This is an “F” word I would love to savor, to be a part of, to stay in, even forever.
Nooo, not that “F” word, you naughty you. It’s the fantastic and fantabulous place of Finland!
The Northern Lights of Finland
Finland has just emerged as the best country in the world in the way it takes care of its environment and people, according to a ranking published last week by the publication Reader’s Digest.
Finland tops a 141-nation list, followed by Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and then Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Australia.
At the bottom of the list is Ethiopia, preceded by Niger, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Chad.
The United States comes in 23rd, China 84th and India 104th.
The ranking combines environmental factors, such as air and water quality, respect for biodiversity and greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as social factors, such as gross domestic product, access to education, unemployment rate and life expectancy.
The statistical basis is the UN’s Human Development Index and the Environmental Sustainability Index drawn up by Yale and Columbia universities and the World Economic Forum.
European countries — again, led by Scandinavia — also top the Reader’s Digest assessment of 72 cities for their quality of life. The criteria for this include public transport, parks, air quality, rubbish recycling and the price of electricity.
The winner is Stockholm, followed by Oslo, Munich and Paris.
Asia’s mega-cities fare the worst. At the bottom is Beijing, preceded by Shanghai, Mumbai, Guangzhou and Bangkok.
A street scene in downtown Helsinki. Note what appears to be different colored shirts hanging on clotheslines across the street. Take them if you can reach them?
Going back to Finland, it’s a country bigger than the entire United Kingdom but is home to only about five million people, that’s why space and natural beauty remain plentiful.
That’s the information I got from a brochure about Finland, my dream vacation place. Oh if only I could fly to Finland right now.
The brochure says that in the main cities of Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, top quality urban attractions are plentiful, and that Finland’s enchanting archipelagos and coastlines, the vast lakes and rolling forest vistas are always accessible.
Even better, Finland’s treasures, though extremely different from season to season, can be shared at any point on the calendar, the brochure says.
Far from being a time to withdraw and simply plan for the summer, for example, winter is when many of Finland’s most exotic opportunities come to the fore. Reindeer safaris, ice swimming, icebreaker cruises, downhill skiing, snowboarding, the spectacular Northern Lights, castles of ice and snow, warm shops and restaurants and other urban comforts in which to retreat at the end of an active day, and all of it set against the sparkling backdrop of a frost-bound, pristine winter landscape: as a winter destination, Finland is hard to beat.
But winter is only a facet of Finland. The same exciting locations offer adventures of a different kind in the long summer days, when the lingering sun, never setting in the far north, disperses a magical energy. Rent an archipelago or lakeside cottage and learn the true meaning of ‘getting away from it all’. You can be as active or as lazy as you wish. Recharge your batteries by soaking up the sights and sounds of nature, dangling a fishing line from your private jetty or enjoying the view from your porch. Or flex your muscles with some rowing, soothing them later with a therapeutic sauna.
Berry and mushroom picking and cycling tours are other summer options, while the National Parks dotted around the country are fabulous trekking terrain, following tumbling rivers and craggy gorges and traversing endless expanses of woodland. The more observant walker may be rewarded with sightings of rare birds, elk and deer. There are even overnight bear-watching excursions for the more intrepid.
Back in the cities, you’ll be welcomed with top quality design shops, a vibrant night-life and excellent restaurants serving the best Finnish fare, from fish to reindeer. The capital, Helsinki, compact and cozy in winter, expansive and energetic in summer, is a cultural hub at any time of the year, but summer is the time for festivals throughout the country.
The Helsinki Festival in August is the biggest cultural event of the Finnish year, but smaller towns burst into life in the summer with their own events. The Savonlinna Opera Festival in eastern Finland is staged in the romantic courtyard of a medieval lakeland castle, while Pori Jazz on the west coast attracts world class musicians year after year. Chamber music, movies, dance, traditional folk music… every conceivable taste and cultural interest finds expression in the light-filled, frenzied summer.
You can be as sociable or as withdrawn as you choose in Finland. There’s always a friendly crowd to join if you’re in the mood, but at the same time this is one of the few places in Europe where the idea of spending a week without seeing another living soul is still feasible. Finland’s moods are as varied and intriguing as its climate.
No wonder Santa Claus came from Finland. So does Nokia, the world’s leading cellphone brand.
Oh Genie, Genie come here. This is my wish: Take me to Finland, ASAP!