Flight AY666 from Copenhagen to Helsinki landed without a hitch. The moment of truth. It did start to click in our heads for a bit that, yes, in fact, we had actually only spent one evening/late-late-evening with these two…and truth be told, this could be a little sketchy. I mean, right? Not really a recipe for success. Or is it, sometimes? Those were the questions that briefly filled our mind as we deplaned and made our way through the Helsinki airport.
So after a bit of meandering about the stylish cut-in Duty Free, as we are suckers for them, we continued on in pursuit of the exit and our (fingers crossed) Finnish friends Heini and Iiro. We descended the stairs and hoped for the best. It is funny how many doubts and worries you can have as a knee-jerk reaction to uncertain situations and atypical surroundings. But also how quickly what seems like the hundreds of thoughts that clouded your mind moments earlier, subside once you turn a corner.
That to say, all our worries were immediately wiped away as we turned our phones off airplane-mode, and saw that Heini and Iiro had texted us back shortly after we had taken off from Copenhagen. They were waiting for us as we exited the airport into the, well, shockingly Minnesota-like outdoors. The clouds were present but not overbearing, and it was cool but not cold. I can see why so many Finnish-Americans settled in Minnesota.
They greeted us and the only real hitch in the process was trying to fit our luggage in their car. This, not because their car was small; rather, they had stopped off and filled the trunk to the brim of everything they felt best represented the unique aspects of the Finnish food culture. Here’s the thing, in America you may know a Finn or two (if you live in Minnesota you may know …like…fifty and not realize it), but we know quite little about their cuisine. Some of the concepts come through, like smoked meats and yogurt sauces, but that’s nearly all. Their food is truly their own, ornate and intricate, but most importantly organic and shockingly delicious.
Addendum: The trunk of a single automobile does not represent the uniqueness that Finland has to offer. Simply, that is the amount they felt they could safely feed us in three days. The human body is spectacular, but we all have our limits of consumption.
Addendum II: Unpacking that trunk could be one of the highlights of my life. Of course, that’s only in hindsight (which is 20/20). In the moment it was simply a feat of trying to get as many bags into the house in as few trips possible.
Poof. Boom. We’re back at the airport, because sometimes I get ahead of myself (apologies). We fit our luggage into their car and we’re off. We head north from the airport through the outskirts of Helsinki, for what seemed like an hour. Of course you’ll have to bear with me, we’d just seen our friends for the first time in 6 months (and second time ever) so we had a lot of catching up to do.
Gorgeous rock formations. Clean skylines. Crisp, fresh air. All green, everything. Trees, plants, grass all of it was green. Nearly as green as the rice paddies of South Korea, and just as green as anything we’d just witnessed in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Lakes EVerywhere. The drive felt like mere moments.
The plan was rock-solid. We’d start in the country at “Mӧkki” (pronounced Meh-Keh) their summer cottage on a lake for two and a half days, and then finish with three days at their flat in Helsinki. This is the most accurate interpretation of Finnish life and culture one could get: seeing their full world, which is the mixture of nature and humanity. Country and city. Tranquility and necessity. And in a category all to itself, Sauna culture. Sauna, the only word to make it out of their ridiculously difficult language has become a beloved activity throughout the world. However, NOBODY saunas like a Finn. We are all wrong, we are all horribly wrong. I know that now. Sauna culture is not a joke, it is not mockery in my voice when I use such phrasing, it is purely accurate.
Long-story short, at one point C and I made a bit of a game of it, by asking if Finland had a sauna: Car? Train? Boat? In every building/most-every home? Ferris wheel? Club on the ferry from Helsinki to Talinn? Put it to you this way, we never were told no. Sauna is Finland, and Finland is sauna. If you start there, you have a nearly infallible vantage point for understanding the Finnish way, and the Sisu (overcoming/resilient) spirit of the country.
Mӧkki was really something else. Picturesque/Pinterest-esque. Complete with hand-made glass birds from a popular local artist, and bright opaque walls and decor. I was in like with it (because that’s really not my thing, but don’t get me wrong, it was top-shelf) but C was absolutely in love with it! She is probably the watermark for judging interior decor, so go with her assessment. The open floor plan, clean lines and tranquil aesthetic really put you in relaxation mode. It was spacious but not sprawling, practical and splendid.We settled in quickly as the clean air rejuvenated us over welcoming gin-and-tonics adorned with cranberries and rosemary. That Finnish gin, by the way, is the BEST gin we have ever tried.
Life at mӧkki is carefree and nearly the only thing of structure in the daily schedule is the setup of sauna. Mӧkki in Finland is goals. It is the dream. It is the life that they would love to live always; but they are aware that ugliness defines beauty, pain defines glory, and that some must be given so that much can be gained. So, all must contribute to society, and put in their time working to earn.
In talking about this as it relates to Nokia being a cellular giant that somewhat fell off the map for a while, Iiro gave us some insight, “it’s been said that if you give an American one million dollars, they will then become consumed with how to obtain 10 million dollars. Thus, keeping them hungry to create and continue working. But, if you give a Finn one million dollars, they will just go live at Mӧkki” There is a resolute simplicity that echoes throughout the country, a simplicity that adds balance between work and life, price and quality, and ambition and enjoying the moment.