Table 794: Tampere – Vaasa, Oulu, Kolari and Rovaniemi

PART 1

This month we will be exploring Finland, starting in the city of Tampere and travelling to Vaasa on the west coast and then continuing north to Oulu, Kolari and Rovaniemi.

Tampere is the second largest urban area in Finland, situated between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi. Tampere railway station was built in 1936 with approximately 80 departures a day. The journey time from Finland’s capital,Helsinki, is around 1 hour 30 minutes making it an ideal day trip.

It is renowned for being the sauna capital of the world with over 30 public saunas to choose from to make your stay relaxing after taking in the Finnish culture. Tampere Cathedral, located on the east side of the city, was designed by Lars Sonck and built between 1902 and 1907. It is particularly famous for its frescoes painted by Hugo Simberg.

One of the main tourist attractions is Särkänniemi amusement park. The park features an aquarium, a planetarium, a children’s zoo, an art museum and an observation tower Näsinneula (Näsi Needle).

Our journey next week to Vaasa sees us travelling 233 kilometres on the Finnish national railway (VR-Yhtymä Oy), taking around 2 hours 10 minutes and with frequent services running throughout the day.

PART 2

This week we will be continuing our journey in Finland. Last week we looked at Tampere and now we have travelled to Vaasa on the west coast.

Home to the only Finnish UNESCO natural heritage site, the unique Kvarken Archipelago in Vaasa and Sweden’s High Coast are a joint World Heritage Site on UNESCO’s list. Traces of the Ice Age and continuous land uplift feature the both sides.You can reach most of the sights with a car or a boat. Other options to explore the archipelago are to cycle, to kayak, to hike or to hop on a world heritage cruise. At the gateway to this World Heritage site stands Finland’s longest bridge, the Replot bridge and you can see the stunning scenery and Replot Harbour with its red boat houses.

The city of Vaasa is renowned for its art and history. The Old Vaasa town, also popularly known as Vanhan Vaasa in the ancient part of the city, was destroyed by fire in 1852 and the town is entirely in ruins. An interesting place to see one of the few remaining buildings is St Mary’s Stone Church, the 17th Century Church where the city evolved from.

Some of the many museums and galleries worth visiting include Brages friluftsmuseum, a unique open-air museum featuring a 19th century farmhouse. The museum displays various materials from the period of 1890 and even features a coastal area with a fishing cabin, smoke sauna, and whirlpool. The exhibits display the fact of how fishing once used to be an important earning method to sustain a livelihood.

For art lovers, Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art named after art collector Consul Simo Kuntsi (1913–1984), and the art collection of the foundation established by him is considered one of the most important collections of modern and contemporary art in Finland.

Vaasa Church was constructed  in 1869 in an English Neo-Gothic style and attracts many visitors, with a capacity of 900 people and a vault downstairs. The surroundings of the Church are stunning and feature a hanging dew tree on a dove.

PART 3

Our next stop on our journey to Oulu is Seinäjoki in South Ostrobothnia, a growing city known for its architecture, cultural events and sporting activities. Highlights include the buildings of the Aalto Centre, designed by Alvar Aalto, such as Lakeuden Risti Church, the town hall, the library and the City Theatre. Additionally there are museums where you can explore bygone aspects of life in Ostrobothnia and also a variety of shops, boutiques and restaurants.

Our next stop is the historic city of Kokkola in the Central Ostrobothnia region. Check out the Neristan district in the centre of Kokkola, known as “The Old Wooden Town”. The wooden houses are idyllic and over 200 years old.

Continuing on our journey we pass the small town of Ylivieska before reaching Oulu in central Finland. Oulu is Finland’s fourth largest city spread across several islands which are connected by a series of bridges. It combines culture, modern technology and nature. There are numerous museums in the city, including Tietomaa Science Centre, an interactive museum with over 150 exhibits and a digital 3D cinema screen and The Northern Ostrobothnia Museum focuses on the city’s cultural history.

Rotuaari is Oulu’s buzzing shopping area with shopping malls, boutique shops, and a thriving restaurant and café scene. Situated on the waterfront is Kauppatori, a lively Market Square with typical Finnish wooden houses, restaurants, bars and craft shops.

