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.




Missing the Mountains – Some Travel Plans

Fagaras, Hiker, Mountains

This year our summer holiday will be spent in Finland. We are going there for the first weeks of July, spending a total of 18 days on the go. The plan was first to have a shorter trip to Finland and divide our precious off days a little between different destinations. However I performed a meltdown of homesickness, which spooked Waffle so much, that he went and booked the tickets and created a loooong summer vacation in the north.

I am happy. Very, very happy. We have organized the trip so, that we fly from Brussels to Riga with Ryanair, rent a car from there, drive through Latvia and Estonia and take a boat to Helsinki from Tallinn. We will be driving through the whole Finland all the way up to Norway and Barents Sea. Meeting friends and family on the go and hike in every attractive looking ditch and bush and fell. Magnificent!

I am a bit sad too. I always say while we plan, that there are so many places, but so little time (and money). It is almost impossible to see all the beauty in this world, that I want to see. And now we are throwing away one complete summer of traveling and spending it in Finland. No mountains, no exotic new landscapes. Just Finland. But let’s keep the happy mood about getting to visit home.

The mountains then, the once we are going to miss this year?

We have been glancing to the eastern corners of Europe. Ryanair is offering cheap flights from Germany to Romania again, we might take the opportunity since it seems the Fagaras mountains still have a lot in store for us. I hope we manage to squeeze that in somewhere in the late summer. Or the next year.

Waffle has also been flirting with the idea of going to Georgia, the country, not the state. The Russian border is littered with magnificent mountain ranges, unspoiled wilderness and interesting history, recent conflicts and they marks on the country etc. If everything works out, we might create a small road trip tour to the Turkish mountains! Next year, I hope.

Corsica. That little island there in the Mediterranean, with the famous GR20 -trail crossing it and its mountains. It has been calling for us for a long time. I hope we start to be fit enough to do it soon. We would have gone there this year. But you know, homesickness-meltdown took us to Finland.

Sounds like there is not much traveling happening this year, huh?

On the contrary. Our home extension project is coming along nicely and soon we can start spending weekends where ever we want. The Alps have never been this close to us and UK, as well as Ireland, are destinations in our dreams also, for a short getaway road trip.

Not looking so bad after all, even though we can’t do too many trips to further locations. Good thing next year is right behind the corner!

A Mini Getaway to Cyprus

To be honest, our expectations for Cyprus were not that high. We were expecting to find a similar touristic island as Mallorca is. So no wild nature, no peace and people everywhere. Friday the 13th was our date to fly. The curse of the date seemed to be true this time.

The winter had arrived to Belgium once again, and snowy roads were waiting for us as we headed to Zaventem to take our early morning plane to Larnaka. Against all the odds, there were no accidents on our route and even the flight got up and going in time. Fabulous things!

The whole of Europe seemed to be under a duvet of snow, as we flew over, the winter had really set in. On the southern coast of Cyprus snow was only a distant glimmer on the mountain top in the horizon. Gentle sea breeze and pleasant temperatures welcomed us as we walked out of the plane.

We faced the first surprise as we went to find the car. The steering wheel was not where we were expecting to find it. Cyprus is indeed a right-hand driving country. Waffle was understandably delighted to find this out right on the spot when he needed to get on and drive.

It was early afternoon as we left the airport behind us. We stopped by a small hypermarket to buy unnecessary supplies, like food and drinks and Cava. The supermarket seemed to be something in between French Carrefour and British Tesco, selling Finnish cheese, believe it or not.

There is a reason for all this Britishness on Cyprus. This piece of history came as all new information for me. Cyprus used to be part of the British Empire, getting its independence in 1960. In the 1940’s Turkey has invaded the northern parts of the island and there is now a disputed border. Some British bases still remain on the island, thanks to the strategic importance. (Wikipedia  helps tremendously in finding these facts.) 

We still seemed to have time for a hike before the sundown. Our destination was Pissouri beach. Our book (Rother walking guide, Cyprus) hinted us to that direction. There are some spectacular cliffs to explore.

The walk was a good 2 hour trail, perfect for the occasion. There had been a lot of rainfalls and the brittle ground of silt hadn’t been able to hold the trail still. Small canyons were everywhere. There it seemed that the Mediterranean and rain would be able to eat the whole island away with not too much effort.

