I had the pleasure of spending 3 days in Finland (2 full days in Helsinki [Vantaa] and a quick day trip to Nokia). Unfortunately, I had to work most of the time and didn’t have any time to sightsee other than for 15 minutes before dinner one evening. Therefore, unlike my other posts that cover most of the top attractions of the city, this post will focus more on what I’ve learned about Finland and my experience with the Finnish people.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Helsinki. The one thing about “travelling while brown” is that you have to always be prepared to be the subject of stares. Which is fine if you are just curious and not ignorant. Especially if I’m visiting a country where there aren’t many other people of color. I have to say that I believe my skin color actually provided me with an advantage in Finland.
I had the pleasure of travelling with a Finnish attorney (Jura) who took it upon himself to try to educate me in everything Finnish during my 3 day trip (complete with trying to learn Finnish phrases…and I am now proud to say I know 3 words…ha!). As a sidenote, Finnish is HARD. There are like 19 letters in the word “fish” (or something crazy like that).
Jura explained to me that the Finns don’t do small talk and niceties. It’s not that they are rude, but they just don’t see the need for a lot of extra conversation. And, with it being so cold, I understand why (I mean, who wants to stand around hearing about Laaki’s corns when you can’t feel your fingers?). However, he was surprised in the responses I would get everyplace I went. The Finns were super nice and went out of their way to be of service. He said it’s because they know I’m a tourist but I like to think it’s because they know I’m special 🙂 From the hotel to the restaurants, it was like being among friends.
My absolute favorite moment was getting to meet Jura’s father. He is a big bear of a man and was the absolute best! He picked me up from my hotel to take Jura and myself to the train station and even walked us to the train station platform then waited to make sure we got on the train safely. At the end of the day, he was waiting for us to get off the train to cart me back to the hotel (and Jura to the airport). That is hospitality at its best!
I’m naturally chatty so I asked a lot of questions about their history (which seemed to be a very subject of many). Below are some interesting facts I learned during my stay:
1. Santa better hide Rudolph because reindeer was on EVERY menu that I saw during my 3 day stay.
2. In addition to the reindeer, the Finns eat bear (watch your back, Yogi…maybe get with Rudolph in Witness Protection or something) and the Helsinki airport even sells bear liver pate. I’m sure that just made you salivate…I’ll wait while you go to Google and search for companies that ship internationally.
3. The Arctic Ice Bar. Words cannot describe how much I wanted to check this place out. Trust me, if I had stayed over a weekend, I’d have been in there with the club-offered parkas freezing my booty off while setting my drink on an ice table. Per their website, “Inside the icebar the temperature is a constant -5C. Upon entry to the Icebar guests are given a warm cape and gloves to wear.” That is awesome! Of course, the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time was from a reviewer on Trip Advisor who said, “You won’t find a lot of locals in the ice bar. We think it’s a damn silly idea to pay extra to be cold as we get enough of it for free.” Ha!
4. The Finns are required to learn an additional language in primary school (i.e. Swedish, Russian, etc.) and it is required that all men (not sure about women) serve for 9 months – 1 year in the military.
5. Finland was once part of Sweden, then Russia before becoming its own republic.
6. This country has 187,888 lakes and 179,584 islands which was created by the effect of the Ice Age (much like the Norwegian fjords).
7. Want to visit the Arctic Circle? Just go to the top of Finland! You can freeze to your heart’s content.
8. Northern Lights. Finland (like Alaska) is known for its Northern Lights. In northern Finland, you can experience 24 hour darkness in January/early February and 24 hours of sun in the summer.
9. Looking for a great place to eat? Try out the FishMarket (which has a great choice of fresh fish prepared in a variety of ways) or Farang (which is delicious Pan Asian food with a Finnish flair) in downtown Helsinki.
10. Finns like to hunt and one local favorite is moose.
Below are the few pictures I was able to take in downtown Helsinki. Notice how the lakes are frozen around the boats. Unreal that it was that cold.