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There and Back Again: a Steamboat Trip to St. Petersburg in 2011

Sunset at the mouth of Neva

I have been on diverse steamboat trips, but there is one that I will never forget: the trip to 308th anniversary of St. Petersburg in 2011. The Finnish Steam Yacht Association had been invited to celebrate the anniversary and 12 steamboats and 2 old diesel (former steamers) had accepted the invitation. This “steamboat regatta of St. Petersburg” had been prepared a long time by the officials of the association and the Russian organizers and the regatta itself was just the culmination of the work. For me, this trip was unique also in the sense that it was the first time on lake Saimaa as well. But did all this happen from my point of view?

Invitation to the steamboat Hurma

I was working in the University of Tampere in the spring of 2011 and I was just visiting a customer of a tourism research project when my phone rang. It was probably in February. A acquaintance of mine from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency called and asked if I was interest to participate in a steamboat trip to St. Petersburg as a shipmaster of the steamboat Hurma (of the biofore company UPM) in May. The regular shipmasters of Hurma were unable to leave due to their other work and the regulation stated that the shipmaster had to be the same for the duration of the regatta. I promised get back to this matter—feeling childlike enthusiasm—but I had ask the permission to leave from my current employer. This worked out with a one phone call and I was ready to discuss about the details of this trip with chief engineer of Hurma: His company was operating Hurma on behalf of UPM.

The details of the contract and trip were quickly agreed on and I promised to arrive to the homeport of Hurma, Kanavansuun perinnelaivatelakka, on Saturday morning: the time of departure was on Monday. Kimmo also told that there was to be a lot of work for the weekend preparing the steamer ready for the trip at sea.

Setting off for Lappeenranta

I was living in Estonia at the time due to one travel research project. So when May arrived I travelled first from Tallinn to Tampere via Helsinki. As my flat at Tampere looked more like a store than a flat for living, it took a while to search all the necessary equipment for the trip. Finally I was ready to take the train to Lappeenranta with my backpack, garment cover, laptop case and more ‘style-fitting’ plywood luggage. Quite a cargo for two weeks…

My luggage at Tikkurila railway station on 21st of May 2011

On the way to Lappeenranta I made one ‘small’ error which could have harmed all the trip for all the others as well. As I took a taxi from Lappeenranta railway station to the homeport of Hurma (about 10 kms), I noticed in the middle of the ride that I had left my laptop case (the one on the picture above) on the bench next to the railway station. I told the taxi driver make a u-turn and drive to the station as fast as he could. Losing the laptop would have been only material loss but in the same case, there was my passport and visa to Russia as well. I had been listed as the shipmaster of Hurma for various official documents and I could not leave, no-one could. The 5 minutes taxi drive back to the station was one of the longest of my life and I went through quite a range of emotion. Luckily, when we arrived back to the staton, the laptop case was waiting me just where I had left it. Honest people living at Lappeenranta!

First meeting with the steamboat Hurma (23,6×5,6×2,4). On the pier there is the life raft the buying of which was one of the conditions of the special permit for this trip.

Weekend went fast aboard Hurma. The ship was equipped to meet the requirements of the exceptional sea journey. A lot of crew lists were printed in advance—and luckily enough, Kimmo took the printer with us to the trip as so many crew lists were required by the Russian officials. I examined closely also the maps of the route: the paper ones already aboard and the ones that we had got from the organizers. One of the most important tools for the trip was the stamp. Stamps were required by the officials to every paper. We had even two kinds of stamps: a rectangle one of the UPM and round one of Kaukas Ltd (that had not existed for years). It proved out that the round one was better for officials documents, so we used that one for the rest of the trip. Later I heard that one steamboat had used a round Moomin stamp to meet the requirements…

The primary feeling that I can remember of that weekend was a mixture of excitement and eagerness: for me, this was the first trip on lake Saimaa, aboard Hurma, and with new crew. Besides these, on lake Näsijärvi where I had worked for several years, there is not much VHF traffic and the Saimaa Canal is a bit different compared to those of Murole and Herraskoski of which I had grown so familiar with. And of course, the destination of the trip was Russia, which is always a different thing. (It had to be said, that the political situation in 2011 was quite different from current one. It’s a pity how things have gone). Even if these factors hadn’t been enought to produce excitement, Kimmo told me a couple of weeks before departure that the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) would send a reporter and a cameraman aboard and there would be some kind of reportage on the national tv afterwards. This news was the icing on the cake!

From Lappeenranta to Vyborg on 23th of May 2011

Finally the long-awaited Monday morning arrived and we set off. The first part of the journey was made with passengers until the Nuijamaa border station. There other passengers would leave and those coming with us all the way to St Petersburg would hop in. On this first leg, the old shipmaster of Hurma, Viljo (in his 80s), was also aboard. He very much wanted to take the rudder for the first part of the journey and I let him and just watched him steering. He had worked on steamers of lake Saimaa on 7 different decades, so there was a lot of experience he had. He steered through the first lock chamber of the Saimaa canal and even the second after which I told him that perhaps I could take the rudder to get some touch to this steamboat, too. It was not easy for Viljo to let go after so many years at the rudder, but he agreed.

Steamboat Hurma at the Saimaa canal

The weather was excellent during the first leg: sun was shining and it was quite warm as well. At Nuijamaa border station, we left our passengers, had our passports checked and continued with the 12 persons that would be aboard all the way until St. Petersburg. There we would have a crew change (apart from the four of us that would be aboard there and back: shipmaster, chief engineer, stoker and the deckhand). The cameraman and reporter hopped in from Nuijamaa. These fellows proved themselves very nice from the start: we had a lot of discussions and their ability to speak Russian also helped in many occasions.

Towards Vyborg: the weather is getting rainy and it is growing dark

All the eight lock chambers of the Saimaa canal took their time and in the last lock there was also the customs of Russia: it took a while to declare the camera equipment of our cameraman. Due to these delayes, it was already quite dark when we arrived to Vyborg—luckily it does not get very dark in May. At Vyborg, we encountered the other steamboats that had already moored at the port (one even had even tried mooring to the anchor chain of a buoy with little success…). Our place in the port was side by side with state owned Saimaa and with a wooden hull steamboat Puhois. For me, this was the first chance to meet the other crews of lake Saimaa steamers. Therefore, time seemed to fly that evening just by walking in the city and chatting with others.

The funnel of steamboat Hurma (with three stripes) visible furthest back. In front steamboats Puhois and Saimaa.

From Vyborg to Primorsk (Koivisto) on the 24th of May 2011

The morning arrived with a clear but quite cold weather. The day started with a ‘skippers’ meeting’ aboard steamboat Turso. Turso was given to the Soviet Union in 1944 as part of the war reparations agreed on the peace agreement. Turso was active as a harbour ice-breaker in Leningrad until it was bought by Finnish steamboat enthusiast back to Finland. For Turso, this was a visit back to the former homeport. But back to the point: in the skippers’ meeting discussed the planned route of the day, the VHF channels that would be used and so on. The idea was to steam by the inner route protected by islands to fishing port of Primorsk (old Finnish name: Koivisto). All this was told to us by our Russian organizer and chief of the event, Sergei. He was the right man in the right place: he was giving advice to us and was working all around—now in the skippers’ meeting sometimes aboard ribboat or driving tractor or a car. Especially one of his expressions has entered my vocabulary: “more or less”. “The anchoring area should be more or less there”. Very useful and handy for any purposes!

