***  FINLAND  2012   -  WEEKS 18~20  ***
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CAMPING IN FINLAND 2012 - south to Iisalmi, Kuopio, Jyväskylä, Helvetinjärvi National Park, Tampere, the Bothnian coast and leaving Finland by ferry from the port of Turku:

We set off from Kajaani for the 80km drive south on Route 5 down to Iisalmi, the persistently pouring rain making the forested landscape seem very gloomy. Reaching Iisalmi, we turned off into the town to stock up with provisions at a Prisma hypermarket before finding tonight's campsite on the outskirts. Camping Koljonvirta was a large holiday village whose web site promoted it as glitzy and glamorous; that may have been the image of midsummer but in early September, although officially open, the place had a forlornly desolate air, with unmanned reception and wholly disgusting and un-cleaned facilities. It was the only camping option however and we reluctantly settled in, pulling out the awning against the driving drizzle. Bex and Ross, the English cycling couple whom we had met at Kajaani arrived soaking wet after a long ride in this awful weather, and pitched their tent nearby. Clearly in Finland, summer ends promptly with August; it looked as if our final 3 weeks were to be dreary and anti-climactic.

Click on 3 areas of map for details of Tampere,
Bothnian coast and port of Turku

Iisalmi with a population now of 22,000 had developed on a neck of land between Lakes Paloisjärvi and Porovesi. The town is best known as the home of Olvi Brewery, claimed to be Finland's only surviving independent brewery whose beers can now  be seen throughout the country. Founded in 1878 by Master Brewer Gideon Åberg allegedly to combat drunkenness at a time when excessive spirit consumption was the scourge of society, it is now a huge drink-producing conglomerate whose mass-produced, insipid beers we had largely been able to avoid during our time in Finland. Olvi now owns the A Le Coq Brewery in Tartu Estonia visited by us in 2011, and this year we made a half-hearted attempt to arrange a token brewery visit to Olvi while in Iisalmi. Olvi's so-called 'customer services department' responded as might be expected from a large company ie little response and no customer service! We were neither surprised nor disappointed at our lack of success. Having preferred the excellent beers of the small Laitilan Brewery based at Laitila near to Turku, we hoped to conclude our time in Finland with a visit there; of which more later!

Down in the town with the rain still pouring, we began our visit to Iisalmi at the Olvi Brewing Museum (Panimo-museo); there was no charge, but equally there was little to see but a dreary and sterile display of early brewing equipment and a couple of copper fermenting vessels (see left). The neighbouring Beer Hall Restaurant did however offer a good value lunch choice though its largely yuppie clientele all chatting loudly into mobile phones was a marked disincentive. Down by the marina we found what is promoted as the world's smallest pub: Kuappi is a harbour-side wooden shack with 1 table, 2 chairs and a bar, but of course on a wet Monday in September, it was closed (see below left). We were content to sit in our camper to eat our sandwiches while outside the weather continued thoroughly wet and gloomy. We moved round to a free car park close to the Kauppakeskus (shopping centre) and walked through to the bus station to find the TIC in the attractively restored Kauppahalli (market hall). The charming lady here speaking faultless English (even using colloquial expressions like 'raining cats and dogs'!) was impressively helpful; as always a small and unassuming town like Iisalmi had the most responsive and memorable TICs.

With a departing Kiitos (thank you) for all the help received, we plodged off in the still pouring rain through Iisalmi's grid of streets, clutching our street plan to find the town library to use their free internet and consult the weather forecast. As always in Finland, the library was busy, the reference room full of local people reading the newspapers, and the children's section crowded with youngsters exchanging their library books or earnestly scanning the shelves for new reading. It was a joy to see. Back out into the rain across the town, we found Iisalmi's Orthodox Church tucked away in a quiet residential street, and just opposite the Evakkokeskus, the Orthodox Cultural and Refugee Centre, distinguished by its gilded dome. We had wondered how there had come to be an Orthodox community here in Iisalmi, but were soon to find out. The hallway of the Orthodox Centre was filled with beautifully crafted scale models of the many Orthodox churches and tiny village chapels (tsasouna) from the area of Karelia occupied by the Soviets in WW2, forcibly ceded to USSR and now irredeemably in Russian territory. These included the Orthodox cathedral in Viipuri, now Russian Vyborg, which we had seen on our visit back in June. The 1944 evacuees from 3 of the Karelian towns had been re-settled here in Iisalmi, bringing with them their rescued icons and church treasures which now hung on the walls of the Centre (see right). The attendant told us that some 600 descendents of the original Karelian refugees still live in Iisalmi, and the Orthodox Centre helps to keep alive their faith and traditions, particularly with the children. She showed us on a map the locations of the 3 Karelian towns, surprised at our familiarity with the tragic history of the Karelian evacuation, and readily loaned us the key to let ourselves into the nearby locked church built in the late 1950s. The iconostasis was hung with icons rescued from Karelia, and the walls and dome were decorated with modern paintings of saints (Photo 1 - Orthodox Church at Iisalmi). We re-locked the church and returned the key, deeply saddened by the tragic human impact of the Soviet occupation of Karelian and enforced evacuations.

Driving back out to the Camping Koljonvirta, we paused for diesel at a filling station. For months we had avoided the Finnish garages equipped only with automat pumps which refused to accept UK credit cards, but now we had learnt from the helpful TIC lady to look out for the pump marked maksu kassan, meaning you could pay by card at the cash-desk. Back at camp, we tried our hand at making lingonberry sauce, stewing the berries in orange juice to soften their natural sharpness; the result was satisfyingly pleasing and was duly bottled.

The next day we continued our journey south to Kuopio, but rather than driving down the main Route 5, we turned off onto more scenically pleasing minor roads starting on Route 563 past the elongated Porovesi waterway system, part of Finland's extensive lakeland. Passing through delightful forests, we reached the large village of Pielavesi, a service centre for the surrounding rural hinterland. At the edge of the village, we paused at another beautiful Orthodox church built in 1958 and part of the Orthodox diocese of Kuopio, showing that clearly significant numbers of Karelian refugees had been resettled in this area in the post-war years (see right). Turning off again onto Route 554, we passed a small Orthodox tsasouna (chapel) and a flock of whooper swans browsing in a field. The road swung eastwards through Kartulla through forest covered lakeland. Reaching the main north~south motorway-standard Route 5 on the outskirts of Kuopio, we turned off to find the Rauhalahti Holiday Centre, the city's only campsite and part of a spa-leisure complex covering a vast lakeside area 4 kms south Kuopio. We had telephoned for reassurance that the campsite remained open until end of September but with severely reduced facilities; so long as the normally over-expensive price was also reduced, that suited us. We settled into the large formally laid-out camping area and spread out our wet kit in the late afternoon sunshine to dry. At this point, Bex and Ross, our companionable English cycling friends arrived after a 70 mile ride from Iisalmi with exhausting diversions to avoid the motorway; we welcomed them with a brew and again shared our travelling experiences.

The following morning as we prepared for a day by bus in Kuopio, we said our farewells to Bex and Ross who loaded up their bikes for the onward ride towards Helsinki and the ferry across to Tallinn (see left). We had greatly enjoyed their company for the last few days and exchanged email addresses. We have since tried unsuccessfully to make email contact, so if they read this, we should love to hear from them, often having wondered about their long return ride to UK through the Baltic States and Poland. The campsite reception had provided Kuopio street plans, bus-stop locations and timetables for buses into the city. Kuopio, founded in 1775, is now a prosperous city of some 100,000 population set on a hilly spit of land between 2 arms of the enormous Lake Kallavesi, part of the immense waterway system of NW~SE oriented inter-connecting lakes gouged out along the line of retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age and flooded by melt-waters to form the lake system. These eventually merge into Lake Saimaa, giving Kuopio access to the sea via the Saimaa Canal. Joensuu's University of Eastern Finland has a campus at Kuopio specialising in Health Studies. It sounded a vibrantly lively city, and we were looking forward to our day as we set off to walk across for the bus.

