Thursday, 17 May 2012

Imatra: from Spa to Rethink flowers

A flock of clouds covers the skies above Imatra, South Carelia, with only a glimpse of the blue sky every now and then. I leave the asphalt in front of Imatra Spa and step onto the path by the forest to look for the E10 symbol among the different trail signs (E10 = European Long Distance Trail). Oh yes, these are raindrops. But light as rain... My chosen trail winds down towards Lake Saimaa and I take a side step right to the sandy beach. Silly me, I forget to dip my fingers in the lake to test the water...
The blue flowers of common hepatica (sinivuokko in Finnish) are shivering among the brown leaves from last autumn, and most of them have their petals closed. The only rays of sunshine seem to come from the groups tiny coltsfeet (leskenlehti in Finnish). I wish it stopped raining; the path is already fairly muddy in some places. So glad I'm wearing a pair of waterproof hiking shoes.
Soon I leave the conifers behind and arrive at a grove which is just about to turn the colour of spring, with the welcome arrival of some sunlight. The two young birches are leaning towards the ground with arched backs as if they were practicing tango steps.
The delicate green seems to get brighter and brighter as the sun does its magic. The fresh leaves resemble butterflies, or birds. I can't decide. I take a deep breath. The air tastes so good now that the rain is over.
When I arrive at Mustarastaankatu street, I begin to wonder which way to go. Where are the blue trail marks hiding? I make a futile attempt to find the next trail marks in the forest and finally give in - should consult a map. Which I don't have with me because it wasn't possible to get one on a Saturday. Luckily, the answer can be found online with a cell phone and I find that E10 trail continues between the two houses along Nuijasuonkatu street. Very soon I start spotting the familiar blue paint marks again, on trees or traffic signs.
Some horses are spending the afternoon outside, but otherwise the stables seem deserted. One of the horses neighs loudly - because of me? - and runs back and forth behind the fences. Good for him, at least it makes the place more alive. Where are all the riders? A sign says that horse riding is allowed also on the footpath but I can keep it to myself.
Next, the blue trail marks lead me to Tainionkoski bridge which crosses the great Vuoksi river, that further downstream once flowed freely as Imatrankoski Rapids. Here at Tainionkoski, Vuoksi has already surrendered its energy to the hydroelectric power plant. Once there were rapids here as well.
After crossing the bridge, the E10 turns right, leading me through the forest to Neitsytniemi Manor. The manor is now open by agreement for parties and there are also some rooms available. As I pass the building, a group of people is entering the house with their flower bouquets, ready to enjoy a party beneath the chandeliers. Apparently someone is celebrating his or her birthday here today.
The following day I return to Neitsyniemi Manor's granite gateposts and continue along the long distance trail - which is funny, because I am only doing such a short stretch of it! The trail is heading towards Vuoksenniska, one of Imatra's suburbs. When the sun shines between the larches on my right, I simply have to stop and admire the colours!
Nor can avoid stopping at the birch forest that at first glance may seem almost colourless but yet it is so vibrant, with just a touch of the tender green bursting out.
The trail takes me under Vuoksenniskantie road, through the pedestrian tunnel where I don't notice anything special at first. However, when my eyes get used to the light, I discover the mural paintings, the lake landscapes with their boats. Luckily the artwork is not totally covered by graffiti.
After crossing the railroad I again start to look for the blue paint marks, but in vain. However, another look at the online map reveals that I need to look back on the left; there is no clearly marked path but you need to rely on the remains of blue paint on the birches - this is the way to go.
Once I'm on the ridge, with the railroad tracks on my left, the path is again clearly marked. The red brick tower is tall and impressive, but I'm more fascinated by the shadows of the trees that fall on the tower. A surprising work of art that will soon fade away.
The trail soon lands next to a wire-netting fence which protects the high voltage power line. Someone has managed to make a hole in the fence. Why? Who would want to go through? Not me! When I come face to face with a wild rose bush that grows right on the fence, I would however welcome a pair of strong cutters to trim the roses down. Especially because the rose bush is not even in flower yet.
A bit further, I once again start to wonder if I should walk straight or take a right turn at the large ditch. When I start to search for the trail signs, I accidentally find a lovely spring flower, mezereon (näsiä in Finnish). And yes, I should have turned right.
The trail follows a street for a while, leading me between lovely old houses (and at least one abandoned one), along Kuusirinne street. The remains of the last snow this year (I hope!) are resting on the banks of the railroad tracks.
Here E10 mostly follows jogging tracks that run through the forest. No motorbikes here, thank you. And keep your dog on a leash. The Vuoksenniska nature trail is partly on the same route but I will explore that some other time when I will hopefully have the nature trail leaflet with me.
I love to walk along the path from Vuoksenniska towards Kaukopää; it feels so soft beneath my feet. It is especially nice now that I have started to break in my brand new hiking boots that will of course require a bit of time before they have befriended my feet. The sun is shining, there is birdsong in the air - even the first cuckoo this spring!

I pass an empty, yet green football field, then arrive back close to the road for a while until the path winds back among the trees. On the right, very close by, you can see the Kolmen Ristin kirkko, or the Church of Three Crosses. The church, designed by architect Alvar Aalto, is often open for visitors.
Oh what is that smell which so thrills the nose (or rather, which doesn't)? You can't mistake sensing that the Stora Enso pulp, paper and board mills are close by. Lättälä housing area is trying to soften the blow by its stylish houses which represent functionalism. If only the round window wasn't facing that way, towards the Kaukopää mill and its parking lot!
Stora Enso's Kaukopää mill is simply huge and it commands the landscape. The company has been promoting its Rethink company philosophy recently so why shouldn't I rethink as well. The trick to minimize the massive mill is to kneel down and instead focus on the tiny yellow flowers among the grass. Voilà! The small star of Bethlehem has taken over the landscape.

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