As I sit here on the shores of the Baltic sea, watching the boats sail by, the waves crashing on the stony shore and a flock of seagulls patently waiting for me to show them any sign of food (they become vicious after you feed them once); I reflect on my trip to the Nordic area.
The idea of travelling to Finland wasn’t exciting in the beginning. I had heard a lot of bad reviews about the country especially regarding racism and horrible cuisine. So, I arrived in the capital, Helsinki, battle shields up, waiting for my ignorant assumptions to be proven right. I humbly eat my pie as I recount the magnificence of the city. Never in my travels have I met such an endearing people. From my arrival at the airport, the people were at the ready to offer help. On the first day, a young lady approached my confused-looking self as I attempted to figure out where I was on the map and kindly asked (in English) if she could help. And yes, the Finns speak English very well, considering it’s not even one of their national languages! The national languages in Finland is Swedish as Finland used to be part of Sweden.
The ‘land of a 1,000 lakes’ is just so. The Baltic sea moves in and out of the land, creating channels, carving islands, and sourcing lakes. From a bird’s eye view — if you manage to sneak a peek out of the plane — you can see the glorious geography of the city. There is much to be said about the topography of the land, but words can hardly express the feeling of being in a traditional Finnish sauna and jumping into a cool lake right after… The Finns do know their way around, making the most out of nature. The city itself is relatively modern, but the architecture of the old buildings narrates the history of a country once ruled by the Swedish and, after, by the Russians. During the summer time, Helsinki is swarmed by tourists from all over the world, especially from Asia and other parts of Europe, as they indulge in the magic of the unique city.
This trip, which was meant to be an educational one, quickly turned into the solace-finding time of my life. As a keen observer, I couldn’t help but admire the Finns for making the most out of their summer days. In a country where nine months of the year are doom and gloom, so much so that the people have to orally take in Vitamin D, the three months of summer showcase how the Finns appreciate every sunny moment. They are always out and about, running, walking, sailing their boats, taking the babies and toddlers out to enjoy the sunshine, taking hot air balloon-rides, and of course, making the most of the amusement park, Linnanmäki. The park hosts many daredevil rides as well as fun games, but the best attraction of the park is a wooden roller coaster built in 1951!
Learning to live in the moment is not the only thing I observed from the Finns. Walking around the city every day, I am partly oblivious to the magnificent architecture as I observe the young people who work for the city weeding, cleaning, sweeping, driving trams and doing all sorts of manual jobs that we Africans would find beneath the status of an educated person. Finland boasts one of the best education systems in the world. Every citizen is guaranteed free education from pre-school to PhD level and beyond. Yet the people who do manual jobs do them with pride, as they work for a system that works for them.
On the weekend ending August 18, Finland witnessed one of the worst ‘terror attacks’ of recent times. Reportedly, a young man was arrested for stabbing multiple people in the city of Turku. Whilst the incident was horrendous and despicable, the Finnish police did not raise alarm by having unwarranted man-hunts or creating chaos. Rather, they patrolled the city, even though the incident didn’t happen in Helsinki. And as much as they look foreboding in their full tactical gear, their presence was so strong it assured security and safety to citizens and tourists. I couldn’t help admiring them, knowing that they represent a system that works for the people. The Finnish police is one of the many things to admire here. I swear, I always have something new to marvel at every day.
As I sit here, the sun setting behind me, families with their kids and dogs playing in the park; I wonder how many cities in this world can I go to, sit at a park by myself (at 8pm) and work on my computer without fear?
Next week, I cross the narrow sea and explore the medieval city of Tallinn in Estonia…