Finland – Midsummer Magic

It is always such a surreal feeling to set up the out of office replies and phone diversions on the last day of work before going on holiday. That was the case also this time. I would be out for 2 weeks and was just hoping the mountain of unread messages would not drown me on my return.

This would be a special visit to Finland, since the parents of Waffle were joining us. The first time ever in Finland for them! The atmosphere while driving to Amsterdam to catch our Transavia flight to Finland was… anticipatory.

Finland hit home on the very first meters. The weather was clear as we landed in the dusk,  slowly sliding into an explosion of colors in the northern sky. I noticed some disbelieving glances at watches – if you have never witnessed it before, it’s hard to get how the sun can keep shining even though it is night.

 

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The sunset slid into a remarkable sunrise as we were crossing the endless forests from Helsinki to my hometown Siilinjärvi. It was 4 in the morning as we arrived to our cottage. Everything was bathing in the most beautiful golden shine, the lake was calm and a cuckoo was somewhere cuckooing for the new day.

All that beauty was followed by a bit of a culture shock.

Apparently the parents had not taken my dear beloved so very seriously when he had told them how off-griddy our crib actually was. There really is no electricity, no running water, unless you yourself run it up the stairs. And the most shocking of all, no water closet but surely an outhouse. Oh my. With that image in mind we sent the parents to bed.

The reality was still very much the same later that morning when our heads started to depart from the pillows. We had breakfast at the lakeside, enjoying the green nature surrounding us. The fresh air with the scent of the forest was clearly an impressive experience for Waffle’s dad, something so pure is difficult to come by in the central Europe. The initial shock seemed to start faiding.

Luckily we seemed to be  in the positive books of the weather gods, the days stayed beautiful and sunny throughout the week the parents stayed with us. We boated and fished, ate (too) well, bathed in the sauna and enjoyed the greatest of Finnish summer.

 

I still can’t really get over the summer night skies there. Every evening, every sunset is different, full of colors that are never exactly the same shade. If it weren’t for the million of blood thirsty mosquitoes hunting me, I would have probably spent my nights out there on the dock.

The week swung by on wings and as midsummer came, we headed to the magical destination of Helsinki Airport to send Waffle’s parents back home.

I wish it was a memorable holiday for the oldies. At least we did our best showing them the surroundings, the beautiful lakes and countryside. I taught waffle’s dad how to fish, and he found it clearly enormously funny, since it is impossible not to catch anything from our dock. Waffle’s mom got onto the lake despite her shyness of water and the forest walks seemed to be enjoyable for both of the oldies.

The following week we would be enjoying our cottage just by the two of us. And that will be another story, see you in the next post!

Maybe have a look at the pictures in the meanwhile: Flickr

 

 

 

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Autumn In Our Finnish Paradise

October came, and like many Finns, us too needed to get to our summer cottage to make it ready to face the harsh months of winter.  Our journey was perhaps a little longer than most. The route went first by car from Belgium to Bremen, Germany and then an early morning flight with Ryanair to Tampere, Finland and again further by car to the cottage.

Rough journey by any standard, but as we were approaching the small Pirkkala airport in Tampere the tiredness was swiftly swiped aside. Pirkkala must be one of the prettiest airports I have landed to. It is surrounded by beautiful lakes and farmlands. The fields had mostly been harvested and formed a golden brown blanket underneath us. The islands in the lake were covered with yellows and reds. The mostly German crowd in the plane was clearly impressed too.

I had expected the beautiful colorful autumn to be over already, and that there would be a grey misery waiting. I was so happy to find out I had been wrong! The foliage was still very colorful. As we drove up towards our summer home, I felt the homesickness kicking in. Funny, how that feeling of longing can hit you like that, when you actually are there, in the place you have been longing to. I hadn’t even noticed the whole thing back in Belgium.

But there I was, sitting in the car, looking at the colorful countryside passing by. And crying. Don’t know why, but the tap was wide open. Waffle was spooked, probably thinking that his girlfriend had gone mad.

