Thursday, August 16, 2007

Almost home

Day 12: July 23

Today is the day we visited Sweden, and did not put many km’s on the road. We know that Grandpa, our driver, is not a morning person, but when we have a talk before heading out for the day, and specifically outline how we will NOT stop for a break until at least two hours have elapsed, it’s disappointing to stop after only an hour. (This was a common occurrence on the trip, generally speaking. The sudden and unannounced stop, that could send any or all of us tumbling forward in the camper with nothing to grab on to but the kids, or maybe a bread knife, and send books flying off the table. The stop could occur anywhere. At a market. At an information centre. Or simply at the side of the road. This is why, M. and I finally put our heads together and figured if we made a plan each day before heading out, and communicated such to the driver, we might be able to control the itinerary a little more finely.)
Anyway, Grandpa went into a market and a long fifteen minutes later came out with his cookies, pop, and chocolate, his morning sugar rush.
“I didn’t pay for any of this,” he said matter-of-factly.
“What are you talking about, Dad?” said a shocked M.
“I stood there for at least five minutes—I kid you not five minutes—at the till and no one would serve me. I didn’t see anyone. So I walked out. I thought that would get their attention, but nobody stopped me.”

What do you say to that kind of logic?

As for Sweden, there was some hope of needing our passports and getting a cool stamp, but I wasn’t so sure. I can’t remember any customs between Finland and Sweden. Sure enough, as we drove into Haparanda, Sweden (a “service town, not overly attractive or interesting”) there were no signs telling us we had entered another country, let alone any customs officials.

For this we went to Sweden. Really.

After crossing back into Finland, we didn’t get farther south than Oulu. I picked a restaurant from LP that sounded like it had good food and a decent family atmosphere, but it was really terrible. Yet another meal where the only redeeming aspect I can think of is that eating lots of ice cream for dessert is not only guilt-free, but necessary in order to satiate my appetite.
But when we wandered around downtown Oulu, I could see why it was a popular destination. A beer festival, lots of students, situated on the water, and lots of sun in the evenings.
We found a campground to stay at, but as in 2006 it earned the honour of being Finland’s best campground, there was no room for us. We stayed in the parking lot instead and paid a combined 14E to use their washrooms and showers.

Day 13: July 24

Today we drove all the way to Turku. I drove some of the way, and it was such a nice change I don’t know why I didn’t take over the wheel sooner, and we made good time because I did not stop every hour for a cookie and pop break.

Not much to note, but our campground in Turku is great. We’re right near a beach, so Geister can spend lots of time throwing rocks into the water.

Day 14: July 25

Moominworld today. I had really been looking forward to taking Boo and Geister to Moominworld. I remember going with Temo’s family when I was in Finland before. I was bored then, but now with children of my own, how could it be anything but great?

Easily. It’s a boring park. That said, Geister maximized the fun quotient but being in a good mood and doing absolutely everything. Boo amused herself by getting in and out of the stroller, running around, and then climbing in the stroller again.

However, Naantali, the home of Moominworld, is a gorgeous little town and so that was fun to see.

Once we were back in the campground we decided to do something unprecedented: cook our supper. We had all these groceries that we bought in Imatra; we hadn’t used most of them. Instead, each day we tried to have one meal out, and then eat fresh bread, cheese, fruits, cold meats, and veggies etc. for our meals. Because there was a kitchen in the building right next to our site, this seemed like an ideal plan.

Of course it wasn’t—Grandma couldn’t understand the Finnish instructions on the spaghetti dish she was trying to make, and I just cooked my own thing. Supper was poor, but then, this part of the vacation has never been about the food (except when reindeer is on the menu).

