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Lahti, Finland – Road Trip with My Mother-in-Law

Earlier this year Susann received the news that she was going to the London Book Fair in early April. At the same time, I started to think about what Little A and I would do while she was gone. The first thing on the agenda was to request a week of vacation. The last time Susann had a trip to London in 2020, Litte A and I headed for Malta just in time for the Corona outbreak in Europe. Susann got stuck at home that time, while we enjoyed the sunshine. This time Susann was able to go and Little A and I had found an activity for the week. We were heading to Finland together with my mother-in-law for a road trip to Lahti. It was a week when we met many of my wife’s aunts and even a cousin. Luckily, my mother-in-law did her best in translating Finnish, as my Finnish language skills are limited to a few words.

MS Baltic Princess to Turku

Little A was already on the Åland Islands with her grandparents when I during the early morning of last Sunday headed to the port Värtahamnen in Stockholm. The plan was for me to drive onboard in Stockholm and Little A and her grandmother to board when the ship made port in Mariehamn on the Åland Islands.

MS Baltic Princess is owned by Tallink and operated under the brand Silja Line. Its home port is Mariehamn on the Åland Islands and it currently traffics the route between Stockholm and Turku. It made its maiden voyage in 2008 but has started to leave its prime years behind in comparison with the new giants of the Baltic Sea.

I had a small cabin so that I could sleep for a few hours while I waited on our arrival in Mariehamn and the boarding of my travel companions. I had been looking forward to it since the ferry departed already at 7 AM. But first I made sure to get some breakfast on board at the breakfast buffet.

Little A and her grandmother boarded at 2 PM Finnish time and it felt so special to have your daughter running into your arms for a hug. She had really looked forward to the ferry ride, she learned early on that the ferries had large playrooms and other fun activities. But first, we made sure to go to the duty-free shop. There is one on the ferries making a stop at the Åland Islands. We wanted to see if we found anything of interest. We also had a late lunch reservation at the ship’s buffet, which meant that Little A could get the meatballs and the pasta bolognese that she had asked for. Not to mention all the deserts. We even had time for the playroom before our arrival in Turku around 7 PM.

A Night in Paimio

After disembarkation, we headed straight out of Turku. It is a beautiful city to explore, but we really wanted to arrive at our evening’s destination prior to sunset. We were heading to Paimio, a small town a short drive to the east of Turku. Here we spent a night at the house of one of Susann’s cousins while the temperature outside started to drop below freezing again. It might be April, but the snow has not started to disappear in Finland.

This was also where Little A had the first opportunity to play with one of her many 2nd cousins. Well, this first time the shyness took the upper hand and they didn’t really play together. For my part, this was an evening with plenty of Finnish being spoken around me and I did really not understand anything. Well, except for the parts that Little A and her grandmother translated. It is impressive to see our soon 5-year-old daughter switching between Finnish, Swedish, and English. It might have been a bit chilly during the night, but they really have an interesting building project ongoing here.

A Stop in Hämeenlinna

Once we woke up the next morning we embarked on the main part of our road trip, the drive to Lahti. There are 4 larger routes to choose between and we opted for the one that goes via the town of Hämeenlinna. This is a town that I have wanted to see for some time. Its Swedish name is Tavastehus and it was the capital of the former province known as Tavastia. It is the old history here that is fascinating. The old Häme Castle was built in the 13th century when this area was still a part of Sweden.

Our first stop along the way was outside of the town of Forssa. We were in need of some lunch before arriving in Hämeenlinna and Little A wanted a hamburger. Luckily there is not a lack of hamburger restaurants along the Finnish roads. Afterward, we had just a short drive to Hämeenlinna and were soon standing outside the castle walls. The whole area was still covered in a thick layer of snow and as it was Monday all the museums were closed. Well, we enjoyed a walk to the Military Museum which has a few objects on display that is visible from the outside, and then continued on a walk around the castle. The castle is really impressive and still has that medieval feeling.

But one thing is for sure, it was still quite cold here. The temperature was far below freezing, the wind was increasing, and we were quite happy to head back to the car. We made one last stop at the local shopping mall. While Little A got to play at a small playground under the watch of her grandmother, I headed out for a short walk through the center of Hämeenlinna.

