Friday, 29 June 2012

Ilomantsi: Views and dolls

Lake Ilomantsi sparkles in the late afternoon sun. I have to shade my eyes, the light is so bright. The lakeside footpath leads me close to a hotel and an asphalt road but I choose a grass covered path up the hill instead.
There are a couple of hares jumping on the hillside where the grass is longer. The pasture and the old drying barn again makes me imagine I've stepped back in time. This open space where the only sound you hear is pretty much just the wind. Wish I had a picnic basket with me! This would be a perfect spot for a lazy day out in the sun.
On the other side of the open hillside there is an orthodox cross with its typical Karelian decorations. The cross stands on the hill where Ilomantsi's first Orthodox churches were since the 15th century until 1794. However, there is another memorial right next to it: also the first Lutheran churches stood here. The first one was built in 1653 and the fourth and last one of them burned down in 1794.
I walk up the hill, my shoes getting moist in the grass. When I arrive at the first house, the path winds to the left and goes round the garden, taking me to Papintie (Vicar's road) which leads to an old water tower. Today the water tower is better known for another liquid: it is called Viinitorni (Wine Tower) because there is a wine bar / café at the top!
In the summer, the wine tower is open daily and there is a good selection of local produce available: for example wine. However, remember that local wine is not made of grapes (for which the climate isn't exactly ideal) but of local farmed and wild berries! While sipping your drink you can get a great view to every direction. Ilomantsi area is indeed full of forests, no matter which way you look.
I walk down the spiral steps and return to the ground. This late afternoon offers also some entertainment: there is a cultural event on Kauppatie street so I get to taste some more Ilomantsi. Like delicious fresh pancakes made of birch sap, served with homemade jam! Nukke- ja nalletalo (Doll and Teddy Bear House) displays thousands of dolls and teddy bears among which there are for example Karelian dolls that have been made without a needle or scissors.
In another museum / gallery at Kauppatie 30 there is also an amazing selection of hand-made dolls. When I enter the gallery, the only couples dancing to the live music are the carefully crafted unique dolls, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone else started dancing too.
However, on the other side of the room there is a scene from a church, with a sermon going on. I hear some other visitors spotting a familiar face or two among the churchgoers; there is at least one Finnish politician I recognize as well.
Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck's painting Tanssiaiskengät (Dancing Shoes, 1882) comes alive through Ippa Särkkä's wonderful doll and there are many other unique creations that are real masterpieces. Wow!
I spend the evening strolling on Kauppatie and nearby, hear about local bard Mateli Kuivalatar's life on a guided visit to her grave and memorial, have another great pancake. Last, I head for a final view of Lake Ilomantsi and the setting sun. Slow is good. And Ilomantsi... ilo means joy, so I'd say Ilomantsi is joy.

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