May Day Camping in Nuuksio National Park

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This year I skipped the traditional May Day celebrations in the city and headed out into the woods, instead. We, our group of four ladies, decided to go camping in Nuuksio National Park. The timing was perhaps not ideal: it was the last rainy weekend before a month-long heatwave. I had also managed to fumble with my phone, messing up the camera settings, which I of course only noticed back home when uploading the pictures on my laptop. So, please enjoy these grainy, 90s style photos! At least the company was exactly what it was supposed to be.

This wasn’t our first camping trip together: we’ve already been to the exquisite Repovesi National Park in the past. In fact, I would love to see all of Finland’s national parks, but often my plans don’t come into fruition because many of the parks seem too hard to reach without your own car. That is one of the main reasons we picked Nuuksio as our destination: it is very easy to reach by public transport. Affordable bus connections run regularly back and forth. This could be a great day trip for anyone visiting Helsinki, as well! For more information, visit http://www.nationalparks.fi/nuuksionp

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For the first night, we put up tents by the Holma-Saarijärvi campfire site, where we got to enjoy our solitude until the dog walkers arrived the following morning. We had originally planned to spend the night by Lake Mustajärvi, but it was buzzing with people there – probably due to its proximity to the parking lot and bus stop. Sure, it was heart-warming to watch a bunch of excited tourists queue up in front of an exotic log shelter for their brief chance to wave an axe around while posing for the camera, but enough was enough. I’m glad we decided to walk a couple kilometres further into the woods. After our camp was all set by dusk, we still had to walk to Siikaniemi and back to pick up Emmi, our last arrival.

Never mind the rain, there aren’t many things better than an evening by the campfire.

The next morning was foggy, but soon enough the skies cleared up and we were treated to a fantastic teaser of the sunny month ahead of us. Our plan for the day consisted of a decent workout, i.e. walking around the park while lugging all our stuff in our backpacks. Even though Nuuksio is quite compact for a national park, it’s still very much possible to rack up thousands of steps there, at least if Redds’s smart watch can be trusted. If my memory serves me right, we easily hit the 40 km milestone within a couple of days. It’s also impressive how many different kinds of flora and fauna, landscapes and frog concerts can be found within such a limited area.

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We hiked to the other side of the park, Kattila, where it took us a while to find the giant’s kettle (or pothole, or “holy hole” as Redds likes to call them) that gave the area its name. According to my faint memories, I’ve only ever seen a pothole once before in my life, back on an elementary school field trip. But that was ages and ages ago. I don’t know what it is about these things that still fascinates me, decades later.

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Our next camping spot was off the marked trails in Iso-Holma, which seemed like a popular spot despite the lack of signposts. We were lucky to arrive early – we got an amazing camping spot with our own, sunny, private beach, when the late arrivals had to walk past us and further into the woods. All day of sweating inspired Redds and I to take a dip in the chilly pond. That was a new record for me, as I’ve never even considered wild swimming in Finland in April before!

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Photo: Emmi-Riika S.Photo: Emmi-Riika S.

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I would have loved to finish this blog post with the sunset picture above, but it would have painted too rosy a picture of the weekend as a whole. The final morning was, again, rainy and cold. If this camping trip had had its own theme song, it would have been just the sound of raindrops trying their best to pierce the tent fabric, maybe spiced with a massive bass drop.

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5/5, would recommend!

Coupon Vacation in Eastern Finland: In the Hustle and Bustle of Joensuu

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On our way from Koli to Joensuu, we had a brief pit stop at the ABC Kontiolahti gas station. Our next coupon got us two à la carte meals for the price of one. The food was nothing to write home about, but the discount made me feel all warm inside. In all fairness, it could have been the heartburn, too.

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Travel educates: the clocks of Hotel Cumulus taught us that the good people of Joensuu live in two different time zones. This time we opted for a cheap Airbnb stay instead of hotel accommodation, though. After setting up camp, it was time to take advantage of the next two coupons, which were effectively 10€ gift cards to the Sokos department store and the S-market grocery store.

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Conveniently, the coupons allowed us to get all the essentials for free: breakfast for the following morning, hand cream for my dry sloth paws, and a pair of tights for M to replace the pair she had just broken that same day.

While shopping at Sokos, we were approached by a joyful couple of local gentlemen. They invited us to join them for beers by the water, since there were enough warm cans for us all in the plastic bags they were carrying. We politely declined the offer and they took it admirably well. We left feeling great about their hospitality.

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Next up, we did a quick tour of the best sights the city has to offer. I channelled my inner Chinese tourist the best I could and dug up the good ol’ peace signs. My favourite thing in the city turned out to be a curious totem pole by a park.

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During our tour, we ran into the charming gentlemen again, but still declined their repeated offers for beer and good company. We were more hungry than thirsty, so our next destination was the Spanish restaurant Torero. Naturally, we had a 50% off coupon for it.

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A selection of tapas and a local specialty, blueberry pie with blueberry-buttermilk ice-cream, kept me full for the rest of the evening. Monday night in Joensuu seemed about as dead as a dodo, so we skipped the bars and pubs entirely and went hunting for sunset.

