Excerpts from Acerbi's journal

(from Eero Saarenheimo's work 'Retki Euroopan ääreen. Giuseppe Acerbi ja hänen Lapin-matkansa 1799. Otava, 1988, translation Tuula Asikainen)



Tuesday, 11th June


In the evening we had a sauna bath in a Finnish sauna. In the beginning we hardly tolerated a heat of 40 degrees, but when making an effort we were able to bear even 65 degrees without any inconvenience and much to our enjoyment. The heat eases perspiration instead of preventing it. The special thing about sauna is that it increases strength and makes the bather's mind cheerful and peaceful. We bathed together with vicar Castrén and my travel companion. After we had entered the sauna a 14-year-old girl helped us undress and remove everything from shoes to vest. When we were naked the girl brought us a birch twig each for whisking which had been soaking in lukewarm water. The girl then started to throw water on the stones that the fire had made hot. The water filled the room with vapour that increases and doubles the heat and moistens the skin making it soft and easier for perspiration. Half an hour is enough in the sauna. The Finns may stay there for an hour or even longer. After getting down from the benches, covered with straw and sheets like a bed for us, the energetic girl takes us by the hand and makes us sit on a stool beside a barrel filled with lukewarm water. She pours plenty of water over the head. The water flows down the whole body and removes fat off the skin and all the birch leaves and twigs that have remained on the skin. After this she takes a piece of soap and washes the hair with care by massaging it. Then she puts the soap aside, rubs the head with both hands for a while and then moves lower down, washing and massaging the neck, chest and back. She finishes her work by pouring water over the head some three four timepp. She then removes the stool leaving the bather standing. In this position it is customary to massage the legs, ankles and especially the shins and Achilles tendonpp. After this the bathers dress and when leaving the sauna give a few coins as a reward. In the Finnish language this is called the 'sauna raha' (=sauna money). In some places, in towns in particular, even the master of the house follows this custom, even if the girl is in his service.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 183-4

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Wednesday, 12th June

After reaching the river Tornionjoki we saw the town from a close range. From this direction it does not seem picturesque at all as only a few houses and the top of the spire of the wooden church can be seen. I will later describe the environment of Tornio and its inhabitants. Here I will merely state that a very cold wind made our journey highly uncomfortable. It must be noted that the wind from the south is much colder than that from the north because the Gulf of Bothnia is still covered with ice.

I wrote to Stockholm. After dinner the rest of our party arrived. I made acquaintance with headmaster Lönnberg, a learned and very interesting man.

After supper we took a stroll in the northern part of the town. It was a quarter to midnight. The sun was in the north and its disk had hardly disappeared from the horizon. A new and extraordinary sight! To see the pining and resting nature, to observe the complete silence and such a powerful light as can be seen in our country on a beautiful day.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 186-7

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Tuesday, 18th June

Matarenki or Ylitornio, 1 ¼ leagues



The first name means the village, the second the congregation or church. We arrived here round one o'clock in the afternoon. Vicar Sandberg gave us accommodation and food, showing the greatest hospitality. He is a benevolent old man who has three beautiful daughters. After dinner we slept and afterwards together made a trip to the famous fell Aavasaksa that Maupertuis has described. We rowed a boat to the foot of the fell and then started climbing everywhere looking for insects, plants and birds for careful observation.

This fell rises above all the others in the neighbourhood and it must be climbed on the western side. Through the bushes there is a small path leading to the top, a path made by all the curious visitors here. The path seems to end halfway the fell and there is a huge heap of rocks scattered around and between them pines and a few aspens. This heap forms a sort of flight of stairs for climbing. One must take one's steps carefully if one is to reach the top. There we found the remains of a fire and a big pile of dried and rotten wood. I thought they might be remains of the measurement instruments Maupertuis had had built here but others said they were wood for lighting up a beacon so that fire signals could be used to inform of the threatening attack of the Russians. Such an attack was feared by the peasants during the last war as well as in the war of 1734 when the Russians caused a most thorough havoc in these regions.

