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Helsinki, Finland

Story written by Rick Archer
November 2012

Finland is a marvelous Scandinavian country located in a remote corner of  civilization. 

Unfortunately, the Finns don't get many visitors.  The climate is so fierce in the far north that there isn't a great deal of traffic. 

In a sense, Sweden and Estonia are Finland's only real neighbors. However, Finland is separated from both countries by water.

For the most part, if the Finns want to go somewhere, they rely on ferries that make daily shuttles between Sweden to the west and Estonia to the south.

Finland does actually have one other neighbor, some obscure country to the east known as "Russia". 

However, Russia is not known to be a particularly friendly country.  Based on centuries of cruel Russian domination, today most Finns regard Russia with an uneasy fear. 

Finland won its independence from Russia in 1917.  The head of Finland was the Russian Tsar.  When Russian rebels assassinated Tsar Nicholas, in a legal sense Finland no longer had a head of state. 

While Russia was fighting its own Revolution, Finland had a brief civil war of its own.  The people loyal to the Russian crown were defeated and Finland was now free of Russia. 

Finland chose to become a democracy.


During the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Finland was caught between a rock and a hard spot.  It had Stalin and the Soviets on the east and Hitler and the Nazis on the west.  Finland was pro-West at the time.  But the rise of Germany effectively cut off Finland from the West.  Finland was surrounded.

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939. The pact was nominally a non-aggression treaty, but it included a secret protocol in which the Eastern European countries were divided into spheres of interest. Finland fell into the Soviet sphere.

In 1939, two months after Germany initiated World War II with its attack on Poland, Russia decided to invade Finland.  The stated reason for the conflict was to ensure greater security for Leningrad, the Soviet name for St Petersburg.

The Soviet Union had decided to reconquer the provinces of Tsarist Russia lost during the 1917 October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1918. The Soviet Union demanded parts of Finish territory for security reasons, primarily to protect the city of Leningrad which was very close to the Finnish border.

The Soviet forces did not accomplish their objective of the total conquest of Finland, but it did gain substantial territory along Lake Ladoga, providing a buffer for Leningrad.  The League Nations was outraged and labeled this an "illegal attack". The Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations.

When Hitler decided to break the treaty and attack Russia in 1941, Finland had suddenly found the strangest ally of all… Germany! In a classic situation of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", the Finns found themselves siding with the Nazis of all people.

Finland declared war on Russia as well and began to counter-attack.

Germany headed straight for Leningrad, the Communist name for St. Petersburg, which is situated right on the southeastern Finnish border. As the Germans moved in on Leningrad from the south, Finland moved in from the north.  The Soviet Union was completely overmatched.  Finland quickly regained its lost territory.

However, the joint Finnish-German offensive stopped at the edge of Leningrad where the Soviets had decided to make their stand.  To attack Leningrad would be to invite severe losses. 

The Germans initiated a siege.  The German siege of Leningrad lasted for 872 days!  

The siege was a horrible event that resulted in the deaths of some one million of the city's inhabitants. In the process, the few who did survive practically starved to death… it was so bad that humans devoured, well, I won't say it. It was remarkable that the Russians held on as long as they did. The siege of Leningrad became the most lethal siege in world history.

Meanwhile Finland was put in a terrible predicament. They hated the Russians, but they hated the Nazis too!  The Finns couldn't make up their minds what to do. Finnish troops controlled the areas north the city but refused to attack for two and a half years.  Furthermore they refused to let Germans use those areas for attack either.  All the Finns did was protect territory that had originally been theirs before 1939.

To this day, the argument whether Finland should have helped Russia during the siege or refused to help remains a deeply controversial subject. After all, troops from Leningrad had subjugated and murdered the Finns in 1940 right before the German invasion. Finland was certainly in no mood to come to the aid of the now-wounded aggressor. 

Apparently Russia didn't see it that way.  The Soviets ignored Finland's neutrality.  The Soviets conveniently overlooked the fact that Leningrad would have fallen without Finland's tacit complicity.

As the Soviet Army got stronger, in 1944 Russia began to counter-attack the Finns.  Soviet air forces conducted air raids on Helsinki and other major Finnish cities. Eventually the Soviet strategic offensive in the summer of 1944 drove the Finns from most of the territories they had gained during the war, but the Finnish Army later fought it to a standstill in July 1944. A cease-fire ended hostilities.