The leg from Vyborg to Primorsk (Koivisto) progressed without challenges. The wind was moderate but the strong gusts of wind gave some hint for the lake Saimaa crews what to expect the next day. The forecast for next day included quite strong winds in relation to the size of lake steamers. At the Primors fishing port we were amazed by the arrival of a peaked cap police officer with two police women. Their task was to install a temporary passport control post at the port and we had to show our passports every time we went outside the port. We thought we already entered Russia…

At Koivisto, the first ‘refueling’ operation was also accomplished. 70 cubic meters of birch wood was loaded on steamboats by a common effort. (The consumption of Hurma, for instance, is about one cubic meter of birch wood per hour). Sergei was driving the wood with tractor nearer to the steamboats and we organized a traditional chain of people to get the wood aboard. It actually felt really good after a day of standing at the rudder. Part of the crews had also time to visit the local museum and a visit to local Vessel Traffic Service next to the large oil port was provided for the shipmasters. Quite an interesting place.

From Primorsk (Koivisto) to St. Petersburg on 25th of May 2011

As the forecast had already predicted, the dawn arrived cold and windy. After a short meeting with other shipmasters, the convoy decided to set sail as planned apart from the smallest of the steamboats, Otso. Otso stayed at Primorsk for one day waiting for better weather to cross the Gulf of Finland. After leaving the port, we saw the huge oil port of Primorsk on our left side and soon afterwards, when the shelter offered by the islands on the right ended, we entered quite a rollercoaster for lake Saimaa sized steamboats. The rolling of Hurma was fast as the hull was heavy at the bottom: the steamboat was originally to be an icebreaker. For me personally, the biggest nuisance was created by the hooks of window attachment at the ceiling of the bridge. During the rolling of the steamer, I hit my head to those hooks time after time. The scratches I had did not heal during the two weeks time: perhaps there was something on the water of Neva that we used for hand and face washing.

Part of the additional crew members felt suddenly seasick and came to ask me for some medicine from the medicine cabinet of the boat (of course, it was already too late). The only ones I found were in the form of suppositories and I gave those to the ones asking for medicine. Afterwards, with a better look to the cabinet, I found the pills as well. But I only told this a couple days afterwards…

n the engine room Kimmo and Jari did their job outstandingly as did Pekka on the deck. Later I heard that the biggest challenge in the engine room was syncronizing the input of wood to furnace with the rolling of the steamer. The furnace door opened and closed in the rhythm of rolling. I did not notice anything as we traveled as in any weather. Of course, not as fast as container ships we saw on our journey.

Soon after crossing the Gulf of Finland, we arrived to the St Petersburg dam and Sea Fortress of Krondstadt. After entering inside the dam the sea was as calm as it could be. It was on this leg that we encountered the huge Jewel of the Seas of the Royal Caribbean International. The cruise ship saluted our convoy with the Finnish(or maybe international?) steam salute: three half-long whistles and one short as roger sign. According to the waving from the bridge of the cruise ship, meeting our steamboats was not an ordinary day either for them.

Just before we arrived to the Round port (on the Vasily Island, next to LenExpo exhibition complex) we encountered a ’traditional’ shower of rain that made everything soaking. I have wondered is there a type of rain called mooring rain—at least that is how it feels the showers occur… In any case, Hurma moored to there round port after a long leg from Primorsk. Part of our convoy had their mooring place at the mouth of Neva so the steamboats scattered a bit at this point. One interesting detail was the order from the port authorities (Inflot?): ”Four mooring ropes”. Some of the ships had a good talk with the authorities as they had used to moor with only three lines. I felt that there was no point of arguing with the authorities so we had an extra line without questioning the order. And of course, crew lists were given to authorities here, too.

At the port, we also made the acquaintance of the ’liaison officers’ that the organizers had pointed us. Their task was to act as interpreters and pass on the possible needs of the steamers to the organization responsible of the event. After we had dealt with all these matters, we headed for a walk and familiarized us with the surroundings (and the Russian traffic).

Waiting at the Round port between the 26th and 27th of May 2011

After three long days at sea, we relaxed ourselves a bit on Thursday. Besides this, we had a visit from the local UPM representatives and said farewell to our reporter and cameraman. Their task was over and we had had many interesting conversations with these fellows. Later that summer, a 30 minutes reportage of our steamboat trip was shown on the Finnish TV. It would be nice to have it rerun sometimes.

Thursday was also a day for maintenance: the septic tanks of the steamboats were getting full—the smaller boats had had them full already—and there was a need to empty them in a proper way. The problem was, according to Sergei, that the port authorities of St Petersburg possessed a barge made for emptying septic tanks, but as it was 60 meters in length it could not enter the Round port. The solution was to order a truck made for this purpose. The problem seemed to remain as it didn’t have any connectors that would fit the system of the Finnish steamboats. The old saying goes that ”You will learn everything apart from making hay, if you are working on a steamboat”. It was correct once again. Our engine crew, Kimmo and Jari, had a suggestion to the car driver ready to leave the place: ”We tape it!”. Perhaps the suggestion combining English and sign language was strong enough so they did and with this combination the septic tanks of boats were empty after a couple of hours of working. I just wondered, how the locals emptied their boats…

On Friday morning we, the shipmasters, left to make a simple reconnaissance tour on the river Neva at the area of anchorage. The idea of the regatta was, that during the 308th anniversary of St. Petersburg we would first be at anchor next to the Peter and Paul Fortress and then make a short round trip as a conwoy in the area restricted by bridges (between the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Hermitage). This would happen on Saturday and then we would leave the Neva on Sunday evening.

On the Neva between the 27th–29th of May

As the Friday evening approached and the bridges of the river Neva would open (they normally open the bridges for a couple of hours at night to let the ship traffic pass), it was time to sail to the Neva, to the area where the celebrations would take place. On the river Neva, it was obligatory to have a pilot* aboard regardless of the size of the steamer. Normally it was needed only on vessels over 24 meters of length but on Neva foreign ships were not allowed to sail without a pilot. Someone even told us, that the permission to our regatta was given by the prime minister Putin himself. In any case, our pilot was a real gentleman and mostly just watching us doing our work: and sometimes just asking politely: ”Please, take little bit to the right, sir”. The current on the Neva was really strong so the obligatory measure of having a pilot aboard was a reasonable one. Of course, it had to be said that not all the steamers had such gentlemen as we: on one steamer, the pilot was ’fully loaded’ all the trip. But that makes it an experience as well…

*The pilot according to Wikipedia is one “who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths.”

The nocturnal leg to the Neva under the opened bridges was something I won’t forget in my lifetime. It was quite an absurd feeling: steering a 24 meters long lake steamer in the middle of St. Petersburg and its fantastic, well lit buildings! When we arrived to the area of anchorage, I felt sorry for the chief engineer: I had to ask him by telegraph for many different engine command as the pilots didn’t reach mutual understanding of the place to drop the anchors. We even did that a couple of times, too. Our crew was happy of the anchor winch operated by steam compared to the manual ones on steamboats next to us…

Finally the pilots and Sergei agreed that this was the place, we dropped the anchors and the crews of the steamers could relax. At our steamboat, we arranged the anchor watch in two hours turns. This allowed the four of us to sleep six hours and then two hours of watch again. As the current of the river was really strong this arrangement would have provided us at least some chance if the anchor chain had broken. Of course, the organizers had thought of this kind of possibility and arranged a massive tugboat to keep watch downriver in front of the first bridge. This tugboat would have ’catched a lost steamer’ had this happened.

The tugboat the organizers had arranged for possible emergencies.

The dawn arrived rainy on Saturday. Nevertheless, I will never forget the view, when I opened the door of the shipmaster’s cabin: the famous Eremitage. It is not often when you look at it with only boxers on…

First thing in the morning we had a skippers’ meeting on one of the steamers. We went through the program of the day once more: we would make a whistle by all ships and then a short round trip on the Neva. After the meeting the clouds parted and sun came out. Afterwards there was a lot of talk about the so called Moscow Olympics effect: it could not be raining during celebrations… In any event, the parade was steamed in a perfect weather!

