An American Professor in Europe 
Summer, 2012
Punting on the Cam                                                                                                                                                                  
Your Subtitle text


Finland Tour - Helsinki and Tampere                                              15 June to 22 June
       Hosted by Tommy Englerth, Nephew


Arrival in Helsinki, Finland

Update - 17 June               Jump to Next
     Arrived by air to Helsinki yesterday and I don't know where to begin explaining all the many new places and people I have experienced in the last two days.  I joined my brother-in-law, Tom Englerth, in this visit to his son my nephew who has been on student exchange here in Tampere, Finland, for the past year.  Tampere is the second largest city in Finland and largest inland city in all of Scandinavia (actually, Finland is considered Nordic with half of the nation above the Arctic Circle), and about two hours by car from Helsinki.

          Drive from Helsinki to Tampere


           Dinner upon arrival in Tampere

    Visitors bring gifts. Taria, the host mother.

             RETURN TO HOME PAGE

                     TRAVEL CALENDAR

              Our residence in Tampere


         Tommy's High School for the Arts





                    Tampere streets



               Tampere Central Square    

      As you may not be able to see in the gloom of clouds, this lake area is beautiful and the angle of the sun, which is never at the zenith this far north, glistens on the water in a unique and memorable way.  When traveling to new places, although not surprising I am always taken by the way all places are similar to everywhere else and uniquely strange at the same time, the conscious mind connecting to familiar perceptions while making note of the unfamiliar.  The sun light is sun light like everywhere but ever so slightly different at the same time; the crows are just big black birds as they are at home, but their wings have a layer of outer white feathers in this Nordic place with a blanket of snow most of the year.  I suppose Alaska and Siberia are much the same.

   The Callio family, mother pictured above

  Tom, my sister's husband: outdoorsy-type
       Jump here to next Update: Oxford
          These photos taken at 1:15 am


     Waiting for the bus to Helsinki Center


      And this is important to the Finns: their own produce, manufacture, and design.  While here at the time of solstice, several have remarked about the joy of eating the fresh new potatoes, and cucumbers and tomatoes, apples and grapes and berries for wines that are all grown at home but only available for this brief season.  I went to the market one day with Vesa Pyhtila and he pointed out that I should buy the products clearly marked as made of produced in Finland.  While very popular, because of the locality the prices were no more than imported foods.  Finnish cheeses are mild and very flavorful and they enjoy as a national product a type of rye bread everyone eats for breakfast.  They also enjoy for breakfast a bread and rice cake made in Sweden, but they hesitate to tell you where it comes from!  Modern Finnish design is all about in the architecture and gadgets, and purposefully not Swedish or “Scandinavian design” that we see at home for those seeking a European contrast.  The roadways we traveled, even in the rural areas connecting villages and lake towns, were all very good, somewhat maybe due to less people using them and somewhat because of their high percentage income tax allocated to the collective good.



          Old Russian Orthodox Church

     I promised to speak of the famous sauna practice in Finland, so I will “finish the Finnish lesson” with this. Of course, all these words are simply my way of sharing information with the blog reader from the little experience I’ve gained over six days. In that time I enjoyed sauna four of the six nights, all but the second time in two private home saunas. Now, keep in mind it is not a compulsion, like walking your dog is not a compulsion, but most everyone does it nearly every day as part of the lifestyle. And like walking the dog, some enjoy it so much they look forward to that part of their day. Indeed, the common and regular practice of sauna is a prescription for good health. Every home and apartment and hotel seemed to have a sauna, all much the same like there is a standard for building one, and it is true that certain standards must be kept for the thing to work at top efficiency and not lead to problems for the person or the building.




