Security of your personal belongings in Finland: total

A recent study explaining that you’ll get your wallet back 9 out of 10 times if you lose it in Helsinki, reminded me of this topic.

Perceived security in Finland

One of the things that surprised us most when we arrived in Finland is the perceived security on the streets.

Walking on the streets of Joensuu, you’ll never feel unsafe. You can even do things like leave your bike unlocked for a couple of hours, and you can be sure it will still be there upon your return. Or you can forget your umbrella and come back some hours later when you remember where you left it, and it will be in exactly the same place.

Happenings such as these, at least for most people, are astonishing. Even people who look tough on the streets wouldn’t hurt a fly.

The strangest thing for me: wardrobes in public spaces

The strangest thing I found, however, were wardrobes in public or open-access buildings like libraries, schools or universities.

Instead of carrying your heavy winter coat and your snow trousers with you everywhere, Finns have huge wardrobes for all of their bulky clothing and accessories. Everyone leaves all they want to there: hats, coats, earmuffs, some bags, gloves and other winter apparel.

For me, coming from Southern Europe, it took about six months to feel comfortable enough to leave my things at the public wardrobes, and even then I made sure that my coat pockets were empty of things I’d regret losing. Up to that point, I took all of that heavy apparel with me everywhere – but only because in my country, my clothes would have been long gone if I left them alone.

Coat in a Wardrobe: there is security

I left the university late, and my things were still there

From then on, leaving my clothes in a public wardrobe became the most normal thing to do for me. Even in some places – like a school I visited while doing a study – the students actually weren’t allowed to wear shoes in class, and they only could do so in the corridors.

And, coming back to the study that shows that there is security in Finland because Finns are honest, when someone loses a scarf or a glove on the streets, if you come back to the exact same point, this piece of clothing will be most likely hanging on a tree branch. You can trust the Finns with that.

What is your experience with this – your personal security and the security of your things in Finland? Do you perceive security the same way or differently?



Types of Sauna in Finland

Even though I’m not in Finland these days, I do continue to have (and enjoy!) my weekly sauna. The saunas outside Finland are strange: people wear towels around their waists, you can’t throw water on the heated stones (there’s an electric system that does it automatically) and a lot of the time the temperature is lower than it should be. But is this a sauna? How many types of sauna are there? This is the question that we’ll have a look at here.

The Finnish sauna

The right way of having a sauna is a delightful experience.

Without any clothes on, one takes a shower beforehand (no soap). After that, it’s time to go into the sauna with a bucket and a dipper. Still with no clothes or towels inside the room, you pick a bench and have a seat there. The rocks are waiting for the water, and the temperature is about 80° C.

Sisu in the sauna
If you take a sauna and you’re not a Finn, you’d better have Sisu. Source.

Every now and then – depending on what the sauna’s users want – water is poured with the dipper onto the rocks. The steam is released and a wave of heat comes through. If you have birch branches (in Finnish language they are called vihta or vasta) you can hit yourself with them: they provide a nice scent and improve blood circulation.

When you can’t take the heat any longer, leave the sauna to have a shower or to take a dip in a nearby lake (the extreme version of this is ice swimming: going for a swim through a hole made in a frozen lake). After that it’s time to relax and repeat the process as many times as you want! After the last round it is shower time, this time with soap. You will be relaxed and left feeling like new.

Types of Sauna in Finland

There are three types of Sauna in Finland.

1.- Wooden sauna. If you want to experience one of these saunas, you need to chop some wood (or buy the wood already chopped, of course), and burn this wood in the stove inside the sauna. Light it up and leave it burning for a while, allowing the smoke to leave the sauna through the little chimney. The rocks lie above the stove and, because of the nature of the sauna’s heat, the steam that is released when water is poured over the rocks is very wet and damp.
I had this kind of sauna only once in my life, and it was great. There I saw “the spirit of the sauna”, a Finnish tradition that I will talk about on a different article.

Types of sauna: a wooden one
A wooden sauna with its chimney. Source.
2.- The electric sauna is the most common in Finland. You can find it on Finnish homes – either one per house or one per building. This was the sauna we had for the Erasmus students in our building in Finland. For its size, price and ease of installation in any house this sauna is the most used in Finland. The rocks are heated by an electric stove, and that makes the steam that comes out of it a bit drier than the other types of sauna.

types of sauna: electric
This is the sauna we had on our building. The electric stove heats the rocks.
3.- Smoke sauna. Considered by many as THE sauna, the smoke saunas are rare. They are not built anymore, even though they were the standard types in the past. The process to heat them up is long and complicated, and that’s why they have lost popularity in relation to the other types of sauna. Furthermore, they are so old and dry that, since they’re built with wood, many of them burn (one can’t tell from the outside if the smoke is from the wood or the sauna is burning) and they are not re-built.

Nonetheless, the smoke saunas have real charm. The stoves don’t have chimneys and the black smoke remains in the sauna. Before having a sauna, it is necessary to let the smoke out and to clean the benches, since they might have some soot. The embers have heated up the rocks and it is time to get in.

It is said that the steam that this kind of sauna produces is the best, since it is softer.

A smoke sauna
This sauna is filled with smoke. It must be aerated before getting in. Source.

More about the types of sauna

In the following short film, called “Sweat“, the four-time World-champion of the Sauna enduring contest Timo Kaukonen shows us the types of sauna. And, also very interesting, shows us how he gets ready to compete in the sauna championship.

When was your last sauna experience and which one of the types of sauna was it? Mine was in midsummer, and it was electric… and what a great time it was!



