Thousands of Kilometers around Finland – the Diary of a Work Traveler

It was at New Year’s Eve when I complained that “I don’t have anything to look forward to” and “my whole year is pre-planned, nothing to surprise me”. Well, I was definitely wrong. One of the most surprising things during 2017 so far has been the fact that I am virtually all the time on the road. Most of my trips are actually work-related, so nothing exciting about them. But there was an episode in spring that is definitely worth telling about.

There was this tourism seminar I needed to attend and the venue was in Ruka near Kuusamo, Finland. With Finland being quite a big country and offering wilderness experiences often we have the discussion about the accessibility of the destinations. Ruka is a major winter destination, situated not in but close to Lapland, and I didn’t think the accessibility could be a problem.

The timing, however, was really bad. The seminar was starting the day after Easter, and I definitely didn’t want to spend Easter on the road. Immediately after the seminar I had to attend an exhibition in Tampere, so my schedule wasn’t really flexible. I had booked my accommodation and registered for the seminar long ago, when I realized non of the public transport options suited my schedule, not even the flights.

My only option was to drive from Konnevesi to Ruka – a distance of almost 600km. Only God knows how terrible driver I am, so I wouldn’t have agreed on that plan if I had any other choice – but I didn’t!

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We are experiencing a crazy spring in Finland – it has been snowing every other day even  in May. But for the start of my journey on 18. April I had a really nice, sunny and dry weather. There wasn’t much traffic heading to the North on a Tuesday just after Easter, so I had my peace driving by the guidance of my phone navigation.

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Driving to this unknown for me destination, alone and at the mercy of nature, traffic and my old car, I felt like Little Red Riding Hood crossing the forest. I mean, everything looked fine, but I didn’t know when would a danger pop up from behind the corner.

I had planned to have a break half-way, in Kajaani. Somehow I managed to miss the signs to the service station, and I found myself out of Kajaani, driving to the North and searching for a break place in what’s for me Finnish wilderness. Luckily I found Shell Paltamo Kontiomäki service station. Not that I had to refill my car, but definitely I needed a break. It was only after I stopped the car that I felt I had too much of the spring sunshine – causing me a headache. And for some unrelated reason I also got a very strong stomach ache, which made my stop at Kontiomäki too long and very unpleasant. I needed almost an hour to gather my powers back and continue, and the schedule of the seminar was really pressing me to do so.

The rest of the way I traveled almost alone on the road. I saw many famous nature sites along the way, for example Kylmäluoma at Taivalkoski, Hossa, the soon-to-be 40th national park of Finland etc. But the only place that really looked inviting was Suomussalmi with its stunning lake view.

I arrived at Ruka and found my hotel, Cumulus Rukahovi, really easily. The Ruka Village has barely something to do with Finland. It is like some kind of isolated reality, and you can imagine that you are in the Alps or wherever else people like to go skiing around the world – but not in Finland.

Ruka Village is built so, that you don’t need to use any transport going from one service to another. The ski slope is just behind the hotel, the supermarket and the apres ski bar are also nearby. A helicopter was circling around all day long showing another perspective to some curious tourists.

The hotel for me was a disappointment, especially because it is Cumulus. I had had only positive Cumulus experiences so far. Probably my disappointment came from the fact that I got a room from the old part of the hotel, which was poorly maintained and obviously needed some renovation. Even the air quality was much worse in the old part compared to the new one. The hotel was a labyrinth and often I preferred to go around it on the outside than to try to find my way through the corridors.

The restaurant serving buffet food was a huge hall, which does not help networking, but all our social events were organized exactly there. The food was tasteless, and I will never forget the spoiled slices of paprika they served us both at breakfast and lunch. This was my worst food experience in a hotel, that I can recall. The restaurant downstairs was a la cart place with a really friendly service, but the food itself didn’t impress me either. The label of local food instructing the menu was however a good idea I’d like to see in more places.

The last day of three at Ruka we had an excursion at local tourism  businesses. I got to feed a reindeer at Palosaaren Poro- ja Kalastustila – that was cool! Later we got really close to the Russian border at Isokenkäisten Klubi where we had a delicious lunch, including some family secret recipes. In the afternoon we visited Santa Claus’ cottage at Pohjolan Pirtti (I didn’t know Santa has a reception besides the one in Rovaniemi), and one rare old Finnish house, which was not burned down during the wars of last century (I am referring to the history of Lapland, which was almost completely burned down).

