Saturday, September 02, 2006


(Click on any photo, apart from the very first one, to see a larger image of it...)

Sunset at Santalahti, and the fantastic house we stayed in, Kotka, Finland.

Looking south at our wonderful wooden house, Santalahti, Kotka, Finland!

Map, showing the UK, where we drove from, and took the ferry from Newcastle to Sweden, which we crossed from Gothenburg to Stockholm, then we took the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki in Finland, to Kotka, 130 km east of Helsinki, near to the border with Russia!

Postcards from Kotka.

* We found Finland to be a very clean country. Litter is hardly seen lying around- certainly between Helsinki- Kotka- Kouvola.

*It wasn't cheap, but then again, perhaps the hype about Scandinavian countries being very pricey is a myth. We overspent what I considered was a pretty generous budget. Food in general was slightly more expensive than in the UK, based on the supermarkets we visited in Kotka. However, there were some great bargains to be had in the clothing sales, in particular when Anna's mum found a pair of Goretex child's boots for 20 Euros, reduced from 75 Euros. They were snapped up for Maxim in St Petersburg.

Very expensive Skoda Octavia!
Cars though, were very expensive! The photo shows a Skoda, like ours, one year old, 11000kms, for the incredible price of 31,900 Euros! Ours, new, cost me around 16,000 Euros...
Petrol costs were similar, but at a Euro a litre (64p), diesel was much less expensive, which was great for us!

*We found the Finns to be very warm and friendly. Almost all spoke at least reasonable English. The Swedes were even more fluent, and very friendly too.

*Around Kotka, we saw many Finns cycling on special cycle tracks, that were literally everywhere. From what we observed, they are certainly a fitter nation than the Scots. Linked to this, when we were at Tykkimaki, the food available there was very healthy compared to what you would find in a UK Amusement Park. No such thing as loads of fast food outlets, chips, and burgers. Just loads of families eating healthily- salad dishes, rice and pasta dishes. What a refreshing change. We have a lot to learn from both Sweden and Finland in this respect.

Sandy's "driving licence", issued at Tykkimaki!

*Despite being warned about it, we hardly encountered any mosquitoes.

*The roads network in both Sweden and Finland was outstanding. It was easy to get around, there were never any queues and the road surfaces were faultless. In Helsinki, at midday on the Friday we were there, you'd have thought you were driving around at 4am- the roads were that quiet!

*Supermarkets were deserted at all times. It made shopping a very pleasant experience!

*The weather was fantastic, much better than I had hoped for!

To sum up, we all had a wonderful time in Finland. Our choice of accommodation was inspired, it was simply beautiful. If anyone reading this is thinking about going to the south of Finland, Kotka, and Santalahti is highly recommended! There is lots to do and loads of places to visit and keep children amused.
The boats were great too. DFDS's Princess of Scandinavia may be an old vessel, but it was perfectly comfortable, and was pleasure to sail on.

Tickets from the Silja ferry.

However, Silja's ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki was amazing- it was simply one of the main highlights of a superb holiday.

Santalahti blurb.

It's now early September 2006, and we still talk constantly about our experience. Anna and I are desperate to return to Kotka, and Santalahti. Sandy still wants to live there, so we have to take that as a positive assessment! I know that Anna's mum and dad, and Aunt and Uncle all had a great time too. For the meantime though, we have loads of pictures and happy memories to keep it all fresh in our minds.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


I awoke at 6am. I think I had suddenly remembered that when we tried to find the Silja ferry terminal in Stockholm it had proved very difficult, and I was now getting worried that Gothenburg might also prove to be lacking in signs.

By 6.30am Anna and I had showered and Olivia and Sandy were getting up. WE went down for breakfast, and by 7.15am we were almost ready to leave for the 15 minute drive to the DFDS ferry terminal. I had a map showing the route, but, due to the total lack of signs, and some rather confusing signs that were there, I was soon sure I had made a wrong turning. That's when the panic set in!

I found a hotel, and marched in to reception with my map. The guy at reception told me we were not the first to have asked him this very question, and we were only around 10 mins from the ferry terminal. He told me very calmly which roads to take.

His directions were spot on! But we saw the DFDS boat, the Princess of Scandinavia only a few hundred metres away before we saw the first ferry sign on the road! By now it was just a case of following the traffic! Phew!

Our cabin, 4611, which was of a good size.

