Well, as I’m at home today, I might as well continue with my posts. My idea of the blog was that I would write about our travels, as well as our everyday life in Brussels / Puerto Rico (hopefully, if/when we get the visas). Very often when we come back from a trip, I get bored of writing about it to all my friends and family, so this way I don’t have to repeat myself.
May is full of long weekends, at least if you live in Europe, so both last year and this year I made sure that we had travels lined up to take advantage (il faut profiter as the French would say!) of the days off.
Last year we went to Ireland for the 1st May-weekend to visit Irish friends in Dublin and Limerick, and I then made it to Copenhagen to see the newly-born baby boy of one of my best friends, and for Ascension I went to the South of France for a wedding (the happy couple just had a baby girl this week!).
This year we managed to go to Finland, to visit my boyfriend’s younger brother J-I who has been an Erasmus student in Vasa for the past year, as well as London last week.
I can really recommend going to Finland, it might not be the first choice for a holiday destination but I really liked it, even though it snowed and was pretty cold for May. We rented a car and drove south from Vasa, stopping early in the morning in Närpes, which Annika in Virginia had recommended to me. Närpes has more than 150 church stables, small wooden huts scattered around the medieval church. Very pretty! It was also interesting to visit the grave yard, it was almost like being in Sweden – almost all the graves had Swedish names.
Church stables in Närpes, Finland
It might not be known by everyone that Finland has two official languages, Finnish & Swedish, and the coast is quite predominantly Swedish-speaking. The language issue was mostly something I thought of, as my fellow travellers, two Spaniards only had one language to communicate in – English of course. But for me, it was very confusing, should I try to speak Swedish to the Finns I met or English? Almost all my Finnish friends prefer speaking English so I didn’t want to seem like I was imposing Swedish on people, but at the same time it would feel ridiculous to speak English IF people spoke Swedish! I decided to ask very politely which language people preferred to speak, and I think the result was more or less 50-50.
Life raft sign in Vasa – in Finnish and Swedish
In Turku we were surprised by two things: vegetables and fruit were cheaper in the market than in the supermarket, in Brussels it’s the other way around! I’m a bit ashamed to say that I have no idea how it is in Sweden, my parents sometimes go to the market on the square in my home town, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you if it’s cheaper! The other thing was that it was so easy to find gluten free food products! I have been trying to keep a gluten free diet for a few months now, which is not too easy in Brussels, but in Turku we even found a gluten free stall in the covered market.
We visited the castle in Turku and spent more than two hours in the museum, learning about the history of the town and the castle. It was quite fascinating to learn that the castle was initially situated on an island/half island (I can’t remember now) (in 1280 when built) but because the land in Finland is rising, the castle is nowadays surrounded by land and not water! (this is also the case of Old Vasa, Vanha Vaasa, which used to be by a harbour, and other towns we visited along the coast)
Turku / Åbo castle, Finland
The next day we drove to Tampere / Tammerfors, Finland’s 2nd city, where the high-light was the Moomin museum! My boyfriend had no idea what I was talking about and why I was so excited, his brother knew of them and had even seen a few tv-programmes, so the two of us really enjoyed the museum! I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have more moomin “merchandise” in the museum shop, but I guess it’s good that it was not more commercial! I was reading a book by the Moomin author, Tove Jansson (A Winter Book, Selected stories by Tove Jansson, you can find it on Amazon) while we were in Finland. I like reading local authors when I travel and this is a very nice, cosy book (for adults), perfect with a cup of tea!
A moomin balloon in Vasa
O was happy in the end with the visit to Tampere as he ran into an old Erasmus friend that he had not seen for 8 or 9 years since they were Erasmus students in the Netherlands. I think that the poor guy was in shock to be stopped in the street by “a blast from the past” like that, but once he got over the first surprise he seemed very pleased.
The cathedral in Tampere is also very nice to visit, I don’t usually like visiting churches as they all seem to look more or less the same to me, but this one has some beautiful paintings! And one of them I was sure that I had seen before, and it turned out that the Wounded angel by Hugo Simberg, was first a real painting (i.e in a frame) and then the artist painted it on the church wall. It is a beautiful picture of a wounded angel being carried by two boys, and I wonder if it was not shown in Brussels, in an exhibition on Finnish art (in 2002), which I visited.
On our way back to Vasa, it started snowing! The next day, our host needed to study so we left him at home and drove north along the coast. It was quite a busy road but only one lane in each direction. At one point, the on-coming cars flashed us, my boyfriend wondered why and I said that “Oh, in Sweden that means that the police is up ahead“… luckily I said that because yes, the police was doing speed checks, and fortunately the Spanish driver had slowed down…
We visited Kokkola / Karleby, which has a beautiful area called Neristan (actually Down town in English) of old, wooden houses. As I come from the south of Sweden, I’m not so used to seeing old, wooden buildings, our houses are mostly built of brick or stone. We decided to return to Vasa from Karleby but taking the scenic route by the coast (as suggested by my bible, the Lonely Planet!!). It was a really nice choice, and we ended up in Jakobstad, which is 55% Swedish-speaking so I didn’t hesitate to speak Swedish, not even in the local kebab place! It must be difficult for immigrants to settle in a bi-lingual town, do they have to learn two new, very distinct languages? That is very impressive, if they manage to learn both Swedish AND Finnish (which is supposed to be very difficult to learn!).
Close to Vasa, there is an island called Replot, which is supposed to be really nice in the summer when you can go cycling around the island. Well, we drove around and it did look really beautiful and peaceful. My boyfriend said that he had never driven until the end of the road – i.e where the land ends!? I was impressed with all the so-called free churches we saw, in Karleby and Jakobstad, but even on Replot we saw lots of different kinds of evangelical (?) churches, hosted in wooden houses.
We had a great time in Finland and it was nice to finally see the last neighbouring country to Sweden (I visited Denmark for the first time in 1976, Norway in 2006 and now Finland in 2007). It is definitely different from Sweden, as well as similar and well worth a visit!