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Sometimes on a trip, when things are unplanned, you have a serendipity you could never plan if you tried. We were driving through forests on road 13 in the Lake District in Central Finland, off of E 75, when we stopped in a tiny crossroads town to mail some post cards in the orange Posti. They spoke good English, so we asked what was of interest nearby. The postal clerk directed us to the find of the day: a mystical place of ancient rites which they couldn’t explain.
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We drove just two kilometers and found Pauanne, a area with huge granite, rounded dome rocks covered with moss and lichens. There was a stone bridge which must be for cross-country skiers. The quaint, desserted, wooden buildings were intricately designed and appeared old, but we learned later most are not so old and are used by a doctor specializing in unusual natural healing therapies. One authentic sauna hut was quite ancient and large enough for a group.
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A brick oven with a dome chimney was centered with a huge millstone wheel attached to an enormous wood bellows to blow the fire. Wood platforms were all around for people to lie, or sit in this sweat lodge which holds the heat for hours, even after the fire dies. Outside there are ancient symbols, a human-shaped wood cross, and a fire pit. These have legends of mystery that cause the locals to want to stay away. We wish we knew the language to understand the story, but even those who knew English wouldn’t speak the tales, as if it were bad luck to do so.

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O’Karva Rinta Raventola (Restaurant) in Kivijarvi, Finland, looks like an old cement fortress or castle with two WWI canons in front, so it is rather ominous looking. You enter through a strange hallway which is dark and turns, like a castle keep. Pass through the bar, then a living room with a cozy fireplace and many statues and pictures of ominuous little characters from gargoyles to a long-horned steer skull. Then you go up some steep stairs to an amazing banquet hall, like one in an English castle, set with formal tables for 180 in all.
The room and balcony were eclectic in decor, with collections of many different kinds of beautiful, handmade linens, fine antique china, various kinds of tapestry upholstered chairs, and heavy carved wood tables. There are hundreds of paintings around the gallery walls of the balcony, all for sale. At first it struck us as a hodge-podge, but then it became very inviting and fascinating. An ancient looking fireplace, an old grandfather clock, a fully stocked bar in one corner, It was impossible to take in all the sights.

We elected to sit in the far corner in the sofa and armchair seating at a secluded table for four, but we were the only ones there because some diners left as we arrived, and the next day was to be the formal re-opening of the restaurant for the season.

We were warmly greeted at the top of the stairs by a huge, gypsy looking man dressed like a pirate, except no hat or sword….white formal shirt, black tux pants tucked into huge white Russian Cossak type boots. With frizzy, shoulder length hair, he was very handsome, had an inviting smile, and spoke a little English with great effort He made us feel very welcome as if in his home. We found out later, in fact, he does also live here. The castle was built by an eccentric artist friend of his many years ago. The builder was a teacher of mechanics and also a very fine artist, Artemento, whose beautiful landscapes art hung for display and not for sale in the library.
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To our surprise and delight, the owner perched on a stool near our table and seranaded us with his accordian and his beautiful singing during our meal. On week-end nights they have a live band. His wife joined him several times in a lovely peasant costume with a wreath of flowers in her hair and they sang love songs together, obviously still very much in love after rearing five grown children.
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Happy Singers and owners are Tuula Pesonen and Juhani Niemi. Kanerva Laitinen serves the wine.
The food was as superb as the atmosphere, and the service by Kanerva Laitinen was very gracious. How we wish we lived close enough to return for such a special evening weekly! When you are in central Finland, do not miss this unique restaurant!