The Paris peace treaty concluded the war formally in 1947.

The story of Finland and Russia during World War II was a very strange situation where a big bully meets an even bigger bully, then acts surprised when the badly abused bleeding kid next door refuses to come to their aid.

After the war, Russia, still bitter about the licking they took in Leningrad from the Germans while the Finns stood by watching, basically stole about 10% of Finland's land near Leningrad as punishment, then set the country free in disgust.

Finland ceded Petsamo and Karelia and paid $226,500,000 in reparations to the Soviet Union. In return, Finland retained its independence.  It was easier just to give up the territory than to keep fighting the powerful Russian bear that now seemed hell-bent on a path to international domination.  Give the Devil his due and ask him to go away.


Today's Russian-Finnish Border

Unlike the open borders that characterize free travel to and from the other European countries, Russia still guards its borders with intensity.

Why is this? What is Russia afraid of? Well, apparently Russia has a big problem - some of its citizens want to leave the country.

Russia isn't happy about that at all.

During the Soviet era, there was a security fence along the entire border

The fence was monitored closely throughout the Cold war. Stretching 620 miles between Russia and Finland, there were armed guards that regularly patrolled. They would shoot first and ask questions later.

Since then, things have improved a little bit. These days, the fence along the Finnish border is no longer quite so intimidating. Nor is it so well guarded.  Or is it?

These days the border is guarded with security cameras, not soldiers.

The turning point came when Finland agreed to send back all the Russians who escaped.  Since no one gets out of Finland by foot and swimming to Estonia is out of the question, Finland is basically nothing more than a giant trap. Sooner or later all Russian escapees get discovered by the Finnish authorities. 

Since getting caught in Finland means automatically getting returned to Russia and sent to Siberia, Russia no longer has much to worry about.  It is fairly useless to bother to escape unless some Finnish family is willing to shelter a refugee.

Even though the borders are open now, the fence still partly remains.  It is still forbidden according to Russian law to pass the border except through a border station.  However hunters cross the border from time to time without penalty (unless they are caught by the hidden cameras).

Since there are so many people with relatives on either side of the border, there is sporadic traffic between the countries.  However the crossing is tense like the US-Mexico border, not relaxed like the undefended US-Canadian border. 

For the record, the US and Canada share the longest undefended border in the world.  I guess we can all be thankful we have our Canadian friends to the north and not Russia.

As Karin, our travel guide, put it, she could visit Russia if she wanted to, but no one in Finland actually wants to visit the place for any reason other than business. 

Karin claims Russia is such a lousy place to live that even the Russian bears try to escape to Finland.  She said the Russians even demand the Finns return the bears too. 

I think she was kidding.

Notes on a divided Europe from the Finnish frontier

13 June 2012, Financial Times

Greetings from Lappeenranta, in eastern Finland!

Everyone is talking about the euro crisis, and the divisions between northern and southern Europe.

But another European border is more evident here. The frontier between eastern and western Europe has been bitterly contested for centuries.

In the 20th century, argument over the location of that border cost upwards of a 100m lives. Timothy Snyder’s recent book, Bloodlands, recounts the tragedy of the contested areas in horrific detail.

From 1948 to 1989, the border was as far west as it has ever reached following Russia’s victory in the Great Patriotic War.

Today the border has shuffled far to the east.

America won the cold war and many Soviet satellite states were rapidly welcomed into the EU. But the line remains uneasy. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia seem fully attached to the western side, while Hungary is regressing towards totalitarianism. Several states further east are still uneasy partners in the new Europe.

The Finnish border is an anomaly. In 1918 the Finns won independence for a state that extended to the gates of St Petersburg. Russia captured territory in the 1939-40 Winter War. Finland fought on the losing side in the second world war and remained neutral in the cold war. So the once thriving Finnish industrial city of Viipuri is today the depressed Russian outpost of Vyborg.

A cynical commentator on 20th-century history might observe that the political ineptitude of Kaiser Wilhelm and subsequently of Adolf Hitler brought America in on the opposite side of Germany’s quarrel with Russia in 1917 and 1941. Only when the democratic politicians of modern Germany made the rational alliance did Finland achieve the favorable political and economic outcomes it now enjoys.

