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!!  

Cruising From Helsinki to Stockholm: Duty-Free Shopping and Tap Dancing

Penelope says that cruising to neighboring countries is a huge thing in Finland. In fact, some people take a cruise before they host a party, just so they can stock up on liquor at the duty-free store. She suggested we take a 16-hour, overnight ferry to Stockholm and I was so in. But since I was only in Europe for 9 days, we took an absurdly cheap, absurdly fast flight back from our Stockholm adventure. The cruise-flight combo worked out great. And I got the whole ferry experience. 

We drove to Helsinki and set sail!

Our cabin was tiny but perfect for one night. The sofa flipped down to become a bed and a bed flipped down on the other side. 

I wish I had taken more photos of the boat. I think this "youth lounge" was an attempt to prevent underage drinking, but it was totally empty. 

Besides the expansive duty-free shop, the main attraction was the nightclub. We walked in and Penelope said, "Ohh, karoake!" But no, that off-key warbling was the band. I grew to love them. They really knew their way around a Pitbull song. Finns seem like a quiet lot, but they really lose their inhibitions on the dance floor. 

And at midnight, there was a tap dance show. I started off on the skeptical side, but these kids' enthusiasm won me over. A Finnish tap dance crew dancing their hearts out to Pharrell's "Happy"? Or Michael Jackson's "Beat It" while wearing Lakers jerseys? I am glad I witnessed this. Talk about life-affirming. There's a lot about life I don't know, but I think if part of your time on earth included tap-dancing on a Finnish ferry, it would be a life well-lived.

Then we woke up and we were in Stockholm!

Finland! I Went to Finland!

One of my best friends from high school moved with her Finnish husband to Tampere last year, and it was only a matter of time before I got out to visit. So early in May, I flew out to Helsinki, and all I had to do was figure out how to get on the bus for the 1.5-hour drive to Tampere. No problem, right?

Until I got to the airport and there was no employee around to ask about the bus. I asked a few people, some who didn't speak English, some who gave me conflicting directions, possibly because I butchered the pronunciation of Tampere. A bus pulled up that read "Tampere" so I just got on it, hoping for the best.  The bus went on a seemingly interminable journey, stopping at bus stops that were in the middle of nowhere (see below). Someone would scamper out of the woods from God knows where and we'd continue on our way. 

I kept drifting in and out of sleep because of jetlag. Was that my bus stop? I rode the bus to the end of the line and then considered my options. Thank goodness Penelope showed up! So happy to see her. I wasn't sure what I would do next if I was in the wrong town. 

While on the bus, I looked at the street signs and wondered how Penelope is learning Finnish. It looks so different than English. I am so impressed that she is tackling the language and can communicate, go to the grocery store, meet people, etc. I think I might just give up. 

The first few days, we explored Tampere. Here it goes!

I made Penelope buy this bread. McEnnedy American Way!! The Statue of Liberty! The bread was terrible though.

I had big plans about buying everyone I know these homoerotic Finnish stamps (you have to click on the link), but they weren't out at the post office yet. Drat! Had to buy these chocolate mints instead, as seen in Bon Appetit. 



Tour of the town! McDonalds has a prime spot! Speaking of...


A burger with tortilla chips and sour cream? McDonald's, you are holding out on us in the States.

We had pastries instead! Delicious!

We ate donuts too. They were cardamom-flavored and light and airy. They were from the sister location of this spot.

This is a burrito truck in Finland. 

I enjoy taking photos of interesting shop names. Exhibit A. 

Exhibit B. Or should I say D. 

It was so fun to tour around with a local. I'm betting I wouldn't have gone to this cool public library if I was by myself. 


The library is shaped like a turkey! Here is an aerial view. Penelope wasn't quite sure why. 

I had read that all mothers in Finland receive a box of baby supplies, thanks to the generous welfare state. And here's what's in the box. Those are some cute baby clothes. Who needs a baby shower? 

Tampere seems like such a livable, pleasant spot! We walked around the park and stumbled upon a dog class. And the coolest playground ever.

See, trampolines! This is the most air I got. The rest of the photos look like I am standing still. In my defense, you try jumping on a trampoline in ankle boots with a heel.

We also drove to the Ittala glassworks factory, where the famous Finnish brand produces Aalto vases, Kastehelmi bowls, and more. We walked through the museum, but unfortunately the factory itself was closed to visitors that day.


The factory store was wonderful. I spent a long time deciding what to get and wishing I could fill my suitcase with glassware. 

Ultimately, I went with the salmon pink vase! It was cheaper because it's a factory second. As Joe said, we could spend our whole lives trying to figure out what exactly makes it a factory second, looks perfect to me.