The 4km bus ride through the suburbs into the city centre's grid of streets took a half hour. We had been warned of some disruption to bus stops because of road works around the Kauppatori (market square), but were taken aback by the scale of the mass dereliction which enveloped the entire centre: whichever way you looked, there were building sites overshadowed by tower cranes with excavators chugging back and forth ripping the heart out of the city. The bus managed to stop at the Kauppatori and even the driver seemed unsure about where we should catch the return bus, such was the pace of the diggers' destructive progress. The central area of the market square was still fortunately intact with a few fruit, vegetables and flower stalls, backed by the grandiose town hall (see right), but the city's beautiful Kauppahalli (market hall) was totally enshrouded with building works and polythene sheeting. Around this, excavators had dug out not just the surface of the market but cavernous enormous 40 feet deep craters exposing pipes, cables and sewers, their sides shored up with girders and concrete. Whatever was happening, and whatever the reason for this scale of urban dereliction, the entire city centre of Kuopio was in total chaos (see right) and filled with the roar of diggers' diesel engines. We later learnt that this was all part of the construction of an ungrounded car park, work that had been going on for years. But life went on and people wove their way around temporary walk-ways, and a large sign assured us that the Kauppahalli was open for business as usual behind its screens. We fought a way through the works to reach the outdoor market stalls where to our delight vast piles of juicy red, ripe lingonberries were displayed at €2.50/litre. The stall-holder translated Puolukka for us, but we were already familiar with the Finnish word for lingonberries, and we gladly bought a couple of litres to make more lingonberry sauce (Photo 2 - Buying Puolukka (lingonberries) at Kuopio market). When we eventually fought our way through the excavation and into the Kauppahalli, it was indeed an elegant building, lined with stalls selling temptingly attractive foodstuffs (see left). When we eventually found the TIC, hidden away in a department store amid the building works, our worst fear was confirmed: Kuopio's primary attraction, the Orthodox Church Museum was closed for the entire year for renovations. The museum told the story of the Orthodox faith and the many Karelian evacuees who had been relocated around Kuopio, with many rescued church treasures and icons displayed, including those from Viipuri Cathedral and the original Valamo Monastery at Lake Lagoda. Kuopio was not the most intrinsically attractive of places, but when the city was systematically being torn apart by excavators and its most worthwhile feature was closed for a whole year, it truly negated any reason for bothering to have come here. It seemed that what in Kuopio wasn't dug up was shut up! (Photo 3 - Kuopio city centre ravaged by road works).

Undeterred however we sought out Kuopio's culinary delight, Kalakukko bread-pies filled with fish and pork, and we walked along to find Hanna Partanen's bakery (see left) where the traditional pies were made and sold. In an insignificant-looking building a few blocks along a side street, we found the bakery and bought 2 of the mini-Kalakukko wrapped in foil; back in the market-square we sat and enjoyed them for lunch (Photo 4 - Lunch of Kuopio Kalakukko). The streets east of the market were also disrupted by road works, but leaving these behind we reached the attractively wooded hillock on which Kuopio's cathedral had been built in 1815. We walked the circuit of the large cruciform church searching for the door which was at the eastern end facing down towards the distant lakeside harbour. In this back-to-front church, the altar was at the west end, and to welcome us, the verger switched OFF the lights, leaving us wondering again why we had bothered to come here! Down at the passenger harbour on the shores of Lake Kallavesi's inland sea, all the cafés were of course closed, and the cruise boats stood empty and equally closed at the quayside. As if to symbolise this wretched city, one of the boat's WC tanks were being emptied by a tanker-lorry, filling the air with the foul stench of a whole summer's worth of tourist effluent; that was Kuopio! With little of interest to see at the harbour, we ambled back along Kauppakatu (Market Street) to find the city museum hoping this might be remotely interesting. And having toured its galleries, the only thing we could find to arouse our interest was a life-sized replica of a woolly mammoth, its shaggy coat made up of musk-ox skins. Rough Guide described the museum's top floor as eminently missable, rather like Kuopio itself! And that was that. We struggled back through the excavations to catch our bus back to the campsite. Our day in Kuopio had been a gross disappointment: the city's glossy promotional literature showing a lively city attractive to visitors clearly only applied to summer outside of 2012, belying the reality of September this year when everywhere in the place was either derelict or closed.

Back at camp, we turned our attention to the uncertain campsite at Jyväskylä and telephoned, only to be told brusquely it had closed. We tried phoning Jyväskylä TIC who helpfully suggested Matsäranta Camping 16kms to the west of Jyväskylä; the man there who answered our phone call spoke no English but we did catch the word auki meaning open. The following morning, before re-joining the motorway, we stocked with provisions at a K-Market, and standing in the queue at the butchery counter, it struck us how after all this time we felt so comfortably at home in Finland and how alienated we felt to our native UK. Our limited knowledge of the difficult Finnish language restricted us to simple requests, but we could at least readily understand signs and labels in the supermarket.

We turned off onto Route 9 heading at a steady pace SW through forested countryside under a heavily overcast sky; you had to be careful approaching junctions where the speed limit dropped from 100kph to 80kph and speed cameras lurked to trap the unwary. Approaching Jyväskylä, traffic levels increased with intolerant speeding and the worst driving standards yet experienced in Finland; it was a nerve-wracking drive around the city's series of junctions and we were thankful to reach the western side for the final 16kms out along Route 23 to find Matsäranta Camping. Uncertainly we turned off the busy road onto an unsurfaced lane which ended in 500m at some huts by a lake. Thankfully at the kiosk we were welcomed by a fluently English-speaking girl who asked hesitantly if we spoke English; she assured us that camping was possible and very thankfully we settled in. Matsäranta was a small and straightforward site, but the setting was delightful overlooking a small lake under autumnal birches against a backdrop of pines (Photo 5 - Lakeside setting of Matsäranta Camping). As importantly, we were hospitably received by the girl at reception who provided us with a street plan for Jyväskylä and suggested we park at a large shopping centre in the western outskirts and catch a bus into the centre.

The following morning was chill and overcast but we hoped for fine weather for our day in Jyväskylä. The campsite's facilities were basic but heated and clean, and after the last 3 dreadful campsites, it was a relief to get a comfortable shower. Returning towards the city, we found the Keljon Keskus shopping complex and parked without difficulty by a Prisma hypermarket. The challenge now was to find a bus stop. A girl in the supermarket came to our rescue, pointing out the stop and warning us to check with the driver if he went to the Kauppatori. At the bus stop we understood why: buses emerged from the shopping centre travelling in all directions! The next #12 was city-bound and the helpful driver pointed out city features and our return stop. As always, on stepping from the bus amid the city bustle, we stood bemused to get our bearings.

