Posted: August 23, 2012 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Miscellaneous, Photography, Travels
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(cc) jennroig

If you were born a Cuban, and grew up there, it is very likely that you will look at Finland as one of the most remote, inaccessible, and exotic places of the planet.

However, against all odds, I was in Finland.

I traveled there in 2011, on early March. I took a flight from Hamburg to Helsinki, to visit my friend Eeva. I remember I had to stop in Riga for a scale, but I didn´t leave the airport so I missed that chance.

Some main facts about Finland are:

Finnish and Swedish are official languages, but Swedish is only spoken by a minority descending from the old Swedish conquerors.

I knew the meaning of those words, but I´ve forgotten

After Sweden, they were under the Russian Czars’ rule. So nowadays, Helsinki seems a crossover between European styles and Russian, including Soviet, styles.

The Winter War was fought in Eastern Finland, between 30 November 1939 and 13 March 1940 which was lost by the Finns against the Soviets and cost them a lot of lives and resources. A war only a few connoisseurs know about.

Today, there are around 5 and a half million Finns. Most of them love sauna, I guess that´s why having a sauna at home isn´t such a big deal.

Main industry is lumber, paper. They were quite good with telecom. Nokia is a Finn brand. But I honestly believe their best time is about to come, because they have so much water in that country and water will be the key currency of the future. Well, that´s in the case Russia won´t feel like caring about Finland again.

So, Eeva lives in Helsinki, the capital city of the country. Helsinki is a beautiful, kind of unique spot.

The Cathedral

The market

The river

The most dangerous square in Helsinki, ergo in the whole Finland, with an astonishing record of around three muggings per year

The modern art museum Kiasma

The central station

The skiing square near the central station

The harbor

The coffee at the highest building: Hotel Torni

But  Eeva was originally born someplace in the North Eastern side of Finland. She took me to her parents´ house for that weekend. They live in an amazing place, beautiful beyond imagination. The house is actually located in a small island, though I didn’t realized it because every lake was frozen still in early march. Not just frozen, 7-meters-ice frozen. Eeva´s father told me that when he was driving us around. Suddenly he said:

– Look around, what do you see?

I could only see tons of snow all around, but once I focused, trying to figure what he’d mean, I realized the snowed trees were more distant than they usually seemed.

-That´s because we are driving over a lake. Eeva said.

I opened my eyes, scared. They laughed.

-You only need two meters of ice to drive safely over a lake, and right now there are 7. So don´t worry…

I stopped worrying. Not because I hadn´t more questions. For instance, how could they be sure there were 7 meters of ice? But I didn´t ask because anyway, they should know better. And finally, we didn´t sink or anything.

Woods is the family business. The area is surrounded by beautiful forests which may be a gorgeous view once the spring hits the ground and colors start to show up again.

The lumber industry is Finland is developed to the point of perfection. Everything is automatic, the same machine that cuts the trees, label them with colors.

Red meaning good for construction, blue meaning good for paper or something else. Later, those woods are piled aside the road where another vehicle pick them to take them to the main storage facility.

There is something crucial. Every tree that is cut, has to be replaced by a baby tree, so the forest won’t run out of trees. I asked Eeva how long it takes before the baby tree becomes an adult tree and she answered 60 years. Well, that’s basically the lifespan of a generation, which means Eeva can only cut and replace one tree for a single spot in the forest. The new baby tree will be cut eventually, if cut it, by her kids.

There is also the issue of her profession, which takes her to live in the capital and not on the countryside. She answered that this is actually happening a lot now in Finland, where sons and daughters became professionals and are not attached to the land anymore. There will be plenty of jobs for managers, apparently. But we didn´t discuss about it a lot.

That particular Saturday night has been the most memorable of all Saturday nights ever. Eeva’s mom cooked some reindeer, which happens to be the most exquisite meat I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. Later I told about it to my little cousin, who lives in Italy. When he asked me what a reindeer was, I explained that it was an animal from the cold northern forests, the same sort of horse with huge horns Santa Klaus used to move around. He opened his eyes amazed, scared, in anguish, and I couldn´t understand him until I heard his question:

– Did you eat Santa’s reindeer? Now he won’t be able to come here?

That question caught me off guard, I must admit. The right thing would have been to say there were more reindeers in Finland. But the dark side of me prevailed and I confirmed his fears.

-Yep, I ate Santa’s power horse and it was the best meal I had ever! Santa will have to ask Aladdin’s flying carpet if he wants to come here again.

Anyway, that was a digression.

The next reason that makes that Saturday night memorable is the bonfire. Eeva and Eeva´s mom helped me to dress properly. That means they made sure I wouldn´t freeze to death once we were outside. We walked with a lamp until we reached the top of a small hill. There was the bonfire. It was huge, magnificent and so cozy. We met Eeva´s uncle and aunt, who were actually neighbors, and we all shared the fire, the meat, and the vodka. It was snowing, so I had for the first time the experience of how it feels to be snowing at the same time of having a barbeque. And it´s awesome!

I hope I can go back to Finland, next time during the spring or the summer so I can get to see all those magnificent landscapes with all the possible colors.


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