Snow Storm in Lahti

We arrived in Lahti in the late afternoon and headed directly to one of the eastern suburbs. I had visited Lahti twice before, but always with Susann. Now we stayed at the home of one of Susann’s aunts. There we had a relaxing evening where we got to admire the artwork of the aunt’s late husband as well as the almost mandatory sauna. We also took some time to dig into the old records in my genealogy research, trying to find a Riitta Karhu that lived in Kiihtelysvaara during the early years of the 20th century.

It had started to snow during the evening and it continued. It was already plenty of snow when we arrived and more would come. When we woke up in the morning there was already a new white cover on the surrounding landscape. We began the day with a drive to another of Susann’s aunts who joined us to the center of Lahti. Here we visited the Radio Museum. Lahti’s radio towers are famous for surviving several bombing attempts during the Winter War as well as the Continuation War. Here it was the green room that caught both Little A and her grandmother’s attention. Seeing themselves next to a huge cat or dog seemed to be a fun experience.

Our exploration then took us from the museum down to the center of Lahti. The snowfall had increased and so had the wind. We were soon freezing and did eventually not see much of the center this time. Instead, we did some shopping. Little A found a new Pokémon souvenir. Yes, she has fallen in love with Pikachu. Our visit ended with a cup of hot chocolate before fighting the wind and snow on our way back to the car. Just being able to drive again was quite challenging as the cold winds made it hard to disperse the ice that had already formed on the car and its windows. It was a relief to park the car for the night and spend some time shoveling away some of the snow that had fallen during the day instead. There had for sure been plenty of new snow. Now there was a bit more than 10 new centimeters on top of snow that already were here upon our arrival.

Back Towards Turku

After our second night in Lahti, it was time to head back towards Turku. The sun was shining this Wednesday morning and all the new untouched snow made it a beautiful morning. We started the day with a short visit to my mother-in-law’s cousin in nearby Nastola. During the short visit, the sun had disappeared and more snowfall had begun. We were luckily heading south towards Helsinki, taking a different route this time. The bigger road meant fewer problems with the snow and ice. In other words, we could expect an easier drive.

We made our first stop in the town of Mäntsälä. This is where we planned to change direction westwards again, but first a bit of sightseeing and lunch. We found a small pizzeria and enjoyed some food while planning the rest of the trip. Our initial plan had been to take the ferry the next morning, but we were now considering taking the ferry already this evening. All we first had to do was to get back to Paimio in time to pick up two additional travelers. Considering the weather we decided to book the ferry first when we had reached Paimio. Who could tell if there would be any lengthy delays en route or not?

Mäntsälä is a small locality with around 11.000 inhabitants and a surprisingly well-established commercial center. We had a nice walk along its central street to stretch our legs before the much longer drive to the west. Well, I decided to also take a walk and some fresh air in Hyvinkää, just a short drive away. Hyvinkää is a bit bigger with its 46.000 inhabitants and here the many tractors were working hard to remove the snow from the central square and surrounding streets. There were even several trucks being loaded with snow to dispose of it away from the town center. Once back in the car it was straight ahead towards Paimio.

MS Baltic Princess to Stockholm

We arrived in Paimio around 4 PM, which gave us enough time to book the ferry for the evening. The drive from Lahti had taken around three hours, excluding the stops. It was time to book the ferry and it was once more going to be Tallink’s MS Baltic Princess. Joining us was the sister of Little A’s grandmother as well as Little A’s second cousin. They were going to the Åland Islands for the weekend while Little A and I were heading back to Stockholm. The ferry would arrive at the Åland Islands around 1 AM and in Stockholm at 6 AM, so I was hoping for at least some sleep after the others had disembarked until we would arrive in Stockholm. The problem with an inside cabin when crossing a timezone is that you never know if the phone’s clock has been updated or not. Yes, there is an hour difference between Finland and Sweden. One recommendation is to turn off the automatic time update and do it manually. Otherwise, if you are unlucky, you will wake up either an hour too early or an hour too late.

The first hours on board were a nightmare for my ears. But Little A was really happy. She got to play with her cousin. So much so, that it was really hard to get her to relax during our dinner and even worse once our companions had disembarked and we were going to sleep. The result was very few hours of sleep before arriving in Stockholm We were at least almost home and our own bed was waiting on us to finish the rest of our needed sleep. The rearrangement even meant that we arrived home before Susann.

I know that Little A and I enjoyed the trip. Hopefully, that is also the case for my mother-in-law. We will see when we return to Lahti next time. What we do know is that it will most likely happen.

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