Tampere: Finnish Sauna, Finnish Food and Finnish Snow!
Tampere resulted in a number of Finnish firsts for me: my first Finnish sauna, my first Finnish snow and my first taste of some of Finland’s distinctive food stuffs (you know, the stuff that graces Huffpost lists because it is quite unlike anything else on earth).
Much of this was entirely down to my wonderful friend Satu, who invited me to stay with her. She was keen to show me some Finnish culture during my visit.
After a quick buzz around the supermarket to pick up food she wanted me to try we took the bus to her apartment on the edge of the city, it was surrounded by forest with footpaths and cycle routes leading out into the trees.
Much of the afternoon was taken up drinking tea and chatting, with the northern winter night drawing near we decided it was too late to go sightseeing, instead we had a sauna.
I was super excited to try a sauna in Finland, I’d heard so much about them, and how such a huge part they play in Finnish culture, scratch that: they are Finnish culture!
Satu has a lovely, compact, one bedroom apartment, and she has her own private sauna. That’s pretty normal, every apartment her building had one! How awesome! Apparently there are more saunas than cars in Finland: just take a moment to think about that!
Of course, this wasn’t my first ever sauna, but I can’t compare the saunas that I’ve had in leisure centres in the UK with saunas in Finland. It is not the same.
For a start, you are naked. And this feels totally right, who wants to sweat buckets in a swimsuit? Urgh, not me, that’s for sure! I know some people find this a little weird and self-conscious, it’s not a terribly British thing to do, to be naked in company (not counting drunken streaking), but I’ve never been particularly shy about this sort of thing.
It was a wonderful experience, we sat in her cute little sauna and chatted away while the hot atmosphere did marvellous things to our well-being. After around twenty minutes we took a break, had a cold shower then went back in. I could totally see how amazing it would be to run out into the snow or lake, alas we were in a residential block and there was no snow!
In all, we were in the sauna for around 45 minutes, with the odd break to cool down in the shower or on her balcony. I felt very clean and super relaxed after it. Yes: consider this girl addicted to sauna now!
So, onto Finland’s weird food.
As a vegetarian, I was never going to be eating reindeer, or any of Finland’s fine fish dishes, but there was still plenty of things for me to try.
We began with Salmiakki: salted liquorice. I’m a fan of liquorice but I can tell you now, salmiakki takes some getting used to for the uninitiated!
Satu had bought an extra strong variety that, for me, was evil! I have since found a taste for the less extreme salmiakki, I brought a small box of Apteekin Salmiakki (apothecary salmiakki) back with me and I quite enjoy it now! The salty-ness comes from ammonium chloride and it is very much an acquired taste.
Later we had an eclectic meal of Finnish specialities:
Karjalanpiirakka: Karelian rice pasties made with a thin rye crust with a plain rice filling. Satu made munavoi (egg butter) to top them, a mashed mixture of boiled eggs and butter: delicious. She told me the pies were tricky and sticky to make, then hilariously explained how her grandmother taught her how to shape them: suffice to say ladies, how you shape your karjalanpirrakka should be very ‘personal’ to you.
I bought many Karelian pies after that, I even made my own munavoi in Helsinki! I say yes to the Karelian Pie!
Leipäjuusto: Cheese bread. I think cheese bread possibly sounds more exciting than it really is (there is no bread), nevertheless I think I could definitely get a taste for it. Basically, it’s a lot like unsalted halloumi cheese, that has been baked, and it’s served with cloudberry jam. The cloudberry jam is quite sour and the squeaky leipäjuusto needs it.
Pinaattiohukaiset: You can buy these little spinach pancakes ready-made in the supermarket in Finland, which is what we did and Satu served with tangy lingonberry jam. They’d be easy to replicate back home, a little trip to Ikea should bag me some lingonberry jam.
We ended the meal with Viili, which is stringy yogurt. The yoghurt is cultured and has a strange stringy consistency, all those added cultures are very good for you.
This doughnut kinda took me to Tampere in the first place, I’d discovered its existence on Pinterest and knew I had to try it: the pin declared it the best doughnut in the world!
Satu and I took the bus into Tampere then walked up to the Pyynikki Observation Tower, meeting her friend Tiina there.
Coffee and a Finnish doughnut: you need to go to Finland guys, you need to have kahvi ja munkki!
Imagine the tastiest ring doughnut you’ve ever had then imagine it laced with cardamom. I imagine it every day now.
The Pyynikki Tower stands high over Tampere and gives great views over the city and the two lakes it is sandwiched between.
We had our coffee and doughnuts then took the staircase up – there is a lift but we took the energetic option – to the top of the tower.
Tampere is known as the Manchester of Finland: the industrial revolution was introduced to Finland in the early 1800’s by a Scot named James Finlayson, he built a textile factory powdered by rapids between the lakes (one lake is higher than the other) and it was the fourth building in Europe to get electric lighting!
The smoking factory chimneys, on the grey wintry day we visited the tower, certainly had a look of Manchester about them yet the surrounding lakes and forests were distinctly, gloriously Finnish.
Tiina drove us down to the shoreline of one of the lakes, there was a swimming club and a sauna (of course), and a ramp that lead down to the icy waters.
A sign warned not to enter the ice hole alone – although the lake had yet to freeze over. Who would be crazy enough to when it did? Finns, that’s who! Tiina swims here every other day, throughout the year: I’m in awe of her!
The next morning I drew the curtains back to reveal a magical scene, it had snowed overnight and the world had been transformed!
We stood at the window, cups of tea in hand, watching the local kids playing in the snow, making snow angels. It seems that even Finnish children get excited by the first snow!
Satu taught me a new Finnish word: lumi – snow. What a beautiful word, lumi, lumi, lumi.
She also told me many of the other Finnish words for snow, some were beautifully descriptive.
We wrapped up and took a stroll along the footpaths leading off from her building, soon we were in peaceful forest, the trees heavy with fresh snow.
We walked and walked, passing the occasional small lake, eventually we came to a small ‘village hall’, with an adjacent sauna. Candles were burning and fairy lights twinkled, we thought there was going to be a children’s performance later on.
The air felt fresh and clean: this was the Finland I wanted to see!
On the walk back it started to get dark and the sky tinged with pink, it was sublime.
I took the train to Helsinki the next morning: it was wonderful gliding through the glistening, snow-covered landscape of southern Finland, it was magically beautiful.
Kaunis lumi. Oh Finland, I do believe I’m completely in love with you.
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By Rachel A Davis
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