August 2008

From Tampere we continued our voyage further on the North, to our main destination: Lapland!
(just like in previous post in this one as well you can click on small photos to enlarge them. also you might need to refresh the page if you don’t see all of 27 clickable photos)

Our next stop was in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. I couldn’t believe but it supposed to be the biggest town in Europe (it lays on huge surface). I’d never thought so but it is what I’ve read somewhere. Anyhow many of Rovaniemi’s visitors come to cross the Arctic Circle, which lies 8km north of town. This has also become the “official” residence of Santa Claus, who lives in a tacky complex of tourist shops and ho-ho-hos most cheerfully as the euros roll in!

The town itself is quite uninteresting. After the complete destruction by the Germans in 1944, it was rebuilt from a plan by Alvar Aalto (the most famous Finnish architect) with the main streets radiating in the shape of reindeer antlers, something impossible to notice on the ground.

I had one interesting discussion with one guy in Rovaniemi’s church abut history of the town. Namely I knew that Germans lived there and they lived very happy lives with locals, namely Finns were German allies in the war against Russia. There are numerous objects in museum about that and I must say I was very surprised how lovely symbiosis between Nazis and Finns were in Rovaniemi. Eventually when Russians were unstoppable German (but also Finn!), residents on Rovaniemi decided to leave the town, and they set up the fire. Indeed almost entire town has been destroyed but that wasn’t result of combat or something similar, it was actually decision made by both Germans and Finns so that Russians find only ruins. But Russians never reached Rovaniemi (what a bummer). Therefore everything in the town is new.

The most interesting thing in Rovaniemi is one of the best themed museums I saw, Arktikum. Arktikum is absolutely breathtaking even from the first look: it has beautifully designed glass tunnel stretching out to the lake shore. It is one of the Finland’s best museums. Exhibition spaces include superb static and interactive displays focusing on Arctic flora and fauna, as well as on the peoples of Arctic Europe, Asia and North America. The level of information is very impressive; this is really a place to learn about the unique northern environments. There are also good displays of canoes, dwellings, fishing materials and costumes of various northern peoples, including very good exhibition on the Sami. There is also room devoted to the history of Rovaniemi itself. A scale mode shows the destruction wrought by the Axis retreat in 1944.

And Arktikum is pretty much all you have to see in Rovaniemi. Since it is so far north there were no nights and we were roaming through the streets in the center and we were the only ones. No locals, no open bars no anything. Only tourists equally confused by the empty streets, indeed it was close to midnight but it looked like it’s 5pm. So we basically waited to continue our journey and that time we used for some shopping.

Our next stop was Santa Claus village. As I said it is totally tourist trap but we were willingly jumping in it with smile on our face. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, I never did (I feel like a moron cause I’m writing this) but saying such thing there was worse than any blasphemy. Cynical I am I tried to spoil everything with asking about background of the village and I found out that everything there is private, it has an owner and will soon go on the stock market! However no one paid attention on those facts so I didn’t have too much choice and decided to pretend that Santa exists.

Gosh, nowhere else in Finland is there such an unadulterated shrine to commercialism. The Santa Claus Main Post Office is here, and it receives half a million letters each year from children all over the world. I must admit it looks absolutely lovely and in spite it was 1st August inside was everything Christmas-like. As tacky and trite as this may sound, it is all good fun and you can send a postcard home with an official Santa stamp (I really loved that!). Also for 7 euros you can arrange to receive a personal letter from Santa with a calendar which will be delivered at Christmas and I’ve done that. I told you that I couldn’t fight and decided willingly to jump in the trap).

In a nearby building is the home of Santa himself. To reach him you have to pass through the tempting shop and then enter in something like a cave with lava beneath your feet, enormous clock above your head, you can hear how the time is ticking out, the sound is actually more like from house of horror that from the Santa’s house; and as an icing on the cake comes that equally terrifying “Ho!Ho!Ho!” (no I didn’t have miserable childhood, actually it was quite opposite!). Therefore, you can meet Santa, shake his hand, he will ask you “Where are you from my friend” and then he’ll think how absolutely fabulous is that we are from Serbia (“no shit! What is so fantastic about it?”) and that he’ll come to visit us in December and until then we should behave good (“Hello!! I’m 30 years old, I can’t be good! And we aren’t celebrating Christmas in December!”). And then one dwarf will take a camera and make a memorabilia you’re suppose to worship; memorabilia that costs 30 euros! The price is however the same if five (or more) of us is on the photograph so of course we decided to fill the photo and pay 6 euros each. I guess there’s no need to mention that it is NOT allowed to take your own photograph. How very much in the spirit of Christmas!

