Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Summer 2004: Northern Exposure (2nd part)
When we arrived to our destination (Oulu), we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice house with a large garden waiting for us. It even had a sauna, which would be, in the days to come, an amazing experience and a source of pleasure for us! Rather different from the landscape of Athens, we were surrounded by equally pretty houses and a forest. The city centre was a 20 minutes ride by car and our first afternoon and evening in Oulu were spent to orienteer and familiarize ourselves with the city. In the next days Oulu proved to be, rather unexpectedly, a quite pleasurable place. It has a picturesque harbour with a small market and some renovated cafes and restaurants in wooden (former) warehouses. We also visited the small islands of the port (Hietasaari, Pikisaari) and even found (again...) some sandy beaches (Nallikari).
A good thing about the North in the summer is that it doesn't get dark until it gets very late. So we had many-many hours of sunlight to do things.
But, as we were so close to the Arctic Circle we were tempted to cross this virtual border: a two hour drive away was the city of Rovaniemi, rather famous in Greece in recent years for being 'the home of Santa Claus'. So we visited Santa's village (took some pictures in Santa's post office, where we left some letters for friends and nephews to be delivered just before Christmas) and an interesting museum, called Arktikum, devoted to the culture and nature of Lappland.
One more interesting experience in Rovaniemi: we had reindeer meat for lunch. Not bad... (A funny incident: we were served beer -in bottles- that it had expired. When we told that to the waitress she was very polite in apologizing and quick to add: 'if you feel sick after you've left, please let us know!...)
On our way to Rovaniemi we even crossed an actual (not that one can really tell the difference between this and a virtual one) border, the one between Finland and Sweden (the cities of Tornio and Haparanda are next to each other).
Next day was devoted once again to the beauties of Oulu: the parks, the little islands and the nice outdoor restaurants. And we used the bikes our hosts had left for us to wander around on the special street zones that were devoted to pedestrians and bicyclists.
And then came the day of ...the animals: we visited a nice zoo in the city of Ranua (the most interesting moments were the sight of the polar bear and that of two little brown bears playing in a pool). What's more, on our way to the zoo we encountered reindeers roaming freely on the road! Maria was driving at the time and she got rather upset...
The time had come for us to start our return to the south of the country. We crossed the wonderful area of the lakes, so full of green and water. The city of Kuopio is worth mentioning. We definitely plan to return some time to the area and spend more time there.