A little piece of Finland

Whenever someone asks me “So, how was Finland?”, I take a deep breath and start ranting.

To save breath, I’ll rant a bit about it here and just direct people to read the artic… oh who am I kidding — I’m going to take a deep breath again. But here’s the digital version.

We (and by “we” I mean Software Sauna) started a project a couple of weeks ago and went for a kick-off week to work alongside our client in their Tampereoffice.

Our flight arrived at Helsinki airport on a Sunday morning. The first thing I noticed was lots of trees. I mean, Croatia has lots of trees to so I wasn’t surprised, but this was dense forest right next to the airport — it was a bit strange, but in a good way.

When the airport bus took us to the terminal, I noticed a rock protruding from an airport building. No, it was not a bunch of old demolished concrete, it was a huge piece of granite rock. Natural. Growing out of smooth grey concrete. This was the first of many I would notice.

Two Saunauts descending into the Helsinki transport system.

 

I’ll make the boring bit about where we went short, to save space for ranting.

We spent the afternoon micro-sightseeing around Helsinki center, then took a train to Tampere. In the evening we went on a short walk around Tampere center, then to the hotel. The week was spent mostly in the office, at lunch and in Tampere center, walking around, taking pictures and telling all about it to my wife on the phone. At about noon Friday we took a flight to Stockholm, then to Zagreb, where I was welcomed by bits of Croatia I had so happily forgotten.

Cue ranting.

Everywhere we went we saw projects being succesfully on their way or already finished. Nice-looking, well-designed things.

Like the restaurant-sauna-pool complex in Helsinki harbor. Or the train to Tampere which was ordinary-looking (except for cool double-decker scenery cars) but was actually very quiet and very fast.

Quite ordinary Finns having lunch by the pool.

 

Those nice-looking (and often very large) projects are all interspersed with artsy modern-world stuff, like wall murals, abstract sculptures and stalls with cartoon-animal wool caps (and by cartoon I don’t mean Disney or Nickelodeon, just the opposite). And bicycles. Bicycles everywhere.

Upon dismounting his bike, this Finn was transformed into a stone turtle by an evil sorcerer.

 

We left Helsinki only to see that Tampere has more Finland to show us.

Heading to Helsinki railway station.

 

For those of you exhausted by my meandering, I will get to the point. What’s so good about Finland?

  1. Food
  2. Art & Design
  3. Nature
  4. Finns

1. Food

Vegan kebab. Delicious.

 

All the food was tasty. All the food was high-quality, made from fresh ingredients, for the price barely 2 times the Croatian price (and Finns have about 3 times the salary).

Everywhere there are salad bars, even in grocery stores. Lots of food choices, all high-quality.

My choice of dinner on Monday … can you tell I’m from a Mediterranean country? 🙂

 

Granted, the only authentic Finnish cuisine I tried was Karelian pasty(everyone *has* to try it before they die!), but all the food I ate was so much better than back home!

When I saw the fruit shelf in an ordinary local store I was dumbfounded. Large colorful pieces of fruit, without a smudge on them. Then I remembered the fruit shelves in Croatia — all fruit is class 2, as if by state law. You have to go to a farmers market to find higher quality fruit.

As a falafel enthusiast, I couldn’t leave Tampere without trying the Finnish variety. Verdict: 11 out of 10.

2. Art & Design

Beautiful buildings. Ordinary purpose (like residential blocks) but executed with such care for detail and aesthetic.

Apartment blocks at sunset. Not impressive if you live here, only if you’re visiting from Croatia. 🙂

 

Glass. Glass everywhere. I guess it’s because of the dark winter, but still — coming from Croatia I wasn’t used to seeing so much glass, it was beautiful.

Nothing to say except: “I’ll take that corner top one please!”
Yes, that’s the view from the apartments in the previous picture. No, I’m not kidding.

 

Time after time I got the impression that everything is built for humans to live, not as some architect’s statement about his/her accomplishment.

Just one example of a wall of plants. They’re real, I looked closely. They grow out of small containers in the wall. Yes, I could live here…

 

It’s like they tried their best to maximise nice-to-live levels.

The space under the bridge is efficiently put to use as a fitness park, of course.

 

And mixed together with the planned and expertly designed is the spontaneous, street-level ordinary-folk art. Wall murals everywhere.

You didn’t think Finland was all glass and delicious food did you? There are also old industrial buildings, with cool murals on them.

3. Nature

I mentioned forest and rock. Not really something to rant about out of context. So I’ll try to give you some context.

You’re in a city of almost 300,000 people. You walk around. Buildings, shops, pavement, bus stops, cliff, bike path, forest, school, lake … wait, what?

Just walking down the street, like everyone else, trying to fight off the desire to climb that big rock and explore the wilderness.

 

When they build a city, this is what Finns do (really, I asked one): They clear up spaces for buildings and roads. The spaces they want for recreation (like parks) they just leave untouched. Not a truck goes there during the whole construction phase. Not a tree gets ruffled in those zones. Wilderness. In the middle of the city.

An evening walk through a residential area. Or forest, depending on how you look at it.

 

Being a parent of two, I couldn’t help to think how awesome would it be to raise kids here. Go out of the house — playground. Go around the block — forest.

Low-trimmed grass in a beautifully designed garden/playground surrounded by lower-middle class 1980’s apartment blocks. Who *are* these people?

4. Finns

Congratulations, virtual traveler, you have reached the last section of this travelogue.

Talking about a nation is very tricky. Of course not all Finns are like described in this section, but there is a common culture in the country, as in all other countries.

This is my attempt to describe it.

Calm, humble and quiet passion to strive towards a better life. Matter-of-fact consideration for other people — family, friends, neighbours or strangers on the street.

An overall “everything will be fine” attitude, but not the Mediterranean “no worries in the world” kind where you just put your feet up and wait for the money from your Zimmer Frei to roll in (or more recently, from state welfare). Rather, everything will be fine because we will think, work and help through all our problems.

This was (and still is) maybe the strangest thing for me to observe, coming from Croatia, where the culture is somewhat different.

A statue of common, poor folk. In Croatia the statues are only of artists, kings and army generals (all male of course).

 

I am not a winter-lover so I don’t know about living there through the cold dark winter night (I’ll have to try) but northern climate aside, this is the best country I have ever visited.

*All* bridges are decorated with love padlocks. This whole place looks like something has gone horribly right.

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