Thursday, August 27, 2015

Finland/Iceland trip diary - day 5

Today we had breakfast for the first time on the trip, which always makes good sense before a long walk (handy tip for the day!) The hotel has a nice buffet, along with a sign sternly informing the guests that the buffet items are only for breakfast consumption and aren’t to be used to make sandwiches for later. Our plans thus dashed, we walked to the nearby supermarket and picked up some basic supplies, which came to the ridiculous-even-for-Scandinavia total of 40 euros. I’m sure there was a mistake there but sadly we didn’t really focus on it until later.

Our project for the day was to walk to the Pielpajarvi wilderness church, 7 or 8 km each way from the hotel. It was built around 1760 by the shore of a lake, near a winter settlement area. Entire years sometimes went by without a pastor ever making it out there – even in a good year, the schedule was sporadic at best. It’s surprisingly big though, looking capable of seating 500 people at a push, and even now it’s sometimes used for special events, including weddings. Despite apparent issues with maintaining it, it’s very impressive and beguiling.

I assume wedding parties would charter a boat, because the trail might be a challenge for the older guests at least. Actually it’s not that onerous – the ground is very flat so there’s no great climbing involved, but it’s often rocky and concentration-demanding. It winds through quiet forests of conifers, passing a series of lakes. When the water's frozen, it creates snowmobile routes that go on for miles and miles. Today was a good walking temperature, although the kind of day when you keep changing your mind about how many layers you want on. Most of the buildings that once surrounded the church are gone, but there’s a wooden sauna there, and a cooking hut or something. It looked like one of the groups we passed on the way out might have camped out there for the night. We enjoyed our super-expensive lunch on the steps of the sauna, looking over the lake.
Last night we overheard a British man at the hotel saying how he did this same walk yesterday and he came across some reindeer. He told several people this and it was obvious he’ll be telling the story hundreds of times in future years. Mind you, one woman who seemed to have a bit of local knowledge was obviously skeptical, so maybe it’s an outright lie. Maybe he’s lying about the gluten intolerance too (you know, just to get out of eating his wife’s lousy cooking). Anyway, we never saw a hint of any reindeer. You pass through a gated fence in a couple of places, apparently to keep the reindeer from wandering, but we couldn’t even guess what side of the fence you might find them on. Maybe it’s all just theatre for tourists, like airport security. We did see a dog walking the trail, but only a very small and uninteresting one. Otherwise all we have to report is the sizeable population of red squirrels around the hotel grounds.
Anyway, it was a very satisfying walk. As usual though, we didn’t see too many people along the way, and, the Sami museum aside, you wonder what else might draw people to Inari, if not to spend the day walking. It's the starting point for a two-hour lake cruise, twice a day, but I can’t imagine that’s a great attraction in itself. Maybe a lot of people just come here to fish. The town itself feels very much like somewhere you might encounter in rural Alberta. I’m just saying that as a true-life impression (which Ally shares) – take it as you will…
We were certainly ready for a rest by the time we got back. As I mentioned, it’s a more modest hotel room, but you quickly settle in. It has two tiny little single beds, but they can be pushed together (I mean, not that we would ever know for sure whether they could be or not, but it looks like they could be, you know, if anyone was ever to try). We both slept quite well on the first night, although we both did spend some time awake at various separate points. Maybe we’re not used to it being so dark and quiet. As I write this in the late afternoon, the fish camera has struck gold - a big fish hovering right in the middle of the screen. One of the other ten channels is showing America’s Next Top Model.

We walked to a nearby place called PaPaNa, which received some disparaging online reviews in the past ("There were four of us and we all felt ill after eating here") but at least seemed to constitute an interesting change (notwithstanding the hotel’s reminder that “in our restaurant we respect the clean northern flavours”). It worked out better than fine – we had six Karhus, and a reindeer pizza (reindeer, mushrooms, peppers, blue cheese) which would have held up anywhere (don’t know about clean and northern, but certainly flavours). The establishment itself had a somewhat sparse but enjoyable atmosphere, supplemented by a ramshackle pub-style eccentricity (why a large African mask propped up over there? Who knows?) and a diverse clientele (crusty old-timers who paid no attention to us, and just a little more in the two female visitors who came in later; the local young brigade who mainly hung out upstairs, sometimes emerging for cigarette breaks [it appears they’ve banned indoor smoking in such establishments, but it’s clear that many Finns regret it]; obvious tourists like us, some of whom we’d seen earlier in the day). The soundtrack was of vintage quality – not one but two Jefferson Airplane tracks over the course of the night. We'd also heard one of these ("White Rabbit") in the Helsinki Public Corner earlier in the week, so it seems that there’s a distinct constituency in Finland that doesn’t feel so great about the recent evolution of popular music. We left around 10 pm, but could have stayed longer. Back in the room, I learned that the Academy has voted honorary Oscars to Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee, so you never know when the cultural temperature is going to soar!

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