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…