Jul 22, 2008
|Once again, the rain on the tent canvas made it cozy and we slept very well. Slowly we showered and packed up the tent. The sun was shining and large patches of blue dominated the sky. Optimistically we both dressed in hopes of warm weather. For most of the day it worked out well. Unfortunately, by the late afternoon, the rain returned.
We began our drive to Imatra. It is the closest city in Finland to the Russian border, thereby making it also an important trade port. As we neared the city, we passed, literally, thousands of brand new cars loaded onto Russian trucks lined along the road to go into Russia. They were waiting there for the clearance from the border which is still heavily patrolled and controlled. The cars were of all brands, fords, volkswagons, hondas, etc...
Imatra is a summer town that grew in fame for its large rapids flowing through the center of the city. Catherine the Great visited them with her entourage, as well as many diginitaries throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, in the early 1900s, a powerplant was built accompanied by a dam. A large lake is one side, while a deep gorge is on the other. We walked along the gorge in the “Crown Park” and noticed signs that said in multiple languages that there is a rapids show daily at 7pm.
Well, it was only 1:00 pm and we debated what to do next: keep going to Lappeenrata (our original stopping point) and camp there or stay in Imatra until 7pm. Thanks to our trusty GPS TomTom, we were able to make the decision to drive the 40 minutes to Lappeenrata, visit the sights, drive back to Imatra, set up camp, and see the 7pm rapids show.
The drive to Lappeenrata was rather quick. We passed more trucks as we left Imatra waiting in line as well. We passed a sign that read St. Petersburg 210 km shortly thereafter. We arrived at the fortress in Lappeenrata and were a bit disappointed. We were expecting to see a castle as incredible as Olaf's was yesterday. However, this was more a pretty park with a dozen or so old buildings that have been turned into art galleries and cafes. There was a small museum there that we did check out.
The last exhibit was the most interesting in the historical and cultural standpoint. The exhibit incorporated the three main cities in this particular region of which one, Vyborg or Viipuri in Finnish, was described in detail. The city was ceded to the Soviets after WW II and thereby Finland lost an invaluable city. The third generations of Russians today live in Vyborg, but many still have strong ties to their Finnish roots. The exhibit well-portrayed the human and cultural casualties when politicians draw borders on a map. (Fun fact learned at the museum: when the borders between Finland and Russia were opened after the Soviet Union collapsed, the number one commodity desired and purchased by the Russians was.....ironing boards.)
As we were ready to leave the museum, a strong rainstorm hit the fortress. The usual absolute downpour ensued. We knew from experience that it usually let up within the hour. We, along with other visitors, returned to the tiny gift shop of the museum to wait it out. We decided to go through the museum a second time rather than just stare at the trinkets sold in the store.
The rain calmed down a little and we ventured into it. We followed the signs to “Hiekka-Linna” or “Sand Castle.” Every year, a giant work of sand is created here in Finland. We were really wondering how any sand sculpture could survive the rain, but it did—and magnificently!
Each year there is a different theme to the sand creations. This year it is “The Wild West.” Yes, here we are in Finland staring at a politically-incorrect, yet spaghetti-western accurate depiction of the American Wild West. It was amazing! There was a train getting robbed, a entire street with its jail, house of ill-repute, and a Chinese Laundry. The saloon could be entered where there were sand sculptures of card players, a drunk cowboy at the bar, the barkeep, the can-can girl, and the piano player. Around the corner was a cowboy (who truly resembled John Wayne) riding a horse into the prairie. A buffalo roamed near the Indian Village and its inhabitants smoking a peace pipe with an Alaskan Indian Totem Pole. There was a rattle snake scaring the prairie dogs staring out of their holes and a cowboy riding of into the sunset. Even the sponsors emblems were carved into sand. And, yes, it was sand for one could touch near the sculptures and see that it was sand.
The rain drizzled the whole time and we could notice that there was some damage to the Indian girl's face and one of the train robber's shoe was crumbling. They must have people touching the sculptures up for the season for it stands here until August 31st when they are torn down. We wondered how that is done. Bulldozer? Hundreds of screaming children? The artists themselves?
The rain picked up again and we hurried to the car. We returned slowly to Imatra. The rain would not yield and, at one point, many drivers pulled over to the sides to wait for it to die down. Call it my reckless youth or my faith in the Volvo, but we powered on!!
We found the campgrounds and checked in. After circling a couple of times, we found a spot to our liking and sat in the car waiting for the rain to die down. We ate some of the fresh peas. We snacked on some roasted garlic potato chips. We read the tour book. The rain did not stop! So, on the count of three, I popped the trunk and we jumped out of the car and grabbed the gear.
In unbelievable speed, which we will have to show off sometime back home, we put up the tent and its innards. Proudly we hopped back into the car, catching our breath. Seconds later....the rain stopped and clouds parted with a couple rays of sunshine! Isn't that called irony?!
We drove into Imatra and parked near the dam. We had an hour before the “rapids show,” so we walked into the surrounding park area, jumping over puddles and admiring the view of the chasm.
Around 6:30 pm, crowds began to assemble at various viewing spots. We found one as well and claimed it.
A little after 7 pm, dramatic music filled the air out of hidden speakers throughout the area. Shortly after, the floodgates of the dam slowly opened releasing a massive deluge of water. It filled the basin in front of the dam as the music began to swell as well. Almost timed perfectly to the music, the white rapids poured over the rocks and roared along the bottom of the gorge toward the awaiting lake on the other end. The walls echoed as the water thundered. Everyone stood in awe and could not get enough photos or video of this. The canyon filled up with the water,which, incidentally had that same copper color we found in all the bodies of water in Scandinavia so far.
We could not hear the music over the rapids, except when an occasional wind would carry it toward our ears. Fifteen minutes later, the dam closed its gates. Five minutes after the gorge was empty but glistening in the setting sunlight. It was a powerful display of water as it gushed right past us. It is of no wonder that Catherine the Great, as well as may painters and writers have admired this natural wonder.
After the show's completion we looked at the historic hotel (Imatran Valtionhotelli) next to the rapids. It is built in the style of a castle and it must be a fancy place to stay judging by the beautiful cars parked in front of it.
We then drove back to our campground. We cooked and had dinner in the common area of the campground. It is really cute and much warmer than sitting outside in the chilly air. Dinner tonight consisted of stir fry and sweet strawberries. (By the way, for an appetizer we had a spreadable cheese that was called “Bonjour Hell.” It was basically spicy nacho cheese, but with a name like that how could we avoid it!)
It is now almost 10 pm and the sun has nearly set. Gone are the days of 24 hour sunlight.