To pass the watchtowers and barbed-wire fences on the Finnish-Russian border is to be reminded of how fragile, and how recent, are the stability and security Finland takes for granted today.

The razor wire kept Russian citizens in when the living standards of planned societies and market economies diverged. But now the border is easy to cross and the gap in per capita income has narrowed, though not by much. The very different income distributions of egalitarian Finland and inegalitarian Russia can be seen in the car parks and designer shops of Lappeenranta.

In the Soviet era, Finland produced Marimekko; Russia made no clothes any fashion-conscious woman would want to buy. Post-Communist but still autocratic Russia made surveillance equipment; democratic Finland led the world in mobile phones. Today Russia’s geeks hack into your bank account, while those of Finland develop Angry Birds.

The pristine countryside of Finland contrasts with the degraded physical state of much of Russia: a demonstration of the unexpected finding that regulated democratic capitalism preserves the environment more successfully than any other system of government.

The Bus Ride to Porvoo

Several members of our SSQQ group signed up for a bus ride into the Finnish countryside to visit the town of Porvoo.  The trip took about an hour.

We discovered we had an extremely entertaining tour guide.  Karin was a well-dressed, highly confident woman who possessed a sharp tongue.  You might say Karin was opinionated, but she had such a clever way of making her points that I found her very interesting.  Her acid comments made the bus ride to Porvoo go much faster.

So who exactly did Karin pick on?  Well, Russia was not spared in the least.  Russia was described as the two ton bully that no one likes.  She depicted Russia as a cynical, suspicious, loveless, dog-eat-dog society.  Even to this day, its people are terrified of authority, scared to speak up, and haunted by memories of the Cold War era where the citizens were terrorized by the secret police.

Karin clearly did not like Russia one bit.  In her mind, she could not think of a single reason to visit the place.  She concluded that vodka is the only thing that keeps the misery in check for many in this godforsaken land.  I think she was serious.


Karin had lots to say about Sweden too. 

Sweden is Finland's major rival in the world.  The two countries compete in everything, especially in sports. 

Ice hockey is the main event in this part of the world.  Karin frowned because Sweden usually has the upper hand due to its larger population.  An estimated 5.4 million people live in Finland. 

Sweden's population of 9.5 million isn't crowded by the standards of the rest of the world, but that's a big difference in the eyes of the Finns.

Since Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe in terms of area, it is easily the most sparsely populated country in the European Union.

I found it interesting to note that both Norway and Denmark also have populations around 5.5 million people. 

Given Sweden's traditional dominance in ice hockey, Karin was especially happy to explain that Finland is now the current world champion.  And guess who they beat in the Finals?  Yeah, I know, the picture probably gave it away.

Karin beamed as she pointed out Finland didn't just "Win", they absolutely crushed their arch rivals for the victory.

I can certainly see why she is proud.  Apparently the Swedes enjoy a 40-11 advantage over Finland.  For that matter, Finland has only won the World Championship twice.  Their last victory came 17 years ago in 1995. 

By and large, Karin wasn't too hard on Sweden.  She just said that Finland gets tired of being the underdog all the time.  On the other hand, while the Swedes are their greatest rivals in the world, they are also Finland's best friends.  The two countries operate like bickering brothers.

Finland and the Sauna

Karin's favorite subject was "Sauna".  She made it very clear that Americans do not pronounce it correctly.  The Finns call it "Sow-na" like a pig sow, not "Saw-na".  For some reason, Karin was quite particular that we get this right.  She asked us to repeat it several times.  I could not help but wonder if she was a former school teacher.

Karin made it clear that the tradition of "Sauna" belongs to Finland and NOT to Sweden.  Any Swede who claims the Sauna started in Sweden is a big liar. I told you Karin didn't mince words!

Finland is one of the world's wealthiest nations. Poverty is almost unheard of.  Its citizens have a per capita income of $49,349. Finland has built an extensive welfare state to care for its people. It is a European leader in economics and politics.  Karin groused that wealthy Finland is basically paying the bills for profligate Greece, the European bad boy.  With the best educational system in Europe according to some measures, the Finnish people are extremely well-informed.  Finland enjoys its high rank as one of the world's most peaceful and livable countries.

As a consequence of all this affluence, everybody who is anybody owns a country house on the lake.  And each lake house invariably has a sauna.

