There is a loud bang which echoes all around the sports hall when the hockey stick hits the puck towards the cage. Within seconds the players find themselves in front of the heavily dressed goalkeeper. Sticks dive into the tangle of legs and hands trying to reach the puck. Suddenly a roar of joy bursts in the audience. Otto scores! My host family cheers – Otto is their nephew and plays for the local ice hockey team.
Within two days I spend with the lovely family of Riitta and Reima, I swim, cycle (on a tandem!), walk, watch a hockey match, learn about Finnish gymnastics and discover that Reima used to play football (against Poland as well) while Riitta’s father was a famous runner. And having observed the Finns since I arrived in Helsinki, I don’t think “my” family is somehow exceptional.
Hockey is recognised to be the national sport of Finland. The Lions – the National Team – are well known in the world of winter sports. In the Olympics 2010 they won the bronze medal but definitely aim for more. In the Finnish Ice Hockey Association there are about 56 500 registered players. And in the small Finnish nation, believe me, it is a large number.
Water sports are also an important part of life in Finland although many Finns wouldn’t even consider them sports. Many people have their own boats and sail on the Baltic Sea or on one of the 188 000 lakes in the country, sometimes to visit their neighbours on the other side of the bay, sometimes to get to their own summer cottage, and sometimes just for fun. Swimming is often associated with sauna. After spending a few minutes in the hot, aromatic sauna, they run strait to the nearest lake or sea and dive into the cool water (for me one of the best, most intense and requiring a lot of courage experiences during the family weekend!)
If somebody asks me what is the best way to discover Finnish cities, my reply will be simple: cycling. Both cities I’ve seen so far, Helsinki and Turku have a brilliant infrastructure for bikes. Cycling routes seem to be everywhere, as well as areas for bikes near every museum, cafe or shop. Riding a bike is a popular way to travel, so busy cycling routes create the impression that the Finns are in constant motion, even during the weekend. Also “my” family instead of taking a car and driving to the centre of Turku offered me a very special bike, made for two – a tandem. And that was certainly far more enjoyable than a car!
Even such a simple activity as walking had to be somehow developed by the Finns – Nordic walking was born in Finland and is popular all over Europe.
Activity stimulates the release of endorphins – hormones of happiness. They are simply a part of the Finnish blood. So why do Finns call themselves a melancholic, slightly depressive nation, even though the rest of the World believes in something totally opposite? I have a secret theory on that: they simply overdose the endorphins, got use to them and don’t see the effects any more. Well, Finnish open-air endorphins still work for me!
P.S. During the weekend Tero Pitkämäki won a silver medal in men’s javelin and young Nooralotta Neziri broke the Finnish record in hurdles on the World Championships in Moscow! Congratulations!