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A Home Exchange in Finland

Author: LSKahn (More Trip Reviews by LSKahn)
Date of Trip: July 2009

finland ferry boatIn a vacation of many highlights, what occurred the next day has to rank as the absolute best. For 33 euros, I took the Silja Line boat to Mariehamn in the Aland Islands and return for the day. The cruise takes all day. You switch boats in Mariehamn and return to Turku. The boats go back and forth between Turku and Stockholm stopping in Mariehamn. The whole idea was just to see all the islands. There must be at least hundreds -- many uninhabited. I had spectacular weather for the cruise. I spent most of the time on top although the boat had many things to do on it (activities for kids, duty free shopping, restaurants, etc.). My 33 euro fare included a fantastic buffet lunch. I was really glad I did this and somewhat consoled for my decision not to go to Lapland.

Returning to Lahti, I did several more days of day excursions. I visited the National Museum of Finland (Kansallismuseo) in Helsinki on one of my few bad weather days. The museum has exhibits from prehistoric to modern times and is quite interesting if you are a history nut as I am. It was a good place to spend time on a day when the weather was "iffy" outside. The day ended in a colossal thunderstorm and I had a long slow slog back "home" in the torrential downpour.

I also visited Sibelius' home Ainola and a couple of other interesting museums near it including one devoted to women in the military (Finland currently has a woman president, by the way).

My exchangers had arranged for me to meet a friend of theirs who lives near Jyvaskyla at the opposite end of Lake Paijanne from Lahti. I drove up there to meet her to do a hike and got majorly lost. We eventually hooked up and had a very nice day. I treated her to dinner afterwards in Jyvaskyla. Then she took me over to the town of Muurame where she lives and we went to the Sauna Museum -- only in Finland. Basically they have collected a huge number of old sauna buildings from all over Finland and turned it into a museum. The museum was closed so we thought we'd have a look around. Our "look" was cut short when we realized a group of naked men were sitting outside one of the saunas. I took a photo of their rear ends (rather quickly and it is out of focus -- drat). We left. I then drove back to Lahti.

On my last full day in Lahti, I went to Tampere, Finland's second largest city. I went there to the Vaprikki Museum in old factory buildings that once housed a cotton mill. Believe it or not, I saw a huge exhibition on the Indian Sitting Bull. Yes, I went all the way to Tampere, Finland, to see an exhibit about American Indians. I didn't go there for that exhibit (I went for an exhibit about Finland during the Russian Revolution when Finland had its own civil war between Reds and Whites), but I ended up spending a lot of time on the Indian exhibit. The exhibits were from European collections, so, even if I live outside Washington, DC, and have visited the Museum of the American Indian many times, I would not see those items there. I bought the poster from the exhibit as a conversation piece. Of course, the poster cost all of 2 euros. It will not cost 2 euros to frame. Isn't that always the way it is?

I went in Lahti to a restaurant along the lake harbor called Casselli's where I had the best meal of the trip. I ate reindeer in a blue cheese sauce. I am not a fan of blue cheese but I have to say that the reindeer was delicious.

Also in Lahti I had the worst pizza of my entire life. I was in a restaurant in the harbor area and everyone was ordering pizza. Wrong decision! I had eaten at that restaurant earlier in my stay and had these tiny herring that one eats whole with mounds of mashed potatoes (I did not finish the mashed potatoes). The herring were delicious. By the way on the menu they were called "vendace" -- which was supposed to be the English name. Every here of "vendace"? I have heard of herring, but not "vendace"? I also ate excellent salmon several times on my trip. I never ordered pizza again in Finland!

I also spent a day tooling around the monthly market and just basically doing nothing. The market is held on the first Wednesday of every month and basically sells the usual European assortment of junky merchandise and food. The market on other days was mostly people drinking coffee and eating ice cream. The Finns love their coffee and I drank plenty of it. Ice cream is also plentiful and I developed a taste for the pear ice cream. While I was in Lahti, Lahti hosted the Master's Championship in Athletics. Tons of elderly athletes from all over the world! They were all very fit and thin. When someone asked me if I was competing, I laughed and said my event was watching TV. Adjacent to the events where the competitions were held are 3 ski jumps (You can't miss them because they dominate the Lahti skyline). I watched the ski jumpers on my first day in Lahti, but, alas, I got no photos. What I discovered was that my American camera had died. I had to buy a new one in Lahti!

Serious shopping in Lahti was done at the Sokos Department Store. I got two pieces of Kalevala jewelry. Basically it is jewelry inspired by Finland's national epic, "The Kalevala". On market day, they had free coffee and people playing traditional Finnish instruments dressed in folk costumes. Fun!

Finally, my home exchangers returned and I was dropped off at the train station for my train to Helsinki. I would spend five days in Helsinki at the end of my stay. That trip report -- will be posted separately.

My home exchange in Finland was sadly at an end, but it had been terrific!

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