Best moments to see the Aurora Borealis in Finland

Not long ago we talked about the best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland, map included. In that list of places Lapland was the top choice, since it’s the northernmost area of the country and lies north of the Arctic Circle. Nonetheless, knowing the best places alone is not sufficient to hunt down the Aurora Borealis. There is another factor just as important as the location: knowing the best moments to see the Aurora Borealis in Finland.

Aurora Borealis over Finland

Can’t I see the Aurora Borealis throughout the whole year?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Since Finland is a Nordic country its winters have few hours of daylight. In some areas of Lapland, people spend several weeks in total darkness, with only a little bit of twilight visible over the horizon (they call it Kaamos, the polar night). In the same way, summers in Finland have few hours of darkness, and in some places you can see the Midnight Sun for weeks.

When can I see the Aurora Borealis in Finland and Lapland? The best months

As we mentioned, besides the need for a high latitude to see the Northern Lights, you should also be in Finland when there are several night-time hours. But to summarize briefly, we can say the following: between the end of April and the beginning of August there is simply too much light.

In the next image, from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, we can see the number of nights with Aurora Borealis divided between the total number of Auroras per year. The blue line show us the Auroras that can be seen from the Polar Arctic Circle to the Arctic Ocean (the northernmost part of Finland). On the other hand, the red line shows the Aurora Borealis that happen from the South of Finland to the Arctic Ocean: they are more widespread since there are some hours of night during the summer in South Finland.

Best moments to see the Aurora Borealis
When to see the Aurora Borealis: it all depends on the month.

The best moments to see the Aurora Borealis are shown in the graphic. We can see that between August and September they are already visible. In October, November and December – the Autumn months – the northern lights season is already in full swing. The winter months – January, February and March – are perhaps the best ones, but it’s also important to remember that the cold is often too intense. In April, the Aurora Borealis start to fade, since there are too many daylight hours again. In May, June and July they can’t be seen at all, since there are almost no hours of night.

One must take into account that the weather in Finland is very cloudy. Last winter – three months, 90 days – there were only 50 hours of light in total. On the equinoxes (the moment between Summer and Autumn in September, and the moment between Winter and Spring in March) the Aurora Borealis are easier to spot, since the skies tend to be very clear and almost cloudless. The Northern lights take place at a high altitude in Earth’s atmosphere, and therefore happen above the clouds.

In the same way, the light of the Aurora Borealis is actually quite dim. They can’t be seen properly if there is light – for instance, city lights – around. Even a full and bright moon can affect their visibility.

When to see the Aurora Borealis? The best hours

Statistically – and this is why Finland has a research center for the Northern Lights in Sodankylä, Lapland – it is easier to see Aurora Borealis at certain times.

This graph shows us when to see Aurora Borealis on a given day: between 11pm and 12pm is the best time.

The best hours to see Northern Lights

Do you have some other advice on the best moments to see the Aurora Borealis? If you have seen it before, at what time and during which month was it?



Crayfish party – the end of summer in Finland

I recall my first crayfish party, two years ago. My host was a great friend from Sweden, where this kind of party originates. Later on, I learned that it is also a Finnish tradition, and that it’s something that simply can’t be missed if you want to have a self-respecting Finnish summer experience. What’s the party about? Read on.

Decoration for the Crayfish party
Decoration for the Crayfish party Source.

The crayfish party: what is it about

The crayfish party it is a celebration devoted to the pleasure of eating and drinking in Finland and other Nordic countries in Summer. Originally from Sweden, it was introduced in Finland by Swedish-speaking Finns.

The time of year for celebrating at crayfish parties starts in late-July and the parties can take place until the end of October. Even so, the most popular time is August and September.

The aim of the party is to celebrate the last days of summer surrounded by family and friends. Such is its popularity that on these dates, shops bring in many decoration accessories portraying crayfish: tablecloths, napkins, aprons, plates… You can see an example from the party I attended, including funny-looking party hats (also a classic part of the event). The picutres of the party, crayfish in hand, I should probably keep for myself.

A table decorated for the crayfish party

Table manners and how to eat at the crayfish party

Normal table etiquette goes out the window because of the nature of the main dish. On the table there should be enough crayfish for everyone, and they are prepared boiled but already cold. They are accompanied by fresh dill and are supposed to be eaten with your fingers – thus there is also a great need for napkins. Making some noises while eating is not an etiquette problem, since it is necessary to get every tasty bit out of the crayfish.

There should be also plenty of bread, and an optional salad or soup as an entrée. Good desserts after the salty crayfish are some pie or ice cream. Regarding the selection of drinks – also a great part of the crayfish party, I assure you – they are ice-cold schnapps (there should be plenty) along with some beer, wine and water.

Something you discover at the crayfish parties is that people drink more than they eat, since eating crayfish isn’t easy and there is not a lot of meat in them. On the other hand, the availability of the drinks and the ease of getting them down makes them much easier to have in comparison. And, after all, we are in the North of Europe: schnapps are pretty much mandatory at great events like this.

About the location, these crayfish parties are celebrated outdoors (remember that it celebrates the last good days of the summer). Reasons to have them inside are the unpleasant – and huge – Finnish mosquitoes, or the eventual rain.

My experience at a crayfish party was great. There were people from 5 nationalities at my table, and we got to enjoy plenty of food and fantastic crayfish-like accessories; my favorite: a paper-made sun with a happy face on it, a true decorative item of any crayfish party. We drank the traditional Swedish drink, Aquavit, and we all sung the official crayfish party song. A great evening, and a great Swedish and Finnish tradition.

Crayfish party
Tastiness at the crayfish party: . Source.

Have you ever been invited to a crayfish party? How was it?



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