Sunday 4th June Espoo

We landed in Helsinki, with two hours before the time we'd booked our car for. So we went to tourist info to try to sort out what to do, and where to go. The man there was very helpful; but then there there was the issue of where to stay tonight. After the late night last night, and early morning today, we don't want to go too far. So we retired to a table ithe cafe and connected to the airport wifi, and looked.

We ended up booking a hotel in Espoo, which is a sort of outer northern suburb of Helsinki; with a kitchenette. With this sorted, we headed off to get our car from Sixt rentals. We've been given an upgrade. We walked off to find it, and found it was a Mercedes A 180, white, with 7,000km on the clock. Goodness!

We got in. It is a modern car; it has GPS and things; and we couldn't work out how to use it. We had to call the attendant, who showed us. Fine. Then – hand brake – where? Finally, with help from the book of words (in Finnish, but the pictures were helpful) I found it. And very slowly eased out into the traffic.

We had spent some time making a map of where this hotel was; but we used the GPS. Without it, it would have been a very difficult process; Finnish place names are not very straightforward. We got to the hotel, and parked.

The hotel room is very nice. It even has an electic kettle, something we've missed badly; in Spain and Portugal you heat water on the stove in a saucepan. Not even a stovetop kettle. So primitive!

We unloaded the car, and went out for a walk to the supermarket. We spent a long time there; it is difficult to work out what some things contain in Finnish. Came home, cooked dinner, and talked to the nice receptionist about where she'd go in Finland. And now its time for an earlier night. We are both tired.

Monday 5th June Teijo

So we slept well, and woke to a fully overcast sky. I put on my long pants, and stayed in them all day. By the time we'd gone down to breakfast and returned, it had started to drizzle as well. We'd intended to walk down to the supermarket to get some food for lunch and for dinner tonight, but in view of the rain we checked out and drove down there.

Then, it was time to move on. Turn on the GPS and off we went, west towards Turku; for most of the way on freeway. It occurred to me, while driving, that the car surely had cruise control; with a bit of looking II found it on a second stalk, hidden behind the steering wheel. I turned it on and it made the driving better. There was also a thermometer, showing the outside temperature at ~ 10.5º. This is not Spain.

It continued to rain. We pulled off, into a service station – huge, with supermarket, gift shop, pharmacy; we thought of having a coffee but it was not very enticing. A cafe would be better. But the break in the journey was good.

Then off the freeway and down to the small town of Salo. Try a shopping centre for a cafe? We called into one, with a huge supermarket and a cafe inside the supermarket selling brewed coffee only. Not for us. So on we went, to Tiejo, where we had a booking at a lodge next to the National Park there.

Check-in was after 3pm; it was already 2pm. We went there to see if our room was ready early; the place was deserted. What to do? We drove into the town, in the rain still, finding a general store but nowhere to go inside and have a coffee at. So in the end we returned to the lodge, to find it still deserted at 3pm.

We gave up. Alison got out our rolls, and butter, and cheese, and we started eating our lunch in the car. Within ten minutes a car with the owners turned up, and we were allowed in to eat in our shared kitchen – a very good one. We could make ourselves a drink, too.

It kept raining. We sat and labelled photos for a while, and at ~6pm the rain stopped, and we went out for a walk along the lake here and then up a little hill. Finland has lots of lakes, and only little hills. We came back to have dinner. The rain has still stopped and the weather forecast is for improving conditions.

Tomorrow, we have nothing booked; we'll see where we end up. And what we'll do.

Tuesday 6th June Turku

We awoke to a cloudless blue sky! So nice! We got up and had breakfast (quietly, as no-one else was up), took some photos (they are better with a bit of sun) and drove down the road to the marina at Matilda..... This was not vey exciting, so we turned around and drove back through Teijo, on to the freeway, and on to Turku – the second biggest town in Finland, and the old capital.

Our friend the GPS was very helpful, directing us to tourist info (after we'd entered the street address) especially as there were very few signs to it. We had to park the car. We had to pay to park the car – which I don't like doing, but there was no alternative.

