As soon as I found out I was going to Norway for the spring semester, I contacted my penpal, Liisa, about her midwinter plans. We’d long talked about getting together in the colder half of the year, and this was the perfect opportunity. For just a tiny extra cost, I could fly into Finland first on my way to Norway. And what a comfort it is to work off your jet-lag among friends, instead of being launched headfirst into a new place!
I’ve visited Liisa three times now, and her whole family always makes me welcome. Liisa lives in her own apartment now, but the first night, we stayed with her family in the suburbs and ate the last of the Christmas leftovers. Such a cozy evening, even if I was half asleep!
Over the next days, Liisa had to work a bit, so I went with her father and her sister, Lotta, to learn to cross-country ski.
I was not the best, but I was assured it was a good first try! All sisu, no muscles.
I also got to see a lot of wintry downtown Turku.
Liisa and I took a day trip to Rauma, a nearby town with lots of lovely, colorful wooden buildings. We even got a bit of snow!
And we visited an open-air museum in Turku, with lots of preserved buildings from before the Turku fire.
We also had lazy evenings, watching Finnish movies and tasting some various traditional foods — like raisin sausage, preserved mushrooms and reindeer with lingonberry jam.
The most painful part of the trip was going ice swimming! Sure there was a sauna to warm us up first, but it still felt like suicide to lower yourself into the freezing water and hear the ice crack as you splashed around just feet away.
And the part I looked forward to the most? Dog sledding! One of Liisa’s friends, Joel, worked for a dog sledding company, and took us out with his dogs. The weather was not good enough to use the real sled, but we were able to have a lot of fun anyway. Joel’s also an amazing photographer, so he took some beautiful photos of us!
We also finally got around to going to Harald’s, the Viking Restaurant. It was lovely! Not actually Viking-authentic (chocolate and ice cream?), but there was lots of over-the-top decorations and a very — and delicious — menu. We originally thought we would just go there for a ‘snack,’ since it was expensive. But we couldn’t help ourselves, and ended up splurging on a big grilled vegetable skewer, Hunter’s meat platter, mushroom soup and, of course, the amazing gourmet dessert plate…
The Dessert Shield of Ottar the Gourmet: Freyja’s chocolate cake, crepes, whipped cream, Kainuu bread cheese and juiced cloudberries, two kinds of ice — tarred and rowanberry, organic strawberry sorbet, as well as the villages own chocolate sauce with crisp cinnamon rusk and raspberry-apple jam. Ottar the Gourmet ate this and did not want to go back home.
I loved every bite of it, especially the juice cloudberries! I even started to accept the idea of tar as a flavoring — the ice cream had such a deep, smoky complexity to it that almost won me over to the dark Finnish side of things.
My week of Finnish winter was priceless — I loved getting to see Liisa and her family again, try out ice swimming, dog-sledding and cross-country skiing, trying lots of delicious foods and simply enjoying a different slice of life in one of my favorite countries!