50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Summer
50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Summer.
After spending eight weeks touring around Finland this summer in our truck camper I thought it only right to match my 50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Winter post with a summer one!
On my trip to Finland in January, I was told by numerous Finns that I was visiting at the wrong time: “Come back in the summer” they said!
So, I did!
It was an incredible adventure: driving into Finnish Lapland from Norway and meandering down the country to the south coast before heading north again to cross the border into Sweden.
From the frozen temperatures of deepest winter, I came back to experience this beautiful country over the warm summer months of June and July.
What a spectacular contrast it was!
50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Summer.
To be honest, I could probably have made this a 100 ways after eight weeks of traveling around Finland! 50 is enough for now, a hundred would be a long post of epic proportions!
- Reindeer. Ok, so they are a bit of a driving hazard, but look how amazing it is to find reindeer trotting down the road. I loved seeing them so much that I missed them once we left the north. On many evenings we were sitting in our van and we would hear a magical sound: the tinkling of reindeer bells! The reindeer would potter out of the forest and trot leisurely past our truck!
- Blueberries. The forest floor became my kitchen garden: wherever we parked up I strode into the trees – cup in hand – ready to greedily pick blueberries. My hands were stained and I suffered a few mosquito bites but it was totally worth it for this bumper harvest of berries. We ate blueberry pancakes on an almost daily frequency!
- Meeting Santa Claus! When we reached Rovaniemi we had to go and see Santa! It may have been the middle of summer – Lapland was basking in +25°c – but Santa Claus works every day of the year. I even spoke a little bit of Finnish to him!
- Silence in the forest. The majesty of the tall trees enthralled me. Standing there, surrounded by the forest it was like finding myself alone in a vast cathedral. The silence is remarkable.
- Bears. I spent one night in a hide in Eastern Finland, patiently waiting to see a wild bear. It was one of the most amazing nights of the trip. Just when you think the Finnish forests can’t get any more magical a bear wanders up to the edge of a still pool, just as the sun is dipping below the trees. Steam dances across the water; there is a faint sound of the bear snuffling. The bear vanishes back into the forest yet the magical moment hangs there for a second: did that really happen? Wow!
- Crossing into Finland by road. We ended up driving into Finland twice, crossing the border first at Karigasniemi in north-western Lapland, then again at Nuorgam at the top north-eastern corner of Finland after popping out to Norway to visit Kirkenes. Having previously entering Finland by ferry and plane it was fun to drive over the invisible line (and stop for a cheesy photo!).
- Swimming in the lakes. OK, so this became a bit of an addiction! There is something so life-affirming about slipping into the cool water of a still Finnish lake early in the morning. A magnificent way to start the day.
- Exploring Finnish Lapland. The northern half of Finland has intrigued me ever since I visited back in December 2014. I remember looking at a map and seeing that I’d only visited a tiny southern corner of this big country and there was so much more to explore. I love wild unpopulated places and Lapland lived up to my intrigue. The forests are glorious; nature is abundant; the roads are quiet; and the national parks are spectacular. There are thousands of reindeer and the summer days are warm and endless.
- Finland’s National Parks. There are 39 national parks in Finland, we visited 7: Lemmenjoki, Pyhä-Luosto, Oulanka, Patvinsuo, Koli, Repovesi, Helvetinjärvi, and also Kevo Strict Nature Reserve. They all rewarded us with pristine nature, beautiful scenery, and great walking trails with fire pits, shelters, cabins, drinking water and composting toilets. Touring in the truck camper gave us the opportunity to explore these amazing national parks.
- The welcoming fox at Kevo Strict Nature Reserve. Well, hello there Mr Fox! We pulled into a small car park in very north Finland for Kevo National Nature Reserve to find Mr Fox welcoming us in. He strolled up to a rock and sat regally watching us while we drove in and fumbled for cameras.
- My first sauna to lake leap! I’m rather an enthusiast of Finnish sauna yet despite two visits I had yet to experience cooling off from the sauna in a lake. We stayed on a small campsite in northern Finnish Lapland and the price included access to the wood-burning sauna on the lake. It was a fantastic experience: we had to light the sauna stove ourselves which took some effort – we didn’t manage to do it with just one match – newbies! From the heat of the sauna we leapt off the deck (hastily: there were a lot of mosquitoes!) into the cool water, and it felt incredible!
