Cruising the Finnish roads near Savonlinna, my mind wandered off to the adventure that lay ahead. I felt excited and intimidated at the same time. From the moment I received Pascal and Martta’s wedding invitation, I pictured myself hiking in one of Finland’s National Parks. Just me and my camera. A few years ago I would have dismissed it as unrealistic or too dangerous to attempt. Now, after starting Nomoremovies, I decided to let go of my uncertainties and just went for it.
Finland’s National Parks
Booking my plane ticket was only the first step, figuring out which trail to hike proved a much bigger challenge! Finland has so many stunning regions and each of those comes with an abundance of trails.
If my recent trip to London taught me anything it is to refrain myself from cramming too much activities into one trip. Instead I try to add some buffers to my itineraries, allowing myself to sidetrack when opportunity presents itself. Over-prepared but still flexible enough to go with the flow whenever I feel like it. For Finland I had to be realistic: I only had three to four days to travel around so that ruled out Husky sledding in Lapland, watching bears in Rovaniemi or witnessing Northern Lights from a glass igloo. Instead I focused on finding that special hiking opportunity, not too far from Helsinki.
To help me in my search, my good friend Ysbrand gave me his copy of the Lonely Planet’s guide to Finland. After reading the following passage, I settled for visiting Lakeland from Savonlinna:
Most of Finland could be dubbed lakeland, but around here it seems there’s more water than terra firma. And what water: sublime, sparkling and clean. Reflecting sky and forests as clearly as a mirror, it leaves an indelible expression.
On Linnansaari: This scenic National Park (www.outdoors.fi) consists of Haukavesi lake and hundreds of uninhabited islands;
the main activity centres around the largest island, Linnansaari, which has marked trails. As well as seals, rare birds, including Ospreys, can also be seen. The best way to experience the park is renting a
kayak and spending a few days exploring. Rowboats, motorboats, kayaks, canoes and camping equipment can be hired from Saimaaholiday, an excellent co-operative with a comprehensive range of services and advice, as well as great accommodation options at the two main park access points. It can book the huts on Linnansaari island and organise activities, this region is tops in winter too, with a skating track right across the lake, ice-fishing and showshoe walks.
– The Lonely Planet at amazon.co.uk
Keeping it safe
Having no death wish, I scrapped all activities that could end up with me drowning at sub-zero temperature. To be honest: hiking solo was enough adventure for one day. As Nuuksio was just a short drive away from Helsinki you were never the only hiker there. Linnansaari on the other hand is situated in the middle of Lake Saimaa. At approximately 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 sq mi), Saimaa is the largest lake in Finland and the fourth largest natural freshwater lake in Europe. It was formed by glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age.
During summer you can rent cottages on Linnansaari and a daily ferry ships in a steady flow of visitors. Tourism picks up again in December. During October and November however, the island is completely deserted. If you want to visit the island then, you need to book a private Taxi Boat a few days up front. Luckily I had figured that out when putting together my itinerary back home. When I got to Oravi, the people at Saimaaholiday confirmed what I had expected: I would be the only living soul on the entire island!
Circular trail on Linnansaari
The taxi boat sped past several smaller islands, bumping up and down along the way. It was freezing cold and the wind cut off my breath. Nevertheless, it was one of those moments where you feel truly alive. Being surrounded by unspoiled nature makes you put everything in perspective. Somehow it feels more natural than our daily lives. I absolutely love it! The gear I bought for this trip proved very efficient in protecting me from cold and rain, a comforting notion as there was a good chance it would start snowing that day.
Seeing the boat leaving me there was surreal. It hit me: I was thousands of kilometers away from home… completely alone on an island at zero degrees Celsius. This was the location I decided to visit just a few weeks ago. Now I was standing on the exact spot I had circled in my guidebook. Realizing that you have the power to make that happen in just a few weeks time is so powerful. It makes you feel in complete control of your life and your future, a feeling I’m sure a lot of us have felt slipping through their fingers in this rat race called “life”.
I took out my drinking thermos and drank some water. If you usually don’t drink enough during hiking, try getting dehydrated in Peru at 4000 meters altitude. Trust me, you’ll never forget to drink again! As soon as I found my first orange circle I took out my camera and started walking, secretly hoping that the guy who painted those markings had not been sloppy.
Circular trail, 7 km, is the most popular hiking trail in the park. The trail is in quite difficult terrain, and it is marked with orange circles. The trail goes through varying landscape, including herb-rich forests and grove-like moist forests. The duckboard bridge with handrails, which crosses Linnansaarenlampi Pond, can be slippery when it rains or snows. Sturdy shoes are needed on the trails of Linnansaari. The trail goes to Linnavuori Rock scenic lookout place, where the view over the lake landscape of Haukavesi is worth seeing. Walking this trail takes about 4 hours.
Walking the walk
The trail was challenging at some points but I enjoyed it every step of the way. Pascal had warned me about Finland’s trees turning golden in as early as September. So by October most of their branches were bare. To make my photos more interesting I kept my fingers crossed for some snow. As you can see in my Youtube video below, I got what I asked for…
As I took my photos I felt truly blessed for being able to do this and for – most importantly – finally having the courage to leave my comfortable couch. If I’m truly honest with myself the biggest obstacle was never really the money, it was lacking the willpower to change my priorities around. Tv’s, cinema visits, video games and blu-rays cost a lot of money too, you know.
As I mentioned in Halfway There… I spent most of my teenage and young adult life watching movies or playing games cooped up at home. All the while this beautiful nature and these amazing experiences were only a few hours away. A few hours! Yet at the time – and I think I’m not alone in this – these things something for… “later”.
You know what?
“Later” will always remain “later” unless you start doing them NOW. So dust off that bucket list of yours and promise yourself to tick off at least one item in 2017.
Tribute to Myst
Playing hundreds of videogames results in a peculiar side-effect whenever you travel. You start comparing real life experiences to previous gaming experiences. When visiting Firenze, seeing the Duomo for the first time, I whispered to Sofie: “It’s exactly how I remember!” Of course I was referring to that time I visited the very same spot as Ezio Auditore in Assassin’s Creed II.
Exploring a deserted island with signs of a previous settlement gave me a déjà vu to a computer game I had played 22 years earlier: Myst. What really set that game apart for me was its eerie atmosphere. It may have been a peaceful puzzle game but the soundtrack and visuals gave you a discomforting sense of foreboding. You could never shake the feeling that something bad had happened or was about to happen.
While exploring Linnansaari, I couldn’t help thinking about that game. So I took the idea of using my photos to create a tribute to Myst and ran with it.
The ten-minute video below can be seen as a creative blend between the fantasy-worlds I used to visit and the real-life experiences I’m chasing now with Nomoremovies. My little experiment takes you on a walking tour of Linnansaari island in October while trying to capture that eerie atmosphere of the Myst videogame.
I hope you enjoy it!
Feel free to share and let me know what you think in the comments below!
- Interested in reading more on Finland’s magnificent National Parks?
- If you are interested in visiting Finland, there’s not better place to start than getting the Lonely Planet guide. It’s on sale!
- Interested in how to keep your camera handy for shooting, while keeping your hands free? Go over to Peak Design. They make excellent things!
- Want to see more videos of mine? Subscribe to my YouTube channel.
- Interested in playing Myst and its many sequels? You can get the game on gog.com or in the app store.
- Want to hear more of this music, check out the Myst soundtrack by Robyn Miller on Apple Music or Spotify. Ysbrand – the biggest Myst-fan I know – would urge you to check out the Riven soundtrack as well. He claims it’s even better!