The trip to Kokkola is quite exhausting since I have to take 3 different trains. Luckily the trains in Finland wait for delayed connecting trains, and I make it to Kokkola station by 20.00. I am on my way to the summer home of my father’s side of the family. In Finland it is common for a family to own a cottage or cabin in the countryside, often on the coast or near a lake. There is almost 1 cottage for every 10 persons. With 320,000 km of shoreline (includes 187 888 lakes) and a population of less than 6 million there is room for everybody. Our house is on the shore of lake Öja, which was created in 1969 by damming up a bay, to ensure sweet water supply for the town. It is located just after the final bridge on the beautiful 7 Bridges Archipelago Road. Our cottage is what we in Finland call a villa, a slightly more elegant cottage. Although I wonder if the description should be allowed to apply to a building without running water… As a child I thought that the house being a villa had something to do with the shape of the roof.
I have been coming to the villa in Kokkola all my life, until I moved to Brussels. After the death of my grandfather my father sold his share of the house to his sister Cay, which upset me and my sister a lot. Some of our favourite childhood memories are from the villa.
At the train station I am met by my sister and her boyfriend who are staying at the house. They drive us to the house and as soon as I step out of the car the scent of the nature surrounding me brings me back to my childhood. I remember the days when we used to bring our rabbit Pontus to the summer house. The first year he ran away, and we were inconsolable until several days later when the neighbours came and asked whether the black and white rabbit in their garage belonged to us. For the rest of his summers at the villa he was quite happy to spend his days under the house, and never attempted to explore the wilderness again.
My first night in Kokkola the early dawn wakes me at 4.30. I cautiously tiptoe down the steep staircase and unlock the door to the kitchen porch. I slip on a pair of crocs and walk down to the outhouse. At this hour the world is free from human sounds. The birches whisper softly in a gentle breeze and birds start up their morning choir. As I walk down the path I bend down to pick an occasional blueberry. They taste sweet with a hint of refreshing sourness. As I leave the outhouse I walk out to the pier where I watch the sun lighting up the opposite shore. The water laps softly against the pier.
The beauty and peace of the early morning has made me less inclined to return to bed. Instead I walk back up to the house and out to the road behind it. The road turns into a bridge just after our house and across the bridge I get a view of the sunrise.
It is a long time since I experiences a beauty and solitude like this. As a child at the summer house I often stayed up reading through the night. As the sun started coming up I always went outside to watch it. I remember climbing onto the roof of the house to get a better view.
The following day we go on a small hike in Öja. The day begins overcast, but it is a pleasant day for a hike. We walk through typical Finnish forest of spruce and pine, complete with lichen covered rocks and an undergrowth of blueberry bush. As we near the coast we come across stretches of reed and finally the sea itself with its shoreline cottages and smooth rocks.
The hike takes longer than expected, and by the time we return to the villa and realise we are out of coal for the barbecue we are not inclined to drive to the shop, so we make do with the stove. Unfortunately one of the two heating elements is not working which complicates things, but finally we have an acceptable meal.
On my second and final full day in Kokkola we decide to take it easy. We drive into town and buy some groceries after which we enjoy a nice afternoon coffee on the lawn. In the evening we barbecue delicious hamburgers and heat the sauna. It is my first sauna since I came to Finland and I am proud to say I dare to have a swim in the chilly lake. As night falls we barbecue sausages in the open fireplace and look at old photo albums and papers that I discovered in my bedroom.
The pictures are mostly of my grandfather and grandmother. They met while he was in the army and she was serving as a Lotta. The Lotta‘s were a voluntary organisation of women who helped the Finnish army during the Winter War (30 November 1939-13 March 1940) and Continuation War (25 June 1941-19 September 1944). During the wars my grandfather reported from the front for the main Finnish news outlets. There are pictures from their time in the army but also lots of pictures from their travels around Europe. In addition to the pictures there are old yellowed papers from the late 19th and early 20th century. They are mostly wills and deeds of the family of my grandmother. The pages are beautifully handwritten and we handle them with utmost care. Deciphering the curlicued writing keeps us up until late at night, and so I depart for my next stop after a shorter sleep than I would have liked.