Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Scandinavian Expedition 2010 - Days 36-37

Tampere with Lenin museum. Click for full album.
This post about Scandinavia might come as a surprise now that I'm in New Zealand, but I wasn't able to publish it before leaving Europe, so here it is now. There's not much to write about NZ anyway, it's mostly routine now that I have a regular job, so here's some reading to fill the gap. It picks up directly where the previous Scandi post finished - in the middle of Finland.

 Another WW2 museum
After Punkaharju I kept close to the Russian border and my next destination was the Salpa Line museum, right in the bottom-right corner of Finland. Salpa Line (Salpalinen Finnish) was a defence line built to stop the Soviet invasion during WW2. It stretched for over a thousand kilometres and it was an impressive military work. Although it was never put to use, it did serve its purpose well, since it discouraged the Soviets from continuing their offensive against Finland.

The museum is an open stretch of forest in the middle of nowhere. I arrived at 8 in the evening and had no choice but to pitch my tent right there, in the middle of the bloody thing, and wait until morning. The staff was very friendly and when I asked for a place to wash my face, they let me have a shower. At least I hope it was because they were friendly and not because I smelled so badly. I saw some bunkers and cannons, chatted with the guide, learned that Finland's army has 400.000 reserves and that despite the line being dismantled, the huge rocks used to stop tanks haven't been destroyed, but merely stored in a safe place "just in case"... Thumbs up for the Fins, I like their thinking!

Fishing next to a nuclear plant
After the museum I got a ride from a Russian driver who was going by car all the way from St. Petersburg to Switzerland, where he was supposed to climb Mount Blanc. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to see everything I wanted to see on the south coast, so I skipped some apparently amazing red hills (it was raining, anyway) and instead went to a Loviisa, a small town with a nuclear plant. The town was utterly disappointing (something like Kuhmo), with just another ordinary church and the ruins of a 17th century fortress. The fortress was supposedly of high tourist value (says the Rough Guide), but in fact it's just a pile of rubble not even worth looking at.
All in all, Loviisa would have been a complete waste of time if it weren't for the nuclear plant. Not that I managed to get inside or anything, but you don't see nuclear plants every day. Apparently Finland has two - one built in Western style and the other (the Loviisa one) in Soviet style. That's why I wanted to see it. It's 15km out of town, in the middle of nowhere, with no public transport, yet somehow I managed to hitch a ride fairly quickly, take a few photos and ride back with some workers just finishing their shift. What surprised me was that the locals have fishing boats and summer cabins right next to the plant.

Turku or Tampere? It's the same.
My final destination for the day was supposed to be Turku, but things change pretty quickly when you're a hitchhiker. I had planned to spend the night in the former capital, do the touristy stuff the following day, then ride to Tampere (another big city in southern Finland), repeat the process and finally reach Pori, a coastal city where the Iron Maiden were playing at the Sonisphere festival that weekend.

Just clouds, no smoke,
but a cool illusion, eh?
Ok then, Turku. No, wait. Tampere. Even Lenin liked it.
That was the plan until I was picked up by a guy who couldn't utter a single word in English, but made me understand that he was going to Tampere (my understanding of Finnish had already improved by then and I wasn't afraid of repeating the Posio experience).
Since it was quite late in the afternoon and I didn't want to take any chances with another ride, I decided to swap the Turku/Tampere visiting order (no effect on the distance: the two cities plus Pori make a nice triangle of roads and are 200km from each other). However, in Tampere I learned that it's quite a big one and I couldn't squeeze both cities in my schedule, unless I wanted to rush things, which wasn't the case. Tampere is a pleasant ex-industrial place, similar to Zlín (Czech Republic) in many aspects. Many many years ago a famous industry guy set his business right in the city centre, once full of factories now converted to shopping malls, restaurants and offices, all made of red bricks typical for the pre-concrete era and towered by red chimneys. What's really interesting about Tampere is that it's strongly tied to Lenin's life. He spent a couple of years there while exiled and apparently he really liked the place. He even met Stalin there in 1905. Tampere hosts a Lenin museum, one of the few in the world, and if you want to widen your perspective on this person's life, I recommend visiting it.

Offtopic: they like Czech beer in Finnish Lidls.
Despite the enjoyable day in Tampere, I was honestly fed up with cities and therefore decided to skip Turku (as if I hadn't had already decided) and head straight to Pori and the Sonisphere festival. And that was, after a month and a half of solitary zig-zagging through Scandinavia, a very different experience.

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