It was about midnight when, after saying farewell to the other bikers I met on the ferry, I landed in Vaasa, whose streets were–at that late hours–mostly deserted. Still it took me quite a while to find the accommodation I had booked, because it had no sign whatsoever, was in a badly lit neighbourhood with no names on the streets, and my GPS insisted in taking me to the wrong location; so, by the time I arrived my host was a bit impatient; and since he–a bit of a fusspot–was in a hurry for going to bed, spared explanations and basically demanded the payment–cash only, please–which I fulfilled promptly. On a desk he left the guest form for me to fill up later, then gave me some last–rather restrictive–instructions and left.
That wasn’t a warm welcome, but I didn’t care much; I was tired and also just wanted to take a shower and go myself to bed. In the morrow, as soon as I woke up, packed my things not even drinking a coffee, hooked the side cases onto the motorcycle and set off, leaving the form blank. That same evening the guy sent me an email, a bit fussy, censoring my carelessness and asking for my particulars. I kindly replied suggesting him to make up by himself the required information, and granting him my discretion regarding tax and police authorities. Didn’t hear of him again.
The day was sunny and radiant. Since Rosaura needed servicing, I took her to the workshop and asked the mechanic to also please check a noise that’s tormenting me since the last 10,000 km; but, as usual, once in the workshop the noise didn’t show up. The bill for just the oil change (oil filter aside) climbed to seventy five euros, which I found very expensive, but actually not much more than some workshops in Spain.
Andrej (a biker I had met in the ferry a few weeks back) lives in a large–and probably pricy–flat, tastefully decorated and with very nice views, located in a the centre district of Vaasa; which in turn is a pretty town with an easy layout, nice atmosphere and no shortage of bars, restaurants, shops and the like. And, alike other middle-sized Escandinavian towns I’ve gone through, it’s full of black immigrants. Apparently the first wave of them came from Asia: good workers and sociable people, were quickly accepted by the locals and integrated with no problem. But the second wave, the Somalis, were quite another business: not too predisposed for working, and less sociable than their predecessors, they gather in ghettos and hook to the social subsidies, to the lame soup provided by the Finnish taxpayer, and partly also by the rest of the Europeans too. So now you can find the Somalis loitering or idling around, hands in their pockets, enjoying the miracle of the free everything.
Andrej invited me to dinner at his aunt Marta’s, one of those matriarchal women who make one feel at home from the beginning. They had a lively family meeting that evening (the like my own mom loves to set up whenever she can) and I was treated like just another member. One can easily see they’re cultivated folk of that rare, born elegance that can’t be learnt (leave aside purchased, no matter your wealth) once you’ve grown up. Back in Andrej’s flat, he got a bit sentimental while telling me about his private problems, which surprised me somewhat, since people are usually quite reserved about personal matters; but I actually like fact that he talked about his sorrows with an almost-stranger without being ashamed of his own feelings.
Finland is a big country, scarcely populated and with many thousands of lakes; therefore any Finn who prides himself owns a kesämökki (summer cottage), usually on a lakeshore, where to spend a few weeks during the summer, gather with friends or family, barbecue, enjoy sauna, go hiking in the countryside and whatnot. But, since summer is quite short this latitude, the last weekend of August Finns celebrate the end of the season in their kesämökki, and the countryside gets those days full of urbanites lighting bonfires and candles for saying farewell to the warm days, till next year.
Chance had it so that my visit to Andrej took place that very weekend, and he invited me to join him and his two daughters in Jakobstad (re-named Pietarsaari by the staunch Suomi nationalism, same as Basques do with town names in their region), in whose surroundings his summer cottage lies. Apropos, on my way there I got stiff with cold, and neither by the cottage’s stove, nor later on inside the sauna (which got barely tepid), nor at night under the duvet, managed I to warm up myself: right after sunset the grass got covered with dew and my body had got hopelessly cold during the bike ride. But even so, I had a nice and unforgettable time there, talking, playing cards and enjoying the company.
And though he insisted me to stay one more day at the cottage, I didn’t want to abuse his hospitality and, besides, I ought not to delay my travelling south, lest fall falls on me while in this boreal land. And though I haven’t decided yet on which route to take once in Helsinki (either a ferry to Germany or cross back the Baltic Estates), I must at least hurry up towards more southern regions.
So, today, after another cold ride (one hundred and eighty km long) from Jakobstad, I’ve come as far as Ähtari. I’m afraid that, for travelling on a motorcycle, anything below 14 ºC means cold, no matter how wrapped up you are; and today it hasn’t got anywhere above 12 ºC!
The hotel I’m staying at (suggested by Andrej, too), called Mesikämmen, near Ähtari, is a tourist resort of interesting architecture, partly carved in the granite bedrock on a slope by a lake. A very original (perhaps unique) design, located in a lovely natural environment. There are a few trekking routes around that go deep into the silent forest, where I’ve gone for my daily one-hour stroll.
Then, after this little exercise, I’ve gone to the hotel’s nice spa for a sauna session–great–and I’ve indulged myself to a good dinner: reindeer cutlets garnished with vegetables and a fine beer. Everything rather expensive, but, alas!, what else is money good for?