With 1.5 days off last week and not having enough time to make a trip to another country, my Finnish teammate Piia invited Liz and I to spend Sunday and Monday in her hometown of Kokkola. The idea of getting out of Jyväskylä for a couple of days sounded appetizing, so we took her up on the offer and headed to Kokkola. This small town (36,000+ people) sits on the Gulf of Bothnia, 3 hours northwest of Jyväskylä.
After enjoying the sunny scenic view from the back of Piia’s car, we finally arrived at her sister’s house where we would be staying the night. Piia’s sister, her husband and adorable nephew welcomed us with open arms. Even though they spoke very little English, they made us feel at home and insisted upon cooking a traditional Finnish lunch. Hungry and tired from the drive we didn’t argue and plopped on the couch to watch Ratatouille with Piia’s 5-year-old nephew Veeti. He is so cute! Watching TV with the wood fire burning and the smell of food in the air, I realized how much I missed being in a house. I’ve been living in an apartment ever since arriving here at the end of October. This isn't a bad thing, but I was starting to go stir-crazy! I hadn’t spent time in a house since being home for Christmas and it was definitely a nice change.
Lunch was fantastic – Finnish meatballs, mashed potatoes, fresh bread, meats and cheeses. I was definitely refueled and ready to explore the small town of Kokkola. Thanking her sister for a delicious lunch, we jumped into Piia’s car ready for our adventure. She drove us around the city acting as a tour guide while giving us a running history on the small town. It’s one of the oldest in Finland, used to be a part of Sweden, is a big vacation spot in the summer, is known for it’s tar trade and is one of the few towns in Finland where signs are in both Finnish and Swedish. The city is bilingual with 20% of the people speaking Swedish as their first language. After shopping downtown, we headed for the beaches…well, beaches during the summer months! It was great to look out on the ocean and breathe in the ocean air. As soon as we entered Kokkola I could feel a difference. Being a west coast girl and living by the ocean all my life, I welcomed the crisp moistness of sea air. I love it and definitely missed it. However, the ocean looked a little different than what I’m used to. Have you ever seen an ocean frozen as far as you can see? I have and it’s surreal. The water was completely frozen. No crashing waves or visible whitecaps – I literally walked on water! Piia said that as a teenager her and her friends would take their cars out and have races on the frozen ocean…um, even though it’s frozen and freezing, you would never catch me doing that! We spotted land in the distance and Liz and I joked we could see the Swedish coast. It became the running theme of the weekend. Surprisingly we weren’t that far off. Separated by water, Sweden is only 100 kms from Kokkola.As our tour came to an end, it was time to visit Piia’s dad before dinner. Driving far into the forest, I was beginning to wonder if Piia was trying to kidnap us! After 20 minutes on a dark secluded road, we finally arrived at his home deep in the woods. Built on 300+ acres this was definitely a place you could call home. Quite the charmer, Piia’s dad and wife made a fuss to make sure we felt at home. They brought out food while we discussed hockey, Vancouver and Montreal – all while in front of a warm and fragrant wood-burning fireplace. After chatting and getting to know one another better, it was time to leave for dinner. Piia’s dad insisted on showing us the huge backyard before we departed. Trekking through the snow, we finally got a sense of his acreage even though it was pitch black out. He explained how he chops his own wood and enjoys the isolation in his home away from town; then educated us on moose which he sees on a daily basis in the backyard. Apparently they are abundant in Finland and cause over 100 deaths each year (hitting them with a car). These large animals weight up to 1100 pounds and are hunted for game in Finland. I really wanted to see one during my trip to Kokkola, but no matter how hard I looked, I wasn’t successful.
(Click play to watch the video above!)
We thanked Piia’s dad and wife for their hospitality and were off to dinner. Since all I ever talk about is how I miss Mexican food, Piia had just the place – a Mexican restaurant, the first I’ve seen in Finland! The restaurant was hilarious, not only did it have a Mexican theme, but a Native Indian theme as well. It was bizarre. There were Mexican blankets, sombreros and cacti integrated with Native Indian headdresses, spears, buffalo and teepees. Hmmm...nevertheless, my fajitas were great and my craving was fullfiled.
Stuffed from dinner, we decided to walk around the “old town” that was built during the 17th century. It was cool looking at the historical buildings and wandering down the narrow streets. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good pictures as it was dark, snowing and my hands were frozen! After losing all feeling in our faces we headed back to Piia’s sisters. As I lay down in bed I found that I truly enjoyed my visit to Kokkola. Piia’s family are great people who went out of their way to make sure we felt welcome and had a good time. Even with a language barrier we were able to converse and share stories of home. What a great weekend, one that allowed me to explore and experience a different part of Finland.
Sidenote: If you’d like to see videos I’ve recorded in Finland click here. Be sure to view Finnish weather!