by wjw on December 19, 2018

IMG_4608Lo!  It’s another photo from our 2019 calendar!

This is Olavinlinna (“St Olaf’s Castle”), a 15th century fortification on a Finnish island near the Russian border.  The castle was built by the Swedes to keep the Russians out, but in the early 18th Century Sweden ran out of the money necessary to defend themselves and the Russians got the place anyway.  Eventually the Finns got it back as a gift from the Tsar.

The nearby town is Savonlinna (“Castle of Savonia”), set beautifully on the water, and it’s famous for two things.  One is the summer opera festival, and the other is the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship, which is one of those strange sports (like wife carrying and swamp football) that Finns think up during those long winter nights.

Oddly enough, last summer we were in Savonlinna to see the Russians, because the only week we could attend the opera was the week a Russian company was playing.  We’d just come from Russia and had plenty of opportunities for culture while there, so it felt a little odd to pursue Russian culture in Finland, but there we were anyway.  Putin had attended the opera the previous night.

(Our other cultural experience in Savonlinna was in the market, where I explained to a t-shirt vendor that the “Heisenberg” on his shirts wasn’t the atomic scientist, but a fictional American entrepreneur in a porkpie hat.  I’m not sure I got my point across.)

The operas are actually held in the castle, where they fill the courtyard with a stage and seats for the audience.  The opera we saw was Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, with a plot so ridiculous and contrived that it conforms to all the stereotypes about operatic plots.  (Again, it was the only opera available.) But the music was very good, and so were the singers, and the castle and environs during the long Northern sunset were beautiful, so a lovely time was had by all.

After the opera it was still light, so we went to the lakeshore, watched the sun set over the water and the sailboats, and ate the sandwiches we’d brought with us.

We missed the cellphone throwing, unfortunately.

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