The joint whistle by all the steamer sounded extra nice on the historic center of St. Petersburg. After that we weighed the anchor and set off for the slow parade. The local motor ships had their music set on full volume and there was a lot of folk on the shores of the Neva. There were no problems with steamboats on the parade and after the 45 minutes drive, everyone made it to their designated anchor places. More or less. It was a great moment and never has there been so much spectators at the same time in any events of the Finnish Steam Yacht Association.

After the parade, our crew had a highlight moment of the regatta as well: we had a possibility to take a shower in hotel rooms booked by the crew that was coming with us to Finland. It was a great pleasure taking a shower… Of course, we had enjoyed the hospitality of the steamboats Heikki Peuranen and Puhois and used their saunas, but still, the shower was a paradise-like experience. At the same time we had the chance to visit shops to restock our steamboats. As the crew was dressed in the traditional 1930s dress, the walking on the city was slow—many wanted to have a photograph with these strangely dressed Finns.

The transportation between the steamers in the roads and shore was operated by rib-boats and one had to order a ride by walkie-talkies given to us by the organizers. At first, it took quite a while waiting for the lifts. After a lot of waiting, we realized that it was a good idea to treat the transport crew with a little bit of food and drink. Suddenly, the waiting times were much shorter. Strange thing. Although it has to be said that other steamboats seemed to have realized this as well—or perhaps the transport crew had their own drinks, too—because in the late night we saw one of the crew members falling from the rib-boat to the river Neva for a short swim. After we realized that they got him up, we had a good laugh.

As the day was reaching its end, I realized that this must have been the most special day on my ”steamboat career” and I felt grateful that I had the chance to live it. At the same, I also realized how tired I was. When I went to talk with the other crew member on the small saloon of Hurma, I suddenly felt that I didn’t understand anything they were saying. One of them, Kari, told me that I had fallen asleep eyes wide open and perhaps it would be good to take some fresh air outside. This is what I did. Never had that kind of experience before nor after that evening.

Höyrylaivoja nevalla
The ‘Birch wood carrier’ Wenno and other steamboats upriver

Sunday brought with it grey weather once more. The parade was over, so there was no need for sunshine… And our steamer had a little challenge: our storage of birch wood was getting low and we had tried to get a permission to sail a couple of hundred meters upriver to steamboat Wenno which could have provided us more wood to burn. For a reason or another, we didn’t have the permission, or more precisely, no answer at all. After hearing the chief engineer about the ’fuel’ situation, we decided to weigh the anchor, moor ourselves to Wenno, load the wood and let the river take us back to our place. That was exactly what we did, even if someone on the VHF seemed to disagree…

In the skippers’ meeting that followed, Sergei asked me a question: ”Mikko, do you like our prisons?”, a couple of seconds of glower and then a long laugh! Our disobedience was notified but I said to Sergei that as we had asked for permission and never got any answer, we took that as a yes… At least we had enough wood until Primorsk/Koivisto for now. On Sunday, we also had the crew change (apart from us 4 operating the steamboat). In my opinion, it was a wise choice to change the crew that as many as possible had the chance to enjoy the experience of steamboat travel to St. Petersburg.

On Sunday evening the bridges of the Neva were opened particularly for our convoy and we sailed back to the Round port. At the same time, we heard that forecast for Monday was really bad (strong winds and rain) so the trip back to Koivisto was shifted from Monday to Tuesday

Back to Finland 31st of May–1st of June

Part of the crew members that had just arrived wondered why the shift was made as the Monday morning was really sunny. But it was soon clear why: thunderstorms and strong winds would have meant trouble for the lake Saimaa fleet. An additional day at St. Petersburg didn’t really bother any of us: it gave us the possibility to relax. We also did visits to other steamers as the chances for those had been quite limited before this.

Steamboats at the mouth of Neva waiting for departure.

On the day of departure, on Tuesday, our additional crew had made a deal with the crew members of steamboat Saimaa: We had a common breakfast aboard the wonderful steamboat Saimaa. After that nice moment it was time to leave and say farewell to St. Petersburg. As the geopolitical situation is today quite different as it was back then, we will see if there comes a day when this kind of trip would be possible to repeat.

On our way back to Finland we had one leg less than on the way to St. Petersburg: we would proceed from St. Petersburg to Primorsk(Koivisto) and from there straight to Lappeenranta without stopping at Vyborg. The waiting of one day had paid off: the weather was like in any decent tourism brochure: the Gulf of Finland was totally calm and especially on the second day between Primorsk and Lappeenranta it was over 25 degrees Celsius. The steamboat Wenno decided to make use of the excellent weather and asked us by radio if we could take their cameraman aboard to take some video of Wenno. So we did and then drove around the steamboat to get video from all possible angles.

On the first leg between St. Petersburg and Primorsk we had a couple of events with the Russian military might as well. First the Steregushchiy class corvette paid us a visit after which an aerial reconnaissance plane flew over. In addition to these events, there was nothing more to report.

The familiar fishing port at Koivisto was as it was when we had left it and there was again some refueling of the steamboats. This time, though, someone seemed to have changed the wood as it was perfectly fresh. Fresh is normally a good thing with food or drinks but with wood meant to be burned in the furnaces, not so… Well, all the boats managed to Finland with this wood as well. The night at Koivisto included also a last night’s party. From here on, all the boats would sail to their homeports and the common part of the trip would end here. It this party, it was tested that there can be 16 persons and 1 accordionist in the small mess of Hurma… (Normally designated for 6-8 persons)

During the party we also found out that the small mess is not so well located in case of a party: the shipmaster sleeps above it and other operating crew members below… Well, party was well deserved so it was not so bad steering the way back to Lappeenranta with a little shorter sleep.

The last day arrived with the best weather we had enjoyed. Sun was shining and it was way above 25 degrees Celsius which is not that common in the end of May. The memory I have of that last day was that of hunger: we proceeded in the canal in such a tempo that I had no time eating. The proceeding, though, stopped at the Russian border control station at the lock of Pälli. It took many hours which felt even longer as we were so close to home already. The control of every locker and cabin of the steamer didn’t feel very nice either but there is no point arguing with the authorities who are just doing their work.

Crossing the border back to Finland and passport check at Nuijamaa felt little bit like arriving back to Moominland: so easy and familiar. We arrived to our homeport at about 10pm and the long steamboat trip was over. The work wasn’t over though: I had a lot of paper work to do and when I left with the first morning train from Lappeenranta to Tampere I felt that I had never been so tired. And never was before that.

‘Huhhuh, olipa reissu’ (Phew, what a trip!)

Our trip was one of its kind: a once in a lifetime experience. I hope that my description of the trip tells that to the reader, too. For me, it opened the steamboat work at lake Saimaa as the shipmaster of Hurma. I am still doing that in the summer taking turns with another shipmaster. In addition, after this trip and all the ad hoc challenges it had, I haven’t felt very stressed about any steamboat challenges. At least this trip gave me some perspective on things. Of course, I had been familiar with steamboat steering after the years with a scheduled route steamer between Tampere and Virrat, but on this trip there were as many ad hoc situations that there would normally be in a couple of years of route traffic.