The main thing here in Santa Village is actually the Arctic Circle, called Napapiiri in Suomi. The Arctic Circle  is the southernmost line at which the midnight sun can be seen, at a latitude of roughly 66.5° north. From here and up on the north sun never sets in midsummer and never rises in midwinter. Even though the Arctic Circle can be crossed by road at several points in Lapland, the official Arctic Circle marker is right here, conveniently painted on the roadside – and built right on top of it is above mentioned the “official” Santa Claus Village. My friends and I were having great fun crossing the line painted on the asphalt (supposedly marking the circle. Supposedly because the Circle can actually shift several meters daily) in order to be awarded with Arctic Circle certificates (which cost 4.50 euros and which I paid).

Before I leave Rovaniemi I must mention amazing buffet we had in nearby hotel. I shamelessly admit that we eaten that bloody breakfast as if it’s our last one. We looked like we just escaped hunger in our own country but hey who wouldn’t: several types of cheese, hams, all sorts of vegetables, several types of breads just baked, fried bacon, and sausages, meatballs, pancakes, all sorts of fruits, apples, grapes, oranges, watermelons, melons, mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, yogurts (fruit and regular), zillion sorts of jams, muffins… oh and I believe there was part with “healthy food” (with cereals etc) but I didn’t go there. OK I had intention to skip it but I figure out it will be stupid so yes there was beans as well *blush* I still can’t believe I eaten beans for breakfast!

And so we leave Rovaniemi with full stomach to continue our journey in deep Lapland. Our next stop was Inari, capital of Sami people. Inari is small town which lays on the banks on Lake Inari (I think second largest in Finland) and is pace of another beautiful museum; Siida. The exhibition brings to life Sami origins, culture, traditions, lifestyle and present-day struggles. There is a timeline introduction to the history of the area and a superb, detailed display on the Arctic environment, flora and fauna. Outside is an open-air museum featuring Sami buildings, handicrafts and artifacts, including several dastardly traps for bears, foxes and wolves. Sadly we didn’t have much time for museum because we had to catch a boat to Ukko Island, sacred place for Sami people.

The island of Ukko is 300m long, 100m wide and no less than 30m high. The name of the island is Ukonsaari which means “Ukko’s Island” or “Old Man’s Island”. In Inari Lappish the island is called “Aijjih”, which means “Old Man” but also “thunder”. Aijjih, “Thunder”, was the most important pagan god of the Lapps and Ukonsaari Island was one of his shrines.

One of the last traces of the cult of Aijjih may have been the custom of throwing a coin or two into the water near the island while wishing for a favourable wind. On the island is a cave which we couldn’t enter (while my friend and I were searching for it and trust me if we were successful we would enter and don’t know what would Old Man say (or even worse, do) on that especially cause my friend was female and the island was forbidden ground for women). Before shrine cavern has been discovered, semicircle of reindeer antlers has been found which was exact as on some woodprints. Woodprint portrayed a man worshiping a “seita” (Lappish stone idol) surrounded by a pile of reindeer antlers. Aijjih was probably worshiped with similar rites.

Small excavation in the shrine cavern has discovered, aside from animal bones, a small silver ring adorned with filigree, most likely a fragment of an earring or brow ring. Similar rings have been found in eastern Russia, where they probably date to the first century A.D. The use of Ukko Island as a shrine may thus date back as much as a thousand years.

Ukko Island is one of Finland’s most important ancient monuments and is protected by law so every activities beside visit are forbidden.

I’m fascinated with Sami culture (something I knew nothing about before this trip and sadly I can’t say I know much even now. Why I didn’t bought some books about them I’ll never understand. It was late reaction 😦 ) so I’ll write more about them.

According to stone carvings and archaeological evidence, this region was first settled soon after the last Ice Age around 10.000 years ago. The early inhabitants were nomadic people: hunters, fishers and food-gatherers, who migrated with the seasons. They hunted wild reindeer, fished and harvested berries in the summer months, and traded meat, clothing and handicrafts.  I bought shaman drum (I just had to) and two mugs (kuksa) made of birch.

Early Sami society was based on siida, small groups comprising a number of families who controlled particular hunting and fishing grounds. Families lived in a traditional dwelling resembling the tepee or wigwam of native North Americans. It could be easily set up as a temporary shelter while following the migrating reindeer herds.

