Today we headed a little further north eastwards to a town called Savonlinna. My trusty Lonely planet guide bills Savonlinna as ‘Finland’s prettiest town’, which ‘shimmers on a sunny day as the water ripples around it’s centre’. On first pass, we were left underwhelmed with this town. It seemed to have the usual large out of town stores and the outskirts looked fairly standard fare. We parked up, and went off to explore.
Savonlinna is set on two islands. We walked across a pedestrian bridge to the first island, and found ourselves by a pretty harbour, with a plethora of tourist boats touting tours around the town’s waterways. There was even an old paddle steamer, again used for tourist excursions. Next to the harbour was a market square, full of stalls selling all manner of things, from clothes to fruit and vegetables. We selected a cafe in the corner of the square for our morning coffee, quite desperate by now for a pee. We ordered two coffees and used the facilities. Everyone else sat on the veranda of this cafe was eating fish – little fried fish in batter, a little bit like whitebait, except larger, called Fried Muikku. They were served without the heads, but the technique seemed to be to suck the fish flesh from the bone, and then discard the skeleton. Not for me!
Refreshed, we headed off to explore the town, First we walked up to the cathedral. As yesterday, the line of war graves outside were beautifully kept, with statue of a kneeling soldier forming the backdrop.
We then walked back over the footbridge to the castle, Olavinlinna. This 15th Century castle sits on a rocky outcrop, and is quite stunning. It has a similar look to Bodium Castle in Kent, and is rated as one of the most spectacular castles in Northern Europe. It is famous for it’s month long Opera Festival in the summer months, but we couldn’t help but notice that posters all over town were advertising it as a venue for a bare-fist boxing contest, to be held this coming weekend. Outside the castle were two statues, one of a splendid looking goat, and another of three large rocks, which turned out to be a memorial to the Winter War of 1939, fought against the Soviets.
As we walked back to Oscar, we passed by the town’s beach, thronging with people, many of who were swimming in the water. We stopped for an ice-cream, and then headed back to the van. We were parked opposite a timber clad building, which originally I had thought was a tattoo parlour. It turns out that the ‘Taito Shop’ is actually a rather tasteful craft shop!
Tour of the town completed, we headed on to our campsite for the night. With time to spare, we opted to head half an hour further east, to a place called Punkaharju, remarkably close to the border with Russia. On first sight, the campsite looked awful, with a large waterpark near it’s gate. However, once down the drive, it turned out to be a place of utter serenity, situated by a lake, with pitches set amongst the pine trees.
All was going swimmingly well, until Howard challenged me to a game of table tennis. Sadly, the heat was too much for me, and the killer instinct in Howard kicked in. Despite a close fought match, Howard won 3:2. Foolish, I hear you say. Indeed! Not one of his finest moments, annihilating his wife at ping pong! The air has been frosty all evening! Howard, grovelingly cooked supper, and is being as nice as pie to me. The words of one of my friends is ringing in my ears, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’. So beware, Howard – I will get you back for this! No-one beats me at table tennis and gets away with it!!
As we sat outside eating our supper, the light on the lake was sublime. The trees on the opposite bank reflecting a bright orange glow from the setting sun. This part of Finland is truly beautiful – I am glad we have taken the time to explore this wilderness. Even the trees seem more interesting here – but perhaps that’s just my imagination!