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The perfect viewing spot evaded us, but somehow we ended up at the spooky ruins of a festival. We thought the guard would shoo us off, but instead he gave us tips on where to admire the sunset. There was that wonderful dialect again, love it! I suppose technically we could claim to have been to Ilosaari(rock), if we just strategically failed to mention we got there a few days too late.

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Hashtag-thebestweekendofthesummer. Our last travel day was pretty much spent driving back to Jyväskylä. We did stop for a car wash on our way out of the city, though, because we had a coupon for that too. From all the coupons, we only left two unused: one free ticket to Nallerock (wrong weekend for us) and a free blood pressure reading (ignorance is bliss). I’m quite proud of our achievement, really.

Coupon savings of the day: ~90€

Coupon savings of the whole vacation: ~270€

Coupon Vacation in Eastern Finland: Koli National Park

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Well-rested and bellies full of breakfast, the next morning M and I were bursting with healthy outdoor spirit and headed to the Koli National Park. Actually, we were there already: the highest peaks of Ukko- and Akka-Koli are only a couple hundred metres’ walk from the hotel.

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Even though awkward posing is my specialty, don’t let it distract you. The views over there are spectacular! After a careful start, even M plucked up the courage to enjoy the scenery from the ledges, despite her fear of heights. Respect.

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I almost felt like a fraud for being able to reach the highest peaks so easily. After our little panorama tour, we also took a longer walk around the area, finally broke a sweat and eventually got attacked by millions of mosquitoes. Along the way, there were funny-looking trees, shady forests and grassy meadows. It all really made me miss the golden 90s when my family used to live right next to the best forest in the world. Halssila City 4 life!

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We knew it was time to move along when we ran out of snacks. Neither one of us had ever visited the city of Joensuu, so it was a natural choice for our next destination. The biggest reason, though, was that in Joensuu we could finally use the rest of our coupons.

Coupon Vacation in North Karelia: Break Sokos Hotel Koli & Relax Spa

The best kind of stuff is free stuff, and the only thing better than travel is coupon travel!

Due to a happy surprise, this summer I managed to get my hands on a bunch of coupons for S Group, a huge Finnish co-op network consisting of stores, gas stations, restaurants, hotels etc. The only catch was that the coupons, total worth over 250€, were only valid in the North Karelia region in Eastern Finland. My friend M and I ditched our original plan of meeting up here in Turku, and decided to travel to Eastern Finland instead. The main goal of our trip was to take advantage of as many coupon discounts as possible, because why the heck not!

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I met up with M in Jyväskylä, Central Finland. Her boyfriend had graciously agreed to lend us his car, and so we took off on a sunny Sunday morning in July. Our pit stop in Kuopio turned into a bit of a disappointment when we had trouble finding a restaurant that would be open at noon. Café Temptation (in the picture above) with its alluring tagline was also closed. We ended up eating at a chain restaurant and paid full price, which was very much against the spirit of our trip.

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The day took a turn for the better when we finally arrived at our first destination, Koli. I had never even been to North Karelia before. According to a general consensus, the landscapes in the Koli national park are something every Finn must witness at least once in a lifetime. So that’s one thing off the ol’ To Do list, yay.

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Late Sunday afternoon, after the long drive, we were in no mood to get sweaty in the national park. Instead, we decided to take advantage of the first two coupons. The first coupon allowed us to spend the night at Break Sokos Hotel Koli for free. That’s right, a coupon for 100% off – more of these, please!

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Our room had a fantastic view over Lake Pielinen. The hotel as a whole had a really cosy atmosphere, what with its Reino rental shoes and knitting corners. The best thing about it, though, was the Relax Spa. We really got the discounts rolling: the second coupon was for 50% off at the spa.

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Each spa ticket includes a “bath pail” filled with pampering Lumene spa products. The friendly clerk offered us the option to trade one of our pails for a bottle of sparkling wine, and we didn’t have to think twice. We figured one set of the mini-sized spa products would be enough for two people, and we were right. We expected the bubbly to come in a mini bottle, as well, but were pleasantly surprised to see a chunky one laying on a bed of ice cubes.

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Due to past disappointments at the mercy of false advertising, I was quite skeptical about the whole “spa with a view” marketing, but this time I was happy to be proven wrong. The outdoor tubs had perfect views over the lake. I could think of worse places to get tipsy on wine.

The indoor area of the spa features many kinds of light/sound showers (Caribbean thunderstorm, anyone?), different mini pools and saunas, as well as a relaxing room with free tea and fruit. A fun little detail we noticed: the saunas and showers all have little signs on their doors. Each sign shows a different Lumene spa product from the pail, guiding visitors e.g. to use a face mask in a specific sauna, and a body scrub in a specific shower. I could see myself getting used to happily shuffling around in a giant bathrobe. Luxurious!

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At the end of the evening, we decided to check out what the hotel restaurant had to offer. The views from the restaurant were just as good as they were at the spa. The food and wine were tasty, and the service was great. Oh, how I love the dialect in that region! Bonus points for our waiter’s majestic beard braids. The breakfast buffet was also pretty good, though there was no smart way to navigate it in the 9 am rush. They even had a chocolate fountain with marshmallows – a sloth’s paradise!

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Coupon savings of the day: 178€