Activities need not be confined to the warm months of the year. Here are a couple of options to keep yourself busy as the daylight fades and the night stretches on.
LAST issue we celebrated the Summer That Was. A season that began with a cold, wet and miserable month of June, things cranked up nicely with a burst of heat for around six weeks of humid bliss (for some) in July and early August. Ending with fits of rain and warm, pleasant days of diminishing daylight, now as we turn the corner into October, the leaves are falling and moods are swinging to getting down to business and working life.
They say Finns are like sunflowers, their faces following the rays of the sun during the year. And so, as eyes begin to turn towards the ground once more, one begins to look for ways to fill in their spare time, with summer memories fading fast.
But, have no fear, there is still plenty of options to get out there and enjoy yourself before the curtain is drawn on 2014. Here are a couple of ideas that are sure to turn your head in the best possible way.
Biking around Finland: a guide
The best way to experience Finland any time of the year when the snow is low is by bicycle. The two wheels will take you deeper into your own self and the heart of this country than you ever thought possible.
WE travel to see new places, to experience new things and to forge new memories. A cycling tour is a wonderful way to see fresh landscapes, visit new places and keep your mind in motion with your feet. Cycling is more than a means to get from point A to point B, it’s an exploration into your own self.
This summer, I spent approximately 60 hours in the saddle, clocking a total of nearly 1,000 km biking through Pirkanmaa, Päijät-Häme and Kanta-Häme. Regional differences in the landscape are surprisingly striking. For instance, you’ll know the exact moment when you’ve crossed over to Päijät-Häme by the roller coaster effect, as the Salpausselkä ridge extending over the area makes sure you’re always going either uphill or (whee!) downhill.
Biking clears your head and employs all your senses. If you travel by car, there’s most likely a radio blaring in your ears, making you miss the birds singing in treetops, the buzzing tractor in the distance and children yelling greetings as you pass them by. You don’t smell anything in the car, or if you do it’s never a good thing. But by bike you can tell by your nose alone if you’re passing a honey-scented heliotrope field or a cow farm. It is an enchanting thing to pedal past a field of strawberries in the height of the season, the scent will instantly teleport you to a childhood memory of sunlight and freedom.
Freedom, of course, is one of the main attractions of cycling. You can go anywhere you please. There’s no need to look for parking. You can stop whenever you feel like it. Go for a swim, get a cup of coffee, try to take photos of the glimpses of deer running off to distance. All you need is a little sense of adventure. And of course, a bike. I ride an ancient ladies Crescent, inherited from my grandma. Being 94, she doesn’t need it anymore, but she still reminisces about it come springtime. It’s a lovely bicycle. It has three gears, one for uphill, one for downhill and one left for the plains. What the other 18 gears on some bikes are for, beats me. But my point is, any bike, expensive or dug out from a skip works as long as you are happy to ride it for hours.
On the road and off the map
Right now, I know you’re dying to hop on your rusty old bike, so where to? My first advice to you is to stay off the main roads. The primary and secondary roads in Finland are numbered from 1 to 98. They often have a lot of traffic and only an occasional cycleway, and it’s no fun cycling amongst cars. 4 kilometres by the side of Route 4 in pouring rain was long enough to last a lifetime. These roads are made to cover distances as fast as possible. We want the scenic route.
The roads you’re looking for are the ones with three digits. These are regional roads that often wriggle around small towns, lakeshores and country fields. The great thing is, they’re also paved, a detail your backside will appreciate after a few hundred kilometres. I heartily recommend the 290, the 314 and the 130 north from Iittala. The scenery is interesting, and you often encounter little miracles on the obscure, less beaten tracks. Frogs in the ditches. Deer by the fields. Bats. Foxes. Hares. I once met a cow with a bucket over its head. The highlight of that trip, no question. And if you can’t see the frogs, you’re pedalling too fast.
If you’re bored with the local scenery but afraid of embarking on a 200 km journey, a good option is to hop on the train with your bike and start from a different city. It gives you more options to choose from, and fresh roads to ride without adding too many kilometres to your route.
‘Tis the season, still
The careless days and luminous nights of the summer are now inevitably behind us, but it’s no reason to lock away your bike in the garage just yet. With the warmer winters now providing us with unfrozen roads, the biking experience is not dependent on the season. I’ve had a rather memorable bike ride on New Year’s Eve. The roads had not yet been iced over, there were fireworks going off on both sides… It was rather special. While the summer is a wonderful and the most common time for cycling, there are a lot of things to see and experience later in the year still.
