Sunday, August 11
We tested out the sauna in the house. It was fine as these things go. Toasty. The whole set-up was pretty good with the sauna room beside the shower room and a little view from the tiny window of the sauna to the trees outside. I felt like a Finn getting back in touch with nature except that I had to leave once the temperature hit 80 degrees. The rest of the family pronounced the sauna experience tolerable also and we did do it a couple of times but maybe you have to be born to it to really appreciate the sauna experience.
Mr. Waffle and I took a stroll down to the Baltic where we met a mother and son who were swimming away. “Is it cold?” I asked. “Not if you swim every day,” said the mother. “Do you even swim in winter?” I asked. “No, not when it’s frozen,” she said. Fine, right, ok, good point. Apparently there was no snow last winter and it meant that the surface of the ice on the water was so smooth that you could skate from the inlet right out to the open sea and play ice hockey all winter long.
We went and had a look at the local church which reminded me a bit of some of the churches we saw in Denmark last year. A nice woman inside told us that the village where we were staying (Rymättylä – very rural) used to be a stop on the route from Stockholm to St. Petersburg and monied travellers paid for the church. Very nice too with an appealing graveyard as well.
We went into Turku for mass that evening. It was in English. The catholic population of Finland is small and mostly migrant although, I noticed that the celebrant seemed to be Finnish. Apparently all of Finland is one diocese so catholicism is a bit of a minority sport. This led to a long mass which always seems to be the way when catholics are a minority.
We had wandered around Turku before mass and been a bit underwhelmed. It was drizzly and cold and everything was closed. We decided to go for pizza after mass and found a pizzeria which closed at 7 – it was then 6.55. Why, why would you close your pizzeria at 7? A nice random Finnish man took pity on us and directed us towards a local pizza chain. It was the most depressing experience. The place was horrible and the pizza was dear and bad. I ordered the pizza Berlusconi with reindeer meat. It was developed in response to Berlusconi’s comments about Finnish food. If you ask me, it’s not exactly a riposte.
We shook the dust of Turku from our feet and went home. We had the comfort of beautiful views as we made our way back to our island home.
Monday August 12
Inspired by the hardy Finns, we went swimming in the Baltic. Poor Michael found it just too cold and Daniel slid in very slowly from rocks on the edge of the water but it was quite enjoyable and we got to have a sauna afterwards like real Finns.
Scarred by our trip to Turku we decided to have a mild outing to Naantali about 20 minutes away. It’s a seaside town where the Finnish president has his holiday home. And seriously, why wouldn’t he? It was the most charming little place and I was utterly entranced. Sadly, herself was feeling a bit tired and stayed back at the house and although Mr. Waffle and the boys tried to enter into my enthusiasm, I could tell that their hearts weren’t in it. I loved every aspect of it, from the marina to the cute wooden house lined streets, the adorable shops sellling (holy mother of God expensive) tourist tat and the lovely church.
After the wild excitements of Naantali we had a quiet evening at home playing some of the many board games Michael had brought along with a steely determination to spend time with his family playing them.
Tuesday, August 13
We all took a morning dip in the Baltic. I can recommend this.
We had considered going to Turku that afternoon but I was still a bit scarred after our Sunday experience so we went back to Naantali instead. It was still charming but, I have to concede, it is small and I am not sure that its charms really warranted a second day. Herself was charmed though and we did get inside the church and the local museum.
Some of the churches had little miniature ships hanging from the ceiling. On inquiry as to why, I was told that there is a lot of fishing in Finland. I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced.
I always have a soft spot for a local museum and this one was appealing in a mild way as it was an old house done up as it would have been 100 years ago. The exhibition of wallpaper through the ages was hard going though, even for me.
For dinner that evening, Mr. Waffle succeeded in making Yorkshire pudding and it would be fair to say that this was something of a highlight for the boys.
Wednesday, August 14
We had a quiet day at home as I put some serious effort in trying to get through a mountain of back issues of the London Review of Books which had been piling up in the hall for a good six months due to pressure of other business. I took them all on holidays and swore they would not come home. I’m not sure that they are designed to be read in quite this way but never mind.
We had a swim in the Baltic and later herself and myself went to look at a local junk shop. It was surrounded by houses getting rid of things (Kirppis – in case you need to know). The kind of stuff that sits in attics for years. But the cost! When I saw the IKEA festive biscuit tin on sale for €7, I knew that there would be absolutely nothing I would consider buying. Herself invested heavily in copy of Jaana 1975 which featured a story on the new Miss World who was previously Miss Finland at ludicrous expense. The vendor was able to tell us about Miss Finland’s grandchildren so she’s clearly still a big figure locally.
I said to herself that we might as well have a look at the church since it was nearby and she observed, “Oh I see, it’s like the trains at the station, one train can conceal another.” Anyhow, she was spared as the church was closed.
Myself and Mr. Waffle went for a walk leaving the children to their own devices which was quite pleasant for all parties.
Thursday, August 15
I couldn’t help pointing out to the children that in Italy this is Ferragosto, the height of the summer holidays but in Finland the children were back to school and the countryside felt quite autumnal. This insight was greeted with indifference and we went for a last swim before packing up and heading for Helsinki.
On our way to Helsinki, we stopped in Turku for a couple of hours. Oh regret. Although Turku on Sunday night had been utterly miserable, we had sadly misjudged it. It was lovely; we walked along the riverbank. We had a really good lunch in the centre and there was loads to see. I wished fervently we had gone back earlier.
We all went on a compulsory trip to the cathedral.
There was a thing signed by Mannerheim. I cannot believe I had never heard of Mannerheim before visiting Finland. I feel very ignorant. He’s big in Finland.
After this, we split forces. Herself was really keen to go to the modern art museum and the rest of us wanted to go to the castle (ok, the boys didn’t want to but they definitely wanted to more than they wanted to go to the modern art museum). I felt a bit daring setting her off to find the museum using Google maps on my phone but Mr. Waffle pointed out that she had been around Paris on her own and she was probably alright in a small university city in Finland. Fine. She was fine. We went to the castle of which I have no pictures (did it even happen then?) as herself had my phone. Mr. Waffle took a couple but it’s just not the same. We galloped around the castle a bit as Mr. Waffle began to worry that we would be late for my friend in Helsinki. “She’s known me all my life,” I reassured him, “she will expect me to be late.” He was not comforted.
We collected herself from the museum where she had a great time after some initial difficulties gaining entry due to not fitting readily into any of their categories of visitors (too old for a child; no card for a student; too young for an adult and unaccompanied by a family). Herself announced that she lay awake in bed last night wondering who was in charge in Algeria and that this is the kind of thing she had been suffering from since the loss of her phone. What to say. We sped on to Helsinki. I texted my friend that we might be late. She was delightfully unconcerned. I noticed that St Petersburg was signposted which was a bit weird but not for the Finns, I suppose.
We arrived safely in Helsinki and our hosts were ready for us with dinner and lots of beds which were both very welcome. One of them gave up a bed for us which was particularly virtuous but he and his father were leaving for Dublin in the morning so they assured us their sacrifice would be short-lived. It was noble all the same.
Part 3 detailing our Helsinki stay is coming. Stay tuned for further Finnish excitement.