- Understanding many of the road signs. It was extremely satisfying to be able to read many of the road signs we encountered driving around the country. My (very) basic Finnish vocabulary revealed details and places of interest that we may have missed otherwise. Road signs to beaches, birdwatching towers and nature trails were all revealed by my knowledge of the language. It was a particular joy to be able to read the sign in the photo below, it reads Lihavakalaajärvet: fat fish lakes (Buoiddesguollejävrrit is the name in Sami language).
- Stopping for coffee and munkki at Pokka Baari. I’ve frequented many a good cafe in Helsinki from Hipster joints and museum cafes to the cute waterside Regatta Cafe. Pokka Baari, deep in Finnish Lapland is a world away from those city coffee places. We were driving up to Lemmenjoki National Park from Rovaniemi and after a long drive on non-tarmaced roads we pulled our filthy truck in front of Pokka Baari and went in for coffee and doughnuts (munkki). The interior was eclectic with stuffed animals climbing the walls and fake flower displays on the tables; the doughnuts were delicious!
- Walking Pieni Karhunkierros. Despite the rain and the mosquitoes, this 12km walk in Oulanka National Park was a rewarding wander through some beautiful scenery. The trail crosses raging rivers on rope bridges and meanders through the forest up to rocky viewpoints and down to waterfalls and rapids. We had to shelter for an hour in a cafe near the trail head at the beginning as the rain was too heavy and when it calmed a little we pressed on and got rather wet. Half way around the loop the clouds parted and the sun streamed through the canopy, drying us off somewhat. A highly recommended hike.
- Finnish fire pits. We visited many national parks, as well as birdwatching towers and nature trails and they all had fantastic fire places, with plenty of fire wood and often a shelter. Sometimes there were utensils too. Nice!
- Getting a photo of Thundertruck with Icebreaker Sampo. One day I’m going to splurge and take a winter trip out on the Icebreaker Sampo, but for now I’ll just have to be satisfied with this photo of the Thundertruck next to it. I’m rather chuffed with this picture!
- Finnish summer evenings. The summer days seemed to always end with the serene stillness of mirrored lakes and golden light. These evenings are now woven into my dreams, a peaceful world to enter when a close my eyes. Oh Finland!
- Revisiting Aulanko Park in summer and seeing the 50°c difference! I walked up to this viewpoint in Hämeenlinna with a friend back in early January: we stood and admired the view while I shivered with the sub-zero temperatures. We met up with that same friend again in July and what a transformation! The view was vibrant and green, and the sun beamed warmly down on us.
- Seeing Olavinlinna at Savonlinna. I’ve been wanting to see this beautiful castle for a while, and I even looked at trying to get out to Savonlinna to see it back in the winter but it wasn’t to be. Olavinlinna is like something out of a fairytale, perched spectacularly on a rocky islet in the lake. We arrived too late in the day to go around this 15th century fortification but it was great to see it with my own eyes: what a beauty!
- The view from Ukko-Koli. The view from the top of Koli is breathtaking and you can see why it inspired so many Finnish artists.
- Quiet places to park up for the night. We rarely had to share our overnight spot with anyone, except reindeer! Often we were parked up next to a lake, or in little car parks for national parks or similar. Sometimes it was simply a lay-by off the road, but nearly all were peaceful and scenic.
- Mini lighthouses at Kotka. I love lighthouses, and after seeing two model lighthouses on the back of a truck in Turku in the winter (they’re in the 50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Winter post) it was an absolute joy to find these miniature lighthouses in Katariinan Puisto in Kotka. They’re copies of actual lighthouses dotted around Finland’s coastline.
- The smell of the forest on a hot summer day. Nothing prepared me for this incredible sensory encounter! We were hiking in Pyhä-Luosto National Park on a hot June day and as we emerged from the forest towards some open wetland the smell enveloped us. It was heady and fragrant, and a nearby information board revealed that it was Labrador Tea, a type of rhododendron. The warm sunshine must release the scent and mingle it with the other earthy smells of the forest.
- Helsinki in the summer time. Oh Helsinki, I love you! How pretty you are festooned with flowers and with tables spilling out of restaurants onto the street; the bustling markets and people wandering around in summer clothes; the marinas packed with boats; the tourist boats plying the harbour and sailing ships drifting by.