So take your bike out, it’s dying to go for a spin. All the wonderful experiences of autumn await you; the intoxicating scent of ripe apples as you pass an orchard, the dense, soft moisture in the air when the road dips into a valley, the sight of leaves turning gold and scarlet in the oaks and maples lining your way. Pedal on, my friend, and somewhere along your way you’ll find the heart of Finland.
For ideas and more information on different routes, go to:
|Image: Patrick Lybeck|
Take a dive into local waters
Strapping on some scuba gear and submerging is undoubtedly a cool experience in Finland.
Going scuba diving in lakes or in the Baltic Sea is perhaps not the first thing most visitors have in mind when coming to spend their holidays in Finland. However, the popularity of recreational diving, both in summer and in winter, has increased in Finland in recent years. And although ice diving is restricted to advanced divers, the spectacular ice formations and landscapes make this winter sport worthwhile in the coming months – that is if you don’t mind a bit of cold water.
As soon as Patrick Lybeck, a dive instructor and chairman of Diving Club Nousu, told his colleagues in Corsica that he was from Finland they stopped asking questions about his diving competency. “When I’m abroad I notice divers usually know that if one dives in Finland it means that you have to be a serious diver,” he explains. “Conditions in Finland are more challenging because of the low visibility and the weather conditions, so one’s technical skills have to be good. This is one of the differences between diving in the clear blue waters of the south and in Finland: in here you have to be technically skilled. But I think it just makes diving here more interesting.”
Diving, of course
The best diving spots
On account of Finland’s long tradition as a seafaring nation and it’s history as a member of the Hanseatic League – which dominated naval commercial activity in the Baltic Sea in the Middle Ages – there are an unknown number of wrecks along the coast of Finland. According to Lybeck some of the best wooden wreck dives are found in the Nordic countries. Due to the low salinity in the Baltic Sea, there is an absence of the naval shipworm, which is a major cause of destruction to wooden shipwrecks. Lybeck refers to these intact wrecks as “Donald Duck wrecks”.
In Finland all wrecks older than 100 years are legally protected, and the Finnish coast guard must be notified before a wreck dive. “I think there must be thousands of wrecks that still haven’t been discovered,” Lybeck proclaims. “Place you finger on a maritime map and within one nautical mile you will find some kind of a ship wreck!”
As visibility is usually between five-to-ten metres divers have to get quite close to the wreck “without breaking the holy rule which is to look but not touch.”
The Swedish man-o-war Kronprins Gustav Adolf sank in the battle against Russia in 1788 and it now lies a few nautical miles southwest from the island of Harmaja, off the coast of Helsinki, at a depth of 18 to 20 metres. It has been preserved as an underwater museum for scuba divers with underwater information boards explaining its significance to visiting divers. The other treasure – and a Donald Duck wreck – is just off the coast of Åland. Plus is a iron-hulled three-masted bark ship built in 1885. Hull and deck are intact. Diving is forbidden for private persons, but some dive centres have a permit for excursions.
Qualified and experienced cave divers will be flabbergasted if they visit the Lohja Ojamo mine about 65 kilometres west of Helsinki. A water-filled mine abandoned in 1965, Ojamo is famous for its deep, cold and almost endless maze of tunnels. There is a lot to be seen, from railways to electrical rooms and tools. It’s also a very popular diving site in Finland. According to Lybeck the visibility in Ojamo “is absolutely great, almost crystal clear.”
Saving the Baltic Sea
Unsustainable factory farming and industry has made the Baltic Sea one of the world’s most polluted seas and eutrophication – which arises from the oversupply of nutrients – is the most severe problem. The Baltic Sea’s ecosystem has degraded to such an extent that its capacity to deliver goods and services to people living in the countries surrounding this sea has been hampered. For decades the Baltic Sea has been the focus of environmental efforts. In 1974 the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – was established to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea through international cooperation. According to Lybeck Finland’s and the international’s community’s effort to save the Baltic Sea is paying off because the visibility “has got a bit better in these past 10 years.”
In 2013 in the popular diving spot of Hanko, “the vertical visibility was over 10 metres which is so much better than back in 2000,” Lybeck explains, and reminds that it’s not just unsustainable farming and industry but also global warming that has affected the sea. Efforts such as building and improvement of municipal waste plants and farmers implementing solutions to reduce excess nutrients are, although very slowly, improving the situation.