Finnish people and culture

I spent 5 days in Finland as a part of my 6 weeks in Europe, and I have to say Finnish people are slightly odd 😀

Not in a bad way though. Before I say more, watch this behind the scenes video of Jimmy Kimmel’s show:

https://tune.pk/video/2541067/jimmy-kimmel-chats-with-his-studio-audience-guys-from-finland

That’s what Finnish people are stereotyped to be: quiet, reserved, unexcited.

The only time Finnish people talk are when they have had alcohol or are half naked in the sauna 🙂

Finnish people love their saunas. Everyone has access to at least one either close by, or in their homes, or a common one at the apartments. It’s very central to Finnish culture and if you talk to any Finnish person for some amount of time you will hear the word sauna come up. It’s how they live and how they survive the winters and it’s equally fun in summers because summers are just pleasant 15 celsius.

I was in Oulu for majority of my time in Finland, and this is the sauna that I tried out (the hut):

DSC01423

I went here twice. Once during the afternoon, where I found 2-3 people. Other time past midnight, since it was my last day here, and it was full! And since everyone had alcohol in their system at night, they were so talkative! I had at least 4-5 people who were curious about me being there.

The place is run by volunteers and is open to everyone. The cabin, had a place inside to burn wood, over which there were stones. There were two buckets of water in the room and you throw water on hot stones to generate steam.

You stay inside the room till you’re comfortable. After some time you get quite hot, and it’s impossible to stay in longer. At this point, you come out and jump into the river. The river which would feel cold otherwise, feels refreshing after coming out of the sauna. I would dive in multiple times, before I repeated the same process again.

You do the sauna + dip, on loop, till the point you are content.

It’s very relaxing, and highly recommended if you ever go to Finland. Sure you have sauna rooms in gyms but they are not the same.


The sauna pic is taken at 1 am.It was never dark in Oulu during this period. The sun wasn’t there at midnight, but it was bright. I believe they call this “white nights”.

Oulu was very safe. I was out late at night on most days and even out till 5 am on the one that I went to sauna. I didn’t see any homeless people. Surely there must be some in cities like Helsinki, but I couldn’t see any here. The country is highly socialist. Basically, you have to be an idiot to be on the streets. There’s free healthcare, free education, social security if you’re unemployed where you get a place to stay and money to survive. Students get money while studying in colleges!

Finland was also the only place where my hitchhiking attempts did not work. 5 hours at a busy highway and not a single ride. I didn’t take it to heart though, they are just from a different culture.

I did meet wonderful Finnish people when I was there. Friendly and warm couchsurfers, plus a couple of friends that I made at the music festival that I attended. By the way, Finland has amongst the best metal music in the world. If you didn’t know it’s amongst the highest metal bands per capita regions. Look at the bright red in this graph below:

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I saw the bands Kalmah, Swallow the Sun, and Moonsorrow, and a few others, who were the main reasons for me to attend Jalometalli. The 3 that I mentioned are bloody amazing bands <3  Some pictures:


The country is perfect, except for the fact that it’s pretty much flat and hence no opportunities for hiking. It has tons of lakes though, more than 150k, which is a lot if you consider that there are just 5 million people.

The featured image of this post is again a picture that I took past midnight, at a place called Hetta. Very hypnotising view!

Most beautiful place on my trip to Europe?

“Most beautiful place that I saw?” or “Which was the best place that I went to on my trip?” are variations of the most common question that I receive from people. And the answer is easy:

Norway!

Norway is amazing. Period.

I think I even have a new all time favorite country, displacing the undefeated champion since the past 4 years: Canada. But since Canada is my first love, I can call it a tie 🙂

This is what my hike that I did on the first day in Norway, in the city Tromso, looked like:

 

I went in with zero expectations. What makes this really special is that the time in these pictures is around midnight! The clear ones are at around 10 pm. The ones with the least sun are at around 1 am.

I was blown away by how beautiful this was. I had no words to describe this. It was by far the most beautiful thing that I had seen ever.

