Photo by Martti Tulenheimo/Flickr
One summer a few years ago, I found myself traveling alone in Finland. Having spent several days in Helsinki, I wanted visit the country’s islands, so I emailed a local acquaintance who e-introduced me to Milla, her islander friend. Milla sent me a handful of tips, capped with an offer: “I can take you overnight to our little getaway if it is not too much hassle.” Surely she’s just being polite, I thought. But as the Finnish proverb goes, “Take a man by his words and a bull by its horns.” I accepted the invitation.
From Helsinki, I joined Milla and her friends on a motorboat down the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland to a private island where she lives with her husband. We foraged in the twilight for blueberries and snacked on salmiakki (intensely salty licorice, a local delicacy) as we talked into the night. The next morning, we rose early to sit, nude, in Milla’s waterfront sauna.
I soon learned that this fast-friends experience was a microcosm of Finland’s overall welcoming vibe. The country is the birthplace of the first Restaurant Day, which encourages home cooks to invite travelers over for a meal. (The movement has since expanded to 73 countries and spawned a number of copycats.) You’ll find Day With a Local Helsinki, which provides one-on-one tours, and Helsinki Helpers, neon-vested tour advisors who roam the city, offering personalized tips in 11 languages.
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There are also those famed public saunas, of course, where even the most reserved Finns are likely to reveal themselves. And on March 12th, Helsinki residents will host the first-ever Sauna Day, opening up their private saunas to friends and foreigners alike.
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