Saturday, 4 September 2010


We’ve spent the last week making the transition from countryside back to the city with 3 days in Kuopio, a city in the Finnish Lakeland area, and 3 days in Helsinki. And the abundance of museums, art galleries, buzzing bars and all you can eat lunch buffets , which the Finns seem to love, has been great!

The highlight in Kuopio was our session in the world’s largest (apparently) smoke sauna, which was prettily situated on the side of a lake. Inside the sauna, which was dark and smelt slightly of wood smoke, we joined groups of young tourists and older locals on raised benches around the edges of the room. Every so often one of the locals tossed a ladle (or bucket) full of water over the coals and a few seconds later we were hit by a wall of hot air. And then - following the example of the locals – we took quick dips in the lake to cool down in... truly freezing yet very exhilarating.

Helsinki is great – its attractive and situated on a peninsula so there is plenty of water about, but with only half a million people living there its compact enough to pootle around on foot and easy to find your way around. It’s also definitely the trendiest place we’ve been so far, with dyed black hair, leather and piercings the “in” look, so we’ve been feeling a bit out of place in all our goretex...

It’s been Helsinki Design Week whilst we’ve been here so we’ve made the most of the Art Fair, the Design Museum and the Modern Art Museum (photo top left), all of which were fabulous – as well as browsing in the various design shops and antiques markets: nice to do some cultural things after our previous few weeks’ ‘outdoorsiness’.

And so, just over a month after we set off from London we’re leaving Finland and Scandinavia tomorrow, excited and apprehensive about what Russia has in store for us. The last month has been a great, gentle introduction to our travels. Will that change I wonder when we leave familiarity of northern Europe behind for what I imagine will be the difference of Russia and the east?
In some ways Finland has been a good transition though – with its long (and open) border with Russia there’s a definite Russian feel here, particularly to the Eastern towns, with Russian voices frequently heard, a fair bit of Cyrillic about and even the odd Orthodox church. Finnish itself has been strangely disorientating too – somehow I expected to be able to at least guess the meanings of some words here, as we could in Norway and elsewhere in Europe, yet Finnish is totally unintelligible with seemingly no links to any language either of us have ever seen. Even supermarket shopping has become a bit of a mystery what with Finn’s apparent preference for local brands and the lack of pictures on many of the packets!

We’ve also done our last bus journey for a while (till Mongolia at least), as we’ll be travelling entirely by train in Russia. And although I generally don’t particularly enjoy buses Finland is a good place to take them: what with clean, new vehicles, good roads and only 5 million inhabitants the roads have been consistently empty so we’ve sailed through, on time, with never a hint of a traffic jam to be seen. I imagine our next bus journey will be pretty different...

And hopefully - after a month of tee-total frugality and eating self-cooked pasta almost everyday - in Russia we'll be able to try out some restaurants and more varied cuisine..!

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