Those who took part of this steamboat trip still remember the spirit it created among the participants and organizers – lot of friendly local people, too For me, it created a lot of friendships as well. Meeting the ones ’who were there’ usually ends up talking about St. Peterburg’s regatta. Not so often anymore, of course. And I am sure that people who weren’t there were quite fed up after a couple of years of talking only about ”in St. Petersburg we…”

Many of the sayings that the trip created are still used and many of the legends are told. Like the one about Russian electrician who tried with his tongue-moistened finger if there was current or not. The friendly Russian people, using sign language and broken English to express oneself were highlights, too. And the famous bridges of St. Petersburg became familiar to the crew of Hurma as well: once we were left to the wrong side. After negotiations with a taxi driver we found out that he had a ”bridge problem”—it would cost a lot of money to take the possible route that was much longer than normally. The other night ”bridge problem” consisted of bridges being in normal position: he couldn’t get enough money for the ride. And as usual, all of these stories tend to change and become even more legendary as the time goes by. It had to be said that this story would probably be quite different if told by someone else.

So after these eight years, I would still like to thank all the people at steamboat Hurma: Kimmo, Jari, Pekka, Kari V., Jorma, Matti, Heli, Seppo, Jyrki, Kari A., Riitta, Anne, Eija ja Jyri.

Special thanks to Kari and Riitta for letting me use their pictures: I couldn’t take as much pictures as I would have wanted. You just cannot leave the rudder for a while for taking a photo…

 

 

 

 

InterRail -72

I have been following with great interest the debate about traveling by land (instead of by air) due to increasing climate consciousness. At the moment, traveling by land seems to be increasing but is still far from mass movement—and the global air transport, for instance, seems still to be growing. The forecast by IATA predicts that there will be 8,2 air travelers by 2037. Of course, things can change: for example, the director of the Multidimensional Tourism Institute, Antti Honkanen, notes in an article in the Finnish newspaper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus that every trend begins with a small group of people. In any case, it is probable that “traveling by land phenomenon” is not at least slowing down. The Finnish Facebook group concentrating in easing the traveling by land has been growing rapidly and railway companies have begun offering several different Interrail tickets: now it is even possible to buy rail passes that are valid for three months. Interrail in the 1970s and 1980s is also the theme of my PhD research, so I will describe a little the first years of Interrail in this article.

An Anniversary Product Becomes Hit for Decades

InterRail -72 was originally intended for the year 1972 only as the name indicates, too. The International Union of Railways UIC (Union Internationale des Chemins de fer) wanted to celebrate its 50th anniversary by creating a product for young Europeans under 21 years of age. With the Interrail pass, one could travel as much as one wanted in one months time. Besides the anniversary as a reason for creation of Interrail, UIC was worried for the future of rail transport. The idea was that by giving young people the opportunity to cheap train travel they would become active train users in their adulthood as well. This aspect was perhaps a bit utopian, but the Interrail pass itself began to sell very well in the market. Especially in the Nordic countries the Interrail pass became very popular, if one compares the number of sold passes per capita.

In Finland, for instance, the number of passes sold in 1973 represented over 5 per cent of all youth aged 17–20!

Source: InterRail statistics, in possession of the author.

Partly the huge number of sold Interrail passes in Finland was due to the fact, that the innovative Swedish youth found out that they could buy their own pass in Finland. The Interrail pass allowed free travel elsewhere but with 50 percent discount in the country of purchase. Buying the pass in Finland allowed the Swedish to start their Interrail journey from Sweden totally free. This loophole was fixed quite shortly, though, and the Finnish youth was very eager to buy these passes as well.

The Golden Era of Interrail: 1980s

The railway companies agreed that it was worthwhile to continue selling Interrail passes even after 1972. They had also received some complaints about the age limit and about the validity of the ticket. For example, in 1973 Interrail was valid only on summer, from May to October. Already in 1974 the validity of passes was changed to include all the year. The age limits were lifted twice: first to 23 in 1976 and to 26 in 1979.

Part of the memo by Finnish National Railways (VR) answering to UIC about the success of Interrail. The National Archives of Finland, Valtionrautatiet, Rautatiehallitus, Talousosasto,Yleisten asiain kirjeistö.

Interrail for all people without any age limit became available in 1989. It was first sold only in the Nordic countries—also a symbolic proof of the popularity of Interrail in these countries. Interrail passes for senior citizens (over 65) were sold already in 1979 which allowed pensioners to tour around Europe, too. But even with these expansions to new age groups, the main target segment of Interrail was youth, and the popularity of Interrail was highest among this segment as well.

The golden era of Interrail was the end of 1980s and first two years of 1990s. The highest number of total sales of IR passes (youth+other products) was reached in 1991 with over 400 000 sold passes in Europe. In 1993, the number of sold passes crashed, partly due to the Yugoslav wars. Also the innovation of dividing Europe to several zones of travel—one could buy ticket to only one zone or to all of them—didn’t help: the sales number of passes stayed in approximately one third of the record years. The European airline deregulation process and the arrival of low cost carriers did their share as well: the sales number of IR passes never recovered.

Interrail in Oral History Accounts

In my PhD research, I examine how Nordic Interrail travellers construct their IR travel experiences in oral history account. What kind of experiences are remembered? Besides the oral history accounts, I have examined a lot of travel photographs and travel diaries. One interesting aspect in the research is the sense of belonging that was felt on the journeys: what was the group the youth felt belonging to? Also the issues of internationalization of youth and relationship to the concept of Europe have to be dealt in the research as they are very much present in the source material. In Finland, people are still talking about traveling to ‘Europe’ when they are traveling to the continental Europe.

At the moment, I have interviewed 19 Finnish Interrailers and visited relevant archives in Finland and in Norway. It is sad that so much of the material of Interrail has been thrown away: there is not much archival material about the phenomenon. That is also one more reason to use oral history approach. Interviews combined with other sources, such as photographs and diaries, provide a very rich source material collection. Besides the self-collected material, we collected Finnish Interrail memories together with Finnish Literature Society las year which I analyse at the moment.

Someone might ask, what is the point of studying things like this. And that is always a valid question. At least my research will provide new information about memorable experiences in travel which is useful information outside the academic world as well. Besides, the research will shed more light on the sense of belonging in youth travel: how significant were being young or being part of Nordic countries compared to the own nationality, for example. And more aspects are all the time opening up while analyzing the interviews.

My next task will be interviewing the Swedish and Norwegian travellers. Besides these, I am writing a nonfiction book about the theme so I am quite sure that I will write more about Interrail here as well.

Nordic Skating along the Poet’s Way

Eilen pääsin pitkästä aikaa mukaan Suomen retkiluistelijoiden retkelle. Lokakuussa leikattu olkapää on pitänyt pois jäiltä pitkän aikaa. Olen saanut vain kateellisena katsella komeita kuvia, joita seuran jäsenet retkistä laittavat sosiaaliseen mediaan tai seuran retkiraportteihin. Onneksi siis vihdoin sain tilaisuuden hypätä mukaan retkelle. (Ja lisättäköön tähän, että seuran retkille siis pääsevät mukaan jäsenet, jotka ovat käyneet tulokaskurssin ja -retken. Suosittelen noita kaikille luistelijoille.)

Starting Point: Virrat

This skating trip was arranged with a charter bus. We started at 7:00 from Tampere and arrived to Virrat (about 120 km north of Tampere) just a little bit before 9:00. We were about 45 skaters and the idea was to split in three groups depending on one’s physical condition and skating speed. One group would head to the next municipality of Ruovesi (53 km), the middle group would proceed to Murole Canal (76 km) and the bravest of the brave would skate all the way to Tampere (120 km). I was pondering between the options of skating to Ruovesi or Murole, but I chose the former and shorter. This was a wise decision after a long period of not-skating.

When we jumped out of the bus at Virrat, the -10 degrees celsius felt quite cold in thin windproof clothing I had. But after we started skating, I soon felt like I had too much clothes on. Partly this was due to ice conditions: it had snowed the day before and part of the snow had melted on the ice making the ice a bit hard to skate. The first kilometres were quite hard and watching my Polar heart rate sensor made me think that it is going to be a very long day. But luckily it turned out that there was also better ice conditions along the route.

