Summer Town Porvoo

IMG_5386There they are: red riverside warehouses. That row of small red cottages by the river is Porvoo’s trademark. They appear on postcards and school textbooks and welcome visitors to the town, just like they did already hundreds of years ago.

Porvoo is an old city located on the southern coast of Finland. Its history dates back to Middle Age and the old town attracts tourists with its narrow streets, wooden houses and old-fashioned atmosphere. Pebble streets lead to the medieval church or climb up steep hills turning to the doorsteps of some friendly house with red door and linen curtains on windows. Painted houses lean to each others creating colourful wooden walls which hide inner courtyards with apple trees and garden swings from the passers-by.

It is a windy day. The end of summer is near but Porvoo is still busy with tourists. The town is a summer town and visitors from elsewhere in Finland as well as foreigners come to check out its sunny streets. It is time to take summer dresses for a stroll! Little boutiques and shops line the main streets. Open doors invite to finger handicrafts on offer and multiple antique shops are bursting with cups and bowls and all sorts of treasures. An absolute gem for every vintage fan is a vintage shop Doris & Duke. Fifties dresses, high heels, suede jackets, tin cans…

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Among the shops, there are countless cafes and restaurants in the old town. Every one of them looks worth stepping in, but a normal person only needs a cup or two of coffee a day. So it is impossible to sample each of them. A cashier of Teetee shop (where one might leave with a ball or two with bright yarn and an inspiration for new wool socks) recommends a cafe just outside the old town. Cafe Gabriole stands by the marketplace. It offers a lunch buffet and cakes and coffees. Dark wooden furniture, large windows and high ceilings added together with live piano music create an almost royal environment. Quite a classy lunch.

Because of the abundance of cafes in town it is better to have lunch in one place and coffee in another. Say, for example, in Lilla Chocoladfabriken which is a cafe of a tiny chocolate factory. Handmade cakes and chocolates. Even chocolate coffee! Of course, Porvoo is also a home for an another chocolate factory: Brunberg. It has a factory outlet in the old town as well where they sell their products with a little lower price. Brunberg’s Suukot/Kisses are what childhood tastes like. Also their rice chocolate is a safe choice.

There are definitely enough places to eat and drink and shops to roam around in Porvoo old town. However, maybe the best thing is the atmosphere. The town looks old. The town feels old. Walking around the streets without certain directions is nice. Walk by the river on the other side of the town and you will get the view of the warehouses. Drop by the church which represents the willingness to preserve the town and the history: the church has been burned several times, last time in 2006, but it has always been built again. Wonder around the blocks where the people live. There are low wooden houses and beautiful gardens to be admired. And some people live there.

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Two children disappear around the corner with their bikes. What is it like to grow up here? The whole place reminds me of Mauri Kunnas’ Koiramäki picture books (especially  the one where the children go to town) which told stories of the life in 1800s. Porvoo has maintained its old face while it has kept up with the modern life.

Stalactite Caves- Reason to Stop in Czech

Few summers ago I was interrailing with my good friend. So two years ago today…

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The Moravian Karst Protected Landscape Region

Brno, Czech Republic, 8.8.2014.

Breakfast is included in our ~14e hostel (Hostel Mitte). In every way this is a nice hostel; clean, large bathrooms and sturdy bunk beds that do not creak. It is a nice hostel in a nice city. Brno is the second largest city in Czech and it is very cosy. At least the centre. The outskirts not so much. However, Brno is just a base for us, we are here to see the stalactite caves in Moravian Karst.

From Brno, we take a train to Blansko and then a bus to Skalní Mlýn. There are five caves open to public (over 1100 all together) located on that area but only 2 are close enough to walk to. The largest cave, Punkva cave, is already sold out for the day so we are left with Catherine cave. Tickets are ~2e and an admission to take photos another ~2e. Not bad.

It is chilly (7-8˚C) and damp in the cave. Stonewalls are lighted with electric lights. Our guide speaks Czech, but we got a leaflet with a brief summary in English. Anyway, I’m more interested in the surroundings. There are speleothems everywhere. Catherine caves have unique stick-shaped stalagmites; beautiful speleothem decorations and interesting formations (the witch). Also, the main dome has an amazing acoustics which we get to experience when ‘He’s a Pirate’ goes off. All this is hidden inside the cave.

