A Very Nordic Adventure
Hey howdy, folks! My name is Spencer and I’m one of the graphic designers here at Avanti. I just had the most fabulous trip to Sweden and Finland, and I felt it would be a shame to not share with the world all the wonderful things I experienced, and hopefully convince someone out there to make the trip as well!
My childhood best friend currently lives in Stockholm, and I had been planning a trip to visit him for years. He lives right in the city just a few bus stops from Gamla Stan, the Royal Palace, Stockholm City Hall, and all the other amazing sites the city has to offer.
I am still in the infancy of my travel experience, and this was my first time being in Europe. My eyes were so wide in amazement the entire trip. I have never said “wow” more in such a short period of time. The entire city of Stockholm was so clean, lively, and picturesque. Nearly every building is a beautifully worn pastel of pink, orange, yellow, or red, which gives the tight alleyways a welcoming, warm glow as the sunlight bounces off each wall. Even the shadows had a warmth that was intoxicating. All this mixed with the bustling nooks of Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm, fostered a fairytale-like wonder in me that lasted the entire trip.
While in the city, we visited all the big-ticket items that are a must on your first trip to Stockholm, at least according to my friend and his Swedish buddies. We spent an afternoon around the Royal palace watching the changing of the guards and listening to the military band play brassy and gregarious Swedish folk songs. We visited Stockholm’s City Hall, or Stadshuset. During the City Hall tour, we learned about the political structure of Stockholm, the history of the building’s architecture and art design, and the tradition of the Nobel Peace Prize banquets being held there annually. There is even a restaurant inside that allows you to choose a menu that was served at a historic Nobel prize banquet. So, if you wanted to eat what Einstein ate while receiving his prize, you could!
Speaking of food, we ate marvelous traditional Swedish food; the Swedes get me and my palette. Lingonberries and pickles with everything, because why not? Pickled herring smothered in onions and chives, spread over a comforting bed of potatoes. Finish everything off with your choice of aquavit. When we asked folks where the best spots to eat were, they recommended museum restaurants, which was shocking. Even more shocking was the fact that the food at these museums was tremendous. The Nationalmuseum had a spread of delicate traditional Swedish food, including skagenröra, a shrimp salad on rye bread. I have thought about it every day since, and kick myself for not bringing any rye bread back with me…
During one of our final days in Sweden, we kayaked in the archipelago surrounding Stockholm. I was shocked to learn that Sweden has the most islands of any country in the world - over 200,000 islands scatter their way all along the Swedish coast. It was a beautiful day filled with island hopping and beer drinking, and as a well-earned finale, we treated ourselves to a sauna on the Baltic coast. Our few times in Swedish saunas was only a fraction of what was waiting for us in Finland.
After our goodbye to Stockholm, we flew for a grueling 40 minutes to Turku. We were greeted by my wife's Finnish cousins, and spent the final week with them, checking off each Finnish agenda item they had set for us! After arriving in Turku, we immediately went down to the city center, which stretches along the Aurajoki river. It seemed as if the entire city was out picnicking or relaxing along the river. The energy was so electric! After our evening eating and drinking on the river, we drove a few hours into the woods. The Finnish countryside enchanted me like nothing else has before. The forest stretches unbroken everywhere you look, and opens only to reveal rolling farmland that catches every ounce of golden sun. Since Finland is so northern, the sunsets seem to last for hours, allowing the magic of the golden hour to stretch to much more than just 60 minutes.
After our drive, we parked by an unassuming dock with a few small boats bobbing quietly in the soft wake of the Baltic Sea. We loaded our things into the boat and rode for another 15 minutes to a summer cottage on the coast. It was surrounded by a fortress of trees, blueberries, and wildflowers. We spent the evening roasting sausages or “makkara”, drinking coffee, and soaking up the heat in the sauna. The next day we spent our time doing the exact same thing. Like the Swedes, the Finns also understand my palette well. It was the most relaxed I have ever been.
After leaving the cottage, we drove a few more hours to the city of Tampere where my wife's cousins live. Tampere is such a beautiful city. It is nestled between two lakes, the Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi. The two lakes differ in elevation by around 60 feet, which allowed the city of Tampere to be a massive site for industrial development thanks to the use of water-generated power. The entire city sprouted from the development of the Finlayson factories that now hold many museums, restaurants, and shops near the city center.
We spent most of our time in Tampere, the highlights being our late nights out in the city center, spending time in a secret sauna out in the woods, and a trip out on the lake in a saunaboat. Do you sense a pattern here? We spent hours on the boat rotating from the hot sauna to the chilly lake, then finally ending the day eating sausages and black licorice on the top deck of the boat. I would highly recommend a trip to Tampere to anyone. I love the city and will be back many times.
Our final day was spent in Helsinki. It is a charming yet austere city dotted with beautiful brutalist and art nouveau architecture, the most iconic being the Helsinki Central Station with its green copper roof and matching clock tower. We spent the morning and afternoon in the Amos Rex and Kiasma art museums, both of which I recommend highly if you are even slightly interested in contemporary and modern art. The evening was spent exploring the Helsinki cathedral and surrounding area. It is hard to convey the beauty of the building in words, so the pictures I took will have to do the trick.
This trip was magical in ways I never expected, and I feel completely changed for the better. The Nordic people know how to make the best of each moment, especially in the summer, since the sunlight is so sparse during the winter months. That energy is electric and so contagious. I cannot wait to return. If you have even thought about visiting Sweden or Finland, just go. Don’t wait!