Finland, home to Santa, Rudolph, elves, Mummy Christmas, and five and a half million real people.

Oh yes, and according to local legend, Tontos. No, not a friendly chap who accompanies the Lone Ranger, but a mythical small person who exists to be nice to children.

After a long weekend, I can say that I am still glowing from the trip. I had previously contacted the local tourist board at the third largest Finnish city, Tampere, asking for advice as to what to do, as I was taking my 12 year old grand daughter with me. They came up with an excellent programme full of activities.

Eastbourne to Victoria, then the Terravision coach to Stansted (£15 return) for the Ryanair flight direct to Tampere, lasting just over two and a half hours. Certainly wasn’t going to pay £50 extra just to place a case in the hold, so ensured that hand luggage contained all necessary for the short trip. There is a direct cheap bus from Tampere airport to the main square/railway station, where the main hotels are located. The central area is based on an island between two lakes that are usually frozen over during winter snows, with rapids making the river virtually un-navigable. Until twenty years ago it was a commercial town, but with industry moving away Tampere re-invented itself as a major tourist destination.

We stayed in a twin bedded room at the centrally located Cumulus Hotel. Language is not a problem, because after Swedish, which is learned from year three, English is taught as part of the curriculum, and I found very few people who could not communicate. The secret is to speak slowly and clearly, because they naturally expect you to initially talk in their native language. Then it is very easy, because they dislike the Swedish language, reckoning it to have little value except if you have business dealings in that direction. Russian is of greater value, as Finland shares a large border on the east.

We managed to tag onto a sight-seeing group on Saturday morning, with the commentary in English, so were able to get a good idea for the town. It is quite large, with over 200,000 inhabitants, with an emphasis on leisure, most of the residences having saunas, even small-ish apartments. It has a lot of history if you wish to gain more information here, but we were happy with going to the privately owned Spy Museum, full of artefacts used for this strange profession. The children present were given a sheet with questions to answer about the museum, one of which was to ascertain the type of spy camera in the secret room. This had a sliding door, rope across saying not to enter. Of course, I did, setting off the alarm for the whole place. Embarrassed? No, I just shrugged it off, and when I gave granddaughter her spy certificate (all completed by yours truly) she is now qualified to be an agent for Russia. Not good enough for Israel, however.

Lunch was at the Harald Restaurant, owned by a man who was a Viking. Lovely plates of cold meats, followed by hot food, completed by lots of choice for sweet, including the strangest tasting ice cream I have ever had – tar flavoured. Yes, you read it right, tar. I asked how many Vikings had died in the experiment before they discovered this ingredient, but the humour lost in translation.

We went to a dolphinarium after lunch, which is part of an entertainment complex with lots of other activities. Well worth a visit any time of year, then it was off to a health club, sauna first followed by swim. Separate changing areas, where the locals wandered around completely starkers. I didn’t think Finland was ready for my portly form, so remained in trunks. Granddaughter was particularly discomfited at seeing the unclothed female form, but fortunately the ladies in our party were able to reassure her. I loved the sauna, trying it both before and after the well heated pool.

Dinner was at the revolving restaurant, part of the dolphin complex. Almost a gourmet menu, comprising pumpkin soup, followed by salmon confit, pickled root vegetables, then elk from Rantsila region (dry, strong, tasty, well worth trying), apple and cinnamon, we didn’t leave hungry. I have eaten in revolving restaurants before, and this 124 metres high one didn’t disappoint, with superb views, a quality location. Don’t expect it to be cheap, these places aren’t, but it is well worth the treat.

After Sunday breakfast we had a wander around the Christmas market, but if you are visiting at another time of year bear in mind that the Sunday opening for shops is 11am. They are quite religious, with many churches of a lot of denominations, but I was again surprised to find a door locked when I wanted to visit, opening at 11am. Tampere is an interesting city to visit at any time, and after the market we went to Tallipiha stable yards, quite close to the town, enjoying a horse drawn large cart ride lasting about a quarter of an hour. Quite an interesting place for a short visit, but be sure to visit the chocolate shop, and have a mug of hot chocolate. Delicious. The stable have some market stalls, and I bought Pam’s Christmas card, asking the lady to write ‘Merry Christmas’ in Finnish. Could have been congratulations on passing your horse riding test for all I knew, but the thought was there.

In the afternoon we went out into the country for a drive, firstly to the north, where we visited the Ilola Farmhouse, starting with a horse drawn sleigh in the snow, then watched the horses being schooled in the indoor arena. There are lots of lovely small animals to pet, and this superb location with its b&b, very comfortable rooms, homely atmosphere, welcomed us well.

We wanted to try a typical Finnish country cottage, with a local menu. Villa Amanda is to the south east of Tampere, getting on for an hours’ drive away, but the winter roads were clear and navigable. At no time did we feel unsafe driving on the local roads as well as city, sensible driving all the time. Villa Amanda has the obligatory sauna, with host speaking English, so we were able to appreciate this facility, followed by an ice hole. Have a look at the accompanying photo to see, but I must confess that granddaughter and myself didn’t have sufficient courage to have a dip. The secret is to have the sauna first, then rush for the immersion while your body is warm and invigorated.

Dinner was help yourself, starting with cold platter of raw salted salmon with horseradish, rowanberry treacle, cold-smoked salmon cake flavoured with mulled wine, trumped chanterelle jam, apple herring, Baltic herring in mustard, dill potatoes, traditional green salad, cherry tomatoes, grilled country cheese, sugar-frosted cranberries, egg and sour cream sauce, Christmas rosolli salad, beetroot cream.

This was followed by a selection of Christmas ham roasted in ryecrust, home-made mustard, peas and citron prunes, Farmers stew and root vegetables baked in oven, sweetened lingonberry, traditional mashed potato casserole, Swede casserole, Carrot casserole, home-brewed beer, vanilla pannacotta, crumbled gingerbread cookies and berry sauce

We left replete.

The next morning after a leisurely breakfast found us back at Tampere airport. So, what were our impressions of our trip. I really enjoyed spending a break with my granddaughter, and am glad that we spent it in such a magical location. Tampere is geared up for the tourist any time of the year, language is no barrier, and I can think of many obvious European destinations for a weekend away. Tampere is all the better for not fitting into this category. It’s somewhere different, and I recommend you to try.

What did Clemmie think? She loved that there was plenty of activity for youngsters, it was very clean, the people were so friendly, it’s something for her to have good memories about for many years to come. www.visittampere.fi for more.

Fly direct from London Stansted to Tampere Ryanair
Terravision coach direct from London Victoria www.terravision.eu
Cumulus Hotel Tampere www.cumulus.fi
Tallipiha stables www.tallipiha.fi

Harry The Writer

About Harry Pope

Very few writers earn more than £10,000 annually. Harry is one of the poorer ones. He is no longer middle-aged, as he knows no-one who is getting on for 140. Literary success has come with an attempt at maturity – failed both – but marital stability with Pam has more than compensated. He is an accomplished speaker, talking on a variety of topics, including how not to run a hotel, buried secrets, and what’s it worth. See Harry The Talker. He has five published books, see Harry The Writer. He is Eastbourne’s only licensed sight-seeing guide see Harry The Walker. He has a daily blog see Harry The Blogger. The only site not purchased is www.harrytheeverything.com but that might come, who knows. He was a London funeral director for many years, then started Cheam Limousines in 1990, selling some thirteen years later. Arriving in Eastbourne in the Summer of 2003, Harry and Pam first bought a small guest house, then a large hotel, which proved to be disastrous because of their business partnership with a moron from California. He now walks, and talks, sometimes both at the same time.