As anticipated in my previous post, I just got back from a great 4-day trip to Finland where I had the precious chance to soak in this northern European country’s most unspoilt corners. This is also the trip that introduced to the world of kayaking.
Where? In Päijänne Lake. That’s right, since I usually like going the whole hog, could I start my kayaking life in a pond? Of course not.
Counting more than 1,000 square kilometers, Päijänne Lake is Finland’s second largest lake.
Located in southern Finland’s Häme region and concerning the municipalities of Padasjoki, Asikkala and Sysmä, the lake is protected by its namesake National Park, a charming combination of islets, sandy eskers and beaches, and lush vegetation.
When I was there, less than a week ago, summer was approaching its end and autumn, with all its golden and romantic hues, was starting peeping out, so temperatures were not too hot anymore (if Finland’s weather can be ever defined “too hot”), and snow was still a far sight. Many are the ways to experience the unspoilt nature of Päijänne National Park, and this time of the year kayaking, canoeing, biking, hiking, trekking and even swimming (for the bravest, and especially after sauna!) are very popular.
After dropping our luggage in upscale Kiuasniemi‘s Villa Jolla in Padasjoki area, right on the shores of the lake, and while still reveling for having our own sauna (apologies, I really needed to brag a little), we were off for our kayaking afternoon. By the time we reached the kiosk of Padasjoen Latu, a branch of the bigger Suomen Latu, a Finnish association promoting all types of outdoor activities (and when it comes to the combination of Finland and outdoor activities, all types really means all types), I was just starting to realize I was going to paddle a kayak by myself. If this wasn’t enough to get me on pins and needles, our guide, Johannes, together with Padasjoen Latu’s supervisor, added to that by giving us the necessary, yet intimidating, instructions on what to do in the remote case of capsizing.
Fully equipped with the essential safety gear, I was pushed into the fantastic world of aquatic flora and fauna native of Päijänne Lake. While paddling, my thoughts ranged from “I can’t believe how much I’m enjoying this” to “Why on earth have I never done this before?”, revealing the quicksilver of a traveling mind always open to new discoveries.
Gentle waves, just about enough to make a newbie stray from the agreed course, fish fights that occasionally stirred the calm lacustrine waters, and the strong scent of pine trees clothing shores and little islands were some of the features defining my not-so-lonely kayak ride. Paddling slowly to enjoy my surroundings, or at least this is how I justify myself for staying behind most of the time, from Mainiemi I reached Kalainsaari Island for a snack made of traditional karelian pies with egg butter, salmon on delicious Finnish rye bread and a sweet and savoury pastry we cooked right there over an open pit in a typical shelter built for the adventurous spirits that like to enjoy Finland’s outdoors.
Having a snack here around the fire and surrounded by nothing but lush vegetation and the only sound of the lake in an island that is part of, hence protected by, the National Park and Scandinavian everyman’s right philosophy that allows everybody to enjoy the country’s rich natural heritage, made it very clear to me why the area is so cherished by locals and foreigners alike. More so if we think that during winter, when the lake is frozen, a whole new plethora of activities is organized, from skiing to ice skating to wind sledging.
Kalainsaari Island is pretty small, and after the break we were supposed to kayak all around it, however, a litte wind starting blowing and a dizzy feeling for having over-eaten during the “light”snack break conjured up and sent us back to our departure point, where after injuring our overly patient guide, I managed to crawl out of my kayak.
I do remember having tried kayaking once, long time ago and without any professional nor safety gear, just a little off the coast near the beach in my hometown, but I can safely say that this was my very first time governing the litte canoe by myself. I’m not a very sport person (shame on me, thankfully Finland has inspired me otherwise), but probably being a good swimmer was what convinced me that in the end there was no harm in trying it out. Good for me as I live near a beautiful lake in Rome, so guess who’s going kayaking very soon?
After the fatigue of paddling back and forth, there is only one way to round off a long day in Finland: with a sauna. But this, dear readers, will be the enticing subject of a new post.