On the top of the fell a wide and picturesque view opens. Towards the south the river Tornionjoki hides between the hills and mounds and is bordered by vast flat land and cultivated areas. On the western side the river descends into a broad and peaceful bed. The church and the village are on the opposite bank. The northern view is edged by many fells, one above the other like Pelion and Ossa. In the east the fell forms an unpenetrable and dizzying precipitous slope. It is a refuge for the hawks and nocturnal birds that from among the roaring stones sliding down leave their nests and disturb the quiet of the lonely valley with their wailing sounds. The river forms a clear lake where the opposite fells reflect sky-blue like in a mirror. The river has a winding flow and here and there it forms small islands and coves. It embraces the mountain and in the west flows into the river Tornionjoki. It was exactly midnight and the sun with its disk barely touched the tops of the distant fells rising in the horizon.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 192-3

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Thursday. 20th June


Another place for changing horses and oarsmen is called Toolanen or Juoksenki. This journey is more varied and more interesting than the previous one. We sailed in the rapids among the rocks so that anyone without full understanding of the skills and alertness of our oarsmen would have found his heart throbbing. They defied danger without blinking an eye and the natural hilarity of their faces is bound to create a feeling of security in any wavering hesitant traveller. The most frightening thing is to see how they push the boat straight towards the stone. The boat seems to be crashing but they manage to turn the boat just a few inches away from the stone. Even more shattering it feels when a crash seems inevitable as the punts of the oarsmen slip in the bottom so that the thrust loses its strength just when it should succeed. This brings them into trouble and forces them to double their efforts. People here are strong and sturdy.

When going up the river we passed a big island on our left and after about a quarter of a league we arrived at the famous falls of the rapids Kattilankoski. It is approximately there the arctic circle runs. This rapids is too long so we could not stay in the boats. We walked in the forest past the falls and marched on a marshy but shady path. After all the inconvenience caused by the constant sunshine the shade that these forests and the winding path offered highly pleased us. All the time we gathered plants and collected insects everywhere that these regions abound.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p.193

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Friday, 21st June

I noticed a phenomenon that to me seems rather remarkable, i.e. the way with which people here provide themselves with eggs. They cannot keep hens as these would eat the scanty corn that grows around their houses. They fasten a hollow piece of log onto a pine trunk and the mersanger lays its eggs there. The peasant collects the eggs all but one, and the bird keeps on laying eggs up to fourteen eggs. The peculiar household management of this bird deserves a mention. It is the only one of the waterfowl with webbed feet but it nevertheless builds its nest in a tree. When the young ones have hatched the mersanger carries them in its peak to the foot of the tree and then sets them an example of how to get to the river. The chicks follow the example. If the mersanger does not find such a man-made nest it looks for trees hollowed by nature or rotten by time, but not far from the river.

The willingness to lay eggs in a man-made nest is probably less due to the bird's laziness than the lack of materials and the fact that the bird itself has no means to build a nest.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p.193

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Saturday 22nd June

We left after one o'clock in the morning and arrived at Köngäs at nine; this meant two and a half leagues and eight hours' untiring toiling. I do not think there exist men elsewhere that would have better taken such utmost exertion. The whole route is full of rapids, out of these there were only three at which we took to the land. Finally we reached the place where the rivers Tornionjoki and Muonionjoki merge. A heavy and demanding route, when the waves surge and when one has to brave the rocky rapids in the river Tornionjoki and instantly get up from among them again. Being accustomed to dangerous situations decreases fear but I cannot but admire the utmost energy and courage of these oarsmen.

While we were getting upstream in the river Tornionjoki we kept to the left side and arrived at a place with steep abyss called Peuranhyppy (leap of the caribou) because it was a place some animals have rather leaped into their deaths than had themselves caught. At last we reached the rapids at the iron works at Köngäs. We were taken to the house of the manager of the works. He had been informed of our arrival by his company in advance in a letter from a merchant in Stockholm. Here we had a most hospitable welcome and all the conveniences we could hope for.


We spent the whole day collecting plants and looking for birds and insects.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p.195

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Tuesday, 25th June

We left Köngäs iron works at eleven in the morning and arrived at Kolari at eleven in the evening, so it took us nearly twelve hours to make the needed 3 ¾ leagues.

