Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's not only the Finns

Finnish people love sauna and for a reason...we did after all invent it. I read somewhere that there are 3.2 million saunas in Finland which is quite impressive as the population is just over 5 million.

Sauna is more than an institution in Finland, it is way of life. We use to have a sauna twice a week when I was little, mid week and Saturday. If you go and visit someone in Finland you can pretty much guarantee that Saturday evening the sauna will be on.

And you don't just go to sauna...there is more to sauna than just going in and sitting in the heat! If you have a wooden sauna you'll have to start heating it up an hour or so before you want to go. In the summertime you'll go and take a walk in the woods to collect birch branches for vasta.

Once you are in the sauna you sit and relax. If you are by a lake or in close proximity of snow (even better a lake with snow on!) you'll go and have refreshing dips from the heat in the course of the evening. In the summer you have birch branches essentially to hit yourself or your friend with...it is not as cruel as it sounds, it is actually really refreshing, feeling the leaves against your back and smelling the fresh fragrance they give. You can even by them dried in the winter time if you want but I think the summer ones are the real thing (David can't see the point in them full stop but he is forgiven for that).

Towards the end of the sauna evening you usually grill some sausages on the stove and have a refreshing drink with it. There is nothing nicer than sitting outside a sauna by a lake in the cool of the summer evening your skin still steaming from the heat and drinking a glass of granny's homemade juice and eating a sausage...hmmm I guess it would be even nicer if there weren't buzzing mosquitoes about ;)

The best sauna I know is in my granny's summerhouse. It is an old (closer to 100 years is my guess) wooden building by a lake. The walls are thick carved logs, the outside is red with white window frames. Inside there are two rooms, the dressing room and the sauna room. The log walls inside the sauna half are all black and ancient looking and the smell is incredible. There is a little window that lets in light, you can see up to the house through the silver birches. Many happy hours I have spent there with my siblings and cousins...those were the days...

One time I remember being their with my cousin and grandpa, we must have been around 7 or 8 so and running to and fro from the lake (and in the process letting the heat out) was much more interesting to us than enjoying the heat for a long periods of time. After enduring our behaviour for quite a while I seem to remember we got told to decide if we wanted to be in or out...and there is an other famous sauna occasion when we lived up in Lapland and my dad promised my brother and I double pocket money if we went and rolled on snow...which we duly did regardless of the temperature being minus too much and snow being up to our waist!

Ah, I could really do with a sauna now*...

This ode to sauna is because I saw this on the BBC website...some students in Japan have broken the record of most nationalities in a sauna at one time! And I thought it was only the Finns who would try such things. Apparently the previous record was help by Japanese as well...you always learn something new!

* maybe I could try to get David to build me one in the garden, I wonder what would the neighbors say ;)

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