The summer weather in Finland wasn’t all that great this year, so when vacation time finally arrived, it took a bit of pondering to decide how to make the most of the gray weather. Luckily, visiting museums and driving aroung in a car aren’t too dependent on the weather, so off they took on a roadtrip with their handy Museum Cards eastward from Helsinki.
The first stop was in Porvoo at Cafe Rongo, which serves an unbelievably good all day breakfast. After filling up on delicious Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and scramble eggs on toast with avocado and crispy bacon joined by some fresh coffee, it was on to Kotka and the first museum of the trip, The Maritime Centre Vellamo, to see an exhibition about sailor tattoos and other maritime themes.
A couple hours later, another cup of coffee was in order, and the Cupcake Cafe in Hamina was just the place for a quick sweet snack before heading onwards to the east. The next destination was only a few miles from the Russian border, the Bunker Museum in Virolahti. The mainly outdoor exhibition presents an interesting part of Finnish World War II history, displaying the hard work carried out to fortify the Finnish border by constructing the Salpa Line which was meant to be an impassable obstacle should Russia decide to invade. Luckily, this line of defense was in the end never needed.
Since there was no intention of crossing over to the Russian side, it was time to turn north and head towards Lappeenranta. The weather didn’t show any signs of improvement, but luckily the marketplace grills in the Lappeenranta harbor were open and serving the local delicacies, atoms and hydrogens, meaning meat pies filled with a boiled egg and ham.
The Lappeenranta art museum in the Fortress area seemed like a good place to spend some time out of the rain. The temporary exhibition presenting the works of two Finnish sculptors from Kotka, Irma Laukkanen and Markku Hirvelä, turned out to be remarkably interesting.
After a short walk around the Fortress area in the rain, a little warmth and something tasty were desperately needed, and with something like a hundred different sorts of tea to choose from and a wide selection of tempting cakes to choose from, Majurska was the perfect spot. Nothing warms one up better than a nice hot cup of tea and an enticing piece of apple pie.
The following morning started with a hearty hotel breakfast the local Sokos hotel. Then on towards the north, stopping by at the Saimaa canal to see some of the locks that enable ships to pass between Lake Saimaa and the Gulf of Finland.
The canal at least had some water, unlike the next stop, the Imatra rapids, which didn’t offer much to see. Apparently, the rapids are not a continuously operating sight…
The rapids were a bit of a disappointment, but the next stop was definitely not a letdown. The Parikkala sculpture park, which has been described as the weirdest place in Finland as well as being listed as one of the most terrifying places on the planet, is really worth a visit. The ITE-artist Veijo Rönkkönen responsible for the hundreds of more or less creepy statues must have a very interesting person…
Then on to Savonlinna, the final destination of the day. Since the sun was actually shining, a cruise around the city seemed a good idea and a great way to see the Olavinlinna castle where opera fans from around the world flock each July to visit the famous Savonlinna Opera Festival.
A dinner of taste fried vendace at Kalastajankoju (“fisherman’s shack”) on the edge of the market square was followed by some nice refreshing microbrewery beers at the brewery restaurant Huvila and finally a stop at the Sillansuu pub. As always in Finnish summer, you can never trust the weather to stay as it is. The sunshine was followed soon by pouring rain which luckily paused long enough to offer a chance to view a stormy sunset.
Since the tourist season in Finland had officially come to an end already at the end of the previous week (the first week of August), a place to spend the night was not so easy to find in this smallish town. In the end, the travellers opted for a cheap and not-so-comfortable cabin aboard the Lake Star cruise boat that had offered the tour around town earlier that day.
The night wasn’t all that refreshing, but at least breakfast was nearby. One can simply not visit Savonlinna without eating a lörtsy, described by Wikipedia as a “half-moon shaped pastry originally invented in Savonlinna, eastern Finland. It can be made with a variety of fillings; the most common ones are either a savoury meat filling or a sweet apple filling.” Sweet lörtsys and hot cups of coffee from Sirkan Torikahvio got the day off to a fine start.
It was time to start heading back home, so off to the west towards Mikkeli. The weather took a turn for the worse, so time to visit another art museum. The guide at the Mikkeli Art Museum turned out to be somewhat of an art enthusiast, all of a sudden starting an impromptu lecture on Finnish 19th and 20th century art in the Martti Airio collection. Interesting, but slightly intimidating.
A heavenly lunch of fried zander and black trumper risotto at Vilee made the stop in Mikkeli completely worth it. Then on to visit at the Ollinmäki winery, one of the first wineries in Finland producing surprisingly good wines and ciders from Finnish berries and apples.
The last stop of the trip was made at Verla, a board mill chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the unique preservation of the mill and all its equipment just as it was on the last day of operation in 1964. A really interesting place to visit, but unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the buildings. You’ll just have to go see it yourself!
Three days, 5 museums, 8 towns and about 1000 kilometers. Not a bad way to spend part of a summer vacation, and there’s still plenty left to see in Finland for years to come!