Uh-oh... Almost a month has passed since my last update.. oops. July was a pretty darn good month, though. In early July I attended the annual Aikido Summer School in Birmingham (only two days this year because of the Olympics), which was a much bigger deal for me this year as I had my black belt exam there. I was really, really nervous, but it went a lot better than I expected - and I passed! Not only that, but I got to skip the usual few months' probationary period and was awarded full 1st Dan black belt straightaway, which means I can already wear a black belt and a hakama! It still feels a little unreal at times and I stress so much about folding the hakama.. :P I'm really happy, though, and super relieved.
After the Summer School me and Matt were off to Finland for a week, to see my family. I'd been wanting to spend some time with my family (a close relative of mine passed away this spring..) and I got to do that, and see familiar places again. We spent most of the week with my parents in my old home town, Lappeenranta and I had a great time. I definitely needed this break!
Lappeenranta is located by lake Saimaa, the largest lake in Finland. ...which is pictured in this postcard I received from a swap earlier this summer. The Finnish Post issued a set of postcards with pictures of old travel adverts. This one has got to be my favourite because it brings back so many memories.
Saimaa is a lake in southeastern Finland. At approximately 4,400 square kilometres, it is the largest lake in Finland, and the fourth largest in Europe. It was formed by glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age. Major towns on the lakeshore include Lappeenranta, Imatra, Savonlinna, Mikkeli, Varkaus, and Joensuu. The Vuoksi River flows from Saimaa to Lake Ladoga. Most of the lake is spotted with islands, and narrow canals divide the lake in many parts, each having their own names (major basins include Suur-Saimaa, Orivesi, Puruvesi, Haukivesi, Yövesi, Pihlajavesi, and Pyhäselkä).
The Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta to Vyborg connects Saimaa to the Gulf of Finland. Other canals connect Saimaa to smaller lakes in Eastern Finland and form a network of waterways. These waterways are mainly used to transport wood, minerals, metals, pulp and other cargo, but also tourists use the waterways.
One of the rare and endangered freshwater seals, the Saimaa Ringed Seal, lives only at Saimaa. Also, the Saimaa salmon is another endangered species in the same habitat.