All the King’s Men

We told our children that we were planning a little trip while they are on summer vacation. One of them asked immediately, “Are we going abroad?” No, we were not planning to go abroad, but rather somewhere much closer to home and only a couple of hours away. We drove through the beautiful and vast lake country to Savonlinna which is actually situated on an island. The city of Savonlinna was founded in 1475 and along the same time the contruction of Olavinlinna was started.


June has been really quite rainy, but we were lucky and the past weekend was perfect. I was excited to bring the kids to a medieval castle and see how it would affect their imaginations. We have been borrowing books from the library that tell of life in times past, of knights and castles and of course princesses. We took the tour that brought us through skinny passageways and uneven and steep steps. The castle was originally built to protect Finland which was then under the rule of Sweden from the East. The city of Savonlinna comes to life in the summer as the international Opera Festival is yearly held in the castle in July. Even as we were there, we could sense the buzz. Along the waterfront, there were people dressed in summer dresses and pressed shirts waiting for the evening performances to begin. And inside as I was photographing, delivery boys came in bringing in crates of water bottles and a box of flower bouquets perhaps for the performers.

all the king's men olavinlinna finland

The interesting thing is that Aunt Elma also visited Savonlinna and Olavinlinna as they were building the large stage for the opera festival. The Savonlinna Opera festival was initiated by Aino Ackté, who was an internationally renowned opera star at the turn of the 20th century. When we lived in Helsinki, we lived right by her summer home which I would often run or walk by several times a week.

Aino Ackté photo credit:
Aino Ackté photo credit:

Elma relates in her texts of her trip in Finland in the 1930s, that she arrived to the island castle of Olavinlinna by boat. Today there is a small bridge that allows for pedestrians to cross. She said that you could hear new times comes with the banging of the hammers as they built a theater to seat a thousand. The opera festival has three different stages. Two are inside the castle and one is outdoors encircled by the walls of the castles creating wonderful acoustics that Aino Ackté originally fell in love with. When we were there, there would have been an opportunity to go on a back stage tour, but as we had our children with, we thought that the day might become too long for them to do both tours, so we opted for just the basic tour of the castle.

opera stage

In the photo above, you can see the tent structure covering the outdoor stage. But Oh, Elma! I had to laugh when I was reading her accounts from her trip. I suppose it was quite exotic in the 1930s for someone to come all the way from America and as I understood she was introduced to the actors and stayed at the same place as well.

Aunt Elma's experiences 1930s

The castle walls with windows made for a picturesque theater and the large trees that surrounded gave it a green ceiling and natural curtain, and the midnight sun would give the light. Aino Actké, the prima donna of Finland, and other famous singers were in the program. Our guide, who was able to speak English showed us the armory, the womens’ room, the chapel and confessional and the dungeon that had contained Olaf for fifteen years (as to which Olaf is in question, I am not certain as St. Olaf after which the castle was named lived around the year 1000 and I was not able to find more detail). In the Savonlinna city they presented a play called Matkan pää or roughly translated The end of the Journey that took place during war time. It was too sad. Although it was late, they had to release the curtains in order to make ‘night’. In the morning as I came down the stairs, I met one of the actors. I was surprised and exclaimed, ‘I thought you died!’ ‘No’ He exclaimed, ‘It was only acting’. He then introduced the other actors to us. The director then explained to the others, when I spoke or acted in an unladylike manner according to Finnish standards, so that they would not get the wrong impression, ‘Look, she is American and so free.’ ‘Our Finnish made them laugh.’ I said that I had worn out a pair heels (heel of the foot) climbing in Olavinlinna. ‘My dear friend, not your heel (as in heel of your foot) but heels (as in shoes).

st olaf's castle finland

After our tour of the castle we walked to the local market square to buy a local delicacy called lörtsyt. Basically it is has a fairly thin yeast-raised crust that has meat inside. The version with the reindeer and blue cheese was the best.

savonlinna market square tori

waterfront savonlinna

From Savonlinna we continued on our way to Liperi which is about a half hour drive from Joensuu in Eastern Finland. We had reserved a room through airbnb that would house our whole family. It was a literally a pleasant surprise as the pictures on the airbnb site did not do justice. It was an old school that had been renovated and currently is a yoga and wellness center called Sun Ahonlaita. They offer among other things art and yoga coarses. As it is midsummer here and Finland is known for the amount of cabins that it has per capita, the permanent residents that live at the yoga center were not there and were perhaps visiting a family cabin. That meant that we had the old school to ourselves. The interior was colorful but peaceful at the same time. Our kids really liked the small sinks on the side of the hallway that were remnants of passed days. They were at the perfect height for them to brush their teeth and wash their hands.

Sun ahonlaita airbnb

Our room had four bunk beds with a total of 8 beds. One for each of us. Perfect! The gym turned yoga studio, living room and kitchen is in use for guests. Of course if others are there you will need to remember to be courteous. Since we didn’t have to share this time we were able to let the children run out their evening energy out in the yoga studio. I wouldn’t mind having one at home either!

yoga studio

yoga studio sun ahonlaita

And in the evening light close to 11 pm after the kids had gone to bed we enjoyed a some vendace baked into a rye crust that we had bought from the market square in Savonlinna. Really a perfect end to a perfect day.

muikku kukko vendence

Other posts about Elma: Elma’s travels, Some Mean Coffee, Easter Mummus a Bobcat and our very own Wild Thing, Following Elma’s footsteps, Keepsakes in my Kitchen, Elma, In My Kitchen in the bleak Mid-winter,


  1. The lady in her grand velvet wears it very well:) What a special mini-trip for the family. Looks like so much fun. Of course “abroad” would have been quite wonderful…Hugs…

    1. Doesn’t she! We had such a fun time and the next day we visited a country fair in Joensuu with lots of horse shows and animals etc. Maybe sometimes we coule make the “abroad” trip work. 🙂

  2. Really a wonderful trip, the island is just beautiful the photo’s of the children in there beautiful outfits is just gorgeous. Finland really is a country that is beautiful as well as steeped in tradition.

    1. Hi Suzanne, the castle had just recently opened this little activity center along with all of the dress-up clothes. Such a fun thing for them to do after the tour. 🙂

  3. What a great holiday break, and you found a marvellous place to stay via airbnb. I enjoyed learning more about the Opera Festival and the great Aino Akte. My daughter is very interested in Strauss. I will now be able to tell her I know about the singer who was his Salome. 😉

    1. Our trip gave me good excuse to learn more about Aino Ackté as well. Did you know that her name was originally Achté as her father was of German descent but as a young woman singing in the Parisian opera her name was too close to the French word acheté which meant “bought”. This led her to change her name.

  4. LOVE this post Laila. What a gorgeous family holiday. Love the photo of Aino Ackté and her striped yellow house! Oh your Air BnB looks amazing, especially the ladders leading up to the bunk beds, and the coloured walls. Isn’t Air BnB the best?!
    Wow, your food! Reindeer and blue cheese sounds so exotic, as does vendace (which I’ll admit I had to google). Enjoy the rest of your Summer Vacation. We’re right in the middle of Winter and it’s utterly freezing.

    1. Isn’t the house a charm. I remember inspecting it everytime I would go by on my run. At the time I was not yet introduced to Aino Ackté. Hope you have some warmer days during your winter. We are having an utterly interesting summer weather-wise as it often changes several times a day and there has only been a handful of “shorts” weather days. But fortunately the weekend we were on our trip, the weather turned out nice.

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