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! 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finland – Loving the summer

Forest, Finland, Summer

So midsummer came, Waffle’s parents went and we were stranded alone in Helsinki.  The midsummer Helsinki I remember, used to be a ghost town. Things have changed since the time I lived there. Largely, I think, thanks to the change in the opening hours of shops. The previously so ghostly town was buzzing with life with people shopping.

In that buzz we strolled to have lunch in a Mexican with a friend before escaping to the suburbs to find some family members to meet, before heading even further out of the town, to another cottage.

A part of my family has a great little hut in the town of Karkkila. It is in the forest at the shore of a small, dark lake. We were greeted with warm sauna and fresh, home made Carelian pies. So we bathed, swam, ate and laughed, went to bed and repeated the same the next day with a touch of football and cottage games.

However nice it was, in the afternoon we turned our car towards Savonia again, to get to enjoy our own cottage.  The real relaxing summer holiday was finally starting.

 

We were both looking forward to have at least one good day hike, as it had been a long time since we managed to get on a trail. Once we started looking for our alternatives we discovered surprisingly great amount of alternatives when it comes to National Parks.  This time Tiilikkajärvi was our chosen destination.

I was not expecting much from the park, to be honest. It looked like a small little blob on the map with a lake in the middle. Tiilikkajärvi laughed at my face and was magnificent straight from the start!

Starting from the Sammakkotammi there is the Uiton kierto -loop of 7 km which we were happy to embark on, we added a couple of extra stretches to it and walked about 12 – 13 km that day. And the trails were beautiful! I felt a bit ashamed I had never been there before.

The trail took us into a beautiful forest of pines and spruces with a carpet of bilberries waiting to ripen. Quickly we ended up to an open swamp where the trail turned into duckboards. Onward we went along the side of the lake Tiilikka, the trail moving back and forth from swamp to forest. The smell in the forest was amazing. Vibrant with tones of different flowers. The wild rosemary was not yet in bloom, so it’s smell was not yet overpowering all the others. Accidentally we had the perfect timing!

That is exactly the kind of setting a soul like mine needs to be in sometimes.

A bit further, 3,5 – 4 km from the start the trail comes to Venäjänhiekka, a camping spot with a magnificent beach and a view over the large open water of the Tiilikkajärvi. From thereon, to the north, the trail explores a very narrow peninsula which almost, but not quite reaches the other peninsula crossing the lake from the northern shores. The whole place is scattered with beautiful beaches with the most fine sand for your toes to sink in.

 


It was magical, walking in such beautiful surroundings with the summer sun on our necks. We crossed through an old farm house, that has been made into a resting hut and renovated into it’s former outfit. From there the trail took us to more of the endless swamps and duckboards. The  vastness of the place is unbelievable, it takes your mind on journeys as it spreads around for kilometers on end.

About 4 hours we spent in the park. It is by far one of the most versatile one I have seen, compared to it’s size. I do warmly recommend visiting it, whether on foot or by kayak. There is also a longer hiking trail, “Virvatulten polku” leaving from the park, which will take you to places of that shows you marks of the ice age etc…

Nothing much happened for the rest of the holiday. We chilled, enjoyed the nature and peace, some remarkable sunsets and full moons. We also seem to have an unbelievable clumsy swan as a neighbor. As we were having our evening swims the swan decided to take off and go do it’s own evening business. We just happened to be chilling in the water right on it’s runway. The next evening the same swan was coming back home from it’s business and was almost landing it’s feet on Waffle’s head, only just avoiding collision, after we shouted at it. Poor thing, maybe he should visit Specsavers.

As always, the time to go home came far too soon. I knew I would miss Finland again. Before leaving Finland completely we had a stop in Helsinki again. The last days we spent meeting friends. As we see each other so seldom I start noticing how we are all growing up, facing completely new challenges and phases in life. One is living in a mansion, another is becoming a mother, someone is moving to a new city; there are old and new loves in their lives.

I miss my girls.

 

On the following Monday it was back to reality and work again. It felt a bit like my legs had doubled in weight. I would have been so much happier to swing my toes in the lake at our dock that dragging them around the hot streets of Brussels. But oh well, there are new trips to look forward to.

So long!

Finland – Midsummer Magic

Summer night, Finland

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