The natural environment was essential to the Sami existence: they worshiped the sun (father), earth (mother) and wind and believed all things in nature had a soul. The starts and constellations provided mythology – North Star, the brightest in the sky was the pillar of the World. The Sami believed in many gods and their link with the gods was through the shaman, the most important member of community. By beating a drum, the shaman could go into a trance and communicate with the gods. The drums featured in drawings depicting life, nature and gods, usually with the sun as the central image.

Traditional legends, rules of society and fairytales were handed down through generations by storytelling. A unique form of storytelling was the yoik, a chant in which the singer would use words, or imitate the sounds of animals and nature to describe experiences. You can buy CD with yoik accompanied by instruments.

Many Sami legends remain, including those of miracle-working witches who could fly and transform themselves into strange creatures. Conspicuous lakes or rocks became holly sites and the island of Ukko is precisely being best known of these.

And Ukko is really magical. It was very windy and cold day (Inari Lake is frozen 7 months in a year and when it’s not it’s very cold!) but it was worth of all troubles. Indeed there’s nothing more than nature but nature is breathtaking! And of course there is a history hidden it that beauty. Near Ukko island is another one which served as a graveyard. Namely in ancient time people believed that dad should rest I peace, far away from settlements. The idea has been abandoned when wild animals started to dig graves searching for bones.

We were sleeping in Kaamanen, small village some 30 km north from Inari. And there’s nothing much I should write about it. It’s a place full of bungalows on the lake shore. Of course it has sauna sop it was possible to run away from it straight into the lake. The nights were fascinating indeed, I mean there were no nights. I spoke with our hosts and they reminded they also have 6 month without day. I would really like to see that!

Oh I shouldn’t skip Sami fashion which is fantastic but horribly expensive. You can see part of it on the pictures me modeling (click to enlarge).

And this is something I wanted so badly but 300 euros was price way too high for a souvenir :

Next morning we continue our journey more on north, on the shore of Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean! We were hoping to see herds of reindeers on the road but we saw occasionally few examples (and since I was up on the floor in the bus I mad horrible photos, however I’ll take some from my fellow travelers). Day was cloudy and rainy from time to time.

We reached Ocean in Grense Jakobselv, NATO’s eastern most mainland-based surveillance of Russia. It was very strange feeling. The ocean was dark-grey with big waves and only you can hear was wind and occasionally some sea bird. I was standing on the shore expecting to hear voice of Dejan Đurović (Serbian readers will understand). I couldn’t believe I was there. Of course I had to enter the ocean; in Serbian official name for Arctic Ocean is Northern Icy Ocean and he so justified its name. The feeling was as if some mad dog is biting my feet! And my dear friends made me to go back into the ocean because „photograph wasn’t good“. Of course they were good! *grrr*

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Later we visited Kirkenes, the biggest town in the area also famous for King Crabs safari. Suddenly the day was sunny but the wind was so strong and it was quite cold. However children were playing on the main square were was some entertainment park; and almost everyone wearing short sleeves! I couldn’t believe! It was some festival, they were celebrating something (i wouldn’t be surprised if the occasion was first sunny day of the year!). Some folks have found whale meat but as usual I was sightseeing and wasn’t interested in sitting in restaurants (or in this case under a tent). They said it’s lovely but when I heard the price I couldn’t believe. I mean I knew Norway ios horribly expensive country but I never expect it’s expensive that much! I went in a hotel in toilet and there I saw postcards and thought to send few so I asked do they have stamps and how much it is. The answer was 5 euros! I had to ask twice and the guy said in perfectly normal voice the same thing: 5 euros. For bloody postcard!!! Should I mention I didn’t send anything from there.

One group find out lamb roast and wanted to taste part from the ribs but the butcher didn’t want to give them that part so one of them sweared in Serbian. Butcher who was grizzly-sized man with grizzly-like face and with knife huge enough to kill grizzly said in cracked voice „What did you say?“ (in perfect Serbian!). He couldn’t believe his ears and of course he gave them discount and free drink. I don’t remember his name but I know he’s Muslim refugee from Bosnia and he couldn’t answer the question how on earth he ended there.

How strange this is; in Bosnia he would see enemy in us but there on far European North he almost didn’t burst in tears. And yes in some distant land, in foreign culture you forget all animosities and longing for someone who can understand you, who knows how you feel when people around you don’t catch the point of your joke. After such things you really wonder why all those suffering? Why war when you’ll find yourself hugging in tears your „enemy“?

