Ellen's brother's best friend from Jr. High married a Finnish diplomat whose family had owned a summer cottage near the townlet of Box, on a reach of the Helsinki Archipelago. Her elder sister now owns the family cottage and she has other relatives in the area. When a 1920's cottage came free last year, they bought it. Because she's currently posted to the Finnish UN delegation in NYC, they haven't spent a lot of time there, but they happen to be in residence right now, and very generously and kindly invited us to spend a night with them.
It took some doing to get there, leaving Turku a day before we'd planned to, taking a train to Helsinki, transferring to a bus to the Shell station at Box, but we are unalarmed by transfers and dragging our increasingly dirty laundry from the train station to the bus station. The pedestrian outside the Helsinki train station Ellen asked for direction was on his way to the bus station anyway, so we had a guide all the way through multiple left and right turns and diagonals across crowded squares, getting to the station in plenty of time. While it tried to make up its mind whether or not it was going to rain, we watched first Helsinki and then the countryside unspool past our windows. Stopping every few miles to pick up or discharge passengers, the bus drove us ever deeper into fields of rye and barley and potatoes divided by stands of pine, fir, birch, and spruce. When our host picked us up in a little blue Elf, we drove deeper still, over ever narrower roads, until we turned onto a single-width dirt track between moss and lichen-speckled boulders and young firs like a forest of young masts. At the end of the road was a rusty iron gate and a storehouse with what looked like a cow's skull (it might have been a sheep's--I forgot to ask) nailed to the pediment.
We were there.
Had I invited anyone to come stay with me in a cottage I'd spent a grand total of 3 weeks in since I'd bought it, one over a Finnish December when I'd had to stop at Ikea on the way from the airport to buy beds, linen, and dishes, I would have had to apologize (or not) for the unfinished state of the place and would my guest get their sheets out of that box--I think that's where the sheets are--and would they mind making the bed? This place looked like they'd been living in it for years--gently faded old-fashioned wallpaper, comfortable furniture, some of it Ikea, some of it well-loved family stuff, pictures on the walls, no curtains (with that view, curtains would have been a desecration), candles and lanterns everywhere. When I complimented our hostess on how settled and comfortable the place looked, she thanked me and pointed out that she'd had lots of practice, having had, over the course of her diplomatic career, 17 addresses in something like 25 years, one of them in South Africa, where she had become friends with our fellow guests. We liked them, too. She's a diplomat, he's a nuclear physicist who loves Tolkien and Robert Jordan. Since our host loves Cyberpunk and his daughter has read a fair amount of fantasy (although not as much as her brother, who was not present), the dinner conversation was extremely convivial, ranging from SF & F to home decoration to travel tales to family reminiscences.
But first, we had a sauna. The men went while the women got dinner ready to be cooked, then cooked it while the women sauna-ed. Their sauna is wood-fired rather than electric, which gives a lovely soft heat, and is built right down by the water. This isn't allowed any more, but old structures like this one have been grandfathered in. So there we sat, baking gently, looking out a double-glazed window onto rocks and water and the wooded spit opposite, with the reflected light of the sinking sun warming the sky and polishing the ripples to rose-gold. Once well-done, we ran out and jumped in the water, which was cold. Our hostess and her daughter maintained that it was beautifully warm, and we should try it in winter when you had to chip a hole in the ice. But the three
Some members of the party took a second dip. I did not. The whole experience, though, gave me a raging hunger for dinner, which was simple, plentiful, and delicious.
And then we retired, a little after midnight, in a tiny room next to the sauna (the main house being rather full of guests), just big enough for two extremely narrow beds with a table between them. There was a lamp, but no running water, of any kind. Nature's calls were answered in a tidy and extremely well-regulated and sweet-smelling composting two-holer outhouse behind the house, up a path, around a rock garden, up the patio steps, along the side of the house, then up a bank into which a number of roughly-dressed boulders had been set to serve as steps. In short, it was a schlep, and I was a little dubious about making it in the middle of the night without falling over something, but it turned out to be perfectly negotiable, even at 2 in the morning. The sky was so light, I didn't even have to use my flashlight going up, and only used it going down because I'd lost my night vision turning on the light in the outhouse. Ellen, who made her visit just at dawn, watched the sun come up.
Other than that we both slept like rocks.
This morning was leisurely--breakfast, more conversation, jamming the little we'd taken out of our suitcases back in. Then our hostess drove us back into Helsinki and around the old town, showing us where she'd grown up and gone to school, where her sister was married and her own children were baptized, where her parents' favorite restaurant was. It's an area of beautiful Jugendstil buildings, each more artfully decorated than the last with carved flowers or owls over the lintels or simple, stylized designs inscribed in the stucco. We're going to walk around there tomorrow and take some pictures, you betcha. Then she dropped us off at our hotel and went off to have her car inspected.
We're back in the hotel we stayed at when we first got here, in a very lovely room bordered in oakleaves, with a rosy bird and a butterfly frolicking over the king-size bed. We had lunch (at a Nepalese restaurant) and dropped into a few optical shops in search of some Really Cool Scandinavian Frames, but it was too hot and muggy to make walking attractive. So we went back to the hotel to do Necessary Laundry and celebrate our reunion with the Internet and rest up for a big day of sightseeing with friends (Finland! Where the Sun Never Sets on Finncon!) tomorrow.