The sun set as we returned to the car, painting the coast in orange.  It was time to search for a camping spot. Google said that around the Limassol Salt Lake there were some shrubs, perfect for camping. Plus we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the massive flamingo flock supposedly living in the salt lake.

That idea was not so welcomed by the British forces at the nearby military airfield. We were kindly asked to leave. So we headed back to the cliffs of Pissouri. There we got our car stuck into the slippery mud left behind by the rain. Some pushing, revving and swearing later our camp was set and the calm waves hitting the crumbling cliffs brought helped us to sleep.

We survived Friday the 13th with only small hiccups, on Saturday we pointed our mud-coated car towards the western end of the island and drove to Lara beach, which during summer is famous for the sea turtles  that come to shore to lay their eggs.

In the winter months the island is beautifully green, thanks to the rains. Also the orchards are everywhere, the ripening citruses were calling us to come and collect them. What came to us as a surprise, was that they also farm banana trees in Cyprus!

The last kilometers of the road to the walk of the day (Rother, walk 6) were fabulously bumpy. We were very much afraid that our small rental Peugeot would not survive the trip. But as we took it calmly and drove around the worst of the pot holes, we got to the restaurant, that over looks the Lara beach, that was the starting point for the hike.

The trail looked like it would be flocked by tourists during summer. it was a wide muddy and dusty path, following the coastal line. We were again happy to be there in the off-season. It was beautiful out there. White stones under our feet, the blue sea next to us and clear sky above us. The wide path was partially full of puddles and we had to jump over shrubs and rocks, but before long we reached the nesting area of turtles.

The return route went via the hiking trail E4, which goes also through Greece. The same trail we took up Mount Olympos a year back. We had a quick lunch, nibbling on the locally grown pistachios before heading on to the northern side of the peninsula, with a famous walk, called the Aphrodite trail.  There is a small pool, where according to legends the goddess herself had been bathing. It is a beautiful region, but unfortunately we did not have time to head for the trail, since the sun was setting and we still had a campsite to be found.

On the way there we had passed a large picnic area in a pine forest, that should do as a camp. The forest smelled strongly of pines and cypresses, and the picnic area supported some homeless cats, who kept us company while we cooked dinner.

The night had been chill, but we slept good. The morning brought a bright day of sunshine. It was our last full day on the island, so we decided to go and explore the mountains, hoping to find the roads still open with the snow.

Waffles driving on the right had improved, and I was not nearly as scared as I was in the beginning as we cruised through the mountain serpentine. The starting point for our hike was around 1300 meters of altitude, with nicely fresh temperatures. The walk chosen (Walk 17 / 19) took us first to the Kaledonian falls and up to a peak of some 1600 meters. The ending part of the trail was barely walked and the snow was deep, we had to wade our way through, luckily the underlying trail was  wide and still visible through the snow.

After the walk we drove our car a bit higher, to Troodos, close to the peak of Cyprian Mt. Olympos. Apparently the occasion of having snow gets even the locals rather excited and they were building snowmen. On top of cars. And just about everywhere possible. It was difficult to pass the touristic attraction without driving over someones toes.

Needles to say, we got ourselves out of there quickly. For the last night we had booked an apartment. We ended up into a small village of Pentakomo. There is an apartment hotel called The Stone House, where we got a very nice small apartment for a bargain of 29 euros, a place I warmly recommend.

We got going efficiently early in the morning. Ryanair would be taking us back to Belgium a bit after noon, so we had the whole morning to spend exploring the Larnaca salt lake, and the flamingos.

At first we only found a picturesque mosque at the shore of the lake and cats, no flamingos in sight. We headed for a muddy stampede at the lake shore, and noticed that all the birds were on the other side.  Finally we got rather close to those pink birds, who were focusing on eating. It is a funny sight, dozens of flamingos, without heads, moving across the calm water.

That was our last experience in Cyprus. We left happy, the trip had been a success and we had had many positive surprises, starting from extreme friendliness of the people and ending to beautiful bits of nature! It is not a bad idea at all, to visit this island during the calm winter months.