Home In Finland 2009
Site Menu
About Us
What is New in 2018
What was New in 2017
Countries Articles (879)
Current Travel Log
Cycling Articles (98)
Fellow Travellers (78)
Logs & Newsletters (169)
Motorhome Insurers (33)
Motorhoming Articles (120)
Ramblings (48)
Readers' Comments (796)
Travellers' Websites (45)
Useful Links (64)
Search the Website
Contact Us

In Finland 2009 PDF Printable Version E-mail


The Travel Log of a 1,240-mile (1,984 km) Motorhome Journey from the North to the South of Finland

Margaret and Barry Williamson
August 2009

This illustrated travel log describes our motorhome journey from the North to the South of Finland in the summer of 2009. We had spent the spring in the south-east corner of Bulgaria, based at the quiet Sakar Hills Camping in Biser. After driving back to England for essential repairs, service, MOT and family visits, we took a ferry from Harwich to Rotterdam. Driving through Holland and Germany, we boarded the ferry from Sassnitz to Trelleborg near the southern tip of Sweden. All this was the prelude to a fascinating 1,300-mile journey through Swedish forest and lakes, north along the western edge of the Gulf of Bothnia.

We entered Finland at the top of the Gulf, over the Tornio River in the neighbouring towns of Haparanda and Tornio. We aimed to cross the Arctic Circle some 50 miles north in Rovaniemi: Santa's home town.

Click: Galleries and Slide Shows of images of Finland

Click: A full account of the journey from Bulgaria to England

Click: A full account of the journey from England to Finland

Click: A full account of the following journey through the Baltic Republics

Click: Images and a description of our Fleetwood Flair motorhome

Click: Images and a description of our Paul Hewitt touring bicycles

The Motorhome Route from Finikounda in Greece to the Arctic Circle in Finland


14 August 2009   160 miles   Gammelstad, Sweden to Rovaniemi, Finland   Napapiirin Saarituvat Camping   €25.50 (every 4th night free)

After 1,300 miles in Sweden, into Finland at Tornio and almost to the Arctic Circle

Warmer and sunnier, air temperature 15ºC at 10 am as we rejoined E4. The road temperature (both are shown on road signs) is always considerably higher than the air, as its black surface holds the heat – as do the shallow lakes.

We passed the little port of Tore at 29 miles (the first campsite north of Lulea listed in Sweden's SCR camping guide, available at any Tourist Info – but we'd passed a couple of smaller sites.) Just 2 miles later we spotted our first reindeer this year – a mother and calf grazing in the forest beyond the catch-fence – always an exciting moment! The trees (conifers and silver birch) are starting to look shorter, the further north we go.

Kalix at 46 miles was the last town before the Finnish border. It had a Co-op (with 2 hours free parking), where we spent some of our remaining Swedish currency on fruit and biscuits, using the rest to buy fuel (usually bought with a credit card but we had cash to use up). As usual, the cheaper Preem garage had a very low panoply so we had to go to the OKQ8.

The Tornio River at theX_(61).JPG northern tip of the Gulf of Bothnia marks the Swedish-Finnish border. Haparanda on the Swedish side and Tornio across the river now form one Euro-city, with an international golf course half in each country! Haparanda (at 77 miles) was a bustle of supermarkets, filling stations and stores, including a huge Ikea - Sweden is less expensive and attracts the Finns to shop. On the other hand, Finland has cheaper alcohol and Tornio has the country's largest brewery, producing the Lapin Kulta beer advertised everywhere.

Still on E4, we crossed the first Tornio bridge onto a small island aX_(63).JPGnd stopped at the Green Line Tourist Office there, to collect free maps and a campsite booklet for Finland. Prices are now in Euros and the language totally inscrutable – though throughout Scandinavia most people speak excellent English, which they use as a common second language amongst themselves. The Tourist Office served travellers in both directions and was busy with motorhomers heading back into Sweden. Its large car park was a good place for lunch – and to put our clocks forward one hour for Finland (the same time zone as Greece).

E4 continued across the riX_(64).JPGver on a second wider bridge, then headed east towards Kemi. At 88 miles, before Kemi, it turned north, becoming E75 'The Arctic Highway', which we took – a 2-lane road through a forest of short pine and birch trees, with more Elk warnings painted on the tarmac! No more reindeer but we spotted a red squirrel running along the verge. The small villages set in the outback looked homely, with cycle paths and little traffic – apart from a convoy of 13 Italian motorhomes all heading south! We hoped that would mean space at Rovaniemi.

About 5 miles before Rovaniemi (capital of Lapland, just 5 miles short of the Arctic Circle - and home of Santa Claus) we passed a small motel with camping on the right but decided to check the city's 2 campgrounds. Continuing into the centre, at the confluence of the Ounas and the Kemi rivers, we crossed the Kemi and took road 78 south-east for a mile to the large Ounaskoski Camping by the river. Within walking distance of the town, it was busy with just 2 large pitches free: price €26.90 per night (including a discount for the Camping Card Scandinavia, which we'd bought in Sweden – also available in Finland for €7). We were slightly tempted by an offer of every fifth night free (apart from €4.90 for electricity), plus wifi internet for a one-off €5 for the duration of stay. However, the pitches offered no privacy and the wifi signal was very weak. We moved on.

Crossing the Kemi River again, onC_(37).JPG a different bridge to the north, we took road 81 which follows the Kemi as it turns east. A couple of miles along, on the right by the wide river, is Rovaniemi's second campsite: a smaller quieter place altogether. It has a simple cafe with free wifi inside and the basic facilities. Most of the accommodation is in cabins, open year-round, but there is also space and hook-ups for campers in the summer months, on the grass among the cabins or along the lower river bank. We were delighted to find room down by the river, with a splendid view of the passing ducks – and red squirrels in the trees.

