Just back from an epic trip to Finland. Wonderful sunshine with long late evenings, almost too hot at times. I gather it's at the same latitude as Alaska, but remains warm thanks to the Gulf Stream. So much enjoyed the country - everyone was unfailingly polite, cheerful and friendly. Must be the breakfasts that set them up: porridge, berries, muesli, eggs, cucumber, pickled courgettes, ham, salami, cheese, meatballs, frankfurters, herrings and reindeer meats. But if you didn't fancy that there was still toast and marmalade available.
We were lucky enough to attend the music festival in Savonlinna and saw a dramatic performance of Rigoletto in the castle above. Magnificent singing but I didn't totally approve of the plot. Bad luck on the beautiful young heroine to fall for a rotter like the Duke and she didn't deserve her end - all the fault of her father. Now I know the circumstances in which it is sung, I shall never feel the same about 'La donna e mobile'. (As you may gather, am only an occasional opera goer - proper musical aficionados don't bother about the story.)
Stayed with friends in a remote but modern log cabin on a lake, just like a film location. Here's the stunning view from the window. There's also a wood-fired sauna cabin next door so I was able to enjoy the full authentic Finnish sauna experience (ladies only, to preserve modesty) plus traditional liberating swim in the lake afterwards.
Here is the Sibelius monument in Helsinki. We were also impressed by the exhibition of paintings of Pekka Halonen (1865-1933), a friend of Sibelius's.
To complete the southern Finland tour we took a ten-hour boat trip along the central lakes, but have to confess that it was a little too long as the beautiful scenery of water and fir trees, then more water and fir trees, remained mostly the same. I did have Kate Morton's new book to occupy me - The Forgotten Garden. An enjoyable holiday read. Not sure if I was quite as taken by this one as by The House at Riverton, but she is a good story teller. In contrast I loved the sardonic narrator ghost in Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning. Having failed to pack enough books, how lucky I was to find this in a bookshop in Kuopio (63 degrees North) among the Dan Browns. Saving Fish from Drowning tells the story of a disastrous holiday when 11 sophisticated but naive San Francisco residents are kidnapped by hill tribesmen in Burma/Myanmar. Do read it. Some of the reviews were iffy - this one accords with my view more or less. The ending was somehow not dramatic enough, but the book kept me happily absorbed during the flight home.
I nearly forgot the strangest image of all. 20 miles worth of Russian lorries waiting in line beside a Finnish motorway. Loaded with brand new European cars for the emerging market, they have to queue for a couple of days at the border. Apparently their own ports can't handle the demand.