We landed at the Helsinki airport at Midsummer and took a taxi. As we went through suburbs and then the city, everything was clean and spacious, but somehow odd. Then it struck me: there were no people. On a Saturday evening, there was no one walking, and no cars moving. It was eerie, like being in a science fiction movie where everyone had been taken away, by aliens or a plague. My Finnish was not good enough, twenty years ago, to get my puzzlement across to the taxi driver, but later my relatives were surprised that I was surprised.
“Why would anyone be in the city in the summer unless they had to? They are all at the summer cottage.”
A Finnish kesämökki is always on or near a lake or the sea. Even better is on an island. Many don’t have running water or electricity, and traditionally they prefer it that way. How would you feel that you were getting away if you were in a house? There is always a wood-fired sauna, close to the water so you can jump in to cool off, with a place to sit in your towel and drink a beer. As population moved from rural to urban areas, many traditional family homes became cottages for the younger generations who moved to the cities.
Preferred activities include fishing, boating, paddling, swimming, reading and having fires by the beach. The sauna should be warmed at least once a day. If you only had one word to describe the experience, it would be rauhalinen— peaceful.
There is a lot to keep you busy. Water needs to be carried, and heated, usually in the sauna. Wood must be split and the stoves stoked. Dishes are washed by hand, fish must be cleaned, and people always need to eat.
I’ve seen changes in the 30 years I have been visiting Finland. Even the most remote off-grid cottages will have solar panels, to power a few lights, perhaps a television and always the phone chargers. Although there is an attempt to limit modern devices, singing from the dusty songbooks has mostly been replaced by portable speakers streaming Spotify, and at least part of every day sees people on their phones and iPads instead of playing cards or reading books.
The people who go to the cottage are getting older. There is a lot of maintenance to be done, and fewer children in smaller families are not always keen to take on the responsibility. Many young people would rather take a holiday in Europe, or if they think about a cottage they want it to have electricity and running water. Some of my relatives, however, expressed hope that the new, environmentally active generation is going back to the old ways of simple nature loving.
My brave travels are often busy and adventurous, but I love the chance to truly relax in the calm of the Finnish kesämökki.