Can We Just Cross At The Official Border?

One of the joys of having no set route on these adventures is that just occasionally you stumble across a gem of a place about which you have never heard. Hamina, in Finland, was just one such example of this as far as I am concerned.

I had never heard of it, although I am sure due to its place in history it is somewhat better known to both the Fins and the Russians, oh and possibly the Swedes. It appears to have been fought over at one time or another by both the Swedes and the Russians, fighting each other as far as I can make out, so I assume the locals just kept their heads down.

Hamina was originally named Vehkalahti which was founded in 1653, but was completely destroyed in 1712 by, you’ve guessed it, fire; albeit the fire this time was deliberately set by the retreating army of Sweden. This was the time of Peter the Great, unusual surname although there was at least one known relative, Catherine, who we will come to later.

Anyway, after the town was rebuilt its name was changed to Hamina, much easier to pronounce. I don’t think it was an insurance scam, but there was another fire in 1821!

The majority of the town’s buildings are traditional wooden structures built on top of brick. Unsurprisingly the town, being a hilltop fortress, is circular with the town hall as its centrepiece. The streets are quite wide and surprisingly quiet by most modern day standards.

The majority of the fortifications were removed by the early 1950’s, before conservation became fashionable. However the town council did come-up with the novel idea of turning a large part of the surviving central bastion into an event venue covered by the largest canopy in Europe. This works really well delivering a slightly unusual, but splendid venue for large-scale events.

The museum building was used for peace negotiations between Catherine II (Catherine the Great), Empress of Russia, and King Gustav III of Sweden. According to local legend King Gustav proposed marriage to Catherine II during the negotiations of 1783, but she declined to say yes until one could, instead of sealing the contract by kissing her hand, give a proper kiss through the hole in a millstone, another tradition. And to think, some websites today are dedicated to similar such activities.

Anyway, if you are ever in Finland, close to the Southern end of the joint border with Russia and looking for something to do, visit Hamina.

Submitted by Roy the Mediocre.

PS. Met up with a charming couple on my final evening and had a long natter over a beer. They told me about an alternative route from Hamina to the border, popular with the ‘bikers’ because of its twist and turns.

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