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Travelblog Gone with the Wine Blog

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: Finland

5 Churches You Should Visit While in Finland

Paula Gaston

I almost feel like I’m stuck in Finland with my posts right now. I must be missing it even though many of my friends there have told me, that beautiful summer is only a memory anymore. Fall has arrived in Finland as well. Oh well, maybe at some point I will be able to move on, but for now, a few words about the churches there. Almost 80% of the population in Finland belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which means that every town has its own Lutheran church. We first started to visit churches, since my American husband was interested in seeing them, and I soon realised that they are actually very interesting. All of the churches have their own history and a story to tell, and I have been surprised about how beautiful these buildings are.

PETÄJÄVESI OLD CHURCH

When thinking about a church which has impressed me the most, the Petäjävesi Old Church is absolutely on the top. Thank you to our friends in Jyväskylä who took us there for a visit. Even though the church is not very big, it mesmerises with its many stories and long history. Squeaky planks on the floor and decorative paintings on the wall will take you to a totally different era. This wooden church was built between 1763-64, and next to it is an old cemetery and bell tower which was built later. Petäjävesi Old Church represents eastern Scandinavian wooden church building at its best, and is one the seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Finland.

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As you can see from the photos, our visit to Petäjävesi was some years ago when our older daughter was still quite small. This church was really interesting with many cool stories from history.

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KERIMÄKI CHURCH

Kerimäki Church is not as beautiful as Petäjävesi, but it was very impressive in other ways. It is said to be the world’s biggest wooden church. And it truly felt quite big while walking around inside with other visitors. The church was built in 1847. Some legends say the size of the church was a mistake; like mixing up centimetres with inches or mixed up architect’s papers. Most likely they just wanted to make sure that half of the town’s people would fit in at once. During that time, there were 12,000 inhabitants in Kerimäki, and the church can accommodate 4 or 5 thousand people inside it. There are 3,300 seats in the church.

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When we visited Kerimäki Church they had an exhibition of wooden paupers inside the church. We were also able to climb up to the bell tower next to the building.

TEMPPELIAUKIO CHURCH

This summer, on our road trip in Finland, we visited the Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki. In 1961 two brothers; Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen won an architect contest with their special plan to quarry the church into the face of a huge rock. The church was inaugurated to use in 1969 and it was first called Taivallahti Church. The name was later changed. While visiting the church, one of the things you definitely notice, is the copper coated dome. Some natural light will come in from a ceiling window, and the altarpiece is a cracked rock from the ice age. Because of its excellent acoustics, the church is very popular place for concerts. It is one of the most popular sights in Helsinki.

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ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH

We visited St. Michael’s Church this summer without an actual plan to go there. We drove by, and since we had some time, we decided to go in. And wow! I had no idea that there was such a beautiful church in Finland. It was built between 1899 and 1905, and it represents Art Nouveau and Gothic styles. There is a fascinating story of how the church was designed. The architect Lars Sonck, who was only a 24 year old student at the time, won an architecture contest with his design. The older architects didn’t approve, and they even planned to expel him from the school. Even though the church is truly magnificent, Sonck himself was never happy with his design and made many changes to it during construction. Later while visiting Turku, he never wanted to see the church.

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KORSHOLM CHURCH

I visited Korsholm Church a few years ago while visiting a friend in Vaasa. I wanted to see Old Vaasa, so while there, we also went into the church. The church was built in 1786 and it was actually a building for the Vaasa court. It is one of the rare buildings that survived the city fire in 1852. After the fire the whole town was moved to a different location, and also the court moved. Their old building was retrofitted into a church between 1862-63.

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The church is very popular for weddings and very busy on weekends during the summer. Even when we were visiting, they had a photo shoot outside, and inside of the church, the cantor was practicing the wedding march. While listening to the church organs and the beautiful music, it was hard to keep yourself from tearing up.

We like visiting churches and reading about their history. Many times if visiting during the summer, there is a guide who will answer your questions. Or you can of course, read a bit about the history of the church before going for a visit. Many churches have quite colorful pasts, and many notable people have been buried in the church cemeteries. I absolutely recommend visiting some local churches while traveling!

What is the most memorable church you have visited?

 

A Weekend in the Urban Hotel Verso in Jyväskylä, Finland

Paula Gaston

A couple weeks ago when we were still in Finland, I drove to the city of Äänekoski and Jyväskylä with my little girls. We had all kinds of activities on our schedule and I will tell you about them later, but now I would like to show you where we stayed. I was finally able to stay in a hotel that I have really wanted to visit for a long time now, Hotel Verso.

*Our trip was made possible by Hotel Verso, but as always, all opinions are my own.

