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Traveling north for Christmas

Posted: 2012-12-17 02:14:02, Categories: Travel, Finland, Norway, Germany, Sweden, 376 words (permalink)

Our season's greetings card: Northern lights in Sarek. I'm traveling with Sandra to Northern Norway for the last two weeks of the year to join a gathering of other likeminded people. It will surely be a different Christmas than we've ever had before - non-commercial and without rush. We will celebrate the winter solstice with the sun remaining under the horizon all the day. The moon, stars and northern lights will be visible if we're lucky.

We wish all of you a merry end of the year, in whatever way you're celebrating it, and let the new year 2013 be full of happiness! The photo in our season's greetings card is from our summer and autumn trip to Finland and Sweden. We were hiking in the the Sarek national park in Swedish Lapland and set up our tent next to a small river in the wilderness, far away from trails and huts. Around half past ten in the evening the sky was illuminated by this beautiful arc of green light.

We spent also several weeks visiting family and friends in Finland. Mushroom and berry season was great so we ate plenty of chantarelles, blueberries and lingonberries, and also filled quite a few jars with them. At my father's summer cottage we spent a week renovating the sauna as a 65 year birthday surprise for him. We also had time to read a few books, but somehow didn't manage to update the blog. :-)

In the beginning of October we returned to Germany, in time for Sandra's best friend's wedding. October is usually a good time for outdoor activities in southern Germany and this year was no exception, many sunny days with blue sky. When not being outside we worked on a few more things in our flat and tried our best to get bureaucracy stuff done. It takes an amazingly long time after selling a business before bills and other letters from various directions finally stop coming.

During winter and/or spring 2013 we're planning a trip to South-East Asia, particularly to visit Sandra's father who is living in Thailand already since more than five years. But before that we'll see how we'll manage the cold above the polar circle. At least it's not only a camp - there should be some kind of heated building and maybe even a sauna.

Sandra and me on the Pallas fells. During the first week of July Sandra and I did a one week hike in the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. We enjoyed peaceful, broad views while walking on the higher fells and beautiful mysterious looking trees on the lower peaks. Valleys in between were lush and full of flowers, but well defended by the Finnish air force: clouds of mosquitoes.

The Hetta-Pallas trail is the oldest marked hiking trail in Finland and therefore easy to access by public transport. A night train from Helsinki carried us to Rovaniemi, from where we continued by bus to Hetta. A local shopkeeper was already waiting to take us over the Ounasjärvi lake to the point where the trail started.

On the first evening we had a short walk through forest to the Pyhäkero wilderness hut. To our surprise there was nobody else so we had the whole place for just the two of us. We cooked rice and vegetables for dinner and watched how the late evening sun was casting a warm orange glow on the buildings and trees. Then we laid out our sleeping bags and were looking forwards to a quiet night after a long day of traveling.

Bzzzt. Whack. Bzzzzzzt. There weren't a large number of mosquitoes around but enough to make it difficult to sleep. We were not sure if they were coming through the chimney, narrow holes around the door or somewhere else. Nevertheless, every time we thought we'd got rid of them a few more appeared. A lesson learned for the following nights: cook in the huts but set up the tent outside to have a good rest. An alternative would be to carry a mosquito net and use it inside the huts.

After Pyhäkero the trail climbed above the treeline and a light wind kept most of the insects away. It was cloudy but we saw dozens of kilometers in every direction over the fells, forests and lakes in the mostly uninhabited land. The most common sound was "beep", which a bird called kapustarinta (in Finnish) was singing while sharing the trail with us.

Hannukero is almost exactly half way on the 55 km trail from Hetta to Pallas and therefore the most popular place to stop. It was almost like a small village with several buildings, including both a free and reservation hut (pay in advance to get a key) with two rooms each, toilets, wood storage, fire places and even a sauna. The place looked like being designed for a hundred hikers but this time there were less than ten. The sauna was great, first time for both of us to enjoy a sauna in the middle of a hike. We stayed awake long enough to see the midnight sun before going to sleep — this time in our tent.

In early morning we first thought it was raining. That seemed odd because the sun was shining at the same time. A quick look outside solved the puzzle: the sound wasn't coming from the rain drops but instead hundreds of mosquitoes flying back and forth between the inner and outer tent. However, they didn't get inside so we quickly got used to the sound and it didn't bother us any more.

The section between Hannukuru and Pallas nature center went over the highest fells of the region, rising to about 800 m of altitude. The scenery showed its best when approaching Taivaskero, the highest point. The peak itself was too large and flat to have a great view towards any direction.

The popular part of the trail ended at the Pallas hotel and nature center. Popular in this case meant that we saw perhaps 50 people in total during three days. Summer was clearly not high season: most visitors come either in early autumn, or in late March or April which are the best months for cross country skiing.

We continued hiking still further towards Ylläs which is at the southern end of the park. The trail became smaller, more forested and less traveled: we met only two other hikers in three days. There were less open views but many interesting small details: gorgeous old spruces and twisted birches, wild orchids and cute, cozy wilderness huts waiting for the occasional wanderer. Our favourite was the "porokämppä" Mustavaara hut, which also reindeer herders are still using. Quite many birches were broken at a height of 1-1.5 meters and it seemed to have happened fairly recently. We were wondering if it was due to unusual snow conditions last winter or some other weather phenomena.

The air force became stronger during the Pallas-Ylläs part of the trail. Sun brought horseflies out and shades were well populated with mosquitoes. A cap with mosquito net, clothes and a bit of repellent kept most of them away but always a few found their way through. I didn't mind too much but it was difficult for Sandra whose skin was reacting more strongly on the bites than mine. In a way we were lucky of not having any midges, tiny flies whose bites are more painful than regular mosquito stings. However, the sheer number of mosquitoes made it impossible to sit outdoors and enjoy relaxing breaks except in places with enough wind.