Jyväskylä was founded in 1837 on the site of a small village on the shore of Lake Jyväsjärvi amid formerly uninhabited forests. The new town was laid in a grid plan by Car Ludwig Engels, the country's leading town planner, and developed fast attracting many settlers. The growing town housed Finland's first Finnish-language teacher training college which a century later in 1966 became the University of Jyväskylä now with 15,000 students, giving the city a lively air. It is also the venue for the internationally renowned annual Neste motor rally. But Jyväskylä is better known as the home city of Alvar Aalto (1898~1976), Finland's leading 20th century modernist architect whose buildings figure in many Finnish cities particularly here in Jyväskylä. We had earlier seen his city library in Viipuri/Vyborg and public buildings in Rovaniemi. Born into an educated family in Western Finland, Aalto was brought up in Jyväskylä and qualified as an architect at Helsinki Polytechnic in 1921. He set up his practice in his home city in 1925, pompously naming it the Alvar Aalto Office of Architecture and Monumental Art. His design work evolved through several phases from early classicism to a red-brick period, but it was his move to modernism with his 1935 design for Viipuri Library that won him acclaim both in Finland and internationally; MIT invited him as Professor of Experimental Architecture in 1941. Buildings from all periods of his work are well represented in Jyväskylä, and we were looking forward to walking the city's streets to draw our own judgement on Alvar Aalto's work.

First stop however was the TIC who had been so helpful on the phone in advising us of Matsäranta Camping. Today we were seeking details of the Helvetinjärvi National Park and Siikaneva Marshlands, 2 of our next visits. The girl on the desk responded immediately to our obscure request, producing from a drawer the English-language version of the Metsähallitus leaflet for Helvetinjärvi, and even more impressively helped us pinpoint the access route with GPS coordinates on Google Maps. Now came the greater challenge to help us translate the access details for the Siikaneva Marshlands from Finnish on the Metsähallitus web site. All of this she accomplished with aplomb; her intelligent responsiveness to what was a most abstruse enquiry from English visitors was truly impressive, and she earned our profuse thanks. The entire TIC was set out like a reference library with detailed leaflets and maps not only for Central Finland but the whole country, filed alphabetically and each labelled by language. Without doubt, Jyväskylä TIC won our top award and admiration as the best organised and most helpful staff in the whole of Finland, putting to shame TICs in some other cities staffed by indifferent dolly birds incapable even of handing out leaflets. Even if Jyväskylä's architectural inheritance proved disappointing, it was worth coming here to experience such a commendably efficient TIC.

The city was built along the lake shore and sloped up to a ridge of higher land, the Harju, and from the bus stop, we walked uphill to find the Kauppatori (market square), anticipating finding food stalls as elsewhere for lunch snacks. Crossing Yliopiston-katu (University Street), we reached the Kauppatori, but there were just a few fruit and veg stalls. In the surrounding streets, we searched unsuccessfully for a baari, simple cafeterias serving cheap lunches, but all seem to have been replaced by unattractive pizzerias and eventually we settled for a pub serving reasonable value buffet lunches. Armed with our street plan showing the surviving Alvar Aalto buildings, we set off on our architectural pilgrimage. Just along the main shopping street, we found the so-called Workers' Club, one of Aalto's first public building designs of 1924~25 belonging to his early classical period with Italianate influences (see left). It had been built originally as the Jyväskylä Workers' Association theatre, and restored in 1990 as a modern pub-restaurant; we had earlier rejected it as a lunch venue because of its uninspiring and over-pricey menu, and it cannot be said that the building did much to inspire us either. Never mind, on to the next, the Defence Corps Building of 1926~29, but this was covered with sheeting for renovation. Even under its shroud however its outline showed itself as plainly rectilinear, marking Aalto's shift from classicism to functionalism: with the evidently stark block-square elevations, it seemed to matter little that it was hidden behind plastic sheeting. Optimistically hoping that things would get better, we moved on across the road to view his complex of public buildings of City Offices and Theatre, a grandiose scheme designed originally in 1964 and only partially completed in 1882 after Aalto's death. The Theatre was reasonably attractive but could not in truth be described as a monumentally eye-catching design; we had passed it on the bus earlier without even noticing it (see right).

Pressing on, we crossed the park passing the city's small 19th century red-brick neo-Gothic parish church, eventually to find (but without great hopes) the Craft Museum of Finland and National Costume Museum. The girl on reception had some difficulty in explaining the layout, which was not surprising when the highlight of its exhibits turned out to be an array of coloured soap dishes laid out on the floor overhung by a rack of coat hangers (I kid you not!). This truly was the epitome of Private Eye's 'What shall we do with the rest of the Arts Council grant, lads?' - speechlessly fatuous and pretentious nonsense, all in the specious name of arts and crafts! And the flamboyantly titled National Costume Museum was little more than a modest display of Karelian costumes. In disbelief we turned and left, thankful that it was Friday and entrance was free. Had we been charged, we should have demanded our money back; perhaps Finnish taxpayers should do the same.

Along Vapaudenkatu, we searched for the next AA masterpiece, a run-down wooden house entitled the Casa Laurén much in need of renovation, which the architectural prima donna had apparently worked on from 1925~28; if he had been on day-rate fees, no wonder he was a wealthy man. We had seen many straightforward but aesthetically more attractive simple rustic dwellings during our travels through Finland. But onwards in the hope of better things, we walked uphill to find the Keski-Suomen Museo (Museum of Central Finland) another building for which AA was partially responsible. This was also free entry and thankfully was in a different league of worth. One floor was devoted to the regional history of Central Finland from pre-historic times with displays of archaeological finds through to the industrial revolution and introduction of HEP, and the impact of WW2 Karelian refugee resettlement on the area. The second floor traced the development of Jyväskylä as a city from its 1837 foundation to modern times with scale models showing the lake-side site before the town and the 1950s city-scape. Next door was the Alvar Aalto Museum (see left) devoted to the life and work of the Great Man himself, whose egotism reached the bounds of designing his own museum (Photo 6 - Alvar Aalto Museum at Jyväskylä). Unconvinced of the worth of paying for entry, we entered but ignored the notice about free entry not starting until October. The museum displayed models and drawings of many of AA's major works and examples of his furniture designs illustrating the manufacture of the curved wooden lamination. The museum like his other works all seemed rather over-estimated, and we walked on up to the university built along the end of the Harju ridge above the city to see more of AA's architectural inheritance. The campus seemed strangely deserted since we assumed by now term would have begun. Alto had had years of involvement in the university's continuing development from its early days as a teacher-training college through to its establishment as a fully endowed university. His work here were monolithic warehouse blocks of red-brick structures with little aesthetic charm (see right); again we were not impressed and walked through back into the late afternoon traffic down to the main street to catch our bus back to the Keljon Keskus shopping centre.

Back at Matsäranta Camping, we thanked the girl at reception for her advice about parking and buses, and sought further help with our Finnish language understanding: please, how do you say 'Please' in Finnish without using a lengthy and complex periphrasis? Would olkaa hyvä substitute? The answer was No; this meant 'Please, here you are' or 'You're welcome', so we should just have to go on being impolite! Our day in Jyväskylä had been interesting but anticlimactic: the museums, particularly the Arts and Crafts, had been overrated or downright pretentious, and Alvar Alto's architecture was, in our view, uninspiring: it was as if he was constantly striving for innovation to escape the rigours of Engel's neo-Classicism or traditional Finnish Romanticism, but never quite achieving it, despite all the sycophantic plaudits his Modernism attracted. We were not impressed.

