I sit on a Finnair flight overflying Greenland, the sounds of Gurrumul in my ears, the plane’s “Down Camera” displays an unfolding landscape of ice, mountain tops, scarred rock, water, bergs, glaciers. Meantime Harry sits beside, watching an American movie drama unfold, and chews Finnish lollies filched from his dad’s secret stash.
I’ve been here for one week now, and slowly this country is sinking into me. There are trees everywhere, or at least where I have been. Granite outcrops too. As this is summer, the fields are full of ripening crops. The strawberries have ripened early, the visiting foreign workers who usually pick the crop are not yet here so much of this year’s crop could go to waste. Roadside stalls sell these fragrant berries by the litre, along with peas. We have popped many peas from their pods and enjoyed the sweetness.
Though it is summer, with long nights, in fact nights that never get dark, the reminders of the Finnish winters are everywhere. Windows are at least double-glazed, most homes have triple-glazed panes. Doors are heavy too, to keep out the winter cold. Buildings have a neat arrangement by the mats, three brushheads for cleaning off the snow.
Public toilets here have fascinated me, not many have noisy air blowers for hand drying. Instead a much more civilised arrangement with old-fashioned rolls of towel that wind and reset to clean linen for the next user. The unisex toilet booth in the photo – well, I’ll let you identify the urinal, the pulldown seat, the water tap and the air hand drier.
Staying with Harry’s family I am surrounded by talk in Finnish. I let the words flow around me, while attempting to look engaged. I am now tempted to throw in some nods, and gestures, or light laughs, guessing where the conversation flows, or were I clever enough, some made-up Finnish-sounding utterances, but I think I would scare everyone. They all speak English too, and all talk to me as well in my language. It does feel odd, they may all chat without my comprehension in their secret language, but all understand anything and everything I say.
No signage here is in English (except at tourist spots), all words are in Finnish, with Swedish in some areas. Swedish seems to be more decipherable to me, Finnish is completely in code. Harry manages all our negotiations in shops and cafes, however once people realise I can only speak English, they are very helpful and try out their English on me. I have learned just a few Finnish words… kiitos (thank you), vanha (old), tie (road) and kahvi (coffee). A useful selection! None of which I can pronounce.
The weather is mostly warm and sunny. The darkless nights are incredible. Like in Scotland, it is difficult to settle to bed with such light. I use my airline eye shades to sleep.
Staying with Finns, I am lucky to taste the “Finnish Summer House” experience. Usually a timber cottage hidden in the woods, close to the water’s edge, a lake or the sea. The summer house of Harry’s parents is just a short drive from their home in the outer suburbs of Helsinki, however it feels a world away. Like many summer houses it has no electricity. There is a sauna of course, many surrounding trees and some picturesque granite boulders. The ground is covered by ripening blueberries. The lake water is warmed by the sun.
We have also visited the summer house of two friends which is by the sea. Although the sea seems more lakelike to me – with so many islands in view, no tides to speak of and no waves. Theirs is more upmarket having electricity and water piped to the kitchen from a deep bore. However their toilet is separate, a dry long-drop affair, like most. They have a sauna cottage with guest quarters where we stayed for two nights. Jaako and Teija were wonderful hosts, feeding us royally and providing a range of wines from many parts of Europe.
Interestingly all bottle shops here are government run. A few pokie machines are located at the edge of the supermarkets. The facilities for cycling are excellent, with cycle ways kept separate to roads. The MAMIL species is very much in evidence here, zooming by on their speedy roadsters. The motorways have signage showing current air temperature as well as current road surface temps.
Visiting some friends and family in the city of Turku, we happened on a marathon and a medieval festival, both events provided much entertainment.
[Photos to follow]