Evo recreational area’s Digitrail route: mobile phone app guides you on the trail and gives forest yoga instructions

Evo, a village in Häme only a couple of hour’s drive from Helsinki, is best known in Finland for its highly recommended recreational area as well as the country’s oldest forestry institute. This Digitrail route* helps us explore both.

I did however already have a guide of my own, as I managed to convince my father, who graduated from the institute almost 60 years ago, to join me. This meant that there was guaranteed to be a healthy dose of forest knowledge, my father’s hilarious (for him) stories from his student days as well as a brisk progression through landscapes which were straight out of a Finnish forest industry textbook.

The Digitrail routes start from the Evo Centre, which was built as part of the institute to serve as the approximately 5000 hectare state-owned recreational area’s information centre. The campus area was built in the middle of three lakes, on a narrow isthmus.

From the Digitrail app, we chose the middle route which followed the running track towards the west and was then made up of two consecutive loops, about seven kilometres in total. Part of the journey is out and back along the same route.

At the start of the journey we were introduced to some ancient trees that were well over a hundred years old and around three metres tall. Their tall, thick trunks stood straight and with few branches, the way that trees are supposed to stand in an educational forest.

The Evo Forestry Institute specializes in teaching the multiple uses of the forest, so alongside economic values, it emphasizes the non-economic values of forest nature. When the lakes and the college were behind us, an impressive landscape opened out before us. In the old-growth forest, the beams shone with their absence; the trees grew as slowly and twisted as they wanted, leaning against each other until they finally fell down.

These kinds of free-growing forests are now rare, precisely because of the productivity dilemma surrounding forests. However, they maintain biodiversity by enabling habitat for many rare species of fauna and flora and are therefore valuable conservation and hiking areas. The atmosphere in the old-growth forest is something quite different than in the commercial forest; dusky and unhurried. The only one who might bother you here is the spider with his webs, and even he can’t always be bothered.

Even the creek had had enough of flowing and decided to stop. As a result, water flooded onto the trail, and saturated the land, which came as a small surprise to the trees that had managed to grow as tall as man. They had no option other than to give up.

After a few kilometers of wandering through the old-growth, we changed landscape again. Lush, spruce-dominated mixed forest made way for rugged dry terrain. The pines still stood strong, but grasses were sprouting all over the place.

The land’s rolling form started to become predictable, but before that Syrjänalunen forest pond and the lean-to on its shores provided a moment of rest – if one wanted to take it. Behind the lean-to and the dry toilet were split logs, a wide wooden mallet and metal blade bolted to a wooden chopping block, an ingenious way to split wood. Chopping wood was so easy and fun, that our hike was in danger of being abandoned.

With it being the end of August, the evening was starting to approach, so we left the opportunity to enjoy a small sense of achievement for others and continued our journey. On a steep, sandy slope there was a sign about the nature conservation work that is done in the area for the endangered habitats and the species that live in them. The forest had been felled, but plenty of seedling trees had been left on the slope.

On Evo Forest Institute land, the forest is regenerated by simulating small, controlled forest fires. The earth gets nutrients from the ash, and the fire makes room for fast-growing plants that later humbly make way for the stronger ones, after nourishing the soil. But for now they’re permitted to flourish for a little while.

The path narrows and starts to twist towards the Syrjänalusenharju ridge. The forest becomes darker and pine trees make way for spruce again. The map used by the app has described the steeply rising ridge in front with two elevation contours, which is quite modest, as this land formation created by the ice-age rises to 170 meters above sea level. The whole of the Evo area is located higher than its surroundings, making it a watershed, but the climb from the bottom to the top of the hill still looks about 80 meters.

The top of the ridge is probably the narrowest I’ve seen. The slope descends steeply on both sides and the hiker needs to keep his wits about him for about a kilometre.

The theme of the route is forest yoga, and stretching instructions appear on the phone display while up on the ridge. I try them out because the spot was worth stopping at. My dad sits on a rock, one of many which feel as though they have been placed alongside the path for exactly that reason. He already knew what Evo had to offer, but I was not prepared for such a fantastic views. Time just stopped…

… But the sun was continuing to set, so we continued on our journey. We descended the steep slope, sometimes holding onto the trees for support, and ended up in the armpit of the ridge, in the lush and rocky grove of Hautjärvi lake.

Expectations were high after everything we had seen up on the ridge, so after surviving the dense grove, we were glad to come across the exceptionally beautiful swamp scenery of Karvalampi. Duckboards varied in width from one to three, and some were in good condition whilst others were partly submerged. Long grasses reached over the boards and sometimes over the walker. Despite the dry summer, there was water on the surface and it was clear! Rarely does the swamp come so close!

The clarity is because Karvalampi swamp’s source is a spring. On the swamp’s south eastern edge, water breaks through to the surface from the side of the ridge. Water is drinkable and keeps cool throughout the summer.

And again the landscape changed. This time, we wove through kettle-hole terrain. The birth of the kettle-holes is as fascinating an ice age story as the birth of the ridge. For a long time trolls and spirits were suspected as being the culprits responsible, but these traces were actually caused by blocks of ice left buried under the sand.

