Posts

Who cares about Halloween? We have Kekri! 5 facts about the Finnish harvest celebration when even ghosts go to sauna.

Kekri is an old Finnish agricultural harvest festival celebrated in autumn, and it’s also the time for the souls and spirits of the dead to visit us who are still living here on Earth. This is the time when even ghosts go to sauna! 

Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve has spred all around the world from the United States. It has made its way also to Finland during the resent years, but did you know that Jack O’Lantern, trick or treating, costumes and ghosts all refer to European traditions that are thousands of years old?

In Finland we have long agricultural traditions with the harvest celebrations: Kekri used to be the biggest fest of the year. Here are 5 interesting facts about the Finnish Kekri celebration!

1. Long traditions

Long before All Saint’s Day and the commercial Halloween, people used to celebrate the harvest season in many countries. In Finland the agricultural traditions were strong, and the Kekri fest has roots even back to Iron Age over 2 000 years ago!

2. “Kekri” refers to the remnant of harvest time

The word kekri comes from an old fenno-ugrian word kekra, kekraj which means cycle. Back in the old times it was natural to end a year connected to the earth and harvest, so while people celebrated the harvest it was also an ending of the year fest!

3. Trick or treat!

The Kekripukki, Kekri goat, was a creature with horns. Young people used to dress up as a Kekripukki with a fur coat worn upside-down and walk from house to house asking for feasting or beer. If a household would refuse they used to threat by breaking the oven. Sounds like trick or treating old school, huh? Today it is common to burn the Kekri goat made from straws during the harvest fest!

An interesting fact is that the Kekri goat was actually the origin to Santa Claus! Yup, you heard that right.

4. Ghosts go to sauna too

Sauna is probably the most Finnish thing on earth and its history goes way back. Löyly means the steam that rises from the stove or heat of the sauna. In Finnish mythology it also refers to the soul of the body, and sauna was thought to have strong connections to the underworld. During the harvest season it was also thought to be the time when the spirits and souls of the people who had passed came back for a visit. Sauna was offered to those spirits before any living person was allowed to go to there, and it was prepared with towels, water, soap and everything a living person would need.

After bathing it was time for a feast. The house folk left a table full of food and drink and went to sauna themselves to leave space and peace for spirits to enjoy the meal.

5. Jack O’ Turnip

Everybody knows the traditional pumpkin lantern from America, but also in Finland we had something similar. During the Kekri fest it was common to carve a turnip and put a small candle inside. Pumpkins were not known in Europe before the colonialism.

 

The Salpa Line trail

The Salpa Line is the largest construction project in Finland’s history. It was created as a deterrent, so that the enemy wouldn’t dare attack. The Finns suspected that the Soviet Union, not satisfied with the territorial gains they had made during the Winter War (1939–1940), would plan another invasion.

Built at the beginning of the 1940s in preparation for another war, The Salpa Line spans more than 1000km along Finland’s eastern border. It contains a total of 728 field fortifications either made from concrete or excavated from rock. Sweden provided assistance in the construction, both financially and in the form of manpower.

The line’s southern part was the most strongly fortified. The Salpa Line can be explored by following the South-East Salpa trail, which is a 50km one-way hiking route in Virolahti and Miehikkälä. There are points of interest suitable for everyone: formal museums, accessible roadside features as well as more hidden fortifications for the adventurous traveller, found off the beaten path.

For those interested in military history, the Salpa trail is an endless treasure trove. Along the trail are 13 picnic and overnight spots as well as 4 reservable saunas. A mountain bike is the ideal mode of transport for this route.

For the trail, wear good footwear and bring a powerful lamp, preferably two. The bunkers can be dangerous and dark places. There might be water on the floor or ice, even in the summer. The walls often have iron fixings and there can be metal rods poking down from the roof. Sewer lids might also be missing and some wooden structures may be rotten. Explore the bunkers at your own risk!