We took leave from the rest of the party who started their journey downstream the river Tornionjoki while we started ours upstream. Due to the heavy rain during the night the river was flooding and we walked on the shores and through the bushes pulling the boat for the most of the time. Once, however, our boat was trapped on to a rock and, to our annoyance, we all fell. The water was only 14 degrees today and the temperature had fallen three degrees from yesterday. The thermometer showed 19 at noon and 16 in the morning.

Getting to Kolari has not meant the end of good peasant friends. The inn was very nice, the people were rich and they had all they needed. The men were fishing, The mother of the family was at home with a truly beautiful young daughter. In the morning we had a Finnish sauna bath and the daughter looked after us in the manner I have described earlier. The mother seemed to keep an eye on us while we were bantering with the daughter but she was in no way suspicious nor did she guard us while we were bathing in the sauna where my friend even stayed alone with the daughter for a while. We had a much better service than in many hotels in Sweden. Beautiful bed linen, comfortable beds, plentiful food etc. though we had crossed the Arctic Circle!

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp.196-7

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Thursday, 27th June

We left at sunrise, i.e. at one o'clock in the morning. We arrived at Parkajoensuu where we found two houses and two families, seven persons in total.

They own four cows and a field that they cultivate. They have land areas of leagues' length at their disposal. The men were fishing and we saw some fish being dried in the open. Only one aged woman and a young boy were staying at home. They were able to provide us with the information about the our new resting place.

These families have moved here on their own initiative and not by a decree of the government because they do not own anything in the village of Muonionniska. One year they suffered utterly and almost starved to death had there not been a couple of merchants from Tornio passing the place by accident. The bread the families make is inedible as half of it is straw. They sow two barrels of corn which in good years yields a sevenfold harvest and in bad years gives only half back. They do have milk, fish, game bird and reindeer meat during parts of the year. They catch game birds with traps. The nomadic Lapps sometimes give them a piece of reindeer meat or they kill a caribou themselves. In winter time men are busy with making sleds and boats, knitting nets, chopping and transporting logs. Women knit and they spin wool with which they clothe themselves and their husbands. These two houses face the river. The place is simply wonderful and enchanting. Opposite the house there are a few little islands covered with trees and grass. We made a drawing of the scene.

I was filled with joy when I watched this little poor secluded settlement that is faraway from their congregation and that can only be accessed along the river, through difficult rapids by leaving the boat and forcing one's way through the thick and untrodden forest. I asked myself: can happiness live under this roof? An interesting question. Do they have unsatisfied needs, do the riches and comforts of others excite their thoughts? They work hard and they are not oppressed. Are they sensitive to the beauty of nature? Do they ever make boat trips to the island opposite their dwellings? No. They do not have the need to kill time in boredom by making trips nor do they look for emotional excitement from art experiences.

At this phase we began to suffer from the discomforts of this peculiar and capricious journey. The downpour caught us by surprise and we heard the sound of thunder for the first time. I have never seen such heavy downpour before. It almost prevented one's vision to a few steps' distance. After getting soaked we reached the little settlement. We refreshed ourselves there and left at dawn the following day.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp.198-9

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Friday, 28th June


Temperature: 15-14-12, water: 15
I have attached a drawing of the shape of the boat because it is of a special kind and differs from the boats of other countries. (Drawing left out). On water the bow is in the front and it is broader than the much narrower aft. This sounds contrary to all reason and our own practices. But is, however, very well-grounded. The bow is the tallest and broadest part of the boat so once in a rapids it splits the water better and prevents the waves from getting into the boat over the sides. When steering the boat with punts the bow is the most important place. From there one of the men watches for any rocks and looks for the best route for the boat. Thus he has a broader space to move about and push the bow from one side to the other. He always falls on the edge when the punt slips in the bottom of the river and he loses his balance. Another reason is that whenever the bow has made its way the rest of the boat is sure to follow. If the aft were broader than the bow a narrower bow would fit in between the rocks but the aft would get stuck there and the boat would be wrecked. The seat has two functions. It supports the boat's sides and it holds a place for the sail which is hoisted when needed and there is a good wind. But we did not use a sail at all on our 11-league journey as we did not have one.

