Running around Helsinki

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It has to be said once more. Heinola Proved to be a great destination and getting there was in all honesty, such a tiresome affair that legitimately defined our trip as epic. We tend to be a little heartbroken to leave most places and that lake shore was no exception as we got on a bus to Helsinki to catch a ship to our next destination, Tallinn.

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As we would have about four hours before boarding our ship, we thought that we could take a small tour of the city, carrying all our stuff around, while crossing the Finnish capital eastwards and then go to the harbor to cruise the gulf of Finland. Carrying our baggage around proved a bit of a fuss, but we got to catch a glimpse of the city, still a better choice than sitting around the harbor.

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The one thing about these flash tours is that you must constantly keep an eye on the clock. The second is to set only a few sights as a visiting target. If something really grabs your attention along your hike, keep a loose attitude and pay a visit, but remember that you must abandon one of the things you originally intended to see (and always check the time).

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Our walk started at the bus station, where we got a coffee and the concluding point set on our route would be Uspenski Cathedral, situated on the island of Katajanokka, linked to the mainland by a small bridge, carrying the weight of numerous love locks. On our way there, we would pass outside the majestic Helsinki cathedral situated on the Senate square.

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Yet, our first unplanned pause during this walk would be one right next to the bus station, as I spotted a mall, the Forum, where I noticed a moomin shop and I told Catherine. Next thing I remember, I was standing outside a small heavily crowded moomin shop, waiting patiently while Catherine was looking at the various buying options laid before her. I engaged in people watching until she picked a nice green cup among some other stuff and off we went.

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Finding the senate square was an easy task and we made another small stop in order to get some gifts and take a look at the huge neoclassical building and the Russian czar’s statue that stands in front of it. Continuing our stroll further was more challenging of a task as the pavement was too cobblestoned for the little wheels of our luggage. However, we marched onward, reaching Uspenski Cathedral, an orthodox temple dedicated to the virgin Mary, a very beautiful temple by our standards.

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After reaching the end of our mini tour, it was time to go to the Western harbor, so, after a small rest, we began walking, continuing eye-feasting on the lovely place Helsinki is. On our way there, we noticed cafes full of people and even a concert of some sort held in a small park.

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We encountered a couple of monuments, whose importance we were unable to appreciate at the time, among them Johan Sederholm’s crypt and a charming tribute to Elias Lönnrot, the creator of the Finnish epic Kalevala. We also saw a wall composed of metallic plaques with various names engraved on them, not sure what that stood for.

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After reaching the harbor, we boarded our ship and set sail for Tallinn. Estonia is a beautiful country and we couldn’t wait to experience it, even though we had left a small piece of our hearts cooling in the waters of a lovely Finnish lake.

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Fascinating Heinolan lakeside

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We’ve always longed to visit Finnish lakeland and we finally got our chance last Summer. Heinola didn’t sound much even to locals, but it provided us with what we keep on searching everywhere, beauty and great experiences, since that’s all that matters in the long run. Heinäsaari camping, our lodging for that weekend proved a place equipped with great employees and campers, that provided us all the comfort we were so desperately in need of.

We arrived in Heinola after two tiresome days. Check them out here

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After two extremely tiresome days on the road, which saw us crossing all the way from Warsaw to Central Finland we were finally settled for the weekend to experience our share of Finnish countryside. Although we had no time to seek beautiful spots in the cities we encountered on our way, views from the bus promised that we would have a great time in Finland and our limited due to the past hour, sightings of the Camping we were to stay at, seemed to confirm that fact.

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Last evening on our way there we encountered some teenagers on a couple of ATV bikes and a few riding on the cargo area of a 4×4 and we though it was the funniest thing. It seemed as if we had landed on the setting of a dystopian movie or something. We would check to see what the city could offer us besides that though, before spending some time on the marvelous Heinäsaari camping, where we stayed.

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The city wasn’t much, but we discovered that an open air market was held at the main square and as I was looking for a book to buy, Catherine found a book of her own, a lovely Finnish one about the Mumins, hence we got it before heading to a bookstore, where I bought a copy of the Finnish epic Kalevala, an edition from 1942. We also listened the advice offered from the kind gentleman we met on our flight and purchased some things from the local supermarket (we were surprised to see gambling slot machines in there, we later found out that the profits fund good causes, yet I’m always reluctant when it comes to gambling).

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Having purchased some things, we returned to the small peninsula where our camping was located. The sun was high in the sky, brightening everything and we decided to do some exploration around the place before taking a short trip on a rowing boat.

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While walking through a small park, we faced this monument. We knew that Finland was an ally to Germany during WW2, yet I hadn’t expected to face such a thing. Still we understand that to the Finnish the Soviets were the worst of two evils and for good reason.

Heinäsaari camping proved such a great place. Situated on a small peninsula offered some great options for fun in the waters of the lake, while its proximity to Heinola was very convenient. The small cafe/tavern situated on the site enabled us to enjoy coffee and beer with a lakeview and the nearby kitchen was a great place to cook our meal.