Saunas play an integral part in the way of life in Finland. They are found on the shores of Finland's numerous lakes as well as in city homes and private apartments. The sauna is an important part of the national identity.  Those who have the opportunity usually take a sauna at least once a week. The traditional sauna day is Saturday.  Karin explained that the Finns have built an entire lifestyle around the Sauna.  Families take turns visiting each other's sauna.

Karin explained that a typical Sauna Saturday revolves around sausage, beer, sauna, lake. They will spend an entire day rotating between sausage and beer, sweating in the sauna, then jumping in the freezing lake to cool off.  Then they start the cycle all over again... all day long. 

Although everyone is supposed to go in there naked, apparently there is very little hanky panky that takes place.  I wouldn't know.  I am just reporting what Karin told us.  I read on the Internet that men and women typically don't go in together but rather take turns. 

Karin also had something to say about birch leaves that are used in saunas to slap oneself to promote blood circulation and cleanse the skin.

I was quietly going to sleep about this point in the conversation when Karin brought me back to full alert with a bizarre story.  She talked about a recent sauna endurance competition that left one man dead and another in a coma.  Karin's story was so weird that I thought she was either joking or at the very least wildly exaggerating. The whole idea was preposterous.

However, when I came back home I was astonished to find Karin had told the story exactly as it occurred.  As it turns out, the Finns have a well-deserved reputation for quirky contests. The sauna endurance event was another of those strange Finnish sports - along with mobile phone throwing, wife-carrying, and swamp football - that periodically nudge the country across the international news threshold whenever journalists have nothing better to write about.

Sauna endurance contests began back in 1999.  The Finns have won practically every year.  The sauna is typically heated to 110°.  A pint of water is added to the stove every 30 seconds to create intense steam.  The last person to remain in the sauna is the winner. This sport is not for sissies.  Amateurs usually give up after 3 minutes in complete despair.  The victor lasts about 12 minutes.

On 7 August 2010, both Vladimir Ladyzhensky, the Russian finalist and former third-place finisher, as well as Timo Kaukonen, Finnish five-time champion, passed out after just six minutes in the sauna. 

The contestants are supposed to give a thumbs up signal every 20 seconds or so.  When the judges did not see either man move, they panicked.  They opened the door, rushed in and dragged both men out.  They were horrified to discover the Russian was already dead.

Kaukonen, the defending world champion, was in bad shape too. He suffered burns all over his body.    The Finnish man took this competition so seriously that he had nearly killed himself trying to outlast a dead man! He had refused to leave the sauna despite getting sick. Kaukonen simply refused to quit. Of course he had no idea the poor man was dead.

Kaukonen was rushed to the hospital. His condition was described as critical, but stable.  He was placed into a medical coma to help him withstand the pain.  Kaukonen woke up from the coma two months after the event. His respiratory system was scorched, 70% of his skin was burnt and eventually his kidneys failed as well. However, Kaukonen was a tough guy.  Once he regained consciousness, he was reported to be recovering quickly.

After the tragedy, people began to ask questions.  What went wrong?  No one was sure.  Typically the contest is over at 12 minutes, but these men had only made it to 6 minutes!! 

Just a few minutes before the finals, Kaukonen had told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that the saunas used for the 2010 championship were a lot more extreme than the saunas used for previous competitions.  However, his observation was not confirmed.

The judges measured the temperature, but found nothing wrong. The temperatures inside were no different than previous competitions. Furthermore, when the police investigated, they could find nothing wrong either.  No one was ever charged of any wrong-doing.  It was ruled an accidental death.

Ironically, since both men were disqualified for not leaving the sauna unaided, third-place finisher Ilkka Pöyhiä became the winner.

There is a very strange footnote to this story.  Ladyzhensky, the Russian, had tried to cheat. His autopsy concluded his death was aided by strong painkillers and local anesthetic grease on his skin. 

Apparently the Russian had tried to cheat by using drugs plus external creams that would reduce the pain. This in turn kept his pores from operating properly.  The Russian's gimmick directly contributed to his death.

The "Darwin Awards" people chortled. To their twisted way of thinking, this guy had done society a favor by removing himself from the gene pool.  Obviously these people never saw the pictures of the charred skin.  If they had, maybe they wouldn't have laughed so loud.

