Monday 17th July – Varkaus, Finland
Finland is made up of over 70% forests and has over 1000 lakes so the countryside does not change much. The population is just over 5 million and most of the population live in the south.
They do not cater well for travellers with only one registered service point in the whole country that provides water and black and grey water disposal areas. 95% of the roadside parking areas do not have WC’s. There are some (but not many) camping places and these are very expensive to stay at.
We have been very creative in finding water and have found marinas and cemeteries and sometimes churches are a good chance.
Today again was a typical day being overcast and cloudy and rain along the way and not a lot of interesting or different scenery, though the forests are very lush and green.
It is quite funny seeing roadside signs saying beware of elk where at home they are kangaroos. We have seen so many elk and reindeer along the roadside grazing and they love running along the roads and won’t get off even when you beep the horn. It is quite funny to watch a herd of reindeer waddle along in front of you on a two lane highway and making no effort to get off – we have sometimes followed them for half a km or so.
We are back to the wild flowers on both sides of the road – purple, pink and white. They look like a smaller version of our “stocks” back home. Very colourful and with these comes the feeling that we have almost caught up to summer again in Scandanavia. The sun is now setting below the horizon but the sky still retains some light for most of the night. We are back to short sleeves and shorts for a short time during the day but nights are still around the 15 degrees.
We turned off just before the town of Varkaus as we could not find anywhere suitable and quiet along the highway. Saw a sign to a boat ramp so headed that way and found a fantastic spot right on the waterfront. Space for Ziggy alone with no room for anyone else – what a shame 🙂
We watched as some locals came and went in their fishing boats or walked their dogs but from 5pm all was quiet – just the fish and the birds and us to enjoy this beautiful setting.
Tuesday 18th July , Heinola, Finland
Another rare sunny day so out our aim today was to get as close to Helsinki as possible so we could arrive there at a reasonable hour the next day.
It has been so refreshing in Finland to travel without road tolls and ferries which made the cost in Norway very expensive.
The speed allowed in some places on the motorway was 120kms per hour and the roads were excellent but with that came lots of speed cameras along the road. Each time the speed was reduced to 80 in a built up area there was a speed camera there to capture the driver who wasn’t paying attention.
Again no luck with finding an easy spot for the night. We Turned off at Heinola which left us just over a 100kms to Helsinki.
We parked at the jetty next to a waterfront cafe and decided to have lunch there. Enjoyed lunch and a pint and watched the boats and people go by. The cafe sold ice creams and it was amazing to see how many different ways people and kids devour ice creams.
We drove around the town looking for the perfect spot. What a pretty town – avenues lined with trees and neat little and large homes. This town is the last one on the map that is lake front. Lots of marinas and waterfront but nothing suitable.
We found a spot right next to where we had lunch with unrestricted parking and then walked into town. Spent a couple of hours walking and viewing the wares in the marketplace before heading back for the night.
Was not the quietest spot as we had a couple of noisy cars whose drivers thought they were rally drivers and did some burnouts on the street nearby.
We have found that people here come out at all times of the night as it never gets dark. Can imagine we would be the same after having a couple of months of no daylight.
Wednesday 19th – Friday 21st July – Helsinki, Finland
There is a dedicated motorhome spot right on the harbour at Helsinki Zoo. When we arrived the attendant told us the spots were all full so we moved on and decided to come back late afternoon when the zoo was closing. Found a spot nearby and parked and did some research on sights to see in Helsinki and Estonia.
Returned at 5pm and had our pick of the 10 motorhome spots available.
Put on our walking shoes and headed up to the zoo which closed at 6pm. There were 3 tiers of parking and then overflow parking at a sports centre on the tennis courts next door. Being holiday season, the carpark was full and we passed streams of people leaving the zoo. The zoo is actually on an island with a bridge across to it. For the adventurous, there is a high wire zip line and jungle above ground activity park just before the zoo. Set high above the ground, you go from tree to tree doing various activities. Might give that one a miss but really well done and lots of people swinging and zipping above us through the trees.
The No 16 bus is right at the entrance to the car park and runs every 20 minutes straight into the centre of Helsinki to Central Station. There is also a ferry that runs from the Zoo into Market Square.
