Huskies, Hernekeitto and Helsinki: a British Girl’s Adventure in Finland.

For the average Brit, Finland may conjure up thoughts of snow, snow and more snow. Going in the summer, however, is an altogether different experience. The landscape will be peppered with wildflowers rather than snowflakes and lush green stretches of forest have a comfortable warmth about them. A summer trip to Finland invokes in the casual explorer feelings of boundless adventure; you might see a Moomin around the corner after all.

 545561_4893080648295_622532037_n
The Moomins are Finnish

According to travel agents, there is a growing trend of young European women travelling alone. I seem to be one of these women. I had befriended some Finns whilst on a solo trip to Nicaragua after one of them fell out of a hammock and exclaimed: “We don’t have hammocks in Finland!” We trekked together through the Nicaraguan jungle and became solid friends. They left me with some funny memories, a passion for salmiakki, the Finnish salty liquorice sweet, and an invitation to Helskinki.

 47172_4893216891701_599364390_n
The land of the lakes

A year later, feeling the need for adventure during the long summers of freedom from university, I embarked on an August adventure to Finland’s capital on a budget. I had read up a little on the culture, food and customs but if I am really honest my extent of Nordic culture stretched little further than a few trips to Ikea. Now I am ashamed to admit my ignorance, as during my stay I discovered a vibrant and rich cultural tapestry coloured with cuisine and textured with folklore. I stayed in a big, colourful shared house in Metsälä. The housemates were students of art and Finnish folklore. During my stay I was told that in the neighbourhood on certain days all the residents would cook traditional meals and sell them from their kitchen windows. I was taken to a flea market nearby; the locals bring out their unwanted clothes and items to sell rather than throwing them away. I snapped up some bargains and for just a few Euros bought myself some beautiful suede boots and a quirky tweed waistcoat.  A sense of community shone through my impression of Finland.

 397284_4893013086606_1630317725_n
A park in Metsälä

We  piled into Patrik’s car and set off on a road trip to a lake near Lahti. I had been told that all Finnish people had ‘treehouses’ but on our arrival at the lake house in the forest, I realised there had been a translation error. It was a cabin made of wood; not quite an English notion of a playhouse up in the trees. Long days of boating on the lake, relaxing in the sauna and eating Korvapuusti. I could get very used to the Finnish lifestyle.

 540809_4892971405564_1749958388_n
The lakehouse sauna

 540846_4893246492441_85616379_n
Traditional Finnish building

My next adventure was something a little different. I waved goodbye to my friends, packed off with yet more delicious salmiakki. I boarded a flight to Rovaniemi and watched the landscape below me ebb and flow until we reached reindeer country. I was in the Arctic Circle to volunteer on a husky farm through http://www.workaway.info

The idea behind workaway is to exchange some of your time and hard work to help a project or business in return for food and accommodation. When selecting projects make sure you speak enough with the host beforehand to ascertain exactly what is expected of you. Intuition is important and if the host comes across as rude via email or phone just don’t go. They’re unlikely to get any better in real life and if you’re working for free there is only so much you can put up with. I’ve experienced the fantastic to the slave driving to the downright weird. It’s maybe a bit of a case of hit and miss but the general knack is if you don’t like somewhere don’t bother sticking it out just to be polite; it’s your trip don’t waste it.

 561913_4892968725497_1318556887_n
Finnish confectionery

On our journey up the long, sweeping highway north my coordinator gave me local knowledge tips about road safety. “You don’t want to see a moose when you’re driving because the next thing you know, they’ll be in the boot.”

 247743_4893079328262_690790586_n

Finnish nature

Approaching the husky kennels for the first time, I was a little apprehensive. These big, loud creatures almost rattle your eardrums with their piercing presence. That was my impression until I was introduced to Zsa Zsa, the leader of the pack. A tiny Lapphund, the size of a Spaniel, waddled up to me wagging her tail. She licked my hand and the other bigger dogs whimpered into silence. The leader had spoken and I was allowed to enter the home of the gentle giants.

 554040_4893108328987_989286219_n

The kennels

Zsa Zsa, the ‘not-so-scary’ leader of the pack

Each day we cleaned the kennels, fed the dogs (no small feat) and exercised them. By exercise I mean strapping yourself to a harness and having an incredibly powerful animal take you on a hair-raising two kilometre sprint through the woods.

 486788_4893231492066_1466015733_n

The kennels

 320328_4893254292636_1847667279_n

‘Walking’ the huskies

I left Finland with a revitalised passion for life and travel; I had discovered things about a vibrant culture which I hadn’t known anything of previously. As I boarded the plane thoughts of Marimekko, great lakes, reindeer, lingonberries and hot saunas whirled around my head to the tune of a Finnish folklore song, sung by moonlight by my host on a warm summer’s evening in Helsinki.

 424690_4892993086106_747680752_n

A Finnish forest

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s