By Miranda Metheny
I first visited Finland in 2008, when, between high school and college, I visited my penpal Liisa. The country left a certain mark on me, and I jumped at the chance to go back during my semester in Germany. A few of the other exchange students (mostly heavy metal fans) were jealous… but most of them were a little confused. “Finland?” They asked. “Well, have fun with that. I’m heading to Italy myself.” I just smile. I don’t challenge them, and I don’t blame them.
Finland isn’t for everyone. It may be the best country to live in, according to Newsweek, but it isn’t the best place to visit if you’re looking to check monuments and postcard-vistas off your life list. There are precious few “biggests” and “bests” to track down, and while the culture-per-capita is surprisingly high, it would be hard to confuse Helsinki and Turku with London and Tokyo. Finland’s charm is more subtle than grandiose, less to do with seeing and doing than with a different sort of being.
It’s washing potatoes in the Archipelago Sea. It’s smooth wood carved simply and beautifully. It’s bare feet on mossy stones. It’s fresh strawberries, tiny and intense. It’s forests of thick dark pine and elegant white-bark birch. It’s the smell of salt and smoke, the sound of silence.
It’s Arctic light on the water. It’s a language, strange and beautiful, full of soft l’s and y’s and broken by the woodpecker sound of double tt’s and kk’s. It’s the clean heat of the sauna speaking to every one of your senses.
It’s winter’s cold as a natural state, and warmth as a miracle. It’s personalities doing 180’s into vibrant gregariousness with the addition of a little vodka. It’s tasting tar and salted licorice. It’s summer nights that seamlessly transition to summer mornings.
It’s golden light and blue shadows, quiet, haunting. It settles down somewhere inside you, and it never quite lets you go.