|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Natures Palette - A Swansong of Colour
Finland is the seventh largest country in Europe and the second most northerly country in the world, with a quarter of the country north of the Arctic Circle. It has long land frontiers with Sweden, Norway and Russia and Estonia across the Gulf of Finland.
The climate is marked by cold winters and warm summers but the winter temperatures are moderated by the influence of the Baltic Sea and west winds from the Atlantic warmed by the Gulf Stream. Finns joke ruefully that they only have two seasons, a white winter and a green winter. But summer can be delightful. In high summer the sun slips below the horizon for only 2-3 hours a day.
By November the trees are bare and the temperature dip below zero. Sailboats and motorboats are lifted out of the water and put in store and if the freeze comes early Helsinki's 5 icebreakers, which are moved moored in North Harbour, slip their lines and head out to sea. By the end of the year Helsinki is bundled up and bunker ed down and daytime is more like twilight.
The residents know how to navigate through a network of underground passageways that concert downtown complexes. It sounds grim but it isn't, the only drawback to winter is it lasts long so long. Finns pour drown vast quantities of Koskenkoirva vodka to get through it, but soon enough the sun again begins its long climb into the sky, the snow gradually disappears, the ice breaks up and families descend on Tervasaari to wash their carpets by a warming sea in a kind of ritualistic celebration of spring.
Three quarters of the country is forest and it is the most heavily forested country in Europe. 10% is water with 190,000 lakes and approximately as many islands with the main lake district, Lake Saimaa, in the east of the country. It is only here that the Saimaa ringed seal is found.
In the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle the sun does not set for about 73 days producing the white nights of summer. In the same region during the dark winter period the sun remains below the horizon for 52 days creating the polar night known in Finnish as kaamos.
Helsinki is the capital, and approached by water is the best way to arrive in this stunning town. There wasn't much here in the mid 17th century except rocks and pine trees. Now this charming town of Palladian buildings, painted sun-catching yellow, as well as the elegant promenade, is a place of quiet nostalgia.
The city exudes an atmosphere that is tranquil, reserved and reminiscent of a past era. Street musicians play Bach, the Cafe Exberg, which first opened its doors in 1852, still serves its signature run-soaked pastry in the shape of a champagne cork, and the morning newspaper Helsingin Sanomat still dedicates its front page to advertisements.
Midsummer, the longest day and the Helsinki residents head in their droves into the splendid countryside of lakes and forests. The Midsummer Festival at Saurasaari, one of Helsinki's many little islands, is an open-air museum of Finnish rural architecture.
Helsinki under winters siege is a spirited city, impressive programmes are on offer, at the city's fine opera house or in Finlanda Hall. Cross-country skiers take to the frozen waterways and children sled through the hilly parks. It is an enchanting sight to see skaters at one of the many of the city's outdoor ice rinks. Sauna is synonymous with Finland and for most Helsinki residents Saturdays evenings are built around their small home sauna.
Tampere is the capital of the western lake district located in the midst of a lake labyrinth of 200 lakes the city limits, the largest island in the Nordic countries. The area has dozens of museums, breathtaking lake scenery, magnificent glacier ridges, beautiful parks and lush forests.
Turku is the busiest seaport in Finland and the largest city and administrative center, the capital of Finland Province Western end. Turku castle is one of the largest surviving Medieval castles in Scandinavia.
The Archipelago Sea has a very large number of islands estimated between 20,000 - 50,000 as some are just classed as rocks and others hold whole villages. The Outer Archipelago consists of mainly smaller, uninhabited islands in a triangle with the cities of Mariehamn, Uusikaupunki and Hanko.
The Aland islands archipelago lie scattered across the Baltic Sea between Stockholm and Turku, and is located at entrance of the Gulf of Bothnia. There are more than 6,400 islands and they have seen plenty of action. In 1921 the League of Nations made a decree that the islands were part of Finland. They are a self-governing province with their own flag and distinctive egg pancakes.
The main island, Fasta Aland, is where 50% of the population reside and is separated from the coast of Sweden by 40 kms of open water to the west, and in the east is virtually contiguous with the Finnish Archipelago Sea. Aland's only land border is short and strange shaped and located on an uninhabited island of Market shared with Sweden.
The capital is Mariehamn on the island of Aland ann was named by Tsar Alexander II for his wife Maria in 1861 during a period of Russian occupation. The Mariehamners are friendly people and crime is virtually non-existent. A 30 minute drive takes you to Eckero, the westernmost point of the islands and Finland. The scenery is Swedish with silver birch and pine forests, verdant meadows and apple orchards. Drive back to the east and arrive at the 700 year old fortress of Kastekholm which was thought to be the site of the legendary Viking capital Birka.
At the harbour of Hummelvik it is a 2 1/2 hour ferry ride to the northern archipelago and Brando, the most easterly of the islands, where there are idyllic fjords and little else. At Bomarsund on the way back to Mariehamn there are the ruins of a fortress rising from the undergrowth like a Mayan temple. It was built by the Russians and destroyed by the French and English during the Crimean war.
The cultural history of Finland accommodates barbarism and romance both with deep roots in forests, deeper than any other country in Europe.
Midsummer brings out the best in everyone and thousands flock to the lakeside cabins or forest glades and on Mid summers Eve and into the luminous night, burn bonfires, kokko, which originated as a tradition linked to fertility, cleansing and banishing of evil spirits. Homes are decorated with birch and flowers and a pole, reminiscent of an ornamental sailing mast, in some parts is a Finland-Swedish tradition of south Finland and Aland.
Europe's rarest and largest predator the wolverine is well adapted to northern conditions and can range unhindered over thick snow. The brown bear is found throughout Finland as is the lynx and the wolf population is now stable after having been wiped out in the 20th century.
Lapland, situated in the northern half of the country, is a popular place due to its extensive evergreen forests and for being renowned as the home of Santa Claus.
Finland is one of northern Europe's most beautiful countries with warm, friendly people, excellent cuisine, stunning scenery and of course is the Land of the Midnight Sun.
A country often ignored but OH SO BEAUTIFUL, with lofty mountains, forests and lakes, this country is often neglected by the traveller, but do pay a visit, maybe you will want to stop awhile.