We left Lappeeranta reluctantly. It really has been a delight – a modern town with good facilities and a rather genteel atmosphere. Various musical groups entertained on the stage at the harbour, but never overly loud and not late into the evening. Car drivers readily give way to us cyclists or pedestrians, even when not at a crossing. Everyone was most courteous. And we really got into the saunas and hydrotherapy pool in the mornings, followed by tea and croissants.
The Saimaa lakes are outstandingly beautiful, stretching over 130nm with thousands of wooded islands.
Many of the islands have holiday homes nestling in the trees, each with a sauna house and a place to plunge into the water to cool off. There are about half a million of these homes in Finland and they are an important part of Finnish culture. At this time the trees are shedding vast quantities of pollen, which can cover the shore, the boat and the water.
Much of the route northwards is through twisting narrow channels, where tacking is not realistic, so we required a fair wind. Some days we only managed 10nm and we had three 2 night stops at anchor waiting for the wind, so it was a leisurely pace. It was cold at first (just 8°C ) but it warmed up a bit and Tony managed his first dip, albeit only a quick once round the boat and out. It took us eight days to cover the 90nm to Savonlinna and we did make it under sail.
Savonlinna is the gateway between the southern and northern lakes. It is dominated by the Olavinlinna castle founded in 1475 and built on a rock islet in the middle of the stream where water flows constantly south and hence never freezes. This was an important consideration as water is little defence if your adversary just has to wait until it freezes over. We are moored quite close by and enjoyed a tour of the castle and an excellent lunch in a dining hall. These days you reach the castle by a floating pontoon bridge, which is swung open for ships needing to use the deep channel.
Throughout July the Olavinlinna castle hosts an opera festival on a huge stage within the castle.
We took a local bus to visit the small town of Kerimäki which has a vast church, claimed to be the largest wooden church in the world. It dates from 1847 and seats 3000 people and 2000 more standing. Why so large? The pastor believed that half of the entire parish should be able to meet for worship at the same time.
It is most impressive with a simplicity befitting the reformed church and contrasting with the ornateness of the Orthodox churches we have visited.
It is mid-summer – a very important festival here. It marks the start of the Finnish holiday season, which runs until mid-August. The seasonal greeting translates as “Happy holiday!”
On mid-summer night flags and ensigns fly all night. It does not get properly dark and it is easy to read even after midnight although, while the UK swelters in a heat wave, we are running the heating again to keep warm! Friday and Saturday are public holidays and shops and some restaurants are closed from Friday lunch time. Boats and even some cars are decorated with branches of greenery. As sunset approaches much of the town gathers on shore or on boats to watch the lighting of a bonfire. Perhaps this is the Finnish way of capturing the sun for the long dark winter ahead.
To head further north we have to pass around the castle and through a railway bridge and motorway bridge which we have booked to be opened for us on Saturday.
That’s the news for now.
Tony & Ynskje x