Our wildcamping spot turned out to be a great success. We got a good night’s sleep, it was quiet and was only half a kilometre from Finland’s second oldest town: Porvoo. We therefore had a head start on the coach parties and as we arrived in the town at 9.30am we initially had the place to ourselves.
Porvoo dates back to the 14th century and in its time it has been ruled by the Swedes and then the Russians. Swedish is still an official language in Finland and the signposts, in this part of Finland, are in both languages, with English and Russian thrown in for good measure on some signs.
Our first visit was to the Lutheran Cathedral, parts of which date from the 14th century. It’s dour wooden interior, dominantly painted grey, made a strong contrast with all the Orthodox and Roman Catholic cathedrals we have been visiting so far this trip. A helpful guide told me that it was originally a Roman Catholic cathedral but was converted at the time of the Reformation. Apparently it always catered to both Swedish and Finnish speakers. Swedish was the language of the the town dwellers and Finnish for those living in the country.
We then spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the cobbled streets amongst the overwhelmingly wooden houses, painted an array of pastel hues. The town was subject to a devastating fire in the 18th century, which destroyed three quarters of the buildings, but there are still some standing from before that date.
At the end of our visit Sarah gave herself a fright by going to do some food shopping in a small supermarket in the town centre. She returned, pulling items from her bag and saying “do you know how much this was”! Finland is an expensive country, but I think the shock is greater having spent the last four months in the cheapest European countries. I suspect careful analysis would show that prices, other than for alcohol, which we are not buying here, are not too much higher than the UK. But time will tell.
After Porvoo we set off north up the beautifully maintained motorway. It was immediately apparent that for the first time this trip there were a large number of Russian vehicles on the road. This part of Finland is as close to St. Petersburg as it is to Helsinki. The motorway has a high fence on both sides, which appears to be continuous and presumably minimises the number of deer and elk on the road, the second of which, as I have mentioned before, is a serious threat to unwary motorists, with a male weighing up to 700kg and being up to 2 metres tall.
Because we were wildcamping we were looking for places to empty our cassette. I had read from other blogs that ABC petrol stations had disposal points, but an investigation of two yielded nothing.
The rest areas on the motorway are very good and well off the carriageway. We pulled into one for lunch and found that it had long drop toilets. Since we use no chemicals they are a guilt free place to make a disposal.
After lunch we completed our journey to Lappeenranta. The non-motorway roads are littered with warnings about moose. Every time we see one Sarah and I yell “moooooose” in a childish and exaggerated fashion. I’m sure this in joke will soon wear thin and in any case we should be yelling “ellllllkkkk”, since that is the English word for the European variant. As soon as I start talking about Elk it reminds me of another Monty Python sketch, where the name of an expert on dinosaurs is called Miss Anne Elk …… but that’s another story.
All the road verges, both motorway and two lane, are lined with the most spectacular displays of lupins you will every see. Miles and miles of them. In Latvia and Estonia there were a few, but they were all the same violet colour. In Finland they are everywhere in huge swathes, with purples, pinks and creams and all shades in between.
Lappeenranta is the start of Finland’s lakeland, which is a strange description, because most of Finland is full of lakes. However, apparently this particular patch of lakes especially appeals to the Finn’s psyche. Before we got to the town I pulled off to tour a section of quiet lake hoping to find a wildcamping spot. My database, in fact all the databases, for Finland are very thin on information. I was disappointed to find that all the good locations were taken up with private houses. How thoughtless of them. What about us motorhomers!
We went into Lappanranta and found, on the lakeside, a car park with a number of motorhomes. We pulled in and Sarah immediately liked it. I felt uncomfortable. Partly because there was a sign with a picture of a caravan, saying no parking between 2200 and 0700 and partly because it was just very very busy, since the car park was next to where the world’s biggest sandcastle is being built, more about which tomorrow. In the end Sarah agreed to move on and just a few hundred metres further, in a quiet spot next to the lake, there was a big empty car park, with no restrictions (61.066836, 28.177888). In fact there is a sign indicating parking for caravans and it says in Finnish “parking for tourist vehicles”. I think we are safe here.