Day 33 – over the border into Finland

Boden C – Haparanda – Tornio – Kemi – Oulu – Helsinki

I was warmly greeted at breakfast this morning. The hotel I was staying at leaves keys in a box outside the front door if you arrive after 9pm, so breakfast was the first time I’d seen anyone. I was first down to breakfast, which was a proper feast, and very Swedish. Breakfast meatballs are a thing on this trip (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!)

This place goes onto my list of hotels to revisit, especially as it is in such a useful location right next to the junction of the Stockholm – Narvik main line and the branches to Haparanda and Luleå.

It was trying to snow as I left the hotel. Fortunately the station was just across the square. The wind from the north gave a proper wind chill and even with a short wait for the train, the woolly hat came out for the first time.

Boden station
Boden station

The train runs through forests for almost the whole journey to Haparanda. The flurries of snow persisted but never got heavier, though there was already plenty on the ground. Rivers and lakes around here were all frozen over.

I was charmed by Haparanda station. Very much a forgotten place, this used to be a really important east-west link in Cold War times, but the line was closed for some years and only recently reopened. The Finnish side no longer run local trains to even their side of the border but there is a co-operative project between the countries to electrify the line and bring it back to life.

A recent project refurbished the station building, and put up a series of interpretation boards by the main entrance. I spent some time reading these before wrapping up warm for the walk over the border.

Haparanda was a somewhat bleak place on a cold and snowy day. It has a few nice buildings, and I liked the tower in the middle of town. Being on the border of Sweden there is a huge Ikea at the first/last roundabout.

The border is crossed almost invisibly, at least if you look in one direction. These two photos were taken standing in the same spot but looking in opposite directions.

The border runs along the line of a small side stream of the much larger Torne River, which I crossed on a footbridge. The main river was completely frozen over and the local Lions had for some reason put a noticeboard onto the ice in the middle of the river.

It looks like lots of use has been made of the ice in recent weeks, but I’m not sure I would step on it.

Tornio is served by one train a day in each direction, which is the Helsinki sleeper running to and from Kolari, and I had no desire to wait until 10pm, so had decided a bus to the next town was a better bet. I’m sure they will be glad when the electrified line comes back as it looked like a busy place, with a modern shopping centre (see background of the heart picture above.)

I’d inadvertently walked past the bus station in crossing the main river, as my phone had gone offline while it worked out what country it was in, but rather than going back I decided to walk to the next stop.

Half an hour later I was back on the railway network in Kemi. There is apparently a good harbour here but the walk there and back was just a bit longer than the amount of time I had. I saw part of the town near to the station, but didn’t feel the great urge to explore more, especially on what was still a cold day. The town is twinned with several others, including Newtownards, in Northern Ireland.

I’d been told to expect Finnish trains to be clean and impressive. This one certainly was. A mixed single and double deck service, but given that we were in the most remote part of the country impressively modern and pleasant to travel on. I sat in the first “camel hump” for the trip to Oulu.

Oulu station is an odd place. The platforms are exited via an underpass which lead to streets at both ends. The station building was a couple of buildings down the road at one side. Not visibly connected to anything except the single platform outside it. It’s the building on the extreme left of the first picture below. The building between this and the underpass seemed to have nothing to do with the railway.

From here I had a long journey down to Helsinki, 6h24, but was back in First Class so had unlimited hot and cold drinks, and probably the busiest and best stocked restaurant car I’ve seen on the whole trip.

I took my dinner back to my seat, chicken pesto, which was very tasty. I would have stayed in the restaurant and had a glass of wine as well but there were no seats and you’re not allowed to take alcohol away from the bar in Finland.

As we travelled south the forests continued almost all the way to Helsinki, but the snow became less evident, and had all gone by the time we arrived, shortly after sunset. Helsinki station is impressive, and seems to be as much a place to socialise as to catch trains.

I dropped my bags at the hotel and took a quick look at the town. I know that I wouldn’t have a lot of time in the morning, so wanted to see some of it before turning in.

My first reaction was how busy it was. Then I remembered that it was Saturday night (it’s easy to lose track on a trip like this.) The city had lots of bars and clubs with queues of young people outside, but a very pleasant atmosphere.

I’d decided to skip breakfast in the hotel – I know that this is an expensive city but I wasn’t paying €25 for breakfast – so I dropped into a 24 hour supermarket near to the station, and picked up some fruit, a smoothie and a couple of croissants before calling it a day.

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  1. Celia Lyon

    Finland sounds like a must do, it sounds like it is much less touristy than Sweden.

    • Yes I’d agree with that, though I’m not sure I’d want to spend a lot of time in northern Finland. It really was hundreds of miles of forest, with the occasional lake and even more occasional town. Helsinki was lovely though.

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