Finally it was downhill to Evo Forest Institute. At times the route went along a forest truck road lined with plentiful long grass and thick aspens, and other times along a narrow path through the spruce forest. Tall spruces show an example to the younger ones, standing snags tell their own story and the huge cypresses on the edge of the clearcut area look lost, but stand firm and resolute.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

*DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Article: Heli Heikkilä

Photos: Tomi Pohja

Translation from Finnish: Becky Hastings

Ruostejärvi recreation area is a hit with the kids, particularly with a fun new mobile app to guide you on trails

In cooperation with HAMK

If you’re hiking in the Häme region, north of Helsinki, you can take advantage of the fun Digitrail* mobile application that guides you through the nature trails. The idea of the application, developed by Häme University of Applied Sciences, is to work like a navigator on a particular trail, encouraging people to get out and explore nature.

There are five trail networks on the app, which we test in this new article series. We were now at the first app location that was ready for trial, which was the Ruostejärvi Recreation Area on the Häme Lake Highlands, in Tammela.

There are three route options for all locations: easy, medium and challenging. The starting point for each is the Häme Nature Center.

Photo: Tomi Pohja

This time we chose to test the easiest trail. On this route we could go investigate the kid’s all-time favourite, the cable boat!

I left any other maps behind, and we decided to just find our way using the app. Your position is shown on the map as a blue dot and the trail as a purple line with destination points show as map symbols. So off we went!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

First, we made our way through a dark and dense, spooky spruce forest, along an easy gravel path. Under the close-knit branches, even on bright summer’s day like today, the forest was dim. It was like being in another world.

Our journey continued. Next appeared a smaller path down which we were supposed to go. Summer was giving its best, pampering us with warm rays, but the mosquitoes were thankfully nowhere to be seen. A tree that had fallen over the path, which could have been an annoying barrier in other circumstances, now provided a perfect seat for a little rest. But only a little one, as the adventure must go on.

Moments later, the path came to the lakeshore, where it followed the lake until it reached the highlight of the trail, the cable boat. When I said that this place is perfect for kids, the next sight just confirmed it. Right at that spot there were four of them fishing with a rod and line.

Before we could even say hello, two boys already volunteered to help us over.

It didn’t take long for the boys to hoist us over. We exchanged a few words with them and then carried on our way.

After the cable boat, the path curves to the left, to the beautiful duckboards that take you to your final destination, a peaceful campfire spot. We sat there for a longer while. Taking refreshing sips of water, we relaxed in our surroundings, aware and present.

In fact, I’m not even sure how long we stayed, so our relaxation exercise did its job. Now in front of us was the other half of the journey, the same route back, at least up to the gravel path. From there we chose another fork offered by the app, which took as along the shore back to the nature centre, arriving right next to the swimming beach.

The app did its job well and delivered exactly what it promised. The path was excellent for children to walk along: suitably short, mostly easy to walk, but also a hill and some more uneven terrain that develops balance and motor skills. The fallen tree and the cable boat were the highlights.

Our testing continues, and in the next sections we will explore the DigiTrail further.

You can download the app here.

Häme Nature Center on a map

  • *DigiTrail is a mobile application that works in nature like a navigator and thus lowers the threshold to explore nature areas. The application guides the traveller in the woods, shows nearby services and attractions. In addition, it provides interesting information, for example, about the history of the region and can be used to activate its users with different themes, such as forest related sports and cultural content.

Spending the New Year’s Eve in Lapland – Happy New Year 2019!

We have already passed the winter solstice and days are getting longer, but the polar night is still going on in Lapland. There’s only around four hours of day light depending on which part of Lapland you are, and the colours of the Polar Night are magical in the winter wonderland throughout the short day.

Together with a group of friends we rented a cottage in Enontekiö, which is located in the North-West of Lapland near the Ylläs-Pallastunturi National Park. In this area it is pitch black during the night, and with a clear sky all the stars and the Milky Way are visible. We also had a lot of powder snow and just quiet backwoods around.

This was propably one of the best New Year’s Eves at least in my opinion, since everything was so calm and quiet and not a single fire work was seen. Only the nature’s own fire works; the northern lights. It was pretty awesome to end the year 2018 seeing auroras in the wilderness. For me it was the first time to capture them on camera! Although I live in Finland, and even not in the southern part where there are more human made lights, I’ve seen the northern lights only a couple of time in my life.

On the New Year’s Eve we grilled sausages by the camp fire on a Finnish laavu (lean-to) shelter, I was skiing cross country and on the evening we had sauna in our cottage and just had relaxing time before the polar lights!

On my behalf I wish you all a happy new year 2019! May it be great and filled with outdoor experiences spent in the nature!

This is what Wine in the Woods is like – The new wine tasting experience in Helsinki coming up next summer!

For wine enthusiasts the combination of food and wine is familiar. But is there even more to explore in the tastes of wines combining with other scents? That question Antti Huttunen, the founder of Finnish outdoor media Retkipaikka and co-creator of Back to Nature tv-series, wanted to examine more. He wanted to bring together two themes that are important to him: nature and wines. This is where the idea of a forest wine bar came from!

Even only 15 minutes in nature can make you feel relaxed.

