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July 21, 2020

Finland, officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country which shares land borders with Sweden to the northwest, Norway to the north, and Russia to the east, with the Gulf of Bothnia to the west and the Gulf of Finland across to Estonia to the south. Finland has a population of 5.5 million. It is roughly the size of Montana. Helsinki is the capital and largest city. Finnish, alongside Swedish, are the official languages. Finland’s climate varies from humid continental in the south to the boreal in the north. The land cover is primarily a boreal forest biome, with more than 180,000 recorded lakes.

As a result of the Swedish crusades Finland gradually became part of the kingdom of Sweden and the sphere of influence of the Catholic Church. Due to the Swedish conquest, the Finnish upper class lost its position and lands to the new Swedish and German nobility and the Catholic Church. In Sweden, even in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was clear that Finland was a conquered country and its inhabitants could be treated arbitrarily. Swedish kings visited Finland rarely and in Swedish contemporary texts Finns were portrayed to be primitive and their language inferior.

In the 18th century, wars between Sweden and Russia twice led to the occupation of Finland by Russian forces. Two Russo-Swedish wars in twenty-five years served as reminders to the Finnish people of their precarious position between Sweden and Russia. Increasingly vocal elite in Finland soon determined that Finnish ties with Sweden were becoming too costly, and following the Russo-Swedish War (1788–1790), the Finnish elite’s desire to break with Sweden only heightened.  Notwithstanding the efforts of Finland’s elite and nobility to break ties with Sweden, there was no genuine independence movement in Finland until the early 20th century. Rather, the Finnish peasantry was outraged by the actions of their elite and almost exclusively supported Gustav’s actions against the conspirators. The Swedish era ended in the Finnish War in 1809.

From 1869 until 1917, the Russian Empire pursued a policy known as the “Russification of Finland“. Rather than acknowledge the authority of the Power Act of a few months earlier, the right-wing government, presented a Declaration of Independence on 4 December 1917

After brief experimentation with monarchy, when an attempt to make Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse King of Finland was unsuccessful, Finland became a presidential republic in 1919. Nevertheless, the relationship between Finland and the Soviet Union remained tense. Army officers were trained in France, and relations with Western Europe and Sweden were strengthened.

In January 1949 the Soviet Union finally recognized the legal Finnish government as the legitimate government of Finland.  Finland had successfully defended its independence, but ceded 9% of its territory to the Soviet Union.

Hostilities resumed in June 1941 with the Continuation War, when Finland aligned with Germany following the latter’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The treaties signed with the Soviet Union in 1947 and 1948 included Finnish obligations, restraints, and reparations, as well as further Finnish territorial concessions in addition to those in the Moscow Peace Treaty. As a result, Finland lost 97,000 soldiers and was forced to pay war reparations of $300 million ($5.5 billion in 2020); nevertheless, it avoided occupation by Soviet forces and managed to retain its independence.

Finland rejected Marshall Aid, in apparent deference to Soviet desires. However, in the hope of preserving Finland’s independence, the United States provided secret development aid and helped the Social Democratic Party. Establishing trade with the Western powers, such as the United Kingdom, and paying reparations to the Soviet Union produced a transformation of Finland from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrialized one.  After the reparations had been paid off, Finland continued to trade with the Soviet Union in the framework of bilateral trade.

The 1952 Summer Olympics brought international visitors.  Much of the late 1990s economic growth was fueled by the success of the mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, which held a unique position of representing 80% of the market capitalization of the Helsinki Stock Exchange. Finland had its first female president in 2000 and its first female prime minister in 2003.

Finland’s support for NATO rose enormously after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. On 11 May 2022, Finland entered into a mutual security pact with the United Kingdom. On 12 May, Finland’s president and prime minister called for NATO membership “without delay.” Subsequently, on 17 May, the Parliament of Finland decided by a vote of 188–8 that it supported Finland’s accession to NATO. 

Finland’s flag:                                                                 

It has a white background for the snows of Finland and blue for its lakes. The blue was represented in the form of a Nordic Cross. 

Currency – The Euro as we are back in the EU

Beer:  Karhu

Diesel Price: 2.2 Euros a litre so over $8 USD a gallon

License plate letters: FIN

We awoke near the border to Norway to sunny skies today and by the time we left at 9ish – it was already 22C / 75F!  What a difference to northern Norway.  We crossed the border which is a river to this much vandalized sign:

While driving we crossed paths with a few trucks that had “NATO” written on them and a couple of tanks being transported……

We continued on into the country to the town of Inari where there is a museum dedicated to the Sami people.