When I started the hike at around 9:30 pm, the sky was clear and gradually by 11 pm when I made it to the top, the clouds moved in perfectly over the city. When on the edge of the place, lying down, it almost felt like the clouds are the sea, with mountains and sunlight above them.

I was thinking, “why don’t I just stay here forever?” The hut had a restaurant and washroom, and I had my tent up there to sleep for the night. If this is what Norway was going to offer me, I was in for a treat! I was super glad that I kept 11-12 days for Norway.

I later found out this phenomenon of the clouds moving in at the perfect time at around midnight, happens only 7-8 times a year. I was very lucky to see this. This video is a time lapse of the entire thing, which might be from the same day that I was up there:

 

Sadly the weather wasn’t like this the entire time I was there. It rained continuously for the next 2-3 days. Didn’t deter us from hiking another spot:

I was with my Couchsurfing host and other guests at his place. A steep one, which was also quite slippery due to the rain.

After Tromso, I went to Lofoten, the starting of which I’ve written in the post titled Nomad in Norway.

During the last two days in Lofoten, I went to a beach called Haukland Beach. It was my 3rd option in things to do that day, which I was cycling through in the morning. When the first two didn’t work out, I decided to pick a place at random and go there and camp for a day, before coming back.

I’m glad that I did this one, because this one even beat the first place in terms of views!

Here you go:

 

I reached the place at around 4 pm and hung out by the beach, with a group of people who had given me a ride for the last 8 kms, after getting down from the bus. I didn’t know whether any of the surrounding mountains were hikeable and neither did they. When they left at around 8, I pitched my tent, and did a hike on the shorter mountain in front of the beach. I came down and saw people going to some other spot and followed them.

This was a longer and much steeper hike. I started at 9:30 pm and made it up at by 11. The scene was surreal.

On one side you can see the pristine blue waters, the sandy beach with my tent next to it, and amazing Norwegian fjords. On the other side you could see the sun shining nice and bright above the horizon. All of this at around 11:30 pm. A little while later, when the sun was just above the horizon, you could see the full moon on the other side!

Basically, Pristine blue beach + Norwegian fjords + Amazing hike + Midnight sun + Full moon + Camping. Everything that you see at separate times, or in groups of 2 were all present at the same moment of time.

I think it’s impossible to beat this. I spent the night next to the beach and went back next day.

My couchsurfing host on the last day, had a place next to a fjords with views of normal mountains, snow mountains and a waterfall. There was also a hike 5 minutes walk away from her place.

Norway is unreal. Norway is spectacular. Norway is utopia.

Cost of spending 6 weeks in Europe

Vivek, you’ve been talking about why you did the trip, and all of that extra philosophical stuff that we don’t care about. We know that you had a wonderful time. Let’s get to the elephant in the room. How much did it cost you?

Umm, I think it was fairly alright. I never really had a budget for my trip. I also overestimated the amount that I would spent and then just to use up the Euros from my forex card, paid 2% extra as conversion rate in all Scandinavian countries for more than half of my time 1. Plus I could’ve saved …

Ahem, HOW MUCH did it cost you?

Around 165000-170,000 Indian rupees or 2125 euros ( 1 euro = 80 Indian rupees, roughly)

What?!


Yes, that was the cost of spending 6 weeks. Well, apart from whatever hit that takes on your career 😛

This is where I spent my money:

Accommodation

Couchsurfing – 27 nights
Hostels – 2
Camping – 9 (4 at music festival + 5 wild)
Bus – 1
Airport -2

Total nights – 41
Money spent – 44 euros 🙂

Transport (intercity)

Buses – 2317 kms, 162 euros
Ferry – 21 euros
Train – 149 kms, 36 euros
Rideshare – 1415 kms, 72 euros
Hitchhiking – 1300 kms, Free 🙂

Total distance – 5181 kms
Money spent – 286 euros

Mobile internet cost – 82 euros
Music festival tickets – 335 euros
Flight tickets – 240 euros (Europe, Narvik-Oslo 140, Oslo-Paris 100) + 450 euros (India-Europe) = 690 euros
Visa – 90 euros
Tent, foam pad etc – 30 euros
Food, local bus