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While we had been gone, my parents had taken the freedom to use and improve our hut. So we arrived to a slightly different Finnish summer nesting place.  We had a new fireplace outside. Dad had made it, since the previous one was resolving in itself. Also the open fireplace in the hut had been prepared so, that the smoke would actually go up the chimney and not into the room. The dock and the boat were taken out of water for winter. My parents had checked our oil lamps too, and labelled the ones that work. The oldies themselves were on holiday, so the we were on our own.

Such a nice feeling to get back to our own little piece of paradise. As it was getting dark, we lit the fire place, the sauna and a ton of candles. Soon the hut was toasty warm, smelling faintly of smoke. We wrapped ourselves on the sofa to watch the living fire and our small piece of land disappearing into the dark.

We had raided a store on the road. So now we possessed a massive feast of all things Finnish. Mainly Carelian pies and blueberry juice, which we munched on while waiting for the sauna to heat up.

It is not the quickest to warm up, the sauna of ours. But oh my, the löyly (heat) it gives, is magnificent. Perfectly moist, still rich in oxygen, even if the heat rises to skin burning levels! What a wonderful feeling it was after a heavy travel, just to sit there, let all your muscles heat all the way to the core, water hissing off of the stove. Shared all with the best boyfriend in the world. Priceless.

As a part of the sauna going, we wanted to take a dip into the lake. If the colors, migrating birds and the dark night hadn’t brought it home, the temperature of the lake water did: it was autumn! Our sauna-warm bodies were quickly chilled in the water and the cold pricks in my toes drove me back to the heat pretty quickly. We are not quick learners, so we tried the water again, several times, before giving up and letting the sauna cool down.

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That was pretty much how our weekend went. Keeping the cottage warm, doing some shopping for equipment and such, seeing relatives, visiting the touristic things in Kuopio, tracing elks and having some more sauna. The colors in the nature surrounding us and the beautiful fading autumn light created such an unspeakably beautiful setting.

No wonder neither of us was exactly jumping out of joy when the time to return home came, all too soon. We closed the place down, took the last sniffs of the smell of the wood fire and the moist forest and hit the road.  After a small mishap, we were running terribly late, given that we wanted to visit some friends in Tampere still before hopping into the plane. But the road was beautiful for the part we were able to appreciate it.

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The rest of the way, well, it did not go quite as planned. We returned the car, got to the terminal, through the security, all the way up to the plane. Even the plane got on to the runway and was speeding up. Until it wasn’t. Soon enough we found ourselves back in the terminal, waiting for a new plane from London. That took some time. So long in fact, that we could not land to Bremen anymore. They flew us to Hannover instead, a 2 hour bus ride away from Bremen.

We had thought, optimistically, that we would be back home, sleeping it all off in our own bed by 3 am the following day. Obviously that didn’t really happen. We started driving from Germany only after 6 in the morning. The German rush hours were kind enough to welcome us too into the slowly crawling queues. Waffle was soldiering through the misery without batting an eye, as I was drooling and snoring happily at the passenger’s seat.

When we finally got to our offices in the early afternoon, neither of us were too fresh. The work day was like wading through a thick swamp. But Finland had been beautiful! The weekend getaway had been perfect and I was happy to have had some Finland-time.

 

 

Visiting home – The part of the Cottage life

In the previous post I left you hanging, as we were speeding up north through the countryside of Finland. It was me having the wheel as Waffle was peacefully sleeping, missing dozens of moose and a bear running across the road (just kidding Waffle, just kidding, you only missed some bush).

We arrived at my parents in the late afternoon. There was an air of excitedness. A new cottage had joined the family. My parents had of course already had their change to enjoy it to some extend, since it was my dad who got the keys as he signed off the sale. They were rather eager to get us there as well. We were of course anxious to see the place, for the first time as our own property!

We drove there as soon as we got the keys. So many times I have gone down that road, on horse back, whit a dog, on the way to pick berries or mushrooms. But seldom have I been so anxious to actually get to the end of it. We were driving towards our very own summer home!

