The White Nights in Finland and other Nordic countries

I spent Midsummer in the Nordic countries last year. Oh boy, what an experience. One of the things I still had on my to-do list for Finland and the Nordic countries was to spend one of the white nights fully awake. And I did well: I stayed awake three nights.

The White Nights
The sun leaves and the white night starts.

Nights with light

It is hard to sleep in Finland during the summer, especially for people who are not used to that. The amount of hours without direct sunlight is very small, and the sun is already shining very brightly on the horizon around 3 or 4 a.m.

The locals don’t seem to notice – and there are no shutters in Finland’s bedrooms – but people like me, who are used to the simple routine of daylight during the day, darkness at night, wake up more often during the white nights and don’t rest as well.

But while visiting Finland or any other Nordic country it is, of course, a wonderful experience: The body has much more energy and – if the clouds let it – it leaves you smiling. I enjoy spending as much time as possible under the sun after a dark winter.

The light of the White Nights
That’s a lot of light for it being midnight.

The white nights

The white nights aren’t the same as the midnight sun, but almost.

Both phenomena happen in the north of Europe, but the midnight sun happens much further north; to be precise, north of the arctic circle. In this place the sun is visible in the sky during 24 hours at least one day per year. In the northernmost parts of Europe the sun stays up in the sky for weeks without setting.

But what happens below the arctic circle line? That’s where the white nights happen.

During the white nights the sun sets for a while, but its light can still be seen on the horizon. The night sky isn’t black, it is blue.

The nights are brigt enough to walk in the forest or on the streets without the need of artificial light. The opposite of this phenomenon is called the Kaamos in Finland: The polar night.

The Nordic Countries and the Arctic Circle line y la línea del círculo polar
The dotted line is the arctic circle: Above it there is midnight sun and below it the white nights happen. Source: Wikipedia.

My experience with the white nights

During my last visit to Finland, I wasn’t sure if the area I was going to be in was an area where I could see the white nights.

My location was south of Helsinki’s latitude, more or less the same latitude that Tallin is, and that is very much south of the arctic circle. That’s why I was so surprised to encounter the white nights: I didn’t plan that on my trip.

This is how it happened.

Around 10 p.m. the sun set below the horizon, and kept that position until 12 or 1 a.m., the darkest moment of the night. Then everything became clearer and clearer until we saw the sun again, around 3 to 4 a.m. But the clarity of the sky – and that’s the thing – never left.

The sky was blue and the place where the sun was below the horizon had a fantastic reddish color.

1 a.m. in the Nordic Countries in summer
1 a.m.: The darkest moment.

The effect that it had on me it was revitalizing. I wasn’t tired or sleepy. The three nights that I spent on my trip I was awake all “night” and able to see an early sunrise. No surprise: It was Juhannus – the midsummer, something we’ll talk about soon – and there were some parties with lots of friends, a ton of sauna, and a cottage outside the city.

And so we did it each night. Even if during the day it was sometimes cloudy, the evenings and the mornings were clear, and that made the white nights one of the best things of my trip. I can’t wait to see the white nights again.

Have you seen the white nights? What did you think about them?



2014: A great year to see Aurora Borealis in Finland

It shouldn’t be like that, but in 2014 we’ll have good chances to see many, and very intense, Aurora Borealis.

And I say that it shouldn’t be like that because the solar cycle – what makes Aurora Borealis happen more often and intensely – should have been dwindling this year. But instead of that, 2014 is presenting us with a very active solar cycle thanks to a double activity solar peak.

Aurora Borealis in 2014
An Aurora Borealis over a Finnish town. Source (CC: by-sa)

The Aurora Borealis in Finland: Where and when

Some of the favorite posts about this topic of Big in Finland‘s readers are the one about the best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland and Lapland (a little summary: The more northern the better) and the one about when to see them (in general: In the equinox months and around midnight).

With these two articles one can assess better where to go and when, while planning a trip to Finland.

