Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cabin Culture

Our cousin Marjatta next to her mökki, which she shares with two of her children and their kids.

It is fairly common in Finland for people to own or rent cabins in the countryside. Called mökki in Finnish, these cabins are often by a lake and are used mostly in fair weather. I would like to thank all our Finnish cousins who have taken us to their cabins. Those visits offered us some of the most beautiful views and relaxing times during our visits to Finland. We were extremely lucky to have some chances to hang out at these cabins - if a Finn invites you to theirs, say yes (and bring some coffee or wine or flowers).

A connection and attachment to nature runs deep within Finnish culture. These cabins provide even the most urban of dwellers a place to be quiet, to appreciate the outdoors and to seek either solitude or the comfort of some privacy with close friends and family. People fish, nap, grill out, take walks in the woods, swim and take saunas, row on the lake and also do a lot of work, such as chopping wood, cooking, cleaning and maintaining their cabins.
While some cabins are small and quite basic, having outhouses and no electricity, others are luxurious and full of all the comforts available. The style all depends on the preferences and resources of the families who own them. Whatever the style, they are treasured and you can find magazines and a TV show in Finland dedicated to their construction, decoration and maintenance. As time goes by, families sometimes build new cabins next to their older ones, insuring a more modern space and room for guests and family members.

I've never been to a cabin without at least one sauna, and it's not uncommon for their to be an electric sauna in the main cabin and a wood-burning, free-standing sauna closer to the lake.

Exterior Photos of cabins and their surroundings:

A cabin under construction.

This wood-burning sauna, with the mökki in the background, is just a few steps from the lake. Like many free-standing saunas, it has a changing room and a place to sit next door to the sauna.

This is the house where my dad's paternal grandmother was born and grew up. It is in the midst of a beautiful patch of woods near a river and is now someone's mökki. In the photo, it's our cousin Aune, along with me and my dad, Dennis.

The smaller cabin in the distance houses a sauna and changing room and has been supplemented by a larger cabin with a bedroom, a living room which has a sofa bed, a kitchen and an outhouse. This cabin is right in the woods near a nature preserve and offers a secluded, quite retreat.

This was built by our cousin Kalevi, not as a mökki but as a spot to hang out near home.

Birch trees, with a lake in the distance - a common site near a mökki.

Morning mist in front of the Korpi's mökki.

Interior Photos:

Games inside. The light is deceiving, but this photo was taken fairly late at night.

While some cabins are filled with lovely artwork, the views out the window are the best.

The decoration of this cabin lets you know that Valto hunts!

Kate in the kitchen of the mökki of some of our friend's.

Free-standing sauna interior.

Not as big as a traditional Finnish indoor oven (moori), this fireplace nonetheless must help keep this two-story mökki quite cozy. Equipped with many single beds upstairs and two sofa-beds (one shown) downstairs, this mökki is available for rent for those belonging to a plumbing club. It comes with a kitchen and both an electric indoor sauna with showers and a free-standing, wood-burning sauna near the lake. In the midst of berry-filled trees and near forests full of mushrooms and soft moss, this is a relaxing place to stay.

Activity Shots:
Brooke, fishing at a cabin, summer 2008.

Picking flowers around your cabin is common.
Marjatta with beautiful lupin flowers.

Out for a boat ride and some fishing.

Family picnics are a common event at Finnish summer cabins. Thank you Seija and Kalevi!

Board games and smiles...
Thanks, Seppo and Taina and family!

Many cabin activities are simple ones. There are often swings, art supplies and board games for children. Here is Analeise in 2007.

We lived in the downtown of a city during our stay in Finland, but Brooke still got a chance to fish in the Finnish countryside thanks to Finnish cousins inviting us to their cabins.

Cooking outdoors is common at cabins. My favorite food in Finland are these traditional pancakes called lettu (a link below provides a recipe). This photo is actually of the first time we had them, in the summer of 2007. Thanks to Marjatta, Virpi, Valto and family for introducing us to this delicious treat!

Served with jam and whipped cream, they are truly delicious. I loved these pancakes so much that Bryan bought a pan and carried it frequently for the remainder of our vacation. If you visit us, ask for a lettu, and I'll happily make you one.
Lettu can also be made indoors.

Grilling sausages, a mainstay of the Finnish summer diet (sometimes jokingly called a vegetable), is a frequent activity at cabins. Here are Veijo and Bryan, Spring 2011.
Grilling sausages, 2007.

Row boats are a common site at Finland's summer cabins.

Dennis and Valto swimming after a sauna.

Maria and Taina, swimming.

Many people pick berries, flowers and mushrooms near their mökkis (or elsewhere in the countryside - see the link below about Everyman's Right regarding land use). These are lingonberries. In about an hour, under our friend Eija's guidance, she, Becky and I picked 15 liters worth. The Finns use these in all sorts of desserts, jams and even juices.

Becky finding the last of summer's blueberries.

Bonus shots:

Liisa and Ilona outside a cabin in the woods.

A lizard by a cabin, Spring 2011.

It is very common for Finnish people to take their young children for a walk outdoors when it is time for a nap. Then, the nap will probably just take place in the stroller, left somewhere safe and quite like this one. The idea is that fresh air is good for us, and it has the added benefit of making sure a parent gets some exercise.