 Shots below at airport next morning, 4:50 am

    Sauna is simple, quiet, and hot!  It serves that one important but multifaceted purpose. On the fifth night I had my final sauna in Vesa’s home again, but this time I could not stand the cold air outdoors (it was a clear cool night), nor the mosquitos.  When the others went out between entries, I stayed in the shower room which was cool enough for me in contrast to the sauna room. If this were a competition, then my brother-in-law wins and I’m fine with that! Tonight, on our final night in Helsinki, Tom and Tommy had a father and son sauna in the hotel while I stayed back; I've had my fill of the experience. I think Tom may build a sauna for Tommy in Pennsylvania, he loves it so much. For my nephew, this above all things is “his thing,” one of many memories and things that he can take from his year in Finland that have changed the young man forever. Hey, it changed me and I only did it four times! –TW
16 June - Arrow B on map

     Finland is a remarkably peaceful and safe place and all the people are very happy that it is summer and looking forward to the Mid-summer Festival this coming weekend.  It is a national holiday.  We are staying in small home that has been recently purchased by the family with whom Tommy, my nephew, has been placed to finish his year in Finland.  They plan to move to the location where we are sleeping in the coming weeks, but for now the only internet connection available is their present (old) house and so I can only update the travel-blogue when I am there.  They are very good, hospitable, and fun-loving people.  Their daughter, Kaisa, completed a student exchange herself in Connecticut two years ago.  On arrival, we were immediately fed dinner, an outdoor grill which they love to do in these few weeks when they can.  I have come to respect these people and culture very much in just two days.  Please see pictures to right and below of our first evening in Tampere with the Pyhtila Family.  Below you will also find some photos shot during my morning walks, followed by the next Update and more about the Finns and their culture. --TW

         Tommy, my nephew, Tom his father, and Kaisa

                 Nephew Tommy and host father, Vesa

Update - 18 June  
     We spent yesterday driving around Tampere and walking in the rain, so I did not take my camera.  We got an idea of the city, locations of square in the centrum, where my nephew’s Arts oriented high school was, and we climbed a tower in the city from where one can see across the lakes and buildings to other areas of Finland in this region and Estonia way beyond in the distance.  We returned to the tower today and the pictures from that high point are among those here.  We also continued to learn many of the customs of the Finns and picked up some necessary Finnish words from the host family who knows some but not much English.
Tom, my brother-in-law, has commented several times how much this country appears like the state of Maine with forests of tall pines, purple lupine scattered everywhere, and much more rural space than city space.  It is surprising and yet altogether understandable that specific differences in culture are the result of the seasons here, the position of the nation on the globe.  Every home has a fixed ladder on the side to the roof, not for pushing off snow but for frequent cleaning of chimneys due to constant use.  The roofs are mostly strong tile.  The water is very hot, meaning that when one adjusts the temperature in shower or basin a slight position to the hot side is like our very hot, the Finnish very hot is unbearable for this American.  And, of course, the light during this time of year is astonishing.  This evening when we returned to our location for the night around 1:00 am there was still light in the sky—we are as far north as the north end of the Hudson Bay in Canada.  We anticipate staying up late each night, such is the Finnish custom, apparently, and in the coming days with their “midsummer festival” we will remain up to watch the sun set and rise again within an hour.  There is no time this week when the sky light will be completely gone.
The people have been extremely hospitable, proud of their country and happy to show us their spaces.  One is confronted in each conversation with honest and few words, the Finnish being a quiet people who do not comment or express their judgment about every little thing.  When they speak it is for a purpose and small talk is non-existent.  They also expect one to answer honestly, without superficial “yes, it's fine,” such that they can rely on and respond to others without guessing.  It is a different way to be polite and refreshing.
Today was a beautiful day and we walked all about Tampere, first visiting the high school Tommy has attend over this past year (see photos below).  The town is busy but many restaurants and stores do not open until mid-day, but many cafes with lots of pastries.  Lovely squares and statues, parks and play areas, and with the limited time in summer with good sun there were several Finnish people catching the rays which are never direct here and so few sun burns.
     Because my time here connected is limited, I have posted more pictures of Tampere like a photo album and you can scroll down to further updates where I say more about the Finnish people.  In two days we stay one night with another family who hosted Tommy during the winter months.  Yes, so far, each night Tom, Tommy and I have enjoyed sauna with Vesa, the host father, so I must dedicate a paragraph or two to sauna in a future update. --TW






Jump to



        Below on left is a public sauna...

