Day 11, Friday 15th July (Tampere, Jyvaskyla, Juva, Savonlinna)
Moose count = not a damn one, no moose here, why do you ask?
This was another travelling day. We needed to be in Savonlinna by 16:00 at the latest so we made a reasonably early start and dragged all of our luggage back downstairs from the 4th floor apartment, repacked the car and were on our way before 10:00.
What followed was a long, long haul across the country with an abortive non-stop at Jyvaskyla which may well be an interesting town. We didn’t manage to find out as the main road seemed to go through some rather dull, drab parts of it and attempts to find somewhere to make a lunch stop came to nothing. The problem seemed to be the way the road ran alongside the railway line and nowhere near the water. We’d got used to the “trees, lakes, trees, lake, trees, lake” on repeat as we drove and thus a large city didn’t really appeal right then. I think we may need to try Jyvaskyla again another time because I’m pretty sure I’m doing it a serious injustice.
There followed mile after mile on pretty empty road, and it was getting well into the afternoon when we started to get a bit desperate for something, anything, to eat. We knew we needed lunch because dinner wasn’t going to be happening until much, much later as we would be at the opera in the evening and didn’t expect to be able to have dinner much before 23:00. Just as I was beginning to think the frustration of being unable to overtake on the narrow roads, coupled with repeatedly getting stuck behind people unwilling to get even close to the speed limit, culinary salvation presented itself unexpectedly.
We’d actually started to think that we’d have to settle for the lounas buffet at a service station somewhere when I spotted a sign that said “Teahouse”. A teahouse? We were in the middle of nowhere it seemed so what on earth was a teahouse doing out here and who would be using it? We decided that further investigation was in order.
A turning off the main road led to a courtyard with some delightful farm buildings suggested we’d just stepped into an alternative universe. There were cows in a milking shed being milked (as you might expect) on one side of the area, but on the other there was first a boutique selling some pretty high end clothing and next to it the wholly unexpected and wholly remarkable Teahouse of Wehmais, like a mirage in the dessert but with more chintz! Apparently it’s one of the Charms of Saimaa.
We went inside to find it was wall to wall teas and tea paraphernalia, and pretty near packed with people, but even with most tables occupied we were quickly seated. The menu offered a very English afternoon tea, and the terrace looked out over some lush, green gardens. It was somehow surreal – and the afternoon tea would require a wait of 20 minutes or so because the scones had to be freshly baked! It would have been churlish to refuse frankly. We made our selections from the hundreds of available teas and settled in to wait.
What came next was indeed a proper afternoon tea, or at least as proper as it could be so far from home. A large pot of tea each, sandwiches, cakes and freshly baked scones with jam and cream (though not clotted cream, just whipped).
Lynne opted for the extra (at a mere €1) of their home-made lemon curd as well. It worked just as well as lunch would have done and was certainly enough to sustain us all the way to Savonlinna, and through a performance of Falstaff.
Duly sustained we got on our way convinced the whole thing had been some sort of joint hallucination, a wholly positive and delicious one but an hallucination none the less. It wasn’t quite in the middle of nowhere as it turned out, being reasonably close to Juva and as we discovered it’s well known to the locals at least.
We made it to Savonlinna on schedule, and located the apartment building, down near the kauppatori, and overlooking Lake Saimaa. It was the best of the three excellent Airbnb properties we stayed in on the trip (and the most expensive with the Savonlinna Opera Festival being in full swing) and the owner, Hanna-Liina was lovely, providing tourist information, and a local speciality, the lörtsy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%B6rtsy, for us to try. We unpacked, showered and changed, and joined the stream of people making their way along the lakeside to the opera venue, the castle. Olavinlinna is probably the most spectacular of opera venues, it’s certainly the most spectacular one I’ve ever been to.
The approach to it add to the sense of occasion with the castle looming on its rock, young musicians busking along the path, and restaurant terraces full of people sipping champagne or prosecco and reading their programmes in advance of taking the seats in the covered courtyard. I’ve wanted to get to Savonlinna for the opera for a very long time and in fact had booked our tickets almost a year previous to ensure we would make it. The rest of the trip had formed around the fact that we would be at the opera on this specific date and here we were.
We joined the throng on one of the terraces and took a glass of prosecco each. The announcements about starting times were clearly audible from the lakeside so we knew we didn’t need to rush. I’d bought a programme from one of the youngsters roaming the path selling them, more because I wanted the souvenir than because I wanted to read the plot synopsis. Falstaff has a fairly well known plot to anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Shakespeare, and specifically “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.
We were soon inside and seated in row 6. Not as it turned out the best of possible sightlines, at least not when the biggest man in Finland came and sat right in front of me anyway. I could only hope he’d keep still. Otherwise I was going to have to twist into some interesting shapes to see past him. Thankfully once the performance began he was reasonably still, and after the interval when the wind started to whip through from outside he huddled down and seemed to deflate. I have to say that if we go again then I’ll be looking for seats further back (row 12 and back seemed like a good option) because the initial rows do not have any rake to speak of so it’s a bit of a lottery as to who will sit in front of you. In the end, the performance was so brilliant it didn’t matter. The Ravenna Festival company were superb, with some great acting as well as beautiful singing. The principals were superb, especially Isabel de Paoli (Mistress Quickly) and Falstaff himself, Kiril Manolov.
It’s was intriguing going to what is in some respects an outdoor performance, with seagulls joining in raucously every so often, and the swallows roosting in the rafters of the bar area presenting an interesting hazard for well-dressed opera goers in the interval. Unlike the seagulls these birds obviously had a sense of occasion, staying in their nest rather than flying round and dropping bird shit on people while everyone was outside enjoying seriously optimistically priced drinks. For that we were grateful.
After repeated curtain calls we made our way back outside to find the weather had taken a turn for the seriously nasty. We had a garden table booked for dinner at the Linnakrouvi summer restaurant opposite the venue but with the strong winds and fierce rain lashing down there was no way that was an option. Fortunately they had a table inside and moved us there where we had a very enjoyable meal. Starters were shared between us with smoked fish as one option:
The other was smoked reindeer (not moose!).
For mains Lynne had a goat’s cheese salad:
I enjoyed local vendace (muikku) breaded with local rye flour and deep fried to lovely crispiness, served with an excellent smooth, creamy mashed potato.
We sat and discussed the performance until we realised we were now too sleepy to eat dessert. It had been a long, odd, but very satisfying day.