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 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?



What to eat and drink in Vappu (and recipes)

Talking with Finnish friends on Facebook, they reminded me that the Labour Day, Vappu – which in Finland is also a common day for graduation parties – is just some days ahead. It is, as usual, on the 1st of May and it’s a day where all Finnish flags are high on their masts.

It might be the most important Finnish party if we look at how much people enjoy it collectively. Christmas and Juhannus (midsummer) are more family oriented or celebrated with a small group of people, while Vappu is a day where all Finns take to the streets and celebrate together.

In our previous post about Vappu we told you what the celebration is about and why it is so important. Today we take it a step further and tell you the right things to eat and drink during Vappu in Finland.

If you are visiting the country, be sure to order them in restaurants or at food stalls when you see them! Or, if you are staying in Finland for a longer time, you can follow this post for instructions how to make these dishes yourself. They are sima for drinking, and tippaleipä and munkki for eating.

It's Vappu time, folks

Sima, the Vappu drink

Sima is a sweet and mildly alcoholic drink that is mainly consumed on Vappu, and mostly home-made. Its color is orange and you’ll always see some raisins floating on top of it. A nice refreshing drink for a day that is, hopefully, one of the first days of warmth in Finland.

In order to prepare Sima – a kind of Finnish mead – you’ll need: 8 liters of water, 400 grams of sugar, 400 grams of brown sugar, 0,2 liters of golden syrup, 3 lemons, some raisins and 1/4 teaspoon of yeast.

You prepare it like this: Boil half of the water. Put all the sugar and the syrup in a pot, then slowly add the boiling water while stirring until everything is dissolved. Wash and cut the lemon. Add the rest of the water to the pot.

When the water is lukewarm, add the yeast and the lemon. Let it ferment a day at room temperature.

The next day, add a teaspoon of sugar and some raisins to the mix. Pass the Sima through a strainer, then bottle it. Close the bottles (not too tightly) and let them rest in a cool place. The Sima will be ready for consumption two or three days later, when the raisins rise to the surface.

Tippaleipä

“Tippaleipä” can be translated as “funnel cake” – and that’s what it is. The batter, coming out of a funnel such as a pastry bag, is poured into hot cooking oil and deep fried. Afterwards it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Tippaleipä and Sima
Some Tippaleipä, along with a glass of Sima. Source (CC: by).

This Vappu dessert will need the following ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, 0,3 liters of milk, 0,4 liters of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar. You’ll also need powdered sugar for sprinkling the Tippaleipä at the end and oil to fry it.

Beat the eggs and the sugar in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the yeast and the milk at room temperature, then add salt and flour and mix all of it with the beaten egg. Put the mix in a pastry bag with the smallest funnel. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or pot.

Pour the batter into the hot oil and, with a spoon, move the batter slightly so it acquires curves before hardening. Keep on adding batter until it becomes a more or less rectangular shape. When the batter has a golden color, turn it around so it can fry on the other side. Take the Tippaleipä out of the pan and place it on some kitchen paper to drain the oil. Make as many Tippaleipäs as you want. Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar (or Nutella or marmelade, up to you).

Munkki

The third recipe for Vappu is for Munkkis: the Finnish doughnuts. This is what I ate during my first Vappu in Finland, with great pleasure. It is a home-made donut.

Some Vappu doughnuts: Munkki
The Vappu donuts. Source (CC: by)

The ingredients for making Munkki: 1 cup of milk, 25 grams of yeast, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of cardamom, 2,5 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of oil.

In order to make this Vappu dessert, you have to mix all ingredients and leave them in a warm place, until its batter doubles its size. Make small rings and let them grow again. Heat up the oil in a pan or pot, and when it is hot put the Munkkis – one by one – into the oil. Turn them around several times until they have a golden or brown color (have it your way). Take the Munkkis out of the oil and let them dry on a plate with some kitchen paper, so the excess oil gets drained. Sprinkle with sugar and you are ready to go (and eat).

If you want to go further, you can try the Berliininmunkki. It is a hole-less doughnut that is filled with marmelade and that is actually called Berliner in Germany.

