Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Kuopio as a local

In Finland, there is no season more beautiful than another. They all have their own magic. In Autumn the trees turn red, orange and yellow. Landscapes change to almost unreal paintings. Finns call this period of the year "Ruska" (vivid Autumn colors). With a friend from France, we decided to go for a weekend to the city of Kuopio, in the lakeland region. Why Kuopio? Because the Autumn colors were not yet arrived in the Southern parts of the country (mid-September) and they were almost gone in Lapland. Kuopio is ideally located in the middle of the country. The other aims of the trip were to experient a long-distance trip by bus and to enjoy a city as a local. I've already visited that city more than once but always by my own, always going to the same places. For my firend it was a new experience. It was time to ask for help from the tourist office of Kuopio.

Early birds in the capital of the Kalakukko

We traveled with Onnibus during the night and arrived at the bus station at 4:35am (Read the story here). The sky was still dark and the streets were quiet.

City hall built in 1882 is an architectural master piece

As it was too early for breakfast, we decided to stay a bit at the market square. It was like coming back to life after a quiet night. The first mercants were installing their tents and caravans where they would sell vegetables or coffee. The pink-orange city hall on the North of the square has a beautiful architectural style.

Colorful sunrise over Kallavesi lake

As the sky was getting lighter, we dicided to walk to the harbor to admire the sunrise. It was a cloudy day but the sky was painted in pink. The beautiful colors were reflecting on the water. It was like being in front of a Monet piece of art. It was surrealistic with all the small islands in the background.

Like two queens in a hotel

We love our room!

Around 7am, we went to our hotel Original Sokos Hotel Puijonsarvi ideally located in the city center, a few meters away from the cathedral. The receptionist was very friendly and told us all what we needed to know. Surprisingly, the room was already available. It was located at the 3rd foor in the building on the other side of the road, accessible by an underground tunnel. When we opened the door we had the lovely surprise to discover a small room beautifully decorated. It was modern and design. The green, black, white and dark red colors fitting perfectly together. The wooden floor brings to the room a warm atmosphere. We rested a bit before going to the breakfast buffet.

Glass and green apple tons: again, we love it!

The buffet was not the biggest we've seen but it was well filled. There was everything you could wish for a delicious breakfast: salty buffet, bakeries, yogurts, breads, jams, eggs. We particularly loved that the local delicacy "kalakukko" (fish pie) was included. For those who like porridge, they could choose between the water and milk version. People with gluten intolerence have their own breads, muffins and cereals. But what we particulary liked was the tap for water and fruit juices. You just had to choose on the pad what you wanted and your glass was filled automatically. Very funny. Once again, all employees were very friendly. Everybody said "good morning" and was smiling.

Discovering the soul of Kuopio

At 10:30am, Marika our guide was waiting for us in the lobby of our hotel. After we discussed what we were interested in seeing, she drove us to the passenger harbor that is the heart of the summer life. It was a very quiet morning. The sun was shining but not many people or birds were in the area. Kuopio is a city that offers a lot of activities. In the wooden warehouses, two different companies are selling materials for extreme sports. At 60km is located Tahko, a place where to experiement all kinds of activities in winter and in summer time.

Kuopio is a green city. There are parks a bit everywhere and suitable for everybody. What really caught our attention were the children playgrounds. They were all brand new, very well designed and attractive. Some had a pirate ship! It must be super cool to be a child in Kuopio. The city is taking great care that the streets and parks are enjoyable. There is art and design everywhere. No wall is let grey. Walking in the streets is almost like visiting an art gallery.

It is not a city that is turned to the past. After the downturn of the wood industry in the last decade, Kuopio's economy swirled to the innovation and technologies. The university is one of the best of the country, especially for medical researches. But the wood industry is still a major. It has just changed, following the modern trends. For example, many researches are done on bio fuel. Food industry is another main industry of the city. Citizens are younger and better educated that the average in the country according to the city's website.

Very well decorated bench beside the lake Valkeinen
These frogs are decorating a parking lot wall

New wing (left) and amphitheater for the city theater

The theater was still under renovation when we came. The building got a new extention and an outside amphitheater. It will be one of the main sites for cultural events. Just behind it is the lake Valkeinen, just bigger than a pond. Joggers love to run along the way, while other prefer reading books on a bench or admiring the landscape. A botanic garden includes a huge number of different local plants, all labelled. "It's beautiful during spring time," our guide told. The lake is also a great spot for fishing trouts.

Lake Valkeinen

Hundreds of flowers bloom every spring: it's a moment to experience!

While driving around, we noticed immediately that Kuopio is full of small businesses: hair dressers, flower shops, bakeries and so on. The city has a lot of know-how and people love to visit the places. We stopped for a little while in the yard of wooden houses where one of the local gems is located: the Hanna Partanen bakery. It is a famous place for pirakka and meat pies. They got an excellence price a few years ago. The place is not fancy at all: no table, no window, no wall paper nor decorations. Here, you just go to the cashier and buy what you want.

