Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Friday, June 08, 2007

Fun with Finnish friends

Finland has now officially made it on to our growing list of highly recommended countries. Jason and I are fortunate to have good friends in Jyväskylä, central Finland, which made for not only a fun visit, but also a cultural immersion beyond the typical tourist experience. Matt Wuethrich has been a friend of Jason’s since high school, and met Elina, his Finnish bride, around the same time Jason and I met. The four of us have been friends ever since, and baby Selma, Matt and Elina’s daughter, completes the current picture.
Enjoying a stroll in the woods with Matt, Elina and Selma

Matt and Elina not only welcomed us into their lovely home in the wooded outskirts of Jyväskylä, but also went to great lengths to expose us to all things Finnish, including food, language, landscape, sport, music and lifestyle. We experienced so much during our ten days with them, it’s impossible to recount it all, but here are some of the highlights.

The Wuethrichs' beautiful wooden home, built in 1935

A view of Jyväskylä University across the town's largest lake

The visiting team's batter in action at a Finnish baseball game. We had a hard time following the game, which seems only loosely related to American baseball, but enjoyed the atmosphere and the kabanos sausages!

Although the game was pretty confusing, we managed to figure out that Jyväskylä lost. Badly.

Finnish Feasting

It was clear from the start that we wouldn’t go hungry with the Wuethrichs, and the divine fragrance of veggie lasagna wafting through their home welcomed us on arrival. During our stay we feasted on savory delights such as smoked fish, grilled salmon, kabanos sausages, reindeer carpaccio, new potatoes with dill and more varieties of rye bread than we could keep track of. We tried two other rye based items which were ultra tasty and utterly Finnish: karjalanpiirakka (a rye flour pasty filled with buttery rice porridge) and muikkukukko (dense rye loaf packed with small fish that looked and tasted like sardines).

Kabanos sausages sizzling over a log fire as salmon cooks on a wooden plank
Finns are very partial to strong, fresh coffee. We drank plenty of that, in addition to sampling traditional sour milk (yucky) and local apple cider (yummy), also Finnish favorites. Worthy of a special mention are the sweet treats we indulged in, thanks largely to Elina’s first class baking. Our first taste was a decadent strawberry cream cake, which she then managed to trump with ‘to die for’ home made cinnamon rolls. We particularly enjoyed Elina’s leipäjuusto, a typically Finnish pudding of sweet baked cheese, vanilla cream and yellow cloud berries grown in Lapland. We even ate rhubarb pie with fruit harvested from the neighbour’s garden, as well as copious amounts of home grown berries. Needless to say, all intentions of weight loss have been postponed…..again!

Elina's magnificent strawberry cream cake, baked in honor of her birthday

Selma enjoys a feast of her own

Log Cabin Living

Perhaps one of the most impressionable windows into Finnish life was the weekend we spent at Elina’s parents’ summer lake cottage. Tucked in the pine and birch woods, meters from a picturesque, secluded lake, the cottage was typically Finnish in every way. The rustic, dark red log cottage had a wood burning stove and fireplace, along with oil lamps, instead of electricity. The composting toilet outhouse was decorated with retro posters, and equipped with Donald Duck comics in Finnish. Furthermore, there was a perfect lake view from the loo, an aesthetically pleasing alternative to Donald Duck. Since the cottage had no running water, we collected water in buckets from a spring up the lane. The cottage oozed low tech comfort and style, and we relished every moment there.

Breakfast on the lake cottage pier with Elliot, the family dog

Much of our time was spent playing Mölkky, an addictive lawn version of skittles, rowing the family boat on the lake and enjoying the idyllic surroundings with our friends, between bug spray blitzes against the million mosquitoes that arrived the same day we did.

Matt takes a shot at the skittles during a game of Mölkky in front of Jyväskylä University

Then there was the facility no Finnish lake house would be complete without: the wood fired sauna.

Steamed & Perspired to Perfection

We were anxious to get in the hot pine sauna and start improving our circulation as soon as possible, but there was quite a process to go through first, starting with building and lighting the sauna’s log fire.

Step one: lighting the sauna fire

Next, large buckets had to be filled with lake water for bathing and for throwing on the coals for löylyä lisää (more steam). We waited patiently for the thermometer to hit 85°C and the sauna to be declared ready. We were shown the ropes by our hosts, one gender at a time, with Elina and I going first. Conforming to the traditional sauna dress (or undress) code we left all our clothes in the adjoining changing room, and took our places on the sauna’s wooden bench, letting the heat do its work. The first few minutes were pleasant as we inhaled the heat and began to sweat. However, as Elina liberally tossed water over the coals, the extreme heat/steam combo made for severe sweating, a bit of a head rush and a growing sense of claustrophobia. After about fifteen intense minutes in the sauna, it was time to cool off.

Filling buckets of water for the sauna from the well. At the cottage, we used water from the lake.

Standing outside in our towels drinking cold beer seemed like a sensible cool down strategy to me, but Finns don’t build their saunas right next to lakes for nothing. Up for an ‘authentic cultural experience’ and against my better judgement, I jumped in the lake, landing on the soft, muddy bottom. That first plunge was definitely unforgettable. Never before have I experienced spontaneous universal numbness of every body part, external and internal. Breathing became a conscious effort since my heart and lungs were apparently in shock.

The men took the plunge too, with twice as much screaming and whining as the women

I must admit, after enduring the painfully cold water, returning to the sauna did feel decadently pleasant. Elina and I alternated between sauna and lake, taking turns with the men until we were thoroughly invigorated (or simply couldn’t take it any more). I can’t deny there were moments the sauna experience felt like an endurance test or possibly some kind of torture, but overall it was an incredibly enjoyable, sociable experience. Afterwards, fully dressed with a wood grilled kabanos sausage and a beer in hand, it all seemed worth it. Presumably my circulation has never been better!

Matt stoking the fire ready to cook post-sauna sausages

Friendship & family life
We are extremely grateful to Matt and Elina for taking such good care of us, and inviting us to share their home and family life. It was great to see them again, and our times with them left a lasting impression. Thanks also to Erke and Helga, Elina’s parents, who kindly welcomed us at their summer cottage.

Erke, Matt, Selma, Elina and Helga - our generous hosts


Two Donkey Crossing Successes!

Congratulations to Jason who had a photo from our Sahara desert experience printed in the June 10th Daily Herald newspaper in Illinois. Also, BootsnAll Travel Network has published my article entitled 'Sahara Crossing' with Jason's photos on their website. Click on these links to access the article and bio

Stay tuned for more Suomi stories.

Donkey Crossing needs YOU!

We love to hear from Donkey Crossing readers. Please do send us your comments by clicking on the comments link below this article. There's no need to register.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel and Jason!

I have to answer the Donkey Crossing call! I love the stories and am traveling with you guys in spirit! Safe and happy travels!

Jennifer (and Jeff, Quinton, and Logan too)

4:38 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Permission to post my bum Web-wide was never granted, but the black box, although entirely unnecewssary, suggests you had my modesty covered.

Of notability at this point is the fact that you got me eating fish, salomon to be exact. No mean feat, so your spirit of adventure has rubbed off. I got the smoker going after your visit, so next time around we'll eat our aquarian friends in style.

You make our lives here seem quite idyllic and certainly out of the ordinary. A tip of the hat to your keen eye and open mind!

3:12 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

One more detail about Finnish baseball that I learned later: A few years ago a betting scandal rocked the league, with numerous teams being involved in fixing matches, and even both sides of the same game often in on the fix. The list of shame includes the Jyväskylä team. The league is only now recovering its reputation and attendance. Cheating, alas, travels across cultures.

3:17 PM  

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