Tour around Karelia

On the twelfth day of June, at seven in the morning, we arrived with Aki in the courtyard of Pikisaari School, where we started a slightly unusual “class trip” to Karelia, Russia. What made the trip unusual was the fact that no teachers or other staff left the school with us. But on the other hand, what would stop the two of us from going on a trip. As long as we were ready with the belongings in front of the Piter Inn on Saturday at 1pm. From there we were supposed to leave, together with our Russian party, to tour the small villages of Karelia by minibus. Our group consisted of staff from the Kizhi Museum and the Petrozavodsk University, and we would spend the next week and a half with them to explore the old and new active villages and village communities. The exact mileage of our journey is only known to our Russian driver and the Ford Transit odometer, but I can tell you that a lot of them came.

Trip filmed by GoPro kamera.

On Saturday, Jyli the 13th, our journey began at the yard of the Hotel Piter Inn, where our tour guide, Ekaterina, and the rest of us came to pick us up by minibus. We set off from Petrozavodsk towards Karhumäki, where we took the rest of the people from there. We ate with a bunch of people in Karhumägi and at the same time got to introduce ourselves to the other group. At the end of the tour we headed for the first stop of our trip, Pyalma village.

Group photo, our photographers not included.

In Pyalma village we visited, among other things, the bridge made by the villagers themselves, the village inn and of course the church. In the village we learned a lot about self-sufficiency. The big pride of the villagers is the large forest areas they own and the security and self-sufficiency it brings. At the end of the tour, we set off for the village of Pudozh, where our first stay was.

Village landscape viewed from the bridge.

Our group crossing the bridge.

The bridge made by the villagers.

The next day, just after breakfast, we headed to the village of Kubovskaya next to Pudozh, where we were met by a really active village community. The villagers’ big dream is to start a tourism business and make the village a tourist destination for people dreaming of peace in the countryside. The villagers had once set up an inn but, unfortunately, due to their poor economy, remote location and strict rules and regulations, were they forced to stop operating. However, despite the setbacks, it has not discouraged them, but the villagers are confident that in the future, with a little help, they can finally open a new inn.

A piece of the idyllic village of Kubovskaya

Our group chatting with the villagers

Cows on a walk

After our visit, we traveled to Kargopol, known for its numerous churches. At one time there were as many as 23 churches in the city, of which “only” 11 had survived over time. When asked why there were so many churches in one city, we were responded that there were, and still are, many rich and old merchant families in that city, each of whom has set up his own church to block his wealth and position. The trip to Kargopol was really rough for our bus. The temporary service road, built by the Red Army’s pioneer troops over 30 years ago, began to be too much for the bus. Luckily we were able to get to Kargopol before the bus broke down.

Crossing the pontoon bridge
A few of the numerous churches in the Kargopol

However, us passengers survived safe and sound, thanks to our driver and the fast and competent  mechanics of Kargopol, our bus was ready to go the very next day.

Wherever one looked, one of the many churches in the city could be seen.

In the village of Oshevensk we were greeted by one of the youngest and most active village communities in the whole Karelian region. Many architects, engineers and artists from all over Russia had moved to this village, most of them from Moscow and St. Petersburg. There we were able to see for ourselves how an old abandoned village can quickly develop into a vibrant village center.

The villagers were having a volleyball tournament when we arrived.

One of the village artists telling us about the old buildings in the village that they have repaired and put into use.

Members of our group also got a chance to cool off in the local lake.

After leaving the village of Oshevensk, we visited the village of Archangelo, which had two enormously large wooden churches, which had, however, been in very poor condition over time. The villagers themselves have no chance of repairing and restoring the churches, so they built a new smaller church a short distance away.

One of the big churches in the village.

A new church built by the villagers themselves.

On our way to Kenozero National Park, we stopped to take a look at an old wooden bridge.

Next up was one of the highlights of our trip, Kenozero National Park. There we visited various workshops that explored the region’s history.

Our guide introducing us traditional tools.

One of the many tsaunas located in the area of ​​Kenozero National Park.

Our guide telling us about the local tsasounas.

After a good night’s sleep, we had a cruise, visiting several islands and exploring old villages, churches, the smallest official tsasouna in Russia and one of Russia’s only functioning water mills.

The smallest tsasouna in Russia.

Hydroelectric plant start-up.

The cruise and “landing craft” we used.

In Russia, everything is great, and so is Kenozero National Park, which is divided into two parts because of its size. Both sides have their own villages, with their own hotels, information centers and staff.

A lunch break in spectacular scenery.

The next day we packed our bags and headed for Morchsihinskaya village at the other end of the park, where we would spend the next few days.

Welcoming comittee

There were workshops for us to try traditional craftsmanship.

Along the way to Pocha village we visited the Pochezersky Church.

In Pocha village we went to see an exhibition  dedicated to the Soviet era. The village played an important role in the old Soviet Union and much of the locals were longing for the stability of the old days.

Our guide telling us about the history of the village.

Local youth came to greet us with donkey ride.

There are old Soviet school uniforms preserved in the museum.

We listened to a traditional song during the lunch.

We got to explore the magnificent scenery of Kenozero National Park, accompanied by heavy rainfall. The rain did not disappoint us, a warm cup of tea was enough to guarantee a successful trip.

Our guide telling us about the plants in the park.

The wild strawberries found along the path outweighed the annoyance caused by the rain.

We were able to get out of the rain for a moment.

An old church on the highest point of the island.

At the end of the tour, we came across a model village, an exact replica of a traditional Karelian village. In the model village, our guide was the youth from a nearby camp.

There is no exact information on the number of steps a day, but surely any activity bracelet on the market would have been happy.

Landscape in Kenozero National Park.

Before leaving we went for a walk along the small nature trail nearby our inn and admired the beautiful wooden animal statues built along it.

After the tour, we packed our belongings and headed back to the final destination, Karhumäki. During the trip, we stopped at another modern church and visited the Sandarmoh Cemetery, where approximately 9,000 people were executed between 1937 and 1938 by Stalin and the NKVD. We spent the last night with the group at Medvezhyegorsk and the next morning our group headed towards Kizhi Island and Petrozavodsk. Our trip with Aki ended in Petrozavodsk, in the hotel Piter Inn, the same place where our trip started over a week ago.

We visited this modern church on our way.

Sandarmoh cemetery memorials, which are attached to pines.

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for our long drive back to Oulu.

Group photo.

Text by:

Tuukka Haavisto


Tuukka Haavisto
Aki Schroderus