Finland: The 17 in ’17 Bit (Part 2)

Tervetuloa!  That’s 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 (in no special order as always) are the rest:

10.  Seeing the Forest AND the Trees!

Finnish forest!

As I mentioned last time, Finnish landscape is laced with lovely lakes – but it’s also framed by fantastic forests!  On my two summertime trips around Finland (will get there in the winter one day!), the folks and I drove many a road that was lined with tall, trim trees – and sometimes for a lunch break, we’d simply pull over and picnic among them!

11.  Musically Inclined

Finland has produced a real wealth of composers, conductors, musicians and singers!  While there, I paid respects to one of my favorite composers, Jean Sibelius, by visiting his birthplace in Hämeenlinna, touring his home (“Ainola“) in picturesque Järvenpää, and finding his striking monument in Helsinki.  (We missed the Sibelius Museum in Turku as it was closed to sleep off the Juhannus holidays celebrating Midsummer.  Ah well – next time!)

Sibelius Monument.

Sibelius Monument.









As an Angeleno, I was fortunate to be able to appreciate Finnish musical artistry on a regular basis while Esa-Pekka Salonen was conductor of the LA Philharmonic.  And it was a special treat in April to watch him interpret Sibelius once again as a guest conductor in the Walt Disney Concert Hall he helped to see built!

Mum in the Disney Concert Hall!

12.  Is There Something in the Water? Or in the Ice?

(I know, I know – but I warned last time there’d be hockey!)  It’s also been my domestic privilege to follow the flood of Finns who’ve come over to play hockey in the NHL!  In last week’s NHL Draft alone, 6 of the first 30 players selected were from Finland!

Back in the 90’s, it was my deer-in-the-headlighted honor to meet my favorite player, Helsinki-born Jari Kurri, while he was an LA King:

Me and Jari Kurri!

And Kurri’s fellow countryman Teemu Selänne will join him as a Hockey Hall of Famer in a ceremony this November (he’s already been there in pictures):

Jari and Teemu repping Finland at Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame!

Have to share that I took Mum out on her birthday for a wonderful fine dining experience at Selänne’s own restaurant in Laguna Beach – and the namesake himself was there!  We were floored when he came over to wish Mum a Hyvää Syntymäpäivää AND talk puck with us for quite a while!  As Mum spun tales from her nearly 80 years as a Chicago Blackhawk fan, this gracious hockey legend leaned down toward our little table, gripped either side of it, and listened as if she were the only person in the whole world, let alone in the room.

How pleasing it is to discover that a guy who’s so amazing on the ice is amazing off it too!

Teemu and the Birthday Girl!

13.  More Flash-y and High-Flying Finns!

Finns have a word for a certain quality of character: sisu.  Attempts I’ve read at an English translation include bravery, perseverance, grit, and stoic determination.

I love that in addition to hockey, Finns have had a major impact in lots of other sports – and I expect sisu was helpful for the likes of legendary multi-medal winning Olympic runner, Paavo Nurmi, and two-time Formula One racing champ, Mika Häkkinen!

The delightful (if fanciful) film Eddie the Eagle reminded me of another Finnish Olympian – ski jumper Matti Nykänen.  There’s a fun scene in a ski jump elevator where Nykänen tells plucky Brit “Eddie” Edwards that the two are alike because they jump to free their souls. “For all time,” Nykänen nobly intones as he departs the elevator to enter Olympic history.

Lahti ski jumps!

While visiting Lahti, I took a similar lift up their ski jump (which was all serene and snowless in the summertime).  Standing way at the top, I thought of the fortitude one would have to summon to attempt this sport! I imagined coarse winter winds stinging my face as I started down the icy track, skis chattering as I maintained a straight line and then surged off the end of the platform, soaring into the sky in defiant challenge of gravity and the elements – jumping to free my soul!