The boat left Gothenburg at 9.45am, heading for Kristiansand. Our cabin for the return journey was a good one- much bigger than the one for the previous outward journey's due to it being the end of a corridor, no 4611. If we ever do this journey again, I'll be asking for this very cabin!

Relaxing on the DFDS boat, after leaving Gothenburg

The pool area.

After lunch, as it was getting brighter and warmer, we decided to head to the very top of the boat, and the open air swimming pool. Sandy and I went in, and it was actually very warm!

Sandy and Dad go for a dip!

We stayed at the top of the boat, sunbathing, till around 4.30pm when we got a good viewing point to watch our arrival at Kristiansand.

Arrival in Norway!

As we were watching cars driving onto the ferry, I said to Anna that I recognised the man just along from us. I went over, and it was indeed Barry Allsop from Haddington, who had spent a week in Gothenburg! A small world indeed. Barry asked if we had room to take an extra bag of his in our car, which we were happy to do.
We then fed Olivia, and headed to the Heaven 11 cafe for some dinner.

Sailing across the North Sea...homeward bound.

At 9pm, Sandy and I went along to the children's disco on deck 7. Sandy's a bit of a charmer- he had a couple of Swedish girls running after him- and they were at least 8 or 9 years old! He also brought a girl called Veronica over to introduce to me- she was 9, and lived in Norway, but was on her way to Scotland on holiday.

The next morning, Monday 24th July 2006, we arrived back at Newcastle right on schedule at 10am, and were soon disembarking and driving back up the A1 towards Scotland and Dunbar.


Olivia meets Muumi Troll, on the Silja boat, as we approach Stockholm. (Thanks to Larisa Ivanova, from Moscow, for taking the picture and sending it to us!)

Our magnificent Silja ferry arrived on schedule in Stockholm, gliding smoothly past dozens of islands in the archipelago on its way to docking at around 9.30am. We were certainly sad to disembark.

By just after 10am, we were following signs for Gothenburg through Stockholm city, and soon we were on the E4 road, heading south west. It was already getting hot, even at 10.30am, with the car thermometer showing 24C.

At 11.45am, we stopped close to Norrkoping and had an early lunch. Outside, at the play area, as Sandy played on the climbing frames, a guy appeared with a couple of children. I was sure I recognised him as former Edinburgh speedway rider Robert Eriksson, and indeed it was. Incredible to meet a former hero, just stopping for lunch like that!

We then continued our drive, with a couple more stops for ice creams and to stretch our legs at scenic spots beside beautiful lakes. It was now very hot, over 30C, and we were glad to jump back into the air conditioned car!

The beautiful lake we stopped beside, near to Jonkoping.

At one point, Anna, Sandy and Olivia were all fast asleep as I drove. The road was very quiet and of a very high quality indeed. On the whole holiday, we didn't ever encounter a bad road in either Sweden or Finland. The infrastructure puts our country to shame.

The excellent E4 road heading towards Gothenburg, passing Jonkoping.

We got to our hotel, the Scandic Molndal, in south Gothenburg at around 4.45pm. It's a very impressive, large hotel. Our bedroom was on the third floor, room 303, and had two single beds, as well as fold down bunk beds that were hidden in the wall. Very clever! I was pretty tired after what was the longest drive of the whole holiday, 280 miles, so I had a shower to freshen up and we then walked to a nearby Chinese restaurant and sat down in the warm sunshine for dinner. It was very tasty, and I discovered a lovely cider, made from pears.

Back at the hotel, after a quick shower for Sandy and Olivia, I collapsed into a deep sleep, apparently even before them! I felt I deserved it though, as all the others had slept during the drive!

Saturday, August 26, 2006


We'd really love to stay here just for another week, or two, or three....

It's perfect here!

I'm writing this at 11.30pm in bed on the Silja boat, somewhere in the Northern Baltic!
We got up early this morning, at around 7am, and once we'd had breakfast, it was time to load up the car. It's true that whenever I have gone on holiday before, I am invariably looking forward to coming home by the end of the holiday. (sometimes even well before!) Not this time. Anna and Sandy both said they were going to miss Santalahti, the house, Kotka, and Finland. I had to agree. The sun was blazing through the trees as usual as we took a few final photos around the house. I couldn't help but think how much this holiday had meant to me. The planning of it all. The journey to get to Finland. The wonderful setting of Santalahti. The amazingly beautiful house. The weather. The fact that Anna's folks had been able to come, and had so obviously enjoyed it all. Yes, it had all been almost perfect, apart from the fact that Olga, Anna's sister, hadn't been able to make it. Now, it was time to leave, and start the long journey back across Northern Europe, to Scotland.
Olivia seemed to sense we were about to leave. She waved her hand to say goodbye. It was quite sad driving out of Santalahti, but we had already agreed that we will make every effort to return.

