07/17/2017 Varkaus Finland

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 🙂

Another crowded overnight spot???

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.

Heinola – our lunch time and overnight spot and yes some sun!!!

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. 

Helsinki Cathedral

The city was a buzz with tourists and whilst it does not have an Old Town, many of the buildings were unique. 

Krys taking in a bit of Finnish street culture

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.

Uspenski Cathedral

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. 

Finnish architecture


Finnish architecture

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.

Phil and Mads purpose built 4WD 450 litres diesel and 300 litres water

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.

Floating café/restaurant 40 metres from Ziggy
Our Helsinki view from our overnight spot at the Zoo

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.


07/12/2017 Inari Finland

Wednesday 12th July – Inari, Finland

Set the alarm again for 6am to try to beat the traffic.  A bright sunny day with just a few clouds about.

We had heard from a German couple at Nordkapp that the front gates and pay station are not manned between 1am and 8am and that if you arrive before 8am you can drive straight in – without payment.  They also said that no one checks your vehicles during the day.   We were not asked for tickets when we went in to see the film (worth seeing) nor did anyone come checking our dashboard for our ticket.

On the way down, about 5kms down, there is a parking spot which took quite a few motorhomes and this was full. We found several other spots within a 20-40 kms.  No doubt these travellers were all aware of the “come in before 8am scenario”.

First part of the journey of about 100kms was backtracking from the day before and then onto new territory.

We again saw Santa’s reindeer happily grazing in the hills and again on and close to the road.  They did not appear to be scared of people and cars but I guess that would have to be a requirement of Santa to become one of his team.  Hope to visit Santa at Santa Village in Finland over the next few days to put in orders and a letter for Setinne and Eli for Xmas.

He is a mean looking critter

Passed through the border into Finland without any hold up at all.  Straight through – no one to be seen anywhere.

Countryside in the north was a little disappointing.  We have been terribly spoiled for the last month in particular in Lofoten Islands and Nordkapp.  

Roads are much wider than Norway making travelling longer distances much easier.  Very marshy and muddy and after stopping at the border at an information board, where we were ravaged by mosquitos and marsh flies, decided not to stop anywhere some time soon until the terrain got a little drier. 

We travelled around 375kms today so called it a day at around 3pm.  The camping spot we found just outside Inari, was the best by far that we had seen, and no mosquitos.

Thursday 13th July – Santa’s Village, Rovaniemi, Finland

After two very long days, a well deserved sleep in was needed and we surfaced around 9.30 am and slowly headed off.

The countryside changed back to the most beautiful Xmas trees lined along the road forever.  Though driving through light rain most of the time, we made good time.  Found a Lidl and felt like I had found a long lost and much loved friend.  Hadn’t realised how expensive Norway was until we checked out the prices here.  Tomatoes were $6+ in Norway but in Lidl in Finland around $1.50 per kilo.  Only disappointment was that Lidl in Finland is not permitted to sell wine or spirits but had beer.  Alko is the only store that is licensed to sell wine and spirits.  Again much cheaper than Norway.

Again saw reindeer ambling on and near the roadside.  They seem to have no fear of cars.

Friendly little chaps

Arrived in Santa’s Village just after 5pm.  They provide free camping for motorhomes here.  Most things except some of the restaurants were closed so after a quick walk around to check out the lie of the land, headed back.  The car park is full of motorhomes so expect tomorrow morning will be busy.

Friday 14th July – Posio, Finland

The village is very unusual and seems a bit disjointed.  There is no entry cost in the village itself but 2kms down the road Santa Park costs around €17.50 per person entry but for this you do get some rides etc.

Not exactly oozing with Christmas spirit

The village is still under construction with lots not yet completed and what is there is mostly souvenir shops and restaurants and other shops that really have nothing to do with Santa.  It does however have the official North Pole Post Office for Santa in Finland and this is where we happily paid €7.50 to have a personalised letter and postcard from Santa sent to our grandkids Setinne and Eli scheduled to arrive for Xmas.

