Thursday, 23 July 2009


We were away at the weekend on a much-anticipated Finnish odyssey. Our grand plan was to take the train from Helsinki to Kuopio, the boat from Kuopio to Savonlinna and then the train back to Helsinki. The flaw in the grand plan was that it required early mornings but this is summertime in Finland so at least they are light! So with a pregnant wife in tow I set off on an adventure that was suited to her tastes and pace.

This was our first trip to Kuopio and I have to say we liked the town, my only gripe is the quality of beer was appalling. It is a Carlsberg town! On the other hand it is the home of Kalakukko. This is a traditional finnish food which is essentially a loaf of rye bread with fish baked inside it. While it may sound odd and even unappetising I can assure you that tasting it is another matter. It was a revelation. Ours was made with Perch and was beautiful.

As the weather was beautiful we did skip some of Kuopio’s indoor attractions and instead concentrated on walking our way up to Puijo and the famous tower. The views from the top, were excellent. It is to be recommended. The only thing to note is the lifts have limited capacity so time your trip to miss a busload of tourists!

The following morning we headed off early on the boat to Savonlinna. The journey takes 10 ½ hrs and travels through some of the loveliest and quintessentially Finnish Lakeland scenery to be had. Luckily for us the day was divine. The sun shone from journey’s start to journey’s end. We sat on deck and just let the world pass us by. It was a slightly strange trip insofar as we seemed to be the only non-Finns on board so we encountered some of their stranger cultural quirks. The most obvious was the family boat trip where dad starts on the beer before 9.30am in the morning and nobody blinks an eyelid. I have been known to enjoy a beer now and then but even I remember quite clearly my lessons on knowing when the sun had crossed the yardarm!!

Our arrival into Savonlinna was dramatic as we raced past the castle in the fast flowing narrow channel as the sun turned the stone walls red. We were unfortunately too late to get to the opera festival so consoled ourselves with a trip to the excellent Gastropub.

Sunday morning dawned early again and we headed off to the train station. Our train whisked us along the famous Punkkuharja esker towards a small village of Parikkala (population seemed to be no more than ½ goat!) but is bizarrely has a railway station that serves as a major jumping off point in the Finnish railway system.

Safely back in Helsinki on a hot day we wandered down to Pikkukoski swimming beach and I enjoyed a refreshing dip in the river Vantaa while the Boss (aka pregnant wife in tow) watched my madness from the side. The water temperature was described, as 21C and I have to say it was lovely. There was a much colder current running through the mid stream but if this is swimming outside in the Nordic countries in summer then I want to do it again.

The other thing we learnt on our return to Helsinki was that our washing machine had died while we were away. All our efforts to revive it were in vain so on Monday we headed off to get a new one. In this we were successful so we headed off to the Savoy restaurant to celebrate! OK this is not true as anyone with even the smallest knowledge of restaurants in Helsinki will know that this one is just in the toppest most top top tier. We were there on a special value menu and were trying to enjoy the high life for a normal price. If money is no object we recommend this place. The sommelier is excellent and his wine list will turn a humble cook like myself green with envy. Such is life. We did finally come to an agreement that did not involve me paying 250 euros plus for a bottle of wine and I very much enjoyed washing their dishes for them!

We enjoyed our dinner very much and headed home, tired but exhilarated by our trip around Finland. The thing about a list of adventures is it is never done and as this was probably our last trip before the baby arrives I look forward to making sure the adventures don’t stop here, rather that the fun increases! Right off to see if I can convince the boss about another one of my bright ideas…..

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