Monday, July 22, 2013

Touched Russian soil at Abo, the ancient capital of Finland

“To-morr punkt at 'leven wir schiff for St. Petersburg,” was the polyglot announcement by which all of us, Swedes, Germans, English, and one solitary American, were given to understand at what hour on the ensuing day we were to commence our voyage from Stockholm for the Russian capital. With praiseworthy punctuality the steam was up at the appointed hour of eleven, and as our steamer shot out into the Baltic we took our farewell view of Stockholm, the “City of Piles.” As we steamed northward we dashed through archipelago after archipelago of islands, some with bold and rocky shores, and others sloping greenly down to the tranquil sea. Having passed the Aland Islands, one of which, not thirty miles from the coast of Sweden, has been seized and strongly fortified by her powerful and unscrupulous neighbor, we turned into a narrow inlet, and touched Russian soil at Abo, the ancient capital of Finland.
Here we made our first acquaintance with those fascinating gentry, whom his Imperial Majesty deputes to watch that nothing treasonable or contraband finds entrance into his dominions. Our intercourse here was, however, brief, our passports merely being demanded, and permission granted us to go on shore while the steamer was detained. At Cronstadt and St. Petersburg we formed a more intimate if not more agreeable acquaintance with these functionaries. Setting out again we coasted eastward up the Gulf of Finland, passing the grim fortress of Sveaborg, with its eight hundred guns, and garrison of fifteen thousand men, and shot up the beautiful bay to Helsingfors, one of the great naval stations of Russia. Touching at Revel, on the opposite shore of the Gulf of Finland, we ran due east up the Gulf, encountering the great Russian summer fleet, which was performing its annual manœuvres, and on the morning after leaving Helsingfors came in sight of the shipping and fortifications of Cronstadt. As we crept slowly up the narrow and winding channel, by which alone the harbor can be reached, and passed successively the grim lines of batteries which command every portion of it, we were forced to confess that it formed a fitting outpost to a great military power.