We said cheerio to Jenny & Creighton as they headed to Vaasa. Five minutes later and we too were heading South. We planned on covering a bit of ground today but 30 kilometres in to the journey and we were parked up. We couldn’t resist a little look at a lovely church and building, so pulled over for a toot.
A looked around the outside, the immaculate grounds and well tended war memorials were a credit to the gardener. We stepped inside the church to be greeted by a friendly lady. She welcomed us and started talking in Finnish. We explained no Finnish only English. At times like this we so wish we could speak just a few Finnish sentences. When she realised we were English she guided us to some information on the church.
We stood reading the leaflet and the next minute, a young lady appeared. Anni spoke excellent English and she gave us a personal guided tour of the church and an overview of its history. Two elder ladies helped with the detail and she kindly translated in to English.
The wooden church built in 1794 has undergone several repairs over the years but the fundament foundations remain the same. The latest addition, a central heating system to keep the congregation warm in winter and a new church organ. Anni pointed out several original objects like the number board and the beautiful 18th century alter but the most fascinating item was the suspended votive church boat. Fascinating because of the story, it was donated by a German sailor. When the sea froze, the German naval ship would dock here during winter and it was the sailor’s role to guard it. He grew very fond of the church and the people, so he donated to protect everyone from worldly storms.
In Finland, the chapel of rest is held within the grounds of the church along the the Parish Hall. The Parish is also responsible for registration of all births, marriages and deaths, so a pretty key part of the community. Anni showed us around all the various buildings and introduced us to her co-worker who does a variety of activities for the parish.
It was Anni’s first week working at the Parish and so she was rather apologetic for her lack of knowledge, but you know what, it didn’t matter. Her welcoming smile, her little laugh and her desire to help really touched us. Anni and her colleagues really did go out their way to show us their church but what they really showed us is the overwhelming friendliness of Finnish people. If anyone is in the area we would certainly recommend you stop by to see the church but more importantly experience the warm welcome of Himanka Church and its community, it really is something rather special.
Just before we left, Anni suggested we visit to Ontakari just 10 kilometres away…so we did but on route, we stopped at Luhtaja museum.
This small museum created by the local community contains a number of buildings – windmill, soldiers quarters, barn and sauna, all of which are just set in a small field. Inside a small house is the museum and what an Aladin’s cave. It was full of historic items from the area ranging from personal letters and belongings to industrial tools like spinners and farm tools. It was excellent and the young guide was fabulous. She showed us around pointing out all the important objects on display and sharing her knowledge of the collection.
The Lohtajan museum is only open in summer but it is free to enter and supported by volunteers. Kaisa had just graduated and along with her younger brother, she looked after the museum. It really is a hidden gem of a find and this tiny community collection is what you call a ‘true’ museum. Full of hidden but timeless pieces.
We asked if they prefer to be called Finnish or Finns and after a little hesitation Finnish was their choice. The majority of people speak both Finnish and Swedish, this is down to both schooling and the fact that Finland was once part of Sweden…for over 600 years. In 1809, Finland was incorporated in to Russia but in 1917, it declared its independence. Next year, Finland will celebrate 100 years as a country.
Time to find a spot for the night, so we continued on to Ontakari island. What a hidden little gem. Overall, this is classed as part of Vattajaniemi, which is the longest beach in Scandinavia. This place is certainly rather special and very beautiful. The narrow headland with beaches on both sides, shallow waters is dotted with plenty picnic spots.
The tiny island is part military zone (but we didn’t seeany military personnel) and part recreational. Half a dozen little wooden huts with a dedicated caravan parking spot and service facility. Free services including toilets and BBQ hut. We could not suss out if the parking spots were private, so we grabbed the iPad and used our new Google translate app. It was excellent – you point the camera at the sign and it instantly translates for you, so the image you see on screen is in English. Brilliant.
We couldn’t find the payment hut, so we headed back to the beach parking and joined the line of Finnish camper vans enjoying the early evening sunshine and ocean breeze. I took the dogs for another swim in the sea and we fully enjoyed our mad hour. Darting between chasing and chewing a donated pink rubber swim ring, digging in the sand and splashing from rock to rock. Mean while back at base Craig prepared a BBQ fit for a king, which we thoroughly enjoyed along with a chilled beer. The dudes enjoyed another sausage, too. But it wasn’t long before the mosquito’s appeared and drove us all in to Vin.
Today, was one of those days we will look back and remember just like our Forest Rangers in Italy. Not just because of the things we discovered but because of the people. The people who showed us a little of the Finnish culture in a very humble and warming way. Thank you.
Our wild camping spot, on the tiny island of Ontakari. Surrounded by beautiful beaches, flat calm sea and 1,000,001 mosquitos.
Wild Camping GPS position N064.084380 N023.413731
Route: Kalajoki to Ontakari