Day 15 – Tuesday 19th July (Imatra, Hameenlinna, Akaa, Haikko)
Moose count = what do you think? Zero! That’s how many!
We were back in the realm of the slightly surreal again this time, but first we needed to check out of the hotel after getting our own breakfast sorted. For the third time I Iet the staff know just how unimpressed we’d been over the food offerings and for the third time the receptionist just shrugged as if to say it wasn’t her problem – and offered a chocolate bar by means of a distinctly inadequate apology. We waved goodbye (and definitely not au revoir) to the Rantasipi Imatran Valtionhotelli and headed for Hameenlinna. Our ultimate destination was Haikko, which is not at all in the same direction, but hey! We were going to visit some old friends in Akaa, to the north of Hameenlinna, and this was the best day to achieve that, so a ludicrously out of our way trip it would have to be!
The motorway seemed to be mostly under construction, but we pressed on, stumbling across an Iitala outlet along the way and having a narrow escape as we only emerged clutching a mug, a teatowel and a Fiskars grater! It could have been so much worse! I so much want a set of their crockery…
From there we eventually made it to Hameenlinna around 12:00 and headed straight for the castle. We knew we didn’t have time to do the town justice but we’d at least see the fortress, adding it to the list of Finnish castles we’d managed to get to. It’s superbly sited, and looms over the visitor in a way that most of the other fortresses we’d visited (apart from Olavinlinna) couldn’t quite manage. It’s been extensively restored, and provides a fascinating stop for the curious, especially as there are things like a rail full of adult sized armour you can try out. Who says the kids get all the fun? There was also a spectacular exhibition of armour in place, appropriately titled Heavy Metal.
These 50 sets of armour are just a small part of the collection from the Styrian Armoury in Graz, in Austria, and they were utterly magnificent! I’m a medieval history fan anyway so it was always going to appeal, but this was also a well set out and conceived exhibition with some excellent explanatory videos, as well as looking wonderful with all that lovely shiny, pointy stuff everywhere.
Between the armour and walking round the various levels of the main building we were running out of time. A swift coffee and sandwich break in the castle café followed and then we had to be on our way to see our friends Timo and Pasi.
They’d stayed at my place back in the 1990s when they were in the UK buying up bits of Formula 1 car for use in their drag racing projects (and you’d be amazed how badly a Benetton gearbox can stain a patio when left to leak oil on it for 24 hours!) and although we’d not seen each other for over 20 years we had kept in touch. They took a bit of tracking down but we eventually located Timo’s workshop in the town of Akaa. It’s in an old leather working factory, and is now packed to the rafters and beyond with turbochargers (the joke is that given half a chance Timo will turbocharge anything if it stands still for long enough), old engines, motorbikes, karts, cars, you name it. In fact there are even things hanging from the ceiling. I have no idea how he knows where anything is, but he seems to be able to point things out straight away. A guided tour proved mind-boggling, especially the part where we found out that the FIA European Drag Racing Championship, which they compete in, requires €21000 per meeting running costs as a minimum, provided nothing breaks. That’s incredibly expensive, working out at €3000 per run during the course of the meeting!
We were shown the other parts of the workshop, which includes a massive sauna, and a 12 metre swimming pool and also had a good look at the world’s biggest small bus, otherwise known as the transporter they use to get the team and the car to events. It apparently started life as a single-decker bendy bus in Helsinki, but has since had a floor added, and now contains, among other things, a sauna, a beer fridge, 12 seats (which is why it is classified as a small bus), sleeping space for 6 people, and room (just) for the dragster though they did have to make a slight modification to the rear door to make that work. It’s classified as a bus with a caravan in tow as far as Finnlines ferries are concerned apparently…
We stopped for coffee and pastries and then headed off to our final destination for the day, the tiny little town of Haikko, close to Porvoo, and the Hotel Haikko Manor where we would spend our last two nights in Finland. We hit quite a bit of traffic on the Helsinki “motorway” ring, certainly more than we’d seen most places anyway, but even so we made it by 19:00 and were soon checked in. We’d opted to stay in the spa section of the hotel (it was around 75% cheaper than the much grander manor house) and after Imatra we’d been wondering what that might mean. We need not have worried. The room was compact but had everything you might need, and we even had a sea view. We wrangled all of our luggage into the room because we needed to repack everything prior to getting the ferry back to Germany two days later and then headed to the Manor house for a drink on the terrace overlooking the grounds, and dinner in the gorgeous Manor Restaurant. This was much better than Imatra, a fact that became clear very quickly when the pre-dinner drinks arrived.
We opted for the Summer Menu, with starters of veal pastrami, chanterelles and leaf parsley mayonnaise.
The next course was either fried perch with spring onion and pickled cucumber or lamb from the Åland islands in two ways with Malmgård´s Emmer wheat. We both had the lamb which was fabulous.
The final course, a dessert of buttermilk pancake, strawberry and chocolate was also lovely, sticky with strawberries and much bigger than you might expect!
And that was that for the day. The morning would be much quieter and we’d only be driving 20 minutes each way to our sightseeing destination for the day.