This will be a good place to spend the weekend before (hopefully) collecting our mail in Rovaniemi. We might even cycle out to see Santa! 

15-17   August 2009   At Rovaniemi, Finland   Napapiirin Saarituvat Camping  

A weekend in Lapland

The weekend was H_(31).JPGshowery, the view of the sparkling river at our door ever-changing. It broadens almost into a lake at this point, reflecting the low sun, shimmering with mist after a cool night. So peaceful, we felt we could live by it – until we realised it freezes over in winter and is used as a golf course, with holes made in the snow which blankets Rovaniemi for 6 months of the year.

We spent our time updating the travel loL_(34).JPGg, processing photographs and emailing friends, using the campsite cafe WiFi for an afternoon. Also made good use of the laundry and the camp kitchen, baking muffins and being creative with prawns (bought very reasonably at a Swedish Co-op). As in Sweden, Finnish campsites always have an indoor well-equipped kitchen, even providing washing-up liquid! Only in Australia and New Zealand have we found camping facilities to compare with Scandinavia. For details of the campsites in the Finnish Campsite Association, see www.camping.fi.

18 August 2009   61 miles   Rovaniemi to Kemijarvi, Finland   Hietaniemi Camping   €21.00 (every 5th night free)

Over the Arctic Circle at Santa Claus Village!

Before leaving Rovaniemi, we crossed the Kemi River into town to collect a packet sent to the Post Office, at Postikatu (Post Street) number 1. It lay just off the E75, which runs through the town centre, and there was room in the free car park at its door. Imagine trying to do this in England - or many another country!

Almost every building in Rovaniemi was burnt down by retreating German soldiers in 1944, including the Lutheran church. The present town was rebuilt in the 1950s to the plan of the renowned Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, who was also responsible for the design of its large buildings. Perhaps it looks better in the snow - we liked the fact that the YHA building is called Hostel Rudolf.

The town is home to the University of Lapland and also the world's northernmost McDonalds. Our Rough Guide remarked that in Rovaniemi “… fine or exotic dining leaves a lot to be desired - though dishes featuring reindeer are very easy to find.” A remark in very poor taste (but possibly with a very good taste!) See www.visitrovaniemi.fi for more.

Retracing our rX_(41).JPGoute over the Kemi River, we continued along E75 for 5 miles to reach the Arctic Circle (you can't miss the sign over the road) at a latitude of 66°33' North (and a height of 535 ft). Turn right by the sign to enter Santa Claus Village, where we stopped to eat and take the obligatory photographs. It's open all year, entry and parking are free and there is an area for overnight caravan/motorhome parkingH_(33).JPG with fresh water tap. (Don't confuse it with the theme park about a mile earlier, unless you have children under 5 and plenty to spend! See www.santapark.com.)  

Santa's office in his village (at www.santaclauslive.com) was staffed by 3 nubile elves, busy franking any mail deposited there with a special postmark, but tX_(40).JPGhe Big Man Himself must have gone to lunch. There were several gift shops and places to eat scattered round the Arctic Circle Centre, including a tepee with a wood fire burning inside. Naturally toys, Xmas decorations and reindeer products prevailed, and we bought a couple of stickers for the motorhome (plus a bargain fleece jacket at a Thule factory outlet store - red, of course). We wondered what the coach full of Japanese tourists made of it all, as they photographed each other with one foot either side of the white line on the ground?

Continuing north up E75, the signs warned we were in an Area of Reindeer Husbandry, though we only spotted one and that looked like a wife. It was 14°C at 3 pm and we're assured the snow doesn't arrive until November (lasting through April). At 11 miles past the Circle, we turned east on road 82 for Kemijarvi, leaving the Arctic Highway to make its way north (to remote Ivalo and Inari). Our narrow road was hilly (max 650 ft), running through silver birch forest, interspersed with mountain ash laden with red bL_(45).JPGerries.

The small town of Kemijarvi (Kemi Lake) lies by Lapland's 3rd largest lake, which is formed by Finland's longest river (the Kemijoki at over 550 km) as it makes its way to the sea at Kemi at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. The campsite is signed to the right, off the bridge linking the 2 halves of the town. We are camped by the peaceful lake shore, yet it's only a 5-minute walk into the town centre. You can even see a brand new Lidl store, through the trees!

19-22   August 2009   At Kemijarvi, Finland   Hietaniemi Camping  

Writing, Shopping and Cycling around Kemijarvi

It was easy to explore the small modern town (serving 8,000 inhabitants) on foot, gathering information from the Tourist booth (open from 11 am daily) - a young man sitting at a table inside the cafe at the ABC supermarket/petrol station. More at www.kemijarvi.fi.

The town's church was built in 1951 to replace one burnt down in World War 2. Its beautiful cemetery pays silent witness to the dreadful events of 1943-44, with a war memorial and rows of Finnish soldiers' graves.

Forestry and a wood processing factory are the main employers here, with logs leaving by road or train (this being Finland's northern rail terminus with a line from Helsinki via Rovaniemi). We saw none going down the river - in fact, no boats at all except individuals out fishing. The town's old dairy has been converted into an Artists' Residence, hosting a biennial International Woodsculpting Symposium - the results of which adorn the park around the Cultural Centre. Actually, we thought the living trees more beautiful - and more useful.  

The town also promotes itself as a Snowmobile Centre, with 200 km of trails. “Many old snowmobiles and other snowmobiling items are exhibited in the Snowmobile Museum …” which we didn't visit. The Ski Museum in Sweden's Umea had provided enough excitement for one month! We've never seen this region during its long winter (except in photos), when it is completely transformed. The vast Kemi Lake here freezes solid enough for light aircraft to land!

