Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Travels - 2017: Finland

While teaching in Jyväskylä, I posted a few Facebook notes that I’d like to keep [slightly revised] here…

Just got back from Finnish Summer Eve at Varjola, a lovely forested place by a lake where we enjoyed sausages, chatted for hours, and savored the Finnish tradition of broiling in a smoke-scented sauna before leaping into the ice-cold lake - repeating back and forth, back and forth.

Many thanks to Risto Korkia-Aho for bringing me a huge sprig of birch branches for exfoliation and adding a charming scent to the moist furnace of the sauna. Special thanks also to Chuck Stevens for sharing a memorable cigar and conversation with me! Coming back, an extra treat: being serenaded by our Argentine students’ seemingly endless (but undoubtedly charming) repertoire of chants and songs.

First Weekend

After reviewing the great recommendations offered by my pals here in Finland, I decided to rent a car and head east toward Punkaharju and Savonlinna: lots of winding birch tree-lined roads, red farmhouses, and tranquil lakes.

At night I stayed at a former primary school turned into an apartment complex. It seems that the village didn't have enough kids to support the school. But the apartments are quite lovely. It's especially nice that I had an entire wing to myself - and a sauna they let me use for free. How nice to feel the cool evening air coming through an open window.

The next day was easily one of the nicest driving days I can recall. I savored lovely roads bisecting clean blue lakes, fields of yellow flowers, and plenty of time to reflect on how lucky I feel to enjoy this beautiful country. A special treat was the chance to rediscover my love of stick-shift driving, particularly around those winding roads.

Later on, I visited Kuopio market square and enjoyed cruising the curvy roads past red cabins and butter flowers and sparkling lakes. 

Second Weekend

There was something about the light last night, a sharpness and clarity that lasted just a few minutes, a brevity that summoned rare contemplation. The shadows stretched long and the sky seemed to pulsate. The lakes dappled with silver when clouds passed overhead. Pink streaks glowed across the horizon. As I drove toward the midnight sunset, a truck filled with cow manure raced by, dripping hot splotches onto the road; a kid hopped with delight in the passenger seat. Constellations of mosquitos danced in patches while fellows worked their combines in the fields. I went to bed in the gloaming that lasted another hour. Today I am drawn southwest and the tiny towns that dot the coast. I have no idea where I’ll sleep tonight.

One Last Trip

Woke up to the happy sound of Finnish kids playing in the rain. Proctored final exams, said goodbye to my classes, and celebrated JAMK summer school graduation. Then hit the road for a few hours of solo driving, After racing north with Midnight Oil as my copilot, I'm home for the night! The rain broke hours ago, and the sun is slowly setting amid a wash of silver and purple clouds. I'm sleepy but delighted. Tomorrow I'm heading for Tornio to photograph an orthodox church that's remarkable for its tiny size. Then it's further north to Rovaniemi, a city that - for the life of me - I still can't seem to pronounce properly. On the lookout for moose, reindeer, and Santa.

After visiting Rovaniemi: So, I've got the whole house to myself, but not the whole country. Turns out the nearest sauna is part of the house but accessible only through an external door. So I tossed on my "action pants" (don't ask) and a t-shirt and made my way to wood-paneled steamy oblivion, pouring water onto rocks to send paroxysms of steam into my lungs. About a half-hour later, wrapping up with a chilly shower, I said to myself, "Hey, I'm alone in Finland, surrounded by dandelion-covered fields and verdant forests. I don't need clothes to walk back!" So I started to open the door when my better judgment reminded me, "Wear a towel. Just in case." I'm glad I did because no more than ten steps later, I heard Pekka's cheery voice: "Was sauna good?" Well, let's put it this way. The sauna was almost a little too good, actually! Tomorrow begins the next leg of the journey, joining Jenny in Tel Aviv. I'll reflect more on this experience later but, suffice to say, I love this Finland and will be thrilled to return one day!

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