I peered over the edge and down the narrow ramp at a swimming pool near the base which, from my height, looked about the size of a postage stamp.  That’s when I quickly backed up and sheepishly clutched at a nearby door frame with the certain knowledge that – for all time – at NO time would I ever attempt such a thing…

14.  True Sisu

Yes, I may not be Olympic material, but I still adore the Olympics – and it must run in the family!  Two of my Finnish great-grandparents were set to return to their homeland to visit family and attend the 1940 Olympics.  But it was not to be.  With World War II breaking out, the Games were canceled – and that Finnish quality of sisu was both tested and shown far beyond the sporting arena as the small country battled its massive neighbor Russia to preserve the independence it had not so long ago gained.

According to one source:

“Finland’s geographical location has subjected her to East-West clashes throughout her history. Protestantism and Greek Orthodoxy vied with one another as did conflicting social and political systems.  In such a contending atmosphere the final acceptance of the Western tradition and rejection of the Eastern tradition made Finland’s realization as an independent state difficult.  The long struggle to maintain her choice has no doubt strengthened her resistance to Eastern advances.

Finland is one of the world’s oldest democracies and…individual freedom and human rights were strongly stressed in the folk wisdom of ancient times reflected in ‘Kalevala’ – the Finnish national epic.”

It’s tough to put in a nutshell but, during the Winter War of 1939-40, and the Continuation War of 1941-44, Finland fought for its life at great cost and against great odds, finally losing territory to Russia, being obliged to drive out the German forces whose aid they’d accepted, and paying crippling reparations.  But, through all of it, she preserved her independence.

Flower-adorned war graves in a Finnish cemetery.

My dad had long admired Finland, ever since he saw newsreels in his youth of their paying off American loans when so many other countries did not (and have not, as I understand).  So Dad already had some background when he met a fellow student at the University of Wisconsin (“a bright-eyed, animated, and completely captivating young lady”) whose ancestry was Finnish and who was writing her Master’s thesis on Finnish/Russian relations.  That fellow student is dear Mum, of course – and she’s my “source” above as well!

15.  Lending a Helping Käsi

I’ve gushed about the marvelous collection of giving souls I once met on Canada’s Cape Breton Island (The Nova Scotia Dreamin Bit ) – and Finland is that rare place (to me, anyway) where I encountered the same extraordinary generosity of spirit!  Here’s just one example:

The folks and I had hit the town of Lohtaja to try – with nothing like a game plan – to do some genealogy research.  As my journal recalls it: “Mum recruited a guy at the bank (who exchanged her money) to get us over to the church office and to wait a little to translate until the church office people recruited a woman who knew the files who brought her husband to translate but he couldn’t do enough so they called the banker back over.”

We ended up with a room full of Finns who, without hesitation, gave up their entire morning (the banker even gave up doing his proper job!) to help three clueless but grateful foreigners add some lovely new branches to their family tree!

We found that kind of selfless and boundless industry time and again throughout our travels in Finland.  Perhaps like the seasons, once the ice is broken, it’s all about the warmth!

“Poor man statue” (with whom donations for the poor may be left) at the church in Lohtaja.

16.  And It Travels!

We’ve found that same spirit among some Americans with Finnish roots we’ve met here at home – like six years ago when Mum had to make a big adjustment moving from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area.  For starters, it made her feel a tiny bit more settled knowing she could follow the nearby San Jose Sharks whose current goalie had helped her own Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010 – that was a Finn named Antti Niemi!

Then, while searching for a church to join, we came upon Hope Lutheran right there in her community – and when Mum discovered the pastor’s name was Jack Niemi, well, she just knew she was home!

Mum with gentle reader, goodly guide and dear Finnish American friend, Pastor Jack!

17.  A Capital Idea!

Hard to wrap this up, but I’ll end where my trips to Finland began and ended.  In Helsinki – a city I very much came to love!

During our Helsinki stays, the folks and I had (among many other things), enjoyed the  Open-Air Museum  at Seurasaari, wandered the battlements of the island fortress of  Suomenlinna, and strolled the Olympic Stadium where the Finns finally did get to play host in 1952.

