Monday, September 20, 2004

Summer 2004: Northern Exposure (1st part)

Once more we decided to spend our summer vacation's largest part 'up north'. This time we thought of visiting Finland, a country we thought would be cool in many ways (including of course the climate!). Most of our (Greek) friends keep asking us why not spend the whole time by the beach, in Greece. Well, a simple answer would be that we like to see new things and that we like to experience not only different places but different cultures as well.
So we tried to arrange an exchange with a Finnish family. We did find a suitable exchange partner that lived in the northern city of Oulu. 'Fine', we said, 'we'll have a chance to travel through the Finnish countryside and visit many cities along the way'. Searching for the best and cheapest flight (not an easy task as the Olympics were approaching and prices kept rising), we decided to fly Finnair. The first leg, to Zurich, Switzerland, was in a Swiss code-sharing flight, which meant that not even water was served for free...

Our first night in Helsinki gave us the opportunity to have a first walking tour of the city centre and enjoy some sights, as the Kaupatorri (market square), the churches Uspenski (orthodox) and Tuomiokirkko (lutheran). We met a friend and had dinner together and exchanged home and car keys with our Finnish exchange partners. Next day we continued our visit to Helsinki by visiting the Hietaniemi beach (the very fact of the existence of a Helsinki beach may come as a surprise to us Southerners, but it was a pretty nice beach, too) and the wonderful Tempeliaukio church, a modern church that is built inside a rock.
And there we were on our way to the city of Oulu. The roads were fine and the only unusual sign was the one warning drivers of ...reindeer/elk crossings! More on that later...

The first town we visited that is worth mentioning was Rauma: most of the (old) town buildings were made of wood, surprisingly left intact from fires through the years. Walking in the town streets seemed like a stroll in the past- towns from 'western' movies came to mind. (And we also found a nice pastry shop to sweeten our teeth).

Next was the town of Pori, at the time celebrating its world famous jazz festival. The weather was good, the music plenty, the streets crowded and the street food nice. Add some water and there you have it, a fine afternoon: certainly worth buying a couple of t-shirts to remember it. A wonderful sandy beach in the area was that of Yyteri, quite popular with the Finnish, and for a good reason.

Arriving late at night in the town of Vaasa, we spent the night there and left early in the morning continuing our way to Oulu. We had a brief stop for a light lunch in Kokkola and a 10-minute shopping stop at the Lidl supermarket of Raahe.

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