Experiencing a new city is both exciting and challenging. How ever long you plan on staying you always want to feel like you’ve done the things you wouldn’t want to miss out on. The best way to really get under the skin of a new place is to see it through the eyes of a local, so when I heard that an organisation had been set up to let you do this in Turku I immediately wanted to know more. Even though I’ve been living in the city for 7 years, the idea of doing something interesting alongside a local giving you their personal insights was really appealing.
The company website is called Doerz and is run by a young entrepreneur called Tomi, a product of the thriving student startup community that has been growing in the city over the past decade. The premise of the site is simple. Post or search for an activity or idea on the message board, that you love or are interested in, and get into it with a local. There are all sorts of activities to have a go at, from sports and photography to traditional Finnish dining. Anybody can post an opportunity and the idea has just got started, so of course the more people who find out about it the greater the variety will become.
Knowing that I write this blog Tomi gave me a call to see if I wanted to give their latest idea – a Vespa Tour of Turku – a test run for them.
I was intrigued to say the least.
Of course it’s not the first time I’ve ridden about on a Vespa but normally it’s the sort of thing you expect to do around the Mediterranean or in Thailand, not in Turku. That’s not to say the mode of transport isn’t popular here in Finland, but mainly among the young who can’t afford a car. Naturally, it’s also popular among city-dwellers where parking is difficult or expensive. Therein lies one of the major appeals to visitors, namely being able to explore the city, quickly and easily without having to worry about parking fees.
As I met up with my Vespa guides, Tomi being one and Samuli (the manager of a local motorcycle shop – of course) being the other, they fitted me up with a retro 50cc and I was ready to roll. Before we headed we had a chat about the things I might be interested in seeing and where I wanted to go. The idea is not to stop and spend time at each place but to get a feel for what the city has to offer and achieve a sense of perspective in a short space of time.
Another advantage of using a Vespa that I quickly learnt was that you can ride on some of the cycle paths and go into places that you can’t with a car. This is where you need a guide with you though because there are access roads that are restricted and it’s not always easy to tell.
One of the first places the guys wanted to take me to visit was the prison! Now I know it sounds a bit strange at first but the Kakola prison is actually now a tourist attraction. The grand granite stone building stands high up on a hill and, along with the Turku Art Museum and Turku Castle, is one of the most imposing structures in the city. Along with the renovation work they have done inside there are also a lot of new flats being built close by as it now offers one of the best pieces of real estate in the city. More importantly it was also fun weaving our way up and down the hill to get there.
After swinging past the castle and the guest marina café (which Samuli assures me is one of the trendiest places to grab some breakfast), we sped off to the other end of the city. We went to see Kuralan Kylämäki, a peaceful farm that is popular with families, before looping back on ourselves and going through the university quarter before coming back down to the riverside and Turku Cathedral.
Possibly the most attractive aspect of living in Turku is the vibrant riverside atmosphere. It’s no secret that during the warm summers and long nights Finns go crazy and emerge like butterflies from the long winter sleep. The beautiful Aura riverside and riverboat restaurants are brightly burning flames that attract swarms of people every night of the week, and the Vepsa was the perfect way to appreciate this! On the Vespa you could get close and stop by any place that had activity, and even just riding past you got the sense of being part of the city’s energy – everything was in high-definition!
As well as being a huge amount of fun it was a great way to explore a new place, soak up some sun and pretend I’m all cosmopolitan hipster (if there is such a thing). What I loved most was the genuine sense of freedom, both physically and metaphorically speaking. As I rode around I noticed all the smells and the sounds of the city that I’d been missing in an air-conditioned car, and because my experiences with a Vespa have only ever come whilst on vacation, I really got the feeling I was on holiday.
Thank you Doerz – “Ciao”!