Not the Arctic Circle

We had a madcap idea, drive nine hours north to cross the Arctic Circle, however the sales assistant advised us that there’d just been 20cm of snow in the area, and we were one month too early.

Of course we were in an outdoor gear shop at the time. With the northern parts of Finland now out of the question, we perused the maps on display. The helpful assistant pointed us to the map for Nuuksio National Park, it being not far from Helsinki. So two days later we found ourselves parked, map in hand, ready to stride out into the woods.

Our chosen trail was marked with yellow diamonds. Wearing gloves and beanies we headed off.

I’d pondered how the trees clung on with the granite exposed or barely covered, there is little soil for tree roots to grow down into. The fallen trees provided the answers, the roots grew along the rock surface, just beneath the thin layer of soils and moss.

The lakes were still partly frozen while snow and ice lay on sections of the trail. We reached the picnic shelter and took out our lunch. Harry has always told me how quiet the Finns are, how they don’t make small talk like the Irish. Yet the Finnish man who also came to the shelter sure did prove him wrong! This bloke sat down, started to chat, and hardly drew breath. Harry occasionally nodded or concurred in agreement while yer man rabbited on. All in Finnish of course, I kept my head down while enjoying lunch with a view.

We came upon this dude on the track. He’s a Common Toad, the only toad found in this country. Toads unlike frogs do not hop, they walk. This dude had an ungainly gait as he continued his amble along the track.

Our hike finished with a skirt along a golf course, a play with the ice on the lake’s surface, a sighting of a woodpecker and the return to our car.

Out in the Woods

Our intention is to walk together daily. The locality here is great, it’s easy to get into the woods and wander along the tracks. Some tracks seem random to me, though they must go Somewhere. Others are trails, easy to follow with signage painted on the trees and rocks. Actually, perhaps that’s a winter skiing trail.

This water tower is visible from the kitchen window so to come across it as we rambled was interesting.

Being in Helsinki

Helsinki is cold outside, fresh winds chill the face. There are a few patches of hardened snow lying around. Snow flurries have scooted through this afternoon, though the snow is not sticking. The daylight hours are long. I didn’t quite get to figure out sunset and sunrise times after our first night here, too jet-lagged, too confused with Sydney time on my watch.

We’re staying with Harry’s mother and she lives on the outskirts of Helsinki. This morning we went for a walk in the local area.

Granite boulders lie all round, along with the pine and birch trees they create this quintessential Finnish landscape. The birch trees are still bare, though are beginning to show the first signs of spring. Frisbee Golf is a game played through these woods. It’s interesting to see how much more development there is since I was last here four years ago. There’s quite a lot of clearing of forest, yet green corridors have been left so it doesn’t feel as barren as new development at home.

We visited the family summerhouse this afternoon. It sits above the lake surrounded by tall trees. With the snow melted and the road accessible, it’s time for some early spring gardening.

After a little pruning and other garden work we simply enjoyed the flowers.

Wandering the World

We’ve made it, flown from Sydney to Helsinki via Singapore. Well-masked all the way, hopefully avoiding the SARS2 virus, I guess we’ll know for sure in a few days. At Sydney International terminal, the busy departure area was well-organised with plenty of staff at hand to direct travellers to the correct check-in desk. The chaos of travel at Easter not in evidence.

she’s leaving home
all set to enter Sydney International Airport

The journeys went well. Only seven hours for the first flight. A few hours in Singapore felt surreal. We did step outside the terminal, though not for long with 30’C and high humidity. The second flight was about thirteen hours, many of them spent in twilight as the plane was kept dim and the passengers mostly slept.

We arrived at Helsinki, the nicest of the three airports. Its calm and quiet, especially the toilets (no noisy hand dryers), was just what I needed being in that zone of sleep deprivation and travel fatigue. A lot of the public furniture was soft and inviting to lounge on, unlike the hard and make-you-sit-straight offerings of many airports. A final wave of paperwork and we were outdoors and finally unmasked.

Our rental car is a hybrid Toyota Yaris. With cries of “Keep right!” and the onboard sat-nav set, Harry took off.

Finding my feet in Finland

I’ve been here for one week now, and slowly this country is sinking into me. There are trees everywhere, or at least where I have been. Granite outcrops too. As this is summer, the fields are full of ripening crops. The strawberries have ripened early, the visiting foreign workers who usually pick the crop are not yet here so much of this year’s crop could go to waste. Roadside stalls sell these fragrant berries by the litre, along with peas. We have popped many peas from their pods and enjoyed the sweetness.

Though it is summer, with long nights, in fact nights that never get dark, the reminders of the Finnish winters are everywhere. Windows are at least double-glazed, most homes have triple-glazed panes. Doors are heavy too, to keep out the winter cold. Buildings have a neat arrangement by the mats, three brushheads for cleaning off the snow.

Public toilets here have fascinated me, not many have noisy air blowers for hand drying. Instead a much more civilised arrangement with old-fashioned rolls of towel that wind and reset to clean linen for the next user. The unisex toilet booth in the photo – well, I’ll let you identify the urinal, the pulldown seat, the water tap and the air hand drier.

Staying with Harry’s family I am surrounded by talk in Finnish. I let the words flow around me, while attempting to look engaged. I am now tempted to throw in some nods, and gestures, or light laughs, guessing where the conversation flows, or were I clever enough, some made-up Finnish-sounding utterances, but I think I would scare everyone. They all speak English too, and all talk to me as well in my language. It does feel odd, they may all chat without my comprehension in their secret language, but all understand anything and everything I say.

No signage here is in English (except at tourist spots), all words are in Finnish, with Swedish in some areas. Swedish seems to be more decipherable to me, Finnish is completely in code. Harry manages all our negotiations in shops and cafes, however once people realise I can only speak English, they are very helpful and try out their English on me. I have learned just a few Finnish words… kiitos (thank you), vanha (old), tie (road) and kahvi (coffee). A useful selection! None of which I can pronounce.

The weather is mostly warm and sunny. The darkless nights are incredible. Like in Scotland, it is difficult to settle to bed with such light. I use my airline eye shades to sleep.

Staying with Finns, I am lucky to taste the “Finnish Summer House” experience. Usually a timber cottage hidden in the woods, close to the water’s edge, a lake or the sea. The summer house of Harry’s parents is just a short drive from their home in the outer suburbs of Helsinki, however it feels a world away. Like many summer houses it has no electricity. There is a sauna of course, many surrounding trees and some picturesque granite boulders. The ground is covered by ripening blueberries. The lake water is warmed by the sun.

We have also visited the summer house of two friends which is by the sea. Although the sea seems more lakelike to me – with so many islands in view, no tides to speak of and no waves. Theirs is more upmarket having electricity and water piped to the kitchen from a deep bore. However their toilet is separate, a dry long-drop affair, like most. They have a sauna cottage with guest quarters where we stayed for two nights. Jaako and Teija were wonderful hosts, feeding us royally and providing a range of wines from many parts of Europe.

Interestingly all bottle shops here are government run. A few pokie machines are located at the edge of the supermarkets. The facilities for cycling are excellent, with cycle ways kept separate to roads. The MAMIL species is very much in evidence here, zooming by on their speedy roadsters. The motorways have signage showing current air temperature as well as current road surface temps.

Visiting some friends and family in the city of Turku, we happened on a marathon and a medieval festival, both events provided much entertainment.

[Photos to follow]