Monthly Archives: July 2014

Nakemiin, Hei Hei, Moi moi Suomi


With a touch of sadness, I watched
the skyline of Helsinki fade into the distance. From the air, the city is even more beautiful … dotted with so much green space, surrounded by forests and water, a lovely city center with its newish cobbly streets, charming cafés and the outdoor ‘Kauppatori” where Sarah, Aliana, Margaret, Jennifer and I savoured so many baskets of delicious sweet sun ripened strawberries, raspberries, garden peas, cherries, not to mention Finnish crepes!

We had walked past the iconic green and white Helsinki Lutheran church many times. It sits perched on a hillside looking down at the cobbly streets of city center below. On the last few days on my own, I opted to climb the steps one afternoon hoping to catch some quiet meditative time. Given its decorative attractive outer appearance, I was surprised to see how unadorned the interior was. A simple, calm, restful church inside ….. white washed walls, a very basic altar, few statues. A quiet place of refuge, prayer or worship. I wonder if being of Finnish heritage has anything to do with my own growing need and appreciation for a peaceful life based on more simplistic principles? …. did I learn it somewhere, was it passed down from my parents, or just a natural personality based evolution?

Finland, once shrouded in the mystery of my long forgotten roots, reemerges as a living breathing reality. I will undoubtedly spend months absorbing what I learned ….. about both Finland, the extended family within and my inner connections to all of it. I fell in love with this beautiful country of a zillion lakes, home to the land of the midnight summer sun! I love that I finally walked the land my parents once called home, sat in the kitchen where mother cooked piirakaat, fish soup, her delicious sour dough rye bread, pulla, Christmas cookies! …. explored the sauna where I was born! … I love that I finally was able to connect with real live cousins, an aunt, an uncle and know that I do indeed have a heritage to be savoured, valued and cherished …. What a thrill to enjoy that Finnish national institution, the sauna …. It is a way of life in Finland and for a population of five and a half million, there are over two million saunas in the country, most of them at summer cottages … the treasured kesamokki!! There is no finer feeling than sweating it out in a wood-fired lakeside sauna, followed by a skinny dip in pristine cool lake water!! …. sharing this with my sister, our cousins, and having my daughter, granddaughter, and niece also embrace these experiences, filled the cup that just seemed to keep overflowing. The Saturday night sauna ritual was a big part of our childhood growing up in Canada and to a large extent I kept that going in its own little way within my immediate family during Sarah and Tim’s early childhood! I love also, that I feel comfortable around people I have just barely met, because of the family ties that bind us, not to mention our similar noses 🙂 ….. yes …. love is the cornerstone of it all!

Oh sure, a few regrets linger …. hind sight and retrospect being the wise old owls they are …. mostly I wish that I had taken more pictures and oh, more than anything, made time to chat and visit with every single one of our relatives!!! We were treated with such gracious generosity of spirit wherever we visited. Mikko, our host …. such a good soul, reminded me so much of my father …. has that same understated quiet, gentle, highly respectful nature. We so enjoyed our time in his beautiful kesamokki ….. Mikko heated his lakeside wood fired sauna for us nightly …. such wonderful memories to treasure always …. memories that undoubtedly will fuel plans for a future return someday.

Capturing some favourite moments of our time in Finland …. followed by my last few days in Finland, exploring the area around Helsinki ….
found the most amazing ‘Rock Church’ within the city limits … literally a church built around a huge rock formation in the city center with a copper dome ceiling … most amazing and incredibly peaceful inside and apparently one of the most visited sites in Helsinki!

























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Quick Cruise to St. Petersburg


For Finns and foreigners alike, given Finland’s unique location tucked away in northeast Europe, Helsinki is a ripe jump off port to explore Russia or some of the other Baltic countries, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

When planning our Finland heritage tour, we had briefly entertained the idea of an excursion to St. Petersburg, Russia given its proximity to Helsinki, but after some research, gave up on the idea as a travel visa was required and would be expensive and time consuming to arrange for such a short trip for five people. We opted to do a much shorter, visa free commute to Tallinn instead, and as it turned out, a great choice for us as a group.