I have one last thing to add: I was shocked to discover that 110° was not what I thought it was.  I have walked in Memorial Park at 100°, so I know this temperature is searing.  But then I figured it out:  that's 110° Centigrade.  The sauna temperature was actually 230° Fahrenheit!!

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  Walking into that sauna had to feel like walking into Hell or climbing into your own personal pizza oven and closing the door.  These Finnish people are a strange breed indeed. 


After Karin finished telling us about Russia, Sweden, ice hockey and sauna, next she moved on to Denmark.  Karin was miffed that the Danes are always bragging about the study that showed Danish people are the happiest people in the world. 

In April 2012, a 158-page report published by Columbia University's Earth Institute reported that Denmark had taken the top spot on the United Nation's first ever World Happiness Report, followed by Finland, Norway and the Netherlands.

Karin, obviously a highly competitive woman, noted that Finland had finished in the second place. She felt robbed. She said this conclusion was a mistake.  Karin stated, "Everyone knows that Denmark has one of the highest suicide rates in the world!  How can those Columbia people arrive at such a ridiculous decision?"

I laughed. Talk about sour grapes!  Maybe I should have reminded Karin that she could have been born in Botswana, Africa, a habitual last-place finisher in this study. 

As it turns out, there is an odd twist to this story.  When I went to research Karin's remarks, I learned that a new study has dethroned Denmark.  Denmark is no longer the happiest country in the world.  I am sure that would make Karin happy.

Actually, Karin may have gotten it right.  According to a new global happiness measurement, the "Happy Planet Index",
Denmark is far from being happy!  Surprisingly, in this study, the typical happy frontrunner is now ranked 110th.

Costa Rica is the new leader.  The Costa Ricans have been declared the merriest in a list of 151 countries. Woowee!

In second place, Vietnam!  Vietnam??  Yup, Vietnam.  I was about to shrug my shoulders and move on, but then I decided to take a second look at the rest of the countries. 

I guess my first clue that this new study borders on the absurd came when I saw Jamaica listed in Sixth Place.  Hey mon, no way!

Oh sure, the travel commercials depict the Jamaicans as a bunch of carefree "don't worry be happy" reggae singers full of dance and joy.  However, one look at the giant potholes in the streets gives a much different picture. I suspect the Jamaicans smoke weed for the same reasons as the Russians drink vodka.  This poverty-stricken Caribbean island has one of the lowest standards of living I have ever seen. Everywhere I go, there are beggars in great need.

In fact, this whole list is weird.  Third place Colombia is the drug-infested cocaine capital of the world.  Home to Pablo Escobar, Colombia has seen some of the worst violence in the Western hemisphere.  Haven't these people heard of FARC, the Colombian leftist rebels who have kidnapped countless innocent people, assassinated others, and engaged the government in 50 years of guerilla warfare?

Belize is dirt poor.  So is Honduras.  The toughest gangs in LA come from El SalvadorBangladesh is one of the most over-populated, underfed countries in the world.  Millions die every year due to flooding in the rainy season.  Pakistan is home to the worst terrorists in the world.  Are these Happiness people out of their minds? 

Gee, I think I'm starting to sound like Karin.

Happiest countries on the planet (score):

1. Costa Rica (64.0)
2. Vietnam (60.4)
3. Colombia (59.8)
4. Belize (59.3)
5. El Salvador (58.9)

6. Jamaica (58.5)
7. Panama (57.8)
8. Nicaragua (57.1)
9. Venezuela (56.9)
9. Guatemala (56.9)

11. Bangladesh (56.3)
12. Cuba (56.2)
13. Honduras (56.0)
14. Indonesia (55.5)
15. Israel (55.2)

16. Pakistan (54.1)
16. Argentina (54.1)
16. Albania (54.1)
19. Chile (53.9)
20. Thailand (53.5)

Finnish Husbands

Here is a picture of a Finnish wife carrying contest.  We will get to that story shortly. 

Given that Karin had an opinion on everything, it was no surprise to any of us when she eventually got around to discussing Finnish men, a group that includes Finnish husbands as well.

According to Karin, there are two basic themes when discussing Finnish men... they are taciturn and they are stupid.  Karin sprinkled her conversation with jokes to illustrate her point.

Q: How do you know when a Finnish man is madly in love with his wife?

A: He almost tells her.

Here's another one.