We decided to end our hike at Äkässaivo lake about 15 km north of Ylläs. My aunt Pirkko came to pick us up and we enjoyed sauna at her home in Kolari, 40 km further south. It was actually already second time this year we visited her: we had been also cross country skiing in the Ylläs area just before Easter. After one and a half days and several delicious meals cooked by her we took a train back south to sunny, hot Helsinki.

Moving to Memmingen

Posted: 2010-06-26 14:56:59, Categories: Travel, Finland, Germany, 337 words (permalink)

The center of Memmingen photographed from the St. Martin church tower. At the end of July I will be moving to Memmingen, Germany to live together with my girlfriend Sandra. I'm planning to stay there until the end of the year and after that we'll see what to do.

Memmingen is a town of about 40000 inhabitants in Bavaria, Southern Germany. It's the smallest place where I've lived this far in my life - all the others were cities with at least a few hundred thousand inhabitants. The closest big city is Munich about 100 km to the east. The Alps in the south are only about 60 km away which is great for hiking.

More important change than the location is that this will be the first time for me to live together with a partner. I've shared rooms and apartments with other students during my student years, but this is of course different. We've been meeting each other for more than a year now but I'm curious to see how the relationship will change when we'll be living under the same roof.

Renting out my apartment in Helsinki was surprisingly easy. I posted an announcement on a web forum and one hour later an old friend of mine answered that he needs temporary housing for his small family because their apartment will have pipe renovation. That's a good deal for both of us: I can leave most of my stuff inside and they can move into an apartment which is already furnished and has all kitchenware + other stuff needed for daily living in place.

I've been discussing with my employer about possibilities of working remotely from Germany. At the time of writing this it's still unsure whether it'll work out but I'm not too worried about it. Whatever the end result will be I'm sure it'll have more good than bad sides in it.

I will probably write more about my life in Memmingen in the autumn. However, before that I will have summer holidays, including a sailing trip, Rainbow Gathering in Finland, hiking and some cycling as well.

Winter camping in Helsinki archipelago

Posted: 2010-02-27 10:18:30, Categories: Travel, Finland, Helsinki, 557 words (permalink)

Tent in the snow on Käärmeluodot. We've had a beautiful winter in Helsinki this year. Lots of snow everywhere, trees covered in frost, icicles hanging from buildings, ski tracks on the frozen sea leading to nearby islands. The photo on the right is from a weekend camping trip and I compiled a Winter 2010 in Helsinki photo gallery.

The ground got covered by snow already in December and temperature has stayed below zero continously for two months now. In the city snow tends to get dirty but almost every week we've seen new, fresh, lightweight snowflakes falling down and making everything white again. Some people are complaining it's already too much but I think it has been an amazing winter.

Streets are lined with snow walls and some parking places have been converted to more than two meter high piles of snow. Cycling to work has been tricky and required extra time on some mornings, but usually by afternoon also the main bikeways have been cleared already. Smaller streets have seen snow tractors less regularly, but overall the city street maintenance has done a good job. Perhaps a little surprisingly, railways have had the biggest difficulties to cope with the snow: many trains have been cancelled and others have been late.

Sandra was here for one week and brought also her skis so we could go cross-country skiing together. We packed our backpacks full of warm clothes and food and headed out on the sea. After crossing Laajalahti bay from Munkkiniemi to Lauttasaari we continued about one kilometer further south to Käärmeluodot, a group of three small uninhabited islands which belong to the city of Helsinki. There's no regular ferry route even in the summer so the islands are only accessible by canoe or small boat. Camping is allowed.

I had actually never been on Käärmeluodot, but I knew from the outdoor map that there would be some basic facilities. Two of the islands had a cooking shelter and one of them was in use also during winter time, with free firewood provided by the city. A couple of other skiers were having a break and there was even a fire ready when we arrived.

However, it didn't take long until we were alone — only 5 km from city center and 1 km from densely populated Lauttasaari — but far away from city life. We cooked salmon and potatoes on the fire for dinner and set up our tent nearby. Later at night the wind became stronger and it started snowing again. The city disappeared behind a white wall and it felt almost like being in the wilderness. Our tent was well secured so we didn't have anything to worry about. I have winter pegs which are designed to hold the tent stable in the snow — the tiny summer pegs which normally come with tents are good for summer but useless in winter conditions.

On the following day we had breakfast and skied back. Part of the way it wasn't really skiing but rather walking with skis through the new snow. This time we took a different route towards Lehtisaari. There was some water on the ice near the shore and we had to make a small detour to avoid getting our feet wet. After that we felt we'd had enough exercise and took a bus for the last five kilometers home.

Season's Greetings

Posted: 2009-12-23 16:04:42, Categories: General, Helsinki, Art, 162 words (permalink)

Christmas and New Year greetings card 2009. Last January, somebody had made a snow cat in the Helsinki central park. There it was sitting quietly on a wooden plank, smiling and looking at people passing by. I'm sure many of them smiled back and became just a bit happier because of the cat.

During these days a large part of the world is celebrating Christmas, either as a religious event, a family gathering, a materialistic festival or all three of them. In Finland where I live it is common to go shopping for gifts and even feel stressed about finding the right gifts for right people. I admit that I did some Christmas shopping too. However, the snow cat reminds me that a gift can be anonymous, it doesn't require buying anything, it can be given at any time of the year and that small surprises in life are often the best gifts.

With the cat, I wish all of you peaceful Christmas and many small surprises for year 2010!

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