Day 15: July 26

We toured Turku today and I’m glad we could end the camping portion of our trip on a positive note. We saw the castle, went to the marine museum, where Geister pretended to be a pirate (have I mentioned that he’s addicted to watching the Backyardigans on the iPod? And that the pirate episode is his favourite? And that he goes around singing “What do you do with a scurvy pirate? Make him walk the plank! Arrr!”). We toured the 14th century church also. As we were driving back to Helsinki, Temo called us and told us we had to get the camper back immediately, because his neighbour had rented it out again. So, instead of finding supper on our own, which would have been our last detour, we threw ourselves on the mercy of our host family again, and it was the best meal we’d had all week.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Days 10 and 11

Day 10: July 21st

We went to a museum today. I love museums! but they are not always kid-friendly. The Artikum was great, though. They had such a good display of things that Geister and Boo liked. We also saw a film on the wildlife in the Arctic, and that mesmerized them. I learned that 3.5 million people live in the Arctic. I find this incomprehensible: Where exactly are these people? They aren’t in the Canadian Arctic, or Greenland, and Scandanavia is not that thickly populated at this latitude. Is this all the large Russian towns accounting for this number?

After seeing the museum, we pushed on. We drove for quite a few hours north, on roads like this:

Move along reindeer.

to a town called Inari. This is the farthest north we plan to go, though if my husband had his way we would drive the additional 98km into Norway, just to grab another country.

We picked a (the only) campground in town and found a spot with electricity, and near the extra cabin we are renting (yay!). This campground is right on Lake Inari. I’d describe our site as picturesque with a side of depressing. The facilities are not that new, and we have to pay to use the shower. Of course, there is a sauna and (of course) it’s already booked up.

After finding a spot, we drove away to get supper. LP recommended the restaurant at Hotel Inari so that’s where we went. It said there is a great view of the lake, and you can watch the float planes come and go. Perfect for our little Geister.

The hotel was everything I imagined it to be:

The menu was even better. Our choice of: reindeer, reindeer steak, reindeer soup, reindeer kabobs, pizza (with reindeer), and it case we didn’t want reindeer, there was an option to have pork tenderloin (with reindeer sauce). Of course, there was also a lot of fish available. Geister, Boo, and I had french fries. M. had the reindeer; apparently, it’s really delicious.

After dinner we poked around some stores and Boo picked a lot of flowers.

When it was time to settle down for the night, we learned that the extra cabin is extra work. Just separating the luggage was too much effort. What do we need? What stays here? Who’s getting up first in the morning? Where do we put the playpen? Will Geister still settle in the camper? How can we cover these windows better, seeing as these curtains afford no privacy and let in all the light?

I had the pleasure of getting Boo to bed. I knew she would be apprehensive in the strange and new environment of Cabin 8, so I stayed with her. I lied on the bed, and she stood up in the playpen screaming at me for half an hour, desperately wanting me to pick her up. At the thirty minute point, I declared her the winner and took her shaking and exhausted into bed with me.
I was not ready for bed, nor did I want to be down for the night. I wanted to stay up late and enjoy the last official night of midnight sun. This was the only latitude at which we could experience the constant sunlight, and the last official day for it. However, I fell asleep with Boo in my arms, as worn out as she was. However, some internal personal clock woke me up at 12:30 am, so I snuck out of the cabin and ran around the campground snapping pictures.

Lake Inari, 12:45 am

Day 11: July 22

We wandered around Inari again this morning. I think we’ve seen the town. After lunch, we did the boat cruise recommended by LP.

The boat cruise was good—we went to an island that used to be a place of worship for the Sami people (Grandpa was hoping to meet some Sami people, but most of them don’t live this far south (??) anymore). It was very pretty, and Geister and Boo loved running around. But the return trip was too long for the cruise to earn a three-diamond rating; I don’t know why we had to meander back.

Anyway, on south. We got as far as a town called Sodankyla and found a nice campground there. I really liked it. There was a beach bar and a nice river, and there are fewer mosquitos than in Inari.

The view from the beach volleyball court.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oh Yeah, There's More

The summer cottage. Amenities not shown: extra cabin, two saunas, playhouse, and not one but two outhouses

Day 7: July 18th

Today was a big day—Temo heated up the smoke sauna. M. and I were kind of keen of stopping in Kuoppio to visit “the world’s largest smoke sauna” but Temo dismissed this as nonsense, and said it’s only partly real, and mostly they use electricity to heat it. Temo has many disagreements with our Lonely Planet Finland guide. I told him if he writes to them to point out the errors, he may get a free copy of the new edition when it’s published, but he didn’t seem that interested.