At the very end of one trip, we’d already checked into a hotel near the airport in Vantaa.  But Dad and I couldn’t resist grabbing a bus back to Helsinki for one last jaunt on a sunny late-summer day – and what we managed to do in just one afternoon tied the perfect bow on the gift of our Finland experience!

We took one more look around stately Helsinki Cathedral, got a quick sampling of the treasures at the Ateneum Art Museum (part of the Finnish National Gallery), rested after a bout of obligatory shopping with a couple beers at an outdoor restaurant, and cruised the Market Square where we bought a basket of fresh strawberries and devoured them as we sat on a bench and absorbed the sun and atmosphere.

The berries – and the whole afternoon – couldn’t have been sweeter!

Helsinki and its Cathedral.

So, for moments like those, and for the art, the nature, the kindnesses, the sisu, and so much more, I say from the heart to the land of half my roots:  Kiitos, Suomi! (“Thank you, Finland!”)

Happy 100th anniversary – and many, many, many happy returns of the day!


  1. Jack Niemi · · Reply

    Hi Amy,

    Your best blog yet!

    Thank you for giving some publicity to Hope Lutheran Church. I will order double the number of bulletins for next Sunday.

    Give your Mum a hug from me.

    Love you,

    Pastor Jack

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Why, thank you! If so, I’m certain it’s the pictures – one in particular! It’d be lovely if I had some Bay Area readers who could go and experience Hope – and I’m still figuring Mum and I will get up there to grab programs and enjoy a service in person one day soon! Thanks so much – and love to you and Ruth!

  2. Amy, at first you know much more of our ice hockey than I do. Then the word sisu, it is a difficult word, I think our history has made us to have sisu. This country with her inhabitants has been very poor, we have had famines, wars, terrible civil war, fields full of stones, cold winter, long distances everywhere, snow, ice, we were eating pettu, bark of pines, when we didn’t have rye to make bread, life here has never been easy. These all have made sisu, but also the helping käsi.
    You really must love this country, you see everywhere beauty, it opens my eyes to see better what we have here.
    Kiitos Amy ja hei, hei!

    1. Hei, hei – and thank YOU! (I would have answered sooner but, for some reason, your comment went to my spam folder…) I wrote of the things I love about Finland but I do know, of course, there are and have been hardships and challenges there as in any country. And people’s experiences can be different. My great grandparents left because life in Finland was very hard for them – but I do know one great grandpa especially always carried the country in his heart, told stories to his grandchildren and showed them picture books of where he came from. Yes, I do try to find the beauty in things and, for me, that wasn’t hard to do with my experiences in Finland! Appreciate your reading and your comment! Kiitos once again!

  3. Finland is dear to me too. You have hit the nail on its head, Amy.

    A great country with great people. I lived in Finland for 6 months back in 1965 trying to get married. We finally did and are still together. Sisu indeed. When in Finland, I remember walking from the rail station of Voltti to my future wife’s family farm. The temperature was -34C!

    Happy 100th year of independence, Finland.

    1. Thank you so much! And I love reading the family stories you share here and on your blog! Thanks so much again for reading – and agreeing with – my tribute to Finland!

  4. I spent so little time – just one day – in Finland but I really got good vibes there. I did see the Sibelius monument, but missed many other things. I really want to go back there some day!

    1. Yes, with cruise ships stops especially, it seems like people only might catch a glimpse of Finland. I was lucky to get to drive around but there’s sure a lot more I want to see. Hope we both get back! And thanks for reading!

  5. Jack Niemi · · Reply

    What an honor to be named in your Blog!

