A change of pace

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

– Confucius

The last two and a half months have been all about stunning views, epic drives and photography heaven. Finland is beautiful too, just not quite as epic. So far, the Finnish landscape is just how I imagined it would be. We’ve traded the rugged, snow-capped mountain peaks and vibrant blue fjords of Norway for endless green expanses of trees. It’s basically a giant forest with clearings cut out to accommodate roads and towns. The roads are long and straight and empty. Woods on the left, woods on the right. To the front and back are also mostly woods, interrupted only by the occasional moose or group of reindeer. Signposted snowmobile tracks carve a path through the trees alongside the road, crossing it at seemingly random points. They look a little out of place without snow.

The wildlife warning signs have changed too. We’ve seen plenty of moose and reindeer warnings in Norway, usually with a distance stated below. In Lapland, the reindeer warning sign is accompanied by a map of Finland with the top half coloured in. It’s pretty accurate. The reindeer here roam freely everywhere but are semi-domesticated. As a result, they don’t seem particularly interested in fleeing when 2500 kg of thirty-year-old rust and rubber comes rumbling down the road. They just stand there, in the middle of the road, staring stupidly as the camper rolls to a halt.

What Finland lacks in amazing drives and jaw-dropping landscapes, it makes up for with accessibility. The bike tracks carved through the woods and up and down gentle hills are much better suited to our skill level. The hiking trails offer relaxing walks through peaceful woods instead of laborious treks up to frosty peaks. We’ve done more mountain biking, bouldering and slacklining in our first week in Finland than in 73 days in Norway. Hidden woodland parking spots with heaps of privacy seem to be the rule rather than the exception. There are plenty of random side roads to explore which don’t just lead to houses. Where Norway was all about seeing, Finland is all about doing.

The first change is in the trees. The thick, endless masses of woods on either side of the road begin to thin out, and then break into wide open fields of grass and wildflowers growing on the soft curves of hills that roll into the distance. The trees return, but there’s more variety. Pine, spruce, birch, beech; something that looks like giant broccoli. The woods seem less dense. Flashes of blue hint at lakes hidden just behind the trees. The road ahead bends right without warning, then left. Light, playful twists with just enough radius to keep you guessing as to what’s next. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them.

We pass fields full of hay bales, tightly wrapped in pale green plastic for fermentation. Golden fields of wheat, nearly ready for harvest. This is farming country. We pass a cluster of red farmhouses on the left, surrounded by red sheds and red barns. A blue tractor is stacking hay bales in a field on the right. I shift down to fourth gear for another bend, then into third as the little two-litre petrol engine devours a small hill. After being stuck in fifth gear for two weeks, I’m finally driving again. Every bend makes the Tardis roll like a small boat in a big storm. The cooking utensils on hooks in the kitchen swing out and slap the wall with every righthand turn. Something in the corner of my eye catches my attention. We haven’t seen another car on this road in ages, but I snap a quick glance at the side mirror anyway before hitting the brakes. It’s the satnav. I’ve missed my exit.

The last two and a half months have been all about stunning views, epic drives and photography heaven. Finland is beautiful too, just not quite as epic. So far, the Finnish landscape is just how I imagined it would be. We’ve traded the rugged, snow-capped mountain peaks and vibrant blue fjords of Norway for endless green expanses of trees. It’s basically a giant forest with clearings cut out to accommodate roads and towns. The roads are long and straight and empty. Woods on the left, woods on the right. To the front and back are also mostly woods, interrupted only by the occasional moose or group of reindeer. Signposted snowmobile tracks carve a path through the trees alongside the road, crossing it at seemingly random points. They look a little out of place without snow.

The wildlife warning signs have changed too. We’ve seen plenty of moose and reindeer warnings in Norway, usually with a distance stated below. In Lapland, the reindeer warning sign is accompanied by a map of Finland with the top half coloured in. It’s pretty accurate. The reindeer here roam freely everywhere but are semi-domesticated. As a result, they don’t seem particularly interested in fleeing when 2500 kg of thirty-year-old rust and rubber comes rumbling down the road. They just stand there, in the middle of the road, staring stupidly as the camper rolls to a halt.

What Finland lacks in amazing drives and jaw-dropping landscapes, it makes up for with accessibility. The bike tracks carved through the woods and up and down gentle hills are much better suited to our skill level. The hiking trails offer relaxing walks through peaceful woods instead of laborious treks up to frosty peaks. We’ve done more mountain biking, bouldering and slacklining in our first week in Finland than in 73 days in Norway. Hidden woodland parking spots with heaps of privacy seem to be the rule rather than the exception. There are plenty of random side roads to explore which don’t just lead to houses. Where Norway was all about seeing, Finland is all about doing.

Despite all this, the biggest change for us is the speed of travel. We’ve grown quite accustomed to slow driving on the narrow, winding and steep roads in Norway. A short distance as the crow flies is often doubled or tripled if the road takes you up a mountain pass or around a fjord. Because Finland’s straight, direct roads and the general lack of incentive for photography or sightseeing stops along the way, we’ve already driven more than halfway down the map without really realising it. As we approach Finnish Lakeland, however, all that is starting to change.

The first change is in the trees. The thick, endless masses of woods on either side of the road begin to thin out, and then break into wide open fields of grass and wildflowers growing on the soft curves of hills that roll into the distance. The trees return, but there’s more variety — Pine, spruce, birch, beech; something that looks like giant broccoli. The woods seem less dense. Flashes of blue hint at lakes hidden just behind the trees. The road ahead bends right without warning, then left. Light, playful twists with just enough radius to keep you guessing as to what’s next. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them.

We pass fields full of hay bales, tightly wrapped in pale green plastic for fermentation. Golden fields of wheat, nearly ready for harvest. This is farming country. We pass a cluster of red farmhouses on the left, surrounded by red sheds and red barns. A blue tractor is stacking hay bales in a field on the right. I shift down to fourth gear for another bend, then into third as the little two-litre petrol engine devours a small hill. After being stuck in fifth gear for two weeks, I’m finally driving again. Every bend makes the Tardis roll like a small boat in a big storm. The cooking utensils on hooks in the kitchen swing out and slap the wall with every righthand turn. Something in the corner of my eye catches my attention. We haven’t seen another car on this road in ages, but I snap a quick glance at the side mirror anyway before hitting the brakes. It’s the satnav. I’ve missed my exit.

3 Comments

  1. Anita

    No harm done by missing an exit because of the surroundings, just don’t make a habit of it 😉

    Reply
  2. Pedro

    That was a joy to read, really. Made me wonder also, what are the people/is the culture like by comparison?

    Reply
    • Anne

      Oh, sorry! Only just saw this comment! The people in Finland are quieter yet livelier. They keep to themselves, a glance and hello in passing while hiking is a rarity. Yet in the cities, they are very social. Appearance also matters again in the cities, so a lot more expensive vehicles, ‘tough’ kids and groups of youngsters than we saw in Norway.

      Reply

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