WE left around 11am, and soon were cruising along the E18 highway west towards Helsinki, covering the 135kms in around an hour and a half.
Helsinki was very easy to navigate around as we arrived. Before we knew it, we were in the centre, partly because the roads were so quiet.

In the centre of Helsinki!

You'd hardly believe you were in a capital city, on a Friday afternoon! Also, I again noticed how clean it all looked, like the whole of Finland in fact.

Central Helsinki, close to the harbour.

We parked by the Olympia Terminal, close to the boat, and had our packed lunch, before wandering down to the most wonderful open air market around the harbour. Wow! There were so many stalls selling mouth-watering fish, fruit and vegetables as well as souvenirs.

This is about half of the length of the inside of the Silja Serenade boat, looking at inside cabins' windows, and the walkway which is lined with bars, shops and restaurants.

Beautiful Helsinki, from the top of the boat.

By 3pm, we were checking in. Our cabin was again on the 9th floor, just along from the one we had on the outward journey.

The Viking Line ferry, about to depart alongside us, for Stockholm.

At 5pm, we went for the buffet dinner. At 32 Euros each, it sounded expensive, but I tell you, it was one of the best meals I've ever had! There was an unbelievable selection of fish, cold meats, salads, hot dishes, sweets- and free drink as well! Anna had a bottle of red wine, I plumped for a bottle of white! No wonder you had to reserve in advance for this meal!

Sandy and Olivia played in SiljaLand, we visited the kids' disco which was very well organised, and bought three photos that had been taken of us on the top deck just as we left the dock. (I don't want to say how expensive they were!) Ah well, you don't do this sort of thing every day do you?

Tomorrow, it's the drive right across Sweden westwards, from Stockholm to Gothenburg.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Just before Vladimir, Irina, Boris and Lucia depart, with Sandy

We awoke at 6am to find Anna's folks all up and ready to go, despite the fact that the departure time had been set for 10am! The driver appeared in his 8 seater VW at 10.10am, and after our goodbyes, suddenly the house felt very big and empty again, as it had when we first arrived.

Sandy, outside the house, on the North side, looking South.

We played around the house, had a game of minigolf then had some delicious rye bread rolls for lunch. After, we drove into Kotka, went to the Maretarium and bought presents for my parents and brother, Keith.

Anna and Sandy in the Sappoka Water Gardens, at the bottom of the waterfalls.

The digital thermometer outside the Maretarium read 24C at 2pm and it was again sunny in the harbour area. We then walked back to the Sapokka Water Garden and took some photos there.

Me with Sandy, before climbing to the top of the falls.

What an awesome view of Kotka, beyond Sapokka Water Park!

Sandy and me at the top of the waterfall.

Sandy was desperate to sail his wee boat that he had bought in the Maretarium!

It was a lovely afternoon! After an ice cream, we returned to the Euromarket supermarket to stock up with a few things for our return journey to Scotland.

Back at the house, our next door neighbours appeared after we had eaten dinner outside and asked us to join them. We spent the evening chatting and exchanging email addresses.

Tomorrow, we plan to load up the car and leave around 11am, heading back towards Helsinki for the Silja Serenade boat.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


This is Anna's folks' last full day here, as they leave tomorrow for St Petersburg again.
After breakfast, I took them into Kotka to do some shopping. I then came back, got Olivia, Sandy and Anna and we all also went into Kotka.

We were looking for some clothes, so spent most of the morning flitting around the shops. Anna bought three unnusual tops at sale prices- she was looking for something a little different, and she certainly managed that! No-one in Dunbar will have similar clothes, I am sure!
I bought a T-shirt, a pair of shorts and a pair of trainers, again, all were a little different from what I'd probably expect.

We had ice creams in the Sibelius Park in the sunshine, where we sat close to an attractive water feature.