Ice Conditions in Virrat. Quite good, but a bit sticky.

On the Road (or Lake?)

It was almost certain that this route had some sounds and other narrow places where we would have to take our skates off. The first one was after 2,5 km of skating as the sound of Toltaa was open (as was the next one as well). But in total, due to hot summer of 2018 and very few rain periods, I have to say that there were fewer places without ice than I thought. The water level in the lake Iso Tarjannevesi is almost at all time low, so the current (taking the water to Tampere and from there to Baltic Sea through Pori) this year proved to be really weak, and thus, many places which are normally with open water were now covered with ice.

A Break at Romppaansalmi Sound. The depth here is about 60 meters and there is an old legend claiming that a treasure has been hidden here. According to this story, one has to be totally silent when lifting up the treasure or it will fall back to the bottom. As far as I know, no-one has ever succeeded in this treasure hunt. So the silent nature of the Finnish people must be a myth…

As our group was the ‘slowest one’, we had plenty of time looking around and having breaks for drinking water and tea and eating our sandwiches. So in this sense, skating was really enjoyable and as the sun was visible all day, I felt like I had got tanned after all day on ice. (Which reflects the sun quite well, too)

Red Face of the Author on One of the Breaks. At this point the reason for red face cannot be the sun but bad physical condition…

After the first three walks around open water areas, we had a nice 10 km skating until Pusunvuolle sound at Visuvesi. Visuvesi is one of the many Finnish villages built around the forest industry—a sawmill and a plywood factory in this case—but which has suffered after the industry has closed the factories. Luckily for Visuvesi, there have been many active persons around and nowadays there’s also new activity in the old factory premises.

The Open Water at Pusunvuolle Sound. A 100 meters of walking and skating continues.

After Visuvesi there was only one sound before we would reach the large ridges of Tarjannevesi. As we knew that the main sound of Kilvensalmi which the steamboat traffic takes in the summer would be open, we decided to use the small sound of Syväsalmi instead. (The Finnish name of the sound is quite ironic and reveals something about the Finnish sense of humour. The name of the sound, Syväsalmi, means literally Deep Sound, and there’s only about 80 cm of water even in the summer. But this sound was a good choice as we could skate all the sound without walking a meter.

Through Syväsalmi Sound to Tarjannevesi.

When we reached Tarjannevesi, we found out that here the ice was the best on this trip. Also the tailwind made the skating easy and the 8 km of skating to the island that we had decided to be our lunch break point took only 35 minutes.

Lunch Break at Mustasaari Island.

“After the lunch and break, even the ice feels smoother” is a saying among skaters and it prooved to be correct once again. Having enjoyed tea, sandwich, bananas and sun we started skating again. Our group decided to avoid Syvinkisalmi sound (as it is normally free of ice and the cliffs are not nice to climb with equipment) and go around Salonsaari island from the eastern side. It was a good choice as we didn’t have to walk at all, but we heard from other two groups afterwards, that even at Syvinkisalmi the distance of walking was really small.

Koukkaus idemmäksi teki kuitenkin sen, että kohti Korpulanvuolletta mennessä länteen kääntynyt tuuli teki etenemisestä melko vaivalloista. Onneksi maali alkoi olla jo aika lähellä. Korpulanvuollekin oli poikkeuksellisesti jäätynyt, yhtä perinteistä sulakohtaa lukuun ottamatta. Vuolteessa tuli myös todettua, että kalliomaalaukset, joita laivalta aina selostin matkustajille, alkavat olla todella vaisut: mielikuvitusta saa käyttää, jos aikoo vanhan naisen, kahvipannun ja kissan nähdä… Restauroinnin paikka olisi siis Korpulassa kuten Kirnusalmessakin. Kunhan ihan Espanjan malliin ei restauroida. Kalliomaalaukset ovat kuitenkin mielenkiintoinen nähtävä juttu esimerkiksi laivaliikenteen matkustajille, joten “tarttis tehrä jotain”.

Loppupätkä Ruovedelle olikin sitten kohtuullisen helppoa luisteltavaa muuten, mutta maalin lähestyessä jalka alkoi painaa. Mielellä on voimakas vaikutus. Sen verran oli pakko kuitenkin poiketa reitiltä, että oli käytävä katsastamassa, missä kunnossa höyrylaiva Näsijärvi II:n ‘bensa-asema’ eli halkotankkauslaituri Kivistöllä oli. Oikein hyvässä oli, mutta veden vähyys vähän huolestuttaa tulevaa kesää ajatellen.

Fillling Station of Steamboats Waiting for Summer.

Arriving to Ruovesi by ice was the first time for me: I have seen the scenery hundreds of times aboard a steamboat, but never has the sight of this village been such a welcomed one as on this trip. 52 km of skating had some effect without previous practice… Our bus was waiting at the harbour, so I changed some dry clothes on, ate rest of my provisions and stepped in to the bus. With bus we then drove to Murole canal to pick up the other group. There we encountered also the group that was heading to Tampere. I have to say that a standing ovation would have been a proper way of greeting these skaters: such hard was their task as the wind direction (which was supposed to be tailwind all the way) had changed to headwind and the ice was even rougher on the lake Näsijärvi side of the canal. I heard later that this group had reached its goal Tampere at about 9pm after 120 km of skating!

Reaching Ruovesi Harbour.

Conclusion and some thoughts about media reporting about ice conditions

Kaiken kaikkiaan olin retkestä oikein iloinen: pitkän tauon jälkeen oli hienoa olla taas mukana porukoissa. Retkiluistelijat ovat mukavaa jengiä: juttu luistaa ja samalla oppii koko ajan lisää lajista, jäästä ja paikallistuntemusta. Tämä reissu oli itselleni myös erityinen, kun tuota Virrat-Tampere -väliä on tullut sahattua satoja kertoja laivalla, mutta ei ikinä luistimilla. Nimi Runoilijan tie on muuten ollut käytössä laivakaudesta 1934 lähtien, kun perinteistä laivareittiä alettiin markkinoida myös matkailijoille (ks. lisää täältä, sivu 165–>).

Yksi sellainen seikka, johon olen kiinnittänyt huomiota retki- ja rataluisteluun liittyen, on jäästä kertominen mediassa. On toki ymmärrettävää, että varoitetaan ihmisiä käyttämään järkeään jäihin liittyen ja kerrotaan riskeistä – kaikilla jäätuntemusta (ja sekin on paikkakohtaista) ei ole ja on syytäkin kunnioittaa jäätä. Enemmän saisi kuitenkin olla ohjeistusta yleiskieltojen sijaan. Esimerkiksi tästä Aamulehden artikkelista* (12.2.2019) päätellen jäille ei olisi ollut mitään asiaa enää ja samalla esimerkiksi Tyllilöiden luistinrata on ollut koko ajan toiminnassa ja on edelleen (2.3.2019) – täysin turvallisesti. Harmittaa yrittäjän puolesta, kun suuren yleisön mielikuvaan noilla uutisoinneilla on varsin iso vaikutus. Itseltänikin on kysytty jopa merkatulla radalla luisteltaessa, onko jää turvallista. Yleispätevää vastausta siihen ei tietenkään voi antaa, mutta esimerkiksi rata kyllä suljetaan, mikäli se ei ole turvallinen – niin paljon radalla suoritetaan mittauksia.