We left Kirkenes and Norway and slowly start our way back home. We slept in Kaamanen and next morning continued journey to Oulu in the Gulf of Bothnia. We didn’t have too much time to spend there so we just walked for an hour or so. Oulu is lovely town with beautiful open marked which was full of people since it was sunny day. On the open marked there are many red wooden houses (like in Porvoo). Apartments are fantastic. Every two buildings have their own parks (closed by the fence) in between of the buildings. And if the building are on the bank of the channel, channel has been used by residents of that buildings. I saw water scooter „parked“ in a front of the building. How odd is that?

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After relaxing little bit in Oulu we started our journey to Russia and magic St Petersburg, but about that in part 3…


OK finally I managed to reach computer and write my impressions about the Summer trip on the European North. Gosh, I’m so full of emotions I just hope I’ll be able to stay focused. Oh and you can click on the small images if you wanna enlarge them (they will be opened in another window). Also maybe you might need to refresh page if you don’t see all small photos (there are 24 clickable pictures).

Beside the fact that the trip was absolutely amazing it was quite hard; I mean almost 8000 km in a bus doesn’t sound very tempting, right? But on the other hand there’s no way I’d be able to see so many things and cities in any other way.

Anyhow our first stop on the trip was Krakow in Poland. It was my second time in Krakow and I had high hopes I’ll see everything I missed first time but the weather wasn’t my friend. It was raining horribly and it was quite cold. I remember Krakow as a magnificent town but I must admit that rain has spoiled the picture. Anyhow I didn’t want to surrender myself and in spite the rain (and without umbrella) I was walking thru the streets. My goal was Czartoryski Museum and “Lady With an Ermin” by Leonardo da Vinci. This will be the very first Leonardo’s painting I’m going to see and I was so excited (was it raining at all?). I’m a huge admirer of Leonardo’s work and I had a chance only to see his models of airplane, bicycle etc but never any of his paintings. I tried to walk calmly thru the museum and observe exhibition with attention not thinking about upcoming meeting … I’m afraid I failed. I’ve noticed one work of Peter Breugel and one of Rembrandt but even then “Lady With an Ermine” was on my mind. And then, in one dark room I saw it. It was under pale light which was actually in harmony with her elegance. She was lovely. Gosh standing before Leonardo is indescribable. That was perfect introduction into what waited me on this journey…

Next morning we continued our journey and next stop was Tallinn, Estonian capital. I was hoping that my Estonian friends I met few months ago here in Belgrade will be there but sadly they weren’t. However we exchanged text messages with few tips, what is a must in Tallinn. We had few hours before embarking on the ferry and that was quite enough to enjoy in old Tallinn. Oh I was aiming to buy famous Estonian liqueur “Vana Tallinn” but I wanted to avoid shops in tourist zone so I went into information center to ask for nearest supermarket with normal prices so I asked a girl who worked there “Where can I find Vana Tallinn?” and she replied “Oh you have found it!” at first I was puzzled but then I realized what she’s thinking. Namely in Estonian “Vana Tallinn” means “Old Tallinn” and indeed we were precisely there!

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Old Tallinn is on the UNESCO World heritage list (as well as old Krakow) and it was obvious why: town is beautiful with all its walls, sweet colored houses, churches … you can really feel the history. And the view on the Gulf of Finland from the tower of St Olaf’s church is magnificent. Also from there you can see Tallinn “on the palm”. It’s small town (whole Estonia has population of about 1.3 million which is almost half of Belgrade’s population) but really beautiful. I must admit that I liked the most Russian Orthodox church of Alexander Nevsky. Again, the church was another fantastic introduction of what is waiting me on this journey.

We left Tallinn with very positive emotions. The town is beautiful as well as its people. They are usually very good in English, very polite and are willing to help. The town was full of tourists but somehow it contributes to the whole image and there are only few places where tourists aren’t spoiling the image.

Few hours on the ferry Tallinn-Helsinki have been good intro to create an image about Finns. We had fantastic time, very warm and sunny and almost all passengers were sitting outdoor, sunbathing and … drinking … drinking a lot! There were duty free shop on the ferry and the main product was alcohol. The journey was few hours (don’t remember exactly) and during that time one couple which was sitting near our table has “killed” two bottles of whiskey (sorry if noticing that was rude but I just couldn’t help myself). I was very curious if they will be able to stand up when we arrived in Helsinki. Gosh it was as if they were drinking mineral water! When we started to leave ferry I was shocked when I saw that almost everyone is dragging several boxes (!) of alcoholic drink with themselves. Almost everyone (regardless of the age) was red in face, with silly smile while staggering. But look on those boxes of drinks made me think “Is Finland expensive that much!”.

