Kymenlaakso 2015. III. Hamina


Orthodox Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Hamina, Kymenlaakso region, Finland

The town of Hamina, located in about 35 km from the Russian border, has population of only about 21,000 (10,000 if you discount suburbs and villages), but as far as smallish Finnish towns go, it is a very cool one, thanks to its unusual city plan. Hamina is a fortress town, with fortress-like octagonal planning and surrounding bastions and ramparts still preserved to this day.

The place which later became Hamina was historically known as Vehkalahti (Finn. Calla Bay, after a flower), and indeed Vehkalahti Municipality with a calla flower on its coat of arms still existed near Hamina up until their merger in 2003. Villages in Vehkalahti existed since the Middle Ages, and in 1653 Vehkalahti kirkonkylä (church village) was promoted to a town, unimaginatively named Vehkalahden Uusikaupunki (Finn. Vehkalahti New Town; not to be confused with a city named simply Uusikaupunki, to the north of Turku). 1653 is thus considered the year of Hamina founding, which makes Hamina the oldest Kymenlaakso city.

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Kymenlaakso 2015. II. Salpa Line Museum


Trenches and observation tower in Salpa Line Museum, Miehikkälä Municipality, Kymenlaakso Region, Finland

The history of the Finnish defensive fortification lines against Russia starts with the declaration of independence of Finland in 1917. The Bolsheviks basically let Finland go, presumably due to having too much trouble on their hands to bother trying to keep hold of the splinter of Russian Empire which had never been even remotely Russian to begin with. Despite the generous gesture, relations between newborn Soviet Russia and Finland remained tense. An extremely bloody civil war erupted in Finland, just as it did in Russia; but unlike in Russia, even with Soviet support, the Reds in Finland were brutally crushed. Moreover, it was Finland which then initiated military intervention in various parts of Russian Karelia, hoping to sway Karelian people (closely related to the Finnish) to join their country. The intervention, known as “Kinship Wars” in Finland, was rather minor in scale and ultimately the Karelians turned out to be apathetic about the whole thing, but nonetheless that was one more reason for Soviet Russia to be on not very friendly terms with Finland.

Thus the idea of the Mannerheim Line was born. It was not what it was really called at the time, but it was indeed commissioned by Field Marshal Mannerheim, the famed Finnish commander-in-chief throughout the interwar period and the World War II. The line was meant to be a contiguous line of fortifications, including concrete bunkers, dragon’s teeth, barbed wire, and natural features such as lakes and impassable swamps. It stretched across the entire Karelian Isthmus, from Humaljoki (Yermilovo) at the coast of the Gulf of Finland to Taipale (Solovyovo) at the coast of the Ladoga Lake.

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Kymenlaakso 2015. I. The Coast of Good Winds


The Gulf of Finland coast in Pitkäthiekat Camping, Vilniemi, Hamina Municipality, Kymenlaakso Region, Finland

The southeasternmost region of Finland is called Kymenlaakso, which means Kymi Valley in Finnish. It is not the largest region of Finland, nor the most important one; and it does not correspond to any historical province, as its territory used to be split between Uusimaa, Karelia, and Tavastia. Its population is 180,000 which, honestly, isn’t that much.

Nonetheless, Kymenlaakso in my opinion has a distinct and charming personality. Over the last year I’ve seen a fair bit of Finland; so far I haven’t really seen any towns or places I really disliked, but I must admit some places do really seem a bit bland (Mikkeli and Joensuu come to mind, for example). Kymenlaakso, on the other hand, is really a place you just want to come back to again and again. And best of all, it is very close to the Russian border, so you can come and visit and see quite a bit over just a weekend.

Kymenlaakso consists of three cities (Kotka, Hamina, and Kouvola), and several rural municipalities. Its geography is typical of Southern Finland: jagged rocky coast with numerous skerry guards, and bright pine forests inland. Kymenlaakso lies just outside the great Finnish lakeland, and it has no major lakes and just one major river, but it’s a pretty big one, named Kymi (Kymijoki). Kymi is one of the few rivers penetrating the Salpausselkä Ridge (Finn. Padlock Ridge), a low but solid ridge marking the southernmost border of the Ice Age glacier (in other words, a terminal morraine). Päijänne Lake, the second largest lake system of Finland, drains through Kymi into the Gulf of Finland; however Päijänne itself does not belong to Kymenlaakso.

Kymenlaakso naturally splits into two subregions: Kotka-Hamina is the part of Kymenlaakso along the coast of the Gulf of Finland, and Kouvola is the more inland part. Kotka-Hamina subregion, in particular, promotes itself as “The Coast of Good Winds”, under “Southwest 135°” brand; see their tourist website. And while “The Coast of Good Winds” might not be an especially imaginative slogan, it really suits this place, as I learned in my solo weekend road trip in September 2015, which I’m about to tell you about.

I visited the Salpa Line Museum and the city of Hamina in the first day, then slept in a cabin in Pitkäthiekat Camping near Hamina, and then saw Kotka and its Vellamo Marine Museum in the second day. Still, this series of posts will be a little out of the chronological order; first I intend to tell of the bits which do not belong elsewhere.

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Lappi 2015. IX. Return Trip


Reindeer skull found near a rest area on Route E8 (Northern Lights Road), near Gálggojávri Lake and the Finnish border, Storfjord Municipality, Troms County, Norway

It feels cool to stand at the edge of the world. Only there’s no edge here as such and the world still continues on, but you get the idea. But anyway the 70th parallel North sounds like a suitably impressive achievement. And now I guess it’s time to turn around.

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