Our onward journey took us past Petäjävesi with its renowned 18th century wooden church. Reaching the village, we pulled into the parking area on one side of the bridge with the beautiful Old Church (Vanha Kirkko) on the far side reflected in the lake amid autumnal trees (see left) (Photo 7 - Petäjävesi wooden Old Church). The Old Church at Petäjävesi was constructed in 1763~65 by Jaakko Klemantinpoika Leppänen with the bell-tower added 60 years later by his grandson Erkki Jaakonpoika Leppänen. Built entirely of log planks with a high Gothic wood shingle roof and cupola at the crossing of the cruciform nave (see right), it is a magnificent example of northern wooden rustic architecture and as such was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 1994. We were greeted by the attendant who had returned our telephone enquiry the previous evening to confirm the church would be open. The gnarled wooden pews, irregular floor planking, and unpainted timber walls and barrel-vaulting with red painted cross-beams and tie-ribs were truly beautiful in their plain simplicity (see left). The initials of carpenters who had worked the corner-joints of the sturdy logs forming the walls were also picked out in red on the underside of central wooden cupola with the date 1764. With sunlight streaming through the windows, we were able to take our photos of the church interior (Photo 8 - Interior of Petäjävesi Old Church) and admire the wonderfully artistic craftsmanship of its construction and nail-less corner joints, and the rustic simplicity of its wooden pulpit supported by a jolly faced St Christopher carving and decorated with painted figures of carved wooden apostles and angels (see right) (Photo 9 - Petäjävesi Church's carved wooden pulpit). We observed wryly that Alvar Alto might have taken lessons in design craftsmanship from the 18th century builders of this beautiful church (see left).

In now pouring rain, we turned off SW onto Route 348, a narrow, winding minor road through forests to reach Vilpulla; from there westwards to Ruhala, nothing more than a road junction and filling station on the main Route 66, and just north of here the larger village of Ruovesi where tonight's campsite, Haapasaari Lomakylä occupied an island in the lake connected by a causeway. It was a large and welcoming campsite with a number of features, most particularly a washing/drying machine and free site-wide wi-fi. This was probably the last fully equipped campsite we should find and it was close to our next destination, the Helvetinjärvi National Park. By 8-00pm it was fully dark and a very chilly night. With a clear sky the following morning, we set off for the short drive north to find the still uncertain single-track access lane for the Nature Trail. On reaching the turning, it was a relief to find the lane was tarmaced leading in 8 kms to a parking area and a sign for the 4km circuit of Helvetinkolu Luonto-polku (Nature Trail).

With the promise of more ripe lingonberries, today we took with us plastic bags for berry picking, and we were not to be disappointed: along the path bright red, ripe lingonberries grew in bunches. They were now ripening by the day, becoming a deeper red and fuller fleshed but with still their characteristic sharpness. The newly constructed path wound an undulating course through beautiful pine, spruce and birch woodland with the sun streaking down through the trees, and the ground having a rich covering of mosses, lichen and fulsome areas of berries just ready for picking (Photo 10 - Picking lingonberries on the Helvetinjärvi Nature Trail). At the path's halfway turning point, we reached the board-walk above the Helvetinkolu Gorge where steps dropped down to the end of Helvetinjärvi (see right), the first of a 10km chain of narrow lakes along the flooded length of the sheer-sided gorge. This linear cleft was formed 150 million years ago by fractures in the earth's crust and is now the most spectacular feature of the National Park with the now forested sides of the gorge rising directly from the narrow chain of lakes. The board-walk led past the rocky 2m wide Helvetinkolu (Hell Hole) side-cleft of the gorge which forms the emblem of the Helvetinjärvi National Park (see left) and up onto a viewpoint on a rocky ledge of the precipice overlooking the line of the main gorge, although tree cover denied any views down into its depths. But the sunlight picking out the golden autumn colours of the birches lining the cliffs of the gorge more than made up for this (Photo 11 - Helvetinkolu Gorge in autumn colours)

The return leg of the circuit path crossed open marshland on board-walks (see right), and part way across we were amazed suddenly to hear what one of us described as a 'soft honking', the other a 'loud mewing' sound; looking up, a huge V-formation of 100s of migrating cranes was flying over with their long necks and trailing legs (Photo 12 - Migrating cranes); autumn was indeed on its way. But the best of the day had now gone with drizzly rain beginning and we were glad to regain the cover of the woodland canopy where we resumed our berry-picking. Some of the lingonberry plants even had tardy remnants of their delicate white pendant flowers alongside the ripe fruit. How pleasurable it was for us during our time in Finland to have seen berry plants like this through all the stages of their summer development from buds into flowers, embryonic berries and now the fully ripe fruits (see below right). But our berry-gathering was small scale amateurism compared with berry-pickers we saw armed with a comb-like device which garnered the berries in bulk into a gathering box. Next time in Finland (and I'm sure there will be a next time) we shall have to keep an eye open for such a berry gathering tool. Helvetinjärvi would be almost the last of the Metsähallitus nature trails we should walk, and how thankful we had been for the wealth of detail provided by the Finnish Forestry Authority's Outdoors.fi website - see Helvetinjärvi National Park 

Our trip had also been enriched by the awareness of so many nature trails detailed in the excellent  Crossbill Guide to Finnish Lapland  published by the Crossbill Foundation; without the awareness of so many nature trails that this first class guide provided, we should have missed out on many opportunities to witness Finland's unique wild terrain and flora. If you are heading to Finland, the Crossbill guide is an essential accompaniment which we thoroughly recommend.

Back at the Haapasaari Lomakylä campsite that evening, as the sun set (see below left) for a chill evening, we lit the final BBQ of this trip for a supper of grilled pork steaks from the Kuopio K-market (see right).

After a pause for shopping in Ruovesi village, we headed south on Route 66 on a cold and drizzly morning; it was going to be an appropriately wet walk on the Siikaneva Marshlands Nature Trail, if we could find it. We had worked out GPS co-ordinates but only had the sketchiest of details from the Metsähallitus web site to guide us. We turned off onto a dirt road past sinister barbed-wire fenced buildings of a Finnish military area, but our navigation was good and a short way along a very muddy dirt lane, we reached a parking area with an information panel with a more informative map of the 2.5 circuit of path which crossed the mire on board-walks. At least we now had a better understanding of the topography and set off over the initial 300m of board-walk crossing not just moist ground but very wet and treeless open mire with areas of standing water after all the rain, where nothing grew but sphagnum and a little Bog-rosemary. The sky was still heavily overcast and the rain had made the narrow board-walk treacherously wet and slippery; the boards were also rotted in places and badly in need of repair. This led across to a large forested 'island' where higher ground rose in rocky terraces above the level of the waterlogged mire, and we were thankful to step 'ashore' onto to solid ground again (see right). The path rose steeply over the island's higher ground, the ground covered with bilberries and lingonberries which gave more opportunity for berry-picking. On the far side, continuing board-walks crossed further mire to a smaller 'island' where a reassuring signpost pointed over another narrow board-walk across a larger section of mire which produced today's highlight, a real botanical gem: set on the sphagnum amid trailing leaves and looking like tiny centimetre-sized red footballs were ripening cranberries (see left) still tasting quite bitter. Earlier in the trip we had photographed flowering cranberry plants with their delicate purple-pink pendant flowers; we now had the satisfaction of seeing the berries (Photo 13 - Cranberry fruits in Siikaneva Mire). On the far side of the marsh, the return path passed through woodland to an even more decayed board-walk across the final section of flooded mire. Despite the wretchedly wet weather, we had managed to complete the circuit of the Siikaneva Marshlands without a soaking from slipping from the rotting board-walk into the mire, with the added reward of seeing cranberries.

Back to the main road, we resumed our journey, heading now in pouring rain, poor visibility and heavy traffic towards Finland's second city Tampere. Around the far side of the city's bypass, we turned off to find tonight's campsite, Härmälä Camping in the western outskirts on the shore of Lake Pyhäjärvi, one of the two huge lakes separated by the esker-isthmus on which the city of Tampere had developed. The campsite reception was helpful providing us with city plans and bus details, but finding a viable pitch was almost impossible because of the sloping and waterlogged ground, and with facilities grubby and neglected at the end of season, it was poor value and unduly expensive at €28/night.