                                             ...jump in ice water to the right

Update - 21 June
     Last night we returned to our Tampere residence for our last night there and dinner with the Pyhtila Family, but for now I will catch up on the last two days.  Today we will journey to Helsinki for the finale of the Finland Tour and below I will post pictures of the capital city interspersed with a composition on what I have learned about the Finns.
     We had another poor weather day when we went for a one-night visit to my nephew's second host family, named Callio, the family with whom he stayed during the grueling winter months.  I say grueling because it would be so for me, and Tommy does talk about the daily snow and walking to school bus in the dark, the way the sun would rise and set between 12:30 and 2:00 pm while he was in class and for a few weeks the only time he saw the light was on the weekends.  The Callio family

lives outside of Tampere about 25 minutes in a lake area and they have a lovely house on a lake and four children, two of which are daughters also on student exchange, one to the United States and the other to Australia.  Their younger children are pictured here, taken when we were leaving yesterday.
     The Callio's are more typically Finnish in their manner and they spoke very good English, so we enjoyed much conversation during our brief visit, topics of social change, politics, history, the arts, modernity, today's Americanized youth, and discussion of both geography and geology.  Callio brought out a map book and showed us how the lakes here in central Finland are all tapered and in alignment from the way the glaciers moved ages ago while further south beyond some low mountain ridges one finds marsh and swamp.  Granite has been formed throughout the land and one can see old moss covered boulders, much like in Wales as a matter of fact, but here among the forest pines rather than the grazing sheep.  The Finns use precisely drilled holes in which they put water that turns to ice and breaks the granite for making bricks and road surfaces.  There are little ridges along the road-side curbs where you can see how the broke the rock.  Fascinating.
     We returned to Tampere city and had a very fun evening.  Got the chance to meet several of the new friends my nephew has made from school this year.  He will be returning to the States the first of July, so his feelings are mixed, although not on display--so very Finnish--and he is visiting with as many of his friends as he can before departure.

21 June Continued:  Helsinki Photos and Finnish Culture
     The weather cleared up and, as you can see below, it was a glorious day for touring Helsinki.  It is a fairly large city and the center is full of banks and shopping, the harbors and the university.  Because today is the start of the Mid-summer Festival, the city was relatively free of people having left the city to celebrate all through the country.  As I continue here with many reflections on Finnish culture and society, pictures of Helsinki will be sprinkled in, so keep scrolling on!
The Prof
not knowing much at all of the history of this global space half a world away, it is interesting to note that, like Ireland, the nation of Finland did not win its independence until the 1920s and lost a chunk of its eastern lands to the Soviets after World War II.  Indeed, in that war the Finns were our enemy having joined Germany in their struggle against the Russians.  But Finland was never annexed by the Nazi regime, only helped by them due to the common enemy.  Today the Finns still dislike the Russians to a large degree, and they also find great competition and distaste for the Swedes, their neighbors, having been a part of Sweden until the last century.  They find Sweden to be a place of decadence, demonstrative emotions, and lacking in good judgment.  I read that the two nations Finns love the most are Great Britain for their stiff upper lip, which they emulate, and the United States for our love of freedoms.  Finns are proud of their country, its strength of character, and its ability to stay independent; part of the blue cross on the white background symbolizes truth as well as liberty, while the Finns say that Sweden’s flag would be better suited as a white cross on a white background!
    About 5% of the citizens of Finland speak Swedish as their first language and the majority of Finnish people live in the southern half of the country.  The north, generally called Lapland, is all above the Arctic Circle, like a tundra and very sparsely populated.  The origins of their language seems unknown and the only others that can speak it easily are the people of Estonia across the Baltic to the south.  I had no idea the relationship to other places on the globe: as I said before, Finland is parallel to the north end of the Hudson Bay and much of Alaska!  However, these Scandinavian nations receive the warmer weather patterns
that come from the south areas of North American and across the Atlantic to the North Sea and into their area.  As we know, even Great Britain is parallel with Newfoundland and, like the Brits who enjoy Chicago-like seasons (even better—England and Wales receive much less snow annually than Chicago, often none at all and requiring one to go to the Scottish highlands for skiing), the Finnish, while more extreme between winter and summer, enjoy seasons and foliage not unlike the state of Maine much farther to the south in our own hemisphere.  These facts seem to explain much about the Finnish way of life and the bounty that their nation provides itself.