Today Boo discovered wild blueberries. She not only loves to eat them, she loves to pick them, as she sits right on the bushes. Grandma told me at the end of the day that Boo’s diapers were quite technicolour, but evidently, my daughter’s got nothing on what the ducks can do after a blueberry feast. I’ll say no more.

The smoke sauna was OK, but the kids weren’t in bed yet and it was impossible to take care of them and do the sauna. They don’t like going in the sauna, so they have to be entertained just outside of it. Inside the smoke sauna it smells smoky and the humidity intensifies the heat, so I didn’t last as long as I would in the other sauna. I ran out in the middle of multiple conversations.
“So,” Temo would say, throwing ladles of water on the hot rocks, one after the other, “what do you think about when you will leave tomorrow?”
“Well, I think. . .” then I’d stop, unable to speak due to the scorching heat upon my face, and bolt for the door.

I am sorry this is our last day at the cottage, but I’m excited to push on farther north.

Day 8: First day on the road, July 19th

We were hoping to get as far as Rovaniemi today (Arctic Circle, more or less) but we got as far as Ranua, which is pretty close. Ranua has a zoo which has nothing but indigenous Finnish wildlife.

The campground we stayed at was quite nice and the facilities were new. It is cold though. Only (high of) 14-15C. There were lots of children playing at the playground where we stayed and they wore toques and mittens. I keep finding myself thinking, “Oh, wouldn’t such-and-such be great in the summer” and then I remember this is the summer.

Day 9: July 20th

Little did we know at the time, but the wolverine we saw today at the Ranua zoo would make Geister’s top five highlights of the trip. They are fun creatures to watch: looping around a circle they run.
Ranua is also home to a cloudberry festival. So naturally, when I saw a giant cloudberry statue at the entrance to the zoo, I told my husband and everyone to stand next to it so I could take a picture. He didn’t respond, and I was exasperated. Like, what about the sentence “Stand next to the giant cloudberry” don’t you understand?

Off to Rovaniemi after the zoo. It took an hour and a half or so to get there, but the Arctic Circle is just slightly north of it so that’s where we went first before finding a campground. LP warns that Santa’s Village, which is at the Arctic Circle marker, is a tourist trap full of kitsch. Say no more—I’m SO there!

Really, it was fantastic. I got the kids Lapland hats, which have reindeer on them. We took lots of pictures at the marker, and best of all we got to meet Santa Claus. We sat around him and he asked all about where we’re from. He pulled out an atlas for us to show him our town (in “Kanada”) and them we signed the atlas. He was nostalgic: he said he hadn’t been to our town in a while, but he thought he might have some time in December for a visit.

I also went to the official post office and sent my niece a post card. It was all very convenient—they had a Canadian postal code book there.

Finding a campground was no problem. They told us to go park wherever there was space. We are right near the river. It’s really beautiful, and I love how light it stays. One of those big European camper-buses pulled in late while I was checking e-mail at the registration office. I find those buses so odd, and I can’t imagine traveling in one. I think everyone tents, in some kind of contraption that attaches to the bus. And they all cook their food at the camp kitchen. It seems awfully crowded to me, but who am I to say? So far, we haven’t rented a cabin so it’s been all of us in the RV every night. It’s cozy. Last night Geister fell out of his bed, so I went to help him, and then fell asleep on his bed. I woke up about half an hour later when Boo started banging on my forehead with her fingers. Hmmm, good to know that without my body being a physical barricade, she can get out of bed quite easily. Should we test to see if she can unlatch the door to the camper as well?

Tomorrow, we plan to put lots more miles on the road. We’ll see how that goes.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Still Going on About my Trip

Day 4: July 15th

Sunday we got a late start, but reasonable considering we are still battling jet lag and hadn’t loaded the camper yet. On to the summer cottage!! We stopped at Porvoo. Porvoo is pretty much as I (don’t) remember it. Very nice, but somehow not that memorable. We had tea at a Russian style cafĂ© (Helmi) and I ate a Runenburg pastry. This is named after the Porvoo poet Runenberg. It was good—kind of like a spice cake without raisins. And it had Runenberg berries on it. There’s nothing I like better than eating indigenous pastries around the world.