Our shopping was limited to Lidl for essentials, plus the town's one computer shop, in search of a new power lead for our Dell laptop (also essential). Sadly, they were powerless to help, so we have to share the second laptop for now: the Fujitsu bought more than 4 years ago in Johor Bahru.

The path into town from the campsite runs past the modern Cultural Centre/Music School, complete with Library offering free internet access - on their computers or your own laptop. It's open from 11 am, Mon-Fri, with very kind librarians. A short walk by the lake in the other direction leads to an exclusive-looking fish restaurant next to the Youth Hostel, which is arranged in lakeside cabins. Visit www.hostellit.fi or www.hihostels.com for more on Finland's 72 hostels, most of which have private rooms (some en-suite) - ideal for cyclists. Our campsite also offers one 4-bunk cabin next to the camp kitchen, but the camp closes completely at the enB_(14).JPGd of August until mid-May.

We had one cycle ride on a glorious Saturday afternoon, with clear blue sky and sunshine - total 51 km/32 miles in 3 hrs. Riding north on a minor road up the east side of the broad Kemi River (with a stretch of gravel after Kostamo), we continued until the end of the bitumen, returning the same way (no bridges over the Kemi until about 40 miles north of Kemijarvi). AfterB_(11).JPG about 20 km we followed a board walk for half a km to the river: a good exercise in concentration, wheeling a bike along 2 narrow planks above a peaty bog! To our surprise, (since we couldn't read the Finnish sign) it led to a substantial wooden Bird Watching Tower beside the reedy shore, next to a fireplace and B_(12).JPGa log pile.

We climbed the ladder, signed the visitors' book, but saw no birds - doubtless scared away by distant shots, as the duck-hunting season is underway! Some of the nesting boxes in the surrounding forest were huge, with large holes: perhaps for owls? Oddly, the only wildlife we saw was a small group of reindeer (with one albino) in the forest, by the gate of the wood processing factory on the edge of town! We met even fewer cars.

23 August 2009   23 miles   Kemijarvi to Vuostimo, Finland   Kuukiuru Camping   €16.00

North up the Kemi River and a cycle ride in the Pyha-Luosto National Park

It was a short drive north on E63/road 5 up the west side of the Kemi RiverB_(16).JPG to Vuostimo (which consists of a bus stop and a few dwellings, dwarfed by their log piles). A mile or so past the settlement, there is a small campsite/cafe/cottages/crazy golf on the right, run by a friendly old couple whose only word of English is 'Open' (all year).

Set right by the Kemi River bank, they offer free use of a canoe or pedal boat, and simple facilities (one toilet, no kitchen, showers €2 extra). The various antiques, inside and out, include old farm implements, petrol pumps and a non-working phone box (itself a museum piece, in the land of mobile phones).

After lunch, a circular cycle ride proved to be 51 km/32 miles (exactly the same as yesterday's). We rode north on E63 alongside the broad River Kemi for 12 km, then turned west on a minor sealed road past Lake Pyhajarvi and the small campsite (Lapin Orava) on its shore. Clumps of white fluffy cotton-grass on the peaty bog reminded us we were getting seriously North! A little further along was a ski hotel with caravan parking, where we had enquired 3 summers ago - price €32 for a place with hook-up in the car park. We didn't ask today!

At 29 km we meB_(17).JPGt road 962 (Vuostimo to Sodankyla), which runs through the Pyha-Luosto National Park - founded in 1938, the oldest in the country (see www.pyha.fi). The 35-km long string of hills has summer hiking trails, ski runs on Pyha and Luosto Fells, and Europe's only working amethyst mine. Turning south-east for Vuostimo, we soon stopped for excellent coffee and large buns at a ski-lodge/cafe that had just finished serving Sunday lunch.

Continuing on a broad cycle/snowmobile/ski path that, curiously, seemed much hillier than the adjacent highway (max height 660 ft or 200 m), we passed the new Pyha Ski- field Holiday Resort of log cabins, supermarket, dead caravan site and a new roundabout in the road. It was another 16 rolling km to the main road E63, where we turned left for the final 2 km. We had seen no wildlife and little traffic in a very peaceful 2.75 hours. Back at the campsite, the temperature was 91°F inside the unheated motorhome, until we opened it up to the cool of early evening.

The next morning proved dull and cold - a day for writing, cleaning and maintenance before moving on. We made a catalogue of our DVD film collection (to which we add when we spot a bargain, be it in a Bulgarian bazaar or a Swedish supermarket). We are also watching Finnish TV - a large number of digital channels, of which we typically receive 4 or 5 free of charge. There is usually a British or American programme or two in the evening, including films and crime series. Oddly, 'East Enders' seems popular, along with celebrity chefs.

25 August 2009   132 miles   Vuostimo to Posio, Finland   Lapiosalmi Wilderness Centre   €17.00

A detour to the end of the bitumen, south across the Arctic Circle and into the wilderness

Returning to Kemijarvi on E63 (23 miles), we shopped and banked in a cold drizzle, while waiting for the Library to open at 11 am for an hour's internet.

We left town eastwards across the lake, still on E63/road 5, then turned south at 27 miles on road 945, shown on our map as going through to Posio. A layby on yet another arm of Lake Kemijarvi, 4 miles along, was a lovely place for lunch, before continuing through the forest.

After another 7 miles the bitumen turned to gravel without any warning! It was a further 3 bumpy miles before we were able to turn round and return to the E63. By way of compensation for this 25-mile detour, we did see a pair of Cranes - unmistakeably tall grey heron-like birds grazing in a mown field - as well as a couple of reindeer.

