David the Viking turns up the heat when he visits sauna-crazy Helsinki.
One-third of the Republic of Finland is above the Arctic Circle, making it one of the world's northernmost countries. While it on Russia's doorstop, it is definitely more Scandinavian; that is reflected in its spirit, architecture, high standard of living and avant-garde textiles, furniture and ceramics. Finnish a difficult, tongue-twisting language and Swedish are spoken and a high emphasis is placed on education. It is the leading book publishing country on earth.
They have literature and a mythology of their own, quite different from any of their neighbours'. Archaeologists, linguists and anthropologists have had great difficulty in tracing the origins of the Finns, one of the most mysterious national groups in Europe. They have one of the world's most genetically pure gene pool and while they suffer diseases contracted only by them, there are other diseases common to the rest of the world which just don't attack the Finns.
There are 187,888 lakes covering 10 percent of the country, mostly narrow and shallow and dotted with tiny islands. Rivers tend to be short and the longest, Kemi, is a primary source of hydro-electric power. It also produces most of Finland's salmon.
The country's coastline is gentle with many bays, inlets and little tidal action. The icy waters provide many fish: salmon, crayfish, sardines and herring, all an important part of local diet. The national drink is curdled milk but the Finns do enjoy beer and schnapps. They also drink copious amounts of coffee, to the tune of 13 kilos per person each year.
Helsinki is divided into four districts and has an efficient transport network including buses, trams, subway, ferries and taxis and because of its size, makes it easy to walk around. Cafes, parks, markets and nearby islands are summer delights.
The Helsinki Card gives free urban travel, entry to over 50 attractions and day tours around the city plus discounts on day tours to Porvoo, a medieval town 50kms west of Helsinki, and Tallin, the capital of Estonia. There are one, two and three day cards available.
Finland is the home of Nokia, the town and mobile phone company. Finns are the highest per capita users of mobile phones: 73 people in every 100 have one. Nokia phones have taken the world by storm and have made the country much money. So important are they there are even mobile phone souvenirs.
Finland has around 1.6 million saunas; one for every three citizens. The ideal and traditional sauna experience should be in a log cabin with windows and a lake view. Friends relax together in the heat, drinking cold beer and eating sausages which have been cooked on the heat-retaining stones.
After the sauna, the way to cool off is for a swim in a cold lake. In winter, when the lake is frozen over, a hole is cut through the ice so the really keen can take a dip.
Saunas are looked upon with almost religious awe and they are espoused to be physically, therapeutically and emotionally cleansing. Many women believe giving birth in a sauna makes the whole process a lot easier.
The Kotiharju sauna opened in 1928 and is the only traditional log-heated public sauna remaining in Helsinki. The public sauna is becoming extinct as so many people have them in their own homes now.
30 minutes from Helsinki in the town of Vantaa is a savusauna called Kuusijärvi. It is a smoked sauna with a huge fireplace made from 1500kg of stones. There is no chimney and everything is black, but it is very popular.