04.12.16 Helsinki to Tampere
Bathos gets us all in the end. After my sublime final evening in Helsinki, the following morning was spent racing in ridiculous fashion around the nearest department store trying to find a suitcase. (More boring technicalities concerning the differing ways in which airlines make it difficult to travel with a violin: it had had its own seat on the way out, but would be hand luggage on the way back, thus requiring the rest of my belongings to be transferred from my backpack to something that could go in the hold.)
The only other blip was having to queue for a decidedly un-Scandinavian length of time to buy an Actual Train Ticket, following the tragic expiration of my Inter-Rail pass. This eventually achieved, I had only a 1.5-hour journey between me and my next destination.
In the nature of early-afternoon dusks, it was fully dark by the time I arrived in Tampere, and the weather might most accurately be described as light blizzard. Resisting the temptation to curse the fact that it was for this that I had transferred all my belongings into a wheeled suitcase, I embarked upon the 20-minute walk to my hostel. It was an easy route, and I only had to dig my suitcase out of a snowdrift once.
Either I wasn’t paying attention when I booked (which previous evidence suggests is more than likely), or the hostel had joined forces with or become a rather swish hotel since I did so: my room, although small, was furnished with ludicrously kitsch carved furniture and gold satiny curtains. There had, however, been less investment in the wi-fi infrastructure, making it impossible to investigate the local area prior to venturing into it.
After showering and laundrying (on another silly 2-hour cycle with no tumble dryer, which while environmentally exemplary meant I spent ten minutes applying a hairdryer to one of my tops in order to go out inside it), I ventured out for dinner at the conveniently nearby pub that I’d noted on my way to the hostel. This turned out to serve an excellent cheeseburger and a nice local bottled beer, which was a pleasantly civilised way to end a disconcertingly un-frazzling travel day.
05.12.16: Tammerkoski tour
Proved myself an unreconstructed Oxford student at breakfast by failing to open a milk carton first by hand and then with a spoon handle. I sheepishly left it for someone more competent to deal with.
The deepening carpet of snow, through which I’d dragged my new suitcase the previous day, had been taken care of by a torrential downpour that woke me up at 4.52am. Not so much as to melt it completely, though – that would have been too easy – but rather to thoroughly glaze in ice every last metre of pavement between here and the town centre. This had effectively rendered the grit useless and my path treacherous. Using muscles in my feet that haven’t seen so much exercise since my ballet days, I proceeded extremely slowly, and eventually skated my way into town (only marginally more clumsily than when I have actually had skates on my feet, as my university contemporaries might testify).
Tampere is rather greyer than Helsinki, with a more gritty urban feel than the capital’s colourful, quirky districts. Still, the town centre has a pleasing pedestrianised square, where the mandatory Christmas market was in full swing. I resisted diving straight in, though, and first found the tourist office. Having failed to connect to the hostel internet, this was my first chance since arriving to do things like check my bank balance and routes to things I’d read about, as well as do the usual leaflet-collecting spree, so I spent a little while there. Pleasingly, the leaflets included some suggested self-guided walking tours, so I set out at once for the fabulously-named Tammerkoski Rapids.
Lined with 19th-century red-brick warehouses, this is a large dammed river linking the two lakes that sandwich Tampere between them. Apparently the city’s reliance on its hydroelectric power has led it to be referred to as the Manchester of Finland; it even has a nickname in Finnish: Manse. On this particular day, however, they were not rapid at all, but iced over.
The map led me through this red-brick labyrinth and out into the Rapids Park, a small patch of greenery running alongside the river. It took longer than it should have done to get from one map marker to the next, because the pavements away from the main streets were as treacherous as those from the hostel. In the Rapids Park, there was also the added bonus of sloping paths ending immediately above the fast-flowing river, dam and weir. (Fortunately even the Nordic authorities have deemed a little health and safety necessary in this instance, and have applied railings to the situation.)
It was also still snowing intermittently – quite what was going on with the weather fronts I have no idea – but the walk was still pleasing enough, taking in more of the river, the Finlayson district full of independent designers, and some very chilly-looking ducks.
Tour completed, I dived into a café I’d seen recommended, and it took me a moment to work out that the reason my feet felt so much more wrung-out than when I’d walked at least double the distance in Helsinki two days before was the treacherous conditions. Convalesced with reading and some liquorice-flavoured black tea (much less horrifying than the bright yellow root-based stuff) for a while, then, on finding no toilet on the premises, I was forced regretfully to leave and dive straight into another café.
Relieved, I selected another tea in my new location and was impressed to have the lady who served me not only offer to describe each of the (loose-leaf) teas they were offering but provide advice on how long to steep my selection for, and even encourage me to come back to refill my cup if I wanted. Instantly glad I’d moved, I spent a further hour there knitting until I realised I’d made a foolish row-marking mistake and would have to unravel a large quantity. Unwilling to undergo the deep humiliation of frogging in public, I left and headed back into the town centre to investigate the Tampere incarnation of the Christmas market. I felt something of a connoisseur by now.
While smaller than the giant maze of the Helsinki market, the arrangement of this one featured no right-angles, making it delightfully easy to get lost in as the dusk fell and the warm golden light from the stalls reflected invitingly in the puddles. I also greatly approved of the city’s Christmas lights, which could have been designed with me in mind.
