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Across The Baltic and Further Adventures in Finland (July 10-20, 2007)

By David Hill

July 10-20 in Lahti, Savonlinna, and Helsinki
  (trip continued)

After arriving in Stockholm (July 10), we bid a fond farewell to our bus driver, Björn, and most of our Swedish companions, and boarded the Silja-line ferry Symphony for Helsinki. The ship was more of a floating shopping mall than a cruise ship, but a good time was had by all as we spread ourselves from Commodore Class to Steerage. Some of us slept, some took in the Casino and bar, and Don thought that he had been able to get a glimpse of Sairo. A peaceful night, the Baltic was very calm, and by daylight we were steaming amongst the islands of the Helsinki archipelago.

After docking at the Helsinki city terminal we left the ship and moved directly to our waiting bus, and headed for Savonlinna with a short stop along the way at Lahti, home of an annual Sibelius festival. There we found a pleasant lunch on board the restaurant boat Ilona, and then were given a tour of the magnificent and recently constructed Sibeliushalle by its director. Finnish design rules!

Then, back on the bus, to complete our journey to Savonlinna. Once installed in our rooms, some of us checked out the town, others collapsed from exhaustion at this point, but some hardy souls did make it to the evening performance of Lucia di Lammermoor starring Eglise Gutiérrez and superb Korean tenor Jeong Won Lee.

The following days involved operas at the castle – Olli Kortekangas’s new Daddy’s Girl, Verdi’s Macbeth, and Carmen, All of which were magnificent performances, excellently sung and staged with the looming presence of Olavinlinna Castle surrounding us.

We also experienced the great pleasure of having maestro Leif Segerstam join us for dinner at the lakeside restaurant Huvila. Our convivial guest, who had conducted Macbeth the night before, was vastly entertaining and a font of information on a lifetime of music in Finland and around the world. Born in 1944, he never saw Jussi in concert, but still recalled hearing him live on Finnish Radio.

In between operas and concerts, we visited the castle and the local market, ate excellent seafood, visited the Retretti art museum and caverns by boat across huge Lake Saimaa, and generally hung out.

After five days of this culture-immersion, we regretfully left Savonlinna via chartered bus to Helsinki. While the cultural part of our trip was now over, we still had much to do in Finland’s magnificent capital. Unhappily, it was also at this point that our party began to break up and head home. Still, those who remained for a while managed to cram in rambles through the city, visiting the Rock Church and the National Museum, enjoying some great food, and visits to Talinn in Estonia and to Porvoo, an uncomfortable shlep three hours down the coast by boat, but worth the visit nonetheless.

In the evenings, we gathered together in one of the city’s great restaurants. Often it was a pleasure just to stroll the boulevards with some good friends. Or relax at the end of a full day.

Altogether, the trip was an unforgettable experience. The scenic joys of Sweden and Finland, the unstinting generosity of our friends from the Scandinavian Björling Society, the wonderful music and cultural experiences and the general good fellowship of all who made the trip. As Vivienne and I hunker down to endure another Canadian winter, these are memories to warm us.