Sisu: a.k.a Finnish power

The first time I heard the word sisu, a word I heard only a few more times while in Finland, it was at lunch with some Finnish friends. It was a long day and after saying goodbye, both the word and the concept slipped my mind. The same friends said the same word to me again a few weeks later and I had to ask: what is sisu? My friends thought about it for a second and told me: “it’s Finnish power“.

What is sisu

My Finnish friends, I remembered later, said they were proud of me because I did not do it the easy way and rode my bike through the whole winter, which reached -32 degrees Celsius at its coldest point. Since I am Spanish I am no good at being at a given place at a given time, I’d probably have missed the buses and would have had to wait long for the next one in -30 anyway. There was no other way for me but to bike.

But my friends told me I also need to have Sisu to brave the elements. We looked the word up in the Spanish-Finnish dictionary, but the definition just didn’t stick in my mind. What they told me, though, is that it was related to words like “bravery”, “courage” or “determination in adversity”. Since then I knew I had to write something about the fascinating idea of sisu.

Going further with some research, I checked out what Wikipedia says about it: and, of course, it says that it’s a word with no easy translation. One of the translations it offers is to “act rationally against adversity”, but I’m not sure that that’s the same as riding a bike through an entire Finnish winter.

Sisu in pills
You can take sisu in pills.

Sisu is important in Finland, so much that many brands are named after the term, for instance the Sisu sweets in the photo above, or “Sisu Trucks” (that’s what comes up first in Google Images for the word “Sisu”), or the nationalistic organization of Suomen Sisu (official site (they claim to defend the Finnish culture against intercultural mixing).

Another concept that the definition of sisu brings up is “to stand stoically against adversity”. Sisu would then be the skill to finish a task against the impossible twists of destiny. Not a bad word – or quality – as we can see.

Not all sisu is good sisu

Even though its main meaning is a positive one, Sisu can also be a bad thing. “Bad Sisu” (paha sisu, en finnish language) means malice combined with rudeness and relentlessness: putting effort towards hurting someone, or towards vengance.

Some people say that the Finnish culture can be summarized with “The three Ss”: Sisu, sauna and Sibelius (the Finnish classical composer). Some people, though, replace Sibelius for Samliakki.

After arriving home. The temperature outside:-20 degrees
I rode my bike for 30 minutes in -20 degree weather that evening. Was it sisu or not?

Have you heard about sisu before? Do you have a story where it plays a big role? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


Sahti, the traditional Finnish beer

Shopping for something to drink in the Finnish Alko – the state-owned shop for alcoholic beverages – is usually expensive. That’s why “social drinking” in Finland doesn’t really happen the same way as in other countries. But with the growing popularity of the microbreweries these days, it’s a good time to talk about a true classic: the traditional Finnish beer, Sahti.

Sahti, traditional finnish beer
A pint of Sahti. Source.

What is Sahti

The beer expert and beer writer Michael Jackson (no relation to the deceased King of Pop) defined the Finnish beer Sahti as “the only medieval beer that survived in Western Europe”. This Finnish beer is drunk today in the same way as it was in the Finnish inns during the XIV century. Sahti also holds the EU seal of “Protected Geographical Status”, which is similar to the Denominaciones de Orígen (D.O.) labels for excellent Spanish wines, or similar labels for Bavarian beer, Italian balsamic vinegar, and many others.

The Sahti is the traditional Finnish beer. It is brewed from different kinds of grains – with and without malt – and includes most of the usual grains used for beer: rye, barley, oats and wheat.

To these grains, one must add juniper berries and hops for flavour. Barm, or even normal yeast, is used during the fermenting process. All of these ingredients come together to create the classic Finnish beer, with a distinct dark colour. The taste of the final product, after fermentation, is somewhat similar to banana, and the alcohol percentage is relatively high for a beer, at around 8%.

Although it can be brewed at home, there also exist some commercial brands of Sahti. They can be found in the Alko or served in bars, as the one on the following image. Once the Sahti is produced – at home or professionally – it must be kept cold in the fridge to make sure it doesn’t lose its distinct flavours or properties.