LAHTI’S AMAZING SKI JUMP

The town of Lahti, Finland, about an hour from Helsinki, has an amazing ski jump and sports complex, used for Olympic training and try-outs. Finland is so flat that cross-country, instead of downhill, skiing is the specialty. The jumps must be built of steel piers.
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After seeing this amazing structure, we ate supper at the Santa Fe Restaurant. We were hesitant to try our favorite Southwest food in Europe, but decided to risk it. We have been disappointed in other places with non-authentic Tex Mex. In the entrance we were greeted with a Texas flag on the wall, so we couldn’t resist trying the food, and it was FABULOUS!!…the best Southwest food we have had anywhere, including Santa Fe and Texas! A real find to return to, and moderate prices. We have been grateful to find that the restaurants have no-smoking areas.
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Four hours drive from Helsinki, the Hotel Sokos Alexandra in Jyvaskyla is centrally located, comfortable and spotless, a very nice place to stay. We found a nice bar, restaurant, sauna, and plenty or parking on site. It is affordably priced and has all the amenities, including a wonderful breakfast in the price of your room.

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The farther a traveler goes north in Finland the more captivating is the lure of going on to the Artic Circle and Lapland. Driving northeast from the Baltic coast and Kemi, Finland, where we had viewed the crown of the King of Finland in the gem museum, we could not resist heading toward the crown of the world globe and the province of Lapland and the city of Rovaniemi, the capital and the center of government for Lapland. The Sami people are native to this province and live throughout its upper regions with their herds of reindeer, migrating as they have for hundreds of years. We had hoped to find colorful red costumes, fur tents, and reindeer everywhere, but of course today this is not the case. We found instead a bustling modern city, which is one of the biggest tourist centers of the country with a number of nice hotels from which to choose. Since we were just between seasons for them–summer tourism would not start for two weeks and ski season ended about a month before our arrival–we chose the Rantasipi Pohjanhovi Hotel, a SNR Hotel, because it is located right on the banks of the Kemijoki River with great views from the hotel’s lovely rooms. We were an easy walk along the river to the major bridge spanning the Kemijoki, and we could not help feeling that we were back in Alaska beside the Yukon River as both rivers serve their regions of the world in a similar way. River Safaris can be arranged on the Kemijoki during the summer months.
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We stretched our legs by walking around town along the water and into the center and stopped in the large Lutheran Church, which had been rebuilt in the 1950’s with help from Sweden and the US after being destroyed in World War II. A service was going on but a girl in front invited us to slip in. We sat reverently and enjoyed the Biblical art depictions, which had Sami people and wolves and ice mountains around Jesus, but the Christian symbols are universal and were the same as ours. The reverence and tone of the message, added to by the visuals of the surrounding brightly colored depictions, created a feeling of warm fellowship.
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After our stroll along the river and through the center of town, we headed for dinner at Ravintola Poulukka (016-310-222) near our hotel that said “authentic Lapland food,” and what a find. The service by the lovely red-headed waitress was perfect and friendly. Every bite of the authentic food was delicious. One of us had reindeer filet in loganberry sauce, roasted Lappi potatoes, and fish soup (whitefish, salmon, potatoes, leeks, in cream sauce with dill….fabulous!) and their wonderful bread, coffee, and Charlotte rouse with berry sauce. Another of us had salmon stuffed with crayfish with a creamy dill sauce, and another the rack of reindeer in a wonderful cream dill sauce. It was all fabulous! We were the only diners except for a table of four Finnish couples. While they were having kaffe they broke out in song and sang in four part harmony for about 30 minutes. It was absolutely beautiful folk music, and they kept smiling at us. Finally, they sang “Love Me Tender” in English to draw us in overtly. We sang with them and everyone exchanged warm smiles and thank you’s…a wonderful experience and very authentic. We had read that music is a part of everyday life and everyone sings, especially in the North where it is daily normal entertainment. It was great!

We walked over to ladies’ night at the dance hall across the bridge and watched the local people dancing what appeared to be a cross between the polka and Western waltzing, all in small circles around a big circle. We had heard that Finns love to dance and go to places such as this on a regular basis. All ages of adult were represented here and everyone seemed to revel in being able to swirl around the dance floor.
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We next spent an intriguing time at the Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi. The Arkitkum is housed in a beautifully unique building that is right on the Kemijoki River. This museum has all the Nordic facts about animals of the icy country and life of the native people compared to now. A fascinating place which is a must when you visit this area. Plan about a half day to read all the signs and learn the most, which is all about the top of the world and of interest to any nationality. The signs are in many languages and the displays are wonderful. Price is about $10 Euros.