However, after a bit of further research on the weekend in Helsinki … I learn that there is indeed a three day, visa-free round trip available across the Bay of Finland to St. Petersburg!! Early evening boarding, arriving early morning the next day, with the whole day to explore this historic city and it’s treasures, and cruise back that night to Helsinki, sleeping two nights on board … a relaxed pace getting there and coming back, with a full day to explore …. and the cost, reasonable … I was sold!

Had no idea really what to expect and as usual, I ignore the fine print at my own peril!

It was certainly a very relaxing comfortable night cruise to Russia … I slept well in a very comfy cabin to wake up fourteen hours after boarding to the beautiful views of some of the forty islands that make up St. Petersburg in the Neva River Delta, with its numerous waterways, reminiscent of Venice.

The main difference however, was the sight of oil barges, oil storage tanks, dozens of various cranes, ships loaded with hundreds of boxes of goods, dozens and dozens of ships and docks etc. etc. ….. The city is a very busy port ….. after reaching the beginning of the little islands, it still took almost a full hour before we finally passed all the accoutrements of the oil industry that is currently responsible for the burgeoning wealth of Russia and docked! …. there were more luxury cars parked on the streets of St. Petersburg than in London! Historically, power and wealth circle the globe every century or so, looking for the next victim … Russia and China appear to be having a go at it these days …

Compulsory for everyone was a shuttle bus into town from the boat. No solo travel available …. this is Russia after all :)!

I had earlier signed up for what I thought was a six hour tour of the city …. thinking, well, not the ideal, but certainly time enough for walking and exploring …… well, that darn fine print reared it’s ugly head 🙂

We did indeed see many sights …. from a bus!! ….. Japanese tourist style, where you jump off briefly, have time for a few quick photos or views of a church, museum, or most bizarre, was a stop at an old submarine, important to Russians apparently but of zero interest to anyone else (or possibly something was lost in the translation) …. and yes …. back on the bus!! This went on for three hours in the most congested traffic ever …. where do all these tourists and tour buses come from ??? Far far too many for my liking ….. yikes … had zero idea that rampant tourism has hit Russia! This is not even remotely my style of exploring a place anymore if it ever was!!!!

I asked Olga our tour guide, if there was a quieter time to see her beautiful city? …. her reply? …. “Oh yes! November is good, no people, just cold weather, maybe snow, maybe much snow …. oh yes, and March good time … also still cold and much snow” …. mmmm, maybe I will give it a whirl Olga …

St. Petersburg is a beautiful city, rich in history … much of it built by European architects during the 17th and 18th centuries ….. gaging from the architecture, primarily Italian and French. It is apparently considered the least Russian of all the country’s cities. The population is somewhere around five million … hence the traffic! There are so many museums, theatres, churches, monuments, university buildings …. a very culturally rich city indeed. How wonderful it would have been to have seen a ballet or heard a concert in a church or theatre!

What was beyond rewarding, however, was touring the Hermitage Museum, located in the Winter Palace, once the home of the former Tsars of Russia …. The museum is reported to contain three millions works of art! Despite having three hours at the museum, it was virtually impossible to attempt more than a brief dent into viewing the many collections and palace rooms. Masterpieces include Rembrandt (only in Amsterdam are there more of his works than at the Hermitage!!), Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Monet etc. etc. …… totally floored … there was even a Michelangelo marble statue …. my jaw is still sore as I type ….

Back on the bus far too soon …. I found out too late that it would indeed have been possible to actually arrange an extra night or even two and stay in town, and still not require a visa to do so! ….. if, that is, I had arranged it in Helsinki beforehand!!

