End of light…

… beginning of darkness.

As night fell over Finland, I went to Suomenlinna. Again.
Viaporin Kekri, the night of the spirits, was organized there. The revival of an old festival of harvest, this celebration brought forth culture and history, opening hidden places to the public for all kinds of performances that exposed echoes of ancient times.

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No darkness

Sometimes, I come up with crazy plans, like spending the weekend 300km away, sleeping in the car during the day, and driving around during the night.

Yep, I did that in the very beginning of June, when I wanted to see Siikalahti, the so-called “best bird lake of Finland”. The name seemed oddly familiar, and I wondered whether I had visited the place during my first trip to Finland, in 2003. I had to make sure. So I drove east and north, past Kotka, Lappeenranta and Imatra, and arrived late in the night in Parikkala, under a deluge. I say “night” because of this very downpour; otherwise, nights are very bright in Finland in this period, and brighter as you go further north.

Given the weather, I had no other option than just sleep… which wasn’t as easy as it sounds like! Mind you, a Skoda Fabia is a small car, and it’s surprisingly not meant to be used as a bedroom. I struggled to find a comfortable position in the passenger seat (I didn’t find any), until exhaustion pushed me to oblivion.

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Elmer and the old men

This is the story of a failed endeavour turned into fruitful exploration.

Last May, I wanted to see the blossoming cherry trees. I went to Roihuvuori, where the so-called “cherry park” (Kirsikkapuisto) was opened in 2007, with trees sponsored by the Japanese community in Helsinki. Every year, the Japanese spring festival, Hanami, is celebrated there. Alas, I was one week too late, and there was nothing left in the trees. I found myself alone on the other end of the city, with the very reason why I was there, well… gone.

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Reindeers, Ruska & Revontulet

In September came a long-awaited journey: I traveled to Lapland to witness the famous ruska, the autumnal color bloom. Up there, it’s not only trees that turn yellow and orange: the low vegetation, berry bushes and bog grass alike, takes a different tint, sometimes purple, red or black.

I took two friends from France with me; Alexis and Sylvain were both late sleepers, but talented cooks and enthusiastic sauna-goers. I never expected to eat a home-made pizza in the middle of Lapland, but somehow it happened, and it was delicious! Together we experienced the ruska, the reindeers on the side of the road, the rain (a bit of it, and sometimes more, every day. Like Brittany), and other wonders!
This is only a first peek into this trip, a short mise en bouche, if you will. Like I said in a previous article, I’m really far behind in my picture editing, and so am I in my writing, but I want to talk about more recent things while the memory stays vivid in my mind. So I took the backwards timeline, and am going back by almost two months. Yes, I consider that “recent”. Please bear with me.

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The advent of spring

When I came back from Hungary, I found Finland somewhat warmer (warmer than before, not warmer than Budapest). It was the month of May, which means the owl chicks had left the eggs. Therefore, the adults would be outside the nest, but close, guarding the area against unwanted guests. My friend Karri, who was my guide around Hämeenlinna the summer before, has a nesting box in his garden; he invited me to check it.

He picked me up at the bus station, but first took me to Ahvenisto. There’s a beach and a swimming pool there, and both were cramped in this warm afternoon (can I use the word “torrid”? There were more than twenty degrees!); there’s also a motor race circuit, but that’s not what we were interested in.
Ahvenisto has woods as well, and a small protected area, crossed by nature trails. We were looking for Greenish warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) and Red-throated flycatcher (Ficedula parva), but we dipped badly, without even hearing one. Karri told me that, after this long winter, forests were unusually silent.

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Cold but bright

Now that I’m finished with Hungary, I decided I would post some more recent stuff (Marci will like that :p). Therefore, from now on we will follow two timelines in parallel: the one we’ve always followed, which continues, and a new one, which starts now (I haven’t decided yet whether it would go forward or backwards… maybe both, which would actually make a total of three timelines… :D). Don’t get lost!

Autumn had been quite interesting. No real cold spell, but a lot of rain. Sometimes, it had rained for three days straight, and each morning, on my way to the office, I could see the ditches were fuller and fuller. Last weekend, at last, the skies cleared and the temperature dropped close to zero. I had been forced to postpone an excursion with my friend Mark two weekends in a row, because it was raining all the time, but finally, this was our chance!

I offered him to join me during the morning, but to my great surprise, he said he would join me on my sunrise-seeking trip. We arrived in Viikki at 7.30, long before the actual sunrise time. So we walked to the edge of the reedbed, following paths I now know by heart. I showed him some birds, like this Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing on a wood pole by the side on the duckboards. Well, in the dark of the woods, we could barely distinguish its outline, but we heard it loud and clear!

Leaves fell around us, and I was startled every time one reached the ground. “Is there a bird foraging on the ground? Was there something up there that made it fall in the first place?”. But no, most of the time the leaves had decided to fall on their own.

No crazy hue colored the clouds when the sun came, but the view from the bird tower was nice.

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Sunrise in Budapest

After our escape to the wilderness, we were back in Budapest for a few days. Then I would have to fly back to Finland, but in the meantime I had things to do… the first one being to see the sun rise over the city. This time, the second day in a row, I couldn’t enlist Marci, so I woke up alone, tried not to wake up the cat who had elected to share my bed, and ran for the bus. I drowsed the whole way to Széll Kálmán tér, but then I energized myself and started to climb the Castle Hill.

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Calendar for sale!

I’m happy to present my first photography product, a calendar for the upcoming year!

It’s been crafted with love and care, with some of my best pictures: each one was taken during the month it illustrates 🙂 There are shots from Finland, Denmark, and a few surprises 😉
The European price is 40€, including shipping fees. I also deliver outside Europe, but there might be custom taxes, so please contact me.

OFFER: until Friday 27.10, the price is only 30€ !

If you are interested, head to this page to get a quote: Calendar 2018

Below are two pictures included in the calendar: can you guess which months they illustrate? 😉

Hortobágy

Hortobágy National Park was the ultimate goal of my trip to Hungary. I had heard about the place several times in the past, and more recently, the WP Big Year birders dubbed it the “best birding site in Europe”. A visit to Hortobágy was already planned when I read this last comment, but it got me really excited. A day in the puszta was a nice introduction to birding in Hungary, and I expected wonders in this second national park.

I was not disappointed.

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Puszta

The Puszta is the Hungarian Great Plain, the region of endless horizons, and of sunny and dry days too. What I imagined was wide grass fields with Great bustards (Otis tarda) at every corner, but it turned out that most of the plain is nowadays cultivated. I know this should not have surprised me, but still, I was disappointed. Oh, and there are only a few bustards left…

Still, in this desert remain a few protected areas, sheltering some remnants of the past from human lust. Our destination, after leaving Szeged, was Kardoskúti Fehértó, the White Lake of Kardoskút. Marci had some friends of his parents there who planned to rent houses in the plains. That’s how we found ourselves in a big cold mansion in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and in the distance, a farm. As we arrived, a red moon rose to greet us.

This picture was taken by my friend, like a few others in the article. Pay him a visit and follow his Facebook page, it’s worth it 😉

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