As I mentioned, we arrived in Oulu to cooler weather, but it didn’t stop us from having a barbecue! We were invited by Hubby’s friends, who lived in the nearby town of Kiiminki, to a barbecue by the river. The Finns love doing anything outdoors, so eating outside fits the bill. But instead of electric barbecues that are so common in public parks in Australia, the council here provided firepits and free wood.
Once the coals are glowing, you can skewer and grill your sausages as you like it. The Finns seem to have a thing for kransky (full-flavoured, smoked pork sausages) filled with cheese! Delicious, but oh so naughty.
And while we ate, we watched the river, full to the brim with snow-melt, rush by.
Two weeks later we were back grilling, and this time in t-shirts! By then the river had also receded. Spring has finally arrived.
Let’s have another good look around Oulu, shall we? It’s a modern city, with great recreational facilities…
With great off-road walking and cycling paths that run in all directions.
But it hasn’t forgotten its past.
Nevertheless, nature is never far away.
And it was good to see over the weeks we were there to see that landscape come alive with spring.
We didn’t have a car while in Oulu, and so spent a lot of time on the buses and walking. One day after dinner at a friend’s place, we walked in the twilight back to our cabin. On the way, we passed a lot of birch trees, the predominant species in Finland. They were still rather bare in early May, but their pale trucks reflected the wonderful golden light.
We walked by a lot of water along the way. Oulu has been built on the inlet of a river, and the city has really embraced the water. Again, it’s a place that has been built into the landscape.
The locals also love the outdoors, and take to it whenever possible, whether on land (nordic walking, cycling and rollerblading being favourite summer pasttimes) or on water.
Oulu is also a growing city. It has a top-class university, forestry (still mainly traditional woodchipping – the chimney is for the pulp mill), and technology – Nokia has its research and development base there. It all requires new accommodation, hence the presence of these cranes.
As we got closer to the coast, the sky became more spectacular.
Until it gave a fitting finale.
Our cabin was by the sea – well, by the Gulf of Bothnia, which flows into the Baltic Sea. We explored the area by bike and foot as there were excellent paths along this stretch. As with much of Finland, the area was flat, characterised by reed marshes.
Being so flat, it could also get very windy – a great place to put a wind turbine.
But it wasn’t all wild marshes. As I mentioned, there were also beaches – two that I found. One of them wasn’t all that developed, just a place to kick back and enjoy the sea.
The other was the main beach of Oulu. It had showers, toilets, decking, a cafe and lookout, even an American-style lifeguard tower.
But look carefully at the photo, what is that on the water? Could it be ice? You bet ya. It was the last remains of the winter pack ice. It made a spectacular scene at sunset, but it certainly didn’t look like somewhere to take a dip, at that time of the year, at least.
We arrived at the northern Finnish city of Oulu. It’s about 100km from the Swedish border, and 200km south of the Arctic Circle. We stayed a bit of town at Nallikari, a little beachside holiday village. Yes, it’s hard to imagine that people want to go to a beach this far north, but the Finns love being outdoors.
Our cabin accommodation was very cute, in typical Scandi practical style.
Despite its wooden exterior, it’s surprisingly warm inside, with super insulation and even vacuum-sealed windows. It has to be as in the winter the temperature can get to -30C, and the area becomes a cross-country skiing centre. The temperature had just peeped above freezing when we arrived, and people were cleaning up in earnest in preparation for summer. This included sweeping aside existing snowdrifts and raking up a winter’s worth of leaves.
The sun however still poked through, making for gorgeous spring sunsets, and neverending twilights.
The lack of proper night time was certainly hard to get used to. The photo above was taken at 9.30pm, and the sky darkened to a dark blue by 10.30, but it never got black. By 3.30am the sun was on its way up once again. The lack of real block-out curtains in the cabin certainly didn’t help things, so it was a long time before we got some real sleep.
The day continued to lengthen during our three weeks in Finland, but we didn’t make it to summer. The sun in Oulu at midsummer would only skim the horizon and make its way up straight away, making it day for almost 24 hours. It doesn’t seem to bother the Finns, who I’ve heard spend most of the summer at all-night parties to make up for the long winters.
We boarded the train north from Helsinki Central Station. The trains were very comfy, especially since we travelled first class. It had plenty of leg room, free wifi and reading material (although they were all in Finnish), even a tea/coffee making station.
We had little idea of what the Finnish landscape looked like, except that there was a lot of forest and water. Well, we got plenty of both. This is photo I took a few weeks later when I was in Lapland, but it showed the landscape we passed through during those 6 hours – forest, more forest, on very flat land, broken up by the odd swamp/stream/river/lake.
To me, this seemed like the Arctic equivalent to the Australian outback, where you can pass through thousands of kilometres of red sand, rock, and low-lying scrub. This kind of landscape is vast too. It starts west of Finland in Sweden, and stretches across Russia all the way to Siberia and beyond. It would have been pretty hard-going navigating such a place for the early settlers, who were mainly hunters and woodsmen, since the woods were dense, and everything looked the same.
Suomenlinna comprised of a few godforsakened rocky islands about 10km from Helsinki. It was well-fortified by the Swedes, as you can see.
With many cannons, all at the ready.
But although the walls were literally 10 feet thick, they were no match for the Russians. They besieged the fortress for two months before the Swedes surrendered.
These days, the islands are besieged daily by tourists, and the inter-city ferries from Helsinki to Tailinn and Stockholm.