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I become a Finn – well I felt like it for one day at least in the gateway to the Arctic – Oulu, Finland. I might even have been more Finnish than most Finns were.
Our day started with ice fishing on the Baltic Sea. I may not be a pro fisherman/woman, but at least I know how to look like one. Pros have their back to the sun so that their hole is in the shade and apparently fish like shade, according to our guide Vepe. I took the complete opposite approach, enjoying the feel of the warm sunshine on my face.
Thanks to Vepe, I also learned that a fire made on the ice lasts approximately 30 minutes on the ice, something that many Finns already know, but which fascinated our group of non-Finns. Just don’t ask me to demonstrate my fire making skills….
After ice fishing it was off to a kota, a traditional Finnish wooden hut for our cooking lesson, or perhaps to more accurately describe it, to watch the Finnish chef prepare our lunch. Our group was rather hands off, but perhaps that made it easier for the chef, since none of us were familiar with cooking over a fire,
nor the preparation of reindeer, a popular meat in Finland.
I didn’t want to like reindeer meat, but I did. I was surprised at how tender it was and learned that it’s lower in fat than beef.
Bellies full, we were off to Nallikari Winter Village on the Bothnic Sea near Oulu. The winter village is open from February to April every year (check the website for exact opening times) and is family friendly. Despite not having any kids with us we had fun snow tubing. Dog sledding and snowmobile rides are also available, as are reindeer rides. Wouldn’t you know it the reindeer pictured above just happens to be named Rudolf – making me feel more than a little guilty for my earlier lunch.
I couldn’t really call myself a Finn- even for a day if I didn’t experience what the Finns are famous for – the sauna. We didn’t just do any sauna though, Kirsi, our Finnish guide had a special surprise for us – a smoke sauna. I had never heard of a smoke sauna before, but learned from Kirsi, our guide that it’s a special type of sauna without a chimney. The wood is burned in a large stove, and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire dies and the smoke is ventilated out. The remaining heat is hot enough for the sauna. This may sound simle enough – until you learn that wood must be added ~ every 20-30 minutes for 6-8 hours to make the sauna hot enough! According to Kirsi many Finns as young as the age of three start going to the sauna so they’re a hearty bunch. I won’t pretend that I stayed in the smoke sauna for nearly as long as Kirsi did, but I gave it a decent shot and emerged sweaty but very relaxed.
Our final stop was dinner at the cozy Sokeri-Jussin Kievari that serves mouth watering food. Reindeer is also on the menu.
I went to bed feeling incredibly relaxed and feeling more than a little Finnish – even if it was just for one day.
Know Before You Go to Oulu, Finland:
- There are now many reasonably priced flights between Helsinki and Oulu
- Oulu is the Gateway to the Arctic, and is much cheaper to fly into than other destinations
- Go Arctic! organizes a wide variety of unique northern experiences and organized all the experiences listed above
- For visitors wanting to go to a smoke sauna, the entire sauna has to be rented out. Due to the cost this is usually only done by groups. Contact Go Arctic! for more details.