Day 32 – Tour de Finlande 2010: Savonlinna – Parikkala

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As I felt a bit tired after cycling uphill and downhill for so many days, I ended up taking a two-day break in Savonlinna. Also because the day before yesterday had been rainy until the afternoon, so I didn't actually visited the town, but I did manage to go and visit the Olavinlinna castle. The castle itself is striking and the guided tour is just a journey through time, from the 15th century, when the castle was built, to the following centuries, when the castle changed owner, from the Swedish to the Russian empire, and finally to independent Finland. It's so big that I definitely need to go back there another time to see the rest of it.

Yesterday the temperature went back to the (nowadays) usual 25-30 degrees, so I had a full cycling tour of Savonlinna, including also a one-hour tour by boat around the whole town which, during these days, is packed with tourists, even because of the Savonlinna Opera Festival that takes place during the whole month of July. Well, the town deserves it. Being surrounded by lakes it has also many wonderful spots to sit down and watch the scenery, or jump in the water so hot it is outside. The whole area is really worth visiting and I still wonder why it took ten years to me before realising it!

This morning I finally managed to leave heading east, but I cycled just an hour to reach the first stop. So many things to see in such a short range! So, the first stop was in Kerimäki, a small town which hosts the biggest wooden church in the world. You can get an idea looking at me in the picture. It may well look just a big church like many others, but think that it is completely made of wood, and it's already 140 years old. And apart from the many anecdotes about why such a big church for a town of a few thousand people, the reality is that it was made out of wood instead of bricks because at the time the parish couldn't afford it. Wood instead was instead widely available and reasonably cheap. I wonder whether nowadays things are reversed.

After Kerimäki it was time to head south (as going still east would bring me directly in Russia) to get to Punkaharju with its 6 km sand esker, which was used in the ancient times as an important travelling route. This sand ridge has been created during the Ice Age, and similar ones can be found in other areas here in the north, but this one has the particularity of having water on both sides. It is just wonderful to cycle on the road that is on the top of it, surrounded by the lake. I had also the chance to swim in a fantastic fine sandy beach. 

In Punkaharju you can also find a forest protected area, which acts as a research park of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, hosting a huge variety of different trees, all marked with explanation signs. In the area there are is also the Lusto Forest Museum, which I didn’t have time to visit (too many things!) and the Retretti Art Centre, a bizarre art exhibition centre hidden in a cavern below the ground. It has several temporary exhibitions, this summer it has eight (it really is a huge cavern that goes down deep in the ground!). Among the paintings, I was impressed by Elin Danielson-Gambogi’s Köyhä tyttö (poor girl). I should try to find a poster of it.

Fortunately today I had the chance to take several alternative routes to avoid highly trafficked main roads, which makes cycling a very relaxing experience, despite the hot temperatures. Moreover, all the cycling routes are very well signposted, even the gravel ones. As a matter of facts today I've been exceptionally on several gravel roads, above all the historical Vanha Viipurintie (Old Vyborg Road) that brought me back to the Via Karelia, which I followed farther north when I left Kuhmo. This time I joined it while leaving the Savonia region to get to Southern Karelia, and ending up in Parikkala, just in time to watch a wonderful sunset (very nice cycling road at the lakeside), before finding a good camp site on the top of a hill.

Day 32 – Tour de Finlande 2010: Savonlinna – Parikkala

Trip distance: 101 km
Actual trip time: 6 h 20 m

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