Finland, the magical land where the first thing you do with your new friend is get naked in a sauna with a beer.
I love couchsurfing (an online community, which connects travellers with foreign hosts who let them sleep on their couch/spare bed for free) and some of my favourite travel experiences happened because of it, so I am planning to eventually get them all written down as stories. The first one is also the most recent one, from Rovaniemi, Finland, where I stayed with Elina.
One of my Australian friends, Grant, who I guess is the person who got me into couchsurfing, has been telling me all about his amazing Finnish friends and how I absolutely have to go meet them in Rovaniemi. So, naturally I did and he was right!
I visited Rovaniemi in March 2019 while I was living in Sweden. I arrived on a late Friday morning and checked out the 3 Rovaniemi must-see museums, then met up with Elina in one of the shopping centres and she led the way to her house. We hit it off straight away and the initial new person awkwardness was gone before we even reached the house.
Elina and her friend had a beautiful, a bit retro styled flat and a small white cat Maya, who was in heat at the time. If you’ve ever seen a cat in heat you’ll know they tend to provocatively shake their butts at you and try to push their little assholes as close to your face as possible, but more disturbingly, they sound like they’ve been possessed by a demon. Cute little Maya would start meowing at random intervals, which progressively turned into outright tortured screaming, a kind of deep throat belching and all out horror movie demon summoning. She particularly loved doing that in my room, so I half expected to find a cat scratched pentagram under my bed and wake up in the seventh circle of Hell. Still, she was a cuddly cutie and the entire thing was hilarious, even more so because Elina was adorably embarrassed.
She had kindly bought me a Suomi (Finland) beer as a welcome gift and I brought her Jaffa cookies from Slovenia (it’s good practice to bring a gift when staying with someone). It turned out she knew and liked the cookie brand and they had a different variety of them in Finland, while I loved the colorful Suomi bottle and it is actually still in my small special bottle collection back home in Slovenia. We drank the beer, ate some food that she got at work for free, talked and got to know each other. I am super happy to say that we continued to get along great and actually became friends by the end of my Rovi weekend, as we had a lot in common.
In the middle of the beer drinking her father called and told her he is going to borrow us the car for the whole weekend, which allowed us to visit the Ranua zoo, so we went to pick up the car. Turns out Elina is the same as me and isn’t the biggest fan of driving, but between us both we had one functional adult driver brain and made it work.
After that I got to experience the great Finnish tradition of sauna beer! Elina and her friend had a small sauna built into their bathroom and we hang out in there with an ice cold beer, which was an awesome upgrade from the usual sauna experience. In between the sauna visits we cooled down at the balcony with a very nice view of the snowy trees below. Sitting naked in the balcony in the middle of winter and drinking beer with a woman I just met somehow felt like the epitome of modern feminism and we had a good laugh about it. I was never a sauna person growing up, but after spending some time in Scandinavia I’ve become quite the fan and this sauna beer option really sealed the deal for me. 🙂
We turned in early on Friday, then visited the Santa Claus village, the Ranua zoo and ate reindeer sushi on Saturday, before going back to the apartment for more sauna time with some of Elina’s other Finnish friends and plenty of alcohol. True to the stereotype, it takes a lot of alcoholic social lubricant to get the Finns to socialise and the difference after a few beers was noticeable. They actually started sharing a bit about their personal lives *gasp* and their body language went straight from stiff and controlled to full-on party mode. Turns out most of them were huge Nick Cave fans, which worked great and the Weeping song was apparently their drunk anthem (but they weren’t weeping long).
Elina made different jello shots the day before, including salmiakkikossu (salmiakki, i.e. salty liquorice + spirit), which I was forced to try as a good house guest and I’ll admit salmiakki is still one of the more disgusting things I’ve tried in my life, but the rest of them were very good. I got to try different Finnish long drinks, as Elina’s fridge was well-stocked and she kept offering me new things to try, which was awesome!
We also made some very delicious Finnish foods, such as karjalanpiirakka, the Karelian pasty filled with rice porridge, topped with munavoi (egg butter) on Saturday, and leipäjuusto, a type of squeaky, soft bread cheese topped with hilla (cloudberries) for hangover breakfast on Sunday. Even though I had trouble pronouncing it, I loved all of it and I’ve been trying to find the squeaky cheese in Sweden.
It was St. Patrick’s day on Saturday, so all of us headed out after the pre-drinks, to an Irish pub called Oliver’s corner, where we got the Guinness hats and stayed out drunkenly partying until late.
We mostly recuperated on Sunday before I had to catch my bus back to Luleå through Haparanda-Tornio. Elina’s flatmate was so dead he couldn’t even get out of bed and his voice rivaled Maya the cat’s infernal screaming, while both Elina and I felt a bit queasy eating breakfast, but the food eventually helped. After I left Elina’s father also brought me a beer coaster (I collect them and plan to cover my kitchen ceiling with them), which I received via post later. Elina has also joined the tiny, but incredibly awesome group of people who collect beer coasters for me so that my future kitchen ceiling will be even cooler and we’ve kept in touch since then.
The Rovaniemi weekend as a whole was a great success, which was just what I needed after the long, dark Swedish winter and I really enjoyed my time at Elina’s place, so kiitos Elina! You are always welcome in Slovenia or wherever I may be.