Wine in the Woods starts in the Northern Gate of Nuuksio, an area right next to Nuuksio National Park. Nuuksio is the closest national park to the capital of Finland, Helsinki. It is easy to access even by local transport and it takes only around 45 minutes to jump from the busy metropolitan city to the calming nature and forests.

Karoliina Kaski, the guide of Wine in the Woods, welcomes our group in a lovely setting surrounded by countryside. We take a small walk around the historical buildings and take a look of the old stone stairs that once lead to the mansion of this area.

As we go deeper into the forest we start to connect our scents with the nature. Living in a busy city environment can make us nervous and disturb our minds, but nature can offer the opposite. It has been studied that only 15 minutes spent in nature can actually lower your blood pressure.

We take time for each sense to get attuned with the nature. How does the forest look like? What sounds do we hear, or, when we close our eyes, how does a small rock feel in our hands? It is incredible how strong our sense of touch will become if we close our vision and hearing!

After approximately 15 minutes we will enter deeper into the woods and will pass a wooden sign which tells us that we are now entering the nature’s own dining area: Wine in the Woods. We see the area with wooden benches with paddings, and sommalier Tero Pullinen, who welcomes everybody.

As a welcoming drink we get a glass of sparkling wine, which is also to calibrate our taste buds for the actual products of the wine tasting. There are five different red wines to taste and examine. Tero tells us about the wines and how they are connected with the nature.

Wines and Finnish woods have actually more in common that one would think at first! They both are living entireties and have many different layers. They are at constant change and when they meet each other you can find completely new sides from both wines and nature.

“The wines have a chance to return to nature, from where they have come, where everything is equal and where instead of strict restraint and control, constant change is present and embraced.”

We talk about our experiences and observations about the wines and nature. The atmosphere is comfortable and there is room for discussion. Even if one had no previous experience with wines or wine tastings, this nature’s surroundings will make this experience effortless.

The experience in nature with wines takes two hours. After the tasting the program itself is over, and everyone can choose how to continue their day. Maybe take a small hike in the National Park? Or, it is also possible to enjoy a forest themed menu, if one has reserved it in advance.

Wine in the Woods is a wine bar in the middle of forest and Antti explains how these several chosen spots in nature had to be presented to the authority in order to ask permission to serve spirits. In Finland the alcohol law is strict and you will need a permission for every place, restaurant or event that serves alcohol. Happily ever after the Wine in the Woods wine tasting got its permission and the next summers luxury outdoor experience is ready to happen!

Antti is happy for the positive feedback given by the test audience after the pilot-tasting. The Wine in the Woods experience is recommended for everyone who loves nature and wines. It is also a great opportunity if one wants to enjoy the nature but not necessarily in an exercising way.

“The taste and smell of a wine can take me into the middle of the forest, to some particular spots: under the shade of spruce branches, onto the warmth of the rocks, or amongst the lush foliage of the birch. I find this fascinating and want to give others the chance to experience the same – and a little more. I can’t wait to see what kind of experience we can offer you. Welcome!” -Antti Huttunen

If you are a nature lover who enjoys the tastes of wines or you want to experience something completely new, check out the web store here where you can reserve your place at the Wine in the Woods experience next summer! It is also available for group booking or you can purchase a Wine in the Woods giftcard!

Christmas in Finnish Lapland

After 3 months of being on student exchange, the time had come for me to embark on a long-awaited Christmas adventure to snowy Finnish Lapland. This experience is literally the polar opposite of what it’s like in my home country, sunny Australia. I was especially looking forward to the untouched nature and of course the elusive northern lights.

On the long bus journey, we stopped over at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi and walked across the arctic circle. It can’t get any more Christmas vibe than this!

After over 12 hours of being on a bus, my group finally arrived at the pine-tree filled winter wonderland that was Saariselkä. We were staying in a rustic wooden log cabin complete with a fireplace and sauna.

Picturesque log cabins are where you can expect to stay at in Lapland.

There was fluffy snow up to the knees everywhere. Being above the arctic circle, this time of year is the polar night, where the Sun does not rise for several weeks. However, there were about 3 to 4 hours each day with twilight conditions. Being an avid aurora-chaser, it makes for an ideal opportunity to catch a glimpse of the northern lights – if only the clouds stay away at night.

The local area around where I was staying… so pristine and natural.

Beyond searching for the elusive northern lights, this place was an amazing location for a wide variety of activities that I tried, including husky-sledding, snow-shoeing, skiing, sauna, ice-swimming and of course nature photography. It was especially great to meet some husky puppies. But more than anything, it’s a place to wind down and take in the quiet and fresh air of the nature on short walks. It was indeed one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

I actually have a very funny story to tell about my phone whilst husky-sledding. After my turn on the sled was complete, I realised my new Finnish Nokia smartphone had fallen out of my pocket (duh!) and into the snow somewhere in the arctic wilderness.

Husky-sledding in the arctic.

After lunch, the tour guide and my friends decided to make a search party. Walking through the snowy wilderness in the fading light conditions at 2pm, there seemed to be little hope, but the untouched and silent nature was just surreal. Suddenly, at the very end of the journey we found just a tiny bit of the phone sticking out of the snow. It was basically a block of ice.

But it was still on! And to my great surprise — still at 75 percent battery. The next thing to do is typically Finnish — to take the phone to the sauna so the ice can melt.

