Monday, August 3, 2015

Pohja-Lankila, Finland: Finnish Cottage Culture - August 2015

Driving down a rolling dust-covered road. Towering spruce and chalk-white birch trees line the way. The blissful scent of summer in the air. The sun shines suggestively through. A bull frog groans in the distance as a black fly buzzes by. Commanding granite boulders and vast lakes dotted with forested islands catch your gaze. The trees sway and whisper in the wind beckoning you home.

Welcome to your summer cottage. In Finland, summer cottages are an institution as described by @OurFinland. "In the holiday seasons, Finns flock to the countryside for quietness and relaxation in cozy hideouts."

The Finns cherish their summer cottages as a peaceful respite from the rest of the world. Whether living in the city or a small town, most Finns boast a secondary "cottage" home and have grown up either owning, sharing or visiting a cottage with family and friends. It may be miles or hours away, but it is a source for conversation and longing all year long.

With temperatures barely reaching 23°C (73°F) during the summer months, the holiday cottage season is not very long in this Nordic country. But despite the brief duration, summertime is treasured by the Finns and many save all of their prized vacation days to spend at the cottage.

When talking with Finns about cottages, the more secluded the better. With more than 70 percent of the country covered in forests, 60,000 fresh-water lakes and no fewer than 20,000 small islands, Finland is the perfect place to carve out a parcel of land for your summer home. The typical Finnish summer cottage is humble. Often times without electricity or running water, some only accessible by boat, it is a place to rest and enjoy the outdoors. Most cottages are near a lake so that common outdoor activities include boating, canoeing, fishing, swimming and yard games. Most are also suited with hammocks, fire pits and nearby walking trails.

But the most important feature of the Finnish summer cottage is the sauna. And as far as saunas go, the bigger the better. @OurFinland explains it best: "There is nothing more Finnish than sauna, a piece of culture that is passed on from generation to generation. Sweating out the stress with regular cooling dips in the lake is the ultimate way to purify both body and mind. The post-sauna feeling in the light-filled summer night is bliss defined." Whether it be an indoor electric sauna, or a more commonly-found outdoor, wood-burning outfit, the Finnish practice of warming in the sauna and then jumping in the nearby lake waters embodies the relaxation and peace of summer.

To better appreciate the lifestyle of our Finnish friends and neighbors, we rented our very own summer cottage in Pohja-Lankila north of Imatra this July. The beautiful two-bedroom home was far from humble showcasing a breath-taking view of Ilmajarvi lake. While the temperatures hovered around "chilly," we enjoyed ten days of peace and nature in the Finnish spruce forest. During our time at the cottage, we picked blueberries, enjoyed a roaring campfire, paddled our row boat around the dozens of uninhabited islands catching European perch and lahna carp brim, and fully embraced the sauna ritual.

The Finns have relaxation figured out. Summer cottage living away from the commotion of town. No street lights. No cars whizzing by. No other voices to be heard. Only the sound of silence. Seclusion and peace defined.

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