Welcome to another “17 in ’17” installment! Recently, I offered a Canadian love call to celebrate the 150th birthday of my neighbors to the north. This time, I’m singing the praises of Finland – the land of all my lovely Mum’s grandparents – in this, the 100th anniversary year of its independence! Here, in no special order (and with largely inadequate pictures – apologies…), are the first 9 of 17 reasons why the country is so very dear to my heart!
1. It’s Not Butter
Nope – but Finland could easily be called a Land O Lakes! I’ve read that lakes make up about 10% of Finland – and are they ever a beautiful use of space!
2. Found in Translation
I was just watching the US and Finland playing in the World Hockey Championships (ohhh, yes – there will be hockey in the next installment!) and I recognized a chant from the crowd that sounded like: “Soo-oh mi! (Clap, clap, clap.) Soo-oh-mi! (Clap, clap, clap.)”
Suomi is the Finns’ own name for their country.
Ahead of the two Finnish pilgrimages I was lucky enough to make with the folks, I studied a little of the language with books and tapes and was prepared to spout practice dialogue phrases like: “Take this camera and give me another one immediately!” Alas, the need to say that never arose – and, though feeling a bit lazy, I was also pretty relieved to find that Finns spoke excellent English just about everywhere we went.
Certain words do look familiar in Finnish – like a hotel is a hotelli and coffee is kahvi – but overall, the language is quite different from those of border countries Sweden, Norway and Russia (from whom it gained independence in 1917) and totally different from any other language in which I’ve dabbled! It has a complex structure but also a sound and rhythm (with the accent always on the first syllable of a word) that I find really pleasing and wish I could master!
If my folks had favored Finnish ancestral names, I could have been Tyyne, Aino or Kyliikki. I might have had to get used to pronouncing my name multiple times for American grade school teachers – but I’d have been quite proud all the same!
3. Horsing Around
For a country of just around 5.5 million, Finland maintains a large international presence in areas like music, sport and technology (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Teemu Selanne and Nokia might ring bells). But you know what they say about all work and no play – and I love that Finns also engage in some maybe more offbeat pursuits! Like there’s the sport of wife carrying where the couple that successfully navigates an obstacle course in the manner the event’s name suggests might win the woman’s weight in beer. Finland also hosts competitions in boot and cell phone throwing, tango dancing and air guitar playing. And I’m definitely intrigued by the current craze of hobby-horsing (thanks, Katherine, for calling this sport to my attention!). Yes, that’s people (mainly, teenage girls) going through routines like show jumping and dressage astride the classic child’s toy. I so want to try that! (Although I do worry I might balk…)
4. The Finnish Eye
During our Finland roamings, I was treated to views of lots of Finnish art and architecture, and was especially struck by examples of clean, bold and functional design!
Thankfully, I don’t need to find a carry-on bag large enough to bring samples of Finnish architectural design back to the States – I’ve got places like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis! I love to think of the Arch as the spot where Mum’s Finnish side of the family and Dad’s pioneer side entwine – because the architect whose vision was chosen for memorializing the Westward Movement (in which many of Dad’s ancestors took part) was Finnish-born Eero Saarinen!
5. Let’s Keep in Touch!
Although I’m a dreadful wimp when it comes to the cold, I’d love someday to visit Finland in winter (maybe to chase down the Northern Lights or tell Santa [Joulupukki] in person how good I’ve been!). But, so far, my trips have been in the summertime – one where we hotelled it (hotellied it?) and the other where we camped out of a van.
For the camp trip, some dear friends from Denmark provided all the gear we needed to set ourselves up alongside twinkly lakes or in the midst of slender-treed forests in many a well-maintained Finnish camp ground. The only thing we didn’t use was their lantern since all the light needed was supplied by that dazzling midnight sun!
Mum, Dad and I enjoyed our “big city” adventures, but it was wonderful to get up close and personal with Finnish nature too – and judging by the parade of cars we’d see departing Helsinki on a Friday, it’s clear plenty of Finns feel just the same!
6. No Sweat? No. Sweat…
Some years back, I enjoyed a weekend of domestic camping at this place in California’s central valley that’s run by Finns. That means with all the other regular camping amenities, the place is also equipped with an absolute Finnish essential: a sauna! Actually, it had two saunas (one for men and one for women, of course!) – and there were Finnish campers partaking almost round the clock.
I do enjoy the aroma of a nice cedar sauna! I like hearing the sizzle of water poured over hot rocks from a big wooden ladle. I enjoy the quiet and I enjoy the heat! Well, I enjoy the heat to a point. But I’m not proud to say that when I hit the sauna at my local spa, it seems I’ll just get settled when my Finnish genes forsake me and I have to jump up and shuffle as fast as my spa-issued slippers will take me to the nearest cold shower.
You know how I mentioned I’m a dreadful wimp when it comes to the cold? Busted – it’s ditto for the heat…
7. Bravo Savo!
I was sure impressed by the wonderful variety of natural and cultural experiences there are on offer in Finland! And in just one particular day of our travels, we managed to get an amazing taste of that variety!
We’d made our way to Finland’s southeastern region and decided to focus a day’s activities in and around Savonlinna. Since Dad was a plant pathology professor, he thought it a perfect start to visit the Finnish Forest Museum (Lusto) – a delightful place to study and celebrate the role of forests in Finnish life. I understand our next stop isn’t open anymore, but I sure hope the Retretti Art Center makes a comeback – it housed a wonderful collection of paintings and art displays set up in the natural (and dramatic!) environs of a cave.
Next, a quick al fresco lunch:
Then it was on to a boat ride around and tour of Olavinlinna Fortress which used to defend the region but is now a bastion for fine music as host of the Savonlinna Opera Festival each summer.
And finally, we ended with another outdoor meal of fresh salmon (lohi) and beer (olut) as we happily gabbed well into the continuing twilight.
As I’ve said before, some days it really pays to get up in the morning – even when it never got dark the night before!
8. Rockin’ the Churches
Having continued in the Lutheran faith of my Finnish forebears, it was so moving to include a number of church stops during our touring!
We saw churches made with stone like the imposing Helsinki Cathedral:
We saw one church made right in the stone (Temppeliaukio – the “Rock Church” in Helsinki). And we saw many, many churches made of wood – perhaps a more modest material, but just as full of enduring grace:
9. Legacies of a Faraway Land
While taking in the interiors of Finnish churches, I often noticed a single, wonderfully detailed little model ship hanging from the rafters. I understand these are “votive ships” or “church ships”, common in Scandinavia and other places and perhaps given in remembrance of those lost or saved at sea, and in prayer for future journeys.
Seamen were among Mum’s Finnish kin, along with orphans, laborers and housemaids. We discovered that at least two of them boarded ships in the gorgeous southern coastal town of Hanko to sail over to England and then journey on to forge new lives in America. During a pleasant stroll through Hanko, we found a memorial near the water’s edge to Finns like Mum’s grandparents who left these shores to make their homes abroad.
I’m proud of my Finnish ancestors’ courage in embarking on such a journey. I’m so proud too of the qualities they carried away and always kept with them – from a faraway land called Suomi.
Stay tuned for another 8 reasons why I do love Finland!
And kippis! (“Cheers”!)