Our Saturday morning was slow going, but eventually we dragged ourselves from the hotel room and down to breakfast. First up was a Kotka city bus tour for the conference participants. It was in Finnish, but Mika tried to translate for us when possible. It was a nice drive around, but Kubo and I decided we’d want to come back and explore more things from outside of the bus. Therefore, Mika, Kubo, and I headed back into Kotka for more exploring later in the afternoon.
Our first stop was St. Nicholas Church (Pyhän Nikolaoksen kirkko), the Orthodox church that sits within Isopuisto park that was built in 1801. Isopuisto has walking trails among the trees and large planted flower displays.
Next up was Sapokka Water Garden which is near the harbor on Sapokanlahti Bay. I’m still milking the fact I never got the ice cream promised me during our Fimmvörðuháls hike in Iceland, so I spotted an ice cream stand and Kubo treated me to a pear ice cream cone before we continued walking. There is a manmade waterfall which is created by sea water that is pumped into the feature, and various sculptures and plants along the way. It was a super warm day (we really lucked out with the weather on this trip!), so great to spend it outdoors. After walking up an appetite, we stopped for sandwiches and coffee at Marina Cafe Laituri on the harbor, enjoying the water views.
Located on the southernmost tip of Kotkansaari is Katariina Seaside Park, our next stop. This area was a former harbor for oil companies, and beginning in 2004 all the tanks were removed and clean up performed and the area turned into a very large park. There’s picnic areas, playgrounds (with in-ground mini trampolines!!!), exercise equipment, skate park, an official place for scattering of ashes at sea, a meditation labryinth, lookout tower, drums and xylophones, mini lighthouses, hammicks, and lovely green grass… so much stuff! Oh, and you can see Russia from here… seriously! Seriously a very cool park with a little of something for everyone, and it’s great that they took a former industrial site and repurposed it into a beautiful park.
By now it was evening, so time to rest up for the final activity of the night, a Broadcast concert. Broadcast is a Finnish pop-rock band that formed in the 1980s. We had front row seats, and it was a great show! To boot, they sing in English, so for the first time in days I could understand what was going on! (Side note – I didn’t find English to be as ubiquitous in Finland as it had been in Iceland, where it’s almost the default language everyone uses.)
Sunday would be our final full day in Kotka, and we took it pretty easy with lounging around and preparing for a reindeer stew dinner with Mallu’s parents. Mika readied their hot tub by filling it with water and heating it while Kubo and Mallu tackled cutting the fat off of a very large chunk of reindeer meat. I’ll admit, I was pretty excited to try reindeer as I had grown up on elk meat.
We enjoyed a late lunch of smoked salmon (Mika cooked up some delicious chicken breast for me), and then we set out on a Sunday walk to the Kymi river, passing by the Siikakosken Arboretum. The Kymi river in this region was once the border between Sweden and Russia way back in they day from 1743 to 1809. We walked along the shore, and out on a sketchy-to-me wooden bridge out in the water, and back through a golf course. We walked several miles, but it was great to get out in the trees and nature for awhile. I’ll always lean towards being more nature-oriented in my travels, so I enjoyed this bit (and really want to come back to Finland to visit Lapland).
The reindeer stew turned out AMAZING! It actually tasted like a delicious, tender beef dish to me, and I enjoyed it immensely. After dinner, I joined Mallu in the sauna. Though I am not a fan of being hot whatsoever, I survived my first true Finnish sauna experience, and then we jumped into the hot tub while the guys enjoyed their turn in the sauna. Once again, a another great night of company and conversation!