Another reindeer on the barbie

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Europe » Finland » South Karelia » Lappeenranta
August 17th 2007
Published: August 23rd 2007
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Finland, the land of a thousand lakes (at least) and forest. This was our second time there and this time round we went in summer. We flew Finnair from Heathrow and discovered they are affiliated with BA which meant long check in line and one lost suitcase on our arrival to Helsinki. Never had that happen before so it was with a sinking feeling we resigned ourselves to life without clothing and clutching our complimentary Finnair toiletries bags made our way to Budget. Another line awaited us there with pushy tourists and by 5pm we had finally got our hire car.
With an estimated 4 hour drive we were keen to get going. Nick had no problems as usual with the right hand driving and there were barely any cars on the road which helps.
Without a map we found the way and endless forest was the scenery. Elk signs every few kms suggested a forest full of them but we never ended up seeing one.
I had eaten quite a lot on the plane but was still hungry so we stopped for some dinner at a roadhouse. Nick had some unknown meat dish and I had the buffet which was just a weird Finn assortment of milk (they love it), salad, mashed potato and unknown meat substances.
Our drive took us through the towns of Lahti, Mikkeli and finally to Savonlinna. At Savonlinna we then had to admit without a map we needed help so called Tiia. The Tistelgren family cabin is near the town of Enonkoski and across a short ferry so quite deep in the forest. It was almost dark by 10pm when we arrived.
A cute red cabin was the main abode and a smaller green sauna cabin. It was great to see Tiia and Jarkko again and we all sat down to a meal of reindeer, mashed potato and a mushroom dish using some forest mushrooms. It was delicious.
Jarkko had stoked the sauna already so Nick and I went first being the guests. It was a little more pleasant than last time we did it in the middle of winter. Nick jumped in the lake inbetween but I just cooled in the vestibule and did not sauna too long anyway. It is the way of bathing though while at the cabin as there is no other bathing facilities. Luckily though this cabin had an indoor toilet.
Tiia and Jarkko went in after us and did not come out till 1am apparently! Nick and I were already sound asleep. What a sleep it was! Total silence is such bliss. Jarkko said he heard some howling in the forest whether a wolf or just a fox we don't know.
No one got up too early on sunday. It was around probably 11am when we sat down for breakfast. Finnish breakfast is much like elsewhere in Europe, consists of meat, cheese, bread, yoghurt. Its very agreeable. They also like milk whether its sour milk or other fermented yoghurt products. We tried them (reluctantly) and decided Tiia could have the yoghurt the consistency was much ahhh like snot. On a trip to India Jarkko had not got sick at all so we think that the amount of good bacteria in all these dairy products protects the stomach from third world bugs.
After breakfast we ventured 50 kms back to Savonlinna to look around. Unfortunately a lot of stuff was closed either to it being a sunday or already closed for the approaching autumn. Weird because the weather was so nice and warm. We had a look at the Savonlinna castle and then found somewhere open to eat. The food selection was interesting with a bit of a seafood twist. I had pasta while Nick had some sort of pork dish. Jarkko had beer, he loves it! Beer and sausage is the way to a Finnish man.
After lunch the boys were going to go on a cruise of the lakes but I of course was not keen (me and boats don't mix at the best of times) so we just had icecream and drove back into the forest for a hike. Lucky we skipped the cruise as the hike took up the rest of the afternoon and early evening. It does not get dark till late which is nice. We hiked into a reserve and the forest was just so nice. Blueberries and ligonberries grew wild everywhere. The forest was birch and pine and we saw a woodpecker tapping away.
The lake apparently contains Saimaa seals and looked beautiful in the sunlight. At a campsite we stopped and I had thought Jarkko joking but he did have sausages in our backpack and proceeded to chop wood to build a fire to cook them. Finns must learn how to make a fire at an early age and birch wood burns well. In no time we were eating sizzling cheese kransky sausages spread with mustard. My stomach could only take one so Jarkko's eyes lit up in glee at having my second one. He barbequed a second packet as well!
