The tale of our weekend visiting Kotka and Hamina continues. If you missed the first post, you can find it here. On day 2, we went on to visit the huge Maritime Centre Vellamo. The building hosts several exhibitions, some permanent and some regularly changing. We were offered a tour in English (supported languages are Finnish, Russian, German, Swedish, and English). I was so impressed about our visit, that I regret we didn’t reserve enough time. The place is enormous and I can see a family easily spending a half-day inside.
As soon as we entered, we were presented with the majestic view of several boats displayed in the grand hall. The permanent exhibitions collect traces of history of the region and Kotka, a town by the sea. Kotka lies at the mouth of river Kymi, a 200 km long river connected to water basins up to 600 km away. In the past, the river presented a chance for lumbermen to transport logs to Southern Finland. Thanks to the commercial opportunities, several wood factories and paper mills opened towards the end of the 19th centuries and called in workers and their families from other areas of Finland. The town of Kotka was founded.
Today, Kotka is an important port in the Baltic sea, with a strong role in commercial routes to and from Russia. It is still a proud sea town, with its beautiful city centre living on an island. Vellamo celebrates all this, along with more of the past and recent Finnish history.
Another interesting chapter of local history concerns the Karhula glass factory. The factory was founded in 1889, few years after its competitor, internationally known Iittala, started its business. After World War I, Karhula absorbed Iittala and dominated the national market for decades. Vellamo hosts a rich exhibition of glassware, and covers the history of the glass factory, as well as profiles of its most successful designers.
Design is a part of Finnish international reputation. It was really interesting to learn more about its history. Karhula kept producing design items under the Ittala brand, while the main plant turned to gross production and affirmed as national bottle and container manufacturer, until it closed in 2009. The renowned Finlandia vodka bottle was one of their makings.
The best of Vellamo can be found in the hall. Several real boats and ships are displayed and tell a story. Others can be observed in small scale models or reconstructions. Yoiu can study ancient items recovered by ships sinked in the Baltic Sea. There’s even a raft from a rescue operation, reminding of the current migrant crisis.
From the perspective of a parent of small children, this is by far the smartest museum I have ever visited:
- all the centre is stroller-friendly (and you can borrow strollers from the museum);
- they implemented gamification in most exhibitions and children get to play while learning;
- several play areas are distributed throughout the museum.
We adults were allowed to focus on the tour and kids didn’t get bored. Most displayed items can be touched; our children could play inside a boat and an old FIAT car; the collections of historical toys contained many pieces they could try and play with.
During summertime, Vellamo offers daily non-stop workshops for kids and even free-of-charge tours for kids aged 6-10 (in Finnish). The centre regularly hosts events for children. You can find more about their activities for young visitors on the their dedicated webpage.
I should mention you can access the centre with the Museum Card (museokortti) if you own one. If you don’t, entry fee is really small given what the place offers (10€ adult, 0€ under 18).
The centre hosts the nice restaurant Laakonki with view on the bay. You don’t need a museum ticket to access it. We enjoyed their buffet lunch, kids liked the food and we parents got to rest our eyes on the scenic view of the sea.
Vellamo is a must-see in Finland, not only in Kotka. I can highly recommend it as a great activity for the whole family. You can find more information on Vellamo in their website, or peak at their offer on their Instagram feed and their Facebook page.