Sahti, Finnish beer, in professional version
A professional bottle of Sahti. You can see the juniper berries on the tag, and the dark color. Source.

Sahti recipe: how to make your own Finnish Beer

The most popular months to brew this unique Finnish beer are during the summer. You’ll need patience and some time to make a good batch of Sahti. These are the ingredients and the recipe, adapted (i.e., converted to grams and Celsius degrees), from BrewingTV.

Targeted Sahti volume: 15 litres

Types of grains – converted to grams

  • 4 kg pilsner malt
  • 1.5 kg Munich dark malt
  • 0,8 kg rye malt

Other ingredients:

– Some juniper twigs (with berries on them)
– Yeast (1 cube of fresh baking yeast)

Cooking the Sahti.
Cooking the Sahti: the traditional Finnish beer. Source.


– Mash the different grains in three different steps, with 30 minutes pauses between steps, at 50°, 60° and 70° Celsius.

– Pour the resulting mash into another container, and place the juniper twigs in the original container.

– Pour the mash back into the original receptacle and remove the strain out the solid grains from it. Stir until target consistency is reached.

– Heat the mash in its container at 75°C and leave it on the fire for 20 minutes. Keep adding juniper twigs during this process. The Finnish beer will soon be ready.

– Cool the mash to under 20°C and add the yeast.

– Let it rest for some time to allow the fermentation process to run its course and bottle without the sugar that was generated.

What do you think? Will you try making some traditional Finnish beer? If you’ve already had a chance to try some Sahti, what did you think?


Best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland and Lapland

“I want to see the northern lights”. Been there, said that. But is it really that straightforward, even in Finland? Hardly. We’ve dug through the info and numbers, and hereby present the best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland and Lapland.

Northern Lights

The topic isn’t a light one for lots of people; it’s an important question since it can be the crowning event for anyone’s visit to Finland, and it’s an event that anyone who’s seen it will never forget. As always, to help a little that extra bit more, it’s Big in Finland to the rescue.

Why are there so many Northern Lights in Finland?

In the northern hemisphere, there’s a region in the upper part of the Earth known as the “Aurora Oval”. The Northern Lights happen within this area of the Earth, which is even further north than the Arctic Circle. Because of this, the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) happens mostly in the north of Finland, in the region of Lapland.

However, during periods when there’s high solar activity, like the current one, the Northern Lights can be seen further south. That’s why this year some Aurora Borealis was even seen in Helsinki! A special and unusual event indeed.

Where to see the Northern Lights in Finland? In Lapland

There is a simple rule to spot Northern Lights: the further north the better. This especially includes the regions north of the Arctic Circle.

Best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland and Lapland
% of possibilities to see the Northern Lights at those places. Source: FMI

In the scale above (logarithmic) we can see the number of nights where the Aurora Borealis phenomena happens, compared to the total of nights. This also shows us the best places to see it.

A place that actually boasts a 100% chance of seeing the Northern Lights is Tromsö, but this city lies across the border into Norway, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean (also a good place to see the Midnight Sun). There, almost every night (when there are light hours, of course) the northern lights can be seen.

The percentage of Aurora nights declines rapidly the further south we go. The easiest place to spot the Northern Lights in Finland is the town of Utsjoki, which is also the northernmost town in Finland (and offers, in addition to this grand spectacle of nature, a lot of fascinating Sami culture and is officially bilingual Finnish/Sami). Other towns and cities are: Rovaniemi, with a 45% chance; Oulu – lying at 65° northern latitude – with 30%; Helsinki, the capital of Finland, lying at 60° northern latitude, just a 5% chance.

The best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland and Lapland

That being said, if we talk about concrete places – besides the ones mentioned above – the main municipalities within the Arctic Circle have good infrastructure to welcome tourist, and they have good organizations that make expeditions into the darkness when the northern lights are bound to happen.