For 13€ each we were able to enter and see the indoor exhibits and the history and lives of these indigenous peoples and then wander a 1 km path to see an open air museum of their homes etc.

The Sami people are the indigenous people of the Nordic countries spanning Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.  Like in North America, settlers began to take over their lands; here it began in the 17th century.  This pressured the Sami people to settle and no longer roam the lands.  The reindeer herders of Enontekio were the only group in Finland to maintain their nomadic lifestyle until the mid 20th century.  There are nine Sami languages.  The largest Sami group actually lives in Norway with a population of 45,000 and there are 25000 in Sweden.  In Finland there are about 10000 and Russia has about 2000.


Map of regions where the Sami still live
a Sami bear trap
Sami boats
Sami tipi
cycle of the cloudberry
bucket of cloudberries
Sami footwear


This visit took us just over an hour, then we had breakfast and went grocery shopping.  The drive was all inland, unlike Norway, and the landscape is very Northern Ontario/Minnesota looking with lots and lots and lots of trees and bodies of water.   There were NO tunnels or ferries to be taken here.

We decided to push on a bit and get to what is deemed one of the five best sauna experiences in Finland at Kiipaa Lodge.   We are not huge sauna fans(we prefer hot tubs) but since this country is the “mother of the sauna”, we had to try it at least one.  At this point we are about 40 km from the Russian border!

The lodge charges 15€ for adults for a 90 minute session.  There are two types of saunas here: electric (boring) and smoke.  We went for the latter.  There is a lovely cooling pond outside (cooling – ha!  It’s cold!) and this is the outside of the smoke sauna:

There are, of course, male and female change/shower rooms and a bench along the balcony overlooking the swimming hole.  We entered the room after showers and Fran took a quick dip in the pond:

We were told it was very hot in the upper right corner so we sat more left with a Finnish couple to whom we chatted with for a bit before it got too hot for Fran.  She went out for another dip and then sat on the lower level.

We took a few more cooling sessions and get this:  Doug actually went IN the cold water and did a lap around the pond! After a couple more sauna/pool sessions, we then called it.  We had lovely hot showers before returning to Minou to hang wet stuff outside while we dressed and returned to the sauna balcony to enjoy a cold one after chugging back a bottle of water each.

It was a very relaxing afternoon.  While there is a campground here for 30€ we didn’t need power and had already had showers so we drove back down the road a bit to a parking area at a trail head that was paved and rather large.

We did see one reindeer early this morning and then several more afterwards.  Most reindeer here are farmed but roam wild.  Unlike in Norway or Sweden, the majority of the population has the right to keep reindeer.  The herding area is divided into administrative areas or cooperatives.  Reindeer have earmarks which indicate their ownership.

Friday morning we awoke to dry ground which was a surprise because there was an 80% chance of the wet stuff overnight but we were happy.  We began our drive southward and made it to Rovaniemi which is at the Arctic Circle and where Santa Claus has a home!

We parked and took a stroll around the “village” looking for a Finnish souvenir (something sauna related – no luck) and spent some time taking pics on the Arctic Circle line.

No luck on the souvenir front but we did find a place where we could feed and pet reindeers.

We wandered through Santa’s “office” till we hit the lineup for taking expensive photos with Santa and then turned around.  They want about 30€ for photos so we passed and Doug took some of Fran with some “statues” of the jolly man.

We had driven over 240 km / 150 mi already today so we decided to call it quits for the day and Fran found a sportsplex that had free parking and access to bathrooms and maybe showers.  We parked and went for walks before relaxing for the night.

the bridge into the city
Fran saw these reindeer on her walk
an outdoor ice rink in a country that loves hockey

So Saturday morning, we had some decisions to make; there’s not much we want to see between here and Helsinki – do we make the long push and get to the two things we want to see east of the capital or do we take our time?  Even in Helsinki, there’s not a lot that we want to see.  (Having travelled so much, there are some things that you can see in many countries, but how many of these things do you actually want to see over and over? For us, it’s about new things and new experiences.)

We decided to look into the ferry schedule for our next destination after Helsinki: Tallin, Estonia.  Turns out it’s much cheaper to sail on Sunday (and as we’ve experienced Sundays are the best days to be in large cities) but we didn’t think the 3:15 pm ferry was doable seeing how we wanted to see the city of Helsinki tomorrow as well. So we booked the 9:40 pm ferry which is really late for us but way cheaper than waiting until Monday.