Back on E63, we followed the highway east as it climbed to 785 ft. X_(11).JPGPausing at a war memorial on the left, we read of the Battle of Mantyvaara fought on the snowy moonlit night of 20 December 1939: temperature minus 20° C. Despite heavy losses on both sides, the Finns fought off a surprise attack and prevented the Russians from reaching Kemijarvi, just 13 miles away.

The next village, Joutsijarvi, has a shop, petrol station/motel and a World War II bunker. Here the E63 turns south, soon to reach the Arctic Circle. A pair of rival signposts at cafes on either side of the Circle (and less than 4 miles apart) depict the Napapiiri (Polar Circle)!

The first, 25 miles/35 km from Kemjarvi, is the modern well-equipped Suomunhelmi Resort with campsite, cabins, cafe and grill (www.lentssons-suomunhelmi.com for details). At 66°36.4 N, it actually lies to the north of the circle. Three miles later, we passed the turning for the Suomutunturi Arctic Circle Ski Resort  (a mile or so west), its hotel and cabins closed at this time of year. The second Arctic Circle sign was outside the next souvenir shop on E63, at Cafe Tuulenpesa (look for the giant inflatable snowman!) at 66°33.28 N and a height of 580 ft.

Now surely south of the Circle (there was no official sign), the road climbed and fell for 15 miles to the tiny village of Maaninkavaara, where the only shop had died. Here at over 1,000 ft we turned right, down road 947 to Posio. The road ran through hilly forest for 29 miles (note: Finland is not flat, thanks to the Ice Age!) at an average height of 800 ft (max 1,060 ft). It was rainy and cold enough to use the cab heater for the first time this summer.

In Posio we parked outside the Pentik Cultural Centre (which advertised Tourist Info but had little). It proved to be the site of the world's northernmost ceramics factory, complete with shop, cafe, exhibitions and free ceramics museum! The company was founded by potters Anu Pentik and her partner in 1971.

After continuing south for 5 more miles, we turned west on road 941 towards Ranua. Another 6 miles along, we followed a sign up a mile of rough forest track to the 'Wilderness Centre' (cabins, fishing and caravan parking). Had it not been late, cold and pouring with rain we would have left at once. Instead, we hunted out the manager, parked between the trees, hooked up to a weak power point on the wall of a scruffy hut (for €5!) and stayed the night. The place is equipped for youth groups in cabins but the only provision for individual campers was use of a toilet and shower next to the communal meeting room - and no kitchen. Our first disappointing campsite in Scandinavia, at www.lapiosalmi.fi.    

26 August 2009   135 miles   Posio to Puolanka, Finland   Puolankiajarvi Camping   €21.00 (every 5th night free)

Heading south?

A group of reindeer, R_(10).JPGincluding young, crossed our path as we descended the track from the Wilderness Centre to road 941, but we're now accustomed enough not to reach for the camera! We returned to Posio to refuel (€1.379 a litre for 95-petrol, which varies very little) before turning south for 50 miles to Taivalkoski.

Posio is on a watershed plateau with over 3,000 lakes! (There are 187,888 lakes in the whole country - and 179,584 islands. How were they all named?!) Our road 863 crossed the large Livojarvi Lake, with generous picnic and swimming areas along the way, then re-entered the eternal forest, with a blush of Ruska (autumn) tingeing the silver birch. We parked in the small town of Taivolkoski for lunch, then took road 800 south for 50 miles to Puolanka, past areas where the trees (getting gradually taller) were being felled, with haymaking in the clearings.

About a mile west of Puolanka there is an all-year campsite by the lake, where we shared the meadow with a young Dutch couple - teachers, bound for Helsinki and a 24-hour ferry to Travemunde in Germany. We wondered why we were rushing south towards Helsinki ourselves, no longer constrained by the time limits of summer holidays? Reconsidering, we decided to turn north again for the delights of Arctic Autumn!

The campsite has a cosy kitchen, soon filled with the aroma of M's baking, and there was good TV reception for an evening with Inspector Lindley, courtesy of the BBC.

27 August 2009   105 miles   Puolanka to Ranua, Finland   Ranuanjarven Camping   €19.50

Back up north!

The day was rainy and still, driving north along road 78, braking for an occasional suicidal reindeer as we climbed gradually to over 800 ft. After 14 miles we passed a farm advertising B&B, the first we'd seen in Finland.

At 43 miles we turned left along road 20 for 10 miles to Pudasjarvi - a shopping centre for a wide area, with several supermarkets, bank, post, hotel, cafes, fuel etc. We parked for lunch by a large hardware store, with all you need for the winter: knitting wool, chain saws and triple-glazed clothing.

Road 78 then continued northwards to Ranua, home of the Arctic Zoo, 3 miles north of the town centre. We had good memories of an afternoon at this zoo 15 years ago, crossing a mile or so of boardwalks to observe the arctic animals and birds. This was followed by a free overnight on the car park by the adjacent Fazer factory, where we bought bargain chocolate and toffees at the factory shop!

Arriving at the zoo today, there is still a large free coach and car park but overnight parking is banned. A brand new camping area has opened just past the zoo (check-in at zoo reception, open 9 am - 7 pm). Its facilities include laundry and kitchen, for €13 a night with electricity - quite adequate for a short visit, the small site resembles a car park alongside the main road. Entry to the zoo itself now costs €13 per person; the whole place is much more commercialised, with cafes and restaurants and craft shops - and the fondly remembered Fazer factory has moved, leaving behind a shop selling souvenirs and confectionery at full price! Visit www.ranuazoo.com and www.ranua.fi for more.

