On October 2, 2020 we said yes. In the midst of a global pandemic with only a chosen few family members and friends by our side. Don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful ceremony, even though it was more complicated and a bit smaller than we expected in the first place. And as time races by super fast as a recent expat in a new country, our first wedding anniversary came around and we were somewhat unprepared as what to do with it? So, what do you do for your first anniversary? Spa weekend? Trip to a romantic city like Venice? Just stay home and have dinner at a fancy restaurant? For us was clear - after the stress of the past month and with no vacation days in our account just yet (thank you Finnish vacation system) that we wanted to get out of the city for a while, but it would have to be somewhere in Finland. Our first thought - the North. October is one of the best months to see the Northern Lights. So we eagerly checked flights, night trains and spa hotels but somehow, this did not feel right. Too much time would be spend traveling for a trip that was only gonna last for a weekend and while we love us a fancy trip sometime, this time we wanted things to be easy and the only thing we craved most was to spend time in nature. So we blew the plan and decided to just rent a mökki instead. This basic trope of Finnishness that we already learned to love when we came to visit last summer.
Mökkis are usually passed down from generation to generation in Finnish families, but fortunately for expats, tourists and otherwise unlucky mökkiless Finns there is always the option to rent. To find the perfect place was a bit harder than expected though, as many renters already shut their business after summer season and a real winter season only exists further up north than we wanted to travel this time. But luckily we found Loma Autio, who rent a handful of newly renovated cabins on the shores of lake Saimaa, near Puumala in Southern Savonia. A three and half hour drive from Helsinki along the coast and then up through lake country sounded just perfect - and it was. With work and administrative tasks littering our calendars and the apartment still not being fully furnished and not all of our boxes unpacked, we pushed planning and packing for this trip further and further so that in the end we just through some clothes in a suitcase Thursday night and packed the rest quickly after work on Friday. And let's just say that was a mistake that turned out fatal - more than once. But more about that later.
Rental mökkis are usually fully furnished and have all the appliances you need, so you only need to bring a couple of things and food in order to survive there. One of the things that you usually have to bring yourself is towels, oh, and bed sheets of course. We realized that we forgot our bed sheets about 50km outside Lappenranta. Great. But we still had to stop to buy food and drinks so instead of stopping at a regular supermarket we stopped at Prisma, a Wal-Mart style megamarket with a huge non-food section. An expense that we did not plan for the trip but we told ourselves that we needed new sheets for the guest room anyways so that was that. The stop in Imatra also brought as as close to the Russian border as ever before, only a couple of kilometers. One day we will cross that border and go on a proper roadtrip through Russia. When we arrived at the location it was already dark - and when I say dark I mean Finnish levels of darkness. We both have lived in cities for the past two decades and are used to huge levels of light pollution so the darkness of the Finnish countryside still amazes us. In this case it held also a level of surprise for us. What would the view from our terrace be in the morning? And it did not disappoint - on the contrary!
But then, when Philipp was about to use the customary Mokkamaster to brew the first batch of coffee of the day we realized our next packing fail - coffee. We forgot the coffee. So instead of starting our anniversary with coffee and pancakes on the deck watching the lake, we won another trip to the store. Puumala, the next city from us, was about 30 minutes away and we decided to take this further complication as a chance to explore our area more. And we were lucky again! Next to the supermarket was a small market and we bought fresh Karelian Pies from one of the stands. So with a small delay we finally got our romantic breakfast.
Saimaa is Finland's largest lake but it's more like many lakes that connect to form a huge system to form this beautiful region. Where ever you turn your head you'll see water, bigger and smaller islands cut through by forests. Visiting in the fall made it even more visually spectacular. Colorful leaves - the Finns call them "ruska" - everywhere, bright red lingonberries all over the forest floor. And lucky for us, after a couple of foggy and rainy days sometime during the afternoon on Saturday the clouds suddenly disappeared and we got to enjoy a sunny afternoon and an even more spectacular sunset.
But, this wouldn't be us if we we're not in for another fail. When we booked the mökki a couple of weeks earlier we clearly saw that it would also have a fireplace outside, so that we could treat ourselves with a nice barbeque. Of course this is standard for a summer cottage. And what did we forget to buy when we stopped at Prisma - yeah, the charcoal. We proved to be even worse at this when we went out in pitch darkness on Friday night to find the fireplace. Spoiler alert - we didn't see it so we agreed that there probably was no fireplace after all and did not buy the charcoal during our shop run to Puumala. Well, guess what we found later. Yeah, the fireplace. Clearly visible from the deck of our mökki. Not using it was not an option so we quickly learned how to grill on open fire, as the Finns do.
When you ask a German about what they know about Finland they will usually come up with exactly two answers. First they are sure that it's probably always dark there, and also there are tons of mosquitos. So on to our last and final packing fail. We forgot our mosquito repellent and at least for Julia that ended with a couple of painful reminders to pack more careful next time.
The rest of our time we spent in and out of the sauna and the lake, which was with around 8 degrees already freezing, but great for dipping after a nice long sauna round. And of course stargazing later at night. Altogether this was the perfect way to celebrate the first year of our marriage, not too fancy, just the two of us celebrating what we love the most. Each other and some peace and quiet in nature. And there will be lots of more wedding anniversaries to be spent all over Finland and maybe one day we'll do the fancy spa experience. But apart from all that cheesy stuff, please let our story be a reminder to be mindful when packing for a weekend or even more time to spend away from the city. Because no coffee and mosquito bites will definitely taint your experience!