Dramatic Skies And Endless Pines

As we couldn’t persuade ourselves to leave Norway on time, we had to do Finland in a flash. We spent two weeks traveling from the top of Finland all the way down to Helsinki. As per usual we planned most of our route around National Parks but also threw in a few towns for good measure. Finland in a flash synopsis – lots of rain, all the mosquitos, flat, pine trees, lakes, more pine trees, interesting people, wooden houses and Santa. For a longer version see below.

Culture

Hobby horses

While walking in a popular nature reserve one day, we saw several teenage girls just walking around with hobby horses and thought it was a bit odd. It turns out it’s a popular ‘sport’ in Finland for girls between 10 -18 and there are several big dressage and show jumping competitions. They literally ride around cantering and galloping like a horse and go over jumps. It seems quite a creative hobby as the teenagers also make their own hobby horses.

Dancing naked

We read about a traditional summer sport in Lapland which involved trying to catch as many mosquitos as possible. You have to stand naked in the forest, with no bug repellent on and wave around some buttered bread. The person that catches the most mosquitos in a minute on their slice of bread wins………… We didn’t try it!

Drinking

They have a word in Finland ‘Kalsarikanni’ which translates to ‘Just drinking in your underwear’. Drinking seems to be quite a big issue, especially in the long dark winters, and Kalsarikaani is all about staying at home drinking alone with no intention of going out. 

Towns and Cities

Christmas village – Posio (literally nothing but a nice interior design shop and museum) – Savonlinna – Porvoo – Turku – Naantali – Raseborg – Hanko – Helsinki

Towns up north were just for food shopping and buying petrol, there really isn’t a lot else to them. We did however make a visit to the village that is Christmas all year round (when in Lapland). If you write a letter to Santa it will end up there at Santa’s official post office. I thought it would look like the village in the Grinch but unfortunately, it’s a very purpose built shopping location with no character. We did accidently end up meeting Santa though. We were walking through a Christmas themed walkway which we didn’t realise was the queue to meet Santa until we got to a rope and were met buy a very happy, high pitched elf. We couldn’t run away so met the main man and chatted about geography. He was lovely. It was very bizarre.

The town and cities only became more interesting from a tourist perspective when we reached South Finland. There is a big difference in the amount of infrastructure and people – the south seemed like a different country.  All the towns had nice old sections with pretty wooden colourful houses and cobbled streets. The all fringed either lakes or the coastline and had lovely marinas. Every town is nice when there’s water involved.

Helsinki was a really nice city. Some beautiful architecture both old and modern, lots of shops, bars, churches and museums and a nice coastline. My main advice if taking a campervan is not to drive right through the city – lots of cobbled streets and tramlines makes for a very noisy van ride with everything in the back moving around.

Landscape and Nature

Summary:

Pine trees, pine trees, pine trees. Some bogs, some lakes, some rivers and lots of mosquitoes. Bears and an eagle.

Longer version:

Pallas – Yllastunturi National Park – I’m sure it’s very nice on a clear day (it looks great on google, especially during the winter snow). We had very thick cloud with very little visibility and got drenched in a heavy rainstorm.  

Korouoma Nature Reserve – Canyon walk. Do not go in summer! 1 ½ hours of non-stop mosquitoes. The photos from winter of the frozen waterfalls look great though. 

Riisitunturi National Park – What Finland calls a peak and what we know as a large mound. Nice views. Standard Finnish habitats of pine forest and bogs. Quite a lot of mosquitos.

Oulanka National Park – Our favourite. A lovely accessible national park. Nice loop walk along the river, through pine forests, and between islands via suspension bridges. It didn’t rain, yay! And we even managed a swim in the river to cool off. Mosquitos ok if you keep moving.

Koli National Park – Big rocks, lovely view across a lake, endless pines.

Kurjenrahka National Park – Small lake, pine forests of different ages and bogs.

Martinselkonen – My siblings brought me a night in a bear hide for my 30th. We didn’t release the people who ran the tours put food out for the bears. This had the advantage of attracting quite a few bears, but the disadvantage of not being a truly wild experience. We spent the evening and night in a hide watching bears come and go, we saw a mother with 3 one-week old pups and had a visit from a sea eagle. It was a really great experience.

With Finland complete we’re saying goodbye to the Scandinavia section of our journey and are off to explore eastern Europe.

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