And this plan worked! Because afterwards it was working perfectly fine.

Lapland with its photogenic forests.

On the first night, I was most eager to see the northern lights. There were good geomagnetic conditions for aurora, so it was promising. That’s until I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin to see that the sky was mostly full of cloud. Nevertheless, I went outside as there was a few gaps where I could see a star or two. After walking around the village and shooting photos without luck for over an hour in -10 degrees, it was time to head to bed.

Then I awoke suddenly to find my cabin-buddies announcing that the northern lights would be visible soon! Half-asleep, I looked out the window to see nothing. I thought the window was facing north, but it was actually facing south, a mistake that would bite me this night.

I managed to find my compass which pointed me north, and by the time I got outside, there was only a very faint polar light show, with cloud rolling in again. The others who reacted faster saw a much better show this night.

Finnish Lapland is one of the best places in the world to see the enchanting northern lights. Photocredit: Jonna Saari.

The next night, in even colder and windier conditions, more luck was on my side, but only for a good twenty minutes. The skies cleared briefly just at the right moment to see a band of aurora flickering overhead and down to the horizon. I managed to get this photo before it clouded over again.

No matter how many times I have seen the lights, or how impressive they have been, it is always immensely exciting!

A brief show of the northern lights in the forested fells of Lapland in the midst of the long polar night.

The next night had even better auroral conditions, but it was cloudy and snowing heavily so there was no point of going outside. The following (and final night) there was a few hours of clear skies in the early evening, but the auroral conditions were so weak that only those on the aurora tours managed to see them, and only briefly. Though I did hear of a couple who got engaged as soon as they saw them! That’s definitely a Christmas to remember for them. And for us, it was for sure an adventure to look back on!

The blue twilight hour falls relatively early in the afternoon at this time of year in Lapland.

This beautiful and varied trail is a pleasant surprise for both children and adults: The Troll Forest Trail in Raasepori

In partnership with Visit Raseborg

➡️ 5,5 km, loop
🔥 Shelter
📌 Starting point on the map
ℹ Read more

The Troll Forest Trail (Peikkometsän kierros) is a picturesque and diverse trail in Västerby recreational area in Raasepori, which is about an hour and a half’s drive from Helsinki. Its 5.5 kilometre length is perfect for a family with children on a day trip – leaving time for games, breaks and even hunting for mushrooms. The trip can be made at any time of year. The forest is full of light, with scenery which is probably still beautiful even in the darker times of year.

Västerby recreational area was a new location for us. According to the map, there was an interesting route of just the right length: The Troll Forest Trail, which takes you up onto the rocks and the edge of a pond. There was also also a lean-to shelter, the perfect spot for a break.

We drove through Western Uusimaa from Helsinki to Tammisaari admiring the wonderful scenery on the way. We found the parking place for the recreational area and starting point for the Troll Forest Trail easily with the help of a map.

There was plenty of space at the parking place. In addition to the information board, we found some convenient climbing trees.

The trail started with a section on the rocks, where moss had created lovely green columns.

The trail was wide and easy for even smaller people to use, but still nice and diverse. The Troll Forest Trail is marked on certain trees with yellow paint, and there are duckboards going over wet areas. We felt a little overdressed in our warm clothing, as it felt like summer.

On the way we made some interesting discoveries. Someone (or something) had dug into a wasps ground nest and spread pieces of honeycomb on the moss, on the shores of Vitsjön pond. It was also here that we found our first porcini mushroom.

We were well prepared with plenty of things to eat. Our plan was, that at the shelter, we would make a warm lunch. But the table and benches on the shores of Vitsjön were calling us to take our first snack break there.

The path went through beautiful swamp areas and through the forest to the lakeside rocks of Grabbskog Stortäsket. The view from the top of the rocks was stunning, where you could see the lake narrowing into a canyon.

By the higher path we found a real fungal surprise. The warm weather had brought about twenty porcini mushrooms to the surface, none of which had any worms. Our mushroom basket was full in moments.

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While looking for more porcini mushrooms (boletes) we spotted a huge cauliflower mushroom Sparassis crispa on the slope. Even though it’s a delicious edible mushroom, it’s also rare, so we left if there, as advised by the mushroom book.

Traversing along the trail we came across a few trekkers, but there were certainly no crowds on the Troll Forest Trail. When we arrived at the shelter, the fire was already going and a few others were also taking a rest. For our lunch we had brought a mushroom risotto to make with our camping stove, which fit well with the trip’s unexpected theme. For dessert we made croissants on the fire by wrapping the dough around a stick.

On the Troll Forest trail, as well as wonderful views, you may spot some stone trolls. This was particularly fun for the kids. The Geocacher in our family also made some of their own discoveries.

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The trail is a loop and returns to the shores of Vitsjön pond. Once there, we decided to go back and check the jetty built on the rock. This would be a great place to return in the summer when the water is warm. An unexpected find that brought a great deal of joy to the kids was on the tree next to the jetty. A rope was attached to it making possible a swinging game that was enough to fill mothers with dread, but thankfully we survived without getting wet.