Jukka wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so he asked his father how to do it.

"Father, what did you say to Mother?" asked Jukka.


"I know that, but what words did you use?"

Here is one Karin told that actually made me smile.

The Finnish wife couldn't take her husband's perpetual silence any more, so she orders him to go see their  minister together. 

The wife tells the Minister, "Herkko, my husband, he never speaks to me!  I don't think he loves me anymore!"

The minister looks at Herkko, "Is this true?"

Without saying a word, the husband shakes his head no.  The minister is confused by the response.

"Don't believe him!" the wife blurts out, "He hasn't told me he loves me in 25 years!"

The minister says, "Herkko, is this true?"

Exasperated, Herkko clears his throat and speaks up.

"On the day we married 25 years ago, I told my wife I loved her.  And I promised her I would let her know if anything changed."


When it comes to studying Finland's romantic rituals, nothing can be much stranger than the bizarre wife-carrying competitions.  This tradition definitely began in Finland.

Not surprisingly, Karin had something to say on the matter. 

She theorized that the Finnish wife-carrying tradition is a 'throwback' (small pun) to the days of the caveman. 

That's when a brute would find a woman, grab her by the hair, and haul her off to his cave kicking and screaming.

Karin postulated that since Finnish men have absolutely no social skills, the only way they could get a woman was to steal one.  This meant they had to raid remote villages, throw a woman on their back and travel long distances. 

I asked why long distances?  Karin replied that if it was a short distance, then the captured woman would surely escape and try to find her way back home. 

Karin added with a smile that over the centuries, genetic selection favored any man who could carry a woman for miles on his back.  Hence modern Finland is populated with men who don't talk and have a secret urge to throw their wives on their backs!

Listening to Karin, I wasn't sure if she was teasing or serious.  She didn't seem to hold Finnish men in much regard.  However, at the same time, Karin was genuinely proud of her country and its oddball traditions.  Karin clearly understood that Finland is "different".  She didn't mind entertaining us with anecdotes that poked gentle fun at her country's unique culture. 

I got the sense that Finland feels isolated from the rest of the world.  Finland is pretty much all on its own in this remote corner of civilization.  Take Copenhagen for example. Denmark sits right at the crossroads between continental Europe and Scandinavia.  Cars from Germany can actually drive across Denmark into Sweden and vice versa.  All shipping to and from the Baltic Sea has to pass through Denmark.  Over the centuries, Copenhagen has become a "party town" due to all the constant traffic.  Today Copenhagen serves as the unofficial social capital of Europe. 

Unfortunately for Finland, it takes serious work for any visitor to make it all the way over here.  Karin admitted that practically no one emigrates to Finland even though it is a country with many blessings.   Alas, when given the choice between the sun-kissed coastlines of the Mediterranean countries and the frozen forests of Finland, Karin is realistic.  She believes the ever-present cold, the harsh climate, and the feelings of isolation pose a real hardship for anyone who did not grow up with this Nordic lifestyle.

Karin said that during the winter, it's really tough to get out and about.  That's when the isolation can get to a person.  Obviously one of the ways to cope with the loneliness and the admitted national tendency toward silence is to develop a quirky sense of humor. 


After an hour's ride, we finally made it to the village of Porvoo.  As the pictures show, Porvoo is a lovely countryside hamlet situated on the banks of a river. 

As it turned out, there was nothing particularly dramatic to see.  No gardens, no parks, no ruins, just comfy houses and lots of shops.  Porvoo is attractive, but not spectacular.

Most of us spent the morning wandering around and visiting the various shops.  I bought a moose; Marla bought an ornament.  Then it was time for a lovely walk.  Believe it or not, we were late back to the bus.  Shockingly, it wasn't even my fault. 



The highlight of our day took place at lunch.  We were taken to a country estate that had a restaurant down in a dark, windowless wine cellar.

Talk about atmosphere!  This cozy, candle-lit dining room was wonderful.  In addition, the food was awesome. Best of all, they served beer! 

Pretty soon we were all smiling. 

That's Marsha, Sandra in black, Velma with the hat, Marla, Susan, and Wendy.

This was the perfect chance for us to hang out together.  We had a ball. The seven of us had spent a lot of time together back in Copenhagen. 

