Finland: The 17 in ’17 Bit (Part 1)

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!

Helsinki Railway Station.

Sculptures in wood.

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”!)





  1. Finland is a great country and so are its people. The language is difficult at first with long words but not as difficult a it seems. Adjectives, nouns and articles are joined into single words. Sparseness is what the Finns are about.
    My wife for over fifty years hails from Finland. Before marriage I lived in Finland. We still sometimes feel like going back. Both winters and summers are stunningly beautiful and the Kahvi…

    1. Certainly agree about Finland and Finns! And appreciate your insights about the language – I do find it forbidding but I’d sure love to give it a try. Hope I can get back there too. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your own Finnish experiences! (And “hei hei” to your wife!)

  2. Hello Amy.

    I love Your post. It is wonderful and You presented so many places, which are very near to my heart. Especially that You presented Savonlinna, Olavinlinna and Kerimäki church, places where I have visited many times. May I ask where Your mum’s grandparents lived? To me it could be nice to know, because I have travelled nearly everywhere in Finland since 2004 when I was retired.

    Also, Your mentions about Gateway Arch in St. Louis, warmed my heart. Few years ago, we had possibility to see in our TV, its story and how was built. There are not so many people who know, that it was designed by Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen.

    Once more, thank You.

    Happy and safe travels!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words – and very glad you enjoyed the post! Our genealogy research is in storage but I remember some relatives came from Pihtipudas and some from Kalvia. And I’m very proud that the Arch that represents half my roots was designed by an architect from the other half! I’ll be covering a few more Finnish travels in another post but I’ve pretty much only been in the Southern part and would love to see more someday! Kiitos again for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      1. Hello again Amy.

        Thank You replying. Pihtipudas and Kälviä, I know them. To prove that I have been here and there in Finland. I give here all posts, which I have from those two places. In all these posts there are photo(s) fom both places.


        Church of Kalvia.

        Statues of Paupers3.

        Belltowers in Finland.

        Ships inside churches .

        Altars in Finland .


        Comparing bell towers IV .

        Comparing war memorials II .

        We have a small summer home in Oulu and our route to Oulu passes thru Pihtipudas. 🙂 I wait with eager Your next post.

        Best regards. Mattti

      2. Oh that’s wonderful – thank you! You have collected the photos I wish I had of all the bell towers, pauper statues and ships – just beautiful! And I certainly remember the war memorials and all those red flowers (more in my next post). Really appreciate your sharing these!

  3. Oh Amy, such a great post! It is very interesting to read how you see our country. Our language is difficult, and it really is special, there is no use from knowing other languages and it is among the most difficult languages in the western world.
    We love kahvi and those old wooden churches.
    Those people who left this country and sailed to Amerikka, how brave they have been. They didn´t know the language, they had not seen everything you have there in TV, as nowadays, just a ticket and one bag they left.
    Kiitos, Amy ja hei hei.

    1. Kiitos kiitos! It was very special to be able to see the country Mum’s side of the family came from! I think they did carry it in their hearts – Mum says one grandpa in particular talked a lot about Finland and had picture books to show his grandchildren. (He was going to go back and visit but the Winter War broke out – very sad.). Thank you again for reading and responding!

  4. Interesting post. I have only visited Helsinki but I loved it. I was once told that Finnish language was similar to Hungarian. Don’t know but both languages are very difficult. I imagine northern Finland is beautiful also.

    1. Helsinki is beautiful! And yes – I believe Finnish and Hungarian are part of the same language family (Finno-Ugric). And I’d love to get a look at Northern Finland too! Thanks for the read and the comments (and please say hi to the ducks for me)!

  5. The ducks enjoyed your post. They also want to visit everywhere you write about. Looking forward to more adventures from Finland.

  6. I had great fun enjoying the beauty of Finland with you here, Amy, thank you. I was just thinking about the beauties of this area yesterday, and I decided if I ever go, it will be in summer. Then I thought, but what about the northern lights? With your beautiful photos and lovely introduction, my curiosity is piqued.

    1. Thank you – so glad if it inspired you to think of going! Seems like if people see Finland, it’s often only Helsinki as a stop on a cruise – Helsinki is beautiful but there’s so much more to see (and I wish my pictures did it more justice)! Thanks for reading and for your kind thoughts and comments!

  7. I love visiting Finland (bit hard now I live in New Zealand!). I’ve been to Helsinki, Lahti and Tampere – such a beautiful country. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank YOU for reading (and yes, that would be a bit of a commute from New Zealand)! And I sure agree it’s a beautiful country!