The Troll Forest Trail can easily be combined with other Raasepori sights. We didn’t get to see the castle ruins, but on the way home we went to admire Tammisaari’s old centre, wooden houses and seaside park.

Here are a few more views from the route:

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Translation: Becky Hastings

Lue artikkeli suomeksi Retkipaikasta.

Diary of an Aurora-Chaser

When it comes to aurora-chasing, any number of unexpected, lucky or unlucky things can happen. Along with more obvious hazards such as being exposed to extreme cold and simply not seeing any northern lights, there can be camera malfunctions and even trouble from wild animals, unwanted police presence and then a shooting star to break it all up.

A chase can end in total failure — or a whole-sky aurora storm. The single greatest problem is having the aurora blocked out by clouds. Much research and planning goes into understanding when is the right time to search for the lights. But when you can see them, it makes it all worth it.

This was a spectacular aurora storm… and in a CITY (Helsinki) too! Still the best show I have seen… yet.

I am an adventure-minded Australian that has been chasing auroras since my time on a study exchange in Helsinki in 2017. Since then, I have become almost addicted, taking many opportunities to go in search for them, even in my home in Southern Australia (where it is MUCH harder to see them).

Here is a diary of my adventures… and misadventures searching for them in Southern Finland. Note: while most of these below photos were taken by me, the few that weren’t have the photographer fully credited.

Chasing auroras can often be a game of waiting for months… or even years for the perfect storm. Photo: Jonna Saari

Friday October 13th 2017 — Kirkkonummi, Finland

This was to be my first ever aurora chase, and what better night to go out into the wild than Friday the 13th. To start off, I took a night bus from Helsinki that meandered its way through the Finnish countryside.

I looked at the dials that measure the chance of seeing an aurora. They were looking very promising.

This is the area around my destination during the day — very enchanting.

When I arrived to my destination, the air was cold and crisp, with few clouds in sight. The perfect setting.

Then as I started walking towards a better vantage point along the lonely road, I wandered past a large, guarded gate. It was opening.

Coming from within, there was a menacing large vehicle. The vehicle pulled up beside me. Two heavily armed military soldiers stepped out.

They questioned what I was doing there. Unknowingly, I was in a restricted area.

The soldiers escorted me to the cell at the back of the vehicle. The vehicle started to move. There was only a tiny window in the cell. It was very dark inside. The walls were closing in.

The vehicle kept moving.

Another photo from during the day.

Worrying and tense feelings came over me.

Suddenly, the vehicle stopped. After getting out, they exchanged words with each other that I could not understand.

They approached close, looming over me. Closer yet. Interrogation.

Then they began to speak in a surprising manner.

‘Never come back here again unless you want to be arrested. You can find the bus stop further along this road.’

They trudged back to the vehicle and droned away through the cutting darkness.

I had a sense of overwhelming relief. I was free.

But it was the middle of a dark forest road. Walking was now the only option.

Tall, twisted trees loomed on either side. The night was clear with stars flickering. Leaves rustled in the distance. But no view of the northern horizon, and no sign of those elusive lights.

What it was like being in that forest.

Then… a clearing could be seen ahead! I hurried there and set up my camera equipment in anticipation.

Looking upon the northern horizon there was a pale glow low on the sky. To my great luck, there suddenly was…

A bright shooting star!

 

Being still inexperienced at aurora chasing, I had no idea whether this mysterious glow was an aurora or not, so I let the camera shoot away. At home, I looked at the photos properly.

Sure enough, the pale glow was green. It was my first capture of the northern lights.

This was the aurora adventure that turned into a ‘lucky’ misadventure.

Aurora Chase Result: 6/10

 

Tuesday November 7th 2017 — Helsinki, Finland

There is always something mysteriously enchanting about the northern lights, even a certain sadness about them, as they have the capacity to lift ones psyche right up regardless of the circumstances. And this night truly did that.

On a relatively quiet night, where there was no major activity forecast, I was just sitting in my room reflecting on things. The shortening and mostly grey days of November give a sombre air at this time of year.

Then I got a notification on my phone that the northern lights may be visible in Helsinki imminently.

The solar activity was much stronger than forecast, and was now at moderate storm level (kp6+). These events are quite rare.

So I hurriedly raced down in the cold, middle of the night with my GoPro camera to the Helsinki ‘beach’. More like a rocky outcrop.

When I got there, to my complete shock, I saw them! They were reasonably low on the horizon, but they were moving much faster than I expected, and there was definitely some colour in there as well! There were these forms that kind of ebbed and flowed.

My first glimpse of the aurora from that rocky outcrop complete with city lights.

Unbelievable. This was my first time seeing the northern lights properly — and the best word to describe it is maybe mesmerizing. Like wow, they are really there.

I almost fell over on the rocks and almost dropped my camera in the sheer excitement.

Then, problem!

The GoPro started beeping non-stop as I tried to set it up.

But to my great luck it wasn’t broken and I managed to make it work again.

The unexpected combination of northern lights and a big city, captured by Ustun Ergenoglu on this night also.

Started to take some photos. The lighting and setting wasn’t that good so I decided to change location to another nearby ‘beach’.

This one turned out to have much better photos, and the northern lights after being quiet for some time again flared up and this time were very spectacular.

I stayed for a while longer until the show really died down.

