On our last weekend in Imatra Susanna and Miika wanted to take us to nature. Finland is famous for its unspoiled forests and lakes. There are many great hiking paths in the national parks but also almost everywhere in the thousands of forests of this country. There are nice resting places by the hiking routes, which are usually very well taken care of. Normally the firewood and an outhouse is provided by the communities.
We went to Rautjärvi and visited Hiitolanjoki, which is a small river that runs from Finland to Russia. There was a place to make a fire and also a comfy lean-to shelter. It would be possible to spend a night in this kind of place, but this time we didn´t. Miika made a fire. Hiitolanjoki was a peaceful river in the copuntryside. We listened to the silence of the forest and the river.
Susanna and Miika had made us a packed dinner. We had sandwiches and we boiled the tea on the fire as well as finnish sausages. To be honest, finnish sausage is nothing like german! However we had a nice time and all food is always good when you eat outside!
On sunday there was a farewell party for us! Everbody was invited.
We danced for hours!
There was great music and two mermaids were singing. Some people say that it´s very dangerous to hear the mermaids sing, but these two girls were lovely and kind.
But now it´s time for us to go back home. We have enjoyed our visit here in Imatra, and apparently so have our hosts. "Bye bye, we will miss you a lot!" they said, when we waved goodbyes. We hope to get to visit Finland some time again. We would love to see Helsinki - the capital of Finland and maybe even Lapland!
Imatra is located right beside the Russian border. The border is only 8 kilometres away from our hosts´ house. Susanna and Miika took us to see the border crossing. It is a bit shame that we don´t have our visas that would allow us to go over and visit Svetogorsk. Over 1 million people go across the border every year right here.
Imatra is a simple and an ordinary Finnish little town. There is not much to see, but still a lot of russian tourist visit Imatra every day. That makes this small town survive a lot better than many other similar towns in the East of Finland. Russian tourists love to shop in Finland. They buy a lot of clothes, groceries and electronics.
Also many finnish people visit Russia. Many citizens of Imatra and the nearby villages drive to Svetogorsk to buy especially gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol, which are a lot cheaper in Russia than in Finland.
Imatra was russian tourists´ favourite place already a long time ago. The River Vuoksi and Imatrankoski Rapids were a major attractions already in the 1800´s. The most beautiful builging in this town is Valtionhotelli. It looks like a castle from the Alps rather than a Finnish hotel. It was built in 1903 and became popular amongst the wealthy people of St. Petersburg. At that time Finland was still a part of Russia.
During the World War I this castle-like hotel became a hospital for the wounded soldiers. Finland became independent in 1917 and was separated from Russia. That made the toursim fade here. But after the World War II this building turned into a hotel again and it was restaurated carefully in the 1980´s. Now it is a successful hotel, restaurant and a spa.
Tourism however is not the most important business in Imatra. This town has been living from paper industry for ages. We went to see the paper mill of Stora Enso. It was built in the 1930´s and it still is the biggest employer in Imatra. In this factory they produce paper and carton 24 hours a day. And you sure can smell it!
The River Vuoksi runs through Imatra and it´s rapids are the oldest tourist sight in Finland. We wanted to get to know the river very well. So we bought a yellow boat from an old fisherman. "What about the oars and an outboard motor?" asked Paul. But the fisherman said: "I left them back in the 1980´s. You won´t be needing them." (He had also left his hair in the 80´s... what a strange little guy!)
We walked down the river banks only to find out that the rapids were dry! There wasn´t any water at all!
Then I noticed the great dam. "Look Paul, they have harnessed the rapids in order to make some electricity." The rapids get to run freely only in summer time, but only once a day for 15 minutes at a time. It is Imatra´s biggest tourist attraction. They play music like Finlandia Hymn from the speakers as the water roars through the dam.
We understood that we needed to go to the other side of the dam if we want to sail our boat.
Finally! Vuoksi doesn´t freeze in the winter. Even on a very cold weather, when it´s -30 degrees celsius, the river stays open. "So long, we´ll be back at dinner time!"
But then a terrible thing happened. The river was running too fast and the waves were too big! The old yellow boat from the 80' s didn´t do so well at all and it started to sink! "Help! We are drowning! Somebody call 112!"
Luckily the rescuers were quite close. They came full speed and pulled us out of the freezing water.
Miss Paramedic was very beautiful. She told us that we should be more careful: "The water is only 4 degrees celsius. You were lucky that we were so near." I was so worried about Paul, but Miss Paramedic told me that Paul is going to be fine.
In the evening we returned to doll house and warmed up by the fireplace. We enjoyed some hot tea and delicious chocolate cake. "Well, Paul, what do you think about todays adventure?" I asked. "It was the best, Hans! The very best!"
Last weekend we met Susanna´s relatives. One of them was a 9-year-old girl, Saga. With her help we buildt a bed for the quest room of the doll house.
Now we can sleep in the blue room, which is a bit more suitable for us than the pink bed room! It is a good place to relax. I sipped some drink and ate a lot of finnish chocolate while Paul was writing our blog with the lap top. But then we started to long for some real adventure! This room is comfy, but we need more excitement!
