FinlandPosted: June 14, 2011
Forest, Fish and Fresh Air!
We found ourselves with 10 days to spend in Finland until our 4 day horseride began and had not prepared ourselves for being here this long. Alas, that’s the way it goes sometimes so, after a brief stop in Helsinki, we headed to the east coast where I had heard we might be able to catch a visa free cruise into Russia.
We arrived late into Lapeenranta knowing we could be early birds at the travel agent the next day to hopefully purchase a 3 day cruise, nicely filling in our 10 day stay. Unfortunately early birding was not in our favor. It was a public holiday and nothing was open.
The following day we tried again and found to our dismay, the boat left yesterday, and there would not be anything else for another 4 days…….. not in our program! We decided to head north slowly to our horse ride area in the middle of Finland.
Unfortunately I could not call us successful tourists in Finland. A number of sights we tried to find we either could not find or they were still not open for the summer season! Very few tourist venues have English signs so we may have been passing vital clues and not known. We did though find a fascinating museum documenting the Winter War of 1939. Antonio was interested to see how they fight a war in snow amongst so many forests and lakes. The answer is “the hard way!” Small tanks, often horse drawn, snow trenches and weapons pulled behind soldiers on purpose built sleighs! The Russians invaded Finland and tried to gain territory moving West into the country. It seems, whilst lives were lost on both sides, the local Fins, who were massively under-resourced by comparison to the Russians, still had the upper hand. We read the Russian solders lived in fear of the White Death. Finnish soldiers dressed in army issue white overalls would ski in, create havoc and ski out! Finally a “peace treaty” was collaborated. The Fins conceded 3 small sticking out bits of their Eastern border to Russia and Russia withdrew. My interpretation is a “peace treaty” which afforded the Russians some dignity in retreat.
Forging north we drive through mile after mile, Birch and Pine forest, tall, straight, brown and white trunks stretching, spotted with lakes. Infact, 75% of Finland is forest, and 10% is lake. 10% may sound like a smallish amount but it adds up to 188,000. Yes that is one hundred and eighty eight thousand lakes!!! Antonio would not believe me when I first advised him of this statistic and wanted me to provide 2 sources of proof to make sure one was not just a typo!
One of the sights we missed was a rock area with prehistoric drawings known to be over 5000 years old. I must say, this terrain makes for ideal cave man territory! Its not difficult to imagine our very distant relatives having a good life in Finland, especially in summer with a full 24 hours of daylight in which to hunt, fish and gather. The natural resources are abundant; timber for fires, lakes for water and fish of many kinds, beasts to hunt including wolves, wolverines, bears, hare, moose, wild forest reindeer, flying squirrels, beaver, grouse, goose and other water birds. (A small brochure we find has translations of 20 useful phrases. 4 of them relate to bears, wolves, moose and mosquitos!) For gatherers you can still find wild mushrooms, blueberries, cloudberries, raspberries and lingonberries. He surely would have had very little competition; even today Finland has one of the lowest population/land ratios, with only 17 people per square kilometer.
Not that modern Finland is CaveMan territory! In fact we are both surprised how new the buildings in the towns are. There seems to be one or two token old timber buildings in some towns, but overall the streetscape is modern, but plain, square, flat. Maybe it’s a Scandinavian thing!! Our theory is with so much wood available, the old towns built in timber just do not stand the test of time as the Italian villages built from stone.
Most are New!
Helsinki, an incredibly busy port city, buzzing with people, even on a weekday, appears to be a modern capital with no “old city” that we could find. It is also a Scandinavian “mecca” of design and many of the interior design and fashion, jewellery and homewares brands have their home here including Marimeko and Artek.
Hour after hour, driving north, Antonio is entertaining himself looking for mooses!! The intermittent moose ahead signs only tease his anticipation, although we did see the tailbone of one that had frantically crossed the road ahead, we see no other mooses.
Finally we are close to our destination and decide the best way to enjoy Finland is to stop amongst the forest and the lakes and enjoy their stillness and their beauty, as well as the superb summer weather. It’s a lovely time of year to holiday here, time does not matter. It does not get dark here at this time of year. I think I really should repeat that – there is 24 hours of daylight!!!! Never gets dark!!!! A concept so foreign to we whom live in Victoria, Australia! Block out blinds are essential here but for all the insomniacs! Its brilliant.
At the Ristiijarvi camping ground we bunker down amidst the birch, beside the lake, on the grass, in the sun. We play boules, shuttlecock, minigolf and innumerable games of cards. We watch movies and read books and swim in the lake. We cook food and eat it. We ride the bikes, paddle our feet, sleep in and take siestas. We make new friends and “be still” and really feel like we are on holidays. It is a highly recommended campground, the service is warm and friendly, the gardens are immaculate, and the bathroom and laundry facilities are so clean and welcoming they remind me of home. I did 4 loads of washing!!!!
We have rested and tomorrow we begin 4 days of horseriding in the Kainuu Forest.