First image of Helsinki was quite surprising. I was imaging everything will be perfectly clean in perfect order, almost sterile, that you’ll feel kingdom of rules from the very beginning. I remembered that my foreign friends were very surprised that Belgrade is full of people in 2am. They couldn’t understand what people are doing on the streets and in bars in that hour. They couldn’t believe that we aren’t going out before 10pm, that real action in the city begins after midnight. Anyhow I imagined Helsinki will be something opposite of Belgrade. What I saw was very “Belgradish”: town was full of people! What I liked so much was the images of parks (and Helsinki has lots of parks) filled with people picnicking and drinking of course; they were lying on the grass and sunbathing (sadly here walking on the grass in the parks is not acceptable, maybe it’s even forbidden; that’s why I was longing to do that there!). And then night has fall on Helsinki (“night” is something that includes bright, red sky only for an hour and then it’s becoming brighter and brighter) and of course I wanted to see night life in Helsinki. What I saw has left me speechless: streets were full of people, mostly young ones and it was 2am! That was something I so didn’t expect to see here. And moreover, I don’t think I saw one single sober person. Everyone was drunk, majority completely destroyed, lying everywhere in the parks, on the streets, on the friend’s shoulders etc. but don’t get me wrong: somehow the atmosphere in the town was cheerful. When I’m talking about drunkenness I don’t have any negative thought (after all I do drink). But what I liked the most is that everyone of those drunk people was drunk for themselves. No one is harassing anyone (not sure the same would be here). I felt as if I’m looking some performance Helsinki is greeting me with. Next morning came with thought “the city has made love and the streets are crumpled” I was thrilled!

Our hostel was near Russian Orthodox Church, the biggest Orthodox Church in Western Europe (FYI the biggest Orthodox temple in the world is here in Belgrade, but we aren’t part of “Western World”). Near  to our hostel was an open market and I really love those things. It was crowded and the prices were generally quite high. However you can have perfect (and surprisingly cheep) breakfast there. Namely market is on the coast so part of it was with small boats where you can buy fruits of the sea and other fish specialties (I’ll recommend a salmon with everything fisherman will suggests (I remember garlic)); “dry” part of the market will offer you numerous of berries and among them the most intriguing cloudberries, something I saw for the first time (I’m quite sure we don’t have Serbian word for such thing) and which is apparently very typical for Finland.

From there you can catch the boat to Suomenlinna. Set on a tight cluster of islands, this UNESCO World Heritage Site (the “Fortress of Finland”) was the scene of a major event in Finnish history when the Russians seized it from the Swedes in 1808. The greatest fortress of the Swedish empire was founded in 1748 to protect the eastern part of empire against Russian attack. It was named Sveaborg (Swedish fortress).

After a prolonged attack, Sveaborg was surrendered to the Russians after the war of 1808, and renamed Viapori. Thanks in large part to the superb sea fortress, the Finnish capital was moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812. It remained Russian until Finland gained independence in 1917 and the present name was chosen in 1918.

Beside its obvious historical value, Suomenlinna is a fantastic place for picnicking. We had beautiful sunny days in Helsinki (something not very common) and the locals were using every single ray. It was almost exotic image of numerously multiplied “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (nope, no naked ladies you dirty mind!). Indeed there were loads semi nakedness since “cold water” is not the same for some Finn and for someone from the Mediterranean: sun is shinning, therefore let’s go swimming … in the Baltic! The ones that weren’t in the water were lying in the parks sunbathing.

Here I must say that I never saw so many tattooed people than in Finland (and especially in Helsinki). Without any exaggeration I can say that on every person without tattoo comes five tattooed (I’m talking about young population 15-35 years). It’s incredible! Also, since I’m watching Eurovision Song Contest I knew that Finns like hardcore sound but OMG, there is entire hardcore culture in Finland. Beside tattoos Finnish guys like either boldness or long hair in both cases leather with lots of metal adds. There are several boutiques that are closer to ironmonger’s store than to clothes store! For someone like me it was like a masked ball. Also I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable to ask here in Belgrade someone who is bold (or with long hair), tattooed, totally pierced and in leather with an image of tough guy for direction or for some museum; or even if I’d asked I wouldn’t expect that he would be able to help me. Well not in Finland, those tough guys are very friendly and polite … you just have to accept that “dress code” as something very normal and relax 🙂