We returned to Ranua town centre and followed the signs for 2 miles east, to the well established and beautiful campsite in the forest by Lake Ranua. This is the kind of camp where you can settle for a while - though sadly it closes on 31 August! (The zoo camp is open until the end of September.) It also has a row of cabins along the lake shore, sauna, boating and mini-golf.

28-30 August 2009   At Ranua, Finland   Ranuanjarven Camping

A weekend in the forest

Over the next 3 days we made good use of the camp barbecue area C_(15).JPG- 2 indoor (electric) and 1 outdoor (gas) - graduating from a fry-up to home-made burgers, marinated pork chops and chicken kebabs with satay sauce. The laundry (with free heated drying room) also served us well.

Free interC_(13).JPGnet/wifi in the campsite cafe was less successful, with intermittent signal and the usual problems, but we managed to pick up incoming emails. TV reception was fair, and mobile phone signal excellent (as everywhere so far in FinlC_(12).JPGand).

Due to very rainy weather, cycling was limited to a short ride to the town centre. We investigated a caravan sign at a small hostel (or Gasthaus) we passed but the place was deserted.

Over the weekend we were joined by Germans and Swiss, as well as Finns, but there was ample space to keep one's distance. One welcome visitor was a reindeer, wandering through from the open forest. Perhaps in search of the camper who had picked all the mushrooms …

31 August 2009   66 miles   Ranua to Luusua, Finland   Matkatupa Camping   €16.00

Camping on the Arctic Circle

It was 2 milesR_(11).JPG into Ranua, where we turned north-east on the 942 in driving rain. The narrow empty road stayed high at around 500 ft - it had probably been unsurfaced until recently, as the side turnings to Lake Simojarvi were gravel lanes. A small herd of reindeer sat in the middle of an open field in the downpour, rather than seeking shelter in the nearby forest! Maybe hoping for snow?

At 39 miles we turned right (east) onto road 81, which at least had a central white line! Following the wide Kemi River for 7 miles, we came to the village of Autti. It has a pleasant cafe/internet corner, with a rough camping field at the back (no electrics or facilities), opposite the church.

Just before the cafe we turned north on road 944, crossing the river by a weir, popular with canoeists. At 48 miles the road turns right, through Pirttikoski, where we passed a lunch restaurant and a shop. A campsite/cabins sign pointing right, a mile later, led to an abandoned tourist development, long overgrown.

Continuing north along the Kemi River, street lights and bus sheltersH_(11).JPG marked the next settlement, Luusua, at 60 miles. A quiet campsite/youth hostel run by a very welcoming couple lies 6 miles further along by the lake, about 17 miles south of Kemijarvi town. We took our place by the shM_(15).JPGore, where hook-ups have recently been installed, and watched the wind dispel the rain. The sky cleared and a low sun broke through during an afternoon's writing.

At 66°30.7 North (and a height of 490 ft), the campsite is a couple of miles short of the Arctic Circle, though it proudly displays the Napapiiri sign.

1-3 September 2009   At Luusua, Finland   Matkatupa Camping   €16.00 (every 4th night free)

Sheltering from the rain

We'd hoped and planned to make a short cycle tour over the nextB_(20).JPG few days, knowing that we could leave the motorhome safely at Matkatupa. All our camping and cooking kit was prepared but, sadly, each morning dawned wetter and windier than before! Between downpours, we only had one ride in a rare after-lunch break in the rain. This was a 40-km return ride, south into a cold head wind through the forest towards Autti, and then a much faster return. Out and into of the Arctic!

OM_(12).JPGn a damp walk along the lake shore we found the nearby swimming beach, with free changing rooms, toilets, covered fireplace and log store, all solidly built from massive tree trunks. The spongy forest floor is thick with reindeer fodX_(12).JPGder - bright red lingenberries and huge fungi, some bigger than Barry's cap! We collected the berries but left the fungus for reindeer and elk who would better know what was good for them.

One of our favoutite photographs during this period was of a brilliant full moon, shining onto the reflective lake outside the motorhome, on a rare calm night.

The rest of our time was spent tidying and sorting our lockers, with some ruthless dumping of accumulated papers. Internet was available in the camp café at €4 per hour - available but not used. Our very hospitable hosts told us we were welcome to stay until Christmas, but with snow due next month we didn't take them up on the offer!

4 September 2009   41 miles   Luusua to Suomunhelmi, south of Joutsijarvi, Finland   Suomunhelmi Resort   €14.00

Via Kemijarvi to another night at the Arctic Circle

Rain poured as we set off for Kemijarvi, leaving a gift with our genial host at Matkatupu - a pair of bolts for the shower doors (unused in Barry's toolbox from a previous project)! The puzzled chap (whose English was limited to 'Welcome') even tried to pay us for them.

It was 16 miles north on narrow road 944 to road works at the edge of Kemijarvi, where a new roundabout is emerging from chaos. We parked at Lidl, a mile later, for shopping and lunch, then walked over to the library in the Culture Centre for a couple of hours of free internet and emailing.

It was still raining heavily as we drove east on E63 (rd 5), climbing to over 800 ft, past the Mäntyvaara War Memorial we'd visited earlier (see 25 August above). At 32 miles, in Joutsijarvi, we turned south towards the Arctic Circle once again. The trees are clad in the colours of autumn (Ruska), the silver birch in golden contrast to the evergreen firs. On the right of the empty road, 9 miles along, we stopped at the all-year 'Resort' of Suomunhelmi (altitude 578 ft and latitude 66°36.7 N). It displayed a Polar Circle sign, though it's slightly to the north of the Circle - which seems open to local latitude!   