        The Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral, first day of Summer

    Of course, the winters are very dark and very cold, so they all have excellent lighting and heating in their living spaces. They seem to not embrace the many windows as do the Dutch, likely because half the year there is nothing to see but the darkness outside and the sun up here is never direct rays, so windows even in the noon-day sun do not bring in the warmth as they do in Holland and Britain. They speak of the largest fleet of ice-breakers in the world on the seas and the seafood is much less salty here as these are not ocean waters. Ari Callio is, or was, a naval officer and mastered several vessels in years past but that service ends and very few continue this work into their 40s. He explained that if it wasn’t for the Nazis, however horrible their atrocities, they would not have the independent nation they now enjoy.  And let us keep in mind, as he reminded us, that by comparison Stalin was just as evil and something we often do not consider so focused on the Allied Forces and our American assistance to Western Europe. The Finns could have been easily wiped off the Earth by the Soviets, less than a century ago, as were so many Russian people, their close neighbors. It is only 300 kilometers to St. Petersburg from here.

The Finnish Personality
     As I have hinted in my updates, Finns are a quiet people who do not speak unless it is necessary and with a purpose. They are perfectly comfortable sitting in silence, at ease during long pauses in thoughtful conversation. When Finns do speak one can, sometimes painfully, count on their honesty, their sheer frankness about matters. At first it seems they are just too affronting, too candid in their judgments (when they make them), but as one gets used to it there is a form of social reliability and trust that comes with this attitude. Speaking is sharing information, nothing more. They may disagree on this or that sharply, but I met no Finns who were concerned about the interpersonal conflict, no one feels uncomfortable when we are not all in agreement, and it seems the only thing of which they are self-conscious is how they may appear to others.
     My nephew, Tommy, had a wonderfully humorous little book on understanding Finnish society and the author called this feature “navel gazing.” If asked and only when asked, they do not mind telling you exactly what they think of you or others, and they are not concerned how you may feel about it because that’s your problem (and Finns would not choose to ask, or to feel the offense in the first place), but they do seem to care about what others think of them. They just don’t tell you they do! Instead, they ask for more information. And why should they tell you how they feel? What would come of it but wasted words and further questions? It seems that Finland is a nation where reality therapy would have no use—the society practices it without knowing they do, as a way of happy living. The Finn knows that whatever he or she chooses to say or do has value as honest information, it cannot control another, and so there is no attempt to manipulate others with words or emotions to get what they really want. Just try to imagine a place where there is no deceit, no guile or trickery, no attempts to get another to be as one wants them to be; in such a place there is little emotional expression but also little one-upmanship, much cooperation, equality, and respect, and there is no blaming of anyone but oneself for one’s own circumstance. Hence, a Finn never complains. One moves on and does what must be done, for oneself and for society.
    And the book talked about the “nanny-state” of Finland. It appears that the Finns not only rely on socialized everything, but they embrace it as the way things should be; they are happy to know that the state will take care of everything, making them perhaps, in attitude, one of the most socialized of all European nations. Of course, due to the fact that one must be self-reliant in this place of extreme seasons, or die, the nanny-state is not a matter of self-reliance or a lack of liberty. There is no question each individual is self-reliant and, with one of the best educational systems in the world, a contributing member of society (there appear to be very few poor or unemployed—it would be considered sick to be in debt or on welfare).  This state of affairs seems to free the people to work and live, pursue the arts and their talents, all perfectly happy that the government “has their back” in times of illness or tragedy. It is like the State fixes those circumstances that are not under one’s control and all the rest is one’s own doing.  That seems pretty free to me.

This shot taken at 8:50 pm day of summer solstice.

This week it was never totally dark.

