The Saunas of Finland

One more Finland post that I need to write. We flew back from Stockholm to Helsinki, and while in Helsinki, we took a municipal ferry to the island fortress-turned-park of Suomenlinna — Penelope, I think that's the right name, correct me if I'm wrong. It kind of looked like Middle Earth, and the kites whipping through the wind made it seem even more otherworldly. 

And on my last day in Finland, Penelope took me to a local institution that probably few Americans visit, a wood burning public sauna. The tradition is to hang out in the sauna, then take a dip in the freezing lake, then repeat two more times. I had been using the sauna in Penelope's apartment — almost all apartments and homes in Finland have saunas, how cool is that — so I thought I would be ready.

That was so, so wrong. The first time in the sauna, it was hot, but bearable. I could hang. Then I followed Penelope down the stairs into the lake. Mind you, it was 40 degrees outside. The water hit my calves and I thought, whoa, this isn't going to happen. This is freaking freezing! I tried to go back up the stairs but there was a steady stream of Finnish grandmothers heading down the stairs. Instead of continuing into the water, I aborted ship, sort of catapulted over the railing and scampered up the other side. The Finnish grandmas laughed.

This went on one more time, I sort of dunked myself in the water, but then for the third sauna trip, this evil guy poured bucket after bucket of water into the sauna. After a few seconds, a wall of heat slammed into us. My hair and ears felt like they were on fire, and the walls started closing in. I panicked. Gotta get out of here, but I felt like I might pass out. We were in the back of the sauna so we stumbled to the door. No one else flinched, mind you. Some people were wearing knit hats. That guy was definitely punking us.

Here's everyone just chilling outside in the 40 degree weather in between sauna and swimming sessions. The Finnish are a hardy lot, and I am in awe.

Here's the staircase into the lake, so you can get an idea of my predicament.


Let's end my fabulous Scandinavian journey with Penelope and Ilmari with a photo of Marimekko, my happy place!!