Muonionniska is a village by the river Muonionjoki (niska means the highest part of the river, i.e. the beginnings of the river). There are 35 houses, a place to change the oarsmen and a guest house in the village. Just like in Köngäs in Ylitornio congregation there is a modest chapel also here. A priest and a chaplain work there, the area of the chaplain's clerical jurisdiction is as wide as 30 square leagues. He is a countryman who is not different from other country people except for the fact that he speaks Swedish and wears black trousers. All the 35 houses in this congregation of 30 square leagues are together responsible for the free board and lodging of three soldiers. The soldiers here own, as soldiers do everywhere in Sweden, a little piece of land and a house. This is a remarkable system created by King Karl VI, a system that King Gustav III came near to destroy by making the officers too independent.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p.200

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Saturday, 29th June

Accompanied by the priest we went to look for a bluethroat (Motacilla svezica) known to live in the area and we shot a rather beautiful male. It is the most charming of the birds I brought back from Sweden and it is really rare and much coveted. It lives in the dwarf birch bushes and eats insects it finds in the soil of these mossy, wet and boggy, regions. It flies low and hardly ever sets himself on the top of a tree. Its song is varied and pleasant. It is precisely for the variety of its song that the Finns call it saata-kieline which means a hundred tongues.

During the rest of the morning we kept on looking for plants and insects. After the meal we made an interesting trip to the fell Keimiötunturi quite close to the fell Pallas. The Finns have their own names for all different hills: sadio for a forest-covered undulation, rova for a hill covered with rocks, vaara for a large hill with bushes here and there, and tunturi for a treeless fell or mountain. They are maybe quite exact equivalents for the Italian names: poggio, collina, montagna and monte. The Finnish word selkä means a rather long undulation or ridge of varying heights being equivalent to the Italian dosso (pendice, balza).

This trip was one of the most enchanting of all our trips though it was burdensome and too long as to the time used for it.

The fell Keimiötunturi wrongly called Jeristunturi in the map lies east of Muonionniska, by a large lake. The river Jerisjoki starts there and after three leagues it runs into the river Muonionjoki which we used for getting here. We made nearly all the way by boat. The river route was a chain of beautiful and picturesque scenery, little waterfalls between the tree-covered rocks. The coves and ponds that abound in fish and water fowl give variety to the landscape. This brought us a special kind of joy that did not compare with anything we have felt in other countries. We met lots of mallards followed by their young ones. Love forced them to fly around us in protection of their offspring.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 201-2

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Tuesday, 2nd July


Temperature: 18-20-19, in water: 18, in sunshine: 45
We left the actual Länsipohja region behind us yesterday. This is the first place in real Swedish Lapland. I thought I recognised a change in nature itself in these regions. The forests here are not equally wet, but the trees and the soil are covered by lichen. Here the houses are smaller and they are less than four foot tall. The beds are five foot long. A woman of a rather small size served us keeping a pipe in her mouth all the time. Children are plentiful here. These two families had fifteen children.

I shot a golden plover (Charadius apricarius) and a willow warbler (Motacilla trochillus) that we in Lombardy call tui. This little bird, a relative of the nightingale, is the happy singer of the north. It warbles happily all through the night, always on the top of a tree. Here we had curdled milk. Water in these northern regions is cold because the soil frost stays deep in the ground even in summer. The wells are not frozen in summer but all dried up.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 206

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Wednesday, 3rd July


Temperature: 25-27-20, in water: 21¸in sunshine: 35

It is only after visiting Suonttajärvi that one can claim having seen Lapland. Our guide noticed a caribou on the river bank while we on the right bank were shooting a few wader birds. Our oarsmen told us that at the sight of the boat the caribou stood up on its hind legs, leaped and dashed away.

Further away my friend made a drawing of a rock where we had our dinner in the midst of smoke. There I found another nest of a bluethroat but only caught the female.

One must see Lapland in summer so one can form an opinion and enjoy the scenery so very much unlike anywhere else. Far-reaching terrain, undulations and hills, bushes, birch copses, spruce copses and the ground is all white from lichen as if covered by snow. So one's imagination may play tricks and give the idea of winter. Contrary to all this is the heat and the charming greenness of the foliage. The river banks are green, too, unless they are sand banks. From a close range the lichen covered ground looks like a soft, pleasant, skillfully woven rug due to the fine and delicate form of the lichen and the way it grows. It has several more or less octagonal patterns, close together. These octagons, or maybe rather placente, with a diameter of a few inches, grow separately so they can be removed as whole. The lichen grows on soft sandy ground which is typical of here so the trees remain small and short-lived. They die young because they do not get enough nutrition. Therefore the scenery offers bare dead trees here and there.

