When schools in Germany have a two week fall vacation, you plan out every second of it to the fullest. First stop: one week in Finland to visit my roommate from my year abroad in Graz, Sanna!
I arrived at the Helsinki airport and then was immediately whisked away by Sanna to meet Antti, her husband, at a local Tampere hockey game. The team is doing very well currently and was number one in its league. We watched a very exciting game – the final score was 6-5 – and I got to try mustamakkara (blood sausage) with lingonberry jam. Apparently this is a very Finnish snack, and even Antti had only tried it recently. Surprisingly, I liked it a lot!
The next day Sanna and Antti had work so I walked into the city from their apartment. Tampere is fairly dense and everything was very close! I took my time walking through parks and wandered past the large 1960s style church that reminded me of the Soviet Union with its harsh architecture style. Sanna and I had lunch at Kauppahalli, a large indoor food market, and feasted on some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking through even more parks and even witnessed a woman swimming in the river running through the heart of the city. It was very cold outside, and I couldn’t imagine why she would want to be outside swimming. Little did I know, I would soon be participating in the same madness. After I visited the Tampere museum, we all met up again to go to the Finnish sauna. There, you sweat and sweat in heated rooms, until you can’t take it anymore, and then you go outside and swim in the lake for a minute. After your quick dip, the outside air feels quite refreshing, and you can stand, dripping wet, in only a swim suit, enjoying a beer in 3 degree weather. Amazingly, I willingly did this three times. We treated ourselves to chicken wings and beer after our bravery (and insanity).
On Thursday Sanna had the day off from work so went to the lovely neighborhood of Pyynikki which is the highest point between the two lakes surrounding Tampere. That means it has amazing views and homes I would die to live in. We walked on a beautiful sunny day on the trails and stopped to have lunch at the cutest cafe where their menu changes weekly. The week we visited it featured Cuban food. For once, it wasn’t insanely expensive in Finland, and I ate like a queen! We also went through the state park where Sanna and Antti had recently gotten married, and stopped at the observation tower for one of the famous donuts.
That evening we drove to Nurmes, where Antti’s family lived. We ate moose stew and apple pie and drank salmari (it’s a salty licorice flavored shot, very… unique). We spent one day in Koli National Park where we hiked and drank hot chocolate. Once we were cold and tired, we visited the hotel and spent an afternoon in the most amazing spa I have ever visited in my life, Koli Relax Spa at Break by Sokos Hotels.. You are given different salts and scrubs and lotions to use in corresponding rooms and hot tubs sit on a ledge overlooking the lake, where you can sip your champagne. I could have moved in right away. But sadly, we had to leave. I was so relaxed and calm afterwards, and my skin felt amazing. Of course I slept so hard in the car on the way back to Tampere.
On my last day in Finland I had lunch with a friend who I had met in Vietnam during my backpacking adventures. We were only able to have a short visit together before I went to the airport, but it was so wild to see a friend who I had only met for a few days along the coast of Vietnam in Helsinki! Finland was a gorgeous country and I was so happy to see an old friend. I had a truly Finnish experience!