In tourist info we found a very helpful lady. After she'd told us all she could, we used their computer to book a room in the Linnasmaki hostel. We tried to go for a coffee but there was not enough time before the car parking expired; we drove off and not too far down the street found a free place to park. At least we think it was; all the signs are in Finnish; and we didn't seem to get a ticket.

So we walked up the river, and returned to the cafe. We ordered a baked potato and coffee; but then they told us they were out of potatoes, and gave us a coffee and cheesecake in their place – for free! More than they needed to do – but.... we can't complain.

We were fortified. We drove off to Kontti, the Finnish Red Cross shop. It was lunch time, but too early for check-in at the hostel. So, we spent a long time there. Well over an hour – it was a very good shop. Then over to the hostel; then to the supermarket to get some food; and it was nearly 4pm before we ate lunch.

This was a mistake. We both get a bit snappy when we're ravenous, and that's how we were. We ate lunch, sat in our room for a while to digest the maps etc. we'd been given at tourist info; then, at 5pm, drove back into town and found a peripheral free parking spot. And went for a walk.

It was not a great walk. I thought Alison was in a foul mood, and she probably thought the same about me. After an expensive coffee (Finland now, not Spain), we walked along the river for a bit, into the empty market square; found an ATM to buy money at (they are not nearly as frequent as in Spain); up into some gardens to try and fail to find a museum there; back to the river where there was a weird slow salsa group dressed as for Carnival in Rio by the river. Then, we visited the Turku cathedral, and came home.

After our late lunch we weren't very hungry, so we had soup, bread, and wine for dinner. It was nice.

Tomorrow?

Wednesday 7th June Turku

Today was much better. We put more effort into eating lunch at a reasonable hour and avoided the problems of the last couple of days.

We began by making the decision to stay here till Friday, when we need to return to the airport to fly home. So we no longer need to think about where we'll go, and where we'll stay. We ate a good breakfast and then set out in the car to visit some of the archipelago here; Finland has more than 40,000 islands off its coast, most of them close to here. We began with the supermarket for food, then drove off. We drove to some of the closer areas; you can go much further afield, but we thought that it's likely to be more of the same sort of thing.

So we headed south along a road to Vano, and then Attu. This involved a number of bridges and a ferry crossing, and we saw a lot of coastline. Occasional beaches but usually rocky of vegetated shoreline; a number of marinas; and lots and lots of houses, probably summer cottages. All quite pretty, but also so populated! We drove along some quiet dirt roads through the bush, which in Australia would have been a bush track leading to a beach, but here they all went to someone's house.

We decided to head back. It was lunchtime, and we looked for a picnic area to have lunch in. We didn't find one – they don't seem to have them here. So we drove into a town thinking there would be a park to eat in, but we didn't find one of them either. We did find a place with a bench to sit on, so we ate our lunch there.

Then back into town, where we found a free place to park (finding a free parking place seems a bit random here) and went to a Finnish Salvo's shop before going back home for coffee and cake. But then it was time for a walk.

The hostel is a little way out of town, ~4km. So we went off to walk in there. It was a pleasant walk, ending up beside the river; it took us 45 minutes to the cathedral. We went to the museum, but found it was mostly modern art rather than museum, so after a look in their shop – quite an eclectic range of things – we walked over to Cafe Art and then home via the other Salvo's shop.

We cooked curried vegies and rice for dinner; it was good. Our food supply is getting much less; I no longer have to do my hand washing every day; and tomorrow I'm going to stop wearing the polyester shirts I've worn ever since we left home.

It is clouding over a bit now and we may be in for more rain in the next day or two.

Thursday 8th June Turku

It rained for a lot of the night, but it had all cleared up by the time we got up at 8am. This morning, we drove over to Naantali – and old wooden town which was only ~15km away. Honey the GPS took us there, announced we in Naantali, and stopped talking; but we were on a main road with no sign of the town. We had to change Honey over to “map”, and then we found it, and parked.

