A short time away

Yesterday we left Helsinki and Harry drove us to Hanko, the most southerly point of Finland, it’s almost the most southwesterly place as well.

It’s a picturesque town, at the end of a peninsula, with beaches facing south, west and north. This, along with the many, many islands, would be a great area to explore by sea kayak. Close to the waterfront are a few old and pretty villas, some were visited by the Russian nobility in the late 19th century when the town was a popular spa resort. Also close to the water are new apartment blocks, apparently favoured by wealthy Helsinkionites.

We didn’t have a lot of time in Hanko, it’s a place to which I would happily return to wander the local beaches, parks and streets. Harry drove us further north to where our friends have their sea-side summerhouse. Again, to me, this “sea” appeared lake-like. They had prepared the sauna for us so it was divine to sit on the timber bench and allow the heat and humidity build. And no, we didn’t brave a dip into the sea afterwards! Standing in the cool air was sufficient.

Dinner started late, and lasted well into the early hours of today. Time spent eating, drinking, chatting, discussing and laughing.

This morning we returned to the table for more companionable feasting with these fine friends. Then we visited a local church constructed from granite, wandered the graveyard and walked a trail through the forest. The Finnish tax on religion was discussed. All taxpayers here pay tax, via the tax office, to the Lutheran Church, or to the Finnish Orthodox Church. It is possible to opt out. In our friends’ time they had to make a formal declaration that they were leaving the Church. (This process was simplified in 2003). It interests me to learn of how our countries are different despite the many similarities.

Whilst driving through the Finnish countryside we observed many tractors out working the fields, busy at the start of the growing season. The birch trees have suddenly sprouted out a light-green fuzz of leaves.

From the bits that I have seen, the country landscapes of Finland are quite homogenous. Same species of trees, same brown tilled soils between low clumps and hills of trees. Houses and barns of mostly oxide red, with some in pale yellows and a smattering of light blues. No fences, apart from those protecting the motorways from moose and deer.

Returning to Helsinki was a smooth ride along the motorway at 120km per hour.

On Island Time

Pirttisaari is off the southern coast of Finland, easily accessed via the (free) ferry that departs from Kalkstrand. This is the Gulf of Finland, unlike the “sea” as I usually know it! Not a ripple on the water before we boarded. However the wind soon came up and we wrapped up tight against the cool breezes.

We shared the ferry with some tradies who got off at the first stop at Bodö island, their spirit levels clues to the work they had ahead. At the first stop, the narrows of Pirttisaari, one passenger handed over a few shopping bags to a couple who were waiting at the wharf. They had a small three-wheeled electric cart to get the bags home. There are no cars on these islands. The other two passengers on the ferry were obviously headed on a camping trip, with backpacks, bags of food and supplies, and a trolley to cart their gear once on the island.

It was interesting to observe the small details of island life. When we docked at the wharf, the deckhand passed over a bundle of newspapers to a woman who had come down to meet the ferry. Later, when we returned to catch our ferry, a man rowed ashore to collect his newspaper.

Harry’s mother spent many summers in her youth on this island, visiting her grandparents and staying with her aunt. Harry himself visited as a child. Off we wandered, following the track into the island and his childhood memories brought him to the two summerhouses once owned by his family members.

using local products for fences

This island was soft: soft sounds, soft underfoot on the track and soft with its moss-lined forest floors. We came out of the woods and wandered along the hard, granite shoreline.

The rock slabs were beautiful, greys, blacks and occasional sparkles of pinks. I kept imagining the rock cut and polished, perhaps for a kitchen bench top, and then the memory came to me. I once had two beautiful polished pink and grey granite steps put in a home I was renovating.

second lunch, spent watching the arctic terns fish

We wandered the tracks, along the shore, through the forest, and brought ourselves back to the wharf to await the return ferry inside the little shelter hut.

The sun had gone and the skies were clouded over. We snuggled tight on the deck as we returned to the mainland.

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.