If you had to pick your favorite food or drink from this post, what would it be? What do you do on the 1st of May?



Mämmi: The traditional Finnish Easter dessert

Before going to Salo on their Easter holidays, my Finnish friends recommended me to do two things this Easter. The first one is that I should try some chocolate easter eggs, Kinder or Fazer Mignon, and the second one is that I must try mämmi, the traditional Finnish Easter dessert, with some cream (kerma).

What is Mämmi

Mämmi looks like a puddnig, and it is served as a dessert during Easter in Finland. It is made from water, rye flour, powdered malt, dark molasses, salt and orange zest. To serve and eat it, it is mixed with kerma or milk and this is how it looks:

Mämmi
This is what mämmi looks like. Appetizing, right? Source (CC:by)

Finns are eager to let anybody try their dessert these days, and some other friends were urged to give it a try. A friend of mine got some mämmi from friends, and after she tried it she gave it to me and added the words “good luck”. So I gave it a try as well.

My take on mämmi
The mämmi I was about to eat

Mämmi’s flavor

Mämmi’s texture is strange and granular. Its looks weren’t particularly attractive (it is not a food that you eat with your eyes as well). The flavor of mämmi isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either: it tastes like dark bread, something they do like in Finland. Think of a dense dark bread, beaten.

If you’re looking for a recipe to do this kind of traditional Finnish Easter dessert, you can use this one and maybe you can give it your own spin to make it suit your taste better – since the original one may be too Finnish to be enjoyed by everybody.

Would I have mämmi ever again? Good question. I think if someone would offer it to me at a dinner table I wouldn’t refuse it. I think that it is, as other Finnish foods like the salty liquorice salmiakki, an acquired taste.

It won’t be the children’s favorite dessert, but if you like the flavor of dark bread I would definitely recommend you to try it. Update: here’s a video of Chef Gordon Ramsay tasting it and giving his professional opinion.

Have you tasted mämmi? What did you think about its flavor and texture? Granted, the presentation could be much, much better.



What to wear in Lapland and Finland in winter

I’ve been through all kinds of weather in Finland, most of it in Joensuu, in the middle of the country. I’ve yet to write an extensive guide that covers what to wear in Finland throughout the whole year, but now that winter has come around – something that can be daunting for those who have never been to the Nordic (and Scandinavian) countries – it is time to cover the most important basics: what to wear in Lapland and Finland in winter.

What to wear in LaplandSome people outdoors in Lapland in Winter: wearing the right clothing is essential. Source (CC: by).

The necessary clothes for the Finnish winter and its temperatures

Finland’s climate – especially in Lapland – makes the winter an extremely long one, lasting up to half a year. In October the average temperatures are already below zero and snow starts falling. Although the current winter has been extremely mild, it’s not uncommon to have snow for up to six months a year.

Because of that, warm clothing becomes essential for good living – and surviving, if you’re not a natural born Finn – since the temperatures can dip to -30° Celsius in most parts of the country. It is not something to take lightly.

Having lived in North Karelia, I wanted to ask someone who had lived the most extreme climate of them all: Lapland. I asked Miguel and these are his recommendations.

What to wear in Lapland and Finland for the extreme cold: the layering process

“If you have ever experienced -20º Celsius, the question of what to wear in Lapland and Finland becomes much simpler: what did you wear in those temperatures? Once the thermometer goes below -15º Celsius, you don’t notice the difference between that and even colder temperatures anymore.

30 degrees below zero
30 degrees Celcius below zero. That’s 25 degrees lower than your freezer.
You can bring your own gear from your country, but check out the prices beforehand. In some countries it will be cheaper to buy the clothes home and bring them over in your luggage, but in some cases it is quite the opposite, and in Finland you will find everything you need. For the extreme cold you will need a number of layers, always depending on how cold it is and how much you can stand the “normal” cold.

The first layer when you want to know what to wear in Lapland and Finland is similar to pajamas – something like long johns – not only on the lower half of the body but also the upper.

The second layer would be a layer of clothes made out of fleece, both for the legs and the upper body. Regarding the trousers you don’t need to go overboard: anything is good as long as you feel comfortable. Fleece clothing can be interchanged with thermal clothing for this second layer.

