Return to Europe – Part I – Winter in Finland

When I last wrote of my first three month stay in Finland, I’d covered a lot of ground having soaked up the sun in the clear waters of Kefalonia, Greece; I’d seen the classic style of the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia; had an amazing road-trip into the Arctic, Norway and Sweden (sort of) and finished up amazed at the archaeological and architectural sites of Rome.

Three weeks later, I was back in Australia, adjusting back to the simple, yet definitely noticeable differences of how we do things compared to the Finns. I was home, but I was focussed on getting back to the land of “1,000 lakes” (a major understatement) as soon as I could for another three month stay. It had become my second home, but I still had a lot to discover about it.

The Great, White Wonder

As I made my way to my flight’s gate in Sydney, I thought to myself how much more at ease I was with this trip compared to my first. I was no longer a starry-eyed, first-time traveller. I’d travelled so much in my first trip it had almost become an expectation that whenever I sat down it was to go to a different part of the world! As I left Singapore, taking the long second-leg flight over Russia, I was excited about the fact that I was going to land and step out into the cold, white snow falling around me and fresh powder crunching beneath my feet… I’d been told it wasn’t snowing at all yet, but I was still hopeful! As an Australian there are a couple of things we never have in Winter:

  • Christmas – Ours is much more about sun, surf and getting outside and living life to its fullest. Not quite the same as our northern hemisphere friends.
  • Snow – The coldest it will get in most cities is about -1 centigrade. With the exception of Tasmania, there are very few places you can go, quickly, to see Snow.
  • Frozen waterways – This was a big thing for me for some reason… We hardly ever see ice outside our refrigerators! And walking on a lake looks much sillier when you try to do it here.
  • Plugging in your cars before driving them – Since leaving your car out in the snow can freeze the engine, you need to plug it in so it heats up the engine and melts the ice and fluids before you can get going… Not something I knew was even necessary!

As I came in to land, I looked out and saw the unmistakable tree-lined coast just outside of Helsinki, but there was no Snow… It was still 4 centigrade and considering Sydney was 30 centigrade when I left, it was a big change. But if I was hoping for snow I would have to wait another week and a half. When I arrived, this is what I saw:

Winter Finland

I wasn’t worried though. There were still 3 months to go! And with my 23rd Birthday and Christmas each in the next few weeks, there was plenty to look forward to. And boy was I happy with the results a week and a half later. Waking up to the first true bit of snow, I could walk outside and look at this:

18355_243435538124_2984494_n

Cold, but Warmly Inviting..

As an Australian, you might think that I would be uncomfortable with the amount of snow, the constant cold around -11 Centigrade, the dark nights which last for all but about 5 hours a day in Muurla… Being in the South , this is probably the most amount of sun you’ll get in the Winter. But the snow is beautiful and clean, it may be cold, but you’re always dressed for it, the houses are warm and cozy and the long nights mean some nice comfort foods, snuggling up in bed and having any excuse to read by candle-light. I even found the cold to be more comfortable than the cold of Australia’s snow fields (something to do with the air I think). 

It might seem like a normal part of life for Finns and other Northern Hemisphere folk, but to me the snow is an amazing and rare sight. Especially having anything more than 6 centimeters so consistently. I used this time to explore and play and do as much as I could to catch up with what the ten year old version of me would have done had he seen this much snow! Making sled tracks, jumping into deeper snow, ice skating, hiding in snow forts… And I’d still do it now at 28!

sled
Too fast to keep up!
Sno3
Half buried and warm!
Sno4
“Your authority isn’t recognised in Fort kick-ass!”

skate

But I learned that the snow isn’t always fun… Even with snow tyres, the roads can become dangerous and slippery (I was warned about a specific corner that my partner at the time may or may not have spun out on and ditched in the snow one time), but by far the most difficult and frustrating aspect of the snow was trying to learn Cross Country Skiing! I can ski well enough and skate with them when needed…. but cross country skis are an invention of evil!

CC
Maybe if I stuck with it I would have gotten better… But it’s more about the location than anything!

Birthday away from Home

I was very lucky to be staying with the people I was with. The first time that you have a birthday so far away from your friends and family is a lonely feeling time… But I didn’t feel that way for long! After a bit of a Skype session with my family, I was taken to dinner at a local ravintola (restaurant) and when we got back, was given some very nice presents (including an amazing harmonica, or “mouth organ” as it translates in Finnish, which I still have) and cake.

cake

And the fun didn’t stop there! I was also lucky enough to be taken to Tampere for a night to go see an excellent A’ Capella group perform. The atmosphere in Tampere in Winter is very peaceful and has a nice little city/big village feel to it. It’s in anticipation of Christmas and you really do feel the sense of wonder and occasion of the season. Much more than in Australia… I feel as if I finally learned what a “white Christmas” was all about here. If you ever find yourself in the area, go have a look at the Tampere Christmas Markets and enjoy!

Walking through the markets after the show.
Walking through the markets after the show.

The show was also an unexpectedly good one. An A’Capella band doesn’t always fill you with confidence, but they sure knew how to put on a show. At one point, they even started to sing a song made famous by Australia’s own John Farnham called “You’re the voice” (an unofficial anthem for Australians) so I was the oddly loud tourist up the back during that one.

Settling in for a long Winter

Once we got back from Tampere, my birthday out of the way, it was time for the lead-up to Christmas and New Year. There were some good plans ahead for after Christmas including New Years in Rovaniemi (pretty much my favourite Finnish town) followed by hiring a cottage in the Arctic to go snowboarding at Ylläs. I was excited to see what a Finnish Christmas was like and looked forward to revisiting the arctic again.

But, compared to my first trip, I could tell this would be more beautiful and more relaxing… Especially when you can sit with a book, coffee and a thick blanket on the balcony and look at this pretty much every day…

Snow

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