Today, we left Helsinki and headed into the Finnish countryside. It was a relief to leave the expensive city behind, watching metallic cityscapes transition into woods and forest. For our route, Tyler found several driving itineraries from a Scandanavian travel agency called Runic Travels.
With names like "The Best of Finland" and "Experience the Midnight Sun", they outlined cities to visit, the distances between them, and sights to see along the way. So, we created an amalgamation of the various loops and headed to our first stop: the town of Kotka, reported to be interesting because of its port.
For the first few hours, we motored along happily, feeling quiet and introspective, content to watch the scenery fly by.
Arriving in Kotka, we drove around expectantly. If it was in a tourist itinerary, it had to be good, right? Wrong, of course. After realizing there wasn't much to see, we promptly drove out, back into the hills and forests we cared about.
As we drove, it occurred to us (for the hundredth time) that following a planned route was not quite our style. Still, we had high hopes for our next destination: Lapeenranta, famous for its fortress. On the way, we drove past tons of little red barns, thinking of Tyler's mom Sarah (she loves them) each time we saw one.
Passing this cool old tractor, Tyler stopped to take some bracketed shots, looking forward to trying his hand at HDR photography. We're not sure if we like it, but Tyler is obsessed with learning new things, so he plans to keep at it for awhile. For a technical explanation of what is going on here, read this.
Apart from being so expensive, we love Finland, and our little red car too:
Eventually, we arrived in Lapeenranta and drove around looking for the town's famous fortress. We quickly abandoned the search and pulled sharply off the road into a parking lot when we saw this!
Whoa! Apparently this attraction opens every summer, providing kids (and people like us) with gigantic sand sculptures to ogle, candy stalls to patronize, and a huge sandbox filled with toys to play with. As we wandered around in the hot sun admiring the skill it surely requires to render such intricate details with grains of sand, Tyler bracketed several more shots for later HDR twiddling.
This probably wasn't a good scene for HDR, as the results aren't all that impressive. Either that or we just don't know how to do it properly yet.
Once we'd seen all the sculptures, we resumed our search for the town's fortress. Looking at our route, we can't help but laugh at the huge circles we did outside of town, paying too much attention to our GPS and not enough to common sense (we're nowhere near the town!).
We did manage to find it eventually. We think the word fortress is a little strong for the location. It was more like a small hill with some crumbling walls around it. Maybe at one time it was a daunting stronghold, though. The "fortress" contained a few museums, which were closed, a cafe that was closed, and some normal looking houses as well. After a stroll through the streets, we headed back to the car. As we left, this friendly kitty said hello:
On our way, we came upon a lakeside concert. While people were buying cherries and peas from the market nearby, and licking icecreams in front of antique tourist dinner cruise boats, the Piraters were on stage playing fun surf music. Tyler stopped to take a recording while I took pictures.
After a few songs, we walked back to the car, fired it up, and pointed ourselves north. Throwing away any ideas of following a set route, we headed into the land of lakes. Not far from town we crossed a bridge which had a nicely secluded pull off on one side. It was a picture perfect free-camp, so we decided to call it a day.
Across the bridge, a group of teenagers were hanging out, jumping off the cliffs into the water. A kind of bungee or rope-swing hung from the bars of the bridge as well. We weren't quite sure how it could be safe to use, but we did see someone, swinging from it just as we arrived. Our curiosity about it was never sated, as nobody used it again for the rest of the night.
I set up camp while Tyler took pictures of our surroundings, crouched on the edge of the cliff face with our telephoto zoom.
Free camping in Finland is going to rule!