October 8, 2014

In the footsteps of Finnish artists: an unforgettable trip to Eastern Finland - Part 1

Finn Kamilla Billiers decided to spend her holiday in Finland instead of travelling abroad. Her destination was Eastern Finland, an area renowned for its rugged landscapes. She let some of the most famous Finnish artists guide her on her journey. The trip was a journey into the heart of Finnish culture. 

This is part 1 of the 3 part post.

Kamilla enjoying the evening sun.

While he was staying in Italy in the late 19th century, author Juhani Aho wrote about his longing for his native Finland, especially its majestic trees and lake landscapes.

Indeed, the desire to travel to Eastern Finland, to see the deep blue lakes and pine trees reaching for the sky from the summits of the many hills, is nothing new. In addition to Aho, composer Jean Sibelius, painter Eero Järnefelt, and photographer I.K. Inha all spent time in the area about a century ago. You can still see the breathtaking views from the Koli hill toward Lake Pielinen in your mind’s eye when you listen to the music of Sibelius, for example.

So, I put on some music by Sibelius and set off on my summer trip to Eastern Finland. When I arrived in Joensuu, I bought a Karelian pasty with butter and wandered around the town, soaking up the atmosphere of North Karelia. Someone was playing the kantele nearby.

I stopped by the North Karelian Provincial Museum and was told that I had just missed a guided tour led by a singing lady in a traditional Karelian costume. Elias Lönnrot passed through these parts when he was collecting material for the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic.

I found a bed at the nearest hostel, the Scouts’ Youth Hostel. I hired a creaky old bicycle and made my way to the Linnunlahti arboretum. However, the exotic trees there did not satisfy my yearning for quintessential Finnish landscapes, and I decided to go to the nearby beach, set against a backdrop of comfortingly familiar, solid Finnish pine trees. The water in Lake Pyhäselkä was lovely and warm.

As I watched cumulus clouds sail across the blue sky, I found myself humming Jukka Kuoppamäki’s ‘Sininen ja valkoinen’, as much of a cliché as that may seem. Well, I am not the first visitor to have found inspiration there over the years. I went back to the hostel and ended up admiring the impressively well-organised recycling system: there were separate, large bins for each type of waste, all clearly labelled in three languages.

The next morning, I woke up to a sunny day. I had morning coffee in a green patio area and chatted with one of the other guests, a middle-aged librarian, about Finland’s mediaeval stone churches. After breakfast, I was back on my trusty bike to visit the Noljakanmäki Natura area and the nature reserve on the estuary of the Höytiäinen canal. The bird-watching tower on the Höytiäinen estuary was voted the best in Finland in 2002, and it offers a commanding view over the lush landscape.

pitkospuut metsässä
On the way to the bird-watching tower.

I tried in vain to capture all the different shades of green with my camera. Inha did not have this problem – he was taking black-and-white pictures and could concentrate on the sweeping landscape itself. At least my pocket camera does fit in my pocket, whereas Inha needed three assistants to help with his equipment. When I was leaving, something flew past me, letting out a screech and disappearing from view before I got a good look at it. I think I might have seen a curlew, but I am not sure.


Next Kamilla travelled to Koli National Park

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