The following morning, we walked up to the main road to wait for the #1 bus for the 15 minute ride into the city centre, and got off at the Keskustori, the wide central square lined by the grandiose neo-Classical City Hall. As usual when newly arrived at the busy centre of a new city, we stood looking around bemused, but looking forward to a couple of days in Tampere. The city of Tampere was founded in 1779 in the final years of Swedish rule, along the isthmus between Lakes Pyhäjärvi and Näsijärvi. During the 19th century, the fast-flowing Tammerkoski rapids which connected the 2 lakes through the city powered textile mills which lined the river-banks. Tsar Alexander I abolished taxes on local industries to encourage the growth of industrial trade leading to the rapid expansion of Tampere as a manufacturing city. One of the entrepreneurial industrialists attracted here was a Quaker Scotsman, James Finlayson, who opened a textile factory here in 1820, drawing on labour from surrounding rural areas where traditional crafts were in decline. This rapid industrial growth attracted both Finnish and foreign investors and the city developed as a centre of both metal working and textile manufacture. Paternalistic factory owners provided for their employees' leisure, creating a cultural heritage still seen in the modern city. The mobile phone giant Nokia was founded here in 1865 as a wood-pulp and paper mill on the banks of the Tammerkoski rapids. They later moved to the nearby town of Nokia which gave the company its name, producing everything from wellington boots to cycle tyres and TVs to steel cables, before specialising in electronics in the 1970s. Following Finland's independence in 1917, the industrial workers of Tampere formed the backbone of the left-wing Red Guards during the Finnish Civil War when the city was ravaged by savage urban battles. Once called the Manchester of Finland, Tampere's industrial heritage can still be seen today with the former factories and their tall brick chimneys along the Tammerkoski rapids conserved or converted to modern usage. The rapids which once powered Tampere's industrial growth still generate HEP in the heart of the city. And here we stood by the bus stop at Keskustori and looking around at the busy city with its skyline of factory chimneys.

We walked across the central square to visit the ochre-coloured wooden Vanha Kirkko (Old Church) built in 1824 with bell-tower designed by Engels (Photo 14 - Tampere's Central Square and Old Church), and along the busy main street of Hämeenkatu to the Hämeensilta Bridge for the view along the Tammerkoski Rapids, now lined with attractive parklands with the conserved red-brick textile mills and factory chimneys forming an appropriate backdrop (Photo 15 - Tammerkoski Rapids with backdrop of textile mills). Local people walked by indifferent to bridge's decoration of 4 huge and well-endowed nude male statues representing figures from local folklore (see left). One of the modern HEP generating plants spanned the river with the water falling in cascades through its dam (see right). From the river-side park, we turned along Satakuannankatu to find Tampere Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko), a small and sturdy church built in 1907 in the National Romantic style at the time of Finnish nationalistic assertion against Tsar Alexander III's Russification programme. The most striking feature of the cathedral's interior are the controversial frescoes and stained glass by Hugo Simberg (Photo 16 - Simberg's frescoes at Tampere Cathedral). The gallery parapet was decorated with a linear mural of 12 boys carrying a long garland of roses said to be symbolic of human kind bearing the burden of our own lives. To the left of the chancel, a ghoulish painting called the Garden of Death showed cloaked skeletons watering plants, and up in one end of the gallery another Simberg painting, the Wounded Angel showed 2 sullen urchins carrying the wounded angel on a litter against the industrial backdrop of Tampere's factories (see left). But the most striking was the altar painting showing a modern Resurrection scene with figures sleepily emerging from the earth to join of procession of the saved in differing costumes and racial features and a Madonna figure carrying a child (see right).

Re-crossing the rapids by a footbridge alongside the HEP plant, we returned through the river-side parklands past a former small industrial building now a library reading room, with its conserved elegantly slender former factory chimney alongside the river, and on the far side of Keskustori we entered the Kauppahalli in Hämeenkatu to find lunch at stall #52, Pyörykkäbaari, a market cafeteria serving an array of hot dishes sold by weight (Photo 17 - Lunch at Pyörykkäbaari in Tampere's Kauppahalli). We were anxious to try the local Tampere delicacy mustamakkara, black-pudding sausage served with lingonberry sauce; and mightily delicious it was! We sat to eat our lunch (excellent value at €3.50 each) at the hospitable stall's cafeteria tables (see below left).

Back out into the busy main street, we walked along to the intersection with Hämeenpuisto to find the Tampere Workers' Hall where in 1905~6 the Russian Social Democratic Party organised its conferences chaired by a then little-known dissident called Vladimir Ilyitch Ulyanov, better known now by the pseudonym he adopted in 1901, Lenin. Our purpose was to find the little-known Tampere Lenin Museum, now the only surviving museum dedicated to Lenin those in former USSR having been closed. It was set up in 1946 by the Finnish-Soviet Friendship Society in the same hall on the second floor of the Workers' Hall as the 1906 conference was held, and it was at this conference that Lenin first met Stalin, then a young and insignificant party official. Born in 1870 at Simbirsk, Lenin from a young age joined various radical organisations and was exiled by the Tsarist régime to Siberia for 3 years for his revolutionary activities. He took a law degree from St Petersburg University but, after the failed 1905 revolution, lived for 2 years in Finland. He returned to Russia in 1907 but was again exiled, spending 10 years in Western Europe before working his way back to St Petersburg via Stockholm, Tornio, Helsinki and Vyborg to lead the 1917 October Revolution which overthrew the Tsar. It was at this point that he guaranteed that if the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia, he would recognise Finland's independence. Hounded by Kerensky's agents, he had to escape Russia again during the period of the Provisional Government, and spent time on the run in Finland. After his return to Russia, the Bolsheviks gained power with Lenin becoming leader of the world's first Socialist state. Before his death in 1924 after a series of strokes, he published his testament giving views on his fellow communist leaders, recommending that Stalin be removed from office as general-secretary as unsuitable because of his uncouth manners. Stalin and the other Troika members destroyed the document. Trotsky was murdered, Stalin assumed sole power, and the rest is history. And here we stood in the museum's 2 rooms of exhibits, devoted to Lenin's life, his relationship with Finland and with Finnish Socialists.

There were no other visitors at Tampere Lenin Museum the afternoon we were there, and we wondered how many people do actually know of this remarkable little place tucked away upstairs in the Worker's Hall. It certainly gets no publicity in the glossy tourist literature dished out at the city's TIC. Whatever your views on Lenin's politics however, it is for anyone with an interest in history an unbelievably unique collection of mostly original documents, photographs and memorabilia covering Lenin's life and work. A detailed English language translation is provided for the exhibits, and while it requires dedication to work your way through the displays, it is nevertheless a thoroughly absorbing documentary history of one of the 20th century's most enigmatic characters and one who shaped the history of modern Russia. You were left wondering however how different the modern world might have been if Lenin's assessment of Stalin's megalomaniacal tendencies had been acted on.

Back along Hämeenpuisto, we had to see the 1986 modernistic Tampere public library, shaped like a gigantic mollusc shell (see left) with a cupola set at a jaunty angle to perpendicular reflecting the earth's off-centre pivot (see right). As elsewhere the library was busy, and the basement displayed a museum on Tove Jansson's popular Finnish children's story book characters, the Moomins. Continuing along the parkland esplanade of Hämeenpuisto, we made an initial visit to the conserved Finlayson textile mill, now converted to a shopping and museum complex (Photo 18 - Finlayson textile mill). Over the gateway, the original sign 'Finlayson and Co' still stood. The enormous red-brick building was beautifully restored, looking for all the world like a traditional Lancashire cotton mill. Our plan was to return tomorrow to explore further the huge complex, and this afternoon settled for a relaxing half hour in the bar of the Plevna Panimo-ravintola (brewery-pub-restaurant) set up in one of the former James Finlayson textile mill's weaving halls. It had been the custom to name each building after significant current events, and since Finlayson factory employees had fought in the Russian Imperial army in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877~78, the weaving hall which the brewery-pub now occupies was named after the Battle of Plevna near the Balkan town of that name. The pub was clearly a popular Tampere after-work social gathering place, and we enjoyed a glass or 2 of their home-produced beers (see left), before walking back though Keskustori for our bus back to the campsite.

