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Border Koli

There was a Russian-speaking couple on the train most of the way to Joensuu. She’s fierily recounting a long story which he’s just stoking along by agreeing with “Da” occasionally. I was just about to ask if they were ‘returned’ Karelians (who were repatriated into Finland during the 1990s from the parts of Karelia which were swiped by the Russians after the Continuation War) when they get off. By the time we get to Joensuu it’s just me and a platoon of young soldiers, slouching in khaki and acne. They make straight for the nearby grilli. This is not a good place to order a soy latte.

The big draws up here are Koli National Park which has a view that Finns regard as one of the most spectacular. It's said to have inspired painters, poets and hoteliers, as it recently had a controversial hotel built on top of it. Still it's meant that there's a funicular most of the way and the view is still spectacular - a sweep of lake and islands, each a narrow slice crammed with pines.

When Elias Lönnrot came looking for Finland's best poems to compile the Kalevala, he came to Karelia. A large chunk of Karelia still lies in Russia, so many Finns make the pilgrimage to the most eastern point of their country to look moonily over into Russia and imagine the Karelia that might have been. It's more a state of mind than a 'sight' so lots of non-Finnish tourist show up wondering why they're there. Better to Stop at Hattuvaara and look at the collection of war memorabilia including cannons on skis. The odd sight here is the Big Hat - what looks like a giant cowboy or slouch hat that someone put on a log in 1999. It's a nice piece of whimsy amid the military history and based on hattu meaning hat in Finnish (literally the town is called 'hat mountain'). Impressive, but no competition for the Big Banana just yet.

Sauna-o-meter: Locked on 6 sadly.
Rockingest bus station: At Lieksa there’s a metal band practising in the bus station basement. By the time the bus to Joensuu comes, even a grandma is tapping her foot a little to King Diamond covers.
Constantinental drifters: kana (chicken) switches to another area of the menu with one letter it becomes kala (fish). With a fancy scripted menu it can be hard to work out if you’re getting fish parmagiana or chicken stuffed with fish.


Hire car route (caught buses to other destinations in the area)

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