The alarms rang what seemed to be too early, but Kubo and I got out of bed quite easy, eager to see Finland in the daylight and get to exploring this new land. For the next week, Kotka would be our homebase, and I liked the idea of “living more like a local” on this trip versus feeling like a tourist hoping from one sight to another.
Kotka, located in eastern Finland (“practically Russia” and “I can see Russia from my backyard” territory), is a city of about 55,000 people in the Kymenlaakso region. Finland’s largest port is located here as the city lays on the Baltic Sea and at the end of the Kymi river, and there are paper and pulp mills in the area. There are two city centers, Kotkansaari (which is an island), and Karhula. The slogan for Kotka is “City by the sea,” or Merikaupunki.
After breakfast, staring down the European shower controls (which I at least knew how to use now, unlike when I first arrived in Iceland… not to mention Finland’s hot water isn’t sourced from scalding hot geothermal water), and discovering the weather was warm and gorgeous, we set out to join Mika for a morning driving lesson where we got to see a bit more of Kotka. Afterwards we drove north to the “slippery track,” where winter driving techniques are taught to new drivers. In the evening we joined some of the other local driving instructors as they set up for the conference, and Kubo got to experience his first Finnish sauna experience (Finland is downright crazy about saunas!).
Friday was a busy day with the driving instructor conference at the Maritime Centre Vellamo (Merikeskus Vellamo). Kubo and I would join for the morning portion, which took place entirely in Finnish. If anything is Germanic/nordic based, I can usually start figuring out the language (I can read Swedish food labels, for example, which is helpful in Finland actually since Swedish is one of their official languages). Finnish? Yep, I managed to figure out the word for restaurant (ravintola), and cheese slicer (juustohöylä). Hours of Finnish, and I still couldn’t grasp it. However, I still found myself paying good attention! Kubo got the honor of speaking for a few minutes (in English), which was super exciting!
Kubo and I had the afternoon free, so we took to exploring the museums located at the Maritime Centre Vellamo: Maritime Museum of Finland (Suomen Merimuseo), the Kymenlaakso Museum (Kymenlaakson Museo), and the Coast Guard Museum (Meri Vartio Museo). Three museums all in one building!!! There were a few special exhibitions going on as well. The Icebreaker Tarmo wasn’t open yet, but we were able to explore the Sea Monsters exhibit, which was great since we missed out on the sea monster museum while visiting Iceland, and this exhibition did mention some of the Icelandic ones. We also looked through the Glass for Everyone Karhula 1889-2009 exhibit.
After spending a decent amount of time at the museums we took off on foot to head to the hotel, with some detours in the city center. We walked around the Kotka Church (Kotkan Kirkko), which houses the largest Baroque-style organ in Finland (I’m all about the random facts!), and along the Sculpture Promenade on Keskuskatu street and through Sibeliuksenpuisto park.
Exploring done, we headed to our room at the Sokos Hotel for a nap before the evening’s reception, party, and Beatles tribute band at Kairo, a historic sailors’ bar and restaurant. This legit was one of the funnest nights of my life as we enjoyed great food, great company, music, and conversation! Heck, I even got dragged out on the dance floor so Finland could witness how I’m hopelessly uncoordinated and have no rhythm!