Lake Puruvesi, Finland

Thur 7 & Fri 8 July - Kuopio and Lake Kallavesi

From Kuopio until our departure from Helsinki we were driving a nice Hertz Volvo, the first time in over 40 years that I had had to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. I don't think I would have attempted it anywhere other than in Finland.

We stayed in the excellent Scandic hotel, overlooking Lake Kallavesi.

Unfortunately I had somehow managed to bang some buttons on my camera which set it to the lowest quality, which is a shame because some of the scenery around our lake cruise, including sky-scapes, was quite spectacular.

Sat 9 July - Savonlinna and Kerimäki

Our drive south from Kuopio to our next resting place, the Karelian Country Cottages near Kesälahti, took us through the town of Savonlinna, home to the magnificent medieval Olavinlinna Castle, and then via Kerimäki, famous for having the world's largest wooden church. Savonlinna's annual Opera Festival was beginning on the day we passed through. The weather was on the cool side, with squally showers.

Sat 9 & Sun 10 July - Lake Puruvesi

The Karelian Country Cottages are in the most idyllic location, sitting amongst the trees right on the edge of Lake Puruvesi. There are only about six units (though more are planned) located such that you hardly ever see or hear your neighbours.

We discovered a couple of odd differences between the Finns and Aussies. First, the Finns seem to do a lot of camping, and even when they move up to staying in comfortable modern self-catering houses they still expect to bring their own bed-linen, which is only available as an optional extra for those like international travellers for whom it wouldn't be feasible to cart a pile of bedding around the world.

Secondly, there seems to be a thing about the psychological effect of near-perpetual darkness in winter, which results in the Finns not being bothered about keeping the light out during their summer nights! Whereas we want darkness in which to sleep, so we had to do our best to drape blankets over the bedroom windows. In mid-July, sunrise was about 3.40 am, with sunset after 10.30 pm, so it never got what we would call properly dark.

Mon 11 July - Travel

Today  we had to drag ourselves away from heavenly Lake Puruvesi to drive the 330 kms to our next destination, Porvoo, on the south coast of Finland, a little to the east of Helsinki.

For the majority of the journey we were on Route 6, a good freeway much of which runs roughly parallel with the Russian border, at one point barely a couple of miles away, and only about 240 kms to St Petersburg.  (When planning this trip we had considered including St Petersburg in our itinerary - it's only 3h 30m by train from Helsinki, or there is an overnight boat trip.)

Finland and Russia have had a fraught relationship over the years.  From 1809 Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, but things changed as a result of a growing independence movement and two World Wars.  Finland gained independence in January 1918,  but it was not until 1948 that the Russians were finally repulsed.  Large areas of this Karelia region were ceded to Russia in the process, hence this border is relatively recent.

[PS May 2022 - It's little wonder that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made the Finns nervous enough to apply to join NATO.]

We could have stayed on Route 6 almost all the way to Porvoo, but decided to turn off onto Route 26, hoping the coastal route via Kotka would be more scenic.  Near the turnoff we had a comfort stop at the village of Taavetti, part of the municipality of Luumäki,  where we found the little outdoor café and the strawberry seller you see here.  They obviously don't get many tourists in Taavetti!  The café owner wanted to practise his English with us, which he said he had learned from a Bruce Springsteen album!

Tues 12 - Thur 14 July - Porvoo

I'm not sure that Porvoo (pronounced 'Porvoh', with the stress on the first syllable) is technically part of Lakeland, but it certainly belongs here as the final part of our road trip. 

We stayed in the Old Town at the quirky Pariisin Ville, the only hotel I have ever seen that specifies that it is aimed at adults, with children over 7 on a very restricted basis.

Porvoo has quite a history -Wikipedia is as good a source as any. In particular, the Lutheran Cathedral has an important place, giving its name to the Porvoo Communion, an association of 15 Lutheran and Anglican churches which in 1996 signed an agreement to "share a common life in mission and service". 

It is a shame that the Cathedral which was first built in 1410-1420 has been the target of arsonists on multiple occasions, as recently as 2006, but the restoration has been done very tastefully.

Porvoo is also famous for the red former warehouses which line the river.

It's barely 50kms from Porvoo to Helsinki airport for the flight to Manchester.

Before dropping off our rental car, we filled up with petrol, observing the very sensible Finnish custom that, after filling up, one drives one's car to the "shop" to pay, freeing up the bowser for the next customer.

Then we were honoured and impressed to have our car received by none other than Mr Hannu Mikkonen, the President and CEO of Hertz Finland, who was having a day at the "coal face".  Not a bad idea, although I'm not sure how the local staff feel about it!  We were able to assure him that we were very satisfied with our rental.  I was also relieved to have safely completed our journey driving on the right, although this shot from today's trip shows you what the freeways are like.  The towns are trickier.

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