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Another thing I’ve noticed (especially (but not only) on Suomenlinna) is that Helsinki is full of young couples with kids. It was incredible how many under 25 (or so) have kids! They were with equally young friends (also with kids) observing their offsprings with beer in one hand and cigarette in other and enjoying the sun. It was such a great image and if I think further about this phenomenon the only reasonable explanation that is falling on my mind is an image of that alcoholically destroyed people on the streets of Helsinki Friday night LOL. Of course I’m joking but then beside so many young parents Finland has very high rate of divorces (I’ve read that somewhere. Yep, I tried to inform myself quite detailed before the trip) so I’m going to let you think about this…

From lovely Suomenlinna I went on another Island, Seurasaari. It’s another lovely place where locals are going during sunny days. It’s really lovely place with beautiful pine forest and nice beaches but that wasn’t the reason why I went there. Seurasaari is also an open-air museum. You can buy the ticket when entering on the island but it’s not obligatory if you don’t want to enter into the houses on the island. Of course I didn’t want to miss that. The concept of this museum is quite unique (later I found out there are many museums in Finland with the similar concept): on the island there are numerous 18th– and 19th– century traditional houses, manors and outbuildings from around the Finland. Guides are dressed in traditional costume and are demonstrating folk dancing and crafts such as spinning, embroidery and troll-making. I thought that houses were build on the island following the pattern of the houses from certain region of Finland but I was wrong. Every single house on the island including the church is authentic! That means that all houses have been moved from around Finland on the island. Every house has a guide who can tell you story about original inhabitants of the house. It was incredible because along with the house you can see some personal things of its first owners. I was thrilled with the whole idea.

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Oh and there while I was speaking with one of the guides she said “t…” and then stopped and said “also”. I had to ask her “did you wanted to say tambien?” and she said “Yes!” and then next 15 minutes we spoke in Spanish. My friend told me I have “nose” to smell Spanish; it seems she’s right 😉

Of course I had to visit fabulous monument of great Finnish composer Sibelius. It wasn’t windy when I was there but people are saying that when wind blows thru the monument, you can hear music it makes.

Near the monument is Olympic Stadium where Olympic Games 1952 took place.

I was roaming thru the city and I must say it’s beautiful place. Architecture is fantastic, I mentioned Orthodox Church already but there is also Lutheran Church that dominates city’s landscape. Beautiful town indeed.

Next day I went in Porvoo, the second oldest town in Finland after Turku. Officially it has been town since 1346, but even before that Porvoo was an important trading centre.

There are three distinct sections to the city: the Old Town, the new town and the 19th-century Empire quarter, built Russian style under the rule of Tsar Nicholas I.

The Old Town district was largely built after the Great Fire 1760. It’s an alluring warren of narrow, winding cobblestone alleys and brightly coloured wooden houses. The distinctive row of shore houses along the Porvoonjaki were first painted with red ochre to impress the visiting Kind of Sweden, Gustavus III, in the late 18th century. They were originally used to store goods traded with German ships but many are now Porvoo’s prime residential real estate.

The striking stone medieval cathedral dominates the Old Town and has an important place in Finnish history: this is where the first Diet of Finland assembled in 1809, convened by Tsar Alexander I, thus giving Finland religious freedom.

Porvoo is also the place where I tasted Salmiakki ice cream. Salmiakki is something utterly Finnish and usually quite disgusting to the rest of the world. However I loved it. It’s a strange mix of salty-bitter-sweet-who-knows-what-else taste. Ever since a friend of mine (who I met on this journey) sent me few years ago I loved it and was very lucky that my friends are hating it, which means that all Salmiakki is for me *evil grin* Of course I loved the ice cream as well while my friend couldn’t even look at me knowing what I’m licking.

When I came back in Helsinki I sadly didn’t have much time to visit more museums so I decided to spend this last day in Helsinki feeling the town’s heartbeat … and was scared cause I thought it needs reanimation: it was Sunday and all magic has vanished. Helsinki was deserted by its people! At 10pm there were no one on the streets, bars are closed … “dealcoholisation” was in progress, tomorrow is a working day and therefore there will be no action tonight and streets will not be beautifully crumpled next morning. Nope, not Belgrade after all…

Next day we continued our journey. We were driving through the regions with lakes and our next destination was Tampere, but before that we made few hours pause in the National Park Evo, between Helsinki and Tampere. Nature is beautiful, dense forest and lakes and Finnish army on the bikes. The image was silly. I mean there was a huge line of uniformed, armed bikers in the middle of the Park. They were look like everything but military forces; they were even in the mood to chat with us; relaxing drive thru the wood, the only what was missing was headphones lol (I was wondering how would they react if some petard would explode; I wouldn’t be surprised if they would vanished in the bush. I just couldn’t imagine their smiling, relaxed faces in the combat … oh ignore me). Beside “military forces” much dangerous were mosquito forces! Indeed I was warned in the guide that we are going in Finland in the time when mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers are most aggressive. Therefore I had repellents but if you leave any spot unprotected with the repellent they will find it!

