Otherwise known as The Lake District.
If you happen to be lucky enough to have a friend with a car (a rarity here in Finland), then sometimes you're also lucky enough to convince them to take trips. Or lucky enough to tag along. Or lucky enough to convince them to take trips and tag along.
Such was the case last weekend when one of my friends, who recently bought his first car in Finland, decided that he would use said car as his "weekend car." That's right folks, he doesn't use his car to commute to work or do anything mundane with it. It's simply a weekend car. Used only for fun things, like roadtrips. Like seeing the ruska in Finland. Or checking out that famous escargot restaurant in Porvoo (something that is still on my list of to do's before I leave Finland). Or, in our case, go check out Saimaa, the famous lake district that is located in the eastern part of Finland near the Russian border.
Being a particularly studious and curious guy, he demanded that we get up at 8am to start our excursion. Having been out the day before to get my glasses, eat a delicious meal of Domo, and then drink like Dick Tracy at Liberty or Death, I was actually feeling fresh as a daisy when I got up 5 hours later to meet him (that isn't a joke, my body has been pulling off miracles ever since I started running again). Hong Kong P, on the other hand, considered this morning hour close to being on death row. Getting up early? Not her thing. We made multiple stops for coffee. Multiple. There was also considerable grumbling. And hilarious attempts to sleep.
But I digress.
The day was good and the trip was well planned. He even sent us two potential routes we could take, pre-determined for our choosing. We decided to let him choose and do his thing. He was the driver after all, and he's been living in Finland the longest of us, so...well, we gave him decider rights.
Either way it was going to be great anyway; he'd chosen the routes based on what we would be able to see and get to, not just how long it was going to take us (though that was taken into consideration as well).
Being a complete failure of a navigator (which any of my friends and family can tell you...no directional sense whatsoever, though I can proudly say I can read a map like a champ - thank you very much, parents), I can't tell you very well where we went, but I can show you where we went:
This is a screenshot of Google Earth maps. He tracked our route on it and sent me the file later. Yes, we are definitely that kind of dork. Yes, I do think it's cool. No, there is very little you can say to make me change my mind about that.
We started in Helsinki (naturally) and made our way east, going counterclockwise. We stopped many times along the road to take pictures of the ruska or just beautiful mirror lakes, it being the lake district and all.
Eventually we stopped for lunch in Lappeenranta, a very small town with not very much to offer. We were in search of delightful mom 'n pop experiences. What we found instead was a K supermarket (this is a common chain of grocery stores we have back in town) and a pizza place called Teuken Pizza and Grilli. We were a bit disappointed, to be honest. But we were also very hungry and it was lunchtime, so we ordered our pizza and makkara basket and waited for our food to arrive.
About 15 minutes later, after happily chatting away (it was warm inside and the place was small and cute), our food was delivered:
Hot dog and fries basket, and a pizza with four toppings (which we got to choose: red bell peppers, chicken, olives, and tomatoes). Pretty standard fare.
But as we were eating and chatting away about random things, the chef came over. Knowing a lot more English than the woman who took our order, he started talking to us about the local news and how the police were driving around a lot more to teach the young hooligans to drive slower and follow the laws.
Then he told asked us if we liked the pizza. We said we did and that it was very good. He then explained to us that it was his own special recipe - you see, instead of doing what normal pizza chains do, he created his own special blend of herbs and spices for the sauce, making it unique. This is no out-of-the-jar mass-produced sauce, this was his very own creation. And the crust? Also special. Turns out that he gets his flour specially produced by a particular local milliner the next town over. He wanted it to be a certain way, so he found someone who would produce it specially for him.
Well. Guess we found our mom and pop experience after all! How wonderful and welcome! :) Just goes to show you never know what you'll find and where. In sometimes the most unlikely of places.
After that heartwarming experience, and being profusely welcomed back any time, we left with a smile in our hearts and continued on our trip. More freezing stops to take gorgeous pictures (which I'll post in a later entry, with just the photos), and our journey went on.
(to be continued in the next entry...)