Then we stopped at Korvala for lunch at the much Temo-exulted ABC. ABC is the place to get everything—food, gas, and a grocery store, 24hrs a day. Although, M. calls it “AB-C you later”. Not a fan. And they have a nice buffet. I am humbled/embarrassed to see how difficult it is for me to function alone in Finland. I couldn’t order any of the food by myself—I really should bone up on some basic phrases like “chicken”.

We didn’t have time to stop in Kotko, so we went on to Lappeenranta. I don’t think we did Lappeenranta before. It was really fantastic for the kids—all 20 minutes of rain-soaked fun we had there. There is some festival which involves a sand sculpture contest and one even had a real car on it so Geister was thrilled. Boo was thrilled to discover that playing in wet sand is as fun as playing in dry sand, maybe more so. She got filthy, and cried when we dragged her away.

Does it look like the car is on my head Mommy?

Wet sand is more fun than dry.

Then we reached Imatra just in time to see the dam waterfall thing. We parked the RV and Temo asked me to step outside. He had his parents waiting there to meet me. It was so sweet. He asked if I remembered them, and I did (by logical guess and vague recognition, though I certainly don’t remember their names). His mother sort of smiled and seemed shy/nervous/mute because she doesn’t speak English, but his father gave me a hug, and then stood then smiling at me, in a I never thought I’d see you again kind of way. I loved showing them Gesister and Boo. My children make me proud.

The falls were better than I remembered, maybe it was because of the music which is new.

Then we went to a grocery store to buy food for our trip. This was a challenge for many reasons: -I don’t know what to buy, even in English. We only have a stove and small pots, and not too much storage space
-everything is in Finnish, so how do I know what things are?
-we were tired and it was late

After an hour or so, we emerged with some success. When we reached the camper, we saw that M. had not changed the kids into pajamas, nor fed them. We also saw that Geister had poop on his hands, because as he claims, his bum was itchy. This was a disgusting but minor mess. We are lucky that we did not forgot to purchase soap.

We arrived at the cottage at 10-ish, and tried to get the kids to bed. This was difficult. I got Geister to sleep by telling him a story of how he and his sister climbed some rocks at a church, but Boo screamed and would not settle. It was close to midnight when she went to sleep. At that point, the womens (Finnishism) had already saunaed (not Grandma), and it was the men’s turn. Temo, M. and Grandpa. I did love that. I loved that they were off experiencing true Finland, at midnight, under the light summer sky. I don’t know when everyone went to bed.

Day 5: July 16th

Blissful cottage day. Day to do nothing but relax, except that this trip is not relaxing. I wrote this in the few spare seconds I had to myself:

I am finally alone in the camper. Circumstances have conspired to keep me with people for the entire time so far (even at night) and I think I’m going mental. At night, I sleep (fitfully) with Geister squished up against me, or alternatively as last night, Geister so far from me I’m afraid he’ll fall out of the bed. He did fall out once last night, but it was a short distance to the ground and he landed on his knees. No harm done; he fell back asleep immediately.

Then it was time to eat or something and that was that.

So I would have written about how the kids loved the playhouse, how Geister wanted to swim the whole day, and how I am reading a terrible book.

Day 6: July 17th

Off to Savonlinna today. This is a town approximately an hour and a half from where we are, but the drive is worth it. There is a castle here called Olavinlinna which is gorgeous, and there’s always an opera festival in the summer. We stopped at a Marimekko sale (Sale is “ale.” Learned a new word!) and I bought a few things.

Once we got to Savonlinna we toured the castle right away. The thing about castles is, they’re not that child-friendly. Boo and Geister ran around on the rough stone floor while we were waiting for our tour to start, and both of them fell and Geister’s cut was bloody. Neither could we take the strollers on the tour. So we carried Boo, and sometimes Geister, up treacherous steps and into turrets, and carefully guided them along walkways to other turrets. Finally, after seeing the most interesting toilet ever—an open seat high high above the waters of the moat—I decided to wait with Boo while the others went on to even higher battlements.

