
THE MANY FACES OF VYBORG - AND THE BUILDINGS
While walking around the city we saw many beautiful buildings. Many of them had deteriorated badly and some had been repaired. There were some gorgeous buildings where the house next to them had broken windows or part of it had even burned. What a contrast! You could clearly see the two different faces of this city. If all the buildings would be repaired, this city would be amazing! In many places we did see construction going, on so it’s good to see that something is being done. We walked all the way to Lenina Park and Red Square, while looking at the buildings and taking photos. We stopped shortly by the playground so our daughter could play with the locals.
While walking, we talked a lot about what the life in today’s Vyborg is like, and what it must have felt like to be evacuated from your home to somewhere else during the wars. I’m sure many of those people have returned now for a visit, but it is impossible to imagine what they must of gone through and what kind of feelings it must have brought up. One of those people is my friend’s mom who was traveling with us, so we actually had somebody with us whose life this has affected immensely.
THE CITY LIBRARY BY ALVAR AALTO
One of the most interesting buildings in Vyborg is probably the city library designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. It is located in Lenina park. The building represents functionalism and it was built in 1935. However, it was left to deteriorate badly. During the Soviet Union era some repairs were done, but according to Alvar Aalto, it just got ruined by them and he was bitter for the rest of his life about his work falling into ruin. Later some repairs were done with the help of the Finns, until the Finnish president Tarja Halonen was able to negotiate a budget for it from Putin. The library was completely repaired, and reopened in 2013. Refurbishment was very successful and has gotten two different awards.
THE MARKET HALL
While in Vyborg, you should absolutely visit the Market Hall. From there you will find all the traditional souvenirs like matryoshka dolls or viipurinrinkeli (a local twisted bun). We also bought some beautifully painted wooden eggs which will look great during Easter time. They were also selling some crystals and clothes. We were actually looking for a matryoshka doll with Trump’s face, since we had seen some president matryoshkas in St. Petersburg a few years earlier. We thought it would be a great joke to bring back home to California and to give to somebody. We asked about the doll, and we got an answer with perfect Finnish; “No we don’t have one! Yack! We don’t want him here.” Ha ha! So we didn’t find what we were looking for but at least our daughter got to choose one traditional matryoshka doll and bring it home as a souvenir.
The Market Hall building was designed by the Finn Karl Hård af Segerstad, and it was built in 1906. It represents the Jugend style. While visiting the Market Hall you should be extra careful with your belongings, since it is said to be prowled by pickpockets. There are two stories in the Market Hall, so don’t forget to visit them both.
Our trip to Vyborg was both interesting and exciting! We did wish we had more time to explore the city, so if we were to do this gain, we would book an overnight trip instead. But we did enjoy a beautiful summer day in a great company of our good friends!