A week-long trip to Finland, where I experienced ridiculously low temperatures, toured a mobile phone factory, drove a snowmobile around in the dark searching for the Northern Lights, tried cross-country skiing, got used to hot saunas and sampled a juicy Reindeer steak.
Mon 30-Jan: Travel
The most famous things I know about Finland are: Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen, reindeers, Nokia, Santa Claus, Finlandia Vodka, lots of paper mills, world’s strongest man contenders, rally drivers and the Arctic Circle. I arrived in Helsinki for a business trip visiting Nokia. We had 3 days of meetings, including a factory floor, and then I headed up to the Arctic Circle to chase down the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), Santa’s Grotto, reindeers, huskies and some cross-country skiing.
We flew with SAS via Stockholm so once I arrived I hopped in a taxi. Everyone seems to speak great English – my taxi driver talked AT me for 30 mins! He had opinions on everything: he didn’t like Nokia phones because the alarm didn’t work once and he lost €300 worth of business; he also despised Volvo because (a) they’re Swedish, (b) they’ve outsourced manufacturing to China and (c) the cars break down. I also learned that he’s an “excellent poker player” and had won €20,000 last year. When he makes €50,000 he’s going to go to Las Vegas to play big time. (He didn’t say how much he lost last year).
Saunas are everywhere in Finland – so the hotel had a two, one for men and one for women (There’s even one in Nokia House I heard).The men were drinking cans of beer when I arrived, but unfortunately they didn’t have any spare. Oh, and leave your clothes at the door. Topping up the hot stones with water is a refined skill for Finns – they can throw a scoop of cold water from the bucket over 10ft and land it on the hot stones, without spilling a drop over us all.
Tue 31-Jan: Nokia House
Winter has arrived here, it was minus 11 degrees Celsius this morning. This didn’t deter me from getting a run in, so I put on my thermal layers and headed outside in the dark icey roads by the water. It was surprisingly enjoyable running in the freezing but still air. I covered 7km, crossing islands and bridges on the water close to Helsinki.
Every country has quirky curiosities – in Finland, I found it strange to find a wide selection of plasters available in the Nokia bathrooms; not to mention the availability of Reindeer meat on most menus! (They also do bear meatballs and Elk steak). The Finns told us about their winter pursuits – ice fishing, driving across lakes, skating, skiing and saunas. I also read in the in-flight magazine about harness racing (basically horse racing on frozen lakes in Lapland) and reindeer racing (a strange looking sport, where Rudolph and his mates have to gallop along with jockeys on skies being pulled along behind!!)
That night I sampled Reindeer meet in a really authentic Finnish restaurant downtown, Kosmos. We also saw the build-up to the Nokia Lumia 800 launch in Finland, with the entire Stockmann department store building decorated in the tiled Lumia colour scheme.
Wed 1-Feb: Nokia Factory Tour
Nokia sold their 1.5 billionth phone recently. That’s an ocean worth of phones. So where did it all start? Well, we visited the main Nokia factory in Salo and got a tour. This was the fun bit of the trip, getting a guided tour where we saw the wall of phones charting Nokia’s rise from the blocks of the 1970s (for the military) through the large brick phones of the late 80s seen in Wall Street with Michael Douglas, to the ubiquitous 5210s and 3310s that everyone seems to have in the early 2000s. About 5,000 people work in this factory, which has multiple production lines where they vote on which 80s radio station to listen toJ We got to see the Lumia’s being finished and packaged ready for sale. The cyan blue Lumia’s look great – but we didn’t get any free samples L The Nokia shop was great – I bought loads of knickknacks, from hats to USB sticks to key rings.
Thu 2-Feb: Helsinki
Running around a lake in the dark when it’s minus 20C is not a regular activity that I’d recommend, but given no easily alternative (other than roll over in bed), I wrapped up in layers and headed off for a 6.30am jog. It’s pleasant enough, although your nose and face feels the cold most.
After our last day of meetings at Nokia House, I headed downtown and met an American colleague for dinner. He’s relocating from Seattle, but didn’t mind the cold weather, as he grew up in Minnesota where it goes to minus 30C or 40C. He’s fallen through the ice on a frozen river, so knows that bone chilling means.