Almost all of The Salpa Line’s 25 caves are unfinished. They were intended to be accommodation dugouts for soldiers and regimental aid stations, where men injured in battle had their worst wounds dressed before sending them away from the front line for further treatment. With each step you can sense the past all around you.

5 points of interest on the Salpa line.

  1. Ventovuori area, Virolahti

The Salpa line’s best offering for the independent traveller. In a small area you will find three cave systems, a dugout and a petrol filling station. Map.

  1. Anti-tank barrier fence (dragon’s teeth)

Hundreds of miles long, this barrier, normally made from concrete blocks, is made with large blocks of excavated natural rock stacked several rows deep. For each rock, a hole was dug half a metre deep, leaving the rest of the rock poking out one metre above the ground. The fence can be seen in the yard of Virolahti’s bunker museum. Map

  1. Pääkaupunginkallio – The Capital’s Rock

A 14 metre high and 50 metre long vertical rock wall, from which stone was quarried for building materials. Map

  1. Klamila cannon batteries

The round cannon battery is a thought-provoking sight. This was the firing position for a 152/45 C -type gun. Ammunition stores, as well as accommodation facilities are located at its periphery. Map

  1. The Salpa Line Museum

There are many trails in the area, along which you can explore the history and construction of The Salpa Line. There’s an exhibition inside the museum as well as a short film. Other things to see include a wooden aircraft control tower and one of the better known tanks from the Second World War, the T-34. Map

5 CAVE SYSTEMS

  1. Salmenkylä tunnel, Hamina

A 20-metre-long cave, which is almost completely in its original condition. The floor is concrete and the furnaces and smoke ducts are made from moulded bricks. Map

  1. Lusikkovuori cave, Lappeenranta

The largest cave on the Salpa line is located in Lusikkovuori and was made by 400 men. In winter, icicles of up to one metre in height grow upward from the ground. The cave is open by request and can also be booked for private events and concerts. You can inquire about guided tours from Hilkka Suoanttila, tel. 040 565 4462. Map

Kuva: Jukka Siiskonen

Photo: Jukka Siiskonen / willimiehen jäljillä

  1. Vahtivuori cave

Vahtivuori cave is 32 meters long and meant for 80 persons. On the side of the accommodation tunnel is a machine gun chamber, and on top of the rock is a hemispherical lookout shelter. Map.

  1. Soikonvuori cave

The unfinished accommodation tunnel was excavated from the rock along with a dugout for two machine gun positions, where the walls and floors are covered in stearin and at one end stands a large wooden cross. It turns out that every year, a candlelit evening service is organised here.  Map

  1. Pallokorsu

A furnished round dugout, with pure white walls. It feels like being inside an eggshell. In the corner there is a small stove. and most of the space is taken up by a two-storey wooden gun carriage. Map

Things to note before a trip here

A wide range of guided day trips are organised on the Salpa Line. Services are provided by K-linnoiteretket and Korsumatkat Bunker Tours. In addition to these, a Salpa line hike is organised each year, where a small group of 10-15 participants can explore the terrain under the leadership of a trained guide.

If just walking or cycling along the Salpa trail, wear clothing appropriate for the weather and bring a packed lunch. In the summer be prepared for mosquitoes and other bugs, as well as vipers that might be found in the thickets.

In the dugouts there is no lighting. Entrances are generally low and thresholds high. Large chunks of rock can fall from cave walls and ceilings  and there may be other things hanging down, such as barbed wire. For photographing in dingy spaces a tripod and separate flash could be useful.

Some sites are on private land, in which case you should be aware of and remember Finnish Everyman’s Right.

The Salpa Line fortifications are protected under the Antiquities Law and their alteration, concealment, excavation or any form of deformation or vandalism is prohibited without the permission of the National Heritage Board.

The world ‘Salpa’, means ‘locking bolt’. The fortification line was intended to be the ‘lock’ on Finland’s defence, the final barrier if the Russian’s would have continued west. However The Salpa Line never had to receive a war, as they didn’t make it that far.