Eventually we waddled onto the track again and continued our hike up a hill and through the now darkening forest back to the car. That night even Jarkko did not have dinner. And surprise the suitcase was at the cabin waiting for us!
The sauna was stoked again to rid us of any ticks or moosefly although we didn't see hardly any bugs mosquitoes included. Another solid night sleep and again a late rising in the morning.
Ahhh monday morning and all were happy of the thought of no work. This morning Nick and I took the rowboat out on the lake and did a spot of fishing. We had a few big worms but only one nibble and no fish. But that was not the point, it was very relaxing.
After fishing Jarkko got Nick interested in trying out the 4 wheeler. So with me on the back we sped around the forest reminding us of being on the motorbike at the Wilson farm. There were wild raspberries and red currants and also along the road wild strawberries.
Now it was time for Jarkko and Tiia to demonstrate one of their favourite ways of barbequeing. They had a round tin and put almost a whole salmon in it to smoke it.
It took some time and we sat around talking and admiring the lake. A squirrel decided to almost fall out of a tree which was amusing. Tiia had boiled up some small potatoes which we had with the salmon. It was cooked to perfection. We ate it with some sauce similar to tartare sauce with pickle in it. Yum. My appetite was back.
To burn off lunch we wandered up the hill to the other property Jarkko's dad bought, the 'farm' he was born in. It needed some reno work. We found some raspberries and strawberries to nibble on and went to walk up another hill to get a view of the area. However just the time we didn't bring jackets or mosquitoe nets we encountered moosefly! These horrible creatures have six legs but wings and crawl onto you thinking you are a moose and crawl through your hair. Yuk. That shortened our walk and we took a short cut up the hill to have a look at view. On the way back down we found some elk footprints so followed its easier track down.
Finally the night approaching it was time to pack up our stuff and head 'home' to Lappeenranta. It was a few hours away by the time we stopped to look at a wooden Finnish church. The road took us to Imatra and very close to the Russian border. So close in fact you could see the border posts with cameras on top. Imatra was where we had gone last time to the other Tistelgren cabin, a more rustic one so not so good in the winter.
Tiia and Jarkko have just recently bought their own house and renovated it. It was cosy and built for a cold winter. The sauna is the central fixture downstairs with a large oven fireplace attached to help warm the house in winter. Upstairs was three bedrooms, kitchen, lounge, dining room. Nick and I slept downstairs in their home cinema room. How impressive. They had a projector and large screen complete with red velvet curtains and huge selection of DVDs.
Since it was late we just had breakfast for dinner. As in meat, cheese, bread... and of course followed by a sauna. It was Jarkko's birthday so they stayed up a bit later and he got a present some DVD's.
In the morning Nick tried out the projector and we watched two episodes of Macgyver which was funny. After breakfast we packed up and all drove into Lappeenranta for a spot of shopping. Jarkko and Nick did not like this. But Tiia and I did. I love Scandinavian homewares. In the first shop I went nuts and spent 40 euros. Our next house will look rather Scandinavian!
Jarkko soon put a stop to shopping and since it was getting past lunch we went down to the harbour to sample a traditional Karelian pastie. Bread soaked in oil (hmm), ham, egg, pickles, onion, sauce. It was actually quite tasty but I think the bread could of been not soaked in oil and still nice. Unfortunately it was time for us to leave and head back to Helsinki for our flight. We said our reluctant goodbyes and we hope next time they can visit us in Australia.
It took about two or so hours to get back to the airport and we were right on time to return the car. We had a snack and some time to look at souvenirs and food. We flew a Swedish budget airline Blue 1 back to Stansted and the journey home from Stansted took as long as the flight. Back in London the weather was horrible. It was dark, low cloud, rain, wind... very winterlike. The Immo guy commented on our visas soon running out and what were we going to do. I said 'uhh go home'. He said just in time for the warm weather. Exactly. Who wants to live in London anymore! What sort of a summer do you call this? My thoughts if I had a EU passport I would go live in a cabin in Finland!!

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