Aurora Borealis on Finland's sky
The Aurora Borealis dances over the trees. Source (CC: by-sa)

Aurora Borealis in 2014: It is a great year

Last year was pretty good in this regard – we put our favorite photos of the Aurora Boralis over Finland in 2013 on our Spanish blog – and it seems that the tendency is continuing.

2014 is going to be a great year to see this wonder of nature that happens in the northern hemisphere of the earth, above the arctic circle. But don’t just take my word for it: NASA experts say it too.

Aurora Borealis over Joensuu
This Auora happened in Joensuu, North Karelia, Finlandi.

A peak in Aurora Boralis activity

According to the data that NASA handled, and mentioned in the linked article above, from December 2013 on there was a new peak of solar activity to see the Aurora.

What does this mean? That if you’re in Finland for travel, Erasmus exchange or any other reason, you’ll have to look at the sky more often than ever in order not to miss an Aurora Borealis.

Right now there are too many hours of daylight per day – something we will talk about soon: The white nights – to see them, but if you dream of watching the Aurora Borealis dancing over the night sky, from September on it will be the best time to do so (check out our tips for traveling to Finland).

And remember: The solar activity that causes the Aurora Borealis to occur will be decreasing from 2015 onwards until the next peak will happen in some years. That will mean less frequent and less bright northern lights. So in order to have the best odds to see an Aurora, this year is your year.

When did you see your first Aurora Borealis? Do you know if it was on a high solar peak?



Gordon Ramsay tastes traditional Finnish food

The defining moment that tells you entered your adulthood is – along filling your first tax report – watching cooking shows. And when I stumbled upon Gordon Ramsay trying traditional Finnish food I couldn’t help but share it.

I got to know about Gordon Ramsay through the fantastic Master Chef USA, a TV program that I follow each and every year. It has excellent production values and its design as a television program is impeccable.

Gordon Ramsay on a cooking show
Ramsay, recording a cooking show. Source (CC: by)

Gordon Ramsay: Who is he and what does he do

Since I first saw Master Chef I also started watching some others’ Gordon Ramsay programs when I am in the mood for some TV program about food. Kitchen Nightmares USA or Gordon’s Great Escape (where he travels to other countries to learn traditional techniques, and where he changes his usual harsh critiques towards a more benevolent approach) are programs that are well done and that I like.

If you don’t know who Ramsay is, he is the 2nd chef with the most Michelin Stars in the world. Because of that, and his TV programs, he’s one of the world’s most known chefs. He also had a stellar appearance in The Simpsons (Season 23, chapter 5, when the Simpsons become foodies – by the way, don’t trust anyone who calls him or herself a “foodie” – and food bloggers).

Ramsay, with a ticket
Ramsay working in a kitchen. Source (CC: by)

If you like the person – or the persona – he’s got a fantastic YouTube channel where he shows how to make basic yet delicious recipes at home. with a better taste. I learned a couple of tricks with these videos.

Gordon Ramsay tastes traditional Finnish food

Perhaps it is because I saw some videos of him on Youtube, the video appeared as a suggestion when I was looking for a video of Finland for another post. The title of the video didn’t leave me indifferent: Gordon Ramsay tastes traditional Finnish food.

After watching him and hearing his opinion on traditional Finnish food, I had to share it here. He’s merciless. You can watch it here:

What you see him tasting in the video is Karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka), then he continues with leipäjuusto with cloudberry jam, and finishes with the dish we talked about in our last post: Mämmi, that dessert that everyone in Finland eats during Easter.

His comments are anything but nice, since he uses the word “disgusting” in all of them.

Finnish food that I liked and where to eat it in Helsinki

Reindeer
A reindeer dish. Source (CC: by)

There are several Finnish dishes that I recommend trying when you are in Finland.

For example, I really love the texture and flavor of reindeer, something that you can get in many places in Finland. Also, bear meat is an exotic ingredient that tastes quite nice. Both ingredients are pricy, but worth trying when you are in Finland.