A MODERN URBAN HOTEL 

Before going to Hotel Verso, I read a little about it from their website. They kept calling the hotel an modern urban hotel, and I was wondering what that really means. I found out quickly after arriving there. They have really managed to create a totally different kind of vibe than in most hotels. With the colorful decor, fresh flower arrangements, local products and cleanliness, they have built a very unique place from this former chain hotel. I liked it!

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When we walked in, we saw a dad in a rocking chair reading a book to his son. What an idyllic sight in a hotel! Well, of course my daughter wanted to try out those rocking chairs which were in a lobby on every level... and of course, every single time we walked by. 

Hotel Verso is located in the city center of Jyväskylä where the old Hotel Jyväshovi used to be. The Verso is a boutique hotel which offers something different to those who are tired of all the same hotels. The key word in this place could be locality or Finnishness, since both of these things seem to be highlighted in the hotel. The Verso was opened in 2016 and behind it is a family company who also owns Hotel Yöpuu and the Restaurant Pöllöwaari in Jyväskylä. There are 128 rooms in the Verso. 

A CLEAN AND CONFORTABLE ROOM

Our room was clean and comfortable. With some fresh textiles and wallpapers, they have applied a new look to the old hotel room. Our 6 year old slept on the sofa bed and there was a crib for the baby. Still there was a lot of room to walk around. The bathroom looked recently renovated, and since there was a bath tub, our kids were able to take a bath just like at home. Most Finnish homes have a sauna and showers instead of a tub, so having a tub in the room was a pleasant surprise. 

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 We love taking baths and the bath salt in the bathroom was a big plus

We love taking baths and the bath salt in the bathroom was a big plus

When staying in this room though, you should keep your curtains closed during the morning. I guess this doesn't apply if your room is located on another side than ours was. I like to open up the curtains in the morning and let the light come into the room, but after I had been walking around the room in my pyjamas, I noticed that outside our room people were having breakfast. The view from the breakfast room was straight into our room! I hope no one choked on their bread when they saw this tired mama in pyjamas and hair sticking up.

TOP NOTCH BREAKFAST 

The breakfast at Verso is served in the Silmu Restaurant, and it is the pride of the hotel. When my friends heard where I am staying, they immediately mentioned the "awesome breakfast at Verso". There were all kinds of Finnish products and foods, and definitely a lot of things an average hotel breakfast doesn't have. There were many local treats, seasonal products and fresh baked breads. I especially fell in love with the apple juice from Åland Islands and the lingonberry pudding. That is something I don't often get, since we don't have lingonberries back at home in California. The kids seemed to love the blueberry juice and the bread baked with Verso's own bread root with cold smoked salmon. 

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There are also omelette chefs in Silmu who will make an omelette of your choice. This is one thing I always miss with a hotel breakfast. I also have to give a big thanks for the kids plates and cups they provided with the bibs. I got the feeling that everything was planned extremely well. For example they served some delicious overnight simmered porridge, but since it was made with milk, it wasn't suitable for our baby yet. I asked about the other options and immediately they gave me some oat meal made with water. Baby's breakfast was saved, thank you!

 Finally a hotel with my size coffee cup!

Finally a hotel with my size coffee cup!

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After having this breakfast I understood what my friends had been talking about. This is a meal I would gladly offer for my foreign guests.

THE DECOR TEMPED US TO SIT IN THE LOBBY

Hotel Verso's bar has a lot of personality. Among the drinks, the bar in the lobby offers some lunch during the weekdays. Unfortunately we were travelling on the weekend, so we didn't get to try it out, but we were sitting in the lobby just for fun. They also offer dinner during the weekdays. We loved the colorful decor and interesting furniture they had. And my daughter wanted to write something in their guest book.  

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 My daughter enjoyed writing in the hotel guest book.

My daughter enjoyed writing in the hotel guest book.

Thank you to Hotel Verso and their friendly staff for the great weekend!

 

Tips for Visiting the Moominworld in Finland

Paula Gaston

I think the most exciting destination for our daughter this summer was the Moominworld in Naantali, Finland. We have been talking about going there for few years now, but we have never had enough time while we have been in Finland. I think last year would have already been a good time to go, since our daughter was big enough to remember something from this visit, but I was too pregnant to fly at the summer time. But this year we finally got to meet the Moomins in person. And the Moominworld was a true hit!

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Here are some tips for visiting the Moominworld:

1. GET THE TICKETS BEFOREHAND WITH A REDUCED PRICE

If you get your tickets from online beforehand, you get them on discounted price. In different years there has also been different campaigns where being a member to some company, you might get a discount on tickets. So before buying them you should ask around. Last year for example, a membership to a super market chain gave you a discount while purchasing the tickets. This year I didn’t see anything like that going on, except in August the grand parents would get in with a half price if they have a Plussa card membership. I usually always search from online wether there are any special prices before purchasing any tickets.  