Historical sources used for this article were the work ‘Matkalla Salpalinjalle’ and leaflets from the museum.

Article by Harri Leino. Photos by Harri Leino, Virpi Bordi and Janne Lumikanta. Translated by Becky Hastings.

Walk in Kokkola’s legendary old town, Neristan

It’s Christmas time and I have returned to my old home town for family gathering. It’s the 23rd of December and the temperature is just below zero.

Rauma’s old town is known for it’s status as Unesco World heritage site. But Kokkola’s old town, Neristan, is just as stunning, an old wooden neighborhood with lots of romantic mood.

Old city hall and Christmas tree

Almost perfect square shaped city blocks, old style streets lights and beautiful wooden buildings take you back to 19th century. If you get lucky you don’t even see any cars parked on the streets!

Old wooden buildings with Christmas lights

The oldest wooden buildings are from the 17th century. Kokkola has two main languages. One is Finnish and the other Swedish. You can see the Swedish architecture’s influence in some of the buildings. Neristan is also Swedish and means downtown.

Restaurant in Neristan

Near water there is a small building with big windows and strange boat inside. It’s memorial for the skirmish of Halkokari: year 1854, when British navy raided Finland’s coast during Crimean war, they tried to burn down the harbour of Kokkola. This boat is the only known vessel that has ever been obtained as a spoil of war from the British navy.

Memorial of the skirmish of Halkokari

An evening stroll in Porvoo’s national urban park

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Porvoo is the old town with is it’s pretty wooden and stone houses. However, a stone’s throw away from the narrow cobblestone streets, you can take a relaxing evening walk surrounded by nature. Looking at the city’s outdoor map, I noticed that I would end up under a kilometre away from Porvoo’s bus station, which is still very close to downtown.

Those who wish to break a sweat can opt for the longer route (it extends from Old Porvoo 10km South and 8km East), but I was more interested in exploring what the immediate landscapes had to offer.

I could have been lazy and chosen the even path from Porvoo’s riverside towards the south, from either side of the river. But I’ve always been drawn to looking at views from higher up,  so I walked over the bridge on the west bank and soon found an inviting path up to Näsi Hill.  It was still brimming with nature’s edible offerings, so I popped blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries in my mouth from the side of the path. Long live berry season and Everyman’s Rights.

From under the pine trees opened out a beautiful view of the evening sun illuminating Old Porvoo with its cathedral and the riverside houses reflected in the stilly calm Porvoo river. I wondered, what this landscape looks like in autumn, when the green of the trees has given way to yellow and other autumnal colours…

I walked from the slopes of Näsi hill onto the next path heading south and stopped every now and then to peer through the trees down to Porvoo river. Soon red warehouse buildings flashed between the pine branches. It was from this slope that Albert Edelfelt composed and drafted his painting, ‘View from Porvoo’s Näsi Hill’, the draft of which can be found at the Ateneum. The final painting lives at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

A little way along from the vantage point that was marked on the map, I could see almost all of Porvoo’s new city centre. I have to admit, it doesn’t quite have the same appeal as Old Porvoo’s vista. And so I turned back, towards the top of Näsi hill, where Näsi’s rock was waiting for me. There was something celebratory about this boulder hurled here by the ice age, especially while the sun’s rays hit it so gloriously. From behind this impressive rock, the buildings of Näsi manor’s courtyard revealed themselves.

My attention was next drawn to a beautiful yellow building, whose semicircular terrace would have had me stopping for evening tea, if there was such a thing on offer. Unfortunately there wasn’t, so Honkala (Furunäs) was quiet this evening. But it would have been nice to sit down and enjoy the view of the urban park…. The scenic restaurant’s history dates back to the beginning of the 1900s, when it was known by the name of Turisthyddan.

So then what? Just a few hundred metres away was a cemetery, where you could find, for example, Johan Ludvig Runeberg and his wife Fredrika’s grave, but I wanted to enjoy the evening sun’s final rays nearer the river. So down I went.