  6. Lovely post! One day I will visit Finland, you’ve made that more likely.

    1. Thank you so much – and hope you make the trip!

  7. Great blog as usual. Yes, Finnish generosity is unique in its way. Everyone has this notion of the Finns being so closed, introvertive and grumpy but boy if they think they can help you out, they will move worlds. Last time my brother participated in the Pesis World Cup in Finland, he intended to stay longer at his Finnish girlfriend’s house. Alas, they broke up before the cup was over and although she still offered to have him stay at her place for 2 weeks, he decided a park bench in Tampere was a better place to stay (he was young and foolish). Another team mate found out about his nights on the bench, took him to his village’s minister and said “Hey minister, this is a minister’s son and he has nowhere to stay, fix it” and without any further questions the minister handed the keys to his mökki over to my brother. He had a nice summer house with a sauna all to himself (for free for 10 days). You just have to love the Finns!!! BTW We saw one of my hubby’s hockey idols at Muumimaailma in 2005. Can’t remember who it was, have to aks him. He will know. Hei hei

    1. Kiitos! Glad they took care of your brother so nicely. Maybe I’ve inherited a bit of that initial reticence (I tend to keep to myself sometimes if I get the choice) – but that kind of care your brother got was sure my experience too! And would love to know who that hockey player was! Thanks again for reading and for sharing your story!

      1. Teppo Numminen. I have a rather blurry long distance pic of him as we didn’t dare approach him on his day out with his kids. Thought it a bit rude so I took a snap from afar and tried to be inconspicuous.

      2. Teppo! Having been a defenseman, myself (as well as just from a chick perspective!), I enjoyed watching him!

  8. Hello Amy.

    What a gorgeous praise for Finnishness and for Finland. So You visited also to Lohtaja church. Last time when we visited there shooting photos from Poor-man statues (total number 145) the one of Lohtaja, needed a repair. It is from1854. Did You see it? It was on the wall of the yellow bell tower.

    Thank You for this great post. Matti

    1. He Matti! Thank YOU for the kind response! I don’t think I let you know that I showed my mom all your pictures and she thought they were wonderful – thanks again for sharing them! Sadly, many pictures from my first Finland trip were lost because I loaded my camera wrong…but I will look through the ones that survived and see if I can find your man.

      1. Hello again, Matti! I couldn’t figure out how to attach the picture I found to a comment, so I added it to reason 15 in my post. I probably took the picture in 1995 – and I hope he’s the man you were looking for!

    2. Oops – meant “hei” (stupid autocorrect…).

  9. I’m actually on the verge of dropping everything and going to Finland right now! It’s already a place that has long fascinated me (I was a big Mika Häkkinen supporter back in the day), but I will definitely be trying to get there sometime soon! Thanks for your lovely two-part tour 😀

    1. Thank for reading! I may be just a little biased – but I do hope you go. And nice to know you’re a fellow Häkkinen fan! 😀

  10. cocoaupnorth · · Reply

    Wow, Amy! It’s so lovely to hear more about your wonderful experience in Finland. I especially like this: “…once the ice is broken, it’s all about the warmth!” It pretty much sums up generous spirit of Finns. Thanks once again for taking time to share!

    1. Thank you so very much for reading!

  11. I was a visiting lecturer at what was then called Lahti Polytechnic for 4 Septembers – know the city well!

    1. That’s great! I thought it was quite pretty there!

  12. cool! I’d love to visit Finland

    1. Thanks! As you might be able to tell, I’d recommend it!

  13. Hello! Great article, I really enjoyed Lahti & my trip to Finland, the landscapes are so amazing! I love your articles and therefore I have nominated you for the Liebster Award! 🙂 If you’re interested all the details are on my latest article 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness, many thanks – and so glad you enjoyed Finland and my Finnish tributes!

  14. Very nice, I only spent a very short time sight seeing in Helsinki (which cost me almost as much as a full week in Budapest) but it was a very beautiful city. Thanks for sharing some of the rest of the country I missed 🙂

    1. My pleasure – and thanks for stopping by!

  15. I so enjoyed this heartwarming and informative Finland post, Amy. I loved learning about sisu, being with you at the top of the ski jump, seeing Sibelius’ house, and hearing you “talk puck.” Your writing is a true pleasure to read. I got tears in my eyes with the description of you and your Dad taking a quick bus back to Helsinki, the museums and beers and strawberries.

    1. Wow, thank you so very much! My experiences in Finland are especially dear to me – and it means so much if they’ve touched you as well. Thanks as always for reading and for sharing your experiences on your site!

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