Suomi Five! A Repeat Visitor

Guest post by Chris Sanders – an almost Finn…

Ok, so the title of this entry requires some explanation….Suomi means “Finland” in Finnish – its how the Finns call their country.  So where does the “Five” come in? Well, let me explain…

Recently, I was pondering all the places I’ve visited outside of the US since I started traveling abroad in 1991.  For a while in the early days of “exploration,” I was accumulating two trips abroad a year!…as I tried to recall all the destinations, I decided it best to grab pen and paper and start a list. Starting in sequence, I began the list…England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, France, and so on and so on…when the list was complete, I began to add up the number of times I’d been to individual countries…I couldn’t wait to see which country had the highest number of visits…much to my surprise…at the top of my list was…not France, not Italy, not Ireland…no, it was…are you ready???  SUOMI…with five separate and distinct visits! 

 

 

 

 

 

So, how did I come to visit this Nordic county of 5 million people…this home of Nokia…this land of Conan O’Brien lovers – so many times??? Well, here is what I remember of the five times and how they came about…

  1. My first visit occurred in 1996 while I was an exchange student at International School of Economics (ISER) in Rotterdam. As part of that experience, I met a couple of Finns with whom I became friends. After the semester ended, they returned to Finland and I decided to visit. During that visit, I was actually able to see several cities and towns including: Helsinki, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli, and Kouvola.
  2. My second visit happened in the winter of 2000.  I remember considering various places to visit…and thought Finland would be great – after all, at that time, it had been 4+ years since I had visited with my Finnish friends. I don’t recall much of the visit, except that I stayed a few extra days and I ended up going into the local office of the firm for which I worked.
  3. The third time I visited Finland was in 2001. At the time I was working on a consulting gig in Stockholm and – get this – in order to obtain my work visa, I had travel to a US Embassy outside of Sweden…Finland just next door was a likely choice. As usual, I took the opportunity to visit my Finnish friends. This visit was lively – I remember meeting several friends at the Helsinki Club (http://www.helsinkiclub.com/). I also remember catching a live comedy performance of an American comedy troop – a bit awkward.
  4. 2001 saw yet another visit to Suomi, my forth – to explain how I came by this visit deserves a set up. You see, while living in Stockholm, I  joined a jazz band (attempting to revive the trombone skills I developed – and sadly left – in High School). The band’s name was Mercblecket – it was associated with the Stockholm School of Economics…so there I was, in this band in Stockholm…attempting to remember how to play the trombone during weekend jam sessions. During one such session, I learned the band actually had an upcoming gig…yep, we were going on tour…and guess where??? Yep, Suomi. We loaded the band on the overnight “party ferry” to a town called Turku (or Abo in Swedish). We played a great concert at a small college winter formal event – and it was a blast! I dont think I slept for more than 3-4 hours the whole weekend. Incidentally, some of the folks I jammed with went on to form a band called the Turkish Jury – look them up…http://hoverby.com/turkish/index.html
  5. Ok, so now we come to number 5 – the “5” in “Suomi 5″ – my fifth visit to Finland took place in 2003 – when my wife and I traveled to Helsinki for the wedding reception of one of my Finnish friends…it was fun! We were only there a few days (we combined the trip with a visit to Italy)…I remember most fondly dancing at a jazz club called Storyville Jazz club (http://www.storyville.fi/). My wife tells me that several hour into the night, I paid $50 to hear Georgia on My Mind…and I apparently bought a round of bourbon and coke’s for several new friends…ahh, those were the days…

So there you go, five times, five visits to Finland – the Suomi Five!

Have you been to Suomi? Tell us about it!

Chris

A Winter Visit to Helsinki

Helsinki's Lutheran Cathedral and Ice Church

Many moons ago, I got to go to Helsinki for a 3-week work assignment.  I remember the conference call with Helsinki when they were asking if the U.S. practice could send someone over.  I knew I was the one who would be sent and I was trying not to show visible signs of excitement at the possibility of going to Finland, even if it was the middle of winter…

Is It Gray Everywhere?

I flew Swissair, when it still existed (fantastic service! what happened??), to Zurich and connected there to Helsinki.  Landing in Zurich in winter was an impressive sight.  The Alps were visible with the sun coming up behind them and a carpet of clouds covering the area around the peaks so that I gained a strong appreciation for the technology that permits flying without seeing fully where you are going.  After clearing the cloud cover, Zurich winter climate turned out to be less impressive being all gray.  Landing in Helsinki, we did not see the city until only moments before landing, for similar reasons.  Was it gray all over Europe that day?  I wondered…

Curiosities – Day 1

My company’s office was very modern and in the city center.  It occupied a few stories of a 5 story building with the top floor being the sauna (his and hers) but with a meeting room by the saunas and with the same wooden paneling as the sauna which made me believe they conducted meetings before going to the sauna.  I also noticed in the restroom a small hose next to the bathroom sink and close to the toilet.  A first for me… no, I didn’t try it :)

Eating in Helsinki

I ate my first reindeer (or a part of one) in Helsinki at a restaurant called Lappi.  It was delicious.  I have to admit that in my mind I was thinking how much I was going to enjoy telling my godchild I ate Rudolph…  I also did get to eat at a Mexican restaurant which felt more Finnish-Mex than Mexican.  But, I have to admit, I wanted to see what Finns were being sold as Mexican food.  I had thought I had figured out there was a very popular local chain called Ravintola because I saw it everywhere until I figured out that was Finnish for restaurant.  I felt dumb but since I was traveling alone, no one knew… I think working from the morning (can’t say the crack of dawn – it was Finland in the winter, remember?) until late in the evening did make me a little less bright, like their winter sky.

Sightseeing

Back when the USSR was, Helsinki was the backdrop for movies that wanted to pretend they were in Russia.  You can sense that when you see their churches.  One thing that struck me was how colorful buildings were.  Then I realized that since winters must be as gray as I was witnessing, the color of the buildings made a big difference.  The Lutheran Cathedral, while imposing on the outside, was rather blah inside.  However, that year they were building a small church made from ice in the plaza.  I understand they do this every few years and, while it was not finished so I couldn’t go inside, it was very peculiar and impressive.

Helsinki's Lutheran Cathedral and Ice Church

Credit: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20149309/ns/travel-destination_travel/t/europes-wildest-weather-cities/

I also signed up for a half day city tour to make sure I saw anything deemed important (I didn’t have too many days off in those 3 weeks…).  It was via this tour that I saw the famous shipyards where they make the big cruise ships.  I also saw the monument to Sibelius which, surrounded by snow, look surreal and beautiful.

I could tell, even in winter, that the city must be beautiful in the summer.  Had the work sold, I would have spend two years there and I regret that did not happen as it would have been an interesting experience and I believe I would have loved being a resident of Helsinki.

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