Later, after a bit of editing the photos I thought it would be a good idea to try my luck at sending the photos to the Finnish news. To my surprise, they offered to post them on their Facebook!

The original edit of the northern lights from the Helsinki foreshore that night.

This was truly a night to remember, and was one of the most widely seen and photographed northern lights events in Finland in recent years. Still the best show I have ever seen.

Aurora Chase Result: 9/10

 

Tuesday, December 5th 2017 — Tampere, Finland

This day I embarked on an overnight trip to Tampere to chase the northern lights. Far in advance, there was a predicted high level of activity as the region of the sun that caused the previous northern lights show in Helsinki returned to face earth.

A picture from an earlier daytime trip to Tampere.

Everything was set, and the conditions were slowly creeping up to the expected levels as night fell. But there was one problem — cloud cover that didn’t seem to be budging to go away.

Tampere is a picturesque city situated between two lakes — ideal for viewing the lights if they are present.

As it was an overnight trip, I waited until it was almost 10pm to head to the ideal viewing location by the lake, as auroras are generally strongest and most likely around midnight. However, they can happen at any time and this came back to bite me this day.

While I was walking towards the vantage point, I could hear cheers coming from the lakefront. I figured that the people already there had seen something exciting, so I hurried to get there — but all I could see was cloud cover and a small amount of glow, like something was happening above the clouds near the horizon.

Bad luck… this is the best it got for the night; just a streak of colour behind the clouds.

I figured that in between the heavy cloud there must have been a break, allowing the others to catch a glimpse of an auroral show, even if just for a few minutes. It eventually started snowing and I decided that was it for the night. I learned not to trust rules of thumb with aurora hunting — the lights can appear early evening, midnight, or morning.

Aurora Chase Result: 4/10

How to use the open wilderness huts in Finland? Exploring the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park

One day can be a good example of how unpredictable and quickly changing the weather can be in the Lappish fells. In an instant it can change from a freezing rainy fog to bright sunshine, and forenoon and afternoon can be totally different.

I started my day in an early forenoon of October as I climbed up the hillside in a rainy fog. I could only see a few meters onward and the freezing drizzle made me cold in no time. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in the silence and taking some pictures. As I reached the wilderness hut I got inside to warm up and get dry.

In Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park there is a 60 km route from the village of Hetta to the nature center in Pallas fell. The trail is quite popular especially during the summer and early autumn. It is also possible to reach the trail and the fells of the national park as a day trip. I made this trip starting from Vuontisjärvi and climbed up to the fell and to the wilderness hut called Montellin Maja.

The wilderness hut Montellin Maja looming ahead. The route from Vuontisjärvi up to the cabin is not long but it is really steep so it will challenge your strength.

Open wilderness huts are for hikers and skiers to have a rest or one overnight stay. They are usually located in roadless backwoods of Northern and Eastern Finland.

Open wilderness huts are free to use for shelter and for 1-2 night stays, when you are hiking in the wilderness. Just remember a few important rules and you too can enjoy them!

Open wilderness huts are free to use, but you can not reserve one for yourself. So keep in mind that you can not plan a hike thinking that you will only use these open cabins. In case there are other hikers arriving after you, you must let them in and make room for them. This can mean that you have to sleep outdoors. This is why you must always have an alternative shelter (for example a tent) with you. This, of course, is also a safety issue – you might get lost or be too tired to walk to the next hut, so it is good to have some kind of shelter with you.

Remember also:

  • Always leave the hut in same or better condition than it was when you arrived.
  • In general, keep everything tidy and be mindful for others.
  • Before you leave, make some fire wood ready for the next hiker.

Read more about the Finnish wilderness huts here. You can also find there information about every open wilderness hut in Finland, where they are and how they are equipped!

There is also a possibility to reserve specific reservable or rental huts. These can be found in some hiking areas and national parks, and there is usually some kind of a fee. Also about this you will find information from the link above.

After my break in Montellin Maja, the weather started to clear up. It was supposed to be clear the whole day according to the weather cast, but you’ll never know. Anyway, I was glad to finally see what the surroundings actually looked like!

The trail from Montellin Maja to Pallas is about 15 km long and will pass the highest point of Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark in Taivaskero. On the afternoon the sky got clear and I got to enjoy the sunshine!

For the evening I headed up to the Punaisen Hiekan Autiotupa which is another wilderness hut, located by the lake Pallasjärvi. The name literally means “hut of the red sand”: the sand of the beach really has a rusty red color. This place also has the perfect view towards the fells of Pallastunturi. I can imagine how spectacular the view would look during a northern light storm in winter! Actually I was curious if I’d see some auroras that night, but then the sky went cloudy again.

 

Every man’s best friend, Siberian Jay – Meeting the soul-bird in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park.

When you walk through the nature in northern parts of Finland, especially in Lapland, you will most likely end up meeting a new friend during your lunch or coffee break.

Siberian Jays are known for being fearless and tame, and they will often land close to you immediately when you pause and dig up your lunch or snack. For hundreds of years these birds have been companions to hunters and rangers in the woods. In the Finnish folklore Siberian Jay was called a ‘soul-bird’ and when a ranger died his spirit was believed to move to one of these birds.

