Helsinki to Kemi: 713 kilometres
Logistics and ferry schedules have forced us to do the long drive north through Finland, over the Gulf of Bothnia, down through Sweden and back to Denmark and Germany. We have allowed ourselves three to four days to accomplish this and even that is being optimistic, driving eight hours or so a day. We head north from Helsinki in the by-now standard grey, flat-bottomed and low hanging clouds with the occasional burst of bright sunshine teamed with torrents of hard rain. Yesterday’s International Herald Tribune, the 1st English language paper we’ve seen since Amsterdam informs us that this start to summer has been the coldest on record in the Nordic countries since 1928.
A Beautiful Finnish Post Card
We drive through the Lake District and indeed it is – every kilometre or so we traverse clear lakes with the occasional Finnish cottage on them. Occasionally we see a brave child swimming or jumping off a dock, a warm towel or fleece not too far away. Much of the landscape is like a beautiful Finnish post card and we pass camper van after camper van on vacation. We continue past stretches of pine and birch forest and for much of the drive the beautiful monotony of the landscape d doesn’t alter much. The dazzling purple, pink and white wild lupines are in their blooming glory, poking out of the ditches and culverts along the road. Sometimes all you can see is washes of purple, indicating the side of the road. As we head further north, the lilacs are just coming into their brilliance.
100 Kilometres South of the Arctic Circle
I have never been this far north before and our destination for the evening is Kemi, a small town right on the Finnish/Swedish border, at the very top of the Gulf of Bothnia, and about 100 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. The farthest north any Georges have been, (to my knowledge) is when my father Eddie worked a stint in Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island for the Asbestos Company in the early 1970s. He would always send us back stories of the midnight sun and indeed it doesn’t get dark here at all. We are roughly parallel with the most northern tip of Iceland or the southern edge of Great Bear Lake. We arrive about 8 pm in Kemi and settle into our hotel. It seems that there is a wedding here this weekend as groups of guests are checking in and hugging and laughing with each other in that awkward yet familiar way that family and friends have when they see each other once every couple of years, either at a wedding or a funeral. The Finnish pastime of public drunkenness is evident as we watch tremendously drunken people negotiate the avenue outside our hotel. Well, it is Friday night after all. There seems to be lots of green space and grass for them to tumble upon and have a short nap.
John and I grab a bottle of duty free red wine and decide to join them, not on the grass but in the confines of our hotel room (although they all look like they’ve had way more than ½ bottle of wine each).