Secrets of the summer cottage

Helsinki empties over June and July as Finns escape the city and head to their summer cottages. While we could rent one ourselves, we were really pleased last weekend to spend time with Finnish friends at theirs and get an inside look at this part of Finnish life.

Photo: Heikki Puomilla

Early morning at Hirvijärvi      Photo: Heikki Puomila

About an hour out of Helsinki, we joined Heikki and Anu and their young daughter on the shores of Hirvijärvi (Moose Lake). Heikki has been holidaying here since he was a child as his grandfather built a house in the same spot.

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Although the house has been rebuilt and modern features such as electricity and running water added, the composting toilet is still outside. While I did scare myself with the thought of bears during a midnight visit, it was a huge relief not to have to check for large Australian spiders.

Composting loo

Composting loo

Part of the joy of the weekend was the chance to experience Finnish life outside of the city. After lunch we met with the local community committee, many of whom have been holidaying for generations around the shores of the same lake.

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We were warmly greeted and joined in a game where we tossed 2 euro coins at bottles of wine, with the one landing closest being the winner. In spite of my focus and good technique, I was narrowly beaten by a 12-year old boy.

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On returning to our cottage, the men and kids went fishing off the jetty, catching three small fish with bait made from flour and water.

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Heikki also showed Miko how they identify local butterflies, something his family have an avid and professional interest in.

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After a dinner of hamburgers grilled on the fire, we cooked pancakes down by the outside sauna.

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We each had a turn at flipping the pancakes, which were delicious and served with jam.

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After dinner, it was time for a huge bonfire, a tradition lit to mark the end of summer and the end of the cottage season. Heikki also let off a few fireworks he had leftover from the year before.

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As the sun dropped low in the sky the most incredible full moon rose to take its place. People lit candles out on their jetties as a way to farewell summer, with a small house on an island soon surrounded by flickering lights.

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After the children went to bed, Heikki, Jonathan and I hit the sauna, which is heated by a wood-burning fireplace inside.

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Heikki made a couple of vihta (bunches of birch leaves) and taught us how to beat ourselves and each other with them to really get the blood flowing (we have been doing it far too softly and slowly apparently).

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Each time we got too hot we headed outside to the lake, where we swam by the light of the full moon. At one point there were also huge fireworks going off overhead.

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I really can’t describe just how incredible it was to be swimming at midnight in a lake lit by candles and the moon, with fireworks bursting into bloom above us. While we all know we have another long winter ahead of us, instead of being a sad occasion it was the perfect way to say goodbye to summer.

To follow: Day Two at the summer cottage, where we head onto the lake and into the forest, finding evidence of moose and something to rival Australian spiders..

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer ( Juhannus ) is one of the biggest events on the Finnish calendar and is celebrated on the Saturday after June 19. With the biggest events happening on Midsummer’s Eve, we set off to the island of Seurasaari for some traditional Finnish celebrations.

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We’ve had a lot of rain this week, but the sun was out and the island is looking beautiful, covered in wildflowers and green.

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We love how the landscape here is left untamed and unshaped over summer, just left free to do its own thing.

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There was quite an extensive program on, with traditional crafts, singing, storytellers and puppet shows set up around the island.

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At one place you could make your own head wreath, choosing flowers from baskets of wildflowers.

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We stopped for a while in a clearing and the boys had turns on stilts while I went for a ride on a horse-drawn cart.

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Next we went down to the main events area and had our picnic dinner and wine. There was a flag procession and singing and Jonathan got drawn into dancing a Finnish folk dance, much to his discomfort and our immense delight.

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We soon followed Jonathan and his band of merry dancers down to the beach for the lighting of the first of the bonfires.

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Midsummer bonfires are called kokko, which is also the name of a mythical bird of iron and fire from Finnish folklore, similar to a phoenix.

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Despite the appearance that the sun was still rising in the sky, it was soon time for us to head off and get Miko to bed.

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For those who stayed there was music and dancing until 1 am and more bonfires lit beneath the midnight sun.

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Seurasaari is an open air museum and home to examples of Finnish architecture from across the ages and country. My parents are visiting from New Zealand and enjoyed checking out the different buildings on our way back to the bus.

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You can tell by our clothing that it wasn’t a particularly warm night on Friday, with the temperature hitting a high of just 14 degrees. That was 14 degrees warmer than last year however, so in comparison it really was a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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