In the park we saw several private homes (and were even invited in one). That’s really a pure luxury. It’s absolutely fantastic, house is just as if you are reading some fairy tale, hidden in the wood, usually red with white windows (wooden of course); grass around the house is perfectly shaven; there is a brook and the bridge and garden with chairs … it’s really beautiful. Oh and of course: its royal highness: The Sauna.

It seems that every house has its sauna (probably not but it’s very close). Public ones (including the ones we had in our hostels, yep we had sauna in the hostel) are either divided on male and female saunas; or there are separate open hours for men and women.

Sauna is a place where family is gathering and invitation to go in sauna is something you mustn’t reject. It’s actually an honour to be invited by your host in their sauna (no, I wasn’t invited but was informed before my trip). So all this sounds lovely until one point: I remember before this trip I was reading guide about Finland and the part about one Sauna in Helsinki which also have a swimming pool. There was something like separate hours for men and women (I was wondering why’s that?) and bathing suits are optional in the pool (I thought either guide has a printing error, or something’s wrong with my English) and not allowed in saunas. And then I realized: Of course! You can’t not be naked in sauna! (here in Serbia we do have saunas and no one is going naked; I can only imagine what would happened if someone would enter without anything. In Finland not even towel is allowed). For Finns that is perfectly normal. They will most definitively say “How can you go in sauna with anything, even underwear!?”

I don’t have problem with nakedness; quite opposite actually (and no, I’m not pervert) so of course I couldn’t miss sauna, otherwise that would be incomplete Finnish experience. On the other hand it would be very odd to go with your host family in sauna naked. But indeed Finns are strict about nonsexual character of sauna. The sauna was originally a place to bathe and meditate. Proper sauna etiquette dictates that you use a ladle to throw water on the sauna stove, which then gives off the steam. At this point, at least in summer in the countryside, you might take a bunch of fresh, leafy birch twigs and lightly strike yourself. This improves circulation, has cleansing properties and gives your skin a pleasant smell. When you are sufficiently warmed, you’ll jump in the sea, a lake, river, pool, then return to sauna to warm up and repeat the cycle several times. If you’re indoors, a cold shower will do (that’s what I have done). The swim and hot-cold aspect is such an integral part of sauna experience that in dead of winter, Finns cut a hole in the ice and jump right in! (would probably skip that) The final key ingredient is the sauna beer, which always tastes heavenly.

Finns will prescribe a sauna session to cure all ills, from a head cold to sunburn. The earliest written description of the Finnish sauna dates from the chronicles of Ukrainian historian Nestor in 1113. There are also numerous references to sauna-going in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.

Sauna is one of the most essential elements of Finnish culture and therefore no joking about it: It’s steamy but NO sex!

After enjoying nature in Evo National Park and won battle against mosquitoes we continued our journey to Tampere. Here I’m reaching the spot where I have to mention horrible problem I had. Namely I had for the first time a horrible toothache that started in the bus while we were still in Belgrade. It was really unbearable and all those days I described I was under antibiotics and filled with all sorts of analgetics. Everyone in the bus wanted to help so I took numerous pills, was chewing clove (it’s a method used among African tribes) and finally drink huge amounts of (several sorts) rakija (plum, peach, etc brandy). Nothing helped so I had to go to visit a dentist. Because of bureaucracy (even in Finland) I had to wait eternity to sit on the chair. Eventually dentist has done what he had to do but the effect came only after several days. I had to go in hospital again few days later in different town where they gave me prescription for very strong pain killers (you can’t buy strong pain killer without prescription in Finland) and in huge package (100 pills) to cover entire trip (some two weeks more from that day). It was really horrible experience and something that has marked part of this trip.

