Very few people know where Finland actually is. Everyone has heard of the place, but few can pinpoint it on a map. Most people associate it with Scandinavia, saying, “It’s somewhere up there”. However, Finland is NOT part of Scandinavia, which is defined as incorporating Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It is a Nordic country and is referred to sometimes (but mistakenly) as one of the Baltic States; these being Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. So, Finland stands on the shores of the Baltic, in its entirety above 60º North, separate and independent of its neighbours.
Finland and the North
Half of the world’s population that live north of the 60th parallel (the level of Helsinki) live in Finland! This means that the populations of Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, above the southernmost level of Finland, all put together, is very small; ergo—Finland really is up north!
And, it is this separateness that has shaped Finland. The Finns are unique. They are not Scandinavians, nor are they Slavs. Their language is totally different from other European languages and has no Indo-European roots. Their climate is said to be bleak and their geography isolated.
People usually go to Finland because they have a reason to, not because it is a convenient stop over. Finland has never been on the main road to anywhere. However, this has recently changed as the Japanese are now finding that the capital city, Helsinki, is a great place to stop on their way to the rest of Europe. Nowadays, the quickest transportation routes into the interior of Russia are through the southern part of Finland by rail or road, as there is only one border to cross.
Although Finland has immense physical beauty, it is the people that make it memorable. Their traditions make it interesting; their love of all things modern makes it astonishing. Their language makes it impossible, and the influences from both East and West could be said to make Helsinki the “Istanbul of the North”. Set on the Baltic, Finland’s capital Helsinki is an intriguing mix of European, Scandinavian and Russian cultures. There are two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. In northern Finland lies the country of Lapland, home to about 6,500 Sami (Laps) who have their own language and culture.
Contradictions and contrasts are the two words that constantly use when describing Finland:
- The stillness of the summer forests interrupted by mosquitoes and other pesky insects in June and July.
- The absolute quiet and silence of the countryside challenged by nightlife in the city.
- The glow of the long “white nights” in mid-summer contrasted with the awesome silence of the snowcovered forests in mid-winter.
- Modern versus old traditions.
- The blue, blue spring skies which contradict the complete “white outs” in winter.
- Traditions of Lapland versus cosmopolitan Helsinki.
- Vast uninterrupted forests which are actually managed.
- A well-ordered country that looks totally natural.