Home of My Heart

3.9.2018

Summer 2018 I will remember as a summer when I was able to meet many of my foreign SaimaaLife followers face-to-face in Saimaa. How amazing and almost unreal it has felt! These lovely encounters gave me an idea to ask people to write a story about their Finland and Saimaa travel. Now it is time to publish the first one!

Here’s a story that was written by Amy Alley, the inspiring woman behind the blog Pan Pan Studios! 

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By Amy Alley, USA

Ah, Finland, the home of my heart, in so many ways…

My son and I had the chance to return this summer after being away for too long. Now that we are back in the States, I’m feeling homesick for that Northern land of endless lakes, white nights, and so much more. My love of Finland goes back to my teen years when I met Essi, a Finnish exchange student who would become one of my lifelong best friends.

Because of our long friendship, I had fallen in love with the country before I ever set foot in it, and when I finally, the biggest surprise to me was not how different it felt to be there…

..but rather how much it felt, and still feels, like home.

Because I am able to stay with and visit friends there, I’m able to truly partake in the simple day-to-day of Finnish life as well as see all the cool sights. The view of the lake through the birches from the kitchen window of Essi’s home was a wonderful way to start each morning. The travels we took throughout the Saimaa area where she lives were also great.

The Satama in Lappeenranta is probably my favorite place there. Watching the ships and boats, watching people, visiting the cafes, having a coffee (kahvi) or ice cream (or both!) and shopping the market booths…it’s a great way to wile away an afternoon or evening. I love the climate. To spend an entire day outdoors in June isn’t something so easily possible, or rather enjoyable, where I am from. But the sunny, cooler days made being outside a joy.

Did I mention the summer sandcastles? They were still being constructed during our time in Lappeenranta, but it was very interesting to watch the sculptors working!

Four years ago, when I was desperately craving Karelian pies, one of my favorite Finnish foods, I discovered a recipe of Karelian pies on saimaalife.com. This led not only to me spending the better part of a spring day making more Karelian pies than I could eat, but it also led to a friendship with the creator and author of SaimaaLife, Mari Pennanen! During this trip, I was finally able to meet Mari in person at the lovely summer cottage where her family was staying on Lake Puruvesi.

SaimaaLife has taught me even more about Finland, Finnish culture, and people, and I’m very grateful for that! Mari is an amazing working mom and wife who I respect and admire for so many reasons! It was wonderful to finally meet her and share kahvi and cinnamon buns from a local bakery, and talk like old friends!

Lake Puruvesi was so beautiful…it was a windy day, as you can see from the waves in the lake. I also got to see Mari’s boat garden, which I loved and which has inspired me to ask a few friends and neighbors, ‘Hey, you planning to use that old boat?’ with the hopes of creating one of my own! 🙂 

A visit with Essi and her husband to Olavinlinna Castle in the beautiful town of Savonlinna made a for a fun day trip. Castles aren’t part of the landscape of the United States, so this opportunity was very exciting for my son and I!

It was amazing to be in a building so old, with so much history right at the fingertips.

And Savonlinna is a city I want to visit again, maybe spend a weekend there. So much to see, and a day just wasn’t enough time to take it all in. 

Between Lappeenranta and Savonlinna lies what is, to me, one of the most unique things in Finland – The Parikkala Sculpture Park. Open year round, the park is the life’s work of the late Veijo Rönkkönen.

I want to know more about this artist, his life, and his inspirations. I had hoped to find a book about his work, but unfortunately, the shop was closed by the time we arrived. The park, however, did not disappoint!

I learned about the park through a post on SaimaaLife’s Facebook page, and was delighted to discover that Essi had visited before and was happy to go back with us! It is an amazing place to see, especially if you like off-the-beaten path places like I do!

Another great off-the-beaten path place is the Pulsa Depot, outside of Lappeenranta. It was a great place to spend the afternoon, have kahvi and rhubarb pie while the trains rushed by, and visit the shops for locally made items.

It was nice to learn a bit about the region’s history and customs from the people who work there at the depot. These odd lanterns were very curious to me, and when the shopkeeper noticed my interest, she explained their history and purpose. It was quite a surprise!

These cone-shaped lanterns were used to warm the legs of ladies in the church by slipping a candle inside, and then placing the lantern under their skirts! Who would have guessed? These are still made in the traditional way, and available at the gift shop in the Pulsa Depot.

I’m from a warmer climate, but I’m not a hot weather person at all, so I loved the breezy days, even the warning from friends of the chilly Juhannus didn’t bother me! I think at least 10 people told me that it would be cold and rainy, an amazing forecast for me for the end of June, but they were right! Bundled up in my new jacket from Luhta (another great place!) I walked with Essi and family to a neighbor’s house to watch the bonfire, then enjoyed the evening on the porch of the sauna house. I was so happy to be in Finland to celebrate Juhannus, as it’s the next biggest holiday there after Christmas. 

The landscape and nature in the area delight my heart. Going for walks in summer at any time of day is not something I am accustomed to here in the South, so it was a great treat to be able to do it here. Just taking in the landscape, looking for mushrooms or berries, stopping to watch swans on the lake….

And summer cottages! I can’t write about Finland without mentioning this unique aspect of Finnish life. Summer cottages just seem to be a way of life here. Many have been in the families for a couple of generations, so they are very special places, full of memories old and new. The traditional color of the cottages extends to other buildings in the landscape as well. The birch forests surrounding this cottage are very typical of the area, and I never grow tired of seeing them. 

Many nearby cottages offer amazing views of Lake Saimaa. While my friends are blessed to have these cottages in their families, there are some available to rent for people visiting the area.

There’s nothing like sitting out on the dock, enjoying a traditional Finnish meal in the sunshine while looking out across Lake Saimaa. It’s something you just never get tired of.

In a setting like this, you don’t feel like you need to go out and see the world. If you are quiet and still enough, the world comes to you, through the sound of the waves lapping against the dock, the flight of a bird, the dappled shadows moving on the dock, the gentle fall of a birch leaf to the ground below, the smell of “makkara” and “kahvi” (sausage and coffee). 

Through my friends like Essi and Mari and so many others, I’ve come to see Finland as a second home, and when I am there, it feels as though I’ve never left. It’s more than a vacation, it’s a part of me, a part of who I am, a part of the story of my life, ever unfolding. What the next chapter brings, I can’t say. But I do know one thing is certain…I will return again, to be with friends who feel like family, to sit among the birches, to watch the midnight sun over the lake…to feel home again. 

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Thank you, Amy, for this story!

If you are interested in getting to know better the places Amy introduced to you, here are some links that I collected for you:

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Any thoughts or questions about this story? We would love to hear from you! Send your message to [email protected] or contact us here.

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