One day in Finland and I already feel like I’ve come home to an old friend, even if we are both a little older and wiser. Catching a tram through Helsinki with a gaggle of international journalists, all chatting in a score of languages about current affairs, was as stimulating as the first time I tried it, back on the Foreign Correspondent’s Programme in 2010. It was also a little bittersweet – the 19 budding young journalists from all corners of the globe I met that year have all spread their wings in the international media now, and despite happy reunions taking place for our contingent everywhere from Spanish bars to Chennai weddings, being back in the country we learned to love without them makes me miss my FCP gang.
Luckily, Finland offers the ultimate pick-me-up for any woes, and it’s one which once inspired me to focus my writing career on the great outdoors. The vast and unimaginably beautiful swathes of wilderness this country is made up of are the perfect place to escape to, and you don’t need to go far from cosmopolitan hubs to find green space and heavenly silence. Just 35 minutes from Helsinki is Nuuksio National Park. The semi-wilderness stretches for miles – glassy lakes, springy moss, tiny log huts with open wood fires, empty forest where rumour has it a solitary bear roams.
Pekka Väänänen, a wilderness guide who has worked here for 30 years and who loves these pines so much he occasionally is caught giving them cuddles, made us hot coffee the traditional way, in black smokey kettles over a roaring fire in a lonely log cabin. Then we strapped on life jackets, carried canoes to the edge of the lake and took off on the mirror-like water, floating on its peaceful surface and watching the banks for (sadly absent) bears.
Of course, an afternoon of Finnish woods and water could only be followed by another staple of local life – a smoke sauna. All twelve of us piled into the dark little room and breathed in the heavenly hot steam until we were so hot we had to race out along the jetty and fling ourselves into the cool lake. Is there a better way to spend an afternoon?
Today was a reminder (not that I needed one) of the love I’ve carried with me for years now for both the Finnish way of life and for wild places. And there’s still a whole week to enjoy. Kiitos, Finland.