After our wonderfully educative first day in Tampere, we caught the #1 bus the following morning back into the city, staying on through the centre and out along the isthmus between the 2 lakes in order to walk back along the crest of the esker-ridge, Pyynikki, a popular place for jogging and strolling. From the bus stop, a steeply rising side street led up to a network of footpaths through the woods which now cover the sides of the esker-ridge up to its crest. Here among the undergrowth we found Kielo (Lily of the Valley), Finland's national flower seen in bloom so often earlier in the summer, but now with autumnal dying leaves, the plants covered with orange-red berries (see right). Here was another of Finland's characteristic wild flora that during the length of our trip we had seen through all its phases from buds, fully formed and sweet-smelling flowers and now finally in berry, as with so many of the other berry plants: see also our page devoted to photos of seasonal  Wild Berries of Finland

We walked along the wooded crest of the Pyynikki ridge, said to be the world's highest esker at 85m above lake level, but there was little sense of the height or any view from here among the trees (Photo 19 - Wooded crest of Pyynikki esker-ridge). Further along we reached the 1920s observation tower at the ridge's highest point and paid our €2s to climb the tower's spiral steps out onto the parapet for the panorama along the densely wooded esker. The 2 lakes of Pyhäjärvi on the southern side and Näsijärvi on the north were clearly visible despite the gloomily overcast sky. There is an 18m height difference between the 2 lakes which accounts for the pace of water flowing down through the Tammerkoski Rapids which connects them and had powered the city's industrial development. Looking back towards the city centre, we could recognise many of the features seen yesterday (see left). Down in the tower's café, we enjoyed a coffee with home-make munkki (doughnuts) said to be the best in Tampere.

Following the woodland path along the length of the esker, we descended into the city streets past more former industrial premises now tastefully converted to apartments and down to the passenger harbour at the southern end of the Tammerkoski Rapids. Näsijärvi is so hugely pervasive that from the northern side of the city, you can catch a cruise boat all the way up to Ruovesi and even Vittat 75kms to the north. Against the backdrop of the huge Tako wood-pulp and paper mill which dominates the city centre's sky line (see right), we walked over to the harbour-side market where we bought more lingonberries (Photo 20 - Buying Puolukka (lingonberries) at Tampere market). But lunch now summoned, and as the sky darkened we walked up to the Kauppahalli to admire the covered market hall's rear façade of gracefully symmetrical arches (see below left), and inside out of the rain enjoyed another excellent lunch at our favourite baari stall. We are never happier than wandering around the food stalls of a good covered market, and Tampere's Kauppahalli was one of the best we had seen (Photo 21 - Food stalls at Tampere Kauppahalli). As the rain poured down outside, we happily browsed the stalls laden with fruit, vegetables, meat (see below right), fish and bread, and bought a pack of Tampere's mustamakkara black-pudding sausage from a butchery stall for our supper tonight.

In misty rain, we walked back to the northern bridge over the Tammerkoski Rapids and from here had a perfect view of the conserved Finlayson factory and the sturdy brick-built former Tampella textile and engineering factory (see below left) now restored to house the Vapriikki Museum, housing a group of exhibitions. So vast and modern was the internal layout that you almost failed to appreciate the scale of the former factory's impressively converted infrastructure. Our interest was in seeing the Tampere 1918 section telling the story of the Finnish Civil War's impact on the city. In the civil and political anarchy following the 1917 Finnish declaration of independence, - violent clashes between strikers and strike-breaking mobs hired by land- and factory-owners, and no formal police or army to restore order - the right and left wing factions formed private militias, the White and Red Guards. Lenin supplied the Reds with arms, and the German supported right wing government legitimised the White Guards into a standing army. The left wing Social Democrats attempted to resist, leading to outbreak of Civil War in January 1918. The Leftists seized control of the southern industrial cities including Helsinki and Tampere, while the Whites held control of Ostrobothnia and Karelia, authorising the aristocratic army officer, Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, to train the right wing forces to combat the Reds. German trained Jäger troops returned to join with Mannerheim. Tampere became the scene of bitter urban fighting as the better armed and trained Whites attempted to take control of the industrial city. By March the Reds were defeated with much damage to the city and loss of civilian life. 1000s of captured Reds were executed with recriminatory vengeance or held in desperately overcrowded prison camps where so many died of starvation or disease. Many Reds fled to Soviet Russia, and the ruthless White Terror created a bitter resentment in Tampere that would last for generations. Even in the 1990s a service of reconciliation was held for the events of 70 years ago. White victims of the Civil War were given glorified memorial graves, Reds were buried in unmarked mass graves, and the White victors erected triumphalist monuments like the sword-waving statue in Tampere's Hämeenpuisto still held in contempt today.

The Vapriikki Museum's moving displays of photos and memorabilia told the story of this tragic period of modern Finnish history and the events of March~April 1918 when the largest urban warfare in the Nordic countries took place in Tampere with the poorly armed Reds' desperate attempts to defend the city against overwhelming White forces. 300,000 troops were involved, and 10,000 Reds were taken prisoner or executed leaving the city in partial ruins with bodies littering the streets. The bitterness lingers today, and Tampere remains very much a left wing Social Democrat city.

Having viewed this tragically moving record of the Civil War's impact, we also looked around the Innovations section of the museum detailing the modern high tech industries which had developed in recent years to replace the traditional manufacturing industries in Tampere. It included exhibits showing how the Finlayson Company was one of the first to use electrical power and lighting in the 1880s soon after Edison's patenting of electrical distribution, and the development of Nokia from the early days of pulp and paper milling through rubber products and steel cabling to the electronics and mobile phones giant of today.

In unpleasantly wet drizzle, we concluded the afternoon back at the Finlayson Factory complex which had so sensitively been converted to shopping malls, cinema and museums in the early 1990s. There was just an hour of time remaining and we selected the Werstas Finnish Labour Movement Museum, which promotes itself as 'Always free admission' and is devoted to Tampere's social and industrial history. It also includes the Tampere Textile Museum and the preserved gigantic steam engine and flywheel which from 1900~26 provided the motive power to drive all the machinery of the Finlayson factory complex. The exhibits included a scale model of the Tampere suburb of Pispala which developed astride the Pyynikki ridge beyond where we had walked this morning, and clearly showed the 18m height difference between the 2 lakes north and south of the esker. The district had provided housing for 10,000 of Tampere's factory workers, most of whom had moved from the surrounding countryside in search of work. The Textile Museum traced the development of Tampere's textile industry: James Finlayson (1771~1852) (see right) had set up his original textile factory in 1820 with financial encouragement from the Tsarist authorities and sold the mill in 1836 when ill health forced his return to Scotland. The company retained the Finlayson name and went on to develop as one of Tampere's most progressive industries and major employer, closing in the early 1990s when Far Eastern cheap labour made textile production in Finland uneconomic.

The following morning, before leaving the Tampere area, we turned off from the bypass into Nokia to take a look at where the mobile phone giant had originated, the little suburb town whose name had become a byword to millions of people world-wide who probably have no idea where it is. We parked outside a supermarket in the main street of the quiet ordinary-looking town. Where the Nokia company's HQ is now we had no idea; certainly all its electronic products are manufactured in the Far East, and there was nothing here to indicate this little town's eponymous association with the mobile phone giant - no factory, no sign, no blue-plaque-the-wall - just a quiet and unassuming shopping street where local people went about their Saturday morning shopping (Photo 22 - Nokia high street). We did likewise and bought our provisions in Nokia's branch of S-Market (see left).