The forest trail descended behind Honkala from Näsi hill down to the side of Old Helsinki Road. Cars rarely passed on the road anymore and the tourist coaches had already left  the parking lot, which was by the bridge.

As I walked to the bridge, I stumbled across some living history. A few men and women were dressed in clothes from the 1800s. The travellers in their handsome clothes were not just on an ordinary evening walk, they were returning from a general rehearsal of a play about the 1809 Porvoo state elections.

On my return to the Old Porvoo side, immediately after the bridge, I turned into the street on the left heading towards Porvoo’s riverside. The silence of the river was arresting. Not one boat was on the move and there weren’t even any birds swimming around. Where were the kayakers, on such a perfect evening  for floating slowly down the river?

A few tourists sat along the riverbank and some locals crossed my path on their evening walk, with dogs and without. Behind the untamed reedbeds glimmered the national landscape, which included the manicured riverbank lawn with it’s flowerbeds, as well as Näsi hill from where I had just come.

On the other side of Porvoo river, I could make out the wooden railway station. Groomed park avenues with their silver willows are part of the more ‘park’- like  elements of the National Urban Park, and I could have continued my journey on this route beyond the river, but from here you can’t see Maari’s wetlands so well. Besides, a neat park avenue feels a little too tame for me, so I decided to deviate towards a slightly wilder looking path.

And so I ended up in the midst of a hefty army of stinging nettles on either side of the path… I honestly didn’t even notice at first,  as I was so entranced by the light in front, filling my vision with gold. These spinach substitutes shouldn’t, however, be ignored. They are, after all, excellent wild herbs that can be used in all kinds of dishes. So I hadn’t just come to Maari’s wetlands, but also a wild herb garden!

The path led me to a narrow, grey arched bridge, which took me closer to Linnamäki (Castle hill). The landscape in Maari’s bay has changed considerably over the centuries. In the 1100s, the bay was part of Porvoo river and served as a natural harbour. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that now, as the bay is fast becoming overgrown, a result of the land rising and also of nutrients and silt accumulating in in the river.

It’s hard to imagine what this looked like when Porvoo city was still young and had a tiny population. In the middle ages, you may also have come across a foreigner shopping in these parts. They could have been, for example, from Estonia. Smaller vessels were able to travel right up to here via Porvoo river, but larger sailing vessels had to be left further away from the river’s mouth.

The velvety surface of chocolate brown cattails were tempting to touch and you could smell the meadowsweet aroma in the warm humidity of the evening. A number of different wildflowers dotted the side of the path, as I continued forward, enraptured again by the view that opened out onto the cathedral. I wish I had a plant expert with me who could identify some of the rarer species amongst all this greenness.

I didn’t take the most direct route up to Linnamäki, but decided to take a small detour around to the left. The meadowsweet meadow was vast. Behind the pole fence I noticed a drinking trough. Could there be some landscaping sheep behind the fence? If there were, they had hidden themselves successfully somewhere amongst the meadowsweet and were lazily neglecting their summer work, for the meadow looked so untrodden.

While looking at the pole fence and  this kind of landscape, time somehow stood still. Such a sweet summer evening, fragrances floating in the air, dusk approaching: just as if I was in the countryside. You wouldn’t believe that here we were only about a kilometre from the centre of Porvoo.

However, I still had one climb left to do, and that was Linnamäki. The trees seemed to grow so densely, that I wasn’t sure would if there be much of a view, but hopefully something worth seeing anyway, A St John’s Cross (a looped square symbol) on the side of the path signalled something promising, that I was reaching a historical place.

Linnamäki (Castle Hill) has been part of forming Porvoo’s name. The city’s Swedish name, ‘Borgå’, means castle river. Now there wouldn’t be a castle river without a castle, which, in the middle ages, would have been right on top of this hill. Porvoo was so important by then that it was the third town to receive city status along with city rights in Finland in 1380, after Turku and Ulvila.

