Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hyvää Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday children around Finland dress up as little witches and equip themselves with willow branches decorated with colourful feathers and crepe paper. The little witches tour the neighbourhood, knock on doors and recite an old poem that promises health and youthfulness for the coming year and asks for a reward. Whoever opens the door gets one of the decorated willow branches as a gift and the reward is usually a chocolate egg or other seasonal sweets.

Here is what the little witches recite:

Virvon, varvon,
turceks’ terveeks
tulevaks’ vuodeks!
vitsa sullepalkka mulle!
Rauhallista Pääsiäistä

For fresh, for health
for the coming year!
The branch for you,
the treat for me!
Have a Peaceful Easter.

Hope all our friends And Family have a happy Palm Sunday And Easter!


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Northern Lights

When is the best time for witnessing the Northern Lights? They say it is from September to late April. Cold winter nights tend to provide the highest chances of seeing them. The best time to see them is around 23:00 pm (11pm) – 2:00 am. Most seekers are bundled up and out in cold weather between 22:00 pm (10pm) – 4:00 am. A lot of hotels up in Lapland will call your room and alert you if they are spotted in the night sky. I was starting to think my chances of seeing this phenomena were going to be slim to none. I have talked to many Finns that have lived here all their lives and have never witnessed them. They say you have a much better chance of seeing a shooting star.

Well this American Expat is determined to see them before exiting this country! I want to see color and lights in the dark, cold winter that seems to never end here in Finland!

There are 3 natural phenomenas and last night I got to witness one of them! The three phenomenas are the Midnight Sun, the Polar Nights and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). I finally got to experience the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)! The best part was that I did not have to spend many euros to go to Lapland to see them. I was able to see them inside my home in Espoo, Finland. It is quite rare to see these and actually they say it is more luck when visiting up around the Arctic Circle and to be able to say we saw them in the Helsinki area is even more rare.

We found out about a site early on in our adventures here, that will alert you when there is Northern Light activity. March 17, 2013, it became apparent that we might have an opportunity to see them in Southern Finland. We had a high forecast of a level 5. Basically a level 5 means weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Tromsø, Norway to as far south as Sundsvall, Sweden and Arkhangelsk, Russia, visible low on the horizon from Edinburgh and Valga, Estonia. On March 15, 2013, we had a solar event. Due to this event it has put us on active alert for the next day or two. This solar event interacted with the giant magnetic bubble surrounding Earth, the magnetosphere, causing a G1-class geomagnetic storm.

Here is a video model from of the solar event that took place on the 15th of March:

In order to see the auroral display here in Southern Finland the Kp index has to be at least 4 for Northern Lights visibility on the northern horizon, or 6 for the Northern Lights to take place directly overhead. Here is an image of the kp and what it looked like on the 17th.

March 17, 2013 - Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe

March 17, 2013 – Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe

The first warning came in around 19:00 (7pm). The second about an hour later. This is the one that started a little buzz in the social media in Finland that the Northern Lights were being spotted in the Helsinki Area. We started looking after this and even sent a instant message to a friend out in the National Forest to see if he had spotted them and the chances of seeing them again. He did see them when that second warning was sent out. Patience was his recommendation and they tend to be earlier when spotted this far south. I was determined and pretty much planted myself at the window trying to figure out which direction was north. Pretty easy once I recalled the setting sun. Around 21:00 (9pm) another warning was issued. I started looking at this point a little more. Jumping from front and back windows of my house.

Finally, very close 22:00 (10pm) I noticed something in the sky. It seemed like a band or wave just below a star I could see in the sky. I was not sure if this was it. I was calling out to Christian to come look, but he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and did not hear me. By the time he did hear me I could not really see the band anymore. I received this warning on my phone NUR_XYDERIV= 72(2013-03-17-20UT). So we knew we might get a chance. He continued to look out the window with me and then we started to notice it again. Christian has seen the Northern Lights before with his brother, Stephen in Lapland, Sweden. Christian confirmed what I was seeing and then we started to notice more color of faint green waves. We quickly ran outside in our pajamas in the freezing weather at least -12C. It was a little more noticeable once stepping outside and as we looked around you could see it stretching across the sky and dipping down. We even saw it at one point have what looked like wavy fingers. The entire time is kept a green tint. My thought was if we didn’t have the light pollution from street lights and Helsinki how much more vivid would they have been? I didn’t care! I was witnessing something that not many ever get to see and almost very rare to see this far south of the Arctic Circle. We both had our iPhones out not really realizing they were not going to capture what we were seeing, but they did capture my excitement with seeing them and to me was totally priceless!
Here is a clip of video darkness, but my excitement caught on video!

