Travel Thursday: Finland again

The only time I ever said “Boom goes the dynamite!” was at the Alfred Nobel museum in San Remo, Italy. . . and they kicked me out because of it.

Flag colors and designs are a lot more interesting than one might think at first blush. They were never chosen because the colors or motif were pretty; everything had a meaning, usually not as simple as the fifty stars representing fifty states. Canada, for instance: the white was obviously all the snow, and the leaf was simple enough, but why was the leaf red? Exactly, I didn’t think you knew either. Ask a Canadian kid, before they forget the third-grade lecture.
Scandinavia is particularly interesting. All five countries have the same design, an off-center cross that looked like a lying-down lower-case T, but they each have different colors. Why did Denmark and Norway choose red backgrounds, while Sweden and Iceland went with blue? Why did Norway and Iceland have the extra white piping around the cross and ruin the symmetry with the others?
Finland, on the other hand, was simpler. The white background, like Canada’s, stood for the long snowy winter, and the light blue represented the many lakes and streams, like the ones I saw out the window as the plane left Helsinki’s Vantaa airport. I’d seen the same view coming in about two hours ago, but somehow the different angle of daylight made the pale blue even paler, or bluer.

“Savonlinna was founded in the seventeenth century,” I suddenly heard, though I didn’t know if it was meant for me. I turned and saw the man sitting next to me was indeed looking my way, so I figured it was indeed spoken in my direction. I didn’t ask why I should care, since it was far too early in the flight to piss off your seatmate.
“It’s located on an island in Saimaa Lake, and is also the summer home of the President.”
See, that’s the kind of thing that might come in handy, though right now I couldn’t figure out how.
“The summers are warm rather than hot, like summers in England. Winters are cold, of course, but not as much snow as people think.”
Since I never planned to be here in the winter, I didn’t particularly care, but was once again too polite to say so. Besides, the guy still might say something that could turn out to be important, and it wasn’t like I had anything better to do while waiting to get there. I’d already been told the flight would only last an hour, which was better than the five or so hours by train or bus, so I figured I could put up with the chatter.
“Most tourists do not go further than St. Olaf’s Castle, which we call Olavinlinna. It is the best preserved in all of Suomi and is the host of the opera festival. . . but I am sure you knew that.”
A momentous moment: first time ever someone took me for an opera lover just by looking at me. Somebody take a picture. . .
Of course I have actually been to the opera festival before {see previous Finland blog}, and it wasn’t on right now, but that didn’t matter because I was going to meet the same beautiful blonde model that I took to see Tosca that time. She’d said something about hiking, which I could have done at home without the mosquitoes, but who knows, it might be fun after all, or after the hike. Since she picked me up at the airport and drove me to the hotel, I figured she had something planned, if she went to all this trouble. . .

