Sunday, 18 December 2011

Hanko: peace on the beach

A quiet December day at Hanko on the southern coast of Finland. Strolling down Appelgrenintie road, I need to slow down continuously, to have a closer look at the lovely wooden villas of which many date back to the second half of the 19th century. Villa Thalatta, Villa d'Angleterre, the hotel Villa Maija... They were all there when Hanko was at the peak of its popularity as a spa resort already in the turn of the 20th century, when the wealthy tourists were enjoying spa treatments, busy social life and the lovely beach of the small town. Luckily, most of the old villas are carefully restored, even if some of them are used only during the busy summer months. 
For me the charm of Hanko lies in the more quiet months. The Hanko Casino (1879) with its twin towers stares boldly at the sea, no matter the weather, but rests during the winter. Welcome back next summer... The building's name has nothing to do with gambling; it has only served the visitors as a restaurant and a ball room. The original Hanko Spa building was right next door, but it didn't survive the time when Soviet troops occupied the Hanko Peninsula during World War II and had to be torn down after Finland got Hanko back.
When I look at the sandy beach in front of the Hanko Casino, it's almost as if it wasn't December at all. At the same time, about a year ago, the beach was frozen solid and it was white everywhere, and I left my footprints on the snow.
You could almost think that the ancient cannon guarding the shore has done something to cheer up the day, like fired a friendly shot of light into the sky. On a day like this, I am thankful for any extra rays of sunlight.
I take the narrow path that starts from the eastern shore of Itälahti bay. The path is called Love's Path and it will lead me round the Puistovuori hill. Mind you, lovers; don't count on walking hand in hand all the way because it is at times a very narrow trail. Of course, that means that you can join hands again many times.
A loving couple, G&J, has passed this way, leaving a decorated slate behind them on the ground among the fallen pine needles. I step on the wet rocks and follow the trail to a ledge next to the sea, to see a pothole. Glad they've placed a rail around it, and that it's not below zero;  the rocks are only wet, not icy, so I feel quite safe walking here. A bit further, there are some remains from World War II: derelict bunkers facing the sea. I stop to admire the view to the horizon and breath the fresh air.
Love's Path winds its way forward, across the rocks and through the forest, with the sea on my right. A wooden bridge crosses a dry ravine and I spot a bit of writing on the handrail. Clearly written by teenagers... . Jag elskar Dig! (I luv You!)
Stone steps take me down from the windy Puistovuori hill. On my left, the steep moss-covered rock creates an illusion of a wall that continues forever.  The path turns into a lane and I spot tiny holiday homes on the trees. Alright, birdhouses, but there are so many of them in small area that it seems like this is a holiday village for the birds... In such a great location, close to the beach...
The weather is not a great delight today, if you are a friend of sunshine, but I still continue along the Långsanda beach towards the other end of Kolaviken Bay. It might rain, it might not; we'll see.
The pedestrian path on the shore may seem endless, but even so, you won't be bored. On the right you can spot small and large villas from Hanko's spa era, and on the left there is the sea which is never dull to watch. A huge cargo ship has just left Hanko harbour to cross the Baltic Sea, and the sky is ever-changing.
Finally, I reach my destination: Neljän Tuulen Tupa (The House of the Four Winds) which is true to its name. I bet it's almost always windy here. The café first opened in 1904, and in 1927-33 it was owned by Carl Gustaf Mannerheim who was then a Hanko resident. Not perhaps such a famous person then, but Mannerheim became Finland's 6th President in 1944-1946. In the summer time, there is a café, but of course it is closed off-season. There are still some remains of the summer: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are still very much alive although it is December!
I wonder if the round granite table rested on the rocks already when Mannerheim was running the café. A great choice however, because plastic chairs would not survive in these winds. It is as if the waves were splashing against the rocks more fiercely.. Time to turn back towards Hanko centre. 
I've hardly started my journey back when it starts. The hail storm, that is. Suddenly the scenery changes to white, and the hail beats against my face. Better tighen the hood.  The couple walking in front of me chooses to take shelter below some large trees but I tread on. It can't last too long.
It's as if someone had taken a large bag of pearl sugar and sprinkled it on the beach. On this stretch of land, you can stop to have a look at things large and very small...
The hail storm is over in a couple of minutes, and the wind begins to die as well. The sun comes up for a second and sheds some light on the waves. The Långsanda Beach is coated with hail sugar and looks almost surreal. I spend a moment looking at the Baltic Sea. It is very hard to imagine what this beach is like in the summer, filled with people, warmth, different sounds of life... At this moment the beach is all mine, and I can only hear what Nature wants me to hear.

When I return to Hanko centre, the light is already starting to fade, although it is only early afternoon. I take a peek at the yard of an old building. Even though there is no snow, you can tell there is Xmas in the air.

Walking on the Bulevardi street, I get some uninvited company from above. This time it is not hail but rain... Alright, perhaps it is time to step inside for a change. How about a cup of tea and some freshly baked bread in an old villa? Yes, please. My destination is clear: Alan's Café at Villa Orrman. And I'm not in a rush to leave...

No comments:

Post a Comment