Finland.

Helsinki, Lahti, streets

Arriving at Helsinki airport, we filed a claim with Lufthansa as a hard shell suitcase had a splintered corner. We were surprised that so many Finns arrived from Munich with skis, more on that later.

We picked up our car and started on our way towards Koli; driving with a top speed of 100 km/h and often being limited to 80 km/h or even 60 km/h is... unusual...

Finnish police/authorities seem to be obsessed with enforcing those speed limits as there are a lot of speed cameras along the way.

Finnish people seem to be similarly obsessed with slot machines; there is an incredible amount of them at gas stations and a constant stream of people playing them. From an outsider's perspective, it's weird that a country as strict about one form of addiction, alcohol, and working against it vigorously, by means of taxes, would allow another form of addiction, gambling, run as freely and this allow so many slot machines.

Speaking of taxes on alcohol: a single 0.33 l bottle of beer is more expensive in a Finnish supermarket than 0.5 l of beer in a German restaurant. Which also explains why supermarkets tend to have a rather large section with relatively cheap alcohol free beer.

Anyway, coming back to streets: Highway intersections don't have continuous on/off ramps from which you change from one highway to another; you drive off of the highway, stop at a traffic light, and then continue onto the other highway. Weird system, but given the amount of traffic we witnessed, it's probably Good Enough (tm).

Stopping for a short time in Lohti simply because it's apparently famous for winter sports competitions, we arrived at Future Freetime in Koli national park after about five to six gruelling hours of net driving through somewhat bad weather and behind slow drivers.

Koli

Hiking up to Ukko-Koli and its sister peaks proved to be rather exhausting as we kept on breaking through the snow cover to our knees and sometimes even our hips. Once we were up there, we realized that even though you couldn't see it in between the trees, there was fog all over the plains so we couldn't see anything. Still, it was a nice hike even if somewhat short.

Note to self: Even when a trail is marked locally, if OpenStreetMap does not know about it... don't walk along it. Especially not when the going's rough already. And if there's a sign suggesting you wear snow shoes... wear snow shoes.

Returning to Koli Hotel and the museum next to it, we walked over to the ski slope. The highest peak within Koli,Ukko-Koli, is 347 meters high, the local ski slope starts a good way below that. This would explain why a lot of Finns came back from Munich with their skis...

Afterwards, we rented a snow mobile, without guide or supervision, and drove from Loma-Koli over lake Pielien towards Purnuniemi and in a large circle down towards lake Ryynäskylä where we turned around and went back the same way. If we thought Finnish streets don't have a lot of signs we soon realized that snow mobile tracks have even less. There are at most two or three signs pointing you in the right direction, but on the plus side, there are no posted speed limits for snow mobiles, either. In somewhat related news, snow mobiles can go at least 95 km/h. At that point, the scratched and dirty visor of your rental helmet will keep slamming down, forcing you to take one hand off the handle and thus stop accelerating to maintain stability.

To round off the day, we heated up the sauna built into our little wooden hut. Running outside three times to rub myself off with snow from head to toes, I almost slipped and fell while standing still. When your feet are too hot for the snowy ground, you'll start to melt your own little pools of slippery water/snow mush within seconds. File that one under "I would never have guessed unless I had experienced it myself".

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The MarkDown source of this blog post is not even 5 kiB in size; even in a worst case scenario, pushing this to my ikiwiki instance via git will eat up less 10 kiB of mobile data. Which is good because I have 78 MiB of international data left on this plan. This is also the reason why there are no links in this blog post: I am writing everything off line and don't want to search for the correct URLs to link to.

I really wish EU regulators would start to tackle data roaming now that SMS and voice calls are being forced down into somewhat sane pricing regions by regulations.

PS:

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Most of the 'cameras' you saw are likely to be empty boxes; the police move the cameras around so you can never know where there is a real camera and where only an empty box. Makes a lot of sense to me, as that way you can enforce speed limits all around and not only at a few points.

The winter speed limits are generally around 20 km/h lower than the summer speed limits, because winter really makes driving quite a bit more dangerous. I believe there is good statistical reasoning behind them, i.e. the effect of speed limits on the number and severity of accidents is quite well studied. Of course that doesn't prevent a large number of Finns from complaining about the limits either :-) In some places the speed limits might be lower because of nearby schools or noise reasons, but mostly it's about safety.

About gambling, there's basically a state monopoly on it; the slot machines are all owned by a non-profit that forwards all proceeds to certain charities (and things like treatment of obsessive gambling ). I don't know if this is the ideal solution, but it's certainly heavily regulated.

I'm not sure if anybody ever buys alcohol free beer. I certainly haven't heard ever it happen except by accident :-) But yes, the tax on alcohol (and tobacco) is quite high, and measured in €/volume of alcohol in a nonlinear way so that the tax for 1 liter of 40% alcohol is less than the tax for 10 liters of 4% alcohol.

Streets and traffic in northern parts of Finland is quite different from the southern part, by the way; about half of the population of Finland live near Helsinki in a small area of roughly the size of Belgium. The rest is quite sparse, apart from a small number of smaller cities here and there.

Comment by Sami 2013-02-12--14-24-30-CET

I suspected they didn't have cameras in all hulls; at least the German cameras cost about €60,000 per piece according to a report I saw recently so that makes sense...

When do they change the signs? Do they actually replace them? Clip them over each other? Do something else? Do all streets have two sets of maximum speeds?

I see a lot of gambling across all ages, to me as a German, it's quite shocking to be honest. We do have gambling halls as well and they are a problem, but at least it's not out in everyday places like supermarkets or gas stations where it can lure more people in.

Wouldn't that taxing system make people buy stronger liquor and then mix long drinks/cocktails? Seems to be more cost effective.

Comment by Richard 2013-02-12--23-20-04-CET

I think city name should be Lahti, not Lohti. Snow mobiles have top speed limit by law. It is 60 km/h at land and 80 km/h at ice. Even if no posted speed limits are seen, you shouldn't go faster. When not using official public snow mobile tracks, you need a permit from land owner.

Comment by Aatu 2013-02-14--15-36-32-CET