A few minutes later we were out of the hotel lobby, holding hands as she led the way into the woods right across the street. Except for the few places the path narrowed to single file, that was how we continued, pretty much in silence until our legs warmed up and I was well past any possibility of jetlag.
Reaching into my backpack’s side pocket for the water bottle, she mentioned that she hadn’t been in these woods in a long time. “In fact, I barely remember this trail.”
“But you do remember it, at least. You might remember more as we go along. And since I’ve never been here, I’ll have to trust you.”
“And I know how hard that is for you,” she replied sourly, but then rubbed my arm to let me know she was just joshin’. “I know how hard it is for you to have to depend on a map.”
“I’m okay with maps, but I would prefer aerial photos.”
“I doubt you could find any of this place.”
Which was no doubt true, since who knew how few people ever walked around here, and those who did were going to their summer homes, so presumably they wouldn’t need a map, or aerial photos, for that.
But now that she’d gotten the bug–a much more fun one than the mosquitoes–she found a shady place to throw herself while taking out her laptop, muttering something about Estonia winning the most wired country prize only because they were so small. She mighta had a point, for even out here she had no trouble getting an internet signal.
To her surprise as much as mine, it didn’t take long for her to find aerial black and whites. I could even pinpoint our exact location, and saw there was a rather large house up ahead, definitely not someone’s summer home. . . unless he was the CEO of Nokia or something like that. Hey, it wasn’t the president’s palace, was it? Nah. . .
But she was more intent on the lake beyond it. “We can have our picnic there. I might even take a little skinny dip, even though there’s no sauna.”
“I am so glad I brought my camera.”
“So am I.” Giggle. “Hate to think this hike would be for naught.”
“Hey, you learned a new word.”
Sigh. “How does someone as cynical as you always look on the bright side?”
“I hope for the best while expecting the worst.”
“Ah. Does that mean the bottle is half empty or half full?”
I didn’t bother correcting that. “You mean, is the model half clothed or half naked?”
“Ha! Exactly! Never mind.” Standing back up, she took my arm and we started walking again, enjoying nature as best we could. Which was easy for her, with the outdoors being one of her favorite things, along with sunshine and animals, just to name the ones in the vicinity. And since she’d indulged in music, good food, and sex recently, she was a happy camper, or at least hiker.
“Did you know,” she told me brightly, as if suddenly remembering, “that the world Mobile Phone throwing championships are held here every year? Too bad you’re not here at the right time of year, you’d be a natural.”
“I like that the home of Nokia has enough of a sense of humor to do that.”
“Which category would you compete in?”
“There’s the traditional style, of course, but then there’s also freestyle, where you get points for choreography and such, as well as team and–”
“Leave it to the fucking marketers to screw up a good thing!” I moaned. “Throw it far, one winner. Why complicate things?”
“They added a new category: fancy dress.”
“You’d think, but they got the idea when people started dressing up as animals.”
“If that’s what passes for fancy dress here in reindeer land. . .”
“Hey! We were ranked the sixth happiest country in the world!”
“Now that truly shocks me!”
“And there goes your musical theory.”
Groan. “Damn, you’re right!”
{To get that joke, read the previous blog about her, mentioned above. You’re welcome.}
“So how was this survey done? Did scientists actually observe, or was it just a questionnaire? Because–”
“Don’t finish that. You’re just jealous that we’re better cheaters.”
“Yeah, that must be the reason. What about having the second highest suicide rate in the world?”
She smiled sweetly. “Some people can’t handle all the awesomeness.”
I stopped to take a photo, but didn’t tell her, so by the time she realized it, she was a good thirty yards ahead. Once I caught up, she gave me the stinkeye, but all I had to do was remind her about her supposedly superb powers of observation. . .
“Just for that, I wasn’t going to tell you that your very own Reader’s Digest ranked Finland the best country to live in, and there was no possibility of cheating in that one.”
I yawned. “It’s not my Reader’s Digest. Never read the damn thing.”
“Quality of life, education, drinking water, greenhouse gases. Who wouldn’t want to live here?”
“Gorgeous blondes. . .”
“How could I have missed that?” she laughed.
“Gorgeous brunettes. . .”
“You leave Riika out of this! Just think about me. . . and my sister. . . and my mom.”
I brightened. “Let’s talk about your sister, then. Does she look like you?”
“Even more classic Scandinavian, both face and body.”
“Meaning. . . body wise?”
Sigh. “She got all the boobs in the family.”
I grinned at the way her accent played with the word boobs. “Older?”
“Yes.” She seemed miffed that I hadn’t said something nice about her quite-fine-though-not-equally-attention-grabbing bosom.
“So maybe more mature than you, which wouldn’t be a surprise.”
