15th July – 22nd July
We have driven a lot further today than was planned. We originally thought we would only drive to near the Finnish border but with the weather being wet and windy we kept going. Our last look of Norway had us driving past smaller mountains and waterfalls along the water and we did get to see another couple of reindeer. We crossed the border with no dramas and we noticed quite quickly the change in scenery. So far, Finland is considerably flatter although there are a lot of hills, lakes and forests in the north. The sun is shining and we are parked near a lake about 10kms from the town of Inari. Not bad for our first night in a new country.
After a peaceful night and breakfast we hit the road again past pine and birch forests as well as many lakes, more reindeer and several souvenir shops selling everything reindeer. Sodankylä was our lunch stop and as there wasn’t much here we continued on for another 100kms to Santa’s village in the Arctic circle just outside of Rovaniemi where we will stay for a day or so to give Dave a rest from driving.
Husky dogs are beautiful creatures but boy they can make a lot of noise at night! Not the best of nights sleep, still we didn’t pay for it, so shouldn’t complain. After breakfast and a chat to my sister we headed into the tourist mecca known as Santa’s village. Lots of souvenir and gift shops selling Christmas decorations, t-shirts, stuffed toys, bear pâté!!! It is geared for wintertime with husky sled rides, snowmobile rides etc and would be a sight with snow on the trees and buildings. There is also a post office here where you can send postcards and gifts and is where we crossed the Arctic circle again. We wandered through all of the shops before going into Santa’s house to see the big fat guy in the red suit. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a queue (in winter you can wait 2 hours) and we had an enjoyable 5 minutes with him before we had our photo taken. The photo was €30 ($43) and as it wasn’t a very good one we decided against buying a copy. Santa did say he will be visiting us in 160 days so maybe we can try again then. We had lunch before hitting the road, only a short drive today of 130kms to our wildcamp spot on the coast just near Kemi.
It seems to be that driving 100’s of kilometres a day has become the norm and today was no different. Through scenery of trees, trees and more trees we arrived in Kokkola just after lunch which is about 2/3 of the way down the Finnish coast. Once parked up we walked into town, a couple of kilometres away. First stop was the market square which was surprisingly busy for a Monday with lots of people out and about enjoying the sunshine. We walked through the old town, famous for its timber houses built in the 19th century for trade merchants and the shipbuilding industry. After a quick walk around the shopping precinct, we headed home.
A small change to the scenery on our trek south with some lakes and fields of yellow canola and golden barley to look at. Plenty of forest area as well and a deer that ran across the road. First stop was the town of Vaasa. We walked along the river a short way and through the park into the centre. A tidy town with a nice square where we sat in the sun while arranging our ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn on the Internet. Once booked it was back to Tilly for lunch before continuing on to our overnight stop at Pori. We had a nice walk around the park gardens that ran along the river before moving to our spot for the night on the other side of the river near a small marina.
Our destination today was Zurku and we decided to go inland for a change of scenery. As we continue south, it is obvious that it has a warmer climate. While there were still trees much of the landscape was a variety of crops but with no livestock that we could see. For the second time in Finland we drove on a road that looks like it may be used as a runway. Double the normal width and several kilometres long, on maps.me it is marked as an airport so we not sure whether the military use it. We arrived in Zurku before lunch so we packed ours up and headed into town. Market day in the square and with most towns and cities the usual shopping precinct. We headed down to the river where an international market was on selling wares from England, Italy, Greece just to name a few. We sat on a bench by the river to eat our lunch before wandering some more, then headed back on what is another warm day. We drove a further 17kms to a lovely spot called Raadelma where there is a small inlet for swimming and a little marina which we are parked near. Gotta love those water views.
The landscape changed again today (thankfully) to small hills as we got closer to Helsinki as well as the occasional lake amid more crops. We actually drove through 7 small tunnels before having to tackle city traffic. No major dramas apart from a road closure which meant a small change to our route, however we are now parked at our home for the next two nights. It is on a small island just a few kilometres from town with an adjoining small island that houses the zoo. We walked to the zoo thinking we could walk across the bridge for a look but the ticket office was at the start of the bridge so we kept walking around the small bay past a couple of little beaches and back home for a cuppa.
For the first time in ages, we hopped on our bikes and rode into Helsinki about 3 kilometres away. We parked our bikes at the Helsinki cathedral and had a quick look. Quite plain inside with no stained glass but a huge pipe organ. From there we headed into the centre. Lots of lovely buildings with an obvious Russian influence, we visited the rock church which surprisingly is made of rock however it was also built into a large rock that had to be blasted with dynamite during construction. The interior roof was made of copper rings and we sat for awhile listening to a concert pianist playing. We continued wandering around eventually making our way to the market square right on the river where all of the tourist ferries depart. A big cruise ship was in port and we had our lunch sitting on the pier after checking out what was for sale in the stalls. Mainly souvenirs with some fresh produce and lots of food stalls. Back to the cathedral to retrieve our bikes, head home and spend the rest of the day reading and relaxing.