We were unable to get pictures, but I have found a few videos on YouTube that people were able to capture from the 17th. Here are few of my favorites.

For future information on how to capture The Northern Lights here are photography tips that I found:

BASIC EQUIPMENT: A tripod first of all, preferably used with a remote trigger so you don’t have to touch the camera. The camera should be a 35mm SLR camera with manual focus (set to “infinity”), which works well for Northern Lights photography. Digital cameras will need to have manually adjustable ISO and zoom settings.

RECOMMENDED PHOTO GEAR: Beyond the basic photography equipment, you should bring the following gear for great results: A wide-angle zoom lens, f2.8 (or lower numbers), will give great results photographing the Northern Lights. A wireless trigger is also very nice, so you don’t nudge the camera at all. If you have a prime lens (with fixed focal length) for your camera, bring it.

TAKING A PICTURE: You will not be able to take good pictures of the Northern Lights with short exposure times. Good exposure times for this are 20-40 seconds per picture (the tripod will help you eliminate shaking of the camera – you can’t hold the camera by hand.) A sample exposure time for ISO 800 film with f/2.8 would be 30 seconds.

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Avantouinti or Ice Swimming

One of the things on our list to do in Finland was to try ice swimming or what the Finns call avantouinti. Ice swimming is a body of water with a frozen crust of ice. You must either break the ice or enter where a spring keeps the water from freezing over. We went to Nuuksio. This is in the National Forrest and we went there in the fall for mushroom picking and sauna with Tekla Family Club. This time we contacted Pekka at Nuuksio and just our family was there. We swam in a spot where the ice was broken by hand. The ice was probably 10cm thick. Natalie with the help of Pekka took a snow shovel and cracked the thin layer of ice that had formed on the hole from the previous night. Swimming in the ice hole is very good for the blood circulation and resistance.

Before ice swimming you enjoy warming up in a traditional Finnish sauna. Sauna is pronounced sow- na. We went to a place that has a smoke sauna or in Finnish the savusauna. This is my favorite type of sauna. This sauna does not have a chimney. The wood is burned in a kind of stove with stones above it. The smoke fills the room. Once the sauna is hot enough the fire can die out. We took a shovel and removed the hot coals into a special container outside of the sauna. The smoke is then ventilated out. Smoke saunas provide a mystical “löyly” – a combination of heat, steam and atmosphere, and are highly prized by sauna aficionados because of the deep relaxation it delivers. “Löyly” in smoke sauna is very gentle and soft, not dry at all. I would describe as a very smooth feeling. Other saunas can cause my skin to feel uncomfortable, but the smoke sauna is softer and more relaxing. We toss water onto the rocks in the sauna to cause steam. Before we got in the sauna we rinsed in the shower. Most saunas you are completely nude. Not a big deal in Finland. But as Americans we tend to be a little modest with our bodies and with our own family we wear swimsuits, but at our sauna in our home we do select to be nude. You should always sit on a towel or special sauna paper. The girls and I brought our robes and wore them out to the smoke sauna.

Sauna has always been considered the source of energy and health in Finland. When some studies say that sauna is a health risk, Finns find the conclusion rather amusing. An old Finnish adage says an ailment only to be deadly if liquor, tar, and sauna cannot cure it.

After several minutes in the sauna and getting nice and hot. We made our way down the dock to the swimming hole. I decided I would go first so that I could then help with the girls getting in to daddy since they are not swimmers. I received some advice from another American that had gone in the previous night and she said, “Just do it!” Get right in fast. I kept saying that in my head. I felt like I dipped myself in for a while, but after watching the video it didn’t look as long. My lower legs were quite cold! As I look back it was refreshing! My plan to stay and help the girls quickly changed as I felt the need to get right back into the sauna. After a few minutes I made my way back with the girls and Christian. Christian quickly got in and waited for Ella which ended up not doing it and so I quickly grabbed Natalie to go in to her dad. Everyone climbed out and we quickly returned to the sauna.

You can feel the effects of winter swimming even after the very first dip in the icy water. Blood rushes through your veins, your body is pumped with adrenaline and the feeling of achievement brings a smile to your face: “I did it!”

I did a little search and found these benefits of winter/ice swimming

The health benefits of winter swimming

• better tolerance of cold
• fewer colds
• fewer aches and pains
• better circulation
• lower blood pressure
• a refreshed mind
• a lessening of stress
• improved sleep

All in all I would do it again! Thumbs up for ice swimming with sauna!!

A few days later Ella ended up getting strep throat. She was the only one that did not go ice swimming. The rest of us did and have stayed healthy. Go figure…

I hope you enjoy our video of our Avantouinti experience.








Categories: Finland Life | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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