So this meant we had to push on today to see the two things before Helsinki.  The weather was on and off all day and the first thing we wanted to do was a short hike into the woods to see Kummakivi – what we believe is the largest balanced rock in the world.  Doug hung in there driving with a couple of Pepsi Max’s and we made it there around 6 after some confusion about where we actually had to go to get to the trailhead.  It began to pour with rain just before arriving there and the last 3km of road was dirt.   Fran did not want to hike in the rain and it was raining way too hard even for Doug.  We stayed in Minou and got the dishes down and then it stopped raining.  Another car had just arrived and we grabbed our raincoats, just in case, and set out on the short trail.

The trail was rather primitive and really wet.

We found the rock and were suitably impressed:

It’s 7m across and estimated to weigh 500 tons!

What IS recorded as the world largest balanced rock is one in India that weighs 250 tons so we felt justified in thinking this was way bigger!

It’s now 6:30 and we don’t want to camp here so we push on to the nearby small city of Imatra and found a place to park for the night very close to the famous rapids.   Doug had read they only open the day a few days a week Wednesday to Sunday so we hoped to catch a glimpse tomorrow.   Fran took a peek as we drove across the bridge and there was very little water – mmmhhh.  Fran went online again and discovered that these days they only flood the rapids four times a year and in this part of July, we were 3 weeks too late to see it.  Oh well….

So today was our longest driving day ever in Minou: 777km / 482 mi.  Today we saw no animals – guess we’re too far south for reindeer. This part of Finland has even more lakes and bodies of water around us than up north.

Oh, the town of Imatra is 8km from the Russian border in the southeast of Finland.

After parking we had a chat with Serena about how the wedding plans were coming along and then we ate a late dinner.  It was a quiet but wet night and we awoke to misty “Vancouver” rain Sunday morning.  We had about 300 km to drive to Helsinki and it was an unexciting mostly freeway drive – one weird thing about the drive to the capital was how far we had to go towards the city before we saw mileage signs to Helsinki.  We found this odd because in Norway, for just about the whole southern half of the country’s highways, there always seemed to be signs directing you to Oslo!  We arrived around 10:30 and instead of parking where we planned, due to road construction getting there, we found free parking two blocks from the main harbour which was where we wanted to visit anyway – again we are in a big city on a Sunday.

It had stopped raining a couple of hours ago and the sun was really tried hard to make an appearance.  We walked around and saw two of the three big churches here in the city:

Finnish Lutheran Cathedral with its large square:

Some of the buildings at the harbour:

The Orthodox Church (largest in northern Europe)

But being Sunday morning, both had services and we could not enter.

Next was the main market of Helsinki.  It was way smaller than expected but we did finally find the souvenir we wanted and then went to find some Finnish food for lunch.  We opted for Reindeer hotdogs, fries and slaw.

It was pretty darn good but as we’re eating Doug regreted he didn’t get any herring which we saw many others getting.

We then bought tickets and caught the ferry to the number one attraction in the city: the Suomenlinna fortress/castle out on the islands. It’s a 15 minute ferry ride for €2.80 a person with a ticket good for 80 minutes.  As we didn’t plan to visit any museums on the island (there are SIX!) we figured we could see wander the castle grounds  and then get back on the same ticket.

So we walked around the island for well over an hour and got back in time to just miss a ferry but another came in less than 10 minutes and we made it back t the see with a harbour cruise to boot on the same tickets.

We wandered around the city a bit more and Doug decided he should get some herring after all so he got some to go and we walked around about 30 minutes before returning to Minou.  It’s only 2pm now and although we’re way too early to catch the ferry we decided to go over and see if they won’t’ allow us on that 3:15 boat – nope – all full up they said.  We were told we could back up and park in the back part of the lot until we could check in at 8pm for our trip.

We parked and spent the time reading, going online (free port Wi-Fi) etc. before making dinner.

We drove 1470 km / 913 mi in Finland.

Fun facts about Finland: 

  • Finland is the world’s happiest country
  • Finland is NOT part of Scandanavian although it is a Nordic country
  • Generally when you’re on a highway, there’s a bike path nearby
  • Reindeer are the same as caribou; in North America they are reindeer ONLY if domesticated but they are called reindeer wild or domesticated in Europe.
  • Finland is said to have 188,000 lakes – that’s 26 lakes for every Finn! (Canada has 879,800 and the US had over 201,000)
  • Finns drink more coffee per head than any other people in the world
  • Finland has the most number of heavy metal bands per capita in the world
  • There are over 2,000,000 saunas in the country; there is even a Burge King with a sauna!
  • There is a word in Finnish: “kalsarikannit” which means “staying home and drinking beer in your underwear”!
  • The Finns invented the Molotov cocktail


our complete route through the 4 Nordic Countries