2. BE THERE ALREADY IN THE MORNING

We had planned to be at the Mooninworld when it opens at 10 am. But like very often with families with small children, we couldn’t quite get ready early enough, and arrived about an hour later. It seemed to be a good choice though since there were hardly any lines to anywhere. We were able to finding a parking spot easily and get into a shuttle bus without waiting. It looked liked the buses truly were non stop since the new bus arrived right when the one had left. Everything was organised very well.

The morning and the noon were pretty nice time to be at the Moominworld. There were no crowds and hardly any lines either. We visited the Moomin house almost right away to avoid the afternoon crowds, and our daughter got the face painting she wanted without much of waiting. The shows in the theaters run through out the day, so I would leave those for little later when you already need to rest your legs. In the afternoon, perhabs after the nap time, the place started to get more busy and getting around started to be a little more difficult.

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3. BRING STROLLERS

If you have small children then you should absolutely bring a stroller with you. You can take them to everywhere in the Moominworld, and you are also saved from carrying bags that way. Since our road trip was rather long and we needed to save space in the car, we only brought an umbrella stroller, but I would have preferred an actual stroller with me. In that way I would have not had to carry the diaper bag myself and I could have brought some snacks with us.  

4. SAVE YOUR DAY WITH A PICNIC

I f you did bring stroller with you, you can probably also fit a small food cooler with you. I would have definitely brought more snacks with us if we had a proper stroller with us. There are several restaurants in the Moominworld but unfortunately most of them sell things like burgers & fries or pizza. I would say that the best food is in the Moominmammas Kitchen, where they have a buffet. They do advertise that they sell home style food but it looked more like processed foods to me. Kids menu was meat balls and sausages with fries which I doubt were made there from a scratch. I often wonder why every kids menu is the same no matter where you go; chicken nuggets, sausages or processed meat balls. Don’t our kids deserve something little better than that? Of course it’s cheap for a restaurant to serve this, but it’s just so boring and unhealthy. For adults they had pork file with smashed potatoes and a salad buffet.

Anyway, we ended up getting pizza slices with some salad from a pizza and pasta place. We were happy to see that the pizza were made there and it was not one of those greasy frozen pizzas. If you don’t want to pay for some unhealthy processed foods or don’t want to stand in a line to get it, you can always bring a picnic with you. There are plenty of great places at the Moominworld where you can sit down and relax.

5. WEANING OFF FROM THE PACIFIER IN MOOMINMAMMA’S WAY

If you have toddlers and you are about to wean them off from a pacifier, you should know, that you have a possibility to leave all pacifiers to the Moominworld. Inside the Moomin house in the kitchen, they have a “Moominmamma’s pacifier pot” where you can have your toddler drop all of her or his pacifiers.

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6. CHANGING AREAS

There are pretty good changing areas and a family room in the Moominworld. We used the one in the building of the Moominmamma’s Kitchen, and they also had the bigger restrooms there. The changing area was great but it was designed a little bit funny. There were three changing tables but since it also served as a restroom, people locked the door so only one baby could be at the diaper change at the time. Maybe some kind of separate restroom area would be a better choice so that more people with babies could use the changing tables. The room also could use a little facelift and cleaning. But a big plus; Free Moomin diabers!

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Another set of restrooms can be found from the path leading to the forest behind the Moomin house.

7. BRING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

The Moominworld is a fun place and everyone should be happy when leaving home from there. For kids, this is the highlight of their summer. Mostly people seemed to be in a cheerful mood but I did ran into couple of moms who were yelling at their kids. First time I saw it, I thought I just happened to be there at their weak moment. But when I saw them later again, I honestly felt terrible for these little boys. I’m sure he wasn’t able to enjoy his day and neither the mom. Not sure what was going on there. I do understand that sometimes things don’t go as planned and we are not a perfect family in any way, but seeing things like this do affect on other people too. I had to explain my daughter what was going on there, and it made me sad.


8. DON’T FORGET THE SWIMWEAR

Moominworld is actually located in a little island, and at the furthest corner of the Moominworld, you can find a little beach. You can go there for a picnic, to have somerest or just for swimming. So if you are visiting on a hot summer day, a dip in the ocean after sweating in the park can be nice. So don’t forget to bring swimsuits and a towel.

