We had a great night at our wildcamping spot in Punkaharju National Park. When we had had dinner we went down and sat on the beach looking over the mirror flat lake as the sun sank lower in the sky. It was beautiful.
Because we were not on tarmac Basil was not exactly sitting level. I like to sleep with my head higher than my feet so for the first time this trip I slept back to front in bed. Sarah doesn’t seem to mind and remained unmoved.
This morning we decided to go to Savonlinna, which is dubbed by Lonely Planet as “Finland’s prettiest town”. I can knock that piece of LP misinformation on the head right away. It isn’t. Porvoo is much prettier! Savonlinna is a perfectly nice modern looking town very pleasantly located on a series of three islands strategically located in the middle of Finland’s largest and Europe’s fourth largest lake, Lake Saimma.
Lake Saimma is enormous – 1,700 square miles and with 10,000 miles of coastline and 14,000 islands. It was formed when land rose after the last ice age cutting it off from the Baltic. As a result it is also home to a rare fresh water seal called the Saimma Ringed Seal, which was cut off from the main sea dwelling Ringed Seal population at the same time. I was totally unaware that there were such things as fresh water seals, but apparently there are about 300 of these seals and their numbers are at long last increasing.
As a result of Savonlinna’s position it is like an inland genteel seaside town. Nice areas to walk next to the lake, Lake Cruises and plenty of restaurants. There is also one historical site, the very impressive castle, which dates from the 15th century and is dramatically situated on a nearby island.
Sarah, the dogs and I wandered about for half and hour or so, through yet another craft and food market and then Sarah took a liking to a lake cruise. They allowed dogs and so off we went for an hour long cruise, sitting on the upper deck in the lovely summer sunshine. It was a pleasant enough diversion. We certainly got a good view of the castle and numerous forested islands, but the Saimma Ringed Seals evaded us.
We went under one bridge, above which is being constructed a new high level road bridge. Fascinatingly the enormous scaffolding being used was all made from wood. From a distance it looked like a huge old fashioned roller coaster. I presume Finland has and enormous supply of cheap wood and so this type of scaffolding makes sense, but it looked incongruous in modern day Europe.
Savonlinna confirmed the impression we have already gained that the Finns love their dogs. We seem to have seen more dogs out and about in Finland than in any other country on our trip. As I have previously mentioned the dogs were made very welcome on the cruise, with a water bowl being brought for them and we also noticed several restaurants explicitly stating that dogs were welcome. It’s nice to see.
We had a quick lunch, including, a rare treat, a pudding. In the food market we bought a speciality of Savonlinna: a huge thin desert covered in caster sugar. It turned out to be a sort of very thin doughnut with an apple filling. As a rule we avoid sweet things like the plague because we are both constantly trying to keep weight off, which is particularly difficult when we are travelling. The low alcohol diet that the Scandinavian taxes have forced on us will help in this effort!
After lunch a quick shop at LIDL was called for and then we stopped at another ABC petrol station to empty and refill Basil. This time there was a charge of €1 which is fair enough since we are taking 100 litres of water! These refill points are really first rate; much better than 90% of campsites we have come across and it makes wildcamping so much easier.
We finally pottered northwards to Kerimaki, which we will explore tomorrow. We simply drove into this small town and immediately spotted a huge gravel car park (61.907934, 29.286825) situated on the same enormous Lake Saimma, sandwiched between a beach and a small marina. It’s another great wildcamping spot, although at the moment the whole town seems to be using a communal washing area at the marina to wash their rugs. Cars keep coming and going while their owners get out and proceed to scrub their rugs and hang them all over the marina to dry. Given that it never goes dark at the moment, this could go on for some time.
At the beach the hardy Finns, adults and children alike, are making the most of the fantastic weather and paddling and swimming in the icy water.
Finland has surprised us. I at least thought it would be flat boring and monotonous, but certainly with the great weather we are currently enjoying, it is a beautiful country. I think it is the lakes that have really made it for me. They are, as I keep saying, enormous and with the summer sun they are constantly changing, in particular in the afternoon and evening as the sun takes hours to slowly sink below the horizon.