- Walking alone through the forest in the golden evenings. It was foraging for blueberries that awakened me to the bliss of walking alone through the forest in the golden light of the evening. Alone with my thoughts, my feet padding along the trails or over boardwalks to lake edges and beaches.
- Finally seeing a cloudberry! A berry whose name I’ve dreamed of for years. It’s such a magical word and I wish I liked the taste of them as much as I love their name! Still, it’s pretty cool to find them growing wild, plump and juicy.
- Visiting Vallisaari. The island of Vallisaari in Helsinki Bay has only recently been opened to the public and it’s a wild riot of summer flowers, butterflies, and crumbling military fortifications. It’s a fabulous place to explore on a sunny summer’s day and the views across the water to Suomenlinna and Helsinki are sublime.
- Exploring new corners of Helsinki. We spent three days in Helsinki which gave me chance to explore some different places. Seurasaari was a highlight: this island to the west of the city centre is linked by a footbridge and we took a wander around its wooded circumference. There is an outdoor museum here too but we simply enjoyed a stroll and watched the cheeky red squirrels.
- The friendly border guard at Karigasniemi. “Are you English?” (Me attempting Finnish: Joo, englantilainen) “Would you like to have this conversation in Finnish?” (err, no!) “What are your plans?” (drive to Helsinki or Turku, get ferry to Stockholm) “Where have you come from?” (we drove all the way up Norway) “When are you going home?” (august). “Four months? That’s a long time, how can you afford to do that?” (we sleep in car parks), *looks at passports, sees old Russian visa* “You have been to Russia?” (yes) “How was that?” *implying with tone of voice that it was most probably hell on earth* (it was great!) “Really?” …..”So, the EU! What’s happening?” (we all agree that we are stronger together – this was pre-Brexit) “Do you like football?” (no). “Welcome to Finland! Watch out for reindeer and keep your lights on at all times!“
- Lintutornit, Finland’s bird towers. So, we discovered these bird towers through my spectacular mastery of the Finnish language (haha) and we soon started looking out for them. Not only were they a good opportunity to see wildlife, they also made great places to stop for a brew or even to overnight. They often had small secluded car parks and more often than not a composting toilet too.
- Seeing Porvoo in the summertime, vibrant with life. When I visited Porvoo back in December 2014 it was a cold grey day, a little snow dusted the streets which were empty of people. What a contrast then to visit Porvoo on a hot summer’s day: the streets were buzzing with people and the colourful wooden buildings of the old town were vibrant in the sunshine. It was like a town transformed!
- Filling my fridge with Finnish food. Maybe this is a strange one, but it was great to be able to buy all the stuff I’ve wanted to try on my previous visits (when I’ve been alone, and had limited kitchen facilities) or simply to fill the fridge with the things I love like leipajuusto (squeaky cheese) and marjapuuro (lingonberry porridge). Also, filling the van with Fazer chocolate put a massive smile on my face!
- Getting drunk on Black Lace Night in Rauma. Our visit to Rauma, to catch up with Saana (who blogs Live Now Dream Later) coincided with the end of Lace Week, and a few hours after we arrived we found ourselves drinking beer in the sunshine watching live music amongst the revellers. It was quite a night, and I have to confess that I haven’t been that drunk for a long time!
- Eating Pyynikki Tower doughnuts and catching up with friends in Tampere. Tampere’s Pyynikki Tower doughnuts are legendary, and deservedly so. They are devilishly good! It was great to catch up with my friends, we went for drinks and had some delicious pizza at the crazily busy Pizzeria Napoli!
- Kati’s epic hospitality. I met Kati through Instagram (@callithomeblog) and I stayed with her and her family back in January. She made us feel very at home when I returned with Chris this summer, so much so we had difficulty tearing ourselves away!
- Lazing in the sunshine on Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna is series of fortified islands in Helsinki Bay and they hold a special place in my heart, Suomenlinna is very dear to me. It was so lovely to find a quiet spot on the rocks to bask in the sunshine like a local, I’ve been over to Suomenlinna many times but they’ve all been in deepest winter.
- Finding Golden Oriole at Siikalahden Lintujärvi. This was one of those moments where we passed a road sign and made a u-turn to check it out. I’d spotted the sign which I quickly translated as bird lake (lintujärvi) as we passed it. We followed some narrow lanes to a small car park then walked a short trail to a wooden tower overlooking a lake and some marshes. It turned out to be a top decision: we watched osprey fishing and the cherry on top was the golden oriole singing in the forest behind the tower.