When we exit the cave we have to wait for the bus for two hours. It is hot and long trousers stick to my legs, so when we finally get back to Brno we wander into stores where the air condition beavers away. My umbrella broke last week and I finally give in to my stubbornness and buy a new one. Bit strange day to buy an umbrella as it is sunny and +30˚C but how could I keep on daring the weather when the thing only costs few euros! Maybe it is going to be sunny for the rest of the trip now that I have it.

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Sunny Brno was pretty (just like my friend)

We have to move our baggage from Hostel Mitte to another one where we are staying tonight. It takes a lot longer for us to get to out new hostel than we thought. A long way, terrible urge to pee, too hot, backpack weights a tonne and the hip belt crushes my bladder. This is how a toast must feel in a toaster.

Somehow we manage to get to the hostel and get our strength back. We walk back to the city centre for a dinner: ~5e pasta arrabbiata (need more chilli) and ~5e pina colada. The evening is smiling.

Lapland – Calming Wilderness

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Hetta-Pallas track

“My feet hurt, I don’t want to walk anymore, I don’t like this instant-add-just-water-food, I hate rain, I hate mosquitos; I hate Lapland!” That was what twelve-year-old I thought of my family’s annual week-long summer treks in Lapland.

Now I scrape the very last spoonfuls of my morning porridge eagerly and drink up the coffee where few midges flounder pathetically. The sun is shining already, to be frank, it did not let me sleep at all last night. The midnight sun makes me feel like I should keep going on and on, it creeps into our blue tent and never lies down. Even though it is bright, it is not hot; last night it was less than 10c. We lied side by side in our sleeping bags, only noses peaking out. This morning the sun provides us warmth and promises to keep the sky clear on our last day of trekking.

It had been almost ten years since I was hiking in Lapland. Still, it feels like home. I drove with my parents all the way from South to Lapland, to Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. Our plan was to walk from Hetta to Pallas making detours and getting off the main track. Hetta-Pallas route is a popular hiking track in Lapland, 55 km of nature and beautiful views. However it is not proper wilderness, there is a clear path, good signs and camping is allowed only around the huts. We wanted proper wilderness. Unfortunately, it had been raining so much that going off the main route meant wading in a swamp. We had to change our plan and stay on the track.

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Happy hikers

The first day we started walking it was pouring. The walk over Pyhäkero fell was miserable as the rain prickled like needles, the wind tried to trip us over and the temperature fell close to 5c. The only thing that kept me positive was the fact that the runners who we met (there happened to be an ultra-run event, 55km Pallas-Hetta and 134km Ylläs-Pallas-Hetta, taking place on that day) looked even more miserable in their tight leggings and t-shirts. Although our waterproofs leaked, like they tend to do when they are soaked for hours and hours on end, and shoes were hosting little ponds inside, we were somewhat warm. That night we slept in Sioskuru hut where we hung our clothes to dry.

Rest of the week we had nice weather. The second day we walked from Sioskuru to Hannukuru checking out Tappuri hut and Rumakuru hut on our way. In Hannukuru we relaxed in the sauna that few other hikers had heated up. The tent was inviting after an approximately 15km walk, sauna, swim and instant cheese-broccoli-pasta. The next morning we packed our tent and continued our way to Nammalakuru. The days on a hike follow the same pattern: Eat, pack, walk, eat, walk, camp, eat, read, sleep. The view changes from pine forest to swamps to hills where only dwarf birch grows. No cities, no roads to be seen. No electricity or running water. Little streams replace water fountains and twigs serve as mattresses.

3 days and 2 night would be perfect on Hetta-Pallas route: one night in Hannukuru or Rumakuru and the other in Nammalakuru. We had too much time now that we had to follow the main track, so we walked only ~15km a day and did one day trip to Vuontispirtti from Nammalakuru. Some hikers walked the route in 2 days, others spend 5 days on it. Some were first-timers, others experienced walkers. Some carried feta cubes, kitchen knives and huge water bottles; their backpack must have weighed tonnes. Others were wiser. Dried food and minimal (quality) equipment allow the backpack to be light. There is no need for a clean t-shirt for each day. And seriously, it is ridiculous to haul 5 litres of water to Lapland’s wilderness. Our backpacks weighed approximately 11kg each; easy to carry and pleasant to walk with.

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Some say that Lapland is magnificent and the view from Taivaskero fell amazing. Quiet and peaceful nature is inspiring and camping is an experience. For me, the hills are familiar and comforting. I feel safe while trekking. I feel like I belong somewhere.