Memory Lane – part 3

Jyväskylä is the main city in Central Finland and is located 270km north of Helsinki, the capital. Elias Lönnrot, the compiler of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, gave the city the nickname, the ‘Athens of Finland, which refers to the major role of Jyväskylä as an educational centre. And so it is. Much of the life in Jyväskylä revolves around its university, which includes the very large campus and student village areas. I myself was a student there in the mid nineties.

One of the main reasons for visiting Jyväskylä after a 25 year absence was purely for the sake of nostalgia. However, I must admit that walking around the campus and the various parts of the city also elicited a wide range of emotions. Like with anything from our past there were both good and bad times, but all of them were certainly learning experiences. Now, with a much wider and clearer perspective, I could much better understand that the education I got from living life in this place was a lot more than just a masters degree in health and sports sciences.

Jyväskylä’s main church.

The university campus is connected to the city centre via a long gently sloping road, which becomes a pedestrian mall at its ends. And when you see the massive number of bars, cafes and eateries, it’s pretty obvious this central area has developed as a place for students to party. Personally, despite having occasionally gone out to some of those places, my main life interests were elsewhere. The bar and party culture never actually sat well with me, and seeing it all essentially deserted on a very quiet Sunday morning, just reminded me of how little I cared for it. Still, with a regularly changing student population, as the graduates leave to make room for a new bunch of freshmen at the start of the fall, running a bar or café catering for the young and fancy free seems to be good for business. I saw a number of the same places still in existence after a quarter of a century, and no doubt good for the same again going forward. I then headed towards the Jyväsjärvi harbour precinct, itself situated at the northern end of Päijänne, the second largest lake in Finland. From here, it’s actually possible to take a cruise all the way to the city of Lahti, which is some 165km away, and connected to the Päijänne via Lake Vesijärvi and the Vääksy canal.

The ‘Harju’ staircase.

Crossing back over the railway tracks, I passed the new Transportation Centre on my way up to the ‘Harju’, the ridge overlooking the city and Jyväsjärvi. This park area is very popular with dog walkers and fitness buffs, as well as students armed with plastic bags filled with cans of beer and cider. For me, though, this area holds a particularly special memory. The city’s athletics field is located here, and it’s where I completed my last sub 3hr marathon, way back in the day when I used to be a very fit young fella. Then, there’s the crown of the Harju, the Vesilinna observation tower, and close to it, the long picturesque stairway back down to the city centre.

After my two or so hour walking tour of Jyväskylä, I headed south towards my next destination, the Päijänne National Park, the second of the three that I would visit on this maiden vanlife tour. On the way, I stopped at a rest area by a lake just outside the small town of Kuhmoinen to make myself some lunch, and just chill for a bill while marinating in the sounds and smells of nature. Immediately upon arrival at the Niemisjärvi area of the Päijänne National Park, I headed off to do some exploration before setting up camp for the night in a secluded spot. In the next video, I’ll be sharing what I saw while traversing the trails. So, I’ll catch you again in that one. Until then, be blessed.

Camping spot at Päijänne National Park.

Memory Lane – part 2

Pyhä-Häkki National Park covers an area of 1,300 hectares, and it’s located only about 20km from Saarijärvi. It was officially established in 1956 along with six other National Parks, and it has remained well preserved, with the old-growth forest dominating the area, including a tree over 400 years old. I had been here once before, some 30 years ago, though now it felt like a literal blink of an eye. I could barely remember any of it, but it did feel fantastic to get the chance to experience it once again. Ahead of me was the classic 6.5km long Kotajärvi circuit, which would take me through the old growth forests, the navigation of swamps over wooden duckboards, and, of course, reaching the shoreline of Kotajärvi.

Being in nature is such an amazing antidote to all the craziness and chaos of the modern world. These few hours that I spent here, walking in solitude, blessed me with a much needed, and immediate reset of my psyche, back to a state that I plan on caring for, and holding on to, for the rest of my life.

After leaving Pyhä-Häkki, my next point of call was Jyväskylä, the main city in Central Finland; and it’s a university town where I lived and studied in the 1990s. I’ve still held on to some very strong memories from that time, both good and not so good, and returning to rewalk down this memory lane in the student village had them all flooding back in an instant. If I’m to be totally open about the experience, just seeing the old student housing tower blocks actually made me feel kinda sad, maybe even some regret as well, for some of the decisions I’d had made at the time. However, since none of that can obviously be changed, this revisiting of the old stomping grounds of my mid to late 20s was an extremely cathartic experience.

I headed to the 24hr ABC Service Centre in Vaajakoski to once again spend the night in a carpark. I had a good meal and a great sleep, with plans to return to Jyväskylä the next morning, to continue my walk down memory lane. I’ll catch you then in the next one, when I visit the university precinct, the town centre and adjacent Harju park, as well as the Jyväsjärvi harbour area.

Overnighting at ABC Service Centre, Vaajakoski

Memory Lane – part 1

My first ever overnight stop in my van was at the ABC Service Centre just outside the town of Orivesi. These larger service centres are great places to stay, particularly if you need to buy more supplies, grab a pizza, or drop a deuce. Not to mention, you can conveniently fill up on water and fuel before heading out the next day. Just make sure to ask the manager if it’s ok to stay there overnight. Depending on the place, it’ll be ok, or it’ll be ok for a small fee, something like 10€. Anyway, it ended up being a good first experience. Apart from some teens on their motorbikes popping in for a few midnight burnouts in the massive carpark, the place was super quiet and I got in a very restful night’s sleep.

ABC Oritupa, Orivesi

Early the next morning, I headed off to Central Finland. I arrived at the beginning of my visit down memory lane when I reached Summassari, the location of a spa and rehabilitation centre where I’d worked for a while as a physiotherapist way back in 1991; and to say it felt super weird to now see it totally uninhabited after it had, I think, become bankrupt at some point, was an understatement. Seeing all the same places, the spa centre, the main building and restaurant area, and all the lakeside holiday cottages, now completely empty, I imagined being in Pripyat, the town outside of Chernobyl, which was completely evacuated after the nuclear disaster there. Being in this place again after some 30 years, especially in its current state, gave me a strong sense of melancholy, but it felt like it was very important for me to walk over this ground again once, as if I was getting the chance to put some old ghosts to rest.

The abandoned Summassaari Spa Hotel complex.

Prior to moving on from Summassaari, I quickly popped into the Stone-age Village area. It wasn’t open yet for the day, but I could still see some of it. I could also see how it seemed to be existing on life support. It just felt worn out, but somehow still clinging on to making a few euros from the few tourists bothering to now visit there after the demise of the spa centre. It just felt kinda sad.

As I continued on to my main destination of the day, Pyhä-Häkki National Park, I dropped by the country town of Saarijärvi, where I’d lived while working at the spa centre. It was crazy the parts that I remembered with crystal clarity, such as the athletics field and adjacent churches, while other areas were barely a familiar, but hazy blur in my memories. Still, I think it was good, just like with Summassaari, to also tread over the same old turf here.

Saarijärvi athletics field and churches.

And then I arrived at Pyhä-Häkki National Park to walk the Kotajärvi circuit, a 6.5km walk through some of the most amazing flora in all of Finland. In my next blog and video, I’ll be sharing lots of that hike with you, so I guess I’ll catch you again in that one.