We continued westwards towards Pori, and joining the main Route 2 coming up from Helsinki, drove beyond Pori for 15kms along the peninsula running NW out to the coast at Meri-Pori to find tonight's campsite, Top Camp Yyteri. This was a mammoth sea-side holiday camp, normally the sort we should avoid like the plague as being heaving in summer with all the flotsam and jetsam of holiday-making human sub-species, but the only campsite near Pori open so late in the season. We had telephoned for reassurance that it was still open in mid-September; it was, just, and fortunately the place was eerily deserted. The bored-looking lad at reception welcomed us helpfully but the limited facilities building showed all the signs of a summer of holiday-making wear and tear. A gate in the fence led along to a spa-hotel , part of the holiday complex, and from here a path led over the pine-covered dunes to a thankfully deserted sandy beach looking out across the sparkling sea of the Bothnian Gulf.

Top Camp Yyteri was a far from congenial place, but it served as a base for our day in Pori which was founded by the Swedes in 1558 and flourished as a trading post. The town's name in Swedish, Björneborg (Bear City) gave Pori its bear crest. Even during the Russian period, Swedish was the predominant language and by the end of the 19th century Pori was one of Finland's major shipping ports, importing luxury goods for the wealthy mercantile classes and exporting timber. It was still reportedly one of the country's most important deep water harbours, but we could see no indication of the town's harbour along the banks of the Kokemäenjoki river on which Pori is built. The original town of wooden buildings had been totally destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1852 and Pori was rebuilt with brick buildings on a grid plan with wide tree-lined boulevards still seen today. On looking more closely at the map of Meri-Pori where the campsite was, it became clearer why Route 2 and the railway line cut NW from inland Pori out along to the tip of the peninsula where the modern day container-port was located at the estuary of the river at Mäntyluoto. Before therefore driving into Pori, we drove out to investigate Pori's modern port as we had done at Hanko in the south at the start of the trip so many weeks ago. Beyond the large Customs House and network of railway sidings, the huge natural harbour was enclosed by the 2 projecting peninsulas of Mäntyluoto and Reposaari reinforced by 2 breakwaters extending from each side. Across the waters of the marina lagoon dockyard cranes lined Pori's container port with the enclosed mouth of the river estuary (see left).

Back along Route 2, we threaded our way into the back streets of Pori town to reach the town cemetery, the Käppärän Hautausmaa, to find the town's most curious feature, the Juselius Mausoleum. The cemetery was huge with 1000s of graves, local people arriving to tend the graves of their relatives as you might on a sunny Sunday morning. Signs pointed along the pathway to the cemetery's centre and set among the rows of modern graves was the most extraordinarily ornate monument in the form of a domed octagonal Gothic chapel with high windows and decorative spire (see right). This had been commissioned in 1899 by a wealthy Pori timber merchant F A Juselius as a memorial to his daughter Sigrid who died aged 11 of pneumonia. Juselius commissioned the leading church architect of the day to design the mausoleum with a prominent artist to line the chapel's interior with paintings. The chapel is only open for 2 hours on Sundays, for once just coinciding with our visit. Within the central chapel, a marble parapet enclosed Sigrid's white marble sarcophagus in the lower chamber. Below the high Gothic windows, 6 paintings covered the walls with the grim theme of death awaiting all mortals, all very much in the Art Nouveau style of the turn of the 20th century. Above the chapel's doorway, inscribed mosaics expressed Juselius' Latin dedication to his daughter. It may well all have seemed grotesquely maudlin and OTT to modern eyes, but this touching expression of a father's grief at the loss of his 11 year old daughter was strangely moving.

Pori's grid of wide streets rebuilt after the 1852 fire was quiet on a Sunday lunchtime. We parked without difficulty along a shady tree-lined avenue and walked along to the depressingly dull 1970s central pedestrianised shopping precinct. This led to the equally bland and litter-strewn market square surrounded by unseemly office blocks whose glass and concrete façades did nothing to improve the square's dreary environment. We walked along Yrjönkatu to find Pori's mid-19th century neo-Gothic parish church, hoping for an improvement in what so far was a thoroughly unattractive town. A war cemetery from 1939~44 with over 400 graves filled one side of the church yard, with a smaller area containing war dead from the 1918 Civil War, doubtless only those fighting with the victorious Whites since the defeated left wing war dead were dishonoured with unmarked mass graves and denied any Lutheran ceremony. Back along the banks of the wide River Kokemäenjoki, Pori's aesthetic appeal began to improve with the town's assembly of 19th century public buildings, seemingly the only worthwhile architectural features in what is claimed as Finland's oldest town. The most striking of these is the 1841 Old Courthouse which survived the 1852 fire, an elegant neo-Classical design by Engel (see right). The pediment was adorned with Pori's bear crest and the subscription Curio Arctopolis (Photo 23 - Neo-Classical Old Courthouse at Pori). On the 1884 Pori Theatreopposite corner stood the historic 1884 Pori Theatre seating an audience of just 300, the oldest Finnish-language theatre in the country where Finnish nationalistic drama took temporary refuge during the repressive period of Alexander III's enforced Russification (see left). Just along from here we reached the modern building of the Satakunta Museum whose 3 floors of exhibits give a summary of the region's social history and Pori's development from its foundation on the banks of the Kokemäenjoki river to the growth of the town as a prosperous port and 19th century industrialisation. Despite our initial impressions of Pori, this museum certainly made a worthy conclusion to our visit.

Before leaving to resume our southward journey, we telephoned Laitilan Brewery to request a visit for the following day. The English-speaking lady who answered our call put us through to the Managing Director "who usually deals with visits". What had seemed initially an uncertain request became more sanguine. We explained to the MD that during our 4 months in Finland we had consistently enjoyed drinking Laitilan beers, and please might we visit their brewery tomorrow. Yes, that was possible, and a time was arranged. Success! We had our brewery visit arranged as a concluding climax to our trip.

A 50kms drive south brought us to Rauma where we turned into the town soon seeing signs for Vanha (Old) Rauma, the conserved medieval centre of the old port with its wooden buildings. Rauma was founded in 1442 as a Swedish trading centre and was one of the few towns to repudiate King Gustav Vasa's 1550 command to up sticks and move to the newly founded Helsinki to create a trading port-city there to rival Hanseatic Tallinn. A wise decision since the embryonic Helsinki foundered with plague and trade continued to flourish at Rauma. By 18/19th centuries Rauma had developed into a major trading port with Finland's largest fleet of sailing ships exporting Rauma's high quality lace all around Europe. It remains today an important shipping and industrial centre, exporting Finnish timber and paper world wide. There are still lace-making workshops on Rauma's Old Town and a lace-making festival is held each year in July. But the Old Town's striking wooden architecture is Rauma's key attraction today, recognised with UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1991.

The weather today was overcast with chill misty drizzle as we set off to walk the cobbled streets of the Old Town towards the Kauppatori. Although in summer Rauma's Old Town attracts many visitors, on a gloomily wet mid-September day the place seemed deserted with the lace-making workshops all locked up. But far from being simply another tourist trap, Rauma was in fact a functional working town with local people going about their daily lives amid all the pastel shaded wooden buildings with their decorative fretwork trimmings. There are some 600 of these 18/19th century wooden buildings scattered along the network of cobbled lanes which connect the 2 main thoroughfares of Kuuinkaankatu and Kauppakatu which run the width of the old centre. The Old Town is surrounded by the unappealing modern town which sprawls down to the port.