Again an overcast day we took a backpack each with rain gear, water, iPads and eager with anticipation of what lay ahead for the day, bought a 24 hour ticket for €9 and headed into town. The bus driver was excellent and dropped us off at the Tourist Office located inside Central Station. Best tourist office we have been to. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a tourist officer who took us step by step on our map of “must sees” in Helsinki. Unbelievably helpful and definitely a big tick for Helsinki. She also gave us a book of Discount Coupons each which gave us free entry into various attractions and of course discounts on tours and food etc.
Our bus ticket also included a free public ferry ride to Soumenlinna Island – our first destination for the day.
A really great 20 minute ferry ride in the harbour took us past several small one house islands. Very extravagant, your own private island. Huge ferries in the harbour ready to take man and car to lots of different countries – one which will take us to Tallinn, Estonia in a few days time.
We arrived at the Sea Fortress on Soumenlinna – construction began in the 18th century and with the other 100+ people on this ferry toured the island and then spent several hours going through museums and submarines, arts and crafts etc. the fortifications and old garrison buildings have been restored and converted into residential properties, studios and offices restaurants and museums. Tickets in our voucher books gave us free entry into some of these.
It started to rain, so decided to go back to Market square and explore the many other attractions in town. As the ferry docked at Market Square, the people waiting to board were back as far as you could see – heaps more than were on our ferry two hours earlier.
Market Square was crowded to capacity with the many eating halls unable to cope with the crowds. It was also raining and people were clambering to get under shelter. Stalls selling food, souvenirs and fresh berries of all kinds covered the massive square which was also the terminal for the many sightseeing ferries and boats departing to their respective destinations.
We had thought of picking up some Finnish delights at Market Square but opted to get away from the tourists and headed into a quieter area where we had lunch and waited for the rain to clear.
Next off to Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square. The all white cathedral is an icon and stands high above the town. Fifty steps up from Senate Square to the cathedral then the view over Senate Square and town was spectacular. The outside of building is stunning but inside it is quite bare except for the cathedral organ which was the only impressive part.
The city was a buzz with tourists and whilst it does not have an Old Town, many of the buildings were unique.
Uspenski Cathedral is another city landmark – a massive red building with stunning gold domes on each tower. Again set high on a hill with so many steps, we lost count.
The streets were lined with cafes and restaurants and a shopping area that was was specifically for the rich and famous – designer labels in every shopfront. Only customers we saw were Asian and they had several bags each.
We sat in an open air concert area where bands played for the diners in the several tree lined cafes. A truly very busy city centre.
We arrived back at Ziggy around 5pm thoroughly exhausted but on a high from such a great day.
Surprise, surprise – right beside Ziggy was another motorhome with Australian stickers all over it – first we had seen in over four and a half months. Phil and Mads were from the Northern Territory and had been travelling overseas over a period of 5 years – though they often leave their motorhome in Holland and head back home for a few months to catch up with kids and grandkids and friends and then head back here to resume their journey.
We sat on the dock of Helsinki bay and told stories for hours. So great to hear an Aussie voice again and we really enjoyed their company. They were heading north to Iceland in the morning and it was sad we could not spend more time as they had a wealth of experience to share with us.
Following morning, it was a beautiful sunny day and after breakfast we bid Phil and Mads goodbye and then sat and booked our passage to Estonia. We could not get on a ferry today without having to see the bank manager first and the earliest we could get a reasonably priced ticket was tomorrow departing at 3.15pm.
Today was a “time out – do nothing day” so after doing some chores – debugging Ziggy’s face from the millions of insects we had gathered over a few months, we grabbed our chairs and sat on the dock, in the sun, doing nothing but talking and enjoying the fabulous day and eventually having a beverage or two. There is a little cafe at the end of the dock and boats were coming and going all day, mooring and enjoying the sunshine on its deck.
Families parking and heading to the zoo and afterwards coming to the dock to feed the ducks and seagulls and fishermen trying their luck – didn’t see anything being caught.
A wonderful peaceful day and now batteries fully recharged (ours not Ziggy’s) looking forward to another new country with new customs, new food and drinks,new language and new adventures in Estonia from tomorrow – thankfully back to Euros again.