I write this from the wonderful and much-better-than-it-sounds Hotel Krapi
Sometimes people say to me, "what should one do when visiting Finland." I look at them with a a wise and knowing expression and I tell them that there are in fact precisely two things you should do when you are in Finland. Yesterday I did both of them.
The first and best thing that you should enjoy on any visit to this country, in fact the greatest contribution that the Finnish people have made to the world (and this includes Salmiaki) is of course Sauna. Now, I'm not talking about an electric sauna hear as mildly pleasant as it might be. It has to be heated by a wood-burning stove. And preferably within running naked distance from the sea or a lake. Smoke-saunas are in a league of their own but being British, anything that involves real flames does it for me.
Last night we went with Kaarina's cousin Petri to his minimöki on Lammassaari or "Sheep Island" which is strangely enough not an island and is right in the middle of Helsinki. You walk some distance accross what was once perhaps sea and is now a swamp (or suo) on a raised wooden path (I think we call these "duckboards" in English". Then you come to a charming community of tiny, but perfectly formed, red cottages. No running water, electricity and shared compost toilets.
And after our salmontrout barbeque, Petri and I, leaving Kaarina to read comics, walked through the rain to the communal sauna. Two gentleman, rather the worse for drink were just leaving and in fact left their saussages cooking on the stones. But we had a marvellous sauna...Petri does like it hot and poured ladle after ladle of water on the stones until I could take no more and ran through the falling rain into the murky sea.
Above the door was a sign which roughly translated, read...
When the organs* of the sauna play
One forgets all one´s worries and sorrows
And how very true this is. There is no anxiety, no nagging niggle that can´t be sweated out and washed away after an hour spent with good company in the sauna.
The second thing which I had done earlier is to experience the attentions of a Finnish massage therapists. Don´t expect a flakey aromatherpy dusting down, if you've got an aching muscle, prepared to have it punished a bit. But these people really know their stuff and you come out feeling like you´ve just slept for a week. In fact yesterday afternoon, I did actually sleep through most of it. A pity really because, to me, being kneaded by an expert is possibly the most relaxing and pleasurable thing I know.
(* As in church organs. Stop sniggering at the back.)