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At the town of Pyhasalmi, Finland , our travel adventures brought us to a wonderful discovery. The Brass Bell Roadhouse Restaurant on Highway E75. We had a delicious meal of weinerschnitzels and steaks, potatoes and vegetables. Two people ate well with wine for under $20, and the portions were huge, everything very fresh. We were fortunate to meet the manager, Lassi Ronkko, whose father started this roadhouse thirry years ago with one brass bell hanging in front. Lassi came to our table to tell about the wonderful collection of bells he now has.
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They have purchased the bells through the years, starting the restaurant with only one chain of brass bells. They now display thousands of bells from around the world and have bells of every kind he knows of in the collection, which is now worth millions. We found the various bells displayed all around the little restaurant are most interesting, and different ones chimed as we ate. There is a wall of white ceramic bells in carrillon from Bavaria, which are extremely rare and play periodically throughout the day. Ronkko’s favorite was one he got when traveling in Oregon because his father had once been asked if there was any substance that could not be used to mnake a bell, and his father answered perhaps ash. Lassi found a bell made from ash from Mt. St. Helena and, of course, had to buy it.
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You’ll see extremely valuable bells, including some with the English Royal family’s photographs on them, and there are hundreeds of just tourism bells. One bell from Bali is for good luck in fertility and was made in shape of a person, with the striker being a phallic symbol. The Chinese water bell was amazing. As Mr. Ronkko rubbed his wet hands on the handles of the bowl of water it became a sounding bell with the still water dancing like a fountain from the vibrations of the bells. He had Budhist bowl bells from Tibet, whose sounds increased as he circled the outside with the mallets.
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We learned that In some languages the word for bell is the same as the word for clock, which is because before clocks, the bells tolled the hour. The collection includes several rare clocks, one of which contains the second oldest clockwork in the world. During World War II bells from all over Europe were melted to be used as bronze for guns. Then after the war, guns were melted to make bells, so peace bells were a reality.

Aluminum and steel bells do not make a good tone. Bronze are the best. Ten years ago the senior Ronkko put in a small foundry to manufacture bells for sale in the shop. On some days visitors can see bells being cast.
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Outside you’ll first be attracted to the huge platform with several giant bronze bells , twenty tons are on the top story, including one carrillon played by a crank or a keyboard. One huge bell is over a phone booth, and the German priest who made it claims this is the only phone on which one can call directly to God. Most bells displayed outside are from Germany and Budapest. One tower carillon has a skirt to protect it from the weather in winter This one, which plays the most melodious rendition of all, is played by dialing a number on your cell phone, which for Finns is instead of using coins or credit cards to operate automatic machines.

We were sad to find out he didn’t have a Texas bell, so now we must send him one. If youhave a bell you’d like included in his collection, you may send it to Vaskikellontie 420; 86800 Pyhasalmi, Finland. His hope is to be invited to view the 300 carrillon collection of the a Texan.

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The North wind is biting cold, so we can readily see why saunas are so important, even in summer. In Finland there are enough saunas for all five million inhabitants to be in one at the same time, and the tourists too! One of our hostesses had spent the night before, with temperatures of below 0 degree C (32F), by a lake in a tent with a fire in the center. After her morning sauna in the tent, she jumped into the icy cold lake for her daily, (year-round), swim! “What a woman!” remarked one in our group.

In each home, rental cabin, hotel, and in many little lakeside huts all through the land, you will find a small enclosure of wood-paneled walls with a small burner containing large rocks. Modern saunas have electric heaters, more rustic ones have a fireplace. When the rocks are really hot, you throw a little water on them and steam rises immediately. There are wood-slat benches for sitting or lying. When you bake yourself a few minutes in air temperatures up to about 140 degrees F., you sweat profusely and quickly become so relaxed you cannot contain a worry!