North of the city centre you will find beautiful parks including Hupisaaret Park full of streams, bridges and a great variety of trees and plants.

PART 4

Our Finnish odyssey continues from Oulu to Kolari. First stop along the way is the small town of Kemi, situated 90 minutes south of the Arctic Circle. Kemi is home to the world’s largest snow castle, sculpted from saltwater ice and snow and with year-round tours available. Other attractions include a unique tour of the Icebreaker Sampo, and the Gemstone Gallery with replicas of the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain, a lavish diamond necklace of Marie Antoinette and thousands of precious stones and gems.

Continuing on we reach Kolari, the most northerly railway station in Finland. Kolari is located in the province of Lapland and famous for ranches, skiing, national parks and water skiing. Finland’s most popular ski resort of Ylläs is located in Kolari with the ski season running from October to May. One of the most famous attractions in the area is the Northern Lights, a spectacular natural phenomenon which is a common sight in the night sky above Ylläs from January to March.

Other popular attractions nearby include Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, an ideal place to view the arctic landscape and explore the many hiking trails on offer. All Huskies Oy offer Husky Safaris, giving you the opportunity to drive a two person sleigh and spend time with the dogs.

PART 5

On the final leg of our journey in Finland we reach Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, in northern Finland. This modern city is best known worldwide for being the home town of Santa Claus and the gateway to the Arctic Circle.

Rovaniemi offers many unique attractions in both summer and winter and is a convenient base for nearby activities. The city centre is quaint and compact with shops, restaurants, cafes and, in the lead up to the festive period, traditional Christmas markets. The city centre is also within walking distance of many attractions including the main square, named after the local band Lordie, who won the Eurovision Song Contest for Finland in 2006. The Arktikum Museum and Science Centre explores the region’s history and culture, including the science behind the Northern Lights. Another notable attraction is the Korundi House of Culture, home of the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland and the Rovaniemi Art Museum.

You can’t stay in Rovaniemi without visiting Santa Claus Village which is open all year round. The highlight will be meeting Santa Claus himself! The village is located on the Arctic Circle line which is clearly signposted in the main plaza.

Other highlights include hiking the popular ‘two bridges walk’ (which combines the old railway bridge and the Lumberjack’s Candle bridge), ice floating in survival suits, ice fishing, reindeer and husky rides, and not forgetting the Northern Lights, typically visible for about 150 nights of the year starting in August through to April. If you visit in the summer, from June to early September, you can experience the Midnight Sun.

Route No. 49: “A Baltic Journey”

As a continuing feature we will be highlighting a selected route from our guidebook ‘Europe by Rail’ written by Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries, every week.  Below is an extract from the book. To find out more, the guidebook can be purchased through our website for £15.99.

This week we are looking at: Route No. 49: “A Baltic Journey” which runs from Helsinki, Finland through Estonia and ending in Riga, Latvia.
Route 49 is an adventurous journey through recent European history, one that along the way links three capital cities and takes in some serenely beautiful landscapes. It is a journey that will test the patience of travellers bent on speed, for trains in the Baltic States are slow. The journey splits neatly into four legs: one by boat and then three by train, ending in Riga.

Tallinn (suggested stopover)
Over the past years, Tallinn has become something of a tourist Mecca both for Finns on booze cruises and western Europeans exploring further afield. Lauded by some to be the Prague of the Baltic States, the old parts of the town are compact, manageable and a delight to explore on foot both during the day and at night. Nightlife in Tallinn goes on into the small hours particularly on the long summer nights (the summer season is very short, so locals and visitors need to take advantage of it while it is there). Live music is common and there is a vibrant atmosphere around town. In the old part of Tallinn you will find attractive cobbled streets, picturesque painted houses, churches and fortifications. Against a stretch of the mediaeval wall surrounding the Old Town, which can be entered through a number of gates, there is a craft market, specialising in traditionally patterned fishermen’s knitwear and multi-bobbled hats. Katariina käik is an atmospheric alley tenanted by craftswomen and is lined with ancient gravestones.