The third layer for your trip to Lapland or Finland in winter, or if you are going to live there (for instance for Erasmus) would be the snow clothing: a good jacket for the extreme cold and ski trousers. My choice and the choice of lots of my friends was Columbia and it served us well.

Finally, don’t forget to take underwear!

What to wear in Lapland and Finland in winter
They will spend the day outdoors: we can see the third layer of clothing for the extreme winter in Lapland and Finland. Source.

What to wear in Lapland: Winter clothing tips for the three key places

These are the three key points to keep warm: feet, hands and ears.

For the hands and feet you always have the classic option of gloves and socks made of wool or made of special thermal fabric for snow and cold temperatures. I have special socks like that and they’re perfect, because another problem you face before going outside when you’re indoors is that you start sweating. That’s something that can worsen your day: you’re going to feel like your feet get frozen. Special fabric helps with that.

My trick to avoid this for the hands is to wear some thin gloves, those black thin ones everyone has, and over those the key to real warm hands: mittens. Perfect.
Don’t wear just gloves for anything in the world, even if they’re skiing gloves. Mittens made out of leather with an inner lining of shearling: that’s the only thing to wear. You can even have them smoker-friendly, if you smoke.

Regarding the feet and the shoes, there is a wide variety of boots adapted to the extreme cold, from more formal shoes to the classic rubber boot with shearling on the inside. Possibly, the latter will be the best, and for the most cold-averse, adding a sole made out of shearling will definitely do it.

Finland clothing: the shoes
Nice gore-tex boots were the choice for many, me included. They lack glamour but damn, they do the job.

Don’t worry too much about removing the layers and other clothing in Finland: if you leave them in public wardrobes they will be there when you come back for them. In Finland nobody will touch something that isn’t theirs.

Finally, for the head, good earmuffs are a must, and I can’t stress this enough. On top of that, a russian-like hat (lined with shearling or another kind of artificial animal-like fur) or a very thick woolen hat will keep your head warm. Don’t forget a scarf or a neck gaiter. On the coldest days the only thing that should be shown are the eyes (which eyelashes will have ice droplets attached to their ends). For the extremely cold-averse, a ski balaclava is the right thing. This is the best if you are going to use a snowmobile or if you go skiing in unusually low temperatures. We went once to Levi for skiing in February and going downhill at -18º Celsius wasn’t very enjoyable (the sauna afterwards was, nonetheless).

What to wear in Lapland and Finland: neck and head
My neck gaiter with synthetic fur inside, and a russian-like hat.

Where to buy the clothing for a trip to Finland and Lapland

Another thing many people do is to travel with all their clothes bought in their country, which is understandable if you don’t want to leave anything to chance. But why look for good and affordable mittens, gloves or shoes in another country when they are availiable here in any sports store for a good price. It might not be the best quality, but you probably won’t need that if you’re going to be only one week in Lapland (which is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights).

All this advice for what to wear in Lapland is perfect if the temperature is quite low, and if you are going to spend a lot of time outdoors. For just small trips to the outdoors, for instance from the bus to the Santa Claus Village and back, you can survive with fewer clothes. My record is 5 minutes with a pullover at -25° Celsius.

I can’t think of anything else. Each person is different and some people will need a thousand clothing items while others can survive with less. Each one of us has to judge for ourselves how cold-averse are we when choosing what to wear in Lapland and Finland in winter, but with these tips you’ll be well covered.”

Miguel and his Finland Clothing
Miguel protects everything: a frostbite isn’t fun.

Summary: the necessary clothing for Lapland and Finland in winter depends on your activity

If you are going to be walking outdoors a lot and enjoying the landscape, the right clothing for Finland and Lapland will be a combination of the three layers mentioned above.

If you aren’t going to be outside much, instead spending long periods indoors, it is better to leave out the first layer and dress only with the second and third: you will remove the third layer when entering a building and will stay indoors with your normal clothes, without overheating from the first and second layer.

Do you have further advice about what to wear in Lapland and Finland in winter? Do you recommend a concrete brand of clothing or shoes?




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