For the über-fine-diners, there are 6 restaurants in Finland with Michelin Stars (one each): Ask, Chef & Sommelier (the newest additions to the list), Demo, Luomo, Olo and Postres, all of them in Helsinki. If you want go for high class Finnish cuisine with some reinventions of traditional Finnish food, this is your restaurant list.

And if you’re not in Helsinki but it the rest of Finland (although it is also happening in the Finnish capital) you should try the street food on one of the Restaurant Days, where anyone can set up a restaurant for a day.

What’s the Finnish dish that you like the most? And what do you think about the traditional Finnish food (for instance, the one that Ramsay tried: Karelian pies, leipäjuusto or mämmi)?



Vappu – the spring fest in Finland

If you are in Finland right now you will notice that everyone is excited, and some are thrilled out of their minds. The reason is that Vappu is coming. And what is Vappu? It is the spring fest of Finland, the Labour Day and the May Day.

Vappu
I remember how, during my first Vappu, nobody could explain to me very well what it was all about. It took investigation and thorough questioning, but the answers to it were the same as I said above. But that wasn’t all.

Vappu in Finland

In Vappu you can meet two distinctive groups of people.

The first group are the students. They wear their colorful overalls and their graduation caps and they go out to celebrate and indulge for a couple of days. I like that.

Each faculty has different overall colors. For instance, in Joensuu, the Science Park people – with whom I proudly tagged along – were dressed in purple. Others were yellow, green, etc., making it easy to discover fellow people. The overalls have brands on them, mostly local, from companies who subsidize their costs to the students.

The overall from a Finnish university
An overall from one of the Universities of North Karelia
The second group are the Finnish people who don’t belong to any faculty, either because they are through with university, or because they never went. Nonetheless, they wear their graduation caps as well: mostly white and with a little black.

It seems the graduation from high school is a pretty important moment of every Finn’s life. They get the white cap that signals them as having finished high school and they treasure it all their life, wearing it on Vappu every year. I have discussed with Finns why they are so proud of having passed high school – especially in a country with a great school system – but I still don’t get it. Roses are another symbol of graduation day, where the Finns wear their best clothes.

Some Finnish grandpas wearing the white capTwo seniors wearing their high school graduation caps.

Vappu traditions

The university students are the ones mostly carrying out the Vappu traditions. The first tradition is to wet a representative statue of the city – for instance, Havis Amanda in Helsinki – with champagne and put a graduation cap on it.

In Joensuu the students have a giant graduation cap – 1 meter in diameter – and they march to the university buildings with the help of a marching band and put the cap onto one of the statues in front of the Carelia building. Pretty cool.

The giant cap
The giant cap being carried
Vappu also marks the real beginning of spring in Finland: Around the first of May there is no snow anymore (or, if there is, there are only little heaps of it left over in the shade), and the days are so long that they are inviting the Finns to party. During my first Vappu, we had terrific weather and we always honored every chance of having some drink on a terrace, an excellent moment to make some Finnish friends.

Beer on a table
A drink in the sun

What to eat and drink during Vappu

If you’re looking for a Vappu drink, try simä. If you prefer the food side, Vappu’s favorite is the munkki. Munkkis are Finnish donuts, and simä is a fermented drink that Finns make at home for this day. The munkkis I tried – homemade by the mother of a friend – were delicious, so I can definitely recommend them.

People, as I mentioned above, spend Vappu with infused happiness – yep, alcohol – outdoors, and having picnics in parks. Some Vappu parties can be found as well, and parties at night are common and almost a stop you can’t – and shouldn’t – miss. Student parties or club parties, you’ll have a great Vappu.

Vappu party
This was my first Vappu party

Party like is VappuMaking friends during Vappu

Enjoy your day. People are much more friendly than usual, and – who knows – maybe a Vappu romance can start (another great day for it will be Midsummer, but we will talk about that another day): Vappu, alcohol, picnic, outdoors, springtime. A mix that can’t and won’t fail.

Have you spend Vappu in Finland? What are your highlights for this day?



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