Of course this possibility was not even mentioned by the tour company I booked with! …. I have learned that Finns, like Russians, and indeed, many countries, do not necessarily volunteer information, or make suggestions, unlike travel agents in my own country …. it would have been fun to stay the extra days, walking and exploring the street life of St. Petersburg, my very very favourite thing to do in any new city! …. chatting with people, the pubs, the restaurants, the shops, the grocery stores, mingling with locals! ….. oh, so most don’t speak English? ….. no problem! ….. have always managed to work around that small issue 🙂

So yes, Seija, read the damn fine print next time!! …. do your own research before you jump on a cruise liner ….. so despite my disappointment with the experiential brevity, I still loved the intro to this country …. Russia has not seen the last of me!













































Land of the Midnight Sun


Solo once again, trying to fall asleep on an overnight train to Rovaniemi, Lapland …. failing miserably! What was I thinking?? I adore train travel, but really? …. twelve hours on an overnight sleeper? Live and learn …. the sun truly does not set in Finland for almost two months in summer and no where is it more apparent than in Lapland! The sun basically scans the horizon, seemingly sits suspended a moment and starts to rise again, in full morning light by 1:00 am …. hard to get used to. The Finns say they only need six hours of sleep in the summer versus eight or nine in winter … the sun provides the extra energy … could be something there!

Before I even kissed Sarah, Aliana and Margaret goodbye in Helsinki, and Jennifer a few days earlier, I knew I would sorely miss their energy and company when finally alone. Lots of close together time as we toured and travelled, visited and reacquainted ourselves with the Leppanen arm of our Finnish family. Wherever we drove in Finland, we were surrounded by so much natural beauty, lush green forests, small towns and villages, farms … so many tidy farms everywhere and all separated from neighbours by so much fresh summer green space or by lakes and rivers … little wonder Finns are quite comfortable in their own company, having long ago adapted to life with so much space! It has been said that Finns are incapable of small talk, have a healthy respect for the space of others and a very relaxed attitude to conversational gaps.

They are, however, very direct when there is something to say! I wonder despite the distance between Canada and Finland, if I didn’t through some form of genetic osmosis acquire that characteristic 🙂 …… I have been accused so often in the course of my life, of being too blunt … I have never overly enjoyed gossip and grow impatient with it for the most part. I will henceforth blame my heritage for my blunt errrr, direct ways 🙂

The Lappish landscape was so serene, so green, so vast … so quiet! A place surely to nourish my soul. I had booked a few jeep tours into remote areas shortly after I arrived in Rovaniemi, but almost all were cancelled due to the rain. It was relentless with only brief periods of sunshine. With just a smidge of coercing, Ville one of the owners of a local tour company, took me out regardless of the rain one night … we were joined by Tina from Germany, who also wanted to head into the wilderness to view moose …

Ville picked us up shortly after 9 pm and we drove for a few hours into moose country where the goal was to view the illusive Laplander moose. After a few hours with no sightings, we stopped for a break at a large green hut, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Apparently wilderness sorts use it for weddings in the summers. Ville built a fire inside and we cooked sausages, washed down with what else? … coffee …. at almost midnight?? …. hmmm …. but it was light out of course and we had a few more hours of searching ahead of us, so coffee it was 🙂 … I heard or read somewhere that Finns consume more coffee than any nation on earth! … quite possibly so!

We saw lynx, fox and snow hare skitter into the woods, reindeer both wild and farmed and finally around 1:30 in the morning, our prized moose!! … we watched for a long time, both with binoculars and without … several moose in different locations but too far away for good photographs … they camouflage well in these midnight sun lit Taiga forests … such a surreal and magical night left me wanting more but my train back to Helsinki was booked for the following day. Sharing a picture of the Main Street near my hotel as I returned home from the evening and a few scenes around Rovaniemi … about 3:00 am … yes, light as day!

