The Princess of the Baltic

We board on the ferry that will take us to mainland Finland, leave Polaris parked in the basement, next to lots of container trucks, and take the elevator to the 7th floor. When we reach the floor and the doors open, we are almost blinded by the amount of bling, bling in the place. Clearly our hiking shoes and clothes are fully out of synch with the decor or the boat, which I baptise with the name of smart-kitsch. There are 5 or 6 restaurants, 2 sort of bars with live music, a pub, a piano bar and a disco with a sun deck. Surely plenty and enough to keep everybody entertained for the 5 plus hours that the journey to Finland lasts. As we are on a budget and severely underdressed, we take our seats, eat the peanut butter sandwiches that we had prepared in the parking lot as we waited to board, and take full advantage of the free WIFI on board to work on our next blog post. Not surprisingly this mega ship is called Princess of the Baltic.

The captain manoeuvres skilfully amongst the hundreds of little islands and we reach the Finish coast in Turku in the late afternoon, find ourselves a spot to spend the night next to the river. We meet a Finish couple, who is also standing there in a camper van. They welcome us to Finland, recommend a supermarket to do our groceries and point us in the direction of the city center.

The city is lively and lovely, with plenty of floating bars and restaurants along the river, a nice old cathedral and surroundings. There’s also a castle dating back to the 13th century, but somehow the opening hours do not match our schedule, so the day after we head out direction north.

Rauma´s old town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightfully so. The city center is one of these places where it would seem time stood still a couple of hundred years ago, if if wasn’t for the swarm of cars circulating everywhere and trying to park in the market square. Maybe because it´s Saturday, the centre is extra busy, maybe everyday is like this, showing the tension of different times converging into one space. Architecturally though, the classic wooden houses from the 18th century stand happily and colourful, defeating time and trend, anchored in cobbled or unpaved streets.

From there we go to a city at the other end of the architectural spectrum, that probably wouldn’t be in the map if Alvar Aalto would not have designed its centre from scratch in the mid 20th century. The place is a bit of the beaten track, but since Aalto is a name of reference in the architecture from the last century, our curiosity beats the laziness of having to do a detour. The town’s name is Seinajoki and upon arrival, we struggle to find any traces of remarkable architecture or a tourist office to get some information or a map so, dishearten, we go up and down a couple of streets until the ever resourceful Google maps sets us up in the right direction. We happily find the renown church, the vicars house, the library, the town hall, the theatre and the office building that Aalto designed. All immaculate white, except the town hall, which is covered in blue tiles, and which unfortunately is undergoing major renovation. Also unfortunately it´s Sunday, so all the buildings are closed and we don’t manage to get inside. Fortunately we find that the door to the church tower is open and although the elevator is not functioning, we venture the 18 floors worth of steps in the dark tower, till we reach the top, breathing heavily, but ready to enjoy the views.

Overall we like the town centre, but don’t quite love it. Maybe we don’t quite understand what those buildings meant in the time when they were built, how much of an innovation or a revolution they were. Truthfully I have to say that our favourite building from the town is the new library, which was not designed by Aalto, but by an Arquictect office called JKMM, and that it was not build in the last century, but in 2013. Oh, well.

It´s time to get back into the wild, so we head down Road 66 and crossing lakes and pine forests, we make it to Ruovesi, which is a nice little town next to a lake. We try to fight the unstoppable wind and go for a walk on the harbour, but the wind is really to heavy and quite cold, so we soon give up and head towards the nearby Helvetinjarvi National Park, hoping that the mass of trees will stop and make the wind bearable. Luckily this is the case, so we take one of the walking trails and cross thick woods and serene marshlands till we get to the lake. Next to the shore there’s a little hut with a fire place, meant for the hikers to spend the night or get warm when the weather is truly inclement. The fire is on and a group of people seem to be smoking some fish.

In our case Polaris is waiting to give us shelter at the other end of the trail, next to the info centre, so we head back and spend a peaceful night parked in the forest.

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Anybody seen the Toilet??? – Helvetinjarvi National Park

A handful of towns and cities follow. Some more memorable than others. On the less memorable ones probably Tampere, maybe because it was tremendously windy when we visited, maybe because we got pissed off just upon arrival because of what seemed to us a non visitor friendly parking system, or maybe just because. 

Also in this category is probably Hameenlina, despite the fact that it´s next to a lake and it has a lovely castle.

Going up in the memorability scale is Iitala, which we visit given the fact that a good part of our glasses and porcelain at home come from there and are branded with that name. We manage to visit the glass factory and see how some of our glasses come to life and from the hands of whom.  It´s sort of special.

Also nice, although the weather sucks a bit, is Hanko, on the coast, with a nice beach and lots of mansions from a couple of centuries ago, when Russian wealthy people used to spend their holidays there.

Top memorable is Fiskars, which also gives the name to the famous brand of scisors, knives, etc. But apart from that, it has a really charming setting, next to a little meandering river that flows through the shade of the trees lining up along its shore. The river banks are dotted with old brick or wood buildings dotting both sides of the water still host the workshops of some artisans, great handcraft shops or pretty cafes.  And the best is that we just park at the town center, next to the tourist office and the WIFI spot and spend a quiet night there.