We had the privilege to visit the factory just next door. The smell of fresh pirakkas just getting out of the oven is heaven. Hundreds of these little rice pastries are produced each day. Pirakka taste better when they are served with melted butter on top or with a butter-egg mix.

On our way to the most famous sight of the city, the tower of the Puijo's hill, we saw a brand new Finnish base-ball (pesäpallo) stadium and people training for cross-country skiing. "The national team trains here," our guide told. The way up to the hill is approximately 1km long and is very steep. 300m before reaching the top, Marika turned right on a little path that lead to the golf course and to the farm of Konttila. This area of 500 hectars is protected. The forest is different from the forests in Lapland or in the South of the country. There were pine trees as well as hardwood. These woods looked like an enchanted forest: colors were beautiful. Some people were looking for berries or mushrooms, alone or in family.

After almost 1km drive we reached the Konttila farm built in 1770 which is probably Kuopio's oldest building. It is not a usual farm. It is an herritage site where some passionated people are renovating, following the traditions. "The aim is to show visitors how it was to be a farmer in the old times on Puijo's hill," Keijo Heikkinen, the owner of the place told. Every year about 15.000 people visit the place and 10.000 stop by the café (open daily from 11 to 18). In winter time, the place is ideally located in the middle of the cross-country tracks for who want a hot coffee or cocoa. "Everything is hand made". On the table some delicious pastries were tempting us. Honey is also locally produced.

Keijo and his freshly baked vanilla buns

The kantele is a traditional plucket string instrument

The farm is also a nature center with permanent and temporary exhibitions and a guiding center for hikers and skiiers. "Soon all the renovations will be done. We'd like to get more visitors, especially tourists," the owner wishes. The main Finnish event are celebrated there. Juhannus (mid-summer) is probably one of the most important. People from Kuopio that are not travelling to their summer cottages are coming to the farm to see the bonfire. In winter, a Finnish breed horse pulling a carriage brings the visitors to the farm, crossing the winter wonderland. Other animals can be spotted at the farm such as goats, chicken and sheeps. "These sheeps are Finnish. There are only 200 left in the country. Their particulatity is that the wool is soft and not sticky. No need to wash your hands after touching it".

Once we said goodbye to Keijo we headed to Kuopio's most famous landmark: The Puijo tower (Puijon torni). On the top of the hill, the tower is 75 meters high and offers the best view over the city and the whole region. By clear weather you can see up to 200km away! If you are looking for a unique and romantic restaurant, the tower is the place to be.

As mentionned earlier, Kuopio is a sports city. The last place we visited with our guide was the Kuopio hall. That day there was an event which gathered together all sports associations: judo, ice skating, archery, dance, ice hockey, ski jumping and tens of others. The aim was to show to children and their parents the wide range the city has to offer. Maybe some of them will become Olympic champion. "I'd wish there was such an event in my town in France when I was a kid," told my friend with enthusiasm.

Before saying thank you and goodbye to our guide, we asked for some recommendations for the evening. She told us about three restaurants at only a few hundreds of meters from our hotel:
1. Intro: a newly renovated bar that offers food in a lounge ambiance.
2. Kummisetä: traditional and local food in a dark and classy place.
3. Isä Camillo: located in a former bank, this restaurant served local delicacies.

Around 8pm, we left our room and choose the second option as it was located in the same street as our hotel. When we arrived we saw the beautiful plates that the waitresses were bringing to the customers. The smell of the mushroom sauce was absolutely devine. Unfortunatelly the restaurant was fully booked and we had to head to the option number 3. As for Kummisetä, the restaurant was fully booked. We didn't expect that. Are Kuopio people going more easily to the restaurants on Saturday evenings than Helsinkians? Luckily, there was some room for the service at 10pm.

What to do for two hours? We decided to enjoy the night by taking some night pictures in the park near the church. Kuopio, as any city in Finland, is absolutely safe. This is something we really appreciate in this country.

The restaurant Isä Camillo was classy, decorated in black and white. But it was warm. The menu was not extensive but each option was a huge temptation. High prices might be expected for such a place and such menu. On the contrary. It was affrodable. As Kuopio is sourrounded by lakes, I chose the pike-perch with cherry tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and cappers (23.50€). My friend selected the slow braised elk entrecote (29€). Perfect dinner to end this amazing trip.

Finally, we left Kuopio at 11:15 on board of a bus from Onnibus. This time, it wasn't the 2-floor bus but a normal passenger bus. We changed bus in Jyväskylä. This trip was one hour longer than the other way and it cost 30€ per passenger.

In Kuopio, we felt like being home. It's a city at human size where everything is done to make life enjoyable. People are extremely friendly and nice.

Many thanks to Visit Kuopio for helping us having a cheerful weekend. Special thanks to Marika, our lovely guide who showed us the soul of Kuopio.

Useful links
Visit Kuopio
Konttila farm
Hanna Partanen bakery in Finnish

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