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To the land of the happiest people

December 03, 2018 - Monday 4:12 PM by Li-An Dela Cruz Busto

THE Allas Sea Pool is a popular pool and sauna favorite of Finnish people in the heart of Helsinki. It is among the 3 million saunas in Finland.

On the day we arrived in Helsinki, my husband asked me what was in store for us in Finland. Having had a grand time in Iceland and Norway, the task of making our third and final Scandinavian destination even a better experience for everyone became a great challenge for me. I was, after all, responsible for planning our Scandinavian travel in our quest to catch the Northern Lights.

All I initially knew about Finland was that it is Santa Claus’ country and that the Northern Lights also appear in that side of the world, albeit in the northernmost part. But after just a few hours in Helsinki, we learned that Finland had so much more to offer. We learned soon enough that the Finnish may have the second most difficult language to learn in the world, but they are among the gentlest we have met. They are also creative and honest, and most are health buffs and nature lovers.

THE writer with her family in one of the many imposing military architectures of the Suomenlinna fortress, among the highly-regarded UNESCO World Heritage landmarks.

One fascinating thing we also learned is that saunas are a big thing in Finland. In fact “sauna” is the only Finnish word that has been internationally accepted in other languages. And amazingly for a population of only 5.5million, there are about 3 million saunas in Finland. They say that these are enough to easily accommodate all 5.4 million Finns simultaneously. Sauna is so embedded in the Finnish way of life that even as toddlers they are already allowed to have their turns in the sauna. For the Finns, sharing a sauna is about bonding and communicating with each other. It is said that throughout their history, there has been no Finland without sauna.

I must say among the three countries on our Scandinavian travel, it was in Finland that I felt I shed a few pounds because of the food we ate which was usually just fruits, salad, yoghurt, and health drinks. Also, I observed that the Finns do not overdo the use of salt and other condiments on their food. The Finns are very conscious with their food intake and are very religious at it. If only I had their kind of discipline, I would definitely shed off the unwanted pounds!

As most women are, I am a sucker for bazaars and markets. Those that we found at the Market Square in Helsinki are the cleanest, simplest, and most worthwhile. We were very impressed with the selection of products.

MIRROR contributor Ethan Reyes meets up with his mother’s Finnish pen friend of 35 years, Ulla Mari.
The best thing about the sellers at the Market Square, Helsinki is that they themselves made the stuff that they sell, and mostly are family businesses. Homegrown and handcrafted, the true marks of craftsmen. All the sellers had a story to tell — how they began, how they got the idea, how they were able to sustain, and so on and so forth. The sellers I met come from diverse backgrounds but are mostly from the farthest point up north in Rovaniemi, Lapland, the official home town of Santa Claus! It is no wonder the people here are so talented and gifted!

What is also remarkable about the Finnish people is their love for books. My nephew, who is a certified bookworm, felt like he hit the jackpot big-time! He was so happy to be in this place where bookshops and libraries sprout like mushrooms everywhere in Finland.

A not-to-be-missed tourist attraction in Helsinki is the imposing Sea Fortress of Suomenlinna, centuries-old artillery that spreads across six linked islands. One can reach the place through a 12-minute ferry boat ride. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991 as a unique monument of military architecture.

Among the important highlights of our Finland journey was meeting my sister’s Finnish pen pal, Ulla-Mari, for the first time in over 30 years. They became pen friends in grade school through the then-popular International Youth Service (IYS) program and have maintained snail-mail communication through the years until Facebook came about. It was a heartwarming first, and hopefully not the last, encounter with her. It was as if we had already personally met her before because there were no awkward moments. She was very genuine in her conversations and her hugs before we bade her goodbye. Ulla Mari is actually from Lapland in Rovaniemi, yes, Santa Claus’ town, and that would be another bucket-list destination with her as our tour guide.

THE writer with an organic soap maker and seller at Helsinki’s Market Square.

We may have been in Finland very briefly but our stay was worth every minute of it — the place, the people, the culture, and simply the Finns’ way of life. Finland, after all, tops the list of the happiest and most peaceful places to live in the world.

To that we say — Kiitos, Soumi!

(Davao City-born Li-an de la Cruz-Busto, 45, is the ultimate wanderer who finds happiness in doing diverse stuff ranging from baking, going on gastronomic adventures, photography, selling, and writing.)