Finland – Buried in snow

Landscape, Snow, Finland

We had had already 2 Christmases without snow, so it was about time to go and enjoy some winter landscapes for my birthday. On an innocent Wednesday morning in the end of January, we were heading to the Brussels airport, to catch a flight to Amsterdam and then further to Helsinki.

In the meanwhile Mother nature had had the brilliant idea of giving us some snowy landscapes in advance. You should know, that snow in Brussels airport means a state of paralysis for the first hour or two.  We were stranded, well aware of the very short time we had in Amsterdam to catch out flight to Helsinki. Eventually we got up in the air just 30 minutes behind schedule, and arrived to Amsterdam just in time we ran to the next gate with about 20 seconds to spare and got to Helsinki safely.

Our first stop was Tampere, to say hi to our Armenian friends Ana and Yuri. The evening was spent with sushi, wine and laughter, until we had to start heading further up to north.

As we drove on the snow around the road got deeper and deeper and the air colder and colder. Every now and then, there was an oasis of light in the middle of darkness, as some lonely house spilled its light on the snow covered land. The road was calm and we were quickly at the half way mark, where we stretched our legs and sniffed the brisk, frozen air.

I was happy when we finally reached home. The familiar red house was sitting there as always. Blanketed in snow, underneath the massive pine tree. The sauna was still mildly warm, but we headed directly to bed, falling quickly to sleep.

The morning came and we woke up to an amazing landscape. Everything was covered with frost, the temperature was somewhere around -20°c and the soft light was making it all light up and glitter in pastel colors. This was winter at its best.

A quick breakfast later we headed out. To see our cottage of course. The road to there had not been plowed for the whole winter, so we had to waddle through knee deep snow for the small kilometer before reaching our little summer home.

It looked peaceful out there. Our small huts sitting on their small hill. Surrounded by pristine snow and the wast whiteness of the frozen lake. Inside the hut it was just as cold as outside. The distinctive scent of wood and smoke had disappeared too, in to the freezing cold. Everything was just waiting for the summer to come and the frost to thaw away.

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I had missed this. A true, white, cold and snowy winter. The sound the cold snow makes under the feet and the frost that clings onto everything, making the trees wear jewelry. For Waffle this was the first time experiencing temperatures below -20°c. Luckily he had bought a super warm jacket to cope with the Finnish winter. The next days we strolled around, taking in the full wonders of winter, visited some friends and family, hunted the northern lights, stuffed a 55 inch TV into a Toyota Aygo and celebrated the birthdays of me and my dad.

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The time to go back to Helsinki came all too soon, even though we were looking forward to seeing the friends there too. We drove down in a blizzard, the visibility was very low at times, making the journey quite stressful. I had already forgotten what a snowy weather can be to drive in.

Luckily we got to Helsinki safely and ran directly into a restaurant to eat and enjoy some of my dear friends. I had randomly picked a very nice Indian restaurant in the heart of the city. The food laid a good base for the beers that followed.

The following day we spent wondering around Helsinki. I wanted to show Waffle the frozen sea, maybe to take him walking on the ice. We headed to the Uunisaari island right next to the city center.  We reached the shoreline of the island and quickly decided that walking on the ice wasn’t an option. The “ice” was heaving up and down, slowly and sluggishly as the waves beneath it pushed to the shore. We would have gotten a chilling swim.

After a while, the wintery chill of the sea wind got too much to bear. So we headed back into the city. There is a new library opened in the city center, called Oodi, and I was very eager to visit it. They organized a competition to design the thing and all, so my expectations were high.

To start of with, library is a small word to describe the building. First of all, it looks cool. Secondly, it has swallowed a whole world of things from movie theater to cafes and interactive, immersive spaces. People can come there to use 3D printers, sowing machines, format cutters, studio spaces, game rooms and learning environments and to borrow books. Free of charge. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well done Helsinki!

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After the awe the Oodi left us with, we headed to the airport again. Back to home, back to work, back to looking into new travel ideas. Vercors, The Netherlands and things like that are on the drawing table.

 

 

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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! 

 

 

 

 

 

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!