Monday, November 5, 2012

tSH goes to Saimaa - part 2!

As we continued on our way, the day expanded into that of cold dry sunshine, which was lucky for us because it had been raining for the last several days previous. Unfortunately what this meant instead was mud. Something that I had miscalculated in my dress. Our driver and Hong Kong P had accounted for it though, and had smartly dressed in wellies/rainboots, gloves, and beanies. The most I could claim was waterproofed sneakers and my snowboarding jacket. At least I wasn't completely hopeless.

More stops for gorgeous photos before we reached another small town, this time to check out a cathedral we could see from the road. Unfortunately it wasn't open but we got to walk around it and see the grounds, which were beautiful themselves.

We could see from the outside that this cathedral had a gorgeous set of stained glass windows (which were hard to see from the outside), but there was a peek of a clear window that allowed us to see what one of them would look like from the inside.

As we walked around the whole thing we stumbled upon a mass memorial grave. Judging by the dates on all of them (which were all very similar - like within a year of each other), it seems to be all related to a similar set of battles from WWII. Reaching into our minds, our group guessed these were Finnish soldiers fallen in battle whose bodies were never recovered (the graves were quite close together). Our driver thought he remembered that Finland was part on the Russian side of the war until a certain point then switched to the Allied side. Quite to my embarrassment I hadn't remembered Finland being part of the war. Seems I need to go back to the books.

Beautiful and sad, either way. And I'm glad I know now.

We hopped back into the car for another excursion to beautiful places seeing beautiful things, before heading to our furthest destination, Mikkeli, for dinner.

Mikkeli, in comparison to many of the places we'd been to earlier in the day, is a fairly large town. Now, large town in the Finnish context means something like a population of maybe 50,000 people. It was big enough to warrant an entry in my Rough Guide to Finland though, so that's saying something. And according to Wikipedia it's the 20th biggest town in Finland. So, there you have it.

Since I had my guidebook with me, we decided to take its advice when seeking our dinner selection. First preference was an amazing-sounding highly recommended restaurant that was located on a 1870s triple-masted ship moored right in the harbor serving solid Finnish home-cooking. However when we called the number (which was the same on the internet, we checked), all we got was a disconnected message. Clearly not going to happen. We also went to the harbor once we got into town and though the boat was there, it was clearly closed. Damn you seasonal summer restaurants!

So we went back to the guidebook. Ah, here was another good one. This one boasted a good range of contemporary dishes such as bear-meat ravioli or oxtail soup. I was excited about this one because adding to my list of experienced exotic meats is always a plus. However when we drove to this one's location all we found was a Thai restaurant. Apparently out of business.

Considering this guidebook was printed less than a year and a half before, we were a bit surprised. Sure Europe had fallen on hard times, but this bad? Kind of shocking.

We gave our last selection in the guidebook one last chance. As luck would have it, I'd already spotted this one while we were driving past the harbor earlier. So we knew it was in existence, which is better than what we could say for the first two. This one was called Pruuvi and offered continental cuisine with a wide range of European dishes. Not that exciting, but it would do.

Once we got there, it was actually quite cute! And certainly warm. The temperature at this point had dropped to just about freezing, being so far inland.

There were decorations of flattened wine bottles everywhere and the lighting was wonderfully dim and romantic.

Along with our dinner orders there was access to a small but cute salad bar - which had weed salad mix, pickled red onions, sun dried tomatoes, toasted cashews, and the obligatory olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I ordered the shrimp scampi (highly recommended by our waitress) with a glass of white, also recommended.

After a long cold day of taking photos and being out in the wilderness, this was wonderful. Huge shrimp on a bed of basil risotto (the presence of basil was not detectable, but that's okay, the risotto itself was still creamy, rich, and decadent), green beans sauteed with sun dried tomatoes, all next to a wonderfully rich cream sauce of sorts. Filling and satisfying. Oddly homey, despite it being fancier than anything I would ever make at home. Surprisingly nice.

And because it's me and because I can't resist, I ordered dessert. Naturally it was the dessert cheese plate (come on, it's me).

Strangely all of these cheeses were strong. Which is exactly what I always want. Which made it amazing. The bleu cheese on the top right was creamy and pungent, as it should be. The top wedge in the middle was salty and had slight crystalline properties (one of my absolute favorite styles), and the one on the bottom, though slightly softer, was still salty and slightly aged. All covered in some sort of fig sauce reduction and sprinkled in fresh basil leaves and dates. Fabulous, absolutely fabulous. I took my time and slowly ate the thing over 25 minutes. Maybe half an hour. Having just read a 350 page book or so in 3 days that described in endless detail about the wonders of dates (it took place in 16th century Iran), I especially enjoyed consuming these dates. And yes, they were heavenly. The entire experience was heavenly.

Feeling full and satisfied, we once again braved the cold (it had now dropped to -1C, below freezing) and made our way back to the car. We drove our way back to Helsinki, stopping only for gas and one hopeful stop to stargaze. Unfortunately we were stopped by a sky full of cloud and fog, so no stargazing for us, but that's okay; another time, another time.

Three to four hours later, we were back in our city. This time though, our minds were full of beautiful nature scenes and we were exhausted from an excursion out.

Thank you Finland.

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