Our little group would go on to share tomorrow in St Petersburg and the following day in Tallinn, Estonia, as well.  By the end of the trip, we were a tight-knit group.

Here are some pictures of the estate and the surrounding farm lands.


Rock Church

After lunch, we drove back to Helsinki.  We were dropped off at a very unique church that was carved out of rock.

The Temppeliaukio 'Rock Church' is one of Finland's most popular tourist attractions.

It is also one of the most respected examples of modern architecture in Helsinki.

Quarried out of the natural bedrock, the church is bathed in natural light which enters through a glazed dome.

The church is frequently used as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics.

I thought the place was very cool.  As churches go, a big thumbs up for this place.

Aha, a picture of the Gang outside the Rock Church. 

This was a fun day.


Helsinki Church

Our final stop of the day took us to the impressive Helsinki Church.

This magnificent structure towers high above the cityscape thanks to being built on a hill.  No flooding problem for this structure. 

There are about 80 steps in that picture.  I remember some serious huffing and puffing during my climb to the top.  It was worth it.  What a view!

The church overlooks a magnificent square below.  The Square was very busy. Take note of all the tour buses surrounding the square.

This was our last stop of the day. 


This statue of Russian Tsar Alexander II rests in the giant square below the Helsinki Church.  Alexander is known as "The Good Tsar" here in Finland.  

Due to its sparse population, the Finnish people were easily subjugated by both Sweden and Russia throughout its early history.  Finland was just a mere pawn as these two superpowers took turns telling the Finns what to do. 

Alexander gave Finland a great deal of autonomy during his reign from 1855-1881.  He strongly encouraged the people to speak their own language and develop their own national identity. 

Finland would eventually break free from Russia during the 1917 Russian Revolution.

According to Karin, Alexander was right to tell the Finns to become their own nation, but he should have encouraged them to adopt a different language.

Today everyone agrees the Finnish language is one of the most difficult tongues in the world to learn.  Karin suggests the language is so hard that the men can't figure it out.  That's why they never say anything.  Ouch.

While we were at the Rock Church, Karin told me a complicated joke about the legendary dopiness of the Finnish men.  I didn't completely understand the joke at the time, but I was able to find it on the Internet.

The Finns were busy fighting the Russians; each army was entrenched not far from the other.  It had been quiet lately; no shots had been exchanged for some time.

The Russians were getting tired of this.  They wanted to go home.  So they devised a plan.  Since 'Toivo' was a common Finnish name, a Russian soldier would shout "Toivo!" out loud.

The plan worked.  Every time a Russian soldier would shout "Toivo!", some ignorant Finnish soldier named Toivo would respond by standing up, giving a salute and answering "Ya?"

Then he would be shot by a Russian sniper.

This happened several times before the Finns finally caught on. The Finns decided to use the same trick.  They would shout out "Ivan!".  Surely there would be some Russian soldier named Ivan who would stand up and let them shoot him. 

So a Finnish soldier shouted "Ivan!"

From the Russian trench, a voice yelled back, "Hey, is that you, Toivo?"

Toivo immediately stood up.  "Ya!  How did you know?"


I thought this was a strange story. 

Karin shared it with me while we were waiting for the group to finish exploring the Rock Church.  I wasn't quite sure why Karin told it to me.  I knew we had a rapport of sorts since I had asked her several questions throughout the day.  Maybe she was just killing time.

Based on the punch line and her earlier riff about the silence of the Finnish men, I was left with the impression that Karin didn't hold the men of her country in particular high regard. 

It is strange how one person like Karin can shape my perception of this entire country. Now I wondered if all the women of Finland dominate their passive men or whether Karin was an exception. She definitely had a strong personality. I could see any man being intimidated by her sharp tongue, including me.

Karin had chewed Marla and me out for returning to the bus late when we were in Porvoo.  In all my years, I don't recall any guide addressing me with the intensity Karin used. 

Despite this odd ending to the day, I will remember Karin as one of the most interesting tour guides I have come across.  She would stand in stark contrast to the incompetent tour guide we would have tomorrow in Saint Petersburg.

Helsinki was by and large a very pleasant day for me.  Nothing too exciting, but fun nonetheless.  Sandwiched between my big day yesterday in Stockholm and my big day tomorrow in Saint Petersburg, this was the perfect way to get a little rest.

Next Story: St. Petersburg, Russia

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