Of course, I have to admit, that it is difficult to tell which place is safe and which not, but overgeneralization is not the key to good ice reporting on news. One cannot say that all the ice cover on all the lakes is weak even if it really is on some of them. And I have to add that by this I am not encouraging anyone to do stupid things: the ice has to be respected, it has to be measured all time when on ice and one should always have the basic safety equipment on. And the most important of all, one should never skate alone. (Even if you are a LFC fan). I would only like to see more news based on reason than on creating fear and more advice instead of forbiddance when reporting about ice conditions on lakes. But even after this, I have to say that if you are interested in Nordic skating, Tampere is the place to be as there are many options and rental equipment and teaching available for a beginner in the Nordic skater.

The Route on Google Maps

Check also my other posts and videos of Nordic skating:
Skating along the Poet’s Way – part II
Nordic Skating in Hell
Nordic skating season opened – finally!
Starting a day by skating

A Preview on the Finnish Steamboat Summer 2019

Steamboats arriving to Savonlinna

Edit. New post of the steamboat summer 2022 now available!

When the snow seems to be melting away my thoughts are more and more occupied by the forthcoming summer. When the Finnish steamboats are still mainly surrounded by ice, it is actually a good time to write a brief preview what is going on in the Finnish steamboat scene next summer. A couple of years ago (2015) I wrote an article on Sail in Finland site. Now this current article you are reading is a bit more fresh and covers next summer only.

Lake Saimaa

The steamboat regatta

The main event for the lake Saimaa steamboats and crews, the Saimaa regatta (in Finnish, Saimaan regatta), will be held at Joensuu on July 6th. Perhaps it is necessary to point out that this event is not a steamship race (as you could expect from a regatta) but an annual gathering. In my estimate, there will be over 15, perhaps even 20–25 steamboats participating in this regatta, so this is a good place to see many steamers at one place and time. And main part of these steamers are owned by private people and families and they are not always open to public, so that is another reason to travel to Joensuu.

The event normally starts with ‘a convoy sailing’: the steamboats are gathering outside the port, steaming on a line (more or less…) and then arriving to the port one by one. On one occasion there was even a live commentary ashore (by Antti Aho) when ship began to arrive. Every ship was presented to public and some short history tale was told. Let’s hope that something like that would be coming also this year. When all the steamers have moored to the port, there is a moment of joint steam whistling by all the ships. After that all the city of Joensuu will know that the steamboats have arrived. So if you are interested in steamers on lake Saimaa, save the date! Try at least these at Joensuu:

  1. Visit s/s Saimaa. The beautiful Saimaa (1893) is the only state-owned steamboat in Finland. Everything is polished and shining.
  2. Visit all the other steamers as well. Ask crews about history, technique or anything that comes into your mind. Most are willing to share their knowledge and stories.
  3. Hold your ears during the joint whistling!
  4. (Bubbling under) The mooring of old steamboats is always a show. Anything can happen so don’t miss this.
  5. (Bubbling under 2). I will be—if nothing strange happens—aboard s/s Hurma so come to say hello and have a chat!
The state-owned s/s Saimaa at Nuijamaa in the summer 2018.

Steamboat cruises on lake Saimaa

The best opportunities to have a steamboat cruise on lake Saimaa are at Savonlinna, where the local steamboat company owned by Janne Leinonen has three different steamers for cruises. Punkaharju (1905), Paul Wahl (1919) and Savonlinna (1904) start their daily ‘scenic cruises‘ (departure from Savonlinna harbour) in the beginning of June (and lasting until the end of August). The first cruise departs at 11 am and the last at 7 pm. The one and half hour cruises cost 20 € per person, children 10 € each and family package is sold for 50 €. The cruises head for the archipelago of Savonlinna and in the best case you might see a rare Saimaa ringed seal. I was working on those vessels a couple of years ago and saw 13 seals during the summer, so I confirm that is possible, though not probable. The best weather for seal spotting is a windless day, when the head of seal is best spotted while they are swimming around.

The core thing on scenic cruises is—not-so-surprisingly—to look around and enjoy the Finnish lake scene. Of course there’s also bar aboard with a possibility to buy drinks and small snacks. On sunny weather the steamboats might get quite full, especially during the Opera Festival.

s/s Punkaharju

Besides the scenic cruises, some of the three steamers is sailing scheduled route traffic to Punkaharju which is famous for its beautiful scenery. The route traffic is not daily so it is best to check the dates from the shipping company website. The route takes 2,5 hours on one direction and if you have had enough of steam travel after that (I doubt), it is quite convenient to take a train or bus to come back from Punkaharju (ask more from the crew or beforehand from the company website). One tip if you are staying at Punkaharju and want to visit the Opera festival at Savonlinna (and if there is route traffic on the very day): take a steamboat from Punkaharju to Olavinlinna castle (the venue of the Opera festival). It is quite an experience to arrive to the castle from back door and with such a stylish means of transportation.

Outside Savonlinna the possibilities to have a steamboat cruise are quite limited. s/s Wenno has cruises in Puumala on Mondays during the July and that is all that there is to be told. Of course, there are also other steamers that offer charter cruises, check the site of the Finnish Steam Yacht Association.

Lake Päijänne

The steamboat regatta

The regatta of lake Päijänne will be held at Sysmä on July 20. I have never myself been on the regatta events in Päijänne, but I presume that these events are quite similar to those at lake Saimaa or lake Näsijärvi. So if you’re somewhere around Päijänne on that time, save the date. More information can be asked through the Facebook event (linked above).

Steamboat cruises on lake Päijänne

The steamboat cruises open for public on Lake Päijänne are provided by s/s Suomi at Jyväskylä. The season begins at the end of June and goes on until the end of August. There are two possible cruises for a steamship enthusiasts: lunch cruises (2pm–5pm) and evening cruises (6pm–9pm) but it is good to check from the company which cruises are run with the steamer (and not a motorboat).

s/s Suomi at Jyväskylä

I am not familiar with the steamboats offering charter cruises at lake Päijänne so none are mentioned here…

Lake Näsijärvi and lake Pyhäjärvi (Tampere)

The steamboat regatta

The main event of the steamboat summer of the lake Näsijärvi in 2019 will be held at Mustalahti harbour, Tampere, on Saturday 31st of August. Steamboat Näsijärvi II will celebrate its 90th birthday (I’m part of the crew). At the same weekend there is also a bigger “Lake Festival” on the same harbour and Särkänniemi Amusement Park area, so probably there will be quite a lot of events and things going on at the same time. The details of the Lake Festival are yet to be decided.

In any case, I hope that the regatta at Näsijärvi will host all the steamboats and steam launches of the lake: Näsijärvi II, Visuvesi, Häme, Suntti, Kotvio II and one small steamboat. It is also possible that Alina will be carried to lake Näsijärvi from the lake Pyhäjärvi. We shall see. At least there will be short steamboat cruises available for public for a small price, music and food.

Steamboat cruises around Tampere

Näsijärvi II will continue to do charter cruises in order to keep the ship going. During the regatta (as described above) there will also be cruises open to public, so follow the Facebook page of the ship for further updates. On lake Pyhäjärvi, Alina will do charter cruises and probably some public cruises as well. Besides that, Wellamo (normal home port in Valkeakoski) has some plans for cruises that start from Tampere.

s/s Näsijärvi II in Ruovesi. Picture: Teemu Puumalainen

On lake Näsijärvi, Tarjanne will continue its route traffic.

Lake Oulujärvi

The northernmost steamboat in Finland (and in Europe), s/s Kouta and its crew have been working hard to make the ship known to public: it seems that the work is paying off. The website and videos are wonderful and so is the steamer itself, too. Check these out.

Kouta has scenic cruises open for public from the beginning of July to the beginning of August (3.7.–2.8.). If you are visiting Kajaani during that period, I recommend you to spend a couple of hours on lake Oulujärvi with Kouta.

