Mölkky: The Finnish summer game

First commandment of the Finnish summer: Spend as much time as you can outdoors.

This is a good rule, which can be carried out in many forms (we’ll bring some ideas in the near future); one of those forms is the “official” Finnish summer game: Mölkky.

What is Mölkky?

Mölkky is a very popular game, a bit like bowling, except you can play it anywhere – there is no special place to play it. It also relates to boccie, but Mölkky has characteristics that sets it apart from the other two games.

The basic gear to play this game is a series of pins with numbers written on the top of each one. There is also a pin that has no number.

Mölkky sticks

This is a set of Mölkky pins.

The numbered pins are like bows in bowling. You have to place them in a triangle and the number that appears on top of each stick tells you the number of points you get if you knock it over, but we’ll see the rules in detail in a second. You use the unnumbered pin to knock over the other pins.

The rules of Mölkky

The players throw the unnumbered pin in turns, trying to knock the other pins over.

The goal is to reach exactly 50 points, and this is how you count the points: If you knock over one pin, you get the number of points written on it. If you throw down two or more, you get as many points as pins you’ve knocked over.

Here you cam see someone throwing the unnumbered pin. This is Mölkky.

Mölkky

The first person who gets 50 points wins, and if someone goes over 50, he or she gets a penalty of 25 points less and has to continue from that number, trying to reach 50 again.

A man throwing mölkky

Mölkky was invented not long ago, in 1996, by Tuorengas, who owns the game name’s trademark. It is an educative consortium from the Lahti region, dealing mostly with reemployment and job searches.

The game has been picked up by university students and since 1996 its popularity has been on the rise. Each summer, a world championship of Mölkky is held in Lahti.

Playing winter Mölkky
Mölkky World Championship
A funny photo of a group of Finns disguised as Mölkky pins.

The game is also played in places like France, Australia or USA. Tuorengas has sold about 200.000 Mölkky sets – not a bad number.

Have you ever played Mölkky? How do you like the game?



Summer in Finland: Top 5 things to do

The summer in mid and northern Europe is a lot shorter than we’d like. The temperatures aren’t as high as in the south, but at least this is compensated with very long days. In order to get the batteries reloaded after the winter, let’s check out what’s the best that the summer in Finland has to offer.

1. Take advantage of outdoor activities

Summer in Finland is the time where, finally, Finns can do outdoor activities other than skiing (in any of its varieties) or playing hockey (Finland’s national sport).

Visiting one of the thousand lakes for hiking, sunbathing or swimming is one of those things you can do. In Finland you’re never too far away from a lake, and visiting one is an excellent way to spend a day. If you want to see a huge lake, go to Saimaa lake, the biggest one in Finland.

Koli: national park in Finland
Lake, trees, mountains. This is Koli, a National Park in Finland.

If we talk about lakes we should also talk about beaches. Some of them are nudist beaches, like Yyteri near Pori, which, together with its other non-nudist half, makes up for one of the largest beaches of the nordic countries.

If you are in the Helsinki area, check out the most visited beach of the city, Hietaniemi beach, which offers a lot of sport opportunities and is supervised by lifeguards during the summer in Finland. If you want to know all the beaches Finland has to offer, check out this list from the council of Helsinki.

Another outdoor option is to visit a Finnish forest. There is a law in Finland called “Everyman’s right”, which allows everyone to roam free throughout the forest, no matter who owns the land. That, of course, doesn’t only apply to locals: If you find yourself in a Finnish forest, roam free and get lost (but not a lot, take a GPS with you) without worrying. Nordic walking, the sport where you walk with ski-like sticks, can be practiced everywhere and is popular in Finland.

2. Attend one of the crazy competitions that happen during the summer in Finland

In summer the fun finally breaks loose and one of the ways Finns have found to channel these impulses are crazy competitions. For instance, in August you can go to the Air Guitar World Championship in Oulu or the Mobile Throwing Championship in Savonlinna.

Air guitar
The participants of the Air Guitar Championship in Oulu are real stars of the summer in Finland.

Other famous World Championships in Finland are the Mobile Sauna Championship, in the city of Teuva on Finland’s west coast in August and the Wife Carrying Championship in Sonkajärvi in July.

3. Attend a music festival or a city festival

Finland offers some great music festivals during the summer, for instance, Ilosarirock in Joensuu (held each July), the Tuska Metal festival held in Helsinki each June, or the Flow Festival of Helsinki in August. Plenty of options for dancing during the summer in Finland.

Leaving aside the usual music festivals (plenty of nights and days with lots of bands, camping, and pretty expensive beverages) as mentioned above, we can highlight the Savonlinna Opera Festival held each summer in Finland. Another famous music festival is Pori Jazz.

Summer in Finland: festivals
Go with the flow. Classic bad joke. Source (CC: by-sa).

Finally, if we talk about city festivals, the World Village Festival of Helsinki celebrated each May and the Helsinki Festival (official website) are great options.

4. Visit popular tourist sights

A lot of people love to go to Finland for tourism during the winter, to enjoy the northern lights (check the best moments and the best places to see them in Finland) or to visit Santa, but other, less cold-friendly people can enjoy the summer in Finland too.

You can visit theme parks such as the Angry Birds park in Tampere or the Moomin park in Naantali. If you want a hardcore version of a theme park, check out the Veijo Ronkonnen sculpture park as well: you’ll need courage for this one.

The Veijo Ronkkonen park
A strange park Mr Veijo Ronkkonen made, no doubt. Source.

From Finland you can quickly check out Russia, Sweden and Estonia too, thanks to the country’s ferry options. If you take a ferry from Helsinki, you can stay in St. Petersburg, a city I recommend, for up to three days without a visa. (The boat that makes this trip is the Princess Maria.) Stockholm is also pretty close, and Tallin is just a couple of hours away.

If, instead of man-made things, you prefer to appreciate the natural attractions of the summer in Finland, you should see the midnight sun over the arctic circle or the white nights under it. Two awe-inspiring phenomena for the ones who see them for the first time.

5. Participate in the traditions that the summer in Finland has to offer

Juhannus (we’ll talk in detail about it soon) is the preferred holiday of the summer in Finland for the Finns. It is the longest day of the year and that – because the difference in daylight hours between the summer and winter in Finland is so big – is an important occurence. On this day Finns light huge bonfires by the lakes and spend the day in their summer cottages.

A summer cabin in Finland
Summer in Finland = summer cottage. Source.

Spending the weekends in a cottage – most likely with one of the three types of sauna in Finland – is probably the best option to spend the summer with friends and family, since most likely the cottage will have next to it a forest and a lake. I am yearning for it already!

What’s your recommendation for the summer in Finland? What’s your favourite activity from the ones we listed here? Let’s use these days before the autumn and the Ruska take over.



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?




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