I did have time the next day to visit Santa at Sant Park but, hmmm, I think it was his tenth cousin, twice removed, or maybe a total imposter, filling in for the day 🙂 …. kind of touristy at the park … very much a Christmas park for little ones and best in winter! Again, it was pouring rain as I ran from building to building. Did straddle the imaginary Arctic Circle line as it runs through Rovaniemi … a Japanese tour group and I 🙂 … all good in the spirit of fun!

So, despite the rain, I was not put off in the slightest at the possibility of a future return trip to these more remote Northern stretches of my homeland … I did miss the prolific mosquito season because of the rain … silver linings wherever one looks for them 🙂


















Side Trip to Tallinn, Estonia


As a fine finale to our heritage tour 2014, Marg, Sarah, Aliana and I hop on the speedy ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, where rumour has it that the Estonians share some common history with the Finns ….. hopped? … more like, lugged, tugged and struggled on with our baggage pile! Estonia like Finland, shares in the vast history of Europe. Invaded over the centuries by Sweden, Denmark, Germany and of course Russia but like the Finns, stalwart (stubborn my husband would remark) … both countries maintained their independent lifestyles and both countries are fairly new to total independence! I would love to read more on the history of Estonia and certainly my own country of birth. It is time …..

Sarah had worked her usual magic and finagled a presidential suite for us in The Merchants House Hotel, an old house dating back hundreds of years, now renovated, restored, modernized yet retaining it’s historical perspective. One would correctly assume, given the size of the place, the various meandering passageways, hidden staircases, that it was indeed once the home of a wealthy merchant! Price?? …. thanks to Sarah, the same as three tiny rooms would have been:) …. we luxuriated in two and a half floors of rooms! …. Aliana discovered the huge bathtubs, ensuite sauna and declared “Grandma, this is very nice” …. with stamp of approval from our youngest in place, we nestled in 🙂

It was great fun being a tourist for a few days in this charming medieval town. We walked the cobbly streets to exhaustion, savoured refreshments in the many outdoor cafés, indulged Aliana (ha! … in any event we use her as the excuse 🙂 ) … with a horse drawn carriage ride and tourist train through the old town, shopped in outdoor craft markets, enjoyed tasty meals, much of which appeared to be a mix of Russian and German cuisine, although we opted for Italian more often than not …. is there anywhere in the world where pizza and pasta is not served??! …. Margaret and I sampled more than our share of many great wines, a full third of the price of what is charged in Finland … we hear that remains one of the main reasons Finns travel here …. the price factor!!

Finland and indeed most of Europe is beyond expensive and it seems to make ‘no never mind’ whether it is a small country town or a city …. the price of everything remains high by Canadian standards. We had a delicious dinner for Sarah’s 32 birthday in a restaurant with the best dark rye bread ever! …. in fact, so good, we went back the day we left Tallinn to purchase a loaf to enjoy with our cheese on the ferry back to Helsinki … picnic on board! Sunshine is so rare, as we have discovered these past weeks, that when the sun comes out, so does everyone … the streets and cafés were brimming with people, soaking in the rays both in Tallinn and Helsinki. Cloudy cooler days followed, but still we walked and explored. Managed to fit in a massage for the three of us in the tiny spa set up in the basement level of the old house …. a fine relaxing finish to a fine adventure!

I am so happy we persevered and made this journey a reality … something that was just a dream a few short years ago. I know our parents would be happy to know we made the effort to reconnect with our Finnish roots. Margaret and I revisited many old memories, creating new ones on the backs of the old, both for ourselves but more importantly, for two other generations …. Jennifer, Sarah and Aliana. We may just have ‘lakeside wood fired sauna converts’ in all three …. I know young Aliana was sold! In many cultures around the world, including our own, it is the woman’s domain to keep the rituals, the family stories, the cultures alive. I hope we will continue to honour our roots in some Finnish fashion in the years to come.

Margaret, Sarah, Aliana leave for the long trip home and I, head for the sleeper train to Rovaniemi, Lapland for quiet reflection and to meet up with Joulu Pukki of course!

