We really had a fun day at the Moominworld and I was pleasantly surprised that the park was so well organised and clean. It is so much smaller than Disneyland for example, so a day, or even less is enough to see everything there is going on. It was nice because we didn’t feel like we left without having chance to see everything. Moomin characters were by the Moomin house meeting and hugging the kids, and posing for pictures. And it was easy to see the shows too. Couple of forest trails also took you out of the crowds in the woods where they had more characters, and we love being in the nature.

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In overall we left the Moominworld very happy! Not only our daughter had so much fun there, but also we adults thought that it was a pretty fun place to visit. You should definitely put it on your list if you visit Finland during summer time!

Quick Stop at Naantali Spa Hotel

Paula Gaston

Our road trip in Finland came into it's last destination when we drove from Turku to Naantali. We had driven from my hometown Kokkola to Heinävesi, and visited the Valamo Monastery, and from there to a summer cottage in Rääkkylä. We saw Nightwish exhibition at Kitee, travelled to Vyborg, Russia via Saimaa canal, and spent a day in Porvoo. Then we drove to Helsinki where we stayed in famous Rock'n Rose Room in Radisson Blu Aleksanteri and visited Temple Square Church. Finally we visited Turku we tested a Turku Food Walk cards as well as Kakolanmäki Museum. And now to Naantali...

*Our trip was made possible by Naantali Spa Hotel, but as always, all opinions are my own.

In Naantali our main destination was the Moomin World which is an amusement park based on a Finnish kid's character Moomin. Naantali is a beautiful town with a lot to see, but this time we had promised to our daughter that she will get to meet the Moomins. We stayed in Naantali Spa Hotel which also offers many things to do. It's definitely a resort where one can spend a whole day without having to exit the premises. Many of the customers seemed to be families who left to visit the Moomin World for a day, but at least we would have been perfectly happy just staying at the spa and other hotel areas.  

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 The shopping area reminded me a bit of a taking a cruise

The shopping area reminded me a bit of a taking a cruise

 Free kids activities and play rooms were all over the resort

Free kids activities and play rooms were all over the resort

BEST PART OF OUR ROOM WAS CLEANLINESS

Our room was in the main building, and it was very clean and spacious. On this trip we loved rooms with some space since our baby had just learned how to crawl. And we also had an access to a balcony which was nice. A fun little detail in this room was a door bell. How many times have you seen one in a hotel? Of course our daughter had to ring the bell everytime we arrived back to our room. 

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If you travel with some Moomin fans or with kids, you should ask for the Stroy Theme rooms which are decorated with plenty of Moomin products.

SWIMMING, SWIMMING AND SWIMMING

When you stay the night in the spa hotel, you get to walk from your room to the spa in your robe. They even had robes for kids which I thought was super cute. We didn't take the baby swimming this time, even though it was allowed in the spa. She is still so small that she is perfectly happy in a bath tub and this way we didn't have rush out of the pool. So we took turns in swimming.

The spa department was clean and pretty plain looking. I pictured in my minds a tropical place with some palm trees and plants, but the pool area reminded me more of ancient Greece. We mostly stayed in a regular pool practising swimming but of course we dipped into all of them. I think the highlight of the spa area was the pool which continues outside of the building. I always love to finish my time in spa in a hot jacuzzi, and so we did this time too. And like many times after swimming, we were starving when we got back into our room.  

THE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR SPA DAY WAS THE DELICIOUS FOOD

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We were pleasantly surprised that our spa day ended with a great restaurant experience. After swimming we were very hungry and we chose one of the restaurants at the cellar; TK's (Tammikellari). All the three waiters we spoke to were very friendly and so professional that I was very impressed. Also the food was delicious and we got it quite fast. I chose a traditional Fish and Chips portion but I think my husband's food won with it's unique presentation. It was Roasted Scampi, Mussels and New Potatoes. They also had a great kid's menu and our daughter chose a pizza with cold smoked salmon on top. Wow, they did not skimp with the fish. I just had to taste some! 

TK's was our choice also because it is open very late. It closes at mid night so that way you can enjoy the spa area as long as it is open. 

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They did have some other nice restaurant as well. For example their thai place was still open but we figured that it might be too spicy for kids. Thai Garden in Naantali Spa Hotel is the only thai place in Finland which have gotten an Select recognition due to it's authentic food with good quality. 

We also enjoyed the way the breakfast was organised in Naantali Spa. It was served in Le Soleil restaurant which was very spacious. It was also very clean there even though the morning must of been quite busy for them. With the space I don't mean that they had tons of empty tables. The restaurant was just very spacious and there were a lot of free space to walk around and find your favorite foods. So we ended our visit with full stomachs and headed back to our room to pack.

 

Do you like to go to spas?

