The first stop on our journey was the small town of Lappeenranta on the southern shore of Finland’s biggest lake, Saimaa, just a two-hour train journey from Helsinki. The early morning sun warmed us as we sat down in the harbour, surrounded by traditional paddle steamer ships and magnificent views of the lake. Before climbing up the steep hill to explore the city’s main attraction, Linnoitus (eng. Fortress), we wanted to taste one of Lappeenranta’s most famous and admittedly most oddly-named local dishes, Vety. The name means ’hydrogen’ and was given to this popular savoury pie dish in the 1960s by the workers at the nearby canal. No one quite knows why they chose that name, or the name of its sister dish ’atom’, for that matter. Vety is essentially a pie made of deep fried doughnut dough that is filled with a mixture of minced meat, rice, a fried egg and slices of ham. In this city of little over 70,000 inhabitants, more than a million of these tasty pies are sold each year.
It was a hearty breakfast, if not the healthiest, but the calories stood us in good stead as we walked around the Linnoitus area, the city’s old town established in 1649. Nowadays, it’s a vibrant neighbourhood full of boutiques, cafes, art galleries, museums and restaurants housed in historic buildings. The entire area is a former Russian military barracks, but don’t let that put you off. It’s more kisses than guns, quite literally, as we found out stumbling upon a park called Pusupuisto, a ’kissing park’. With the fortress itself off-limits to the barracks’ soldiers, this used to be the spot where they would meet their sweethearts.