My Finland Bucket List

1962585_10152254624693469_1410410709_nWe tend to move about every three years, so when we celebrated three years of life in Finland this fall, I inevitably started to feel the itch. If you’re an expat, you know what I’m talking about. I love Finland, but I’m also that person who could move every three years for the rest of her life and still not get to every place on my list. Because, you know, I’ve only lived on two continents, and I want to travel more in Asia and South America, and, and, and…

Anyhow, since the practicalities of life as a corporate expat mean that I have no idea where or when we’re moving on, I started to work on a different kind of list: my Finland Bucket List. It’s amazing that you can live somewhere for three years without doing all those things that are typically Finnish. But life happens, especially life with young children, and at some point you realize that you’ve got a lot of things to do before you move on.

No one who knows me is surprised to learn that I have done well in this category. In fact, I’ve tried forty of the 42 traditional Finnish foods on this list.

I haven’t yet tried Mammi (although Easter is coming, so there’s still hope!), and blood sausage will never pass my lips, so I don’t have anything to add here.

I’ve sucked it big time on learning Finnish. Although I know a ton of food words, I can barely order a tram ticket or a lunch in Finnish without embarrassing myself or, as one tram driver put it to me, hurting his ears with my awful Finnish. Since only 5 million people in the whole world speak Finnish, I think I’m OK to cut my losses here as long as I commit to learning a new language at our next destination!

This is where the fun starts, and I’ve made good progress in this area. Since living in Finland, I have:

  • learned to knit socks in the Finnish style (thanks, Tiina!)
  • scored my first half dozen goals in salibandi (floorball, a popular Finnish sport)
  • driven a sled dog across frozen Lake Inari
  • seen the Northern Lights in Lapland
  • cooked traditional game meats from pheasant to moose to reindeer with relative success
  • hunted edible mushrooms in the forest, and even eaten them after cooking them over a campfire
  • collected countless berries from those same forests
  • eaten at restaurants offering some of the best examples of modern Finnish cuisine
  • logged more hours cross-country skiing than the rest of my life combined, even if the winter did not cooperate this year!

There have even been some personal goals achieved, such as learning to drive a stick-shift (at last!), writing a novel, learning to play football/soccer, and finally getting my post-baby body back into some semblance of shape. Although these are not Finland-specific, I attribute Finland’s low speed limits, relative peace, sporty atmosphere, and healthy lifestyle, respectively, for these achievements.

But two jewels were still missing from my rustic Finnish crown: a savusauna (smoke sauna) and a dip in the frozen Gulf of Finland. While there are miles of coastline that could accommodate a polar-bear plunge, the true experience is usually had at a private sauna club. And this month, one of my very kind football teammates, who has a membership at Saunaseura, one of Helsinki’s oldest sauna clubs.

The experience was even more amazing than I thought it would be. The other members were happy to welcome us, even though, on our best behavior, we still violated the rule that sauna-goers remain quiet and peaceful. The day was beautiful, with mild temperatures and a few snowdrops blooming by the sea just in time for our visit. And the smoke sauna, with its campfire-like ambience and penetrating warmth, made up for those very brisk three dips in the sea. Although unintentional, I think I saved the best for last!

What now?

I suspect I’ll think of some other things I want to do before leaving Finland. But if not, I’m fine with just enjoying the things that are already familiar: the long sunny days that have finally returned, afternoons on the beach, meandering bicycle rides through the forest by our house, and the friends who will make saying goodbye so very difficult when the time comes.