Ilosaarirock via 63336
This latest customer story is quite incredible. Three self–styled "blondes", inspired by 63336, decide to let their fate be determined by our answers not just for an evening, but for a week's travel to a Finnish rock festival. And they took a video camera along with them to record it for us! Here's how they got on.
Q. Blondes: What festival should we go to this year – Benicassim, Exit, Ilosaarirock or Roskilde?
A. You should go to Ilosaarirock in Joensuu, Finland. The festival is in its 38th year and won the international Green'n'Clean award for Environmental friendliness.
Q. Blondes: How should we get there?
A. In keeping with the festival's green ethos, 63336 thinks you should take the train and ferry to Finland. The journey takes 3 days and will be fun.
Q. Blondes: What bands shall we see?
A. 63336 recommends Klaus Thunder, Hanoi Rocks, Oceansize, The Valkyrians, Eläkeläiset, Lapko, Comeback Kid, Common and Converge.
Q. Blondes: Give us an exact route from London to the festival via train and ferry.
A. Take the Eurostar to Brussels, train to Cologne, night train to Copenhagen, train to Stockholm, overnight ferry to Turku, train to Helsinki, and official festival rock train to Joensuu.
Q. Blondes: If we survive, what else should we do while we're there?
A. 63336 recommends taking a traditional sauna and swimming in a lake. Finland is known as 'the Land of a Thousand Lakes'. One of you will meet your future boyfriend.
Q. Blondes: Unlikely as we'll look rougher than an elephants arse. We have the collective travelling intelligence of a baby sloth and our sanity is pretty much dependent on good cups of tea… wish us luck 63336.
Day 1: Kate
This trip is a true test of our tenacity, charm, stamina and knicker elastic – there's so much stressing, pleading, authority–defying and running involved all the way from Manchester to Helsinki. The train to London is a warning of things to come, taking us on a wiggly diversion through the Midlands rather than a boring straight line that gets us there on time. But once we get to the Eurostar at least we can relax. Until Brussels, where our blonde online journey planner has left us with a mere half an hour to cross the city. One rip–off taxi later and we're just in time to wave goodbye to our train as it leaves. 63336 suggest an alternative route, changing at Liège, where we meet a nice man from Kentucky who amuses us with his magic balls all the way to Cologne.
Now we're on the train to Cologne, can we relax? Nein! The train breaks down for a bit, dangerously narrowing our time gap between it and the night train; we may be sleeping smooth in the station (you can't sleep rough in a place that clean). Helpfully, when we do reach Cologne, the night train is delayed to an unspecified time, with no platform information. Locals panic, but, other than our hair, we're unruffled – Blighty's railways taught us well. Our biggest problem is tea deficiency. Eventually it's all aboard the moving hotel, promising showers, sweet tea and sweeter sleep.
Our joy is short–lived. We are grubby, but the showers are grubbier; the carriage smells of undercarriage; we can't get a cuppa; and we have to share a cabin the size of one fat person with three other people, one of whom serenades us to sleep with a flatulent lullaby. Still, now we're on the night train, at least we can relax.
Day 2: Jen
Clickety–clack, clickety–clack, clickety–clackety snappety–bang… Dear God, don't let that be the brakes. Relaxation is an interesting concept in a bed nailed to the side of a box on wheels travelling at 100mph, creaking like the joints of a T–Rex's granny. But there are brief moments when I do slip into what could loosely be termed as relaxation. Maybe even sleep. Against all odds, we – and the train – survive the night and clatter into Copenhagen where a brief visit to a shop to purchase a bottle of water proves educational when I attempt to pay with Euros and am stared at as if I'm giving birth to a camel.
An obstructive man in the ticket office then declares our chances of boarding the sold–out train to Sweden as "non–existant". We briefly consider setting his beard on fire, but opt for a mercy plea with the train guard instead which, to our surprise, works. In your face, beardy. Stockholm ferry terminal is a frenzied scene of bodies amassed where polite, orderly queues should be; but fortunately, windmilling arms and suitcase battering rams cut like The Hives through butter. The ferry lady tap–taps in our names. There's a pause. "I'm sorry, this ferry's now full." WHAT?! But…! At a loss, we start trudging towards the exit when Kate suggests trying again, just in case. Kelly and I are too exasperated to hear this ludicrous suggestion, but Kate persists.