Following our Finnish version of the town's guide-leaflet Walking Tour of Rauma Old Town, we walked the circuit of the cobbled streets admiring the wooden buildings which are in constant state of restoration (Photo 24 - Rauma Old Town wooden buildings). The Old Town's Restoration Centre gives details, but of course this was closed in September. After the most unmemorable restaurant lunch of the trip served by a soured-faced and graceless waitress, we walked along to the Kauppatori where most of the market stalls had now given up in the drizzle. The old town hall topped with its clock tower, an attractive building overlooking the market square and containing the town's museum and TIC, was also closed today (Photo 25 - Town Hall in Rauma Old Town). Through the now empty market square, we walked down towards the river and the sturdy stone Church of the Holy Cross (Rauman Pyhäan Ristin kirkko); to our surprise, the door opened to reveal a stunningly beautiful interior (Photo 26 - Church of Holy Cross in Rauma Old Town). The church had originally belonged to the Franciscan Monastery founded in Rauma in 1442. But when the Catholic Franciscans were booted out by King Gustav Vasa in 1538, the Lutherans took over the church when their own burnt down in 1640. Unlike all the other starkly plain Lutheran church interiors we had seen around Finland devoid of any decoration, the startlingly beautiful ecclesiastical Franciscan artwork here had survived the Lutherans' puritanical purging, including a wonderfully carved Renaissance wooden pulpit made in Germany in 1625 and decorated with saints and apostles (see right). Perhaps the most spectacular were the medieval paintings lining the chancel vaulting showing biblical scenes. The gallery parapet was decorated with 1767 painting depicting apostles and martyrs, and in the north aisle the most stunningly beautiful piece of ecclesiastical artwork ever seen in our travels: a carved wooden triptych portraying Mary and the King of Heaven surround by saints and a Nativity scene (see left).

Back in the modern town's late afternoon traffic, we rejoined Route 8 and 20kms south turned off towards the coast to find tonight's campsite in the village of Pyhäranta, meaning Holy Shore, an apt name for such an attractive coastline. Pyhäranta Camping was a welcoming and straightforward little campsite with a flat, grassy shore-side camping area looking out across an inlet of a long bay on the Bothnian coast. We gladly settled in with a gusty wind blowing in off the sea and later that evening the sky gradually cleared to give a magnificent sunset over the sea (Photo 27 - Sunset over the Bothnian coast).

After a cold, clear night, the wind had dropped to give a hazy sky with misty sunlight across the bay; Pyhäranta truly was a lovely setting. Continuing south on Route 8, we approached the small town of Laitila, unnoteworthy but for the 2,500 hectolitre water tank in the form of a giant promotional beer can alongside a modern factory unit, marking the Laitilan Brewery which we had arranged to visit today (see right). We were greeted by Rami Aarikka the brewery's Managing Director (Toimitusjohtaja) who guided us on the tour of the brewery beginning in the gallery above the automated canning lines. Down in the beer maturing hall standing among the huge stainless steel vats, we discussed the issue of managing company growth in terms of production capacity while maintaining the quality standards (see left). We were introduced to Laitilan's Head Brewer, Ville Vilen who proudly showed us the impressive monitoring displays which controlled the continuous brewing process, and the rows of stainless steel mash tuns and boiling vessels where the hops were injected (Photo 28 - Head Brewer at the Laitilan Brewery). Laitilan produced a wide range of beers: the regular Kukko brands of 4.7% ABV Lager and 4.5% Pils, their best seller in Finland, as well as a top-fermented English-style Ale (our favourite from their range), Tumma Lager a very tasty roasted barley dark beer, and an Imperial Stout; 2 recently introduced and dry-hopped seasonal beers were the Kievari range. Back at his office, Rami gathered for us a generous collection of samples of the Laitilan products. It had been a remarkably memorable visit and we were most appreciative of the generosity shown to us in having the opportunity to discuss Laitilan's brewing with both their MD and Head brewer. We had so enjoyed drinking the excellent Laitilan beers during our trip and long may they flourish. Their products are readily available in supermarkets throughout Finland, and we thoroughly recommend the Laitilan range to other beer-lovers visiting Finland as infinitely preferable to the insipidly inferior products of the mass-market brewers.

Leaving Laitila, we set course for the final stage of our 6,000 mile circuit of Finland, Lapland and Arctic Norway, returning now to our start point back at Turku. Route 8 became increasingly busy as we approached the port-city. Crossing the river in the centre, we turned uphill from the south bank onto Route 180, a route familiar now from the beginning of the trip leading out to Pargas and Solliden Camping which although 20kms distant from Turku, was the only campsite open early and late in the season. Relieved to find the gate open, we settled into the camping area for our final night in Finland on the pine-covered hillock overlooking an inlet of the sea (see left). The following morning the campsite owner called round to collect our rent, recalling our stay back in May and asking about our intervening travels around Finland. After a final stock-up shopping of favourite Finnish foodstuffs at the K-Market in Pargas, we returned into Turku. Parking along by the river, we walked across the footbridge into the city centre for a generously portioned hearty lunch at a baari-stall in Turku's traditional Kauppahalli (Photo 29 - Lunch in Turku Kauppahalli).

We had time for an afternoon's leisurely ambling around Turku before heading to the docks later for our evening ferry. From the Kauppatori, a large cobbled market square surrounded by modern blocks of shops, we wandered along the main shopping street down to the river where, back on a sunny mid-May afternoon, perhaps the first really fine day of summer, we had walked along the tree-lined embankment. Today on a dull and dreary autumn afternoon with the trees now bare of leaves, we repeated the photos from our earlier visit (Photo 30 - Turku river embankment on an autumn afternoon). We crossed the bridge amid streams of cycling students to the Cathedral and today were able to visit Turku's Tuomiokirkko which had been closed in May. As Turku developed as a trading port in the 13th century, the Episcopal See of Finland was transferred to the city and a new stone-built church consecrated as the Lutheran cathedral mother-church of Finland in 1300. The cathedral has been enlarged during its history with several restorations, the most major after the city's great fire of 1827 which destroyed most of the city. We ambled around the cathedral's lofty Gothic nave (see right) with its side-chapels containing the tombs of Swedish kings and queens, including one with the sarcophagus of Catherine Månsdotter, Finland's only queen who was imprisoned in Turku Castle in mid 16th century.

But it was time to be heading along to the docks where just before the ferry terminal, we paused for one last photograph of Turku's bulky Swedish Castle which looked more like a fortified dock-yard warehouse (see left). At 6-30pm we joined the queue of vehicles at the Silja Line ferry check-in (Photo 31 - Turku ferry terminal). Boarding the ferry (see right), we stowed our kit and went up to the outer deck to watch our departure, as the M/S Silja Europa ferry slipped away from its mooring in the now dusky Turku docks. After one of the happiest and most fulfilling trips ever, we were sorry to be leaving, and with much nostalgia waved Au revoir Finland from the ship's rail (Photo 32 - Au revoir to Finland). There is no doubt, we shall return, and that soon.

We shall be taking with us from Finland the treasured memories of so many people and places. We have learnt so much during our 5 months in the country, and all that we have learnt has deepened our respect and admiration for all that Finland has achieved. Finland's enviably civilised society and its first class public services contrast starkly with the depths to which UK has now degenerated; it emphasises how alienated we, like so many of our generation, feel from the uncouthly mannered and greed-ridden culture, corruption, ineffectual government and miserable reductions in the standards of public services, which now seems to prevail in our country.

To Finland and its people, we say Kiitos paljon for reminding us of the sort of courteous and enlightened society we were brought up in and were once proud of.

Our Review of Finnish Campsites will be published in 2 weeks

Sheila and Paul

Published: 15 February 2013

 

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