Sea

The steamboat regatta

The official Finnish steamboat event of the sea will be held at Turku on July 25.–27. At this point, the details of the event are still unknown but it is most probable that you can spot many steamers of Helsinki and Turku at the event.

Steamboat cruises on sea

s/s Ukko-Pekka has scheduled steamboat traffic between Turku and Naantali and besides that makes evening cruise from Turku. In Helsinki area, there is no scheduled steamboat traffic (at least that I’m aware of), but at least Norrkulla, Lokki and Turso are available for charter cruises.

All Quiet on the Western Front

The offering of the steamboat cruises in Finland is pretty much the same that it has been for a couple of years now. The steamers, routes and schedules remain the same (the crews as well…).

During my 20 years in ‘steamboat business’, I have seen mainly slow decay of the commercial steamboat cruise offering. There are exceptions, but the overall picture is still a bit troubling.

Perhaps there is a need for new concepts and experiments around the steamers. But don’t get me wrong, traditions are something to be appreciated on this scene—there are unique steamers on unique routes (but of which the marketing is sometimes obsolete or almost non-existent). Luckily there are some new ideas and ways of doing things as the case of Kouta, for instance, shows.

The ‘steamboat culture’ is quite unfamiliar to public, so at least there is a need to more public events and marketing. At the moment the marketing efforts are quite modest. And of course: it is quite understandable that the private steamboat owners have enough to do with the maintenance and running of these old ladies, but I would expect more from the commercial steamers. And as I have already said, this doesn’t apply to every commercial steamer.

Even though I am a bit worried about the state of the (commercial) steamboat culture in Finland, I hope that there will be a lot of guests and passengers aboard these old ladies this summer. Besides, sailing with a wood-heaten steamboat can be considered as ecological travel these days.

Somer remarks: The timetables and route information described above are taken from the steamboat companies’ websites 24.2.2019 and I don’t responsibility about any changes in those, so please check the companies’ websites yourself before planning a journey. Edit 27.2. Changed the steamship to steamboat as it is perhaps more accurate term referring to Finnish steamers (of which none are ocean going). The main picture of the article: Tapio Kilpinen.

Food and Drinks at Tampere – part 3

Tampere Market Hall Ceiling
Picture Laura Vanzo.

In many tourism and travel research surveys, culture is one of the most important reasons to visit a certain destination. The problem is—if there is any real one—that what actually makes “culture”. Of course, there are numerous definitions fur cultural tourism or culture as a motivational factor for travelling. The broad concept of culture includes almost all human interaction. I started to ponder this as I thought of my own perceptions of city culture. The food and beverage culture is one of the main things, at least for me.

Market Hall

Tampere Market Hall can be considered as one of the “must-visit” places at Tampere. It is the biggest market hall in the Nordic countries consisting a large variety of different shops, cafes and restaurants. Tampere Market Hall has preserved a very good grocery shop—restaurant/cafe ratio which is a really good thing for a visitor: there is a lot of things to do for everyone, depending on your needs. The atmosphere at the Market Hall is unique—here you can still see something from an age that doesn’t exist anymore.

Restaurant 4 Vuodenaikaa

My favourite restaurant at Tampere is—surprise surprise—located in the Market Hall. The French restaurant 4 Vuodenaikaa (Four Seasons) by Yoni Ichtertz is an excellent place for lunch and also something to consider if you are in a need of private restaurant space (the venue is available for private events after the Market Hall has closed). One of my birthdays was celebrated there and I have to say that it is quite an extraordinary feeling being in the Market Hall with no other people.

During lunch hours (11–15:45 (15:30 on Saturdays), the place might get crowded as there can be even a small queue waiting a table. My favourite lunch dish is bouillabaisse: the fresh ingredients come from across the aisle, Kalaherkut Nygren, which is selling all kind of fresh fish products. But there are a lot of other dishes to choose from, so it definitely is not all about fish.

Lunch cafe Vesta

Another place in the Market Hall that I visit regularly is the lunch café Vesta. This place serves very good homemade-like dishes and portions are big enough to satisfy even a bigger appetite. Especially chicken salad and salmon soup are dishes that I eat time after time. Bonus points for good customer service and homemade cakes!

Gastropubs

Besides the Market Hall, one ‘speciality’ that I like in Tampere is the gastropub scene. I have to admit that I had to check, what gastropub means by definition (even if I know what it is in reality): Merriam-Webster: “a pub, bar, or tavern that offers meals of high quality” orr Oxford Living Dictionaries: “A pub that specializes in serving high-quality food.” So good food and drinks in a pub should be a fine translation?

Soho

Gastropub Soho has been my favourite pub in Tampere since it was founded in 2004. The reason it became my pub was that the othes pub nearby, O’Connell’s (a really good pub, too), was always very crowded when we went there to watch some Premier League football with my friends. So when Soho was opened 50 meters away, we changed the place and there we have stayed since then.

The food (hamburgers, fish’n’chips, English breakfast etc) is really good in the pub food scene and beers by local Nordic Brewery are very decent as well. The bar staff are friendly and professional, too. For me Soho really is a public house: it is possible to meet friends almost every time I go there. One of the reason for this might be that Soho has its own football teams that I have played in (and two ice hockey and a Finnish baseball team, too).

There are also many dj nights in Soho, a pub quiz (in Finnish) on Thursdays and Premier League (+other major football leagues) is shown on screens. During match days the venue might get really crowded, so if you plan to watch a game in Soho, you should go there in advance, not when the game starts. And it has to be said, that if there is a ManC game, it has always a priority if there are several TV matches at the same time.

Other gastropubs

Besides Soho, there are other gastropubs owned by same owner. Two of them, Tuulensuu and Nordic, are my alternative favourites, if I want to have some variation in pub visits. The former is a Belgian style pub, while the latter is—as the name indicates—more of a Nordic style pub. Gastropub Tuulensuu has been awarded many times for its beer selection. The only ‘problem’ for me is that it is situated in the western part of the city center. Gastropub Nordic, by contrast, is located very close to Soho (which makes it a bit problematic place to visit for me). But in any case, these two are really good choices for a pub night at Tampere.

And in the summer you should pay a visit to Rillinki, which is located in the Hämeenpuisto Park on the western end of Hämeenkatu (the main street). It this only place that I know in Finland that serves Kapsalon, a traditional street food from Rotterdam!

The Sauna Capital of the World – Tampere activities part 2

Sunset at Rauhaniemi in 2018

In the previous text about activities in Tampere I dealt with activities in and around nature. As Tampere is—at least in the Finnish scale—a city, I think it is a correct thing to write something about more urban, but really Finnish, experiences. In this article, I will tell you something about public saunas in Tampere.

Tampere has quite an extensive network of public saunas. Even on such a scale that the city declared itself as the Sauna Capital of the World. I am not sure, how many international recognitions this unilateral declaration has received, but that doesn’t make it any less of a brave declaration.

Rauhaniemen kansankylpylä

This public sauna is one of my favourites and Rauhaniemi area serves as an excellent swimming place during summer. Before, I used to visit Rauhaniemi mainly in the winter, as I was a dedicated winter swimming enthusiast (which is something very nice to try, by the way). Nowadays summer has become my favourite time to visit Rauhaniemi. The swimming place is build on a rocky surroundings and I have never been very fond of beaches, so Rauhaniemi feels like home for me.

These days Rauhaniemi is sometimes so popular (a lot of Erasmus students, too) that the saunas have are working on a limit of their capacity. Luckily there are two saunas to choose from and the peak hours don’t last long.

