I snapped this photo of a sign during a walk around Helsinki on Saturday morning.
I didn’t realize how far north Finland was. Helsinki is at 60 degrees north latitude which in North America would be Fort Smith, Northwest Territory in Canada. The city is only 400 miles from the arctic circle.
Being that far north must have an effect on the culture. They are the kings of the snow and cold. Finns are known for excellence in ski jumping, cross country skiing, and saunas. I learned that wood fired sauna is much better than an electric one. I am not sure if it has to do with the darkness and cold, but the alcoholism and suicide is a problem there.
The city is beautiful and clean. The country is Scandinavian in the sense that it is a social welfare state. Everyone I talked to appreciated the excellent public transportation, schools, and health care (all basically free). It differs from the rest of Scandinavia in the language as you see above. It is a difficult language to learn. It is more related Estonian and Hungarian than neighbor Sweden. There are only about 5 million Finns in the country and perhaps 6-7 million worldwide.
The trip had special significance to me as the ancestry on my mother’s side is Finnish. There is a significant enclave of Finnish immigrants in the western Upper Peninsula. It was funny to hear the correct pronunciation of last names such as Heikkila, Niemi, etc. I also learned that Wurtanen is the most common last name in the country. In researching my trip, I learned that Finland has the highest percentage of blonds in the world. Many of the young people I saw in the city also had rebellious hair cuts and piercings. The landscape and vegetation reminded me of northern Michigan, plenty of pine and birch trees, as well as rocky outcroppings. I see why the Finns settled this part of Michigan as they must have felt at home.
I hope to come back to Finland someday and travel in the north of the country.