Sometimes we run across a city that just has a very good feel. Often these are university towns, places that are not in the premier league of tourist destinations, but spots that have a decidedly laid-back and welcoming feel.
Szeged in Hungary, Bergamo in Italy, and Lund in Sweden all ooze that distinct welcoming feeling. They are spots where you roll up expecting to stay just one night and three days later you are still in town.
A Finnish revelation
Tampere in Finland is another such town. We arrived in Tampere on a summer evening, the dipping sun reflecting from the windows of the city’s striking red brick mills. It is an instantly appealing place, with the city center gathered around the fast-flowing Tammerkoski waterway. River walks, some strikingly well-preserved industrial landscapes and spacious parks and boulevards all contribute to Tampere’s magic.
Where other cities have ripped out abandoned industrial buildings, Tampere’s city fathers had better ideas. They left them in place, redeploying them to new uses, creating stylish space for cafés and bars, museums and a galaxy of workshops and studios that now underpin Tampere’s buoyant arts scene.
The town exudes some of that same slightly Bohemian urban buzz that makes Manchester so appealing. No surprise perhaps that in its industrial heyday, Tampere was often dubbed “the Manchester of the North.”
The city’s status as Finland’s industrial powerhouse was due to one man, a Scottish Quaker industrialist named James Finlayson, who had established mills in St. Petersburg. In 1820 Finlayson was encouraged by Tsar Alexander I to expand his business to the Grand Duchy of Finland — which was then part of Imperial Russia, as indeed it remained until the Bolsheviks granted Finland its independence shortly after the October Revolution in 1917.
Tampere happens to have played a star role in Europe’s socialist history. Lenin decamped to the town after the 1905 Revolution and Tampere hosted a number of early meetings of the Bolsheviks, including the late 1905 meeting when Lenin met Stalin for the first time.
The town’s Lenin museum recalls those heady days and provides a very fine account of the importance of Lenin’s thought in advancing the political development of Europe.