Our cottage is actually a combination of 4 huts and some storage buildings for fire wood etc. In the main hut is the kitchen, with wood heated stove and oven, a living area with an open fire place and a sauna, which can be accessed through the porch, and is at the perfect running distance from the lake. There is no running water, it is carried by hand from the lake. The lake water is technically drinkable, though it is a bit tinted, but we reserved to carrying water from my parents’ tap. There is no electricity either, just a generator, powering a vacuum cleaner, lighting and the TV if needed. All basic and adorable, true off-grid life.

We entered first the main hut, a descent log cabin. The previous owners had left almost everything behind. Which meant a mismatch pile of furniture, carpets and cutlery. I could see Waffle looking and scanning and deciding to throw practically everything out.

The sauna is somewhat the heart of the place. It heats the whole hut nicely, making it a comfortable place to sleep in, even if the night gets cold. The stove in the sauna has a water tank, in it we can heat about 30 liters of water to a boil while we bathe. And it stays warm all the way till the morning. Wonderful! Of course the sauna is also the place of bathing and relaxation; the most important functions of it.

We were very happy about our new home. In the evening, after sauna and skinny dipping, we wrapped ourselves in towels on the dock, to look at the warm orange light that colored the lake and the forests around it. The wind was gone and the surface of the lake was like a mirror. We breathed in the silence and the peace, as the following days would be full of work.

The rest was needed. The next week was rhythm by the slow mornings (getting the coffee ready took an hour, on our charming wood stove), removing the furniture, kitchen and cupboards. We visited furniture stores almost every day, as it was slowly clearing out, what all we would be needing to make the place functional and pretty.  Always, by the end of the day, we took our dusty and tired bodies to sauna and swim. That is the ultimate sleep bringer in the evenings.

The goal was to get the main hut and the sleeping hut at the lake side livable and ready by the time our holiday was over. The stress was taking its toll. Not everything we wanted was deliverable by the time we would be out of the country, so we needed to make some compromises to get the whole thing in place and just choose the items in stock. Good thing me and Waffle had pretty similar vision of the end result and what would fit the cottage.

In the midst of it all, we managed to put together a small cottage warming party, with my family and some friends gathering around for pancakes, BBQ and beer. The weather treated us good, with sunshine and warmth. That was such an important moment to get our minds off of all the work and enjoy the surroundings with good food and noisy babble.

Every now and then there was time for enjoyment. We got to experience some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises; at that time of the year it is hard to tell them apart. There had been bears right at our property earlier in the summer, but they were now gone. Our neighbors were a crane family, with a brown lanky youngster, some owls and a small herd of deer. They made sure that we were entertained in the evenings before the new TV arrived.

My parents and brother were a great help for us, almost every evening we ate fresh fish they had caught the same day from the lake (delicious!) and they were helping us out in throwing out the old stuff and to carry in the new. In return they can use our cottage and sauna as much as they wish.

To be honest, as the holiday came to an end, we did not feel so very relaxed. We had been stressing and yapping at each other and there had been no relaxing outdoorsy adventures around. We were both still missing the mountains, since that is where we normally would spend a holiday. But next time the cottage hopefully is less work and more relaxation.

On the way back, we still managed to have a small moment with friends in Helsinki, before taking the boat to Estonia. On the other side of the sea we were aiming for some wild camping. Estonia is littered with free camping grounds, most of which offer basic, but good facilities, meaning an outhouse, fire pits and a source of water.

One of those locations was on our route, situated in the middle of a pine forest. We arrived in the middle of the night in darkness and rain. A little less adorable as we maybe hoped for. There were some Finns and a Dutch already fast asleep as we were just pitching the tent.

Somehow we were a bit too tired to make the return journey a descent road trip. We drove fairly straight towards Riga, with one pit stop to stretch our legs and visit the seaside. Also Latvia should be more famous for the camping grounds. We happened by a very large one. It was made in the forest right on the seaside, a strip of a few hundred meters, or more,  of forest housed multiple fire pits and tent spots, definitely very pretty and tidy! It happened to be the season for bill berries too, and the forest there was full of them.

In Riga we climbed to the plane, fingers still dyed by the blueberries and an apparent longing to get back to our cottage. The next trip to Finland has already been planned!

More pictures you will find from our Flickr!