After the excursion I started driving towards home right away. The clock was already showing 16:30. I was still at the parking lot when I saw the first snowflakes of an upcoming storm. Along the way everything possible fell from the sky, water in all of its conditions. I just wanted to get home, so I decided not to have a break on the way, except the fuel refill at Kuusamo. I sang to all the songs on the radio – even to these, the lyrics or melody of which I don’t actually know. The motorway was full of trucks, which didn’t make my driving task easier.

The last few hours every part of my body was hurting and itching, but I just continued like a maniac. Darkness fell over the wet empty road. Never in my life I’ve been so happy to read the sign “Vesanto” – it meant I am soon gonna be home at its neighboring municipality, Konnevesi. I was driving the last kilometers, thinking how lucky I am. “No moose on the road, at least!” And just then in the total darkness a white rabbit decided to cross the road in front of my car. The situation was so surreal, I was tired and my reactions were slow, the road was wet and slippery, but I managed to slow down. And just when I felt the relief that I didn’t kill it, a second white rabbit popped up and followed the first one. Well, that one was really close to my wheels! Stupid cute animal! They both continued their journey, luckily.

I parked my car in front of my bedroom window instead of the parking lot. I was the last one in the neighborhood to come home and I would be the first one to go in the morning. I slipped under the blanket, while my boyfriend was already sleeping. In the morning at dawn I fled to attend the next work appointment away. “I visited you in the night like a secret lover – shortly and unnoticed”, I whispered to my boyfriend, then wished him a good day and departed.

The drive this time was only to Jyväskylä, where I left the car and took a train to Tampere. Being able to travel with a transport, that someone else drives, felt like a real luxury! The trip to Tampere compared to my previous adventures felt really short, and I couldn’t implement my plans to take a nap in the train.

Tampere is my favorite city in Finland. I am not sure why, but I get a really nice vibe from even passing through it. This time I had almost two full days there and a night at the very unique Sokos Torni – the tower hotel, so in general my expectations were high.

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My expectations of the weather were also high, since the day before I was approximately 700km more in the North. But arriving at Tampere, the city offered a wet snowfall in a combination with strong wind, and it wasn’t fun. I was relieved to get to the fair, but at that time I looked as bad as a homeless cat.

In the afternoon I checked in the hotel. I had requested a room from a higher floor, because I wanted to enjoy the view, but I got one from the 10th floor (out of 25). Good enough! I was so tired, that I knew, if I stay in the room I will fall asleep right away. So I decided to first go out and grab a bite.

The place to visit was Plevna – a famous restaurant and brewery in the center. It is worth to check the story of the place, which has its roots in Bulgarian city of Pleven and the nearby village of Gorni Dubnik, where Finnish soldiers were fighting in the Russo-Turkish war in 1877. Unfortunately the company behind Plevna does not get the best out of their unique history – the story is explained shallowly in the menu, but the place itself looks like a Bavarian beer bar. It is a pity, because there are thousands of Bavarian pubs around the world, but not enough places commemorating Bulgarian Renaissance and Uprising. The food, however, was yummy and in combination with the local dark beer it deserves my 10 points.

After this experience I  went shopping along the main street, but my eyes were closing and so there was nothing to be done – I needed to get to the hotel and sleep it off. The last thing I managed to do for the day was to take a really relaxing aroma bath in my low-light bathroom. Amazing!

In the morning I woke up to the sunlight. At home we use the dark curtains, so this would be impossible, but whenever I stay at a hotel, I leave the curtains open. At least this day was sunny!

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morning view from the 10th floor

I needed to get to the fair again, but I didn’t hurry – first I had to experience Sokos Torni’s breakfast. The restaurant was crowded on a Saturday morning, but I managed to find a nice window table and enjoy the fruits and cheese with some decent coffee.

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The fair was called “Supermessut”, but there was nothing “super” about it. Either I was too tired to care, or this was a really boring fair. Luckily this was the last part of this marathon, and in the late afternoon I finally got home!

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So, how much do you think you can travel in 5 days? I did approximately 1640 km, most of which I drove myself. That’s a kind of a record!

-Rossi

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