Hitting the road again
for new adventures.
After I came back to France from my travels through South America, the months flew by, my backpack slowly emptied itself and so many ideas rushed through my mind but I did know that I didn’t really want to stay. So I started a different kind of journey to get to know myself better, to look back on my previous experiences and decide in which direction I now wanted my life to go. A little over a year later, here I am, in Kuru, Finland, to follow an International Wilderness Guide course.
My new adventure started with a short stay in Helsinki where I was reunited with Antti, a friend met in Colombia (oh, those salsa days)! I made the most of my time in the capital to get my Russian visa done and to visit as much of the city as possible before heading up to Kuru, a tiny village in the middle of Finnish forests and lakes.
For a capital city, I found Helsinki pretty calm. The summer holidays must have emptied the place quite a bit but even so, it seems that Helsinki has a peaceful and laid back atmosphere all year round. Once I had bought myself a new local SIM card and had sorted my Russian visa application, I started my tour of the city in its historical centre where the main attractions are the beautiful white cathedral and the market square. The area around the Senate square was pretty quiet but the market was buzzing; very colourful stalls overflowing with delicious looking berries, mushrooms and crafted souvenirs for us tourists (everything quite expensive though).
I was eager to try the local products and had the pleasure of tasting some of the Finnish delicacies when I sought out some food for my lunch by the port. I entered a little corner shop and wandered around the aisles trying to figure out packagings and ingredient lists as well as what could possibly be in all the pastries from the bakery section. After going round the whole store at least twice, I went for 2 little pies (I found out later that they’re called Karelian pies, made with rye and filled with rice) and a little box of blueberries. The girl at the counter had obviously noticed how lost I was so she asked me if I had found everything I needed. As I told her I was just looking for something typical to eat for lunch, she dashed into the aisles and came back with this little black box and said “I know you’re not going to like it, none of the foreigners like it but it’s THE typical Finnish thing to taste”. I took the box and went to sit down by the waterfront. The pies were good, the berries divine and the typical Finnish delicacy… well, it was liquorice and though I usually like liquorice, this one was salty! Not the greatest taste in the world; I understand why the girl said I wouldn’t like it! I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of thing you really have to grow up with. But the Finns definitely seem to be fans because as I noticed later on, they put it in everything! Chocolate, ice cream, desserts… I haven’t tried any of those yet and I’m not sure I particularly want to but we’ll see. I kept the pack of Salmiakki and I eat one every now and then (it’s not that bad but it certainly takes getting used to).
I found it quite easy to get around Helsinki, whether on foot or by bus, so as I had no particular plan, I let my footsteps guide me around the city centre. Though it was calm and an enjoyable walk, I’m not a fan of very square buildings and large avenues; it just doesn’t have much charm. Hard to beat the little streets and less organised neighbourhoods of Paris or other European cities! Yet the parks and green areas in and around Helsinki counter balance the coldness of the architecture. I happened to find a big enough lake a few minutes away from the central station and wandered around it while I waited to meet one of my future class mates.
My first contact with my future IWG class was thus in Helsinki. I got along with Ben, a Brit/Finn, straight away and it felt good to share our apprehensions, motivations, expectations as well as simply being able to put a face to a name, an email address before the beginning of the course. Ben was travelling to Kuru the next day and I was planning on heading up later to have an extra day to explore the city but I was already looking forward to learning more about him on the Saturday.
The rest of my first day around Helsinki went very well. I met up with Antti and we visited the amusement park before going to a veggie restaurant and jazz concert. We finished the night with drinks at a little bar. Needless to say I was completely knackered after only sleeping 3-4 hours the night before. It was actually surprising I survived the concert and beer at the bar!
I got off to a bit of a late start on Friday so after having figured out bus schedules going to Kuru the next day, I decided to limit my exploring to the sea fortress of Suomenlinna. Luckily because I could have spent hours walking around that place! The fortress, built upon several small islands, is a UNESCO World Heritage site only 10 minutes by ferry from the city centre. The islands are inhabited and though many tourists come to visit, they didn’t feel overcrowded and they had a lovely little village atmosphere to them. I found the place absolutely gorgeous and as I explored the rocky shores I almost felt like an intruder on someone’s private island. But the inhabitants (and Finns in general) were very friendly; a kind man even offered to show me his little vegetable garden and what seemed like a little secret garden hidden between the trees. With its historical sites, its natural pools and its little village lifestyle, Suomenlinna has a lot to offer and I would have loved to stay longer! The sun was setting and I had planned to meet Antti at Teurastamo, an open air market, for more culinary and musical discoveries!