We decided to dig a snow cave on the front yard! Susanna and Saga helped us in digging. As the night came we chose to stay in the cave. We made a nice fire and took turns on guarding it. It was quite a cold night but we survived just fine in our warm sleeping bags.
The next day we went for a long walk on the ice of the Lake Saimaa. The weather was great - sun was shining beautifully. We also visited the church of Ruokolahti. Ruokolahti is a small village next to Imatra.
Saimaa is the largest lake in Finland. Its water is clean and clear and therefore Saimaa is the only home of Saimaa ringed seals. This seal is one of the most endangered seals in the world and in Saimaa there is only about 200 seals. We didn´t see any of them.
On the way back to our hosts we went to see another church also. This is the Church of Thee Crosses, a modern church designed by Alvar Aalto and built in 1950s. Aalto was a famous finnish architect.
When you are visiting Finland you just can´t avoid the sauna. Finnish people love sauna, but even more they love to take foreigners to sauna. Susanna and Miika has a cute little sauna building. We had to carry some water in the buckets and also fire wood. Then we warmed up the sauna stove.
Sauna is a warm... well, a terribly hot place where people wash themselves. We took off our clothes and went in bravely.
It was very nice. Susanna and Miika told us that the best saunas are the ones that are located on a lake shore. Then you can hop into the cooling water after sauna. Even in wintertime!
It is Easter and it´s time to paint some eggs. This time we are not painting a real egg, although it looks real. This egg is filled with nougat and is manufactured by a finnish sweet factory Fazer. These Mignon Eggs have been a part of finnish Easter traditions for over 100 years. But what is interesting to know is that the original idea of filling real eggshells with nougat came from Germany! In 1896 Mr Karl Fazer was travelling in Germany and found this kind of eggs. He copied the idea and started to manufacture the same eggs in his factory.
Susanna has grown some grass for easter and we helped her to decorate it. She told us about a nice tradition of children dressing up as witches. Then they would knock on peoples doors and give them some decorated willow branches. In return the people would give the children easter eggs or other sweets. But sadly that witching day was one week ago. We would have loved to dress up and go for begging candies too.
Our hostess Susanna started to put some really weird brown stuff in a bowl. It looked like mud! Then she poured some cream all over it. We asked: "What is that awful-looking mud? Why do you put in in a bowl? Are you going to eat it?" Then she said: "Yes, I am. And so are you!"
This is MÄMMI. It is a very traditional finnish food for easter and is been eaten for hundreds of years. It is made of rye flour and malt. It looks terrible but tastes real good. At least some people think so. We love it now and so do Susanna and Miika.
We wish you all a very happy easter! See you next week again!
We had a good, nourishing breakfast in the doll house. The lady of the house was serving us. This is what they call "karjalainen vieraanvaraisuus". It means karelian hospitality. Imatra is located in a part of Finland that is named Karelia. People here are extremely talkative and friendly. If you visit karelian people´s home, they always put a load of food in front of you.
After breakfast Susanna made us help her at work. She runs her own business and her workshop is at home. We had to sew some cleaning rags and actually Hans became quite a marvellous seamstress. This job was a bit boring and we were anxious to go outside and enjoy the snow.
Luckily we didn´t have to work all day. Our hosts were kind enough to make us skis! We were thrilled to be able to try and ski in the front yard.
Although Finland is a great nation of winter sports, this time the winner was Germany! Good for us!
But that was all of our free time of today. Later our host Miika took us to his work. He is a paramedic and works in an ambulance. They gave us uniforms and then we all waited for something to happen. We are going to spend the whole night at emergency duty.
The paramedics wanted us to learn CPR so that we could help the patients. So we needed to practise a lot. Tonight we are going to do extremely important job!
It´s going to be a busy night. We will save some human lives! The rescuers are coming! Piipaa-piipaa-piipaa!
We arrived at Imatra. It is smallish town in the east of Finland, very near to russian border. We are staying at the home of a nice couple. Their names are Susanna and Miika. They live in an old house, that used to be a railway station. So the railway tracks go right next to the house. Spring hasn´t come to Imatra yet, and there is a lot of snow. Maybe we can play some winter sports here.
We brought some souvenirs to our hosts. Here are some postcard of our home town and some delicious candies. Susanna and Miika were suprised and happy to get such nice souvenirs. We also have our own sleeping bags with us.
In Susanna´s and Miika´s house there live also a king and a queen with their court. They were excited to meet us. "Hertzlich willkommen!" said the king. "Ach, sprechen Sie Deutch?" we asked hime. But no, he didn´t speak any more German. He had only learned to welcome us in a warm way.
Because it was a long journey to Finland, we were quite tired. They showed our room in a doll´s house. The room looks a bit too romantic, but the bed is soft and extremely comfortable. So we won´t be needing our sleeping bags here. We took a little nap and rested a little. Later we will go sightseeing and get to know about Susanna´s and Miika´s work.