Raahe and Kuopio
Jul 20, 2008
|After a good night's rest and a quick breakfast, we continued our journey. We took the road along the coastline to a small town called Raahe. This is an old ship faring town that is now known for its well-preserved wooden house district that dates back to the 1800s. It is also listed as an example of a typical coastal town of Finland. We figured we could take this little detour before heading inland.
An hour drive led us to the center of the city, very near to the historic district. What makes this part also unique is that these are not museums, but actual residences of the inhabitants of Raahe. We walked along a narrow street to a lovely town square that had a statue of the town's founder flanked by alleyways, flowers, and an old church. The house were painted in pastel yellows, green, and blue—as it was so ordered by a Czar when Finland was controlled by Russia. We wandered a couple of streets and learned about all the turmoil this little village underwent since its creation in 1649: fires, bombings, fires, bombings, more fires, etc.
One item of peculiar interest were these strange contraptions placed on the windows along the street. Every house had at least one of them. Unfortunately, we did not take a picture, so a description will have to do. Basically, they were small mirrors attached to the window sill and angled in such a way that they reflected back into the home the activities on either side of the street. We found out later that these are called “gossip mirrors” so that the ladies in these houses can comfortably sit in their homes and still keep up with everything going on in their street. Hopefully, Stephanie and I gave them something to talk about!
Along the bay, small sailing boats peacefully bobbed in the water and the tranquility of the scene seemed almost unreal. There were hardly any tourists and the streets were rather quiet.
We returned to the car and began a long four hour drive southeast to the Finnish Lake Country. There are over 188,000 lakes in Finland (and that is not counting the ones under 50 square kilometers!). If you look at a map of Finland, there appears to be more water than land in its southern region. As we neared this area, more and more lakes sped by the roadside, sometimes on both sides. We reached the town of Kuopio in the late afternoon.
The campground was as welcoming as usual and we pitched a tent next to a small lake. We decided to sightsee tomorrow, so we just grabbed our chairs and towels and walked over to the beach area at the larger lake on the other side of the campground.
The sun was shining and dozens of people were swimming in the water and laying out on the grass (not a sand beach here). There must have been at least 50 little kids constantly going up and down the little water slide on one side of the beach.
Stephanie, again, did not wish to enter the water, but I made a few strokes in the lake. It was maybe only a couple of degrees warmer than the Sea of Bothnia, but still filled with people. We later enjoyed a quiet dinner and the clear blue sky. The mosquitoes have definitely decreased in their ferocity as we head further south, making it much more pleasant to be outside. We very much enjoyed our first evening in lake country.
We woke up the next morning to our own personal sauna. The tent was hot and humid as the sun was heating its occupants. Little did we know that this humidity was a clue of what was to come later in the day... By 9 am we were packed and ready to go.
After check-out we drove over to Kuopio's “Passenger Harbor” and looked for the MS Pujo, a small vessel that would take us over to the island of Vaajasaland. This island was our desired destination because it contains one of the first wineries of Finland—not with grapes, but with berries!
We found our way through the center of town and arrived at the harbor. Interestingly, no signal lights were on (we decided since it was Sunday) and people basically drove casually through intersections—we almost got hit at one point and thanked the Lord that we didn't. It did make me, however, a lot more cautious creeping through the streets.
We reached the harbor and still had an hour before the first ferry left for the island. So we decided to look for a bank to take out some more cash. After a while we found an ATM machine, called “otto” in Finnish, and headed back to the harbor.
We stepped onto the creaky boat that could maybe hold 60 people. We decided to climb up to the top, outside deck so we can take in the view of Kuopio and the lake region. (Heavy cloud cover at this point, but no rain). Before we knew it, all around us and the entire boat was filled with middle-age to elderly men and women dressed as if they are going to Easter Sunday at church. All this for berry-wine tasting? We were wondering if we were under dressed?
The boat tooted three pathetic beeps out of its horn to announce that we were departing as the engine began to throb and we slowly pulled out of the harbor. Slowly we chugged across the lake to the island. The water glistened in the sun that was quietly disappearing as the clouds darkened. At one point, we passed a personal boat that was built out of an old Volvo. The driver waved at us as if it was normal for a car to drive on a lake.