When we met up with Anna's parents, it appeared Anna's mum had bought half of the shops! She had certainly found some amazing bargains- waterproof Goretex lined boots for Maxim (Sandy's cousin) that were similar to a pair we bought for Sandy a year ago- his cost us £50, Irina managed to get Maxim's for the bargain price of 20 Euros, reduced from 75 Euros! When I showed her my trainers, and their price (19 Euros) she rushed off to the shop to buy a pair for Anna's dad!

Sandy and Olivia, with Boris and Lucia

Sandy, with Baboushka and Dedoushka

Our red squirrel visitor enjoys some apple!

At home, I fired up the BBQ for the second time and cooked 2kg of pork, which we had with potatoes, sausages and brocolli.
After the meal, Anna, Sandy, Olivia Vladimir and I walked through the wood to reception, where we had beers and ice creams in the evening sun. It had been another lovely warm, sunny day. Is it ever any different here?
We had been watching a couple of red squirrels running around in the trees for a few days, and had been putting out old fruit for them. Well, today, one of them came right onto the veranda, and was happy to sit within a couple of metres of us. It sat eating bits of apple happily, and I managed to get a couple of close up photographs.

Olivia and Baboushka

Sandy and Olivia both came to the jacuzzi with me before they went to bed. They both loved it. The sauna was in use too, and why not too, as we won't be able to enjoy such luxuries once we leave here!

Tomorrow will be our last full day here. What a shame, as it's so incredibly beautiful here. I have enjoyed it so much, as has everyone else. It would be fantastic to imagine that one day we might be able to do it all again.

Olivia with a happy Dedoushka!


Today, we awoke to something we hadn't seen previously in Finland- rain! It dried up a bit during breakfast, but was looking very grey.

During breakfast, I'm not sure how it happened, but we got onto the subject of Russia, and in particular, President Putin. I asked Anna to ask her folks for their opinions of him, to which they heartily endorsed everything he has done since coming to power. I pointed out that under his leadership, things appear to have moved slightly further away from democracy- total disagreement!
I asked why places like our holiday centre at Santalahti don't exist in Russia- the reply was that they do. I suggested it would be difficult for us to stay in such a place- the reply was that, well, Russia's folks could stay there, so why would others need to! Anna told of how the landing cards you need to fill in when arriving in Russia by air have since last year been printed solely in Russian, instead of in Russian and English as they were previously, making things rather awkward for visitors to the country- shoulders were shrugged, but no-one would hear a word against Putin's policies or ideologies.

That was interesting! We discussed how former Soviet states such as Latvia, Estonia and Poland have become much more open, with stronger economies and increasing revenue from tourism since their breakaway from Russia. It made no difference to especially Anna's mum and Uncle Boris. Putin's policies and ideology certainly appears to be working: Make your subjects strongly patriotic, and dismiss any criticism from outwith of the system!!

By 10.30am, we were ready to leave for Tykkimaki Amusement Park, north of Kotka. As we drove there, I realised that the road was almost perfectly straight- all the way from Kotka to the town of Kouvola, where the Amusement Park is situated. Just as we arrived there, the heavens opened and the rain poured down! We sat in the car for a while, but then went into the Park and immediately bought plastic covers to keep ourselves dry.

Yes, on arrival at Tykkimaki it was actually raining!

However, after a few minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour, it was dry and getting rapidly brighter. Sandy loved all the rides (his ticket cost 17 Euros) and he spent four and a half hours on all sorts of different rides and activities. (See the pictures below)

Anna and Sandy see the park by pedalling hard!

Sandy about to go on the carousel.

Sandy loved driving the John Deere tractor!

Tykkimaki is a very beautiful place.

It wasn't long before the weather was brightening up, and it was becoming much warmer.

"Perhaps it would be fun to drive one of these when I grow up..."

"This driving on the right can be quite confusing!"

Behind the water slide, which is behind us, you can see the lovely setting for the whole park.

The drive back to Kotka was pretty quiet, along this picturesque road.

At 5pm, we were on our way home, in beautiful weather, temperature 24C, as usual!
Anna's parents met us back at the house and we had a lovely chicken curry outside on the veranda for dinner. It was a lovely evening. Sandy told me again that he loves Finland and wants to live here!. Well, it's easy to see why! We'd certainly love to come back, that's for sure....

Back at Santalahti, Sandy decided to start jumping off large rocks into his grandad's arms, much to his surprise!