Tullin Sauna (edit. 2019: no longer active)

Other sauna that I would take my visitors to, is a newcomer in the scene. Tullin Sauna is situated at Tulli area, very close to the University and Tampere Hall. The venue has also an excellent restaurant and you can take the drinks from the bar to sauna as well. Sauna fee includes everything you need: a towel, a seat cover and a mug for drinking (tap water). And if you don’t have your swimming suit with you, you can borrow one here.

The manager of this sauna, Ville Virkki, has also an accommodation business just across the street: Dream Hotel & Hostel has been awarded numerous prizes so it could also provide you with place to sleep. But back to sauna: the design of the venue is a combination of urban industrial style and Nordic minimalism. It takes into account the industrial history of the building it is situated in. And even grey concrete can be quite stylish!

Tullin Sauna after it had been opened in April 2018.

Other saunas

Quite close to Rauhaniemen kansankylpylä, there is also other public sauna: Kaupinoja. This one is heated in the traditional way, by wood. In the sauna culture of Tampere there are those that tell you that Kaupinoja is the only proper sauna to visit while others are great fans of Rauhaniemi (Could there be a correlation on which of the two main ice hockey teams people are supporting…). I like them both, so I would advice to choose either of these saunas or then visit both and develop your own opinion.

Last time I visited Kaupinoja (January 2019) I made an observation that the winter swimming has become popular with young people, too. Of course, this could have something to do with Friday night, but even the Finnish news have been telling that new generations have found the joys of winter swimming. And for traditional public saunas, this is a great thing to hear!

If I am writing about public saunas in Tampere, there’s one that I cannot pass in this article. Rajaportin sauna is the oldest public sauna in Finland that is still in business. The sauna is also different from the others described above as it has separate sections for men and women. The history of the sauna explains this as being a result of new rules in the 1920s and 1930s that forbade men and women bathing at the same saunas. Therefore, they first built a curtain and then, after a while, a wall between the sauna departments. Rajaportti is really a sight, so don’t miss this on your sauna tour.

One of the more special saunas—a bit outside the city—is Peronsaari sauna. It is a city owned sauna situated in the island of Peronsaari in the middle of lake Näsijärvi. So to visit this sauna you will either need a boat or a steamboat lift (we have done a couple of charter cruises here with steamboat Näsijärvi II).

Visit Tampere has done a great work in drafting an extensive list of public and rented saunas in the region, so if you’re fond of Finnish sauna, be sure to check their list.

Wonderful tourism services at Tampere, part 1

Life-buoys of s/s Näsijärvi II

When I started this blog, one of my aims was to present some tourism service providers which I use myself or that I am interested in. So this listing is the first one in the series of presenting excellent service providers at Tampere.

Steamboat Näsijärvi II aka ‘Nässy’

I have spent quite a few hours with this old lady, built in 1929. The steamboat is operated by a voluntary crew (of which I am part, too) and the purpose of this work is to preserve a fine piece of industrial and transport history for the following generations as well. Nässy is owned by an association founded in 2017 and it arranges charter cruises for anyone interested in renting an old steamer. So why would anyone want to charter a steamboat like ‘Nässy’? Well, it is always nice and relaxing to spend time on lake but sailing with a steamboat is even more so. First of all, steam engine makes almost no sound at all (it is abot 120 rounds per minute, compared with diesel engines of over 1000 rounds and in the steam engine steam pressure does the work so there’s no burning (‘explosion’) in the engine). Second, the feeling you get when you are burning birch wood as your fuel (in the furnaces under the boiler) is a bit different from burning oil: and you get the daily exercise when loading that fuel aboard! Third, history is always interesting and with a steamboat like Nässy you can really feel being part of a chain of past generations: it is a living museum. Last, the tourist season is not very short: we made the last voyage of 2018 in the end of October with snow everywhere! It is a totally different experience steaming in cold weather if you happen to be in Finland that time. www.nasijarvi2.fi

s/s Näsijärvi at Ruovesi in October 2018. (Picture: Sampo Rajala)

Experience and Activity Services Villipihlaja

Villipihlaja offers different activities that are more or less connected to the Finnish nature (and to me due to family and web design reasons). The company is new, founded in 2019, but I got the chance to test one of the activities, “Sense Trail” (direct translation, sorry folks), in its pilot phase. In this activity, you could sense the nature with all of your five senses. What I found most interesting, was tasting different nature tastes eyes blindfolded. The other great thing was walking barefoot on top of a soft ‘moss carpet’. Let’s see how these activity packages are going to sell! Of course, I have to advertise that Villipihlaja also sells steamboat Näsijärvi II as a part of one of its packages for companies!

Author listening to sounds of the nature. (Picture: Karoliina Laitinen)

Nordic skating

A couple of years ago I got really charmed by Nordic skating or tour skating. The first taste was given by the local activity company Hiking Travel, Hit which has rental equipment available for Nordic skating (and other activities as well) next to the skating lane on lake Näsijärvi. Hit also arranges skating tours for people with not that much skating experience. But I have to say that the skating lane—as wonderful as it is—was just the beginning in my journey to the world of skating. The ‘big world’ really opened up when I joined the Finnish Nordic Skating association. After that I have been on many wonderful skating tours on lakes at and around Tampere. The Finnish winter provides excellent possibilities for Nordic skating (if it isn’t snowing too much). Other skating lanes besides the one on lake Näsijärvi (at/near Tampere): – TohloppiSaarikylät

Nordic Skating at Lake Näsijärvi
Nordic Skating at Lake Näsijärvi

Kauppi Forest

The forests at Kauppi park are a place where I can really let got and get relaxed. It is wonderful that 10 minutes walk from home you can find yourself in a place which reminds you of national park. I especially like the trails next to the lake Näsijärvi. With a lot of tree roots on trail, beautiful scenery and few people one can feel being part of the surrounding nature.

Tree roots at Kauppi trails.

But I think now the first part of my Tampere articles is at its end. I’ll continue next with slightly different activities, saunas!

Thoughts about tourism and research

I got the idea about starting this blog when I was building a website for Villipihlaja experience and activity service provider—website design is something I also do now and then. I started wondering, if I would like to write something more creative about travel and tourism as I am working with tourism research every day at TAK Research. But I guess that the research background will always be visible on my texts: but at least I can imagine of writing creative texts.

On this blog, I will examine different tourism services at my home town, in Finland and perhaps outside Finland as well. Only time will show what kind of texts there will be, but I will begin with activities and thing that I like myself. I guess there will also be articles about my PhD research as well.

My background

I got interested about tourism and travel when I began to work aboard s/s Tarjanne as a first mate in 2001. Tarjanne is a steamer sailing the same route it has sailed since 1908 between Tampere and Virrat. After working there I found myself studying tourism in the University of Joensuu (now UEF). My major subject at the University of Tampere was history and the tourism studies were really useful in understanding the phenomenon of tourism more profoundly. At the same time I began to get interested in tourism sector as a potential place for finding a “real job”. (Even though I always say that my real job is the one as a steamboat captain and chief engineer and I just do something else for living in the wintertime…)

I wrote my Master’s thesis (in Finnish only) about steamboat traffic on lake Näsijärvi 1918–1939. In that piece, I managed to combine the two very important issues to me: steamboats and tourism. After graduation, I found myself working at the Research and Education Centre Synergos with several tourism research projects. One short project led to another and so on. This period lasted for eight years (2008–16) after which I started to work with my PhD project about InterRail in the 1970s and 1980s. I worked as a full-time PhD researcher for one year and I got recruited to TAK research at the same time (2016). At the moment (2019) I am still working at TAK and my research work there consists mainly about tourism economic impacts, foreign tourists in Finland and tourism stats. I am also trying to write my PhD thesis at the same time and in the summertime you can find me aboard different Finnish steamboats.

So I am familiar with tourism as a (applied) research but this blogging thing is totally new for me. Let’s see what happens!