Farewell Finland – we’re off to Sweden!
Our week in Finland is up already and tonight we’re sleeping aboard the Tallink Silja ship “Serenade”. The Serenade is one of a fleet of ferries that go between Stockholm and Helsinki, across the Northern Baltic Sea. It’s a huge ship – 12 floors above the waterline, a host of restaurants and shops on board, and enough berths for almost 3,000 passengers. It also holds up to 450 cars, which is A LOT! We’re up on the top floor and have an external cabin with a window to the outside world (my choice – I can’t stand the thought of being locked in an inside cabin, with no view out to the world and no way of knowing what time of day it is). The cabin is small but comfortable and we got an authentic Swedish “dinner viking” (translation = dinner and drinks buffet) included with our ticket, so what’s not to love?!
We boarded the ship in Helsinki, after catching the train in Savonlinna this morning. Murphy’s Law being what it is, given that we were leaving Savonlinna today, the rain stopped. It was still cloudy, but there was no Arctic wind to freeze our eyelids shut. Despite the clouds, it was lovely watching Savonlinna Castle, Lake Saima, forests and farmlands go past from the train, and then to see Helsinki fade into the distance as we sailed away this afternoon.
Even though we have only been in Finland a week, there are a few memories we will definitely take with us from this unique country, including:
- The language. Finnish is entirely alien to us and was difficult to develop an ear for. The words are not at all familiar and I just thank God that Finns speak English so well! There were words that when said, bore no resemblance to how they’re written. Verbs have 17 possible conjugative forms and there are way too many “k’s”! Finnish just doesn’t sound like any language we know (and we know a few between us), it’s not structured like any language we know and it would take some real effort to learn even the basics I think.
- The food. We’ve concluded that Finns like their food to be densely nutritious. Their bread is like their toilet paper: dark, thick and hard. The rye bread is so dense that you need to chew it very thoroughly to be able to get it down. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nutrient-dense I’m sure and better than the super fluffy white rubbish bread we had in Japan, but man is it solid. Finnish rye bread is designed to last the winter, the WHOLE winter. As well as dense bread, Finns like their berries, milk products and oats a lot. Every breakfast buffet had porridge at breakfast, with yoghurt and berries of course. And when we went to buy yoghurt, it came premixed with oat flakes OR with oats and berries. As well as yoghurt, they have a few different types of fermented milk products like kefir; and there are loads of different cheeses here that we never see at home in Aus – including the juustoleipa (translation = baked cheese) that Shane loved so much. There’s not much in the way of added flavourings (i.e. chilli, garlic, onion, herbs, salt, pepper), but what’s there is very filling.
- The cold. It’s summer and yesterday the MAXIMUM temperature was 10C. In winter it gets to -45C. Need I say more?
- The beauty. It’s just so pretty! All the lakes, rivers, forests and national parks make this a paradise for hikers, boaters and campers; and towns like Helsinki and Porvoo are great examples of well preserved, attractive European architecture.
We would love to come back to see more of Finland’s wilderness. Shane is particularly keen to embark on one of the multi-day kayak or canoe trips we’ve seen advertised throughout the Finnish Lakes Region. You basically pack all your stuff into a canoe at one end of the lake and paddle 15-20kms a day for 2-7 days with a guide to ensure you end up in the right place. It would be a great way to see some Finnish wilderness, but the fact that you have to camp each night on the lakeshore puts me off. I guess Shane will just have to find another friend to take on that trip!
There’ also a whole lot of Northern Finland that we didn’t get to see this time, so that’s the list for next time too. We’d love to go right up to Inari, far above the Arctic Circle, to learn more about the Sami and how they live their traditional lives as reindeer herders so far North. On the way I would also like to go to Rovaniemi, the “official” terrestrial residence of Santa Claus. For now though, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with what we’ve seen of Finland so far, because tomorrow we wake up in Sweden! Good night until then, from somewhere out in the middle of the Baltic Sea…