- The satnav leading us astray in Helvetinjärvi National Park. The satnav, taking the most direct route, took us on a very wild road through this national park to get to the parking area and trails. The road deteriorated from dirt road to rocky track, into which the heavy rain that was falling formed deep pools. It required switching to 4wd and we seemed to bump along it for ages but in reality it was only about 10km, it was all rather adventurous and thrilling!
- Watching the sunset with Saana at Kalajoki. As we headed north, driving towards Sweden, we met up with Saana again (she was heading back to Rauma from a visit to Lapland < opens a new tab to Saana’s blog). We camped together at Kalajoki and witnessed a glorious sunset from our sea side spot. Saana and I also went for a swim in the golden light, it was amazing!
- Getting a Finnish stamp in my passport. There’s a little shop in Santa Claus Village near Rovaniemi where you can get your passport stamped. So, of course I did!
- Catching up with my Finnish friends again. I may have only seen them back in January but it was great to see everyone again.
- Speaking Finnish. I was thrown into the deep end when I had to speak Finnish with car mechanics in Lapland. I can comfortably order coffee and doughnuts in Finnish but trying to explain that we potentially need extensive engine work is a little beyond basic conversation! I muddled through, learning the right terms and at the time it was really stressful. Looking back now, I’m really proud of how it went: I was able to tell the mechanics what the problem was and I had some understanding of the response too. In the end – at garage #3 – I had to ‘phone a friend’ (Saana) to translate for me when things got too technical but I still feel that I achieved something far beyond my capabilities! That’s something worth smiling about!
- Sheltering from the rain. When it rains in Finland, it seems to empty the entire sky of water: the rain is heavy and dramatic! We sometimes had to find shelter when we were out hiking and the national parks delivered us cute cabins to eat our lunch and dry out.
- Taking the ferry to Hailuoto from Oulu. On chatting to a guide at Liminka Bay Visitor Centre she recommended visiting nearby Hailuoto island. When she mentioned that the ferry was free – “It’s part of the road network”– we were soon at the ferry terminal trying to figure out which boarding lane to take (my Finnish failed me here)! Hailuoto is beautiful and we ended up parked on a pier for a lovely night. Hoorah for free Finnish ferries!
- Siberian Jays eating cheese out of my hand. These pretty birds in Pyhä-Luosto National Park knew the drill: hikers have food! It was a bit of a Disney moment!
- Finnish caravanners and motorhomers happily waving to us as they passed! No one waved to us in Norway, nearly everyone waved to us in Finland. It feels jolly welcoming, thanks Finland!
- Being warm. Even Lapland was hot – not warm– it was actually properly hot. Real summer sunshine: flip-flops and tee-shirt weather. Who knew? It was a novelty for me to be in Finland in summer clothing!
- The midnight sun. The summer days seemed never-ending; it was so fantastic to experience the midnight sun and the ‘White Nights’ of the north, something I’ve longed to do. It’s going to be quite a difference when I spend this coming winter in Swedish Lapland: endless magical nights instead!
- Feeling the season change. When we first arrived in to northern Finland from Norway in June it was too early for blueberry season but as we drove south and the weeks passed the berries carpeted the forest floor with abundance. As our time in Finland drew to a close early August the blueberry bushes had begun to turn red – a sign that autumn is on its way – and lingonberries were ripening in their place. Spending so much time in Finnish nature enabled us to see these subtle changes in the season. Wonderful.
- Seeing the route we took drawn on a map. I traced out our zig-zag route on a tourist map I’d picked up in the winter, and it’s rather satisfying seeing how much of Finland we covered on our eight week trip!
It was an incredible summer of unforgettable memories. There’s plenty of gaps on the map that are still to be explored: another trip, another time!
Try these posts:
50 Ways Finland Made Me Smile This Winter Five weeks and fifty things!
The Magical Moment I Saw A Bear In Finland Just wow, one incredible night in the forest.
Helsinki: The Thought Of Leaving Was Unbearable I lay my heart out to this beautiful city.
Here’s Why You Must Visit Suomenlinna in Snow! Finland’s Sea Fortress in the grip of beautiful winter!
Beautiful Frozen Helsinki Returning to Helsinki at -25º, incredible!
Why I’m Learning Finnish Finally discovering a language I want to learn!
By Rachel A Davis
How was your summer? What made you smile?