The wind picked up and a little drizzle tapped our foreheads as we approached the berth of the Berry Farm and Winery, but the drizzle dissipated when we arrived. We were hoping that the sun would come back out and give us another great afternoon. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
We sheepishly let the large crowd of well-dressed old folk lead the way off the boat and along the short dirt road to the buildings. We passed two caged ostriches, a dozen pheasants, and a few proud (and LOUD) peacocks before reaching the winery.
The crowd went in and immediately situated themselves around tables that were elegantly set. A large screen with a projector was on one side of the room. We liked to guess it was some sort of Historical Society of Kuipo having a meeting with a slide show of some sort.
Each time we go “wine tasting” outside the US, we forget that “wine tasting” means not sipping a couple different varieties and then maybe purchasing a bottle or two, but rather that you pick a wine off the menu, buy a glass, and enjoy it. So, thankfully with the help of the translated menu, Stephanie ordered a strawberry wine and I ordered the black currant wine. With our glasses, we left the crowded wine cellar and sat outside with the other non-overly dressed people in the garden patio.
The strawberry wine had a lovely pink-gold color and was spritely in flavor. Very fitting for a nice afternoon wine. The black currant wine tasted a little tart at first, but had a smooth finish. It resembled more a grape wine than a berry wine, especially since the color was a dark purple. We sat and enjoyed the view of the lake and watched the people around us.
We returned to the winery and purchased a bottle of each—very affordable prices from the actual old wine maker. We then headed back to the berth and waited for the MS Pujo to come pick us up. It arrived shortly after and this time we sat on the inside since a cold wind picked up and there was more drizzle.
Thirty-five minutes later, we were back at the harbor of Kuopio. As we disembarked, I noticed a fisherman selling something called “Muiko.” Curiously, we observed the locals ordering a basket of something fried. Naturally, I had to try it.
Muiko is herring (or sardines) coated with flour and herbs. Then they are laid out onto a large frying pan and fried to a crisp. I ordered a basket, paid the portly fisherman, and, under his advisement, added the diluted tartar sauce. I bit cautiously into the first one. The flavors were a “symphony of sea and land” with the flavors of the fish intermingling nicely with the fresh herbs. I offered one to Stephanie. She reluctantly took a bite, but the whole looks-like-a-fish-and-still-has-its-tail thing discouraged her greatly from having another. I must have scarfed the whole basked of fried herrings within minutes. That was a great lunch! Of course, this meant that Stephanie had to get something,too. Hmm, what was her lunch? Ice cream! She enjoyed a lovely scoop of licorice ice cream on top of the Pujo Tower.
The Pujo Tower stands 300 meters above sea level and allows for an incredible panoramic view of the lake country surrounding it. Although large clouds were threatening the scenery, we paid the 2 euros each and took the elevator up. Well worth the visit. We were able to see the entire town, the harbor, the berry farm island, as well as many other lakes and islands in the entire region. The clouds came in rapidly, though, and before we knew it, strong, cold rain was whipping us on the outdoor viewing platform. Pictures taken and memories made, we took the elevator back down and ran to the car.
The rain drummed, pounded, tapped, and whispered on the roof of our car as we drove south to Savonlinna. Sometimes we could barely see through the windshield from the herculean drops of water, other times, the drizzle produced rainbows. The scenery remained beautiful throughout and made it a lovely drive overall.
Three hours later we pulled up to our campground. Unlike last night, which was mostly meadows and the beach, this one is much more woodsy. The young man checked us in and explained the sauna regulations and the rules of the campground. Afterwards we headed down to the tent area of the grounds. The rain makes the campground look isolated and devoid of humans. The RVs and campers stood stoically in the rain, while the intersperse tents flapped with th wind. We found a spot that seemed viable and pulled in.
“Hope it won't flood again,” was our thought as we put up our tent in record speed under the torrential rain. And this time it was really raining. It hasn't let up all day. Roads are flooded and we were soaked to the bone within minutes, but miraculously the interior of the tent remained comparatively dry, except for the slightly damp sleeping bags, pillows, and pads that we hastily threw inside.
We are, once again, sitting in the communal room, huddled with the other tent people, waiting for our dinner to cook. The rain is coming down amazingly hard outside—hopeully our poor little tent is holding up. Stephanie is laying out tomorrow's agenda, while I write our daily entry. Tonight's meal is rather simple, but fitting: left-over pasta from last night, goulash soup, crackers, and the last bottle of beer we purchased in Norway. Dessert will be a basket of strawberries that we picked up at a roadside stand today from a little grandmother and the remaining all-sorts.