Anyhow, I was so exited with Tampere because I was supposed to see few dear friends of mine, BookCrossers and meet new ones. First day in Tampere I met Rea/CatharinaL (also regular reader of my blog) and few more BookCrossers (I’m just horrible in memorizing names *blush*). We were in Panimoravintola Plevna, a superb and spacious brewery pub in the converted Finlayson cotton mill buildings. It’s fantastic indeed. There I was brave and taste for the first time Mustamakkara, a sturdy black blood sausage which my friend Rea described like this: “looks suspiciously like something a very sick person would find in his toilet bowl” so now you realize why I need to be courageous to taste it. However it’s lovely, that evening I ordered something else but after I tried it (someone else ordered mustamakkara (see pic)) I recommended it to my fellow travelers and we all decided to eat it. It is delicious indeed.

It was very pleasant evening and I was looking forward to the next day monthly BookCrosser meeting (my first one!) where I’ll see more people including Lotta /Intry who is coming all the way from Turku because of me. Well at least I thought I was the reason only to find out while reading meeting journal that she was more exited with some drink while she didn’t mentioned me whatsoever! *grrr* However after “polite” intervention she fixed that horrible mistake *wink* I was very thrilled and touched by Lotta’s decision to come in Tampere and in my thrillness I think I was … how should I put this… emotionally aggressive for Finnish standards. Actually I think I scared them all a little bit with the same thing. Later I was thinking about first meeting with Rea on the street and she handled that very well but then I think I warned her in one of my emails that she shouldn’t be surprised if I forget myself and greet her the way we do here: with strong hug and three kisses. However Lotta was completely unprepared so I can only imagine how I looked!

That was one of the differences between South and North (I said South because I know Spaniards are very similar to Serbs and while I was in Spain it was as if I’m in my own country): there is one distance and one tendency to preserve this distance intact. When I mentioned this on BookObsessed forum some Finns (including dear Lotta) said it’s not that they don’t like person, it’s just they act that way. Of course I’m absolutely aware of that and when I’m speaking about that distance I’m not imposing some negativeness; it’s just an observation. And there was those moments of silence, something we experienced previous evening in Plevna as well. I must say moments of silence were utterly scary, that’s something I’m not accustomed with and I was thinking “gosh say, something; quickly!” and of course there’s no way you can start any decent conversation in that state. Anyway during that meeting I’ve learned that moments of silence are something very common when Finns are having conversation! I was quite surprised: “You mean, you’re not feeling uncomfortable when no one is speaking and the silence is ruling?” and everyone replied in one voice “Oh no, no. Silence is so Finnish!” And only when I think how I was sweating because of it!

The meeting was really fantastic and everything was great. Folks are fantastic and generally speaking Finns are very polite people, willing to help but I’m not sure I’d be able to adopt that distance between friends. I met one Serbian guy, my namesake who lives in Tampere. He was so excited when he heard that someone speaks Serbian and instantly approached us. He said that Finland is great country, that life is good, standard is high but something’s missing in this paradise and that something is closeness. He spent most of his life in Belgrade and in spite the fact that he lives in Finland for several years he just can’t transformed himself. That’s why he has to go in Belgrade from time to time.

When I was leaving the meeting since we were suppose to continue our journey further on the north I said “I suppose hugs and kisses are out of question” and again everyone replied in one tone “Oh, no, no hugs” We joked “That’s that famous Finnish coldness” but in spite joking and really great time I had with those folks I must say I do miss that last hug to close the story. It seems you shouldn’t expect icing on Finnish cake 😉

Oh I should mention Tampere as well. The town is situated between two huge lakes that seem almost see-like at time. It is effectively Finland’s second city and is very strange with its industrial zone in the city centre. It’s very strange to see lovely lakes, parks, streets and in the middle of all this huge smoke-stacks! It’s inheritance from its days as “the Manchester of Finland”, as 19th-century cotton mills once busily churned alongside the energetic Tammerkoski (the rapids right in the middle of the town).

It is where Lenin museum is situated in the Workers’ Hall where Lenin and Stalin first met at the conference in 1905. Speaking about this, Russian Revolution 1917 increased interest in socialism among Tampere’s large working-class population. It became the capital of the “Reds” during Civil War that followed Finnish independence.

Also what was little strange about Tampere is that is full of monuments of naked men! Indeed there are few naked women, but only few. My friend thought the reason why they are so liberated with nakedness is because of sauna. On the other hand my Finnish friends explained me they don’t hug each other and usually not expressing emotions so openly because Finns are shy. Now I’m thinking how to connect shyness with nude revolution? I can’t but after seeing monuments in Tampere I don’t have any doubts why Tom is coming from Finland! LOL!

Ok I’ll stop here. It’s 6am, I eaten box of peanuts and drunk two cans of beer.

To be continued in Lapland…