*Welcome to Finland
Finland is divided into four major areas. The region around the capital, Helsinki, is located in the south of the country – and about twenty per cent of the entire population of Finland live there. Other regions include the coast together with the Archipelago Sea and the Finnish lake district in the interior of the country. The most northerly region in Finland, which is also the last undeveloped wilderness in Europe, is Lapland – known for its Arctic natural surroundings, Santa Claus and the polar lights. The best time to observe this fascinating display of lights is between September and March. The polar lights can be seen almost every night in northern Lapland if the sky is clear, while it is only possible to see them for a few nights a year in the south of Finland. The Finnish Meteorological Institute even has its own website for weather in space – where you can discover more about the activities of the polar lights in Finland in real time.
The Lapland region covers an area measuring about 100,000 km2 and stretches beyond the country’s borders as far as Sweden, Norway and Russia. The capital of Finnish Lapland is Rovaniemi, which is known as the ‘gateway to the north’. It was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. The place, where almost 64,000 people live, is now a modern town and is also home to the Arktikum – an underground museum, which is also the scientific centre for the Arctic and the history of Finnish Lapland.
Rovaniemi is not only a special place in Lapland because of its location right next to the Arctic Circle – the town’s most famous resident also regularly attracts a great deal of attention: Santa Claus or Joulupukki, as he is known in Finland. Santa Claus’ official place of residence is not Greenland or the North Pole, but Rovaniemi. He and his reindeer have settled comfortably in Santa Claus Village there and receive visitors throughout the year from all over the world, who want to be enchanted by the flair of this magical place. The Village is open all year round and offers various attractions for people of all ages, such as the elves’ farmyard with a zoo where children can pet the animals, mouth-watering gingerbread and Christmas delicacies, winter excursions through the snow or a ride on the Magic Train.
The main post office for Santa Claus is located in Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi in addition to his official office. You are able to send not only cards from there to your nearest and dearest at home, but also very special post: a letter on official Santa Claus stationery – and, quite naturally, with the official Santa Claus postmark too!
Lapland is home to less than four per cent of Finland’s entire population. The Sámi people live there too and they are the last recognised group of Indigenous people in Europe. The Sámi originally lived as hunters and nomads. They used to follow the herds of reindeer, which made their way through the countryside in search of food. The reindeer not only served as domesticated animals to pull the sledges, but were also a source of food. Only a few Sámi people live as nomads nowadays. Most of them now work as farmers and have become almost fully integrated into Scandinavian society. However, because they are shaped by the history of their national group, many Sámi people wish to retain their own culture and language. They were viewed as a primitive people for a long time because their lifestyle did not fit the image of northern European nations; the aim was to repress them by systematically repopulating their settlement area and using various measures for cultural assimilation away from Sápmi (as the Sámi people call their own country).
The Sámi people now number about 70,000 in total, with some 6,000 of them living in Finland. The remaining Sámi people reside in Sweden, Norway or Russia. They now have their own parliamentary representation for cultural autonomy, so-called Sameting, in some of these countries. The Sámi Finnish parliament has its headquarters in the Lapland village of Inari and it is housed in a wooden building known as Sajos. It is possible to visit the parliament building as part of a guided tour group.
The lifestyle in Helsinki is much more urban. The Finnish capital is located right next to the sea and is dominated by its unique combination of design, art and architecture – and this particularly comes to light at Senate Square, which is a jewel of Neo-Classical architecture. This is where what is probably the city’s most important landmark is situated and it is also the most famous building in the whole of Finland – Helsinki Cathedral. You can recognise the cathedral’s green dome from quite a distance; it soars high above the roofs of the city and can be easily seen from the sea too. The ornate Uspenski Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox churches in Western Europe, is located just a few metres away, in the Katajanokka port district. Half a million people visit it every year.
The underground Temppeliaukio Church of the Rock is another of the city’s highlights. It may look fairly unspectacular from the outside, but it is one of Europe’s most unusual churches because of the building’s design: it was built directly into the granite rock. The walls of the Expressionist Church of the Rock consist of unworked stones and therefore give the interior a very special atmosphere. A large copper roof with 180 windows supplies enough light inside the church, which is used not only for religious services, but also for regular concerts.
Students and artists in particular can find exactly what they want in the Kallio city district. The former workers’ district is now a lively and unconventional area with a vibrant night life. It is home to numerous saunas, cafés, vegetarian and vegan restaurants, small (second-hand) shops as well as its historic market hall called Hakaniemen Kauppahalli; it is not only possible to buy works of art there, but also to enjoy various Finnish specialities. Some of the most popular items are pulla (a cardamom-spiced bread) or korvapuusti (cinnamon rolls), which are often served with coffee. And people drink a lot of coffee in Finland – a very great deal. So much so that Finland is even the world’s number one in coffee consumption. The average per-head consumption of black gold is as much as an amazing 12 kilogrammes per year, which translates into at least four cups a day. For the purposes of comparison: Germans drink about five-and-a-half kilogrammes of coffee every year and even in Italy, which is generally known as a coffee country, they ‘only’ drink six kilogrammes of coffee per annum.
People consume the national drink, kahvi, as coffee is known is Finland, at every conceivable opportunity, whether it is early in the morning after getting up, during their lunch break, after finishing work, when visitors arrive or before they go to sleep. Workers in the country are also entitled to a statutory coffee break twice a day, when they can enjoy their special, light-roasted filter coffee, which is made available by many small, local roasting houses. You may look for cappuccino, latte macchiato and other coffee drinks in Finland, but your search will be in vain; there are only a few branches of international chains in Helsinki. Perhaps this passion for black gold is one of the reasons why Finland is the place where the happiest people on earth live.
The large number of trees is certainly another reason why life in Finland makes people happy. After all, almost 75 per cent of the country’s surface area is covered by forests! All these trees produce a large amount of oxygen and this is released into the atmosphere. Combined with the relatively low population density in the country, this means that Finnish air is not only of a very high quality, but is even considered to be the best in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The Finnish language even has a special word for breathing fresh air: happihyppely, which can be literally translated as ‘oxygen hopping’. Pallas in Lapland (N67°58.400' E24°06.939') holds the record for having the cleanest air in the world. This is the place where the lowest amount of air pollutants has been measured so far. Oulu has the cleanest air of all the Finnish cities.
It is also possible to breathe in the clean Finnish air at Saimaa, which is Finland’s largest lake. It is located north-east of Helsinki and has been connected to the Gulf of Finland by the Saimaa Canal since the end of the 19th century. The canal, which is 43 kilometres long, was also an important route for transporting goods from the wood-processing industry in earlier times and shiploads are still transported along the canal between the coast and the interior of the country to this day. Eight locks help to even out the difference in altitude of 76 metres. It is not possible to use the Saimaa Canal between January and April – this is partly because it is frozen over, but also because the time is used to make any necessary repairs.
Logistics specialist Rhenus Logistics operates in this region with its portfolio of services in the short-sea shipping business. The company offers, for example, shipments of goods from the lakes district and the ports on the southern coast of Finland. The company transports forestry products such as logs, sawn timber, wood chips and cellulose, in addition to telegraph masts and steel. Rhenus is able to ship goods from Finland to many European destinations in collaboration with its Norwegian cooperation partner, WILSON ASA.
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