When a very jolly lady greets her at the next window it does stir some hope within me. Surely someone with such a cheerful manner wouldn't turn us away? "We have one three–bed cabin left." Yes! I knew it! I always told Kate we shouldn't give up! I don't have kids, but I can't imagine the thrill of meeting your newborn can even closely resemble the unbridled ecstasy of striding triumphantly into our cabin and collapsing face–down as the ferry leaves port for Finland.
Day 3: Kelly
Inter–railing across Europe takes more effort than I imagined and requires skills we don't posses. Like not being so useless with time, money, coherent sentences and essential vitamins. As for the almost–diabolic–ferry–disaster, we shock even ourselves but when it works out, are rewarded with copious amounts of tea. On deck, gazing at the beautiful Swedish coast, we plan our next departure. The ferry docks at 7am and we retire to actual beds but are careful not to wet them with excitement. We are woken at 5 am by a woman making what appears to be random noises – why she's in our cabin I don't know – we ignore her and go back to sleep. On a scale of one to random, that was pretty random.
One hour later and our alarm sounds. 6am – enough time to get up and try to look somewhat human for our arrival at Ilosaarirock later that day. Err, Wrong. Not only are we clueless about currency, foreign languages and public transport but we can now add time zones to the equation. It's yet another hour ahead in Finland. That woman was telling us to leave – so it wasn't so much random as it was her bloody job. I open the door and am met by corridors of emptiness. We've docked. Now it's my turn to make noise: "pack! run!" As we fall over each other in our six–inch cabin, our hopes for a smooth descent into Finland soon fade. Plus we have another two trains to catch, the latter of which, the 'rock train' is put on by the festival. Oh and the ferry has replaced my tummy with a roller coaster. The swine.
Yet that's not why said train is so disorientating, see, the Finnish kids are drunk but speaking good English and even suggest we do not talk with English accents. We explain that England has lots of accents. They disagree and believe we should only talk like the Queen. Travelling has without doubt rid me of artificial beauty and rational thought but it could never rid me of my accent. As home comforts pull on my heartstrings, I consider my feelings on the situation: It's now 3 days since I left my house and I feel like I want to rip my skin off, replace it with rose petals and live in a bubble bath until I physically melt.
Location and people
The looped forest backdrop of the train is broken at Joensuu by a lake so huge it's impossible to see one side from the other, and the pretty pastel–coloured buildings are organised into a neat grid. Within a couple of hours of arriving we've been plied with wine in a beautiful lakeside house, coaxed virtually naked into a sauna with people we've only just met, whipped with branches and bullied into serene but freezing water in the glorious evening sunshine. This is my kinda place. I long to test my four words of Finnish, but in the absence of elderly sea lions this weekend I have to stick with just two – "hello", and "thank you", which require all my concentration. Finns themselves I find easier to understand. They're good–looking, friendly, like their booze, and reach purposefully for whatever they fancy, be it a better spot in the crowd or another human being.
The idyllic setting for our sauna is beautiful but the lake contains all the warmth of Simon Cowell with frostbite. 63336 suggested we swim in a lake. I'm thrown in. I'm dishevelled and now wearing a bikini. In public. On camera. (*Note to self: when travelling for days on a train (this won't happen again unless planes are made illegal) bring an invisibility cloak so as not to blind the locals/make them think England is full of wild beasts). Oh and if you wear a bikini in the sauna, every other European will think you're trying to hide a tail and black hairy nipples. Go naked or get labelled "sexually repressed". Ahem, massive stereotype – we just don't know the rules of sauna parties!
So this purposeful reaching business, well being chatted up by a Finnish man is new territory. There's less chatting and more instantly taking your hand and walking away with you. I kid you not. Apparently, this forward manner is perfectly normal on the mainland but personally I'm too feisty to have any man try and "claim" me. The very notion made me question what year it was and probably confirm my worst nightmare: after countless hours of travelling torture I do indeed look like I'm waiting to be rescued by the opposite sex. Crap.
From the moment we leave the train at Joensuu station all the stresses and strains of the previous three days' travel seem but a distant memory. Even slightly like a lie. The Finnish people, with their warm sense of humour and charming hospitality, emit such calmness and sense of fun that it seems impossible to remember a time when we too didn't feel only those things. Though an occasional slap on the nostrils by the pong emanating from us following our combined nine days in stressful transit does jog the memory somewhat. Not to mention the stomach contents.