It was overcast and cooler, but there was no more rain. We walked through the main square, down to the seafront; past old wooden houses, but nothing too remarkable. The seafront was lined with cafes – obviously very busy on a sunny summer's day. It was all quite pleasant. They had a big church looking better than Turku's cathedral.

We walked on through an area of restored old wooden houses, then up the hill beyond; and then (Alison was feeling like a millionaire) we went and had a coffee and cake in a cafe in the main square, away from the tourist area of town.

Our two hours of parking time was up. We returned to our nice car and let Honey take us to the last Salvo's shop in Turku, where we spent time and money before coming home to the hostel for lunch.

We had been wondering about tomorrow – our last day, when we have a flight leaving just before midnight but the car needing return at 5pm. So I emailed Sixt and they are happy to have the car back at 9pm instead, for an extra charge of only €5.15! I said yes please.

The last thing Alison (my tour guide) wanted to see was the Kasityolaismuseo – a collection of old original Turku buildings, now a historical / craft museum. So we drove into town, and (now we know it better) got a free indefinite parking spot very close to the museum. They let us in as seniors, and we spent a very interesting two hours there. It was the best thing we've done, so far, in Turku. Lots of old buildings, some information, and some people (dressed in period costume) to answer questions you may have.

The museum closed at 6pm, and we drove home. Honey wanted to take us a silly long way, so we had to ignore her.

At home, it was time to pack. And make dinner. And then go for a walk in the forest behind the hostel, which is remarkably extensive so close to town, and is used for XC skiing in winter. The walk was nice, but the mozzies there were a bit fierce. A bit like leaving Kvikkjokk in Sweden.

It has been our last whole day away, and a remarkably good one. I had thought that perhaps five days in Finland at the end of eight weeks away elsewhere may be just wasting time, but it has not been that way at all.

Friday 9th June Going Home

We have been away for two months, and today feels unreal; going home again was always so far away. It feels almost as unreal as leaving did.

Our flight does not leave till 11.50pm. So we had all day, with no need to hurry. We tried to sleep in but with the long daylight hours here it is a bit difficult; we ate our muesli for breakfast, went out for a walk around the hostel, came home and put everything in the car, checked out, and then went into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

Then it was time to leave. We paid another visit to Kontti, without finding anything to interest us; and then drove out of Turku on the (minor road)110, avoiding the E18 freeway. This was slower, and hillier, but more scenic; there were lots of picture postcard views of bright green fields, dark red farm buildings, and pine forest behind. The road took us back through Salo, so we stopped and had a walk; there was an open-air children's concert on with two ?12 year old girls singing quite beautifully. In Finnish, of course, so we couldn't understand a thing; but nice. We had a rather poor but not expensive coffee in a nice cafe, then continued on. This time, we were headed for Lohja, a town 40km from Helsinki with various natural features that seemed worth a look. To get there, we turned Honey on.

It turned out to be a longer drive than we'd planned, and Honey was trying (I think); but when we turned off her route she lost the plot a bit, and kept sending us places we'd been and then turning around. We finally headed back to the road 25, which I thought we should be on, and she picked up her act. We got to the first attraction, a very old and large oak tree. This was surrounded by spindly pines so it really stood out. On the way back we went to a lookout over a lake, where the view was obscured by trees and there was a house below. Finland is densely settled.

Back in the car, we took the direst route to the Giant's Kettles. Direct, but still another 25km, taking ½ hour. These were some large depressions in granite; the largest ~ 2m wide and 3m deep. A nice walk through forest to get there.

By now, it had got on to 4pm. Time to get on to Helsinki, so we went on the freeway. We went to a Salvo's shop and got there five minutes before closing time at 6pm; the lady let us in and I found a bellows. So Finsbury will have Finnish bellows to use.

It was still early, so we went to another Kontti, but then – nothing more to do. Off to the airport and give back the nice Mercedes, check in, sit up in the lounge.

Today had more driving than we'd intended, but it has been a good and not disappointing last day of holidays. Neither of us is as ready to return to life at home as much as we sometimes are after a trip. For me, even here at the airport, it all still seems a bit unreal.