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Pusa Homestead


Of my father and his seven siblings, only three are alive today. Uncle Urpo, Aunt Sisko and Aunt Marjatta who lives somewhere in Southern Finland but apparently few if any have seen or spoken to her in many many years … rumour has it that she is somewhat estranged from the family, hence, we were unable to get a hold of her for a visit. If memory serves, that was also the case 43 years ago when I visited with my parents 🙂

However, father’s oldest sister, Sisko Pusa in her mid nineties, sharp intellect fully intact, although somewhat limited physically, invited us for afternoon coffee, accompanied by the requisite sandwiches, piirakaat and far too many sweets! Finns never invite one over for coffee without putting on a spread … I well remember this from my parents! Mikko and Jukka joined us for the afternoon, an added bonus! Aunt Sisko shared many endearing stories of life with our father and mother, both before and after their marriage. Her memory showed no signs of cobwebs! How wonderful it would be, to have this extended family to visit with and invite over for Sunday evening dinners!! I was not even aware that I miss my Finnish family until I was in their midst. How is it possible to miss something you have never known?? Perhaps the ache for family history and connection was activated or reactivated here in Finland …..

Aunt Sisko’s son Seppo and his wife Silja live on the property in their own attached home, as does daughter Seija (my namesake). Aunt Sisko’s other daughter Eva lives in Liperi, a short ten minute drive away. Neither ladies (both in and around my age) have ever married … lively sisters and the chatter and laughter never let up. They were such fun to be around ….. Margaret and I could easily have spent a week there and never run out of conversation … so many years and so many stories to catch up with! Another great afternoon swapping stories, viewing pictures from the past, taking new ones and committing to connecting soon via email. We vowed it would not be 43 years :)!!! Eva would love to join me on a volunteer post in the near future …. that would be cool! Would totally welcome that …..
















Marti and Ritva’s for Pizza Night


Another great family evening! … this time on the old Leppanen homestead where cousin Marti and his wife Ritva have recently built a new home. Their son Teemu and his family now reside in the old home where my father’s parents once lived and raised their own eight children! Teemu and his wife have taken over the operations, freeing up Marti and Ritva for more leisure time after thirty years running the family farm. They talk of coming to visit us in Canada. However, as they are grandparents now to two year old Kia and four year old Eevi, maybe not so much free time 🙂 ….. they often babysit when their son and his wife are busy tending the farm. Daughter Helli was also visiting for the Juhannus holiday with her boyfriend from Helsinki. We said goodbye to Jennifer earlier in the evening …. she had to head back to Kelowna for work … will miss her! Such a trooper of a traveller.

Aliana was happy to finally have little people to play with!! …. language was no barrier to child play …. children just have a magical ability to communicate regardless of language differences and the three girls played well while we all visited. We could hear the girls chatting to each other in the kitchen, giggling away.












Heralampi Homestead


We had no idea what to expect as we drove down the pleasant country road leading to the farm that was our first home. Was it still standing? Who lives there now, if anyone? Would they allow us inside the house? Our cousin Marti knew the current owners and kindly arranged a visit for us and indeed joined us for our trip down history lane.

