[This is Part 2 of my Nordic Adventures through Sweden and Finland. Part 1 can be found here.]
The flight from Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki, Finland took only an hour. I first stepped onto Finnish soil late in the evening and my Dad’s first host brother came to meet me with his son. I stayed with them in Helsinki for one night, and the next day we drove together into the city centre. We looked through many shops of well known Finnish design brands such as Marimekko and I bought a few small gifts for my host family and for my oldest host sister’s birthday, which would be on the day of my return to Germany.
‘Suomenlinna’ is a group of six islands belonging to the city of Helsinki and is a sea fortress built in 1748 by the Swedish Kingdom to protect against Russian expansion, while Finland still belonged to the Swedish Crown. Nowadays it’s a popular picnic and bathing destination during summer and even has a small population who live in residential housing on the island. Ferries frequently travel between Helsinki’s market square and Suomenlinna.
After a 20 minute ferry ride we found ourselves on the island and made our way to the beach. A wide stone plateau surrounds the coastline instead of sand, and grows warm in the sunlight. As in Sweden, the water was a perfect temperature for swimming even though it was late in the afternoon. We sat together and had a picnic on the rocks, eating fresh cherries bought from the Market Square and swimming in between. For dinner we ate at a pizza restaurant also located on the island. On our ferry ride back to the mainland, the view of the sunset was absolutely magical. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my first evening in Finland.
The next day I traveled onto Lohja, the town in which my Dad actually lived in during his 12 months abroad. Here I stayed with an old friend of his, whom he had met through his Finnish high school and has continued to keep in contact with over the years. She warmly welcomed me to stay with her and her two children in their apartment.
I visited my Dad’s third host mother on my first full day in Lohja. She still lives alone in the very same house that my Dad lived in. We went for a walk together to Lake Lohja and ate a delicious salad at a café on the shore. The weather continued to be just perfect, and I couldn’t have chosen a better time to travel north. It was so warm that we decided to walk home again and pick up our swimmers before returning to the water for a relaxing dip.
The very same evening I paid a visit to the Rotary Club of Lohjannummi who hosted my Dad throughout his exchange year. Their weekly meeting was held in a local Chinese restaurant within the town. They are also currently hosting another Australian Youth Exchange student who just happens to also come from Canberra and is sponsored by the same Rotary District as me. It was strange to see each other again on the other side of the world! I introduced myself during the meeting and explained my connection to the Club through my Dad’s Youth Exchange, and then presented the official banner of the Rotary Club of Tuggeranong to the Club and received the official Rotary Club of Lohjannummi banner in return.
Another school friend of my Dad’s picked me up at the conclusion of the meeting and took me for a drive around Lake Lohja. It took us a couple of hours to complete the entire loop, and we stopped at some significant sights along the way. The first was Svartå Manor, a countryside hotel and museum, consisting of five historical buildings and situated on beautiful park grounds. Here we witnessed a most marvellous sunset. Our second important stop was a visit to Paikkari Croft, the birthplace of Elias Lönnrot who is the author of Finland’s national epic, Kalevala. The wooden single-roomed house where he grew up still stands today.
My Dad’s second host parents, the Hernelahtis, picked me up from Lohja and took me to their home in Espoo, a city just outside of Helsinki, to stay for a few days. From their house it would only take us around half an hour to reach the city centre. They were both fantastic guides and took me to see many of the main attractions in Finland’s capital. On our first day of sightseeing we made our way to the Church on a Rock, or Temppeliaukio Church. This is a unique church which has been built out of solid rock and has excellent acoustics due to it’s stone walls. Skylights lining the walls allows sunlight to flood inside and give light to the canopy. Our next stop was the Sibelius Monument, an installation dedicated to Finland’s most famous classical composer who’s music played an important role in the formation of Finland’s national identity.
The rest of the day was spent strolling through the sunshine. We stopped at a sweet café by the water for coffee and ate Finnish “Pulla” a cinnamon pastry dessert, and then later ate a delicious salad at another café also on the harbour’s edge. On the way home we walked through Kaivopuisto, Helsinki’s oldest and largest park, where my Dad’s host mother had actually grown up.
On my final day in Espoo, we travelled once again to the market square to embark on a ferry cruise of the Helsinki Archipelago. The tour lasted for a couple of hours and was a fantastic way to admire some of the many small islands lying off the coast. During this particular day, the wind was especially strong which one could definitely notice while sitting on the top deck. The ferry had to alter its route as the winds would become even stronger away from the shelter of the archipelago. Apart from that though, the weather was once again absolutely perfect. That concluded my time with the Hernelahtis and I moved onto where I began, my Dad’s first host brother’s family to stay for my final two nights in Finland.
I visited the largest beach in Helsinki on my final day in Finland, and enjoyed a last dip in Scandinavian waters for the next little while. There was a beach soccer tournament being held during the day, which the Takala’s youngest son was participating in with his team. In the evening I went for a walk to Seurasaari Open Air Museum, my Dad’s host brother’s wife and the family dog. The outdoor museum is located on an island just a short walk away from their house. On exhibit are original historical buildings taken from all over Finland and have been placed together on the island. Visitors are then informed about the functions and typical architecture of the structures. We played fetch by the water with the family dog, and walked a circuit around the whole island, once again admiring a beautiful sunset.
My Nordic Adventures concluded with my return to Helsinki Airport and a flight back to Hamburg, Germany and a train back to my home in Flensburg.
I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to travel to Finland for a second time. Because of the wonderful people and their generous hospitality, I will always be leaving a piece of my heart in this beautiful country and I cannot wait to return. A big special thank you to my Father’s friends and host families who opened up their homes and gave up some of their time to show me around the towns and cities in which they live. I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon! Of course, not to forget the amazing Rotary Youth Exchange program which has made it possible for my father and I to live abroad and form these everlasting relationships.