Sodankylä is the place where Finland’s National Observatory of Northern Lights is located, and therefore is one of the top places to see these spectacular lights in the sky. The Inari lake in Lapland, the third-biggest lake in Finland and one that contains most of Finland’s few fjords, is another good place.

The National Parks of Luosto and Oulanka, also in Lapland, are good places as well: the key is that they don’t have light pollution, which is the key factor in seeing the Northern Lights properly.

Just to mention a few more good spots to see the Northern lights, we can add Kakslauttanen, next to National Park Urho Kekkonen (one of the most important Finnish presidents in History); Ivalo, a nearby town; Nellim, on the opposite shore of the Inari Lake; and finally, Kilpisjarvi, a lake in the west of Finland, in an area next to the border with Sweden.

Arriving to those best places to see the Northern Lights can be quite a challenge, though. The population density in Lapland is small, and the distances are long. However, if you want to go hunting for the Aurora Borealis, Revontulet – its name in Finnish, which means “fox fires – in Lapland, is very much worth it.

On this map, we point out the places to see the Northern Lights that we named aboved, so you can have a better idea.

See this map bigger

With these recommendations, I bet your chances of seeing the Northern Lights will get much better. Good luck with it, and keep yourself warm because it is sure to get cold.

If you have seen already the Northern Lights, where was it?


My first days as an Erasmus in Finland (I)

This is the first of what will be a series of posts on how I felt when moving to Finland from Spain.

I was 21 years old then, and although I’d traveled through Europe with some friends before, I wasn’t confident with my English skills. I also never really lived by my own: in Spain the norm – unless you live in a small village and want to study in a big city – is that you live with your family until your late twenties. So it was all excitement and uncertainty for me.

My first days as an Erasmus student in Finland

I started this series of posts when I was already landed in Joensuu, Finland, as an Erasmus student. You can read my experiences on the Spanish Big in Finland too.

The first week was really intense: Basic Finnish 101, meeting other international exchange students, the usual parties to meet people (one of them was blessed with the presence of the police, the mark of a true party), tons of Spanish cooking with friends and lots more.

These posts were my way to let my friends know what I was up to, and they had the desired effect: a year later many of them went on Erasmus too.

Preparing the trip to Finland

This is how it all began. I had actually wanted to check-in my luggage a day in advance, since my flights up to that point were point-to-point and my bags never had to travel by themselves; I was sure they’d get lost somewhere. Even so, I of course wanted to meet up with my friends in my last days at home, and I left the check in for the day of the flight.

A piece of luggage

At 3:30 in the morning on my departure day – it was an early flight – I woke up and had a sudden realization: it was the point of no return. I got frightened about everything that could go wrong, especially losing my luggage or if I needed to check in again in the airport hub of Amsterdam.

Finally, my family took me to the airport and it was an interesting feeling. No one in my family had gone on Erasmus or exchange programs before, and it was a new experience for all of us.

In the airport: luggage restrictions and Erasmus bags

Once at the airport there was a queue of about 100 people with their carts, the ones with the “press here” bars to release the breaks, an airport classic. All of the carts were crammed with people’s belongings and luggage. Maybe it was just my feeling, but it seemed that everyone in Madrid airport was going on Erasmus too.

After a long while on the airport queue (I regretted not checking in the day before) I arrived to the counter and the nice lady from KLM asked me if I was on Erasmus and if I had a passport. In Finland – or many other countries for this matter – they are not used to see foreign IDs and they don’t really know what to do with them.

I put my luggage on the counter and learned that it was 10 kilos overweight. With a less friendly face, she told me that in Finland they would be less magnanimous than in Spain with this, but she let my 10 extra kilos pass without making me pay a fee. From other friend’s experiences, I would eventually learn that her advice was very true.

After that, I said goodbye to my family with a strange feeling taking hold of my body, just from seeing myself in such an overwhelming situation once again. I held my breath and went to the airport control.

On the airport, ready to take a flight
Me at the airport, back in the day, wearing a thick coat. Finland is cold.