Finland – Home, Hiking and Friends

For a change, I headed to Finland alone. Waffle has fewer holidays than I, so I am sometimes obliged to get out of Belgium without him. It always is a bit of a weird feeling to climb onto the plane on my own, there is nobody to be silly with and keep me company. I was missing him throughout the holiday.

Finland in the darkness of October is not the most comfortable, romantic or pretty destination on Earth, but with luck, it is not raining the whole time and there is still some fall foliage left. As the plane came down to Helsinki, it was evident that I was in luck. It was sunny and the trees were still having a golden coat of leaves.

I didn’t really spend any time in Helsinki. Just bought some wool and knitting needles to keep myself busy in the train and headed to the Northern Savonia, to our cottage and my parents’ place. The sun had set a long ago as I arrived to the quiet train station of Siilinjärvi. My dad was waiting there to take me home.  As we drove away from the street lights,  in the dark northern sky we could see the pale green pulse of the aurora’s. A group of three elks passed us by too. Magical!

The first night I slept in the summer house of ours. Dad had heated the sauna and the open fireplace, so a gentle heat welcomed me while the impenetrable darkness had surrounded the world around. The cottage has a very distinctive scent to it, of wood and lingering smoke. That hit me deep to the emotions and the full extent of my homesickness rushed over me. Sometimes it is in the small things.

The morning came with a substantial chill to it. The night temperatures were approaching zero and on the inside of the hut, the warmth from the sauna was only a fading memory. It took some courage to stick my toes from under the blanket and get going to find something warm to wear.

The world outside was pretty; damp and gray and cold but still, in my eyes, pretty. The golden leaves in the trees framing my view to the lake and the surrounding fields and the still lake mirroring the sky can be very soothing. The silence out there is amazing, too as the birds have left for the south and the life on the surrounding farms is slowly halting. I felt a bit lost out there all by myself. The hut is something me and Waffle have together and it really felt like something crucial was missing without him.

On the agenda for that day was to pack my parents, me and the dog to a car and drive to the east, to the town of Lieksa and the National Park of Patvinsuo. A few hours in a car followed, through the vast emptiness of the Finnish countryside, under the heavy grey sky and low hanging clouds. Finnish melancholy at its best. 

I had rented a log cabin via Villi Pohjola from the edge of the park, at a lake shore, in a pine forest. It was a tiny thing with two bunk beds, a kitchenette and, most importantly, a sauna. It was conveniently close to the hike around Suomujärvi, which I was aiming on doing the following day.  We heated the sauna, the most brave of us even tested the lake water then it was time to cook. Everybody went off to bed fairly content, drowsy from the sauna and food. 

Nothing much had changed the following day. A soft cloud of moist was sticking to the pines, and it was difficult to see further than a couple dozens of meters. The forest bed was soaked too and the plants drooping over the tiny trail made my shoes and pants wet in no time. 

My parents and the dog followed me for the first kilometers before turning off to a shorter loop. Before leaving me alone into the woods they saw it proper to mention that the area had a hefty population of bears. Probably at least 70 of them roaming between me and the Russian border. Yay. 

So with a slight chill down my spine I went on my way, through swamps and magnificent forest of pines. It was endless. The forest went on an on, I could not see an end to it. Every now and then the trail took me to the shoreline of the lake Suomujärvi, which has over 20 kilometers of softly curving sandy beaches. I was really taken aback by the beauty of the nature there. Sometimes I was hoping it would be a bit warmer, so I could take a dive. 

It had been a long time since I had been in a forest all on my own. I had been missing it, sometimes planing on going on a multiple day hike alone. This was just a days stroll in the nature, but still it gave me a touch of the peace and self-secureness I had been looking for. I was probably a little more sane when I excited the hike. 

My parent’s met me again at the nature center of the national park, we made coffee on campfire; something that unites us all Finns: love for the little bit smokey coffee, made on living fire, in a pitch black pot. They days are short in October, and soon we were forced to return to the cottage. 

 

The following day it was time to return home, through the same, soaked and grey landscape. I still had a full day to spend with the family up there in Savonia, before heading to Helsinki. I prepared the cottage to be ready for winter (some appropriate raking happened too) and my aunt made sure I was well fed, before heading to Helsinki. 

For the stay in Helsinki I had found a lovely little accommodation from Airbnb, a boat! The Nikoali II, docked at the old market hall in Helsinki. It was most certainly a special accommodation, a slight smell of oil and a soft swinging were the most distinguished features. 

Before I got to crash in the boat’s bunk, there were food and friends to be enjoyed. I was happy enough to go full tourist mode in my former home town. I was gawping at the old buildings and the beautiful parks and soaking my nose in the smells of the old market hall. It is a funny feeling, to be a stranger in your old home. All the places are familiar, you know the streets, shops and boutiques, but every time you find something that has changed or is new.

After all the gawping it was time to dip my fork into the creations of a Finnish contemporary fusion kitchen with some friends around the table. There we dined and talked and laughed, until the evening grew long and people had to head home. 

The next day it was time for me to return to Belgium. Bag packed with some Finnish goodies I headed to the airport. Sad, again, to leave Finland behind but happy to return to the normal every day routine, with my dear Waffle. 

This year I won’t return to Finland anymore. There is no time for holidays and for Christmas our path takes us to a very different winter destination. More on that later! 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

 

Escape to the neighborhood

I was looking forward to a nice, calm and relaxed Sunday today. Our neighbors had a different idea. They have just bought the house, and the renovation is on full swing during the weekends. Now they are killing the floor and apparently some of the walls with great passion.

My ears were ringing and I was getting irritated. So was Waffle.  Some browsing later we took our way to escape to Hamme, a small town a bit further up the river from us, with plenty of calm countryside walks. It was a beautifully chilly, sunny autumn day, so why not go out?

We arrived close to sunset, and the colors were stunning. There was frost and a bedding of brown leaves coloring the ground and a sea of reeds waving in the quieter waters as a golden fuzz. It’s been long time since we last did these short hikes around our own home. You don’t always have to go far to find things beautiful and interesting.

 

It was good to be out together. We had time to get silly again, I love his brain, refusing to get adult and serious, always looking for ways to do something silly. I think I tell that to him way too seldom.

The autumn air was getting our minds working on more smart things too. We spent a good amount of time planning. There is this dream of a “home extension”. A thing to be built that would bring quite some new aspects to our weekend travels. Waffle’s father is also in with the plan, which is great, because the two of us don’t necessarily have all the knowledge needed to do such a thing. (Irritating isn’t it, that I don’t let you know what it is? You’ll find out soon enough, trust me).

The walk chilled our cheeks and noses and gave a nicely wintery feeling. It feels so good  now to be back in the warmth of our home. The neighbors have stopped and the local marching band is still sober. Now over and out, with my glass of glögi off to the sofa.