She didn’t know how to take that. “Most of the time she’s very mature, but she gets into these moods when she leaves her job and does crazy things, especially sexual ones.”
“What would someone like you define as sexual crazy?”
I guess I deserved a tongue stick-out for that one.
When we got to the mansion, and that was indeed what it was, we stopped for a bit, pretending to drink some water as we gawked. “I dream of having a place like that,” she sighed as she started walking again, somehow able to braid her long blonde hair into pigtails as she walked the rocky trail, knowing how much I liked to photograph that innocent look.
“If you can dream, yet not make dreams your master. . .”
“That is well put.” Being such a Nationalist, she rarely read anything in English, so she didn’t bother asking for the author, which was fine with me, since I couldn’t remember.
A few minutes later we passed a log cabin, and behind it was a large corral full of reindeer, making me wonder if they were used for meat or just Christmas shows. As we walked past and were able to see the far side of the cabin, we caught sight of an old man splitting wood like a cliché; I was sure the old guy had waited till he heard us approach and then pretended to be working, for no other reason than testosterone ego. Yeah, they had a bunch of that in Finland, not all of it used up when tossing cell phones. Viking heritage or genetics, no doubt, and also explained a little bit about the high suicide rate.
Or maybe it was the language. I let her take the lead, of course, since Finnish isn’t something you can fake your way through–someone once said approximately seventy percent of words were compounds–and watched her do her magic.
She walked coolly and normally, appearing even more relaxed than usual, more offhand, absentminded, airhead. . . like a model, she’d never admit. It was her usual façade, to appear harmless. I might not know the language, but the body signals told plenty, especially when I saw the old guy’s eyes not being able to move off her. His body was twisted from a lifetime of hard work, and as she related later, his wife had died ten years ago, and now he was hanging out with a younger woman who nagged him, so any diversion in the long boring day was welcome.
The reindeer rubbed their antlers together and chuckled suggestively. . .
Less than ten minutes of further walking brought us to the lake, where we rested a while and she gleefully posed for photos, even nude in the water. Then came the quick and dull walk back, except for a look at the mansion from the other direction. Nothing else happened until we came across a solitary horse taking up most of the trail as he munched on some grass, or something equally vegetarian.
With the day quickly turning dark, possibly due more to an incoming storm than nightfall, it seemed strange to see the horsy all by himself out here. I remembered, and she confirmed, seeing nothing like a horse ranch on the maps or aerials, though of course that didn’t mean someone didn’t have a little stable in the back of their cabin, like the reindeer guy we’d just met.
Doing my usual horse mumbler routine, I asked the equine what he was doing out here without a chaperone; the horse rolled a walleye at me and took a step back, but I somehow, without making any kind of sudden move, managed to gather the reins of the wary-eyed buckskin, soothing, “Sure you want to come along with us, horsy. What would you do out here alone with that sun in the west sinking ever lower?”
Seeing things that way, the horse proved willing to be led by its reins, unlike the blonde, though I wisely didn’t say that out loud. Not right now, anyway.
It was a short walk back to town from there, and Giina got a wicked grin and said we should take the horse to the police station, because the cops would have no idea what to do with it. That seemed harsh on the horse, but I figured soon someone would call to see if the buckskin was in the lost and found box.
Which gave me an idea. “Why would the horse be out there all alone?”
“Escaped from home?”
“Most horses like home, that’s where they want to go back to. And he doesn’t look like he’s been beaten, or anything that would make him want to run away from home.”
“I see that.” She patted the animal, for the first time noticing the saddle. “Hey, someone must have been riding him. Maybe he’s a rental.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Maybe the person fell off and is lying injured out there.”
“So we should go to the police, get them to organize a search party!”
“Exactly. Also the city hall, or wherever they might round up some volunteers.”
“Okay! You take the horse to the police and tell them, I’ll go round up some troops.”
“Tell me where the police station is.”
“Right!” She came back from her twenty-yard aborted dash. “It’s about a ten minute walk along this street, you can’t miss it.”
Grinning, I stuck my foot into the stirrup and just missed her head as I swung aboard. “How long do you think it’ll take me this way?”
“Hell, you coulda dropped me off!” she screamed at the horse’s receding backside, something she seemed to have to do a lot, she cackled to herself as she started her dash again. . .

{but I will tell you the rider was rescued with only a broken leg. . . I say only, because. . . never mind.}


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