maanantai 31. heinäkuuta 2017

The Total Saimaa Tour

This summer really seems to go on with hand break on... There have been so few warm days and there has been rain in so many days, either constantly or in shorter intervals.

Anyway, we had a plan to go round Saimaa, the biggest lake in Finland. 
The main reason was we had separate sessions there: Some family meetings, Savonlinna Opera Festival and a song course for my spouse. To connect all these it took six days to make it.

Saimaa is kind of torn to pieces, meaning endless islands and bigger and smaller open water areas. Almost all the waters in Eastern Finland are connected to Saimaa and finally the whole mass of water goes to Lake Ladoga in Russian Carelia via Vuoksi River. Saimaa is home to the most endangered fresh water seal Saimaannorppa, Saimaa ringed seal.  

The first day was an exception, warm and sunny. Unfortunately we had to spend it in a car to get to the family festive of my spouse in Joensuu. The hotels of Joensuu were totally full because of the Rock festival so we had to go further for a night. The place where we stayed was Paksuniemi near the Rääkkylä Church, a former creamery, nowadays a little hotel and brewery. It is situated by Jänisselkä, one of numerous parts of Saimaa. The evening was warm and beautiful so we had enough time to swim and just sit and enjoy the view till sunset.

                    Swimming at Paksuniemi beach in Rääkkylä  


          A view from Paksuniemi to Jänisselkä

Next day we headed back to Joensuu to meet other relatives – this time they were mine. Joensuu is a university town by the North East part of Saimaa called Pyhäselkä. Actually it is by the ending of the river Pielisjoki - Joensuu means the end of the river. The weather turned to its normal mode this summer – a bit chilly and rain every now and then. So no swimming or sun bathing there!  

        By the Pielisjoki River in Joensuu

After two days we left Joensuu to go nearer Savonlinna. It was naturally impossible to get hotel near Savonlinna so we had to go to Puumala, 80 kilometres south of Savonlinna. We chose the route to see something nice, maybe also do something nice. So we took the western route to Puumala. First it included Liperi  because of its super delicious Karelian pasty. They were filled with barley instead of rice which makes them taste more original.

We had a plan to go for a little paddle trip to Kolovesi which is the most wilderness-like part of Saimaa and heart of the seal area. But because the weather was terrible, raining furiously and temperature 9.5 degrees Celsius in daytime we skipped the plan. So we continued first to Enonkoski and finally to Puumala.

                                        Enonselkä, Enonkoski

It was still raining and it was still chilly when we arrived Kuoreksenniemi holiday cabin area in Puumala. Finally the rain drew back for a while and we could see a beautiful rainbow on the lake. After five minutes we decided to go out for a little hike... and a minute after coming in it started to rain cats and dogs again! Although we had a wonderful view to lake from our window we missed all the seals. But actually it was no wonder, there are only 360 seal in the whole Saimaa! So that evening I was the only swimmer of that size seen. Because of the weather the water was warmer than the air.

        The rainbow over the lake, both ends clearly seen

                Hiking in Kuoreksenniemi, Puumala

                     The only seal in the water

The weather of the next day was much better, mostly sunshine interrupted by some minor showers. On our way to Savonlinna we visited Sulkava, the place of big rowing contest.  The contest is for kind of traditional Finnish rowing boats but actually they are developed more to sport use. The biggest model for 15 persons is based on the boats people used to row the whole village to church.

The contest was already over so we just walked along the nice village streets and did some shopping in Marimekko outlet shop.  

                  An old and idyllic boat house as a bar, Sulkava city

When we arrived Savonlinna we were quite hungry. And being hungry in Savonlinna means either lörtsy or fried vendace. Both are available at the market square and chose the latter. Although there also were other meals on menu I didn’t see any other then fried vendace on customer’s plate. And I cannot blame them, the food was delicious.    

             Fried vendaces at Savonlinna Market Square

Vendace is the most important fish in Saimaa area. It is like a small white fish and tastes pretty much like sardines. Vendace likes bright water and the best way to keep the stocks in good condition is to keep water clean and just to fish them - unless it is not made too intensively.  

The main purpose of our Savonlinna visit was the Opera Festival. We had tickets to Rigoletto. The production was based on Royal Opera House version. The soloists were partly Finnish and partly international and the quality of the performance was in high level. The only problem for us was we sat so far on left side we had some difficulties in following some complex scenes, both the text almost on the roof and soloists singing shor phreses on different parts of the stage.

Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, the main place of the Opera Festival

Because of the 100th anniversary of  Finland Vladimir Putin was to visit Savonlinna next week. And because Putin there was an extra security control in front of the castle - normally there are such only in football games and rock festivals and then mainly because of alcohol. We were not inspected very thoroughly but anyhow there were no incident with explosives next week during Putin's visit.

                      Security control at the gate of the castle


The weather stayed reasonable the whole time we spent in Savonlinna. When we arrived our next sleeping place in Kerimäki 30 kilometres east of Savonlinna the heavy rain started again.
Our guest house was a farm near the Lake Puruvesi, a part of Saimaa, again (Didn’t I mention also Savonlinna is situated in the island between two parts of Saimaa...?). 

               Our last guest house was in Kerimäki byt the Lake Puruvesi

On our breakfast we had eggs of the hens we saw in the yard – or actually they preferred trees!

The last day started half cloudy and quite promising. So we had a nice weather to enjoy beautiful scenes of Punkaharju. It is 7 kilometres long ridge between two parts of Saimaa and it’s considered as one of the Finnish national scenery. 

                                                At Punkaharju

When we approached our next stop Imatra the weather turned unstable again. Our main goal was Imatrankoski rapids where the waters of Saimaa used to surge in the direction of Lake Ladoga. Nowadays the it has a power plant and water is released there only on special events. There is an alternative branch in River Vuoksi thet takes the water of Saimaa to Lake Ladoga. We had a plan to walk a romantic trail along the rapids canyon but we heard some thunder and decided not to do it. And it was a good decision, very soon it started hailing! So instead of walking we went to very romantic Valtionhotelli by the rapids for a lunch.  

                       Imatra Valtionhotelli   

                  Imatrankoski rapids canyon. Notice the dark clouds behind me.  

                  A view to the planned trail just some minutes later...

              ...from the window of Valtionhotelli

From Imatra there was only 20 kilometres to the next destination, Joutseno Institute by the “Major Saimaa”. I left my spouse there for her singing course and had some walk round the area. I have had some memorable moments there in my youth to think back.  

Joutseno, one of the important places of my youth

From Joutseno I went on on my own. I stopped by the Saimaa Canal near Lappeenranta city. It is a route to the sea for boats and logs originated from the mid nineteenth century. It is rebuilt numerous times and though it goes to Gulf of Vyborg to Russian side, the Canal area is rented to the Finnish government.  

The new and the old canal at Mustola museum area. As you may see, it started raining again. 

My last Saimaa stop was the harbour of Lappeenranta. Lappeenranta has its history as a military town but nowadays it’s more a university town with high technology education.  

The end of Saimaa tour, Lappeenranta Harbour - almost in sunhine!

So we had travelled almost round (and some times also through) the Lake Saimaa. Because of the hurry we had the first day we skipped stops in the Western coast such as Mikkeli (St Michel) To get the whole picture of the wonderful area it would take much more than six days.

Here you can see our routes.  

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