Siberian Jay is a member of the crow family but is much smaller compared to the actual crow. Their colour is grayish brown with beautiful bright rust-coloured markings on their rumps, the edges of their tails and wings. This bird lives mostly in the northern boreal forests of spruce and pine, the so called taiga area.

I’ve never met a Siberian Jay as close as I did on my latest trip to Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark in western Lapland. These little fellows were so tame and eager to get a piece of my food that they even landed on my hand. I felt gratitude to meet the soul-bird so close.

I spotted Siberian Jays almost everywhere in the woods and forest parts of Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark. But these pictures are from an easy 3 km trail called Saivionkierros, which is located near Ylläs and Äkäslompolo village in Kolari. If you are interested in this or other hiking trails around the Ylläs area you can find more information via this link.

If you meet one of these birds on your travels in Lapland you can offer them a small piece of white bread, but remember that salt and salty foods are not healthy or good for them.

19 tips for travelling foodies: visit these places to get a true flavour of South East Finland

In co-opetarion with Visit Kouvola, Visit Kotka-Hamina and GoSaimaa

South East Finland has some of the country’s most rugged and wild landscapes with access to excellent services. Only a short journey away from Helsinki, amidst the sounds of rushing rivers and rustling forests, you can find yourself amongst quirky cafes and excellent restaurants. We put together a list of 19 places or local delicacies that every visitor to the area should try.

1. Keisarinmaja Kahvila’s Finnish pancakes are the best in the world

? Address: Keisarinmajantie, Kotka
ℹ Homepage (Facebook)

In 1889 the Russian Tsar Aleksander III commissioned a fishing cottage to be built in the beautiful surroundings of Langinkoski river. It ended up as a stylish villa, where the Tzar with his family and friends spent carefree summer days. These days it houses the lovely Keisarinmaja cafe, whose Finnish pancakes (thick pancakes baked in an oven served with jam and whipped cream) are reported to the be the best in the world.

Photo: Sari Selkälä

2. A cute cafe in a yellow house – with a fantastic view out to Langinkoski river

? Keisarinmajantie, Kotka
ℹ Homepage (Facebook)

The yellow cafe on the shores of Langinkoski river used to be where the guard of the Tsar’s fishing cottage lived with his family. From the cafe terrace there are beautiful views down to the river. The cafe has lots of cozy nooks which also look out onto this view. Lunch is also available daily.

Photo: Sari Selkälä

3. Kymen Paviljonki: food, herbs, farm animals and rapids

Helsingintie 408, Kuusankoski
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

If you’re travelling on Route 6 there are many good reasons to stop at Kymen Paviljonki (Kymi Pavilion). Here you can get a decent lunch as well as take a refreshing break from driving. Walk down to Kymijoki river’s shores, get to know the farm animals and explore the wonderful herb garden, where you can pick herbs to serve with your meal.

Photo: Sari Selkälä

4. Relish the campfire atmosphere in Repovesi National Park

Riippusillantie 55, Kouvola
ℹ Read more

Repovesi National Park has many scenic campfire spots perfect for having a picnic in beautiful natural surroundings. You may make a fire in a designated campfire ring as long no fire warning has been issued. Firewood is provided on site.The easiest campfire meal is a hot dog barbecued over the glowing red coals served with whatever relishes of you chose to bring!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

5. Into Repovesi National Park via RepoTassu

Riippusillantie 55, Kouvola
ℹ Homepage (Facebook)

RepoTassu is a great little kiosk at the gate of Repovesi National park, by the Lapinsalmi entrance. Its handy location makes RepoTassu an easy place to stop off on the way in or out and prices are reasonable. There are a wide variety of refreshments available as well as lunch and coffee. You can even reserve a canoe!

Photo: Tomi Pohja

6. Orilammen Maja offers accommodation and great food

Voikoskentie 138, Hillosensalmi
ℹ Homepage

Orilammen Maja is legendary in the Repovesi area. This family business has grown over the years into a whole holiday village located right by a lake with lovely views. Here you can feast until your belly is full in peaceful natural surroundings. This place is definitely worth adding to your itinerary if you visit Repovesi National Park.

Photo: Tomi Pohja

7. Historical Fortress island: Fort Elisabeth and Restaurant Vaakku

Varissaari, Kotka
ℹ Homepage

The old sea fortress Fort Elisabeth is also known as Varissaari (Crow Island), and is a popular day trip destination and recreation area in Kotka. From June to August you can get there on board the ferry M/S Klippan from Kotka’s old harbour in Sapokka. The fortress was completed in 1796 and it was named after the Russian Tsarina Elisabeth Petrovna. Although the fortress itself was destroyed in the Crimean war, plenty of relics and monuments from the island’s history remain. As well as offering ‘fun dining in a stately environment’, according to their motto, Restaurant Vaakku also rents out SUP boards and a sauna boat!

Photo: Sari Selkälä

8. At Fortress Restaurant Kamu you can step into Hamina’s history

? Raatihuoneenkatu 12, Hamina
ℹ Homepage

Hamina’s fortress is one of the few ‘star forts’ in Finland. It was based on the one in Palmova in Northern Italy, which represented a utopian city. These types of forts are rare. Both Swedes and Russians have built hefty fortresses in Hamina. In the depths of Hamina’s Bastion, lies the atmospheric Restaurant Kamu, whose delicacies must be tried if visiting the area.