For Finns, this daily sauna might be for solitude and contemplation or a way to entertain guests. Modesty is not a problem because it is considered unhealthy and insulting to wear any clothing in a sauna. After getting thoroughly relaxed Fins jump into the nearby freezing lake, river, pool, or shower to shock their body’s energy! The claim is that if you do this everyday, beginning when you are young and healthy, you will never be sick!

As timid foreigners we were permitted to keep our swim suits on! The wonderful sauna experience proved that it feels wonderful to be completely relaxed…. a feeling we seldomn find as Americans, but we were not about to jump into that freezing water!

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Setting out north of Rovaniemi, we had a short drive to Santa Village, which is what most tourists come to Rovaniemi to see. This tourist attraction is located right on the Arctic Circle, adding to the feeling that one has arrived at the North Pole. It is the most popular trip from England during December and January when there are as many as 4,000 visitors a day for up to six weeks. Visitors who fly in for a day can see Santa, shop, ride snow mobiles, mush with dog sleds, cross country ski, see the Aurora Borealis, all in one day (one long night) and fly back. In summer it is a very popular tourist center for visitors from everywhere, but we were between seasons and found no crowds. Santa Village is open daily year round with Santa in residence by his big Christmas tree, but Rudolph’s toy workshop is open only on weekends between tourist seasons. You can find reindeer grazing and resting by the barns, which contain Santa’s red and white sleighs. And you can send letters which Santa signs, posted at the Arctic Circle. The shops have lovely gifts and a large assortment of work done by the Sami people, who a large part of the rest of the world incorrectly refer to as Lapi people, that live in this Lapland province of Finland.
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We were very disappointed, although not surprised, to verify that we could not see any of the Sami people in traditional costume or herding reindeer. To see that we would have to travel another 220 km farther north and still only be lucky to see some if they were having a special family ceremony or happened to be following the reindeer cross country,,,,a rare event nowadays. These people specialize in wood and leather crafts and make beautiful knifes with handles of polished birch and reindeer horn.

Having our picture taken with Santa and one with us in an original Lapland sleigh were a must as well as standing on the official Arctic Circle stones for a photo to verify to friends and family that we had actually reached such latitude on the globe. We later learned that the real Arctic Circle changes latitude each year with a variation up to 100 meters, depending on the sun’s position. The Circle is the topmost place on earth where the sunlight is constant for 24 hours and absent for 24 hours one day a year. We drove an extra kilometer just to be sure we had actually crossed the real Artic Circle this year!
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Jyvaskyla is about four hours’ drive Northwest of Helsinky, and if you are not on a cruise ship and confined to the coast, it is worth a visit. We were concentrating on the arts and crafts of the area and were hosted by some delightful women who were very knowledgeable of Finnish handicrafts. It was such a great opportunity to be able to spend a day getting to know the local people and their wonderful sense of humor. As one said, “When you live in a country this cold you have to have a sense of humor.”

We were ready for our guided tour of the city and study of the handcrafts of Central Finland. The lovely tourism office representative Katja Kivala
hosted us and interpreted when necessary, but most Fins speak excellent English.

NATIONAL COSTUMES STILL USED

In Jyvaskyla, Finland, The National Costume Center of Finland in conjunction with The Conservation Center has created a room in the Craft Museum of Finland displaying Finnish costumes. These are rare and valuable examples of the traditional costumes from each region. The stitchery and weaving are exquisite. Costumes are still made today and worn on special occasions like marriages, confirmations, and national holidays.

HOME OF ALVAR AALTO, ARCHITECT

Jyvaskyla, Finland, is the home of Alvar Aalto, the world famous architect of modern designs using glass and steel, who was at his zennith of fame in the middle of the twentieth century. His well-known Finlandia building is in Helsinki, but you’ll find many of his works here.

He designed ten buildings at the campus of the University of Jyvaskyla, the last of which is still under construction. The University has about 40,000 students in this town of 80,000 people. You’ll also find a museum bearing Aalto’s name.

He was a professor in the United States when he gained his fame, but spent his latter years designing in Finland in conjunction with his first and second wives, both of whom were architects.