     I had known that sauna is a practice with no clothing, but understand now that in the public saunas that are for both sexes, bathing suits are worn. In private home saunas, it is both socially and physiologically better to be naked and so the men and the women of the family do not sauna in mixed company although lovers would of course. No, the Finns are not throwing boys and girls together in nakedness—the nation is mostly Lutheran! And this American was relieved to learn on the first night that I would not be disrobing with Vesa’s wife. But, yes, after dinner and playing darts, when Vesa said, “Now...we go to sauna,” the three of us went with him to a large shower area which is part of the sauna, undressed and rinsed off, then proceeded to the wood encased room where he had started “the fire” about 30 minutes before. In the old days, and still in the rural outdoors saunas, they use a fire but in the home sauna it is electric and the burner warms the rocks as a lit fire would do. It is fashioned in such a way that one of the most important things to do in sauna can be done without snuffing the heat source: pouring water onto the rocks to make the steam. And with the steam comes the humidity and heat.
    Now, I was never really focused on the temperature as one wants to clear the mind and relax in sauna, allow the heat to relax the muscles and excrete the toxins out the sweat glands, but I believe it was 90 F, then 100 F, then 120 F. The more water poured on the rocks, the more heat, and it must be repeated occasionally as the heat dissipates. In my second sauna, in the public one, those Finns just kept cranking it up—they could really take it, of course, as hot as possible. But just consider what good this would do in their winters. Tommy explained that every person has the right to leave the sauna at any time without judgment, and that it is perfectly fine to come and go from the little wooden room. The only social etiquette is that one with the ladle does not pour the water on the rocks to increase the heat again and then immediately leave everyone in that state. Such behavior would be considered very rude. But generally one is free to do as they please, the sauna being both a personal experience as well as a social one where all are equal and accepted in their nakedness. Many important deals and decisions have been made in sauna, I’m told. And think of it: this is an experience in which one can relax from any difficulties without resorting to acting out their stress or using drugs like alcohol as the crutch of life. Again, there is no competition here, no attempt to be the best. One may relax from their work day, meditate, or enjoy a conversation on equal footing with others in sauna.
    But this is not all there is to sauna, I soon discovered. No, we do not just go in the little room and sweat feeling relaxed and leave after one time. One repeats the sauna two, three, or as many times as you like. The repeat means that we leave the sauna room and emerging in the cooler shower area and either take a quick cold rinse, perhaps get a cold beer to take back inside with you, or with towel around your waist go outdoors for several minutes with the intention to cool way down before returning to sauna. Tommy says this is done year-round and when there is snow one jumps in it and rolls around, naked in the snow, or one jumps into a frozen pound where they have broken the ice next to the sauna room. At this point, dear reader, I must admit candidly that I do not plan to visit Finland in the colder months, I have no idea how Tommy lived through it in snow and ice, and yet I’m proud of him and also that I did very well for an American completely new to it--even if it was in the summer time (it was down to the 50s and 60s outside in late evening).
    The contrasting temperature is important to the experience and to the body’s ability to remove the waste products.  It is cleansing of body and mind. One must take care not to de-hydrate oneself in sauna, so a tall drink of water before the first entry and on-going is a must, and especially if your host is offering beer or vodka with his sauna. (I did not ask about adding these toxins.)  The Finns will repeat this process of sauna in and sauna out, as I said perhaps five times or more, each time rinsing off and entering the sauna again to heat back up for perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. At the public sauna (my second of four, with swimming trunks) it was by a lake and so between entries we all jumped in the lake for the cool down. I did it twice between three sauna sits but it was such a shock that I could not breathe in the lake, it took several seconds to get a bit of oxygen enough to swim back to the ladder and out. Then, upon re-entry to the sauna room, I could breathe but only short breaths as the contrast happened in the other direction heating up again. And taking a deeper breath through the nose in the sauna room was not a good idea—the nostrils do burn from the steam. Hey, these Finns have been doing it all their lives, so give me a break!
    Okay, so that’s my experience and what I understand of it. We did sauna our first evening as I said, then on the second night Vesa took Tom and Tommy to the public one but I had risen way too early in the morning and stayed to take a nap. On the third night I joined them again at the public sauna and they told me the lake was much colder that night than the night before, my luck. (Of course, keep in mind when I say night, I mean evening or later, like 8, 10 or 11 pm, as the Finns seem to all be night owls and it wasn’t really night time as far as one could tell from the constant light in the sky this week—see photos). Our fourth night was with the other family and I joined the men, including the young son, in their home sauna. Yes, naked with strangers once again and, yes, they jumped in their lake between entries. It was good to do it somewhere else and see that it is really the same, the process and the sauna room all very standardized as their custom. I mean, one didn’t have rock and roll playing in their sauna while another a different sensory experience, set up environment, or process in theirs.

       Back to Top                      Go to Next Update
Web Hosting