Finland II: Breakfast, dinner, snack lunch in the hall…

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Ok, ok, enough with the Monty Python already. It’s our last night in the summer cottage, and we’re all checked in for the night flight to Delhi tomorrow. The girls say they are expecting it to be “hotter, and with more cows”, so I can see they’ve done their geography homework.

Actually, they’ve done no homework at all. The home schooling is going, er, not terribly well. I tried to get them to do some writing the other day and Clover rolled her eyes at me and responded witheringly “this isn’t school, you know”. Well Clover, it kind of is for the next year. At some point we’re going to have to get stricter. But, you know, it’s the holidays.

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So far in Finland, we’ve learned very little about Sibelius (the Finnish composer who would have been the class composer for Daisy this year, and who I’d promised we’d find out about since its his 150th anniversary this month), but quite a lot about fungi. Marja is a foraging expert, but so far I’ve found precisely nothing except what four-year old Leo declared was “an old, bad mushroom” (at least, I hope it was the fungi he was talking about). Even I can find bilberries though, since they’re everywhere, and we’ve picked a fair few wild strawberries and raspberries on our walks as well.

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We’ve eaten beautiful foraged chanterelles, Paul has caught his first fish (a rather aggressive-looking pike), and we’ve all swum in some slightly cold lakes. In the evening the girls (and us too) have emerged pink-cheeked and clean from the sauna (didn’t let the girls have a beer with theirs though). Daisy’s definitely a convert. “Of course I’m naked – I’m in the SAUNA”, she declared in a world-weary fashion earlier… So far, so Finnish.

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The entire of Finland has a population that’s smaller than London, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that we’ve hardly seen a soul in a landscape that is a cross between the Norfolk Broads and Lake Windermere, if either of those places had only two or three boats steaming across at a time. Just glorious – though I can’t believe that in a few months time it will all be covered in snow.

Living out of a backpack, it turns out, is quite stressful with children. I’ve allowed them a massive four changes of clothing each in order to keep the weight down, which would be fine if they didn’t keep changing their clothing on a whim, and scattering it around the area. And covering it all with bilberry juice of course.

Am trying very hard not to scream every time I see them in a different dress, top or yet another pair of socks. A learning curve for all of us. I’ve done a lot of handwashing, but it’s been worth it.

So Delhi, then. Hotter, and with more cows. And more laundries. We can only hope.

Lahti – Cottagers’ Paradise…

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So says the Finnish Tourist Board – which perhaps should have checked its copy through with a native English speaker before posting that gem of a heading on its website.

Finland probably isn’t an obvious first stop for a world tour, but even the longest trip starts with a single flight. In this case it was Heathrow to Helsinki on BA, where the airhostess clearly had some understanding of what it is like to travel with children. “There is wine,” she pointed out anxiously when I requested a cup of tea and a sparkling water. I declined on the basis that it was only noon. Must be growing old.

At Helsinki, the only thing more pleasing than discovering that the airport accessorises its baggage carousels with stuffed beavers was the appearance of Jamie’s friendly face at the airport.

We’ve not visited our friends Jamie and Marja in Finland for ten years- when we travelled here for their wedding. I have (predictably) hazy recollections of snow, husky dogs, saunas on the edge of frozen lakes and quite a lot of vodka.

A decade and six children between us later, it is delightful to visit their ‘summer cottage’ (which they frequently use in winter too, but it’s particularly pleasant at 20 degrees).

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The Finnish tourist board might be oblivious to innuendo, but they were pretty right on the ‘paradise’ issue. The cottage is beautiful in a distinctly fairytale way. Wander too far, and I feel you might find Hansel and Gretel searching for home via a trail of stones. The forest is full of berries and mushrooms – some tasty, and some poisonous and looking like they might be used for a fairy ring and to shelter a couple of Moomins.

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The children have quickly taken to composting loos, foraging and saunas. Clover and Maia spend most of the day picking berries and arranging them into attractive fruit salads (slightly gritty to taste) while Daisy, Helena, Olavi and Leo play pirates in the tree house.

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Olavi is aghast that Paul and the girls have never caught a fish (and I’m scarcely any more experienced) while there’s also the possibility of lake swimming and many healthy walks. And endless opportunities to sing that song from Monty Python, which I should imagine Jamie and Marja find quite irritating.

The girls are in Finland heaven. Delhi is going to be quite a shock.