Pepe usually lives in a house with a gated yard. At this cabin, he runs free and is quite happy about it!

Brooke, Analeise and me with many of the Kuusijärvis.

Okay, this isn't at a cabin, but I like this photo because our Valisälo cousins are in it, and they've generously hosted us at a cabin a few times. This shot was taken in 2008.
Thanks to the Rossis for sharing their cabin (near this hunting lodge) with us, summer 2007.

Again, this photo wasn't taken at a cabin, but we've been at cabins with everyone pictured here at Liisa and Veijo's. Thanks again to everyone!!!

Here is a link to a brochure in English with the specifics about Everyman's Rights in Finland:

This blog has a recipe for lettu using American measurements. In Finland, lettu is served as dessert, not breakfast, but I'll happily eat them any time of the day. They are common fair at outdoor festivals and come with your choice of cloudberry, raspberry or strawberry jam with either whipped cream or powdered sugar. A cousin of mine encouraged me to add barley and rye flours, which makes the pancakes a bit more hearty and nutty. In the recipe on this blog, instead of 2 cups of white flour, I'd use 1 cup white flower, 1/2 cup barley flour, 1/4 cup whole wheat and 1/4 cup rye flour.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vappu Is Crazy!

Vappu is a celebration to welcome spring. Traditional in many northern European countries, it's called May Day in many places and is also called Walpurgis Night. In Finland, it's celebrated with wild parties and parades, especially in the bigger cities. There used to be more emphasis on speeches by workers, politicians and clergy. Now, it seems to be more about letting loose and having fun.

A religious parade.

One of the day's street performers. He and danced, played the pan flute and sold CD's.

It is normal on this day for high school graduates to wear their graduation caps and in Tampere, Vappu also includes the "baptism" of new university students in the city's rapids (see video and bonus photos, below). The city's main square is full of balloon salespeople walking through a festive market full of food and carnival game stalls and colorful, cheap plastic toys appreciated by young children.

These students are waiting in line to be dunked into the cold water of Tampere's rapids. In the background, you can see some of the many spectators on the opposite bank.

During the night, there is a massive amount of drinking and people, especially university students, go crazy on the streets. Vappu provides a distinct break from the normal stereotype of Finns being reserved. Bryan woke at 4am and couldn't go to sleep and so went for a walk. He found scores of people sleeping or sitting with friends on the grass along the rapids, surrounded by heaps of broken and crushed bottles and cans of alcohol. I am glad that we've had months to form other opinions of Tampere - if we were tourists and only here over the Vappu weekend, the aftermath of the crazy night of Vappu would leave us thinking of it as a place full of drunken, littering people (which it's not).

A student who had probably been out all night.
Luckily for me, by the time I took a walk at 9am, workers had cleared up most of the broken bottles and smashed cans already. The city was very prepared for the event.

Our cousins, the Kuusijärvis, invited us to a Vappu party at their home. Similar to the Memomiral Day picnics common in the U.S., these parties are a chance to grill out and have a casual meal with family or friends. The party gave Analeise and me the chance to see the Kuusijärvis and Välisalos and also to meet Minni, a new baby bunny - hello to Spring!

Wearing fun wigs is pretty common on Vappu. Using temporary hair dye is even something kids do for this day. Sara and Elsa look great with pink hair!


If you like wild parties and are coming to Finland, put Vappu on your calendar and make sure to go to Helsinki or Tampere's downtown during the night. If you want peace and quiet, avoid the cities or just come at another time!

Bonus Photos:

The water was very cold. This dunking was accompanied by some screaming.

Many Finnish university students wear overalls covered with patches from events they've attended or things they've done. Students can guess at eachother's majors, as each group wears a different color. The patches are sewn on after events or experiences. Many student groups wear the uniforms for parties, but they are also worn when volunteering as a group to let the community know that the students are doing good work.

Lovers' locks on one of Tampere's bridges.

The girl in front is running from her friends, who were spraying her with silly string.

One of the fun style differences between where we live in Wisconsin and Tampere is that many women and some men in Tampere dye their hair wild colors. One or two of these gals appear to be wearing Vappu wigs, but it would not be uncommon to see these colors on non-festival days.

Graduates of all ages wear their caps on Vappu.

Easter decorations, brightening the Vappu party at the Kuusijärvi's. The decorated branches in the upper-right hand side of the photo were made by the Kuusijärvi girls for going door-to-door the weekend before Easter. The tradition is that children dress as Easter witches and go to their neighbors' homes, exchanging a decorated branch (essentially a magic wand) for candy. You need to make a branch for each house you plan on visiting. Not everyone in Finland participates in this tradition, but it is fairly wide-spread and is greatly anticipated by many Finnish kids.

Saara, Silja and Maikki with Minni the bunny.

The Välisalos arriving for the Vappu party.

Balloon and donuts (these are called munki in Finnish) are synonymous with Vappu. Check out the cake covered in berries and whip cream cream - yum!

Analeise and Minni.


This is a Wikipedia article about Vappu:

This brief article discusses the use of uniforms by university students in Finland and Sweden:

Here is a short video showing the dunking of some Tampere's new university students: