Here is our trip a bit deeper (mostly east) into Finland proper.
(terrible photo of Dee, but this was the traditional pastry breakfast in Finland – I think called korvapuusti.)
So (Dee’s great-uncle) Marku picked us up (at Helsinki Station) and he immediately drove us over to this coffee place on this lake which was a venue for the winter olympics way back then. We had some traditional pastries as well and then headed for Porvoo which is one of only 6 medieval towns in Finland. It dates back to the 14th century and is a big deal over here. There was even a large group of Russian tourists on some bus tour. (I had to ask what language they were speaking). Lots of wooden houses painted in bright colours. Very tiny streets.
Next we headed out towards the country. Finland has a lot of trees and lots of winding roads (probably cause they are all dodging the millions of lakes.) Very, very soon I got super car-sick. I was in the back seat and we got lost at one point and I just forced up the courage to beg our very generous host to stop the car because I didn’t want to vomit everywhere. It was evil. I spent about 5 minutes in this beautiful forest trying to compose myself. It was so hard. I hadn’t felt that degree of travel sickness since I was a kid. Another 2 stops later and I just put my head between my knees and a plastic bag underneath that fully expecting to blow some serious chunks at any second. For whatever reason — I managed to hold on to the contents of my stomach for the next 100ks.
Kotka is where Marku lived. But he had organised for us to stay in this river/sea-side villa of one of his mates. His name was Pekka. And Pekka was an absolute legend. His daughter Emma was turning 21 that night and it was apparent everyone was coming over for a party. “Awesome,” I thought.
While Marku went to fetch his boat, Dee and I went “Roaming”. Over in Europe there are laws variously translated as “Freedom to Roam” or “ Every man’s right”. In Finland (and heaps of other places in Europe) that means you can literally go on private land to pick berries — as long as you are a reasonable distance from private houses and yards. Unfortunately the berries we saw were pretty much in people’s front yards. But it was fun just considering the notion. Berries and fruit were everywhere.
Back at the house Marku arrived with his boat and took Dee for a trip while I had a nap cause I was still a very bit fragile having spent 2 hours being so violently nauseous. A few hours later, I started to recover and by that stage Pekka’s family came over in little spurts. First was Pekka, then Emma’s BF (Arho) and her younger sister (Maija). Then Pekka’s wife who had to rush off to do hospital duty (she was a doctor).
Marku’s boat arriving
Before we knew it Pekka was (wood) firing up the hot tub (see below) and we were having a wild time translating the handwritten notes on the back of Dee’s grandad’s old photos. They were a bit racey (for the time).
Everyone spoke excellent English and we all got on famously and it was genuinely incredibly fun. I was super excited. So excited that when the sauna was announced — boys always go first — I was like, “Hell Yeah!” And sauna (pronounced “sour-nah”) is a big deal over in Finland. According to Wikipedia, there is an average of one sauna per household in Finland. It is seen as a necessity — not an extravagance like it might be viewed over here. And Saturday is the traditional day to take one. So Pekka, Arho and me all had a shower and I was last in line, showering in my improvised swimmers. Suddenly the other two were completely naked and I just dug deep and got the last of my kit off. Like I have not been naked in front of other males since school (apart from one medical exception — don’t ask). The only comparable occasion was in Japan when I went into the Onsen in Kyoto and I went so late at night no other blokes were around.
But being all naked in a steamy room with beer and stories and laughs — it was so great. An entirely refreshing naked experience! It just felt normal.
I am a hyper-sweater. I know that from bike riding. I sweat about twice as badly as my mates. And so I was a mess in there – just melting faster than the wicked witch in Wizard of Oz. But it was still kinda interesting. After about half an hour (I could have spent longer) we all went out and did a running jump off the jetty into the river. It was so amazing. The buzz of being so hot and then so cold all of a sudden is like a hit of drugs — not that I know what a hit of drugs feels like. Really. That river freezes over in winter and they have to cut a hole in the ice to do that sauna-to-water trick we had just done. Incredible.
For dinner we had this big plate of salmon and veges — served traditional Finnish style — and it was amazing. This night was without too much exaggeration — one of the best nights of my life. Thanks everyone over there! Rock on. (We also had homemade pizza at their place on Sunday night too — love you guys!)
This is Arho about to dive in!
The next day Marku took us to the old fortress town of Hamina — where Dee’s grandfather came from before he immigrated to Australia in the 1960s. The town is designed in concentric circles — just like a fort. Indeed there are fortifications and moats everywhere that have been re-purposed as schools or sports fields. Or just dog/walk parks. Next we headed to the Virolahti bunker only a few kilometres from the Russian border. On the way I had dreams of seeing Russia, maybe just like Sarah Palin. But Finland is so flat, and so forested too. You rarely see views more than a few hundred metres unless water is involved. And despite the fact we were in spitting distance of Russia, there was no hope of seeing it unless you literally drove up to the border.
The bunker was incredible. These massive square rocks four deep that stretched for hundreds of kilometres. (Designed to stymie Russian tanks). It was a proper Marginot Line — but actually finished (no pun intended). Trenches and bunkers too. The line is now a popular multi-day hike.
Hamming with forts all around.
Taking pics of the homemade pizzas!
Saying goodbye to our Finnish puppy besties!