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Finnish-Russian Border

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Along the entire Finland’s border with its "Eastern neighbor" (itänaapuri), as Russia is commonly called in the Finnish media, there is a border area, forbidden to visit without a special permission. This area is far narrower than the similar border area on the Russian side; it is just a few hundred meters to a pair of kilometers wide, possibly a bit wider in some places, and its shape is set in such a way that it doesn’t block any state or municipal roads, and doesn’t interfere with access to local sights near the border (which are mostly various nature spots). (In Russia this zone may be tens of kilometers wide, and some villages and roads are entirely located within this zone.) The roads to border crossings are also specifically excluded from the border area, thus unlike in Russia you can drive up to the very border guard booths without having to present any papers to anyone.

Apart from border crossings, there exist also two more places where you can legally walk very close to the border without getting a permit; these are locations where the border itself is a sight. The first one is Muotkavaara hill in Lapland, the place where borders of Russia, Finland and Norway meet. The second is a small lake named Virmajärvi in Finnish North Karelia, the easternmost point of Finland and the entire continental area of the EU. I haven’t been to Muotkavaara yet, but once (in October 2016) drove to Virmajärvi out of curiosity.

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Finnish Air Forces monument

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Finnish Air Forces monument is located by the road to Vaskiluoto Island in the city of Vaasa, West Finland, overlooking the Eteläinen Kaupunginselkä (Finn. South City Expanse) bay. It is built in a shape of a sea eagle, and was put there in 1969. The picture above is taken in March 2018.

The location of the monument is no accident. Finnish Air Forces (Suomen ilmavoimat) are considered to have been born on 6.3.1918, when Count Eric vos Rosen, a Swedish aristocrat, gave the young Finnish state its first airplane. Finland was in the middle of the bloody civil war at the moment, and Vaasa was the place of the White Guards command. The plane in question was a Morane-Saulnier Parasol. It was flown from Umeå (on the Swedish side of the Gulf of Bothnia across Vaasa) to Vaasa by Nils Kindberg, with Count von Rosen as a passenger, and landed on the waters of Eteläinen Kaupunginselkä not far from the present location of the monument. The airplane was indeed taken into use by the White Guards, but did not have a long life; it crashed on 16.4.1918 near Tampere already. 6.3 has since been declared the official Finnish Air Forces day, and the replica of the airplane is currently on display in the aviation museum in Tikkakoski near Jyväskylä:

Picture from Wikipedia
Picture from Wikipedia

Count von Rosen’s personal insignia was a swastika, and the blue swastika was adopted as the official insignia of the Finnish Air Forces. This swastika bears a lot more similarity to the Nazi one than the design used e. g. in the flag of the President of Finland or in the Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty. Nonetheless its origin, of course, is completely unrelated to the Nazis, who didn’t even exist in 1918. (Curiously enough, Count von Rosen eventually did indeed became one of the biggest Swedish Nazi supporters and the best pal of Goering, but naturally that happened much later too.) Still, after the war the Finnish Air Forces switched to a more neutral-looking insignia, but the old swastika is still used in some of its flags (e. g. of the Air Force Academy), as can be seen in the picture from the parade in Vaasa in February 2018:

Parade commemorating the 100 years anniversary of the return of Jaegers into Finland, Vaasa, 24.2.2018
Parade commemorating the 100 years anniversary of the return of Jaegers into Finland, Vaasa, 24.2.2018


Midsummer in Abisko: Pass of Snow

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At 6 or 7 in the morning or so people in Kårsavagge hut started to wake up, dress up, make food, pack up, and were being not at all quiet doing all that. By the sound of it there were several couples. All of them were speaking Swedish. I felt awkward leaving my bunk, hoping that maybe they would all leave and I would have the room alone to myself, but in the end it became clear that the last couple was going to stay for a while (lighting up the stove and stuff), so I had to go down. They mumbled something in response to my "hej" and then just ignored me. I didn’t feel like staying with them there for long, so I dressed up and left, intending to have my sandwiches outside. So in the end I didn’t really use the hut in any way other than for sleeping.

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Midsummer in Abisko: Valley of Waterfalls

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It’s been some months since I last wrote anything here, having just almost finished the "Coming to Finland" story. It’s also been 8 months since I moved to Vaasa in Finland. Ever since the warm days came in early May, I’ve been visiting various places pretty much every weekend. Eventually I even started to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of the places that I was seeing and the pictures I was taking.

For the most part I’ve been travelling around the Ostrobothnia region where I live and some adjacent ones, and so far there were only two relatively big trips this year. The first one was around the east coast of the Bay of Bothnia, to Kalajoki, Raahe, Oulu, Kemi, Tornio and Haparanda, and the second one was a three day hiking trip to Abisko National Park in Northern Sweden. Since I’ve got to begin somewhere, I might as well start with Abisko, because this is a mighty cool place, completely different from Ostrobothnia.

I hadn’t been in any mountains for a whole year, after my huge 36-day trip around Northern Sweden and Norway in May-June 2017. I wanted to see some already pretty badly, and luckily the Midsummer, which is a public holiday in Finland (juhannus), meant that I had three days off in a row, the Midsummer eve (22.6) and the weekend immediately afterwards. While Vaasa is still disappointingly too far from any mountains for a weekend trip, three days were already something. The area I chose (after considering Urho Kekkonen National Park in Finland, Kebnekaise and a few other places) was Abisko National Park, a relatively small but scenic, well-accessible and well-travelled area of the Scandinavian Mountains. I had visited Abisko last year rather briefly; 2017 was a cold year and in early June there still was plenty of snow there at the time. This time I wanted to do something I rarely do, a multi-day hike.

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Lahti (Part 2)

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We’re continuing with a walk around Lahti on a day trip there in November. The first part was here.

1. Lake Vesijärvi, from which Lahti gets its name (lahti means "bay"). If "bay" sounds like an unimaginative name for a city, consider that Vesijärvi means literally "Water Lake".

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Lahti (Part 1)

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It’s been two months since I last visited Finland. I kind of had to save up a bit of money and Finland trips, even short weekend ones, usually end up being quite big money-sinks (even when it doesn’t really feel you are spending money on anything in particular at all). In the end though I lost my patience and made a day-trip to the city of Lahti with my friend, in early November 2017.

Lahti and Kouvola are the only two cities in Finland (apart from Helsinki) which make sense as day trip destinations when going from St. Petersburg, because these are the cities the high-speed Allegro train goes through. A car trip practically requires an overnight stay; it’s a 200 km drive just to get to the Finnish border, and then crossing the border takes some time, and then you’ll need to drive to somewhere in Finland, and if you have to make the return trip on the same day it gets very exhausting and you end up with not much time in Finland itself at all. And it’s the same with Lappeenranta/Imatra buses, although at least you do not need to drive youself.

Allegro train, first introduced in 2010, on the other hand makes the St. Petersburg-Helsinki trip in about 3 h 30 min (and the border formalities are all done on board and don’t require any extra time), and it’s even faster if you only go to Kouvola or Lahti. There are four departures every day; the first train leaves St. Petersburg at 6:40, and the last one arrives to St. Petersburg at 23:27. So you’ve got plenty of time in Finland. The only downside is that it’s a rather costly option, several times more expensive than going on own car or by bus, unless you buy a ticket well in advance (which I never do).

Still, a day trip to Kouvola on Allegro was my first ever trip to Finland (in fact my first ever trip abroad) way back in February 2012, and this time we did the same thing only to Lahti, which incidentally was the Finnish city closest to St. Petersburg that I had never visited before.

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Nord-Norge '16. V: Murmansk

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The biggest city north of the Arctic Circle in the world! That’s Murmansk (Мурманск), thecenter of Murmansk Oblast region in Russia, located on the coast of the Kola Bay, a long narrow fjord of the Barents Sea of the Arctic Ocean. Like Petrozavodsk, Murmansk is the only major city in the region. Its modern population is about 300,000.

A small town at the bottom of the Kola Bay, named also Kola (Кола), existed for centuries (and still exists today as a suburb of Murmansk), but by the end of the 19th century the need for a major seaport on the Barentz Sea became quite urgent. The new city, originally named Romanov-na-Murmane (Романов-на-Мурмане, Romanov upon Murman) was founded in 1916 (when the railroad connecting it to the rest of the country was finished), the last city ever founded in Tzarist Russia era. Shortly after the February Revolution of 1917 it was renamed to Murmansk. The northern coast of the Kola Peninsula has always been known as Murman Coast; "Murmans" was an old Russian word for Norwegians (likely from Norwegian nordmann, "northern man"). The tiny town quickly grew in Soviet years, becoming the base for many Soviet explorations of the Arctic.

Murmansk was extremely important to the Soviet Union in the World War II, as a warm-water port which the Germans could not blockade. Much of the lend-lease aid from Britain and the US came through Murmansk, shuttled south on the railroad then. Despite bloody battles Nazi Germany, attacking from Northern Norway and Finnish Lapland, never managed to capture the port of Murmansk or sever the rail line. The city itself was nearly completely destroyed in the war, and had to be rebuilt afterwards. This was accomplished as soon as 1952.

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Nord-Norge '16. IV: Petrozavodsk

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Petrozavodsk (Петрозаводск, Russ. Peter Works City; known as Petroskoi in Finnish) is the capital of the modern Republic of Karelia (Russian Karelia), and its biggest city by far; with its population of 280,000 it is almost ten times bigger than the second biggest Karelian city (Kondopoga).

I do not often make posts about Russian cities, because I rarely actually visit Russian cities, because I’m just not interested in them much; over the latest years my heart has always been with the Nordics, and it’s likely to remain this way. Which is not to say Russia isn’t worth exploring! Most of its cities and regions do not really have any major sights, but then, neither does Finland, yet I find exploring Finland so interesting and satisfying. And indeed a great many blogs about Russian cities exist, and I know of a few good ones, though I’m not aware of any that post in English. And as for us, we were passing through Petrozavodsk on our way north and staying here overnight, so of course we didn’t sit around in a hotel room, and went out to have a look at the city.

It should be said that Petrozavodsk is not really a Karelian city; it was founded in 1703 by the Russians and its population has always been predominantly Russian (at the moment there are 4% ethnic Karealians, <2% Finns, and <1% Vepsians). You wouldn’t find signs in Karelian or Finnish there. In fact Petrozavodsk is fairly typical of a minor Russian regional center, with dusty streets, crumbling plaster on buildings, potholed roads, and the general air of underfunding and neglect. It doesn’t really have any sights either. At the same time I must say I oddly liked Petrozavodsk. It’s a pleasant city to be in; it’s hard to express, but the people in the streets just seem… so nice and friendly. Far less alcoholics and gopniks that even in my native Yekaterinburg which is like five times bigger. Petrozavodsk is fun to walk around, taking pictures of various minor details. So this post is going to be a really long one, with 75 pictures.

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Autumn in Finnish Karelia

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Just some pictures from Finnish Karelia (okay and a little bit of Savo too). I went there last weekend, this time not to explore anything new but mostly just for good company and some drinking in a cottage by a lake; thus I pretty much just revisited some old places. The weather however was exceptionally good (even more so considering the wet cold summer we had), and I managed to take some really nice pics

1. Imatra, a Finnish city right on the Russian border. For some odd reason despite its close location I never really visited Imatra, and only ever really saw the part with the dam.

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Nord-Norge '16. III. Kola Route

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It really took me quite some time to get to these trip reports again, didn’t it? Well, uh, better late than never :)

St. Petersburg — Petrozavodsk — Murmansk — Norwegian border highway was previously numbered M-18, but in the confusing renumbering of 2010 it was redesignated as R-21 (Р-21). Nonetheless, its popular name didn’t change: it is still the Kola Route (трасса "Кола", Trassa Kola), after the Kola Peninsula of course. At least in St. Petersburg it is also known as Murmansk Highway (Мурманское шоссе, Murmanskoye Shosse), or informally Murmanka, after its most significant destination.

The official length of Kola Route, from St. Petersburg to Norwegian border near Kirkenes, is 1592 km. Although our primary destination was Northern Norway, it was of course hardly possible to drive all those kilometers without an overnight stay. Thus we stopped in both major cities along the way, Petrozavodsk and Murmansk. I’ll tell more about both of them in the following posts, and this one is about the Kola Route itself and the minor cities along it.

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