  8. Finland is a beautiful country. Amazing pictures

    1. Yes, Finland is lovely! I do wish my pictures were better though – guess I’ll just have to go back!

      1. I always think the same, at times I say to myself, I want to go back and take pictures of some places to share on my blog. It is like we have been to many places even before the blogging world was born and we become excited about sharing what we know but it has been long time since we have been to some places. But it is worth going back haha!

  9. cocoaupnorth · · Reply

    Wow Amy, this is a lovely post! Finland is truly beautiful, I’m glad you managed to visit quite a number of places and even ventured out into Finnish nature. Do come back again in winter, you’ll love it. 😊

    1. Thank you so much! And I can’t wait to get back to Finland one day and see more!

  10. WoW… I was just going to tell you about a South African blogger friend who lives in Finland but I see she’s beaten me to your post! 😉
    I must confess… I would love to go in winter… the Northern Lights… they beckon! 😀

    1. They beckon, indeed! I saw them once (in Ireland) and would love to catch ’em again! Thanks for reading!

  11. Great post–I’d love to visit Helskini and those beautiful wooden churches. My husband is of Scandinavian ancestry (Swedish) and I’ve been to Sweden but not Finland.

    1. Thank you! I’ve only been to Finland and would love to hit the other countries up there including Sweden, of course. Hope you get to Finland one day – and thanks again for reading!

  12. This is a timely post for me, because I was just thinking about booking a trip to either Finland or Estonia (or both!) in July if I can find a good deal, and this will be another point in Finland’s favour. Those wooden churches are beautiful! I’m looking forward to your next installment!

    1. That’s great! Finland is a beautiful country and I hope you go – then I’ll look forward to reading YOUR take! Thanks for reading!

  13. Nice post and photos from a country I visited for the first time just over a year ago. Only Helsinki, but that is full of nature and other interest, such as architecture, sport and history.
    Jessica: Estonia is only an hour or two ferry ride away from Helsinki, so easy to do the two. And then Latvia isn’t far, as Baltic states quite small in size.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and reposting – and glad you’ve gotten to know a little bit of Finland too!

  14. Reblogged this on greenygrey3 and commented:
    Happy greenYgrey independence centenary to Finland!

  15. Beautiful post! I will be following you from now on.

    1. Thank you very much! And I look forward to more wandering through the world and animal kingdom on your blog!

  16. Finland has just jumped up a couple of places on my to-see list… I’m so looking forward to reading the second part of this! It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for years, and now I’ll have 17 more reasons to go! 😀

    1. Thank you, thank you! Needless to say, I think Finland is a terrific destination – and boy would it be great if your trip inspired a special Beastie! 😃

      1. Yes indeed! I pretty much HAVE to go now! 😀

  17. Wonderful stories of Finland! My Grandmother’s family are Swedes from Finland, I was lucky enough to visit in 1998. It’s probably past time for another visit 🙂

    1. Thank you! Hope you get back there. (Me too!)

  18. Great post. Finland is amazing. I just booked my flights for Helsinki in September and realised that it has been almost a decade since the last time I visited Helsinki and half a decade since I’ve been to Suomi in general. Which is just awful considering that my hubby is Finnish and that we do have a mökki there. My hubby is there every year to visit his family and he will actually leave again in just a few weeks to participate in this year’s Pesis World Cup. Have you ever watched a game? I love it and I think it is typically Finnish to get inspiration abroad (this time American baseball) and aim to make it better or more challenging. We were planning on going together on the 6th Dec for Independence day but will probably not have the money 😦 Cheers Debby

    1. Glad you’re booked – and so nice that you have a cottage there! No, I’ve not seen Finnish baseball but I bet it’s entertaining. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get over there again, myself, but I hope you have a wonderful time – and thanks for reading!

  19. Love this article! I’ve learned a lot of unsuspected things about Finland! It’s a really amazing country and even if I have only been there for a couple of days I really felt like people there were happy. Like real happy, from top to bottom! Would love to go back to visit the north of the country!! Maybe one day! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I agree it’s an amazing country – and I loved your post about Helsinki! Your pictures and notes brought me back to my own tour around the city AND gave me some ideas for my next visit (one day)! Thanks again for reading! (Kiitos!)

  20. […] a Finnish “welcome” to the second half of my list of 17 reasons why I love Finland!   Part 1 covered reasons 1 to 9 – now, in this 100th anniversary year of Finnish Independence, here […]

  21. great post!

    1. Thanks very much!

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