My explorations complete (including a sample of mulled cider), I found myself once more slightly at a loss as to how to fill the dark late afternoon hours. Not for long, however; I unintentionally provided myself with a solution by spending quite some time getting lost and failing to find several different dinner options.
At last I reached my goal, in the form of a traditional Finnish meat pie and IPA in a pub recommended for ‘the best local food, music and atmosphere’. There did indeed seem to be a dark-edged almost-folk-rock tone to the piped music, which was fine by me. I decided that in the highly iced-over circumstances, a post-prandial walk would be somewhat unwise, and so selected the customary bar in which to continue my reading.
On the recommendation of the barman, I selected a Finnish G&T, complete with rosemary and cranberries (apparently award-winning) in the rather improbably-named Gastropub Nordic. By this point I had given up all hope of not finishing The Name of the Wind before getting home, and was happily racing through it.
The universe must have quietly upheaved while I was occupied, because I left the pub to find my bus waiting for me, rather than my having to do the reverse. Change is nice.
06.12.16: Pyynikki Park
Today is Finnish Independence Day! An exciting and event-filled day for all… apart, it seems, from those in Tampere. The only difference I noticed was that everything was closed.
I found one exception in the form of the same café I had relocated to yesterday, which was celebrating the occasion by serving the brunch it normally only provides at weekends. I duly partook, then decided that as it was brilliantly sunny, I could make up for everything being closed by passing the day outside and visiting the Pyynikki park, which is a nature reserve situated on the world’s highest esker – a gravel ridge pushed up between two lakes created by glaciers.
One bus, a brief hillside trek and a large set of steps later, I found myself in another Christmas card scene, standing on a winding snow-covered road flanked on both sides by towering pines coloured gold by the low sun. There were plenty of other people around, and yet the overwhelming sense was of quiet, of nature undisturbed.
Until this point, I hadn’t re-encountered the sense I’d got in Helsinki, of a city co-existing so closely with nature that the landscape bursts out of every street corner. Tampere had felt much more like a standard urbanised area. But now I realised my mistake; in being confined to the comparatively small area of the Pyynikki park, nature has exploded out of the surrounding townscape all the more forcefully. Tampere is the second largest city in Finland, and it was impossible to believe that it was walking-distance away.
Having noted the existence of a café and observation tower for later, I set off for a circular walk around part of the ridge. My spirits rose with the altitude, as the blue and pine-green and white and gold palette of the park was as pure as I have come to associate with this part of the world. My crunching footsteps brought me to successively higher outcrops, each one tantalisingly allowing me to see slightly further above the treetops across the frozen Lake Pyhäjärvi.
At last, I came to a viewing point where the trees dropped away completely to give a panoramic view. You could almost hear the tinkle of individual ice crystals in the awestruck silence.
After gazing my fill, fulfilled and photographed, I continued, clambering over rocks and down steep snowy inclines, turning back along the other side of the ridge and heading back towards the tower. On this side the trees were older, taller and denser, and the resulting lack of sun made it much colder – though no less jaw-dropping.
By marching briskly I was soon back at the café, which was packed; it looked as though half of Tampere had had the same idea as me, and come to partake of tea and one of the café’s famous doughnuts.
It was indeed a very good doughnut – ring-shaped, covered in sugar and cinnamon, and very freshly made. Altogether it was a very wholesome way to come back to the realities of human existence, after the crystalline stillness of the ridge. Somewhat fortified, I deployed my tower ticket to climb the (many, many) steps to the top.
I was glad I hadn’t done this first, as I would have been disappointed and might not then have stuck around to explore. It turned out that the side of the tower that actually looked out over the ridge, rather than the city and the car park, had until minutes ago been out of the sun. The windows were consequently still covered in feathery crusts of ice, and the views were as tantalisingly partial as they had been on the way up the ridge path.
Making the best of things, I duly applied my camera’s macro setting to the situation, then amused myself by using my fingernail to add ‘привет’ in the ice under someone else’s offering of ‘пока’.
This pretty much concluded what there was to do at Pyynikki. Feeling thoroughly purified and content, I was in for a slightly bumpy return to reality. I caught the bus back into town and tried to go to the Lenin museum (one of the more interesting-sounding of the city’s famously quirky museum offerings) … which was of course closed for Independence Day. I suppose I couldn’t argue with the principle of that.
So it was back to my hostel for a brief rest stop before the evening set in. Spotting something that looked as if it could have been a glorious sunset through the trees outside the bus window, I got off slightly early and retraced its route a short way. Unexpectedly and wonderfully, I found myself on the frozen shores of the other side of the same lake I’d gazed upon from the ridge earlier. Now, instead of reflecting an impossibly blue sky, it was glowing frostily in the fading light.
On returning to town for dinner, I found my way to a cute, though early-closing, local pub for delicious meatballs and chips, then to another for a glass of wine in order to catch up on my internet and reading (as if that had been neglected). Finally, my options exhausted, I took myself home early for the customary 3D Tetris exercise of packing what was by now really quite a lot of yarn into my really quite small suitcase.
One mildly alarming thing about the prospect of moving on was the way the temperatures had been behaving in Rovaniemi the previous day.
The other alarming thing, of course, was that it was my last stop. I wasn’t ready to believe that yet.