Life in Finland's Most Infamous Prison - Kakolanmäki Hill Museum

Paula Gaston

Next our road trip in Finland brought us to Turku where we tested a Turku Food Walk cards. We had driven from my hometown Kokkola to Heinävesi, and visited the Valamo Monastery, and from there to a summer cottage in Rääkkylä. We saw Nightwish exhibition at Kitee, travelled to Vyborg, Russia via Saimaa canal, and spent a day in Porvoo. It was time to go back to Helsinki, and why not since we were lucky to be able to test the famous Rock'n Rose Room in Radisson Blu Aleksanteri.

*Our trip was made possible by Visit Turku, but as always, all opinions are my own.

For some reason, I was interested to see the Kakola area in Turku which is rapidly changing. I had read from some Finnish blogs about tours they make into old Kakola Prison which is no longer in use. I was thinking that the tour might be a little bit challenging for us, since we were travelling with a baby, so we didn't book it. But now later I have realised that our baby has travelled so much already, that she probably would have been fine in a carrier. However, we didn't want to risk it and went for an easier option. We found out that there is a museum in the prison area which will show you what life in old Kakola was like. So we decided to head over to Kakolanmäki Hill Museum. 

KAKOLANMÄKI HILL MUSEUM SHOWCASES THE LIFE OF THE PRISONERS

Kakolanmäki Hill Museum is located in the prison warden’s old barn. At first it was a little bit difficult to find the place since the whole Kakola hill is one big construction site and there were no road signs to guide us. We stopped at the Kakola souvenir store to ask directions and they told us that the museum is right around the corner. This store sells all kinds of prison related stuff and items made by prisoners. So if you are interested in things like that, you should give this shop a try.

The tickets to the museum are sold in the prison warden's house next to the barn. Visit Turku provided us a Museum Walk card which gave us access to most museums in Turku. After getting the ticket they unlock the museum door and the self-guided tour begins. The museum is very small but very interesting. Most of the items there have been donated by the families of Kakola’s former prison guards. Kakola's priest, Ellilä photographed his work and his photos are now showcased in the museum. They truly show what prison life was like back then in Kakola. 

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In the last room of the museum you will get to know about Kakola granite, known as ‘Kakoliitti’. The prisoners were sentenced to hard labor to quarry it. Kakoliitti was used in many buildings inside and outside of Kakola. It was interesting to read about it since after visiting the museum we ended up visiting St Michael's Church in Turku where they also used this granite.

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KAKOLA PRISON

Kakola prison was first built on order of Emperor Nikolai I, that Finland should have some prisons with hard labor. The facility opened in 1853 and in the beginning it was used to accommodate Russian soldiers who came to Finland from the Crimean War. They left in 1859 and the building become a prison. Over the years, many more buildings were built in Kakola, and at the most, there were 1,320 inmates. In 1911, a huge Jugend style granite building was built. It become the place where all the most feared inmates were placed. Kakola inmates would take part in such jobs as gardening, wood work, metal work and quarrying. 

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One of the most infamous inmates in Kakola was for sure Ruben Oskar Auervaara. He scammed numerous women by getting them to fall for him and then stealing everything from them. He used newspaper ads to find women and preferred wealthy ladies. We still jokingly call men who seem to be going after many ladies at the same time "Auervaara". Another famous inmate was Matti "Volvo" Markkanen who robbed numerous banks in Denmark while driving only Volvos. Some Swedish people told him that a Volvo can not be broken into, and he believed them. The worst murderer in Finnish history is Matti Haapoja who killed at least 18 people. He also tried to escape from Kakola several times.

In 2007 a new, Saramäki Prison was opened in Turku, and all the inmates were transferred there from Kakola. Kakola was not considered to be very practical and the location in the city center was not convenient. Now there are many kinds of plans for Kakola's buildings. Part of them will be renovated into apartments and some part will become a hotel. For a few years now there have been prison tours arranged for visitors, but it is not known if a part of the prison will be saved for this kind of purpose. It is sure that every Finn knows Kakola, and there would probably be demand for the tours. Also the fate of the Kakolanmäki Hill Museum is still undecided. 

THE LOVELY CAFE KAKOLA

I really liked the cafe that was situated in the prison warden's house. The Cafe is only open during summertime, but it felt like we were sitting in someone's home. The furniture was old and there were photos on the walls from Kakola prison. There is one decision to make when purchasing coffee: Do you want to drink it like prison guards from fine porcelain or like a prisoner from a tin cup? They were also serving a special muffin which had a file sticking out of it.

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I have to say that we were not expecting much when coming to Kakola, but the visit was actually very interesting. Definitely worth a visit!