Youth. Tattoos. Coffee. Bars. Life. Markets. Culture. Islands. River. Sea. Beaches. Boats. Beauty.
Oulu has so much, and after the forested wilderness it’s all the more welcome.
It’s exciting to cross a border and immediately know you’re in a new and different land.
Cross from Haparanda in Sweden, to Torino in Finland, basically the same city straddling a border, and experience a big, and surprising, change.
The Swedish side is pretty empty until you get to the retail world of Euro City.
The Finnish side is buzzing.
In Sweden there were few cars, those we saw included a wonderfully high proportion of huge classic Americana, and nearly everything else is a Volvo.
In Finland there are so many cars.
And the first motorway since Gottenburg.
They drive as fast as they can.
That alone is a huge surprise. Sweden and Norway generally obey their speed limits, the Finns break hard for cameras.
Kimi Raikkonen hopefuls race from one speed camera to the next, and blimey there are lots of cameras. We’ve been flashed already – I hope there were enough flies on the front plate to obscure it.
The first tower blocks in weeks.
The first hectic junctions.
The first police cars.
The first litter.
And so many tattoos on that oh so pale northern skin.
Particularly on the young women.
We park between a gleaming new concrete sports stadium, and a marina, then take a walk to get our bearings.
Within an hour we want to live here, at least for a summer.
It’s hard for a Brit to conceive of the joy that a Scandinavian marine town brings. Many little islands linked by bridges and ferries (here it’s all bridges), with beaches in the city for swimming, fishing, or even scrubbing rugs (strange but true).
Cycles all over.
Excellent cycle routes – although shared with pedestrians, and I can’t work out the etiquette, if one even exists.
Cars generally parked underground.
Grand, rambling city parks, and here in Oulu the great Kauppatori market square with the wide variety of new and unusual foods we’ve been hoping to see for so long.
Minty’s breakfast of salmon and potato soup in the covered market was made with milky goodness.
Mine of little fried whole fish and potatoes kept me going all day.
The most beautiful slabs of salmon prepared in so many different ways.
Herrings like you’ve never seen them before.
Coffee on a beautiful park side café’s terrace. A great cake, but the coffee?
Tomorrow we’ll try a specialist.
The Finns drink more coffee than anyone else in the world, but generally it’s more dishwater than ristretto – they even refer to it as such.
We’re off to the next island now for an evening swim to cool we down and give Polly a chance to wash off the stray hair after her clipping this afternoon.
That dog’s too good at growing hair – just 11 weeks into the drive and she was already a shaggy mess. Shaggy, and hot. No use waiting until we get back to Pip in St Just, she’d be tripping over herself.
The Best Burger.
The Walrus. Kauppuri 5.
I promise we don’t live on burgers – but I do love a good one.
Ours at The Walrus was shared, washed down with a fab local IPA as opposed to the fizzy pish that they call lager. It was superb. Each burger is built to order after The Walrus has asked what you love, and served with great skin on fries doused in paprika salt.
The Best Coffee.
The little Potnia Café in the covered market could easily be passed by. But if you love good coffee that would be a mistake.
The hostess roasts a few coffees a week and talks you through what you’re being served. She asked me to try mine without milk first, and it was best that way. Minty is a recent convert to Finland’s favourite drug and she’s still savouring her latté hours later.
The Passage of Time.
Here are a few shots of The Passage Of Time, an installation loosely representing the 400 years since the foundation of the city. 32 bronze characters. King Charles IX of Sweden, founder of the city brings up the rear, while the anonymous others represent many walks of life through the ages.
Whatever it’s supposed to say it’s a beautiful work, and the little child at the front usually has items of clothing made especially for him!
Oulu is a city of about 200,000 inhabitants. It grew rich on trading tar. Today it’s the tech hub of Finland, it’s young, it’s vibrant and it’s beautiful.
We’ll be sad to leave.
Tommi and Milla.
Tommi had spoken to Milla almost every day for 65 years, but he’d never told her.
At 14 he started working as a portteri, a porter, at the Kauppatori, where Milla already served coffees to the coarse men of the market, and those bringing the fish off the boats.
Much has changed around them, but little has changed for them.
At 79 Tommi doesn’t have a lot of hair left, but it’s always dyed. Almost black, though it goes a little orangey around the edges. He wonders why, but never tries to conceal it.
Every day he’s turned out in a crisp white shirt, no tie, as he has been since the morning over twenty years ago when Milla complimented him on how smart he looked in one.
Milla wasn’t to know that later that particular morning he’d bury his wife.
She knew he was married, but he’d never mentioned Inari, and she’d never had occasion to ask.
Tommi worked six days a week, church on Sundays, even though he didn’t believe.
Milla ran the market canteen, and then when the market became a tourist attraction rather than a true trading place she’d opened the first café in the covered building.
She went to church because that was what young women did. She prepared lunch for her father and brothers before she left home. It was ready, and on the table within an hour of returning from the service.
Tommi cycled to work, and still he rides his ancient bicycle down to the market when it’s dry.
There he sits, and chats awhile with Milla in the café that she still owns.
Now in her early eighties Milla doesn’t as much work there as control from a distance. A short distance.
As they each enjoy their lunch of salmon and potato soup Tommi looks at her hands, as he has done for longer than he can remember.
As Tommi looks at Milla’s hands, she longs for him to take one of hers in his.