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Furthermore, there was a mini golf course and quite a few visitors (most of them bringing their pets and Catherine was extremely glad to make the acquaintance of some American cocker spaniels) while the Nature all around us was majestic – even within the camping’s limits. We also saw some folks that seemed as if they jumped out of a 5o’s movie or something. A peculiar mixture of Rockabilly and Punk fans with lots of 5o’s fashion style. Even their cars seemed to be very well preserved models of the era and we were impressed with these folks that seemed as if they’d never broke character on this act.

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Even their cars were representing the era…I tell you these guys and galls were living it to the fullest degree possible…

 

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These galls spent lots and lots of time committing to their stylish preparations. They earned respect on our behalf.

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Camping Heinasaari proved a great place to experience a taste of Finland. We even liked its flag, which seemed as if it sprung up from one of Tolkien’s novels

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After this small exploration of the place, we rent our boat and oars and pushed our boat in the water. We had caught sight of some boats occasionally speeding, but we weren’t worried about anything and we had a fun ride on our boat. The lake was very calm and most of the time we couldn’t hear a thing, so it was as if we had become one with the surrounding scenery, even though we were not far from the city.

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After that it was time for a swim. Catherine was cold so I was on my own on this one, but it was great. The water wasn’t as cold as I expected, it was actually like swimming in the Mediterranean on a mid October’s day. I was so happy I wouldn’t get out, trying various swimming styles and when I decided to get out, I noticed a couple of ducks swimming by. That was it! I kept swimming following these beauties for a while before eventually leaving the water.

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After taking a shower, a storm broke out and we waited patiently in our cabin for it to pass, before returning to Heinola once more for a short walk. Upon our return we explored the area around the camping and hanged around the place for a while, before starting dinner. Our menu would include hot dogs, made with ingredients bought at the supermarket a few hours ago and it turned out to be a delicious choice. Time was passing slowly and we were delighted with that. No rush at all. Just what we needed after a couple of long and exhausting days on the road.

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With our appetite appeased and bellies filled, we headed to the mini golf course and Catherine kicked my ass quite easily. After three consecutive wins we decided enough is enough and walked outside the site to another beach nearby. A few people were swimming along with their dog and everyone seemed as happy as we were. I returned to that site alone later on as the sun was setting to get some shots and I encountered a couple that had the same idea and two girls listening to music and singing by the lakeside. You don’t really need much to have a great time if you have loved ones by your side (or if you leave them in the cabin in my case).

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The sun provided the scenery with some great coloring and I took advantage of it until darkness covered everything. Even then the place had a wild beauty though. I could see the lights of the camping site and I was within reach of it, but still I felt as if I was left alone in a wild forest. It got a bit chilly and it seemed as if I was acting on the set of a horror film. I remained alone in the darkness for a few minutes, listening to the lake waves and the tree-leaves before finally returning to our cabin.

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Isn’t it a joy to behold when duckies walk so proudly, yet as if they are also dead drunk at the same time?

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I didn’t expect to lose so heavily to Catherine on this one…

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Be Happy And Smile…Strange Finnish inscription

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A really long day… (second part of our epic journey to East Baltic)

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Although we were prepared that reaching the heart of Finnish lakeland  from Warsaw on a budget would be a tiresome endeavor, we were not truly able to face what finally happened on our effort to get there. Our original plans were to take a bus from Warsaw to Gdansk, where we would spend the night, fly to Turku and then take a bus to Helsinki and finally another bus to Heinola.

Check out the first days of our trip here

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So, we got a cheap (thank you Polski bus) four hour ride to Gdansk, which was tiresome, but as we arrived in the afternoon enabled us to experience a small taste of this delightful city, although our intentions were being shadowed by the cloud-filled grey sky, which seemed as if threatening us that as we were heading northwards, the bright summer days of the South would soon become a fading memory.

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After exiting the bus station, we faced a monument depicting five children of different ages standing on a platform, waiting for the train to leave. We instantly thought it was about the hardships inflicted on children during the ww2 era and it turned out we were spot on. It is about the effort to save Jewish children from the Nazis taken by the UK and there is a similar monument in London, commemorating the arrival of these Kids on the run to Britain.

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We saw some children from Syria holding their toys just like this statue did. They are never responsible for the conflicts caused but they are always the main victims. Their most treasured item can be a simple rugged doll and they hold on to it as if their whole world depends on it.

We walked towards the town center, where we found an open air market, part of some festivities taking place at the time and we enjoyed a relaxed stroll around benches loaded with various goods. We saw most of the city’s landmarks in a great haste as the sky was getting more threatening and we were carrying our luggage since we deemed it a big fuss to reach our hostel, situated next to the airport, half an hour away from the city and then return back to Gdansk. Hence, we got very few pics and if I thought I was on the run during my solo visit to Wroclaw, this time we really were making a run in a desperate attempt to capture some of the place’s beauty.