I was four years old when my parents left Heralampi for the wilds of Canada. I never fully understood their motivation to move so far from everything familiar and can only make a guess from the bits and pieces of stories that I barely paid attention to in my self centred youth. I wish I had! It must have taken a huge leap of faith and bravery to leave the comforts of a rural farming life, a huge extended family and community for the unknown Canadian frontier of the fifties. I wish with my heart, that my parents were alive today to share those stories again. We walked somewhat silently throughout the yard at first, lost in our own thoughts I suppose. We learned from Sari, the owner’s daughter, that the playhouse father built for his daughters almost six decades ago, was long gone, replaced by a similar new one for Sari’s children. The Korhonen family have owned the property for decades I believe and use the farm as a summer residence. Mrs. Pirkko Korhonen, the current owner, and Sari, graciously invited us into the house for lemonade, cakes and lively conversation as it turned out. We were thrilled! While inside, we helped fill some gaps in their history book of our old home. This book will apparently always stay in the house as a historical record of sorts. We provided some basic information about our family, letting her know that yes, our father, Veikko had indeed built the home, with help on the foundation from his brothers Kyosti and Urpo. They also helped father frame the red barn. A professional log builder was hired to put up the log frame portion of the house and my father finished the rest on his own. Looking through, I
see his carpentry stamp everywhere. Sari had a builder recently evaluate the structure of the old red sauna, completely built by father. The builder assured Sari that the structure was so sturdy and sound that it should not be torn down as they had planned, but renovated! Later in the week, we located a large record book at our Aunt Sisko’s place, listing all the properties in that particular area of Finland and found Heralampi mentioned, noting our father as the first owner. When one has grown up in Canada, with only immediate family as a historical reference and foundation, walking through my roots has affected me deeply! To really know that ‘Heralampi’ was not just a fairytale heard long ago, but was something so real, so organic, so rich in our family’s historical reality! The emotional reactions welled up somewhere inside me and that night, laying in my corner of Mikko’s kesamokki, on a beautiful antique daybed in the kitchen, the midnight sun lighting up the surrounding woods, reviewing my day, the emotions released and I cried myself to sleep … I believe they were happy nourishing tears.





























Visits with Uncle Urpo and Cousin Kirsti


It was rather poignant to see and visit with Uncle Urpo, our father’s youngest brother who is certainly still very much alive and spry at 86. Anna-Maija’s husband Prakash offered to navigate us to Uncle Urpo’s home … yes, he still lives in his own very tidy home. Poignant only because he reminds me so much of my father physically but there ends the resemblance. Uncle Urpo has a more umm … let’s say forthright, bordering on abrupt manner to that of our father’s more gentle one 🙂 … his sense of humour I well remember from our visit 43 years ago and it was a delight to learn it is still intact! After all these years, it was overwhelmingly a joy to sit with him a spell in his home … our Uncle Urpo! The floodgates threatened to overflow more than once during our visit, as we flipped through old pictures of our parents various trips to Finland, all duly photographed and organized somewhat in albums or boxes. Uncle Urpo shared many stories we had never heard before about their early years at our homestead of Heralampi. He helped our father build the foundation for what would be my first home and later, the three brothers constructed the barn together to house the cows, chickens, horses etc. My parents lived in basically a two room house, with an attic, albeit a somewhat roomy two rooms with their five little daughters! More on homestead next post. Uncle Urpo later visited us at Mikko’s cottage with his daughter, our cousin, Kirsti, who I had last seen as a 14 year old!! Cousin Pekka and his wife Anita stopped by for short visit later in he afternoon. Another lively evening sharing and connecting while we served a light luncheon on the patio, enjoying a rather unusual warm evening ….


















Juhannus Lunch at the Kesamokki of Anna Maija 


Right next door to Mikko’s cottage was his twin sister Anna-Maija and her husband’s cottage … we trekked over for a delicious Juhannus luncheon complete with fresh home baked bread!  How Anna-Maija managed this is beyond me! … Margaret, Anna-Maija and I had gone grocery shopping in nearby Joensuu early that morning for the Juhannus dinner that evening at Mikko’s .. she rushed back saying “come for lunch in an hour or so” …. the woman is a whirlwind of activity, rivalling my friend Linda in that and in her culinary abilities!! Tasty lunch indeed, of a chicken stew, rice, salad, and fresh rye bread!!

Sharing some pictures of the historic ‘savu sauna’ where my father and various members of that generation were born …. It gets fired up every now and again and certainly for Juhannus …. there was amazing energy in that sauna and how thrilled I was to have Margaret and Aliana in there with me along with all the other ladies. Sarah and Jen joined us later in Mikko’s sauna…..