Santa’s official office and post office

Next we visited Santa in his house and sat with him for about 2 minutes and had photos taken.  Have to say he was the best Santa we have ever met and he speaks so many languages it is incredible.  Had a really enjoyable couple of minutes with him and then the elves led us back to front office where we could purchase photos A4 or 5 postcard size photos for €30 or a digital pack which includes all the photos plus the 2 minute video that you can download from the web for €40.  Ouch but given that we wanted to send these to our kids by email we went the digital option.  Only issue we have is that the photos are 11 mbs each so need some good internet to download them – not sure where we are going to find some!  Not sure about size of video?

Next we thought we would leave Santa’s Village and head to Santa Park to take some more photos of the snow cave with ice princess and elves but it began to bucket down with rain (surprise, surprise) so decided to move on.

It rained the whole of today making travel slow but the roads are excellent with very few towns along the way.  This part of Finland – Lapland hosts only a very small part of the population so traffic is light.  Very few motorhomes seem to be in this part of the country and there are also very few places provided to camp along the way. 

Another long day on the road.  Finally we found a rare camping spot set amongst beautiful pine trees and leading onto a large lake about 13 klm south of Posio.  Not a person in sight and nothing but nature around us (and the rain).

Our overnighter south of Posio

Had a fantastic and restful sleep (night before was extremely noisy with cars coming and going all night at Santa!s Village).

Saturday 15th July – Suomussalmi, Finland

Still finding it difficult to come to grips with the differences between the two countries.  Norway is brimming with motorhomes and tourists everywhere and the scenery is just magic.  Finland is quiet with very little traffic and tourists and the scenery so different with mostly lakes and trees and trees and trees and more trees.

We woke up to a bit of sunshine – lasted about an hour and then the drizzle started again.  Everyone we have met cannot believe how wet the summer has been not just here but in most of Central Europe. 

Broke up our trip today by visiting some of the small towns along the way.  We have not had a fine day in Finland so really missing having some exercise.   A little walking in drizzle has been the extent of it – not sure how long it has been since the bikes came off the bike rack but really itching to hit the road and get some of those muscles moving again.

We have again found a magic spot just outside of Suomussalmi .  It is right on a lake with beautiful parkland all round.  When we arrived, we discovered that this venue was hosting a free rock concert for the afternoon so we watched the cars pile in and then heard the bands start up just over the hill.   If you can’t beat them – join them, I say, so we put on our rain jackets and armed also with an umbrella, joined the small but wet crowds and listened to the bands.

Our overnight spot

Left after about an hour and walked into town.  The concert was still going strong when we got back but the security guards assured us they were finishing at 7pm. 

It is now peaceful and quiet at 9pm.  The sun has come out again for the second time today and there is blue sky everywhere.  Still can’t get used to full sunshine and light for 24 hours – think we are really looking forward to a little darkness for part of the day.

Sunday 16th July – Nurmes, Finland

Woke up to one of those absolutely perfect days.  Full sun, blue skies and not a cloud in sight and temp being a cool 16 degrees.

Straight after breakfast, took the bikes off the racks and headed to the bike trail only a few metres away.  The path took us through the forest along gravel paths which was a little hard going, particularly up hill.  I took the easy way out and used my power pack to get up the hills but Rob used his man power only.  Stopped to take some unbelievable camera shots of lakes we passed by.  So serene with no breeze at all, the lakes mirrored the tall trees and blue skies and colourful rock faces.   Came back the same way and then biked into town.

So good to be able to exercise again and thoroughly enjoyed the hour or so before heading off again.

Decided to make today a small drive and take advantage of the beautiful day at the other end so drove to Nurmes and again found a great spot on a quiet little marina just outside if town.

Our overnight spot at Nurmes – watching swimming – Finnish style

Straight onto the bikes again and headed around the lake and then to town.  Uphill all the way to town, but a good even track so decided to give the power pack a miss and push the muscles.  Very quiet in town as most places are closed on Sunday.  A joy coming back as it was pretty much downhill all the way.

The marina was very busy with cars coming and going all afternoon.  Fishing boats and pleasure craft out enjoying this rare day.  There was a small park and beach on the other side of the marina and families were enjoying picnics and some (very brave) people were actually swimming.

Took advantage of the sunlight and did some much needed washing as Rob gave Ziggy a much needed wash down.  All chores done and dusted, settled down to a couple of drinks and watched the sun go over the hill and listened to some music before bed (still light all night).