Over the last 12 months the new Dutch owners have developed the café/grill, adding beautifully equipped cabins and a camping area. Sadly, the welcoming arch over the entrance did not welcome anything over 3.3 m high so we spent the night on the café car park! However, our host arranged a hook-up from a cabin and we had the use of its bathroom. The only problem was the metallic brown water, drawn from a well: good enough for a shower but certainly not potable. More details at www.lentssons-suomunhelmi.com.

On a short walk to the small lake we saw red squirrels, as well as bright red spotted toadstools fit for a pixie.

5 September 2009   78 miles   Suomunhelmi to  Kuusamo, Finland   Kuusamon Portti Youth Hostel/Restaurant     €15.00 (+ €5 for a fill of fresh water!)

Over the Circle and south, past Ruka Ski Resort and through Kuusamo

Heading ever-south R_(12).JPGon E63, we passed the turn for Suomuntunturi ski resort after 4 miles. A mile later came the second Arctic Circle café (with giant snowman but no accommodation or camping). Continuing south into a head wind and showers, the road was empty enough for groups of grazing reindeer to amble across our path, the May-born calves now half grown. After about 15 miles we passed a camping sign on the left, by Kauhujarvi lake, but could see nothing down the narrow lane.

At 19 miles we passed the turning for Posio (see 25 August above).R_(14).JPG Today we stayed on the highway, now titled 'Via Karelia', delayed only by another herd of reindeer crossing, each doe with young at foot. Uniquely among deer, female reindeer have antlers, though the stags carry a more impressive set. It's hard to believe they are shed and regrown every year! Being larger and stronger, it's the males that are used as draught animals.

Having climbed to 1,000 ft, we passed Viipusjarvi Camping on the left, shortly before reaching the Ruka Ski Resort at about 50 miles - a shocking Blot on the Landscape. There are shops, fuel, chalets, caravan parks and ski lifts, marking the end of the northern wilderness. Maybe it all looks better buried in snow. We didn't stop, having visited this area in search of a campsite in August 2006, when we settled on the quieter Viipusjarvi.

Along the route south from here, the peaceful laybys with picnic tables by deserted lakes gave way to busier car parks, complete with café or grill. At 62 miles we passed a pair of campsites on opposite sides of the road, 3 miles before Kuusamo.

We turned off E63 into the small town of Kuusamo, parked for lunch and explored. It was chilly (13°C at noon) but dry. Once a German command centre, the original village here was blown up by their retreating troops when the Soviet army arrived in 1994. The new town had little character or charm. A small Saturday market sold home-knitted and baked produce in the square, outside a soulless department store. A walk along the main street found most shops closed.

Returning to the H_(22).JPGE63 we passed an ABC fuel/supermarket and a Lidl store, then headed south (still on Via Karelia). After about 10 miles there is a Sami-run Dutch-owned Youth Hostel/guesthouse/café/campsite on the left, by Lake Kuusamo. It has a small quiet area with hook-ups by the shore, with showers and toilets in the nearby log-cabin hostel. Running low on water (which had not been good at the previous 2 camps), we had to pay an extra €5 for a fill, but at least it's potable.

On a short walk by the lake, we began picking lingenberries and blueberries - but we left the many and varied fungi for experts (and reindeer).

6 September 2009   136 miles   Kuusamo to Ristijarvi, Finland   Ristijarven Pirtti Camping   €23.00 (€20 from 3rd night onwards)

Past 'The Silent People' and a Sunday game of hunt-the-petrol in Suomussalmi

Keeping south down E63 (rd 5), we were soon climbing to over 1,000 ft, still alert free-ranging reindeer. The wind had dropped and the sun was slowly lifting the haze that hung over the forest in this season of mists. At 36 miles, the village of Peranka comprised one shop.

Then at 60 miles, in the middle of nowhere on our left, there appeared aX_(15).JPG swampy field planted with row upon row of scarecrows! Turning back, we parked by the adjacent café to investigate and discovered the 'Oddity of Highway 5' - a work of art by Finnish artist-dancer-choreographer Reijo Kela. 'The Silent People' face the highway like a motionless army, almost 1,000 strong, dressed in cast-offs with clods of straw for hair. They have kept guarX_(19).JPGd here since 1994, their peat heads and clothing replaced by a group of friends so that they don't become a cemetery of crosses. It was weird to walk among them in silence - the café (and camping barn) are only open from mid-June to mid-August. In winter they must resemble a battalion of snowmen! More at www.kuutamokeikat.fi or Suomussalmi Tourist Office on www.suomussalmi.fi.

At 73 miles we passed a café with cabins and camping on the right, but continued 5 miles into Suomussalmi. Needing petrol we tried 3 filling stations, at each of which the automat rejected any non-Finnish payment cards. (Two of them had staff on duty but payment could not be made inside, even by cash! This is a frustrating problem for foreigners.) Finally, we tried a Treboil services (on E63 just south of the town centre), which had just one non-automat pump.

Relieved, we stopped to lunch on a free car park in the town, complete with caravan sign and coin-in-the-slot electric hook-ups, though they looked rusty and unused (opposite the ABC service station). It was now raining, the shops and library were closed (Sunday), so on we drove.

Turning west into Hyrynsalmi, we crossed the river and followed signs to Camping Vonka (open till 30 Sept in the Finnish campsite guide). It was firmly closed, which meant reversing some way along a narrow lane. Annoyed that a simple 'closed' sign could have avoided that, we returned to the E63.

After another 24 miles we arrived at a welcoming campsite on the right,C_(27).JPG by Lake Ristijarvi, a mile past the village, down at 380 ft (max 1,125 ft this morning). This camp is open all year with good facilities, including a café with a computer we are free to use.