Ignoring the ringing in my ears following Kelly's enforced submersion in the cold water I bob about in the beautiful lake, sunlight bouncing off my pasty white shoulders and confusing a passing bird. I am calm and serene, probably even some sort of Zen goddess. I can't help feeling we should have set fire to that man's beard in Copenhagen though… Suddenly I'm fished from the lake – reluctant but renewed, and certain the massive, alien eggs from "Cocoon" are hidden here amongst the reeds – we head off to Ilosaarirock for the first time. Is it all going to have been worth it? 63336 are blissfully unaware how much trouble they might very shortly be in.
At 22,000 people the site seems tiny compared to most UK festivals but it works well. The beer is flowing and bear in mind I've had less sleep than a hyperactive insomniac, my liver is about to experience some damage. The first act we see are local duo Klaus Thunder. The experience (whilst tipsy) is like watching possessed candyfloss come to life, brainwashing grown men into thinking camp Euro electro pop is the way forward. Apart from that bizarre episode, most music on offer is heavy. Sometimes the metal's so loud my ribs vibrate like an Ann Summer representative. I love it.
Converge, Comeback Kid and Mad Caddies are my favourite bands over the weekend but it's great to see Mogwai and Oceansize flying the British flag. Music aside, people seem confused that I'm English – two people in half an hour tell me that I look Scandinavian. I respond as best I can – making use of the only Finnish word I know – "Elikilaiset". It's the name of a headlining band, which roughly translated means "pensioner". This is quite handy actually, seen as I've aged 42 years since leaving Manchester last week.
The festival site is set alongside another vast lake (obviously) and surrounded by woods. It even has its own beach. Each night, when the sun pretends to set, it looks like someone is burning a pyre of Fraggles in the distance, such is the spectacular colour display. Over the course of the weekend we amble between the five stages seeing as many bands as possible.
Despite repeated attempts from increasingly exasperated locals, we remain incapable of pronouncing the names of at least 95% of the acts on the bill, but that only makes it more thrilling when we stumble across ones which make us go, Oooh! Lapko are a particular highlight, both in terms of mesmeric performance and a foreigner–friendly lack of triple vowels in their name. The same can be said of the Zeppelin–esque Von Hertzen Brothers, who also kindly provide a spot of eye candy.
I'm unsure at first over the fenced–in areas we find ourselves herded into whenever we want a drink, like tipsy, two–legged cattle, but it soon seems like a smart move. Gone is the need to dodge torrents of beer (and unthinkables) raining down from airborne containers sailing across the skyline, as with any UK festival. The sky here is filled only with a huge fireworks show–off and chants of "Hoompah! Hoompah!" so dense you could pluck them out of the air and stick them up your jump–ah. We spend the entire duration of the festival in awe. We make some great friends, see some superb bands and party like it's 1990–everything. Not only is 63336 off the hook, it is my new personal hero.
The Ilosaarirock bill is largely homegrown, disparate and full of surprises. The same people cheer for camper–than–the–entire–campsite Klaus Thunder as for Hanoi Rocks, for example. Never seen Hanoi Rocks? Visualise Goldie Hawn in sequined trousers, eyeliner sliding down her face as she screams the alphabet over 70's sleaze–rock whilst dry–humping scaffolding. Now you have. Disconcertingly brilliant. Likewise watching Finnish reggae band the Valkyrians; far sunnier you'd expect from a country that's dark half the year.
Offsite, we find we're well–connected enough (i.e. we get talking to someone by accident) to be invited to a couple of aftershows in hotel rooms. Drinking booze inside? That's about as rock'n'roll as it gets, I'm afraid, but it's good enough for us, and Jen does meet her Stegosaurus Boyfriend (another one you'll have to watch the video for). Common's keyboard player is very excited to meet us, his first ever, real life Brits. Unfortunately the only bit of Britain we represent accurately by this point is usually labelled "ladette culture" by the Daily Mail, as we finish the booze and start trying on stray underpants over our leggings, with plastic bottles down the front.
Cracking hangovers avoided (midnight sun–induced insomnia has its plus points), we're taken out into the middle of the mammoth lake by our hosts on Sunday. I'm convinced we're being deported, until the engine stops. Now I'm convinced we're being dumped overboard. When we're handed freshly–opened pear ciders I realise they've brought us on a boat trip just for fun. Maybe we haven't overstepped the mark just yet. That's the thing about this festival; they care. Even when we ask our hostess Susanna our blondest questions for the seventh time she doesn't set the elk on us, and she's not even paid not to hurt us! This festival should win environmentally and blonde friendly awards. Oh and by the way, if Jen made you nostalgic and you're looking for the 90s, I can reveal we stumbled across them safe and well in a nightclub in Joensuu.
From Finland with love xx
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