Photo: Julius Koskela

9. Anjala’s Manor House charms against a backdrop of Ankkapurha’s grand rapids

? Ankkapurhantie 15, Anjala
ℹ Homepage

Ankkapurha is the ancient Finnish name for Kymijoki river’s biggest rapids. Although the river has since been tamed to produce hydropower, the milieu of Anjala’s Manor House is still well worth a visit. There are walking trails in the area and all visitors are encouraged to try them and enjoy nature. Foodies should head to the Makasiinikahvila (Warehouse cafe) to sample the coffee and cake.

Photo: Julius Koskela

10. Salmiakki cheddar and hydrogen-powered cars at Kirjokivi manor

? Rudolf Elvingintie 109, Vuohijärvi
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

The idyllic Kirjokivi Manor and its surroundings are a sight in themselves, but once you’re there, you can fill your stomach with exotic treats. How does salmiakki (salty liquorice) cheddar cheese sound? Kirjokivi manor house is part of Woikoski Feeling – a company that provides a range of experiences in the surrounding area. The place’s special feature is the car museum, where all the cars reveal interesting parts of Woikoski’s and all of Finland’s history.

Photo: Julius Koskela

11. What on earth are Vety and Atomi? Taste Lappeenranta’s specialities

? Lappeenranta, South Karelia

Vety and Atomi have already gained quite a reputation. These local delicacies can be found at the hotdog kiosk, and should be enjoyed in in Lappeenranta’s urban surroundings, where they might be ordered by locals at the end of a night out. In true Finnish-style, you can wash them down with a glass of milk. Vety is a high quality meat pie, filled with either ham or egg. Atomi is filled with both.

Photo: Julius Koskela

12. Särä is Finnish food, with a thousand year history

ℹ Restaurant Kippurasarvi Homepage

Särä is the oldest dish in Finland, and its history goes back at least 1000 years. The name ‘särä’ comes from the wooden trough, on which lamb and potatoes were served. The meat rests on a bed of potatoes and is dished up with rieska (Finnish flatbread) as an accompaniment and homebrew to drink. Looks pretty good, don’t you think?

Photo: Julius Koskela

13. Melt-in-your-mouth hot smoked salmon in Lohela

? Karjalantie 372, Puntala
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

Could this be the world’s best hot smoked salmon? Test for yourself. Many travel from afar to buy Lohela’s smoked salmon to take home, or savour it slowly there and then. The quaint shop there has plenty of other items for sale, including delicacies and souvenirs for the traveller.

Photo: Julius Koskela

14. At Korpikeidas you can fish and meet some other animals

Vesikkolantie 415, Joutseno
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

At Korpikeidas you can fish and smoke the salmon yourself. There is a wide range of fun things to do for families with children. You can also get to know the resident farm animals which include an alpaca and a peacock!

Photo: Julius Koskela

15. Pulsan Asema is an instagram hit

? Pulsan Aseman tie 21, Pulsa
ℹ Homepage

Pulsan Asema (Pulsa Station) is an old station building that has been converted into a cafe, interior design boutique and bed and breakfast. The station’s interior decor is very photogenic. You can see the passion that has gone into creating this place. It’s certainly deserving of its media and social media attention, but go see it for yourself!

Photo: Julius Koskela

16. Konditoria Huovila – if there was a cafe in Moominland…

? Fredrikinkatu 1, Hamina
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

While wandering the picturesque streets of Hamina, step into Konditoria (Patisserie) Huovila. Its colourful cakes, the cinnamon buns overflowing on the counter and light fresh interior bring to mind the coloured Moomin books from childhood. Now in its third generation of ownership, this cafe is a part of Hamina’s street views. Make sure you at least taste the crown pastries!

Photo: Julius Koskela

17. Discover Ylämaa’s spectrolite in Korupirtti

? Kivikyläntie 7, Ylämaa
ℹ Homepage (in Finnish)

Spectrolite is a dark stone that shimmers blue and gold when held at certain angles in the light. Korupirtti (Jewellery Hut) with its services is a good base for gemstone miners. Next to the hut is the mining museum and it’s also possible to go see the mine itself.

Photo: Julius Koskela

18. Mustila Arboretum fairytale forest and Mustila wine

? Mustilan Puistotie 21, Elimäki
ℹ Homepage

Finnish berries and fruit are known to be superfoods, but did you know that you can make wine from them? Mustila’s wine shop and wonderful garden store is near Kouvola. As well as stopping at the shop, you can go for a work in a real fairytale forest, Mustila’s Arboretum.

Photo: Milla von Konow

19. Viini Verla – a winery in a world heritage site

? Salonsaarentie 127, Verla
ℹ Homepage

The idyllic Verla Mill village is a world heritage site. The old groundwood and board factory’s picturesque mill buildings feel like a journey back in time, within beautiful and photogenic surroundings. When visiting, make sure you stop at Verla Winery (Viini Verla). In addition to their wine and sparkling wines, they make a variety of berry liqueurs and table wines as well as stronger alcoholic drinks.

Photo: Milla von Konow