I gingerly stepped on to the frozen river feeling like an astronaut exploring a new world. I had some trepidation as I took those first few steps, knowing that any minute my weight will crack the ice and I will fall in. Seconds later the inevitable happened and I plunged into the cold dark water. My suit instantly propped me up and surprisingly I didn’t feel cold at all (I did have about 4 layers on and a dry suit). As I lay on my back in the water, it started to snow. The gushing river (the unfrozen part) was frantically pushing on down stream past the snow covered trees, the ice that I broke started to knock against each other making a sound like wind chimes. It was such a magical moment. I felt such a connection with nature and yet I was only an hour away from downtown Helsinki.
I wasn’t alone on this escapade, Karen and other bloggers was also with me. Some of them soon joined me in the water, laughing like children. It struck me as we floated around that here we were in a frozen river in the middle of winter in Finland. It just proves that if you have the right clothing there is no such thing as bad weather. The Finns are always out in winter no matter what the temperature is. They have inspired me to get out more back in England.
After I clambered out of the water, I headed to the roaring fire in the main hut to have a warming mulled wine. My fellow explorers soon joined me and we headed to the ubiquitous sauna. From one extreme to another I thought, no wonder the Finns love doing this. My mind and body was buzzing. I can do about 20 mins in a sauna before needing to cool off. So I went back outside to the -20 temperature to do just that. Now to our readers who live in hot countries that probably sounds crazy and I would have agreed with you but after repeatedly doing this, I can honestly say it feels wonderful.
Before heading to lunch we jumped into the hot jacuzzi to warm up again. Water, Ice, Heat, Snow, Bubbles and Wood. It is the simple things in life that truly entertain us.
No matter where you are in Finland, nature is not too far away, it is one of the reasons why I love the country so much. Even in Helsinki you have the mighty Baltic Sea right on your doorstep. Finland is the perfect stopover destination. In a few days you can see the sights of cosmopolitan Helsinki, go fishing in one of the many lakes, feed reindeer and stay in a wooden cottage in the countryside.
The National Park we visited is called Nuuksio. It was established in 1994 and has a mixture of forests and lakes (much like the whole of Finland really). Apart from jumping into frozen rivers other activities you can do in Nuuksio National Park are hiking, geocaching, skiing, fishing, climbing, bird watching, foraging, cycling and canoeing. You can also camp in the park or stay in one of the cottages. They also have this thing called Letterboxing.
Basically Letterboxing is a mixture of puzzle solving, orienteering and art. In Parks and other outdoor spaces there are small wooden boxes that are hidden. Through word of mouth and websites you get clues to find letterboxes in the park you are visiting. Once you have found a letterbox you stamp your book with the stamp that is inside the box and you stamp the visitors book in the box with your personal stamp. Nuuksio National Park has several Letterboxes that are a challenge to find even for regular visitors.
Last but not least there are the Reindeer. You can’t visit Finland without seeing some Reindeer, Finland is the home of Santa Claus after all. Nuuksio White Reindeer Park is the southernmost area to see Reindeer in Finland and it is only 30km away from Helsinki. The first thing I noticed as we went to feed the Reindeer was their individual characters. They instantly shone through. There was the shy one, the boisterous one, the greedy one and the friendly one.
I had never been so close to Reindeer. Their antlers are magnificent things, more like tree branches than bone. Reindeer are the only type of Deer where the Male and Female have antlers. Females keep their antlers until they give birth in Spring, where males shed theirs in winter. So does that mean that Rudolf the reindeer was actually a female? Finland has the largest type of Reindeer measuring up to 2.4 meters and to the Sami people of Northern Finland the Reindeer play an important part in their culture and sustenance. They have 400 words for food, tools and other products and parts taken from reindeer. Being so close to them has made me want to visit Lapland to see them in their natural habitat oh and to meet Santa Claus of course.
Even though we only spent a day in Nuuksio National Park we managed to get our nature fix. It felt hard to believe that we were so close to downtown Helsinki. In a few hours we managed to trek through snow in a forest, float in a frozen river, feed reindeer’s and sit in a sauna. If you fancy a stopover somewhere and want a mixture of culture, nature, wildlife and friendly people, then Finland is the place for you. If you visit in winter the question is who will be first onto the frozen river?
If you are heading to Finland the check out these other posts:
Get the Finland guidebook before you go: