Thursday, 10 July 2014

Birthday in Finland

Birds at Kupio Art Museum
I arrived in Kuopio in the afternoon and had wanted to spend the evening in the local swimming pool sauna. Unfortunately this plan did not work out as the swimming pool was closed in summer - and its English website had not been updated with this minor detail. Standing in front of closed doors I decided to do something useful and clean my water bottles. They are made out of transparent plastic but had recently gotten darker and darker. I had tried to convince myself that this color is tea stains from transporting ice tea but of course it was algae growth. I found a cemetery tap, used my bandana as a cloth and the handle of a rake to insert it - and soon I had nice and clean bottles again. In fact I was shocked how much gross algae I had cleaned out.....
Kupio bike path

I camped a bit outside Kuopio to get into town early next morning and do plenty of sightseeing. Kuopio even offers a discount card for three museums and I took ample advantage of it. Kuopio City Museum, Art Museum, Natural History Museum and a complex of old wooden houses. I even splurged on a Chinese AYCE buffet although the food quality wasn't that great - but 9 EUR does not get you much in Finland....Next day was my birthday and I had great plans to celebrate.

Valamo monastery
 I had booked myself into the guesthouse of a Russian-Orthodox monastery! Karelia has had two big Orthodox monasteries but in WW II the monks and nuns had to flee from Russian Karelia into Finnish Karelia and they settled between Kuopio and Joensuu. First I arrived at Lintula, the female monastery - a very peaceful spot in the middle of nowhere. The church was almost brand new, the grounds lovely and not many tourists around. But my goal was Valamo, the male monastery and a big Finnish tourist attraction. Valamo is more a monastic town than a monastery. On its grounds there is an upscale hotel, several guesthouses, a cafeteria/restaurant, a cultural centre and of course several churches. I had booked myself into the modest guesthouse where 45 EUR got me a room with shared bathroom facilities and an AYCE breakfast buffet. The staff - all summer volunteers - was incredibly friendly and helpful. I even got a free coffee voucher because of my birthday.

Valamo church with tourists
I first headed to the Russian dinner AYCE buffet where I immediately fell in love with kotikalja, a Russian drink. It looks exactly like beer but does not contain alcohol and is very sweet like a kind of malt beer. After stuffing myself sufficiently at the AYCE buffet I headed over to the church for the evening service. There was no rush - the Russian-Orthodox "vigil" service lasts 2 1/2 hours..... To make things worse you are supposed to stand during the whole ceremony, although in Valamo there are a few benches for tired cyclists like me. I was fascinated by the monks' and priests' robes and even more by their beautiful polyphonic singing. Later that evening there was even more singing: a Russian quartet was performing Russian folk songs. As you can see I had a pretty busy birthday - and thoroughly enjoyed it.

My room at Valamo
Only I did not succeed in sleeping in in the morning. The "cheap" guesthose is not only used for accommodating tourists but mostly volunteer workers - and they started banging the doors at 6 am. I just gave up and headed over to the generous breakfast buffet. I liked the bread and porridge but could not quite cope with eating pickled cucumbers and fish in the morning. Valamo is a very modern place with wifi throughout the whole complex and therefore I am now sitting in the monastery's library using their computers.


Anonymous said...

Happy birthday from south australia,from someone who has been reading and enjoying your blog for years. Cheers Els

womacht said...

Happy Birthday mein Schatz. Alles Liebe aus Berlin! *Wolfgang

Chris Roche said...

Happy birthday!! It would have been an unusual but memorable way to spend a birthday