Across “the continent” to Cross Country ski in Finland

I think it was sometime in October when I was trolling through Ryanair’s site seeing where they fly and noticed that the only stop they make in Finland is to some town called Tampere. Thinking back to our May Bank holiday last year in Spain and the good luck we had with their flight to the lesser known town of Almeria I took the idea of Tampere and ran with it. A quick search noted that the 3rd largest town in Finland was nestled on 2 lakes and home to over 90km of cross country ski trails within it’s city limits. It sounded like a solid winter weekend idea. I suppose picking up the magical unicorn of flight booking – the 2 pence round trip flight might have swayed things a bit too. Although, it’s funny how 2 pence each can suddenly turn into 96 pounds after all that tax, airport check in fee, baggage fees abd the because-we-can-and-you’ll-still-book-our-flights fees that they are so good at nickelling and diming you for.

In my research I’d read somewhere that people often compare Tampere to Liverpool in terms that both are cities living in the shadow of their country’s capitals but on the verge of a cultural rebirth. That all sound nice, but having never been to Liverpool this didn’t really help me.

We arrived late Friday evening and checked into our hotel. It was a converted industrial building which made our rooms look like lofts, but our neighbouring buildings looked all industrial too. Not a promising sight to a pair of empty stomachs (no need to purchase the food on Ryan Air, they have enough of my money thank you very much). Thankfully after a quick lap around the block we noticed that many of the buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants as well and we quickly popped into a Spanish Tapas bar for some light snacks. Why Spanish? Because it was there, I guess.

Another vacation and another reminder that I spend far too much time on details of hotels and airport transfers and not enough time on such simple things as learning “hello” and “thank you” in the local language. Luckily those childhood road trip pit stops at Taco Bell have equipped me with enough Spanish to recognise key things like ‘pollo’ and ‘queso’. Looking at the menu and choosing a tapas plate to share I’m grateful it was Spanish we happened upon and not say, Hungarian. I’m even more grateful when we order from our waitress since she gives us a look of absolute fear when she realised we speak no Finnish. Mental note, must learn more of the local language lest I am mistaken for an American.

Saturday the rental company drops off our skis at our hotel and drives us to the Kauppi Park. The Finnish fella tells us that due to warm weather and lack of snow we are his first customers of the season. They must have much higher standards than us because we think there is more than plenty:


I think my memory of cross country skiing on the Lake Placid Olympic tracks back in the 1990s are a bit hazy because I remember cross country skiing being much easier:

Day 1 is a painful experience.

Day 2, we’re sore, but we’re convinced that we might have learned something.
Back at Kauppi park we realise that it won’t be a quiet day of solitude in the forest. Instead a local race is on and there are loads of Finnish children geared up in race gear and pinnies. We watched for a bit.
This was one of those lovely travel moments when you accidentally become witness to some truly authentic local culture.


Back on the tracks we spend a few hours exploring the forest and are pleased to note that we did in fact learn something the day before. Today we fall much less.
This also gives us time to enjoy some of the views:


That evening we purposefully choose our restaurant, and we choose a Finnish tourist trap called Viking. At least the menu came in English because there is no way I would know the words for reindeer or wild pheasant (both delicious by the way). We also stopped into a very bizarre Spy Museum and wandered the town a bit. But the cold wind in the evening keeps us mostly indoors and in the cozy cafes scattered around the town centre.

By midnight the “On Time Airline” lands in Stansted over 30 minutes late. Our muscles are sore and our cheeks still have the rosy remains of a weekend outdoors.   About that cultural rebirth?  Well there were museums, converted industrial buildings, theatre and giving the other guests in our hotel clearly a ballroom dance competition on. Yet I’m sceptical to think that this could at all be similar to a weekend in Liverpool.
But on the train ride back from the airport I can’t help but be at least a bit curious.