Whenever someone asks me “So, how was Finland?”, I take a deep breath and start ranting.
To save breath, I’ll rant a bit about it here and just direct people to read the artic… oh who am I kidding — I’m going to take a deep breath again. But here’s the digital version.
Our flight arrived at Helsinki airport on a Sunday morning. The first thing I noticed was lots of trees. I mean, Croatia has lots of trees to so I wasn’t surprised, but this was dense forest right next to the airport — it was a bit strange, but in a good way.
When the airport bus took us to the terminal, I noticed a rock protruding from an airport building. No, it was not a bunch of old demolished concrete, it was a huge piece of granite rock. Natural. Growing out of smooth grey concrete. This was the first of many I would notice.
I’ll make the boring bit about where we went short, to save space for ranting.
We spent the afternoon micro-sightseeing around Helsinki center, then took a train to Tampere. In the evening we went on a short walk around Tampere center, then to the hotel. The week was spent mostly in the office, at lunch and in Tampere center, walking around, taking pictures and telling all about it to my wife on the phone. At about noon Friday we took a flight to Stockholm, then to Zagreb, where I was welcomed by bits of Croatia I had so happily forgotten.
Everywhere we went we saw projects being succesfully on their way or already finished. Nice-looking, well-designed things.
Like the restaurant-sauna-pool complex in Helsinki harbor. Or the train to Tampere which was ordinary-looking (except for cool double-decker scenery cars) but was actually very quiet and very fast.
Those nice-looking (and often very large) projects are all interspersed with artsy modern-world stuff, like wall murals, abstract sculptures and stalls with cartoon-animal wool caps (and by cartoon I don’t mean Disney or Nickelodeon, just the opposite). And bicycles. Bicycles everywhere.
We left Helsinki only to see that Tampere has more Finland to show us.
For those of you exhausted by my meandering, I will get to the point. What’s so good about Finland?
- Art & Design
All the food was tasty. All the food was high-quality, made from fresh ingredients, for the price barely 2 times the Croatian price (and Finns have about 3 times the salary).
Everywhere there are salad bars, even in grocery stores. Lots of food choices, all high-quality.
Granted, the only authentic Finnish cuisine I tried was Karelian pasty(everyone *has* to try it before they die!), but all the food I ate was so much better than back home!
When I saw the fruit shelf in an ordinary local store I was dumbfounded. Large colorful pieces of fruit, without a smudge on them. Then I remembered the fruit shelves in Croatia — all fruit is class 2, as if by state law. You have to go to a farmers market to find higher quality fruit.
2. Art & Design
Beautiful buildings. Ordinary purpose (like residential blocks) but executed with such care for detail and aesthetic.
Glass. Glass everywhere. I guess it’s because of the dark winter, but still — coming from Croatia I wasn’t used to seeing so much glass, it was beautiful.
Time after time I got the impression that everything is built for humans to live, not as some architect’s statement about his/her accomplishment.
It’s like they tried their best to maximise nice-to-live levels.
And mixed together with the planned and expertly designed is the spontaneous, street-level ordinary-folk art. Wall murals everywhere.
I mentioned forest and rock. Not really something to rant about out of context. So I’ll try to give you some context.
You’re in a city of almost 300,000 people. You walk around. Buildings, shops, pavement, bus stops, cliff, bike path, forest, school, lake … wait, what?
When they build a city, this is what Finns do (really, I asked one): They clear up spaces for buildings and roads. The spaces they want for recreation (like parks) they just leave untouched. Not a truck goes there during the whole construction phase. Not a tree gets ruffled in those zones. Wilderness. In the middle of the city.
Being a parent of two, I couldn’t help to think how awesome would it be to raise kids here. Go out of the house — playground. Go around the block — forest.
Congratulations, virtual traveler, you have reached the last section of this travelogue.
Talking about a nation is very tricky. Of course not all Finns are like described in this section, but there is a common culture in the country, as in all other countries.
This is my attempt to describe it.
Calm, humble and quiet passion to strive towards a better life. Matter-of-fact consideration for other people — family, friends, neighbours or strangers on the street.
An overall “everything will be fine” attitude, but not the Mediterranean “no worries in the world” kind where you just put your feet up and wait for the money from your Zimmer Frei to roll in (or more recently, from state welfare). Rather, everything will be fine because we will think, work and help through all our problems.
This was (and still is) maybe the strangest thing for me to observe, coming from Croatia, where the culture is somewhat different.
I am not a winter-lover so I don’t know about living there through the cold dark winter night (I’ll have to try) but northern climate aside, this is the best country I have ever visited.