Our companions had forgotten or lost sight of the place where we were supposed to get off the boats and leave the river in order to find the house. They were already tired because of the great efforts they had had to make. They had had to go a quarter of the journey wading in the water by their knees and pull, almost carry the boat through the rocks and currents. A smoke rising from the shore finally announced us of local inhabitants. To our utmost enchantment we met two fishermen who were sitting by a fire, right in the place that we were looking for. There was something wild in their appearance and clothing which in combination with the place and situation made a special impression on us. Their clothes fitted well the purpose of repelling the mosquitoes and the pain they caused. These insects live on these lakes and rivers day and night. Although the wives of the fishermen live hardly a quarter of a mile away the men do not go and see them during the whole fishing season but sleep by the river under the bare sky, grouped around the smoky fire.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 207-8

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Saturday, 6th July


Temperature: 14-29-17; in water: 18; in sunshine: 45
A journey of a league under the scorching sun, in the heat of 25 degrees, in terrain partly boggy, partly barren, partly flat, partly undulating, bare, dry and lichen-covered. Without the thick and refreshing shadow of a leafy tree, without the least of breeze. We walked slowly and used six hours for this six-league-long leg of journey. When we were having a rest on the ground, the heat was on us from both sides. We were always surrounded by swarms of mosquitoes so we had to keep our faces covered by veils which made breathing difficult. We kept our hands in big mittens which for all their thickness only just about managed to protect us from the poisonous bites of these insects. We had to wear woolly clothes and boots fit for the coldest winter because the mosquitoes penetrated through all linen clothes. At last we managed to reach lake Kivijärvi despite all this heat.


Retki Euroopan ääreen, p. 213

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Sunday, 7th July

All through the year the Lapps live in the forests, separated from other people, subordinate to no government, not acquiring the habits of others, not mixing with other people. Their physique and their habits are different, they have no religion, no services or priests to preach about obedience or theological virtues for them. They do not, however, have any of the characteristics of primitive people as they do not have their needs either. A person without any needs is the characteristic description of these people. Without will to act the Lapp only loiters about, slow and lazy. The character of the Lapps is based on this single factor. They are nomads in summer and idle in winter. The grazing animals satisfy all their needs without real effort from people. The reindeer give the Lapps milk to drink and to make butter and cheese from. From the reindeer skin they sew their clothes to cover themselves. Their teepee is made of reindeer skin as well as their beds. The mittens, footwear, caps, trousers and the whole attire are of reindeer skin, too. They do not use shirts and they do not need any fabric. With reindeer skin they buy a pot, a knife and yarn to knit their nets. Herding reindeer requires no skill nor wit and if sometimes like this year there are a lot of wolves the Lapps let them eat reindeer. If the Lapps go fishing in summer the lakes here abound in fish, all they have to do is to lay their nets in water in the evening and come and empty them in the morning to get what they need. Unlike the Finns who lay their long nets in big lakes where they have to row straining stretches to do so and also frequently empty their nets the Lapps go fishing alone and do nothing but just lay the net and later empty it to have the fish they need.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p. 217

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Saturday, 13th July


After arriving in Alattio we finally got a proper lodging, conveniences and all. Here people have to suffer in order to enjoy, and once the pain and strain are over they give way to pure pleasure. A bath in the Arctic Ocean restored all our strengths. We were finally in this ocean the reaching of which had caused so much trouble. The day was dedicated to rest, writing accounts and settling our companions' payoff. I try here to memorise the route and travel costs.

Five men from Koutokeino to Koinosjoki and from there to Alattio seven men. Eight thalers for a day on our way to the destination and four thalers for a day on the return journey. I would estimate the journey here took five days, the journey back three days. In total we have paid 18.35.8 specie-riksthalers.