After the trail I still had to climb some steps and cross the moat, but I was already in what would have been the castle area in ancient times. You can sit on the narrow wooden bench here  to think deep thoughts, catch your breath or imagine what this all used to look like.

Views from the top of Linnamäki are limited; You can get a better view slightly lower down, on the slope facing downtown. Once upon a time the trees had been sparse enough for Albert Edelfelt to paint his work ‘From Linnamäki’, which, depicted Porvoo as seen from this point. The work is on show at Haiko Manor in the yellow lounge.

On Linnamäki it’s difficult to let your imagination run wild and immerse yourself in some kind of a castle romance, as there isn’t even a trace of the wooden log structures that once stood here in the middle ages. I walked around the location of the castle and wondered what had been in that pit. How high had the log castle been, what kind of equipment did it have, how many people lived there… History says, that there had already been a building here in Viking times (800-900s), but an official castle was built at a later date for defence. Reportedly the log castle itself was only in use for a few decades.

Before I left, I stopped and looked at the view again. This hill was smiling! The shallow pit formed its own kind of dimple. It was as if it too was enjoying the evening.

The most exciting thing on Linnamäki was this funny moat, which you could cross from both sides along a wooden bridge. I wonder if at the time a drawbridge or two went over it. Linnamäki is currently in such a wildly natural state, that it feels like only a matter of time until bushes and trees will sprout from the moat, foresting the landscape completely. In Linnamäki’s surroundings, around the smaller hill Pikkulinnamäki, a burial ground dating back to the Roman iron age had been found, as well as bronze jewellery. Linnamäki and its ancient monuments form a fine part of the National Urban Park.

Feeling content, I returned to the cathedral and back to Old Porvoo. My small outing around the park had been an atmospheric and leisurely end to the evening.

Porvoo’s National Urban Park: Maps and route advice

Map (Näsi’s rock)   ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696091  E 425865

Map (Linnamäki) ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates N 6696682  E 425741

The writer stayed at  Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast courtesy of VisitPorvoo.fi

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Suvanto, a historical village in Lapland that did not burn

It is more than 70 years since the World War II ended. Finland suffered great losses but managed to get on her feets again.

During the war the German soldiers fought against the Russians in Lapland. But things changed as it started to seem like Finland would loose the war. The Germans had to withdraw from Northern Finland. While moving back they burned everything. They burned houses and barn houses, and they blew up bridges, railroads and roads.

suvanto-4

The disaster was total. But one village was lucky. That village is called Suvanto, and it is situated by the river Kitinen. The whole village remained intact.

suvanto

No one knows why or what happened. How come the Germans left this small village in peace while they burned almost everything else in Lapland?

suvanto-14

Today Suvanto is under the protection of Finnish National Board of Antiques and it is categorized as a cultural environment. There are about 30 people who live in the village year around. In summer time the amount of inhabitants grows when people come to visit their old homes, relatives and summer cottages.

suvanto-9

The village also attracts tourists because of it’s beautiful old log houses that were built before the war. The oldest one is from the 1800th century. Some houses still have shingle roof.

suvanto-15

To keep the village alive and buildings in good shape, voluntary work has been organized. People can for example take part in restoring the roofs and fences and learn how things were done in the old days.

suvanto-18

The last effort was to save the old ferry and it’s shelter in 2015. The ferry was in use during the years 1960–1975, then came a new ferry with an engine and later, in 1991, a new bridge was opened over the river Kitinen.

suvanto-3

The ferry was moved in dock and at the same time into history. The dock is located on the opposite bank of river Kitinen and is free to visit.

suvanto-5

Suvanto is also popular with artists and photographers and some art courses are arranged there during summers.

Visitors may rent a cottage from the village or nearby, have a cup of coffee in cozy café (check opening hours) or just walk around and admire the view and the colorful houses. A perfect place for a day trip.

suvanto-8

The location of Suvanto N / lat: 7448368 E / lon: 512567

More info about the village (only in Finnish)

National Board of Antiques, NBA

The following video is made by Mediapaja Seita-säätiö.