After the castle, we ate lunch, I checked e-mail, and we made a stop in Puumala for groceries. This is notable for only two reasons: one, the new bridge tower that has been recently built there from which you can see “typical Finnish lake land”; two, I saw the biggest bug I have ever seen in my life. I mean, in Finland of all places! Geister saw it first. We were on the docks, studying one of the boats, and he pointed down to the water and said, “What’s that, Mommy?”
I looked and saw a creature as big as a mouse, crawling along the rope that attached the boat to the dock. A beetle like thing. A creepy, crawly, beetle—maybe more like cockroach—like huge black bug crawling towards the dock. We showed Emmi who said she’d never seen it before, except for the one time she saw one in the dining room at the cottage.

Sauna again when we got back to the cottage. I love the smell of the sauna. I love swimming in the lake. I love sitting and watching the sun.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

All the Travel Posts I Wanted to Write

. . . while I was in Finland, where I had the (wireless) technology available, but never once had the time.
The people involved include my family and my in-laws, as well as the family I worked with for a summer during university, 13 years ago. They are Temo and Maria (parents) and Emmi, Matti, and Kirsti, the children.

Day One/Two: July 12th /13th

Leave for the airport. Mentally prepare for 8hr flight, and the 7 hr. time difference Toronto/Helsinki. Well, can’t prepare really at all.

Geister and Grandpa both order chocolate milk, which bonds Geister to Grandpa in a way I’ve never seen before. After the chocolate milk coincidence, Geister will not let Grandpa alone. Figure might be good time to get Grandpa to teach Geister how to use the potty.

Sit on tarmac for an hour. Boo starts to wail. I sing to her, hope that no one else can hear with all the ambient noise.

Arrive 2 hrs late to Helsinki; wait an hour or so for luggage; get most of it except for Geister and Boo’s suitcase.
We make M. wait in line to register that our bag is missing, and the rest of us go out to meet whoever is picking us up—it’s Kirsti! So good to see her. And then Temo is there too.
We arrived at their house around 11am, and Maria had a big breakfast waiting for us—it was so Finnish, and exactly how I remembered it. There were the rice cakes/bread, and the good cheese, and summer sausage, and fruit and lots of good things.

The house is not the one I stayed in before—Temo gave us a tour of it as soon as we stepped inside. Really, it’s exactly like an Ikea house, and I mean this in the most positive way. The floors are light wood and everything is done for the purposes of simplicity and practicality. But it is so clean and cheery and lots of Marimekko inspired patterns. I like these designs—nice colours.
The sauna is in the basement. The house is only one storey, but the basement is finished. That’s where we sleep, except for M. who sleeps in the camper.

We went to bed early, and then I couldn’t sleep for a while. Then Geister and Boo both woke up at midnight, and stayed awake until 3 or 4am. Geister watched the Backyardigans on the iPod, and Boo was in a quiet alert state. Until she started to scream. Finally, M’s mom (she was up to help, bless her) and I gave the kids Gravol and we all slept until around 9am. Jet lag—take that!

Day 3: July 14th

Saturday we went into Helsinki. We got a late start—it’s hard to organize that many people to move, plus we slept in—but Temo and Kirsti took us on a wonderful tour. Wonderful as in, very thoughtful, and very accommodating to us. Geister especially liked the big cruise ships—seeing the Silja line brought an immediacy to my last summer here; I remember being so excited and pleased to be going to Stockholm for the weekend. But Geister saw the lifeboats and said he saw bathtubs hanging off the ships.

We walked around a bit and did the Esplanade. I bought a change purse at Marimekko. Then we tried to see the rock church, but it was closed for a wedding. M. climbed the rocks, so then Gesiter had to climb the rocks, so then Boo had to (try) to climb the rocks.

Lonely in Helsinki, left on the steps of a church.

Back home, we ate pizza for dinner and then did all the horsing around in the 21 ft camper we are renting for the upcoming week. Sleep-wise: Do I fit here? Would Geister fit here? Would Geister and I fit here? Would M. trip if the luggage was left here?—and then went to bed around 11pm. Only to lie awake for hours again.