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The old arsenal was a great site, and the Green and golden gates were also beautiful. The city itself is pretty and the cloudy weather didn’t threaten Gdansk’s beauty, rather it revealed it under a different perspective. Still, the sky’s threats were not empty and raindrops began to warn us that we had better take cover if we didn’t wish our baggage to get wet. Consequently, we wisely decided to reach our hostel near the airport and we were lucky to reach the bus stop on time. The sky burst open and I am sure that if anyone was paying attention would hear the Meows and Woofs of cats and dogs falling from it. So, we settled in our hostel, thankfully dry enough and although the rain stopped, we decided to sleep, since our flight was scheduled to leave at 6.00 (or so we thought).

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In the morning we woke up and walked the conveniently short 200 meter long route from our hostel to Gdansk airport. We wandered around for a while and we checked in anxiously awaiting for our flight as we were eager to view a new place and Finland was a country we had very high hopes of. Suddenly, as we were impatiently checking the time, a soft voice announced: “Flight numbersomething to Turku will be delayed for an hour due to a minor technical problem”. Well, that was a major problem, since our plan to reach our destination included some pre-booked buses and they were a bargain compared to the prices offered by other companies in Finland.

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A delay meant that following up our schedule would be a perilous affair but after a while the same soft voice firmly announced that we would delay for another hour and our arrangements were blown away. At least the consequent third hour delay wasn’t affecting us anymore. We watched as technicians were checking an engine and the air company distributed some snacks, which would probably never be our first choice, even if we found ourselves on a shipwreck (I guess one could call this day a wreck though).

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Finally, our plane took off and we found ourselves in the company of a nice Finnish guy, who seemed as if recovering from a hungover. So, he ordered a beer to prevent that. I had heard that many Finnish folks leave the country for a brief visit to Estonia to enjoy alcohol, which is sold cheaper than Finland, but I wasn’t expecting that someone would fly to Poland from the same reason. Still, that guy proved a great company and even provided some info on Finland, which he described as a rather expensive land of unheard beauty. Luckily, we mostly witnessed the second aspect.

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Finally, we arrived at Turku and at the airport we were greeted by one of Catherine’s childhood fellows. A mumin. These are a children targeted show and series of books that Catherine enjoyed and that was probably the best experience she had all day so far. There was no time to waste on childish memories and fun though and we got on a bus to reach the local bus station and try to figure a way to reach Heinola.

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We were kind of hoping that we might be able to present our tickets, explain the situation and get on the next buses, provided seats were available. Our hopes were instantly disappeared though as a bus driver informed us that this was impossible and pointed us to the ticket office, which sadly wasn’t dealing with the budget company we had booked tickets. Stuck to our plans, we inquired the price of a ticket to Heinola through Helsinki, thinking that we might find accommodation at the Finish capital, in a worst case scenario. We were informed that these tickets would cost us a little over 100 euros though and that would be a big blow in our budget…

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…and then it hit me! Why on earth should we go to Helsinki in the first place? The only reason we picked this route was that the company we had booked our tickets with offered this as the shortest way to reach our destination due to their scheduled routes and timetables. I remembered that during our research the maps we saw mentioned Lahti as the city closest to Heinola. I asked the lady behind the counter and she confirmed that this was the best option at a cost of nearly 50 euros, half the price that is and a faster way to get there. The bus would leave in an hour and we would have to take another bus at Lahti to reach Heinola.

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Eager to get back on the road but relaxed as we had figured our way out of Turku we thought about having something to eat and we spotted a place where they would serve burgers, a Hesburger (a name which sounds a bit funny in Greek and doesn’t really makes you wanna eat) and before we knew it we were on a bus enjoying the Finish countryside. Finally, we reached Lahti and we tried to figure our way out of there while Catherine began to get a bit anxious.

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There are times when people simply exhibit how magnificent they are and that was the case at Lahti bus station on that day. Two girls appeared out of nowhere and noticed that Catherine was getting a bit worry, so as they were waiting for a bus on their own, they started talking to us, reassuring us that the bus would certainly come and they even kept our minds busy so as not to worry about anything. It seemed strange to them that we would visit Heinola. They were both working in a field dealing with taking care of people’s problems and quickly I realized they were actually exercising their craft to our benefit. One of them even went away for a while to free a trapped bird! Their kindness left us in awe and we only wish we could thank them enough for what they did. But that was not the only time people showed us their good side on that day.

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Finally we arrived at Heinola just before it got dark and we made a quick stop for a beer and a pizza. The city didn’t seem like much, but we had no intention of staying in it, since we were trying to get a small taste of a Finnish lake. So, after resting we walked to our destination, a camping site situated in a peninsula outside the city. We arrived when it got dark and thankfully the good people running the place were waiting for us, even though we hadn’t informed them of our mishaps. Furthermore, an Austrian family offered to show us to our cabin and around the place. During these long days we had failed to do any serious sightseeing and we lost lots and lots of precious traveling time, but we had earned the most valuable thing one can find on a journey, meeting great people. They are all around us and they are the world’s best attraction. We would gladly consider the trip to Finland successful taking into account the help offered by all these people even if we wouldn’t get to see anything else during this journey. But Finland was not gonna leave us like that. She had lots more to offer and a look out of our window in the morning offered us a small taste. 367.JPG

 

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