The men from Koutokeino served us in a highly punctual manner but after the journey they made some unjust and improper claims. Except for the pay we had also given them spirits as compensation before we set out and after we got to our destination. Journeying here is expensive because people are accustomed to rich travellers who are here by their own impulse or, financed by their nation, search for natural rarities. Our companions are the only ones in the trade and they have to be paid what they require.

These seventeen leagues out of which seven were made by foot cost us as much as we would have paid to make the same length of travel in Sweden by six horses.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p. 226

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Tuesday, 16th July

Temperature: 13-17-10; in the ocean: 6; in sunshine:24
An unfavourable wind prevented us today from making but a short walk and we walked here and there to see the Lapps' sod huts that are found on these shores. The Lapps we met were almost all asleep and we woke up only the ones who interested us most or from whom we were to get something. We entered a few of the sod huts, stayed there for a while and left so they did not notice our visit at all. If you want to see a hut from the inside you have to send a couple of your travel companions who have met them earlier to tell them of the visit in advance. All this as a precaution because the Lapps' meeting new, differently clothed persons unexpectedly might have ill-fated consequences for the traveller himself or the Lapps who struck by sudden terror may hit the visitor with a stick or an axe.

I have noticed that the Lapps are not light sleepers and do not hear or see at all when someone enters their hut. I find this a sure proof of the great safety which prevails in their lives: no fear of attacking people or wild animals. They are totally different from the primitive people in America or Africa who in their sleep hear the lightest flutter of a leaf. It is caused by the continuous danger to which these people are exposed and for which their instinct of self-preservation never sleeps.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, p. 228

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Thursday, 18th July

At twelve o'clock sharp on Wednesday night we arrived safely at the North Cape (Nordkapp). We stayed here till noon and maybe a bit later to make drawings, to collect plants and insects and to look for birds.

This rocky cape that has given us so much effort and strain to reach is but a formless piece of rock projected from the sea and whose only advantage is that nature has given it the position of 71 degrees and 10 seconds, i.e. closer the North Pole than the rest of capes in Europe. Beside it a huge mountain rises up, so steep and so frightening, that it seems twice its actual height to the climbers. After making such long journey to see this place we thought we were obliged to overcome all fear and climb the mountain whatever it took. We climbed there using more our hands than our legs and feet. Several times we had to grasp loose rocks that were about to fall down, several times we hung with our hands and had to rely on the strength of our arms. Two souls who enter the Heaven to enjoy eternal life would not have seen greater efforts nor had they exposed themselves to greater danger. From the top the view opening in front of us did not make up for our efforts for there was only sea to be seen in the north and the fells obstructed the view in the south. We amused ourselves by pushing down huge rocks. It was fascinating to watch how fast these rocks crushed down. Some of them were so immense that they took with them everything they got in contact with. It felt as if they were wanting to ruin the other side of the mountain itself. Not even the promontories with big bushes could resist the crash but crushed into dust and rubble. While loosening from the rock they caused a big flame and struck out flames into the air.

While we were busy with these chores our men had retreated into a cave to make coffee and something to eat for us. The descent from the mountain was even more painful and strenuous for us than the ascent had been, and twice as horrid because whenever we turned we saw such a deep precipice in front of our eyes that it made us dizzy. Interests of this kind are such they can be survived by vanity and youthful ambition even though one's 'life sometimes depends on a single skid of a foot or a slip of a hand.

After our descent the sheltering cave was a pleasant surprise to us as it due to its speciality and position offered us a most convenient refuge. Three large boulders form a cave near the shore, the walls are ground by waves or time. In the middle of the cave there is a big stone the even horizontal surface of which reminds one of a table so food and cups can be placed on it. A fresh water rivulet from the mountains makes its rushing way into the cave, runs under the big stone and really tempts the tired traveller to sit down and refresh himself with its clear and sweet water. This hospitable shelter that the cave provided us deserves to be preserved in our grateful memories. It reminded us of the cave of Dido and Aeneid and it had almost all the characteristics that Vergil mentions in his divine fourth book. Naturally our pleasures in this cave were less ardent and less intense compared with those of Aenid but they were perfectly suited for our situation and needs because they were based on tiredness and appetite. Turning towards the south we greeted Europe and drank a bottle of French wine to the health of our friends and added wishes for all nations of the world into our toast.

Retki Euroopan ääreen, pp. 233-4

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