It was a wet evening and we enjoyed good TV reception, with a range of programmes in English - from American comedy to a British series on the Roman Emperors (tonight Nero met his end). 

7-8 September 2009   At Ristijarvi, Finland   Ristijarven Pirtti Camping 

Shades of Ruska - berry picking and jam making

Full use was M_(10).JPGmade of the laundry (with drying cabinet), kitchen anM_(27).JPGd computer. After washing, baking and emailing, we wandered along the lakeside board walk between rain showers, returning through the forest to pick more berries. A few jars of blueberry/lingenberry jam resulted - delicious and such a lovely colour!  

9 September 2009   88 miles   Ristijarvi to Iisalmi, Finland   Koljonvirta Camping   €22.00

Heading south via Kajaani

South down E63 into the rain and a warm head wind, we had left the easy-going remote north behind. Meeting more traffic, the pressures of urban living showed in the driving habits.

Turning off on the right for Kajaani at 25 miles, we parked at a Lidl store and walked into the busy town – our largest since Rovaniemi! It's a light industrial centre, including a pulp mill, at which the logs now arrive by road and rail rather than floating down the Kajaani River. We passed a weird wooden church built in 1896 and the scant ruins of the 17th century castle on a tiny island in the river. In need of a computer shop, we tried the Tourist Office, for a free map and directions to the superstores to the east of E63.

After lunch and shopping at Lidl, we returned to the highway and the shopping mall beyond. The Giganti electrical store didn't stock the power pack needed for our Dell laptop but it did have a bargain Dustbuster mini-vac, which will come in handy. The Maxi hardware store sold everything the Chinese can make and we got some plastic crates.

Back on E63, we passed the Kainuunportti Hotel offering caravan parking, about a mile south of Kajaani, at 600 ft. The lumberjacks had been at work, decimating the surrounding pine forest to feed the paper mills.

At 85 miles we turned right onto road 27 through farmland to Iisalmi, then left on road 88 to a campsite by the river. The large site had an end-of-season feeling. We asked if there was any internet or WiFi - “not at this time of year, when I'm here on my own” replied the impatient receptionist, looking forward to closing at the end of the month.

A woodcarver's workshop bordered the campsite, with samples of wood sculptures on display. His rather crude animals and figures, created by chainsaw with painted features, did not compare with the older unpainted carvings of bears (by his forebears?)

10 September 2009   91 miles   Iisalmi to Leppavirta, Finland   Mansikkaharju Camping   €22.00 (every 4th night free)

South on E63 past busy Kuopio

It was sunny and bright (14°C by 11 am) as we drove 4 miles into Iisalmi and found a free car park signed for caravans (on left of main street, opposite bus station).

The busy modern town, with broad tree-lined streets and a riverside park, was easy to explore on foot. We spent time on the library internet (inside the Cultural Centre), researching Helsinki-Tallin ferries. The main line is Tallink-Silja, with several boats a day for the 2-hour crossing to Estonia. Viking Line has 2 ferries per day for a similar price, while the cheaper but slower Eckero Line runs a daily ferry early in the morning (mainly for day-return trips). Having noted times and prices, we had a fast lunch in McDonalds (unseen since Rovaniemi).

Back on the E63/E5, which turned into dual carriageway to the north of Kuopio, there was now only one way to go: south! We did turn off into Kuopio at 60 miles, still in search of a computer shop, but found no possibility of parking and returned to the highway. The campsite a few miles south of the city had closed at the end of August - as so many do in Scandinavia.

At 72 miles, the E5 dual carriageway turned off west (for Jyvaskyla) but we kept south on the narrower road 5 to Leppavirta. There is a campsite with internet café and cabins on the left of the main road, by the wide river. It appeared to be closed but a phone call to the number at Reception proved otherwise. We were told to settle in and expect a man to come after 7 pm - as he did.

11-13 September 2009   At Leppavirta, Finland   Mansikkaharju Camping 

Working on-line, walking into town and booking a ferry

Finding that the WiFi signal reached our motorhome, if parked behind theC_(29).JPG campsite café, we caught up on emails and made some Voipwise phone calls, including the Tallink-Silja ferry line to check availability (at their German office in Lubeck - the only phone number we could find on their frustrating website). Lucky that we rang, as we learnt we could have the 'Car Package' deal (€160 one-way for vehicle and passengers), even though the website had given a 7 metre length limit for this! At a saving of €60 on the full price, we booked at once (though it couldn't be done on-line or by phone - we had to send an email with credit card details, etc). Why make it so difficult? The ticket was confirmed by email - and we sail on the 16th.

On the anniversary of 9-11, the television showed a chilling documentary of the day that we (and the world) will never forget. We were camped at Barcelonette, col-cycling in the Alpes Maritimes, and thought we had misunderstood the French TV news until we bought a paper the next morning.

The campsite was about a mile from the little town of Leppavirta. We walked in up the hill to the centre: a substantial stone church built in 1846, a local heritage museum (closed), a statue of a horse (there's a Trotting race on the ice in March!), a sports centre with ice hall, and a couple of supermarkets (plus a Lidl by the main road). Agriculture (especially dairy farming) and forestry are the main occupations. 

ReturniL_(24).JPGng on woodland tracks and along the wide river, we learnt that here in Finland's Lake Region (where one-third of the area is water!) Leppavirta lies on the chain of lakes and M_(28).JPGwaterways that form the water traffic route through the Saimaa Canal to the Gulf of Finland. From Lappeenranta to Vyborg the canal is still used to transport timber to the pulping mills - and tourists on day-visas to Russia (see our visit on 10 August 2006).

Autumn is a vividly colourful season here, the warm shades and tones following us on our journey south. Walking in the damp forest glades, pine cones littering the ground, those in the know foraged for fungi in the earthy leaf mould. We just took photos!

14 September 2009   104 miles   Leppavirta to Kuortti, Finland   Mantymotelli Motel/Caravan Park    €21.00 (every 5th night free)

Ever south on busier roads, via Mikkeli towards Lahti

Keeping south on road 5, after 14 miles we passed the exit for the industrial town of Varkaus, which lies on the east-west railway. 30 miles later we turned off towards Juva, to park at an ABC services for lunch.

It was warm, sunny and dry as we continued south-west on rd 5, still forested to both sides with Elk warnings. At 73 miles we reached the busy market town of Mikkeli, refuelled and kept on road 5 for Lahti. There were intermittent road works, as the Lahti-Mikkeli route is gradually being widened into dual carriageway.

The ACSI camping guide listed the Manty Motel, on the right of the highway 7 miles before Kuortti - in the middle of a mess of roadworks, the peace occasionally shattered by blasting! Sure enough, there is a fully equipped campsite (with WiFi and restaurant inside the motel). We joined a few empty caravans - a couple of which were later occupied by road workers.

15 September 2009   87 miles   Kuortti to Riihimaki, Finland   Lempivaara Camping   €23.00 (every 5th night free)

Through industrial Lahti to the leafy suburbs of Riihimaki

Driving south-west on road 5, we passed the small town of Kuortti. At 20 miles the road became motorway E75, which we followed for 29 miles to exit 17. Here we turned onto road 12 (Lahti south). Lahti is an industrial city (we passed a huge Fazer confectionery factory), with more traffic lights than we've seen for a month! 5 miles along rd 12 (direction Tampere) we managed to park by a supermarket for lunch. The weather is fine: 19°C at 2 pm.

At 57 miles we turned south onto the quieter road 54, passing farms and meadows in clearings between forest. Combine harvesters were making hay while the sun shone. At 81 miles we turned off, following signs for Lempivaara Camp on the outskirts of Riihimaki. Now less than 50 miles from Helsinki, linked by motorway or train, it looks like a commuter dormitory.

The large campsite has a café/bar, small area for touring vans and plenty of cabins and statics for city-dwellers. Once again, we had a free WiFi signal and spent some time checking the ACSI guide for Estonian campsites, exchange rates for the Baltics, etc. Tomorrow we shall be sad to leave Scandinavia, especially Finland.

16 September 2009   104 miles   Riihimaki, Finland to Palmse, in Laheema National Park, Estonia   Laheema Kohvikann Restaurant   150 EEK (or €10.00)

To Helsinki for a ferry to Tallin, then east along the coast of Estonia

It rained all morning as we drove 5 miles south-west to Riihimaki, then south on E12/road 3, right into the maelstrom of Helsinki. The E12 was a very busy 4-lane motorway, with only one ABC services along the way.

At 36 miles we crossed the outer ring road. Keeping south on E12, the traffic became pretty chaotic, with bus lanes and trams, even though 'rush hour' was over. Rain still poured and there were literally no signs to any of the ferry terminals until they were almost in sight! Helsinki is not our favourite port, or city. To add to the difficulty, Silja's Olympia Terminal in the city is used for the overnight ferry to Stockholm but all the ferries to Tallin currently depart from the West Terminal (Vastra Terminalen), some 20 minutes drive away. Check carefully which terminal is being used! We eventually found the West Terminal, poorly signed amongst road works, arriving at check-in after 50 miles' driving which took 2 hours! With less than an hour to spare before departure at 1430 hrs, we had no time to make lunch.

It was a smooth 2-hour crossing on what is a basic Finnish shuttle boat, its supermarket well stocked with alcohol. Lunch in the self-service café was disappointing and expensive - over €8 each for lukewarm meatballs or pork schnitzel, with boiled potatoes and vinegary coleslaw, served on a paper plate with plastic cutlery. The price of the alternative restaurant buffet was extortionate!

We arrived in Tallin (where the city campsite had closed yesterday!) in time for that capital's evening rush hour. There were no customs or passport checks (all 3 Baltic Republics now in the EU) as we left the port. The large area of open ground where we'd parked on our last visit, 3 years ago, was now built over. Tallin has an interesting old centre but, having visited twice before, we were happy to turn left for E20/road 1, eastwards and away.

With an exchange rate of about 15.6 EEK (Estonian Kroon) to the Euro (17 to the pound) we noticed that petrol is on sale at around €1 a litre - marvellous! The rougher roads are the downside.

Gradually leaving the city behind, we followed the 4-lane dual carriageway E20 east, parallel with the Baltic coastline. Elk warning signs marked the transition, as we skirted the southern boundary of Estonia's largest National Park (and the first one designated by Russia). After 48 Estonian miles, we turned north on a minor road (signed Palmse and Vosu) into Laheema (= Land of Bays) National Park, where we knew of a campsite on the coast.

We didn't need to drive as far as Vosu, though. After 5 miles, just before the National Park Visitor Centre at Palmse Manor, we passed a new restaurant advertising camping and stopped to check. At the Laheema Kohvikann (= coffee pot), run by Dieter and Julia Holscher - from Germany and Russia respectively - we found a very warm welcome. They have installed hook-up points on the car park and have a toilet and shower for campers. Payment is accepted in euros, local currency or by credit card. There is also WiFi internet, which we were welcome to use - in fact, Dieter told us that it has to be freely provided in all public places in Estonia! This was hard to believe, but we found it to be true.

We had found our base for exploring Laheema by bicycle - and an excellent restaurant. Highly recommended: see www.kohvikann.ee.

To continue this travel log, click: Motorhoming and Cycling in Estonia