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Just last weekend, a group of us ex-pats set out to do something I had determined I must do before leaving Finland. No exceptions. I had heard that it was one of the coolest things to do here in the summer, and I was not disappointed. In fact, we will be returning next year (provided we still live in this country…)

We booked seats at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Savonlinna, Finland. Last year, the seats were completely sold out a month in advance, so I jumped on top of getting us tickets months and months ago. We roped in a group of friends, rented a cabin in the woods, and made a whole weekend out of it!

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Just a scenic 4-hour drive northeast of Helsinki, Savonlinna makes for a really lovely weekend getaway. The town is quaint and charming, with small lake-side ice cream stops and frequent boat cruises around the islands. When we arrived, the people who were not progressing, ant-like in formation, towards the opera were sitting on the lake’s boardwalk, sharing bottles of wine and plenty of smiles.

Bertelsen_Savonlinna-20 The thing that makes this particular opera festival so mind-blowingly awesome is that it takes place inside a castle.
No, really, a real castle. On an island, no less. Surrounded by stunning Finnish wilderness and bright blue waters. I mean…..is this even real?
Olavinlinna, St. Olaf’s Castle, began construction in 1475 as a strategic fortress to repel invasions from Russia in the east and guarantee control was maintained by the Swedish Crowne. These days, it hosts a museum and is open to tourists most days of the year. It is most popular, however, for being the home of this annual opera festival.

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We saw a relatively modern piece, From the House of the Dead composed by Leoš Janáĉek and performed in the Czech language. It is based on the Siberian prison camp experiences of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, as told in his novel of the same title.
Going into it and being familiar with Dostoyevsky, we figured it wasn’t going to be particularly uplifting. And it wasn’t. However, the stone walls of the castle provided an ideal backdrop for this performance set inside a dreary work camp. The opera did not particularly follow a plot; instead, it bounced around as different inmates told their stories of hardship, injustice and crime, all set to the rhythmic chink of chains and a haunting hidden choir.
I did enjoy many elements of this show but I think for my next opera experience, I will try to see one of the “classics”-especially so I have something with which to compare this one!

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Following the performance, we ate a late dinner at Restaurant Sarastro, as per one of our Finnish friend’s strong suggestion. The food was extremely tasty and the prices fair- especially considering its location across from a castle. We shared a starter of garlic and chili prawns with focaccia as well as a bottle of Chianti over our mains. I ordered a lamb shank on garlic potatoes and Jimmy had a bacon-wrapped tenderloin with sweet potatoes. To top it all off, we had a great group of people to chat and laugh with as the light faded (and the mosquitos came out!).

The highlight of this restaurant, however was neither the great food nor the great company. It wasn’t even that it was just across the bridge from Olavinlinna. It was that there are adorable little hedgehogs scurrying about between the gardens- and they aren’t shy to crawl right under your feet! We had been told this was the case, so I was anxiously awaiting the appearance of a spikey little fella. When one finally showed up, I could hardly contain my excitement! They have the cutest faces! Not to mention their big round bottoms and tiny little feet! Ugh! What a cherry on top of an amazing experience!

We returned to our cabin for s’mores as well as -of course- rounds of sauna and late-night swims in the lake.

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Oh hey, and one of the best parts about our cabin? A trampoline!
And what do you think happens when people all dressed up for an opera have a tramp to play on?
They take awesome photos. I particularly like Jimmy’s Lacoste add, don’t you?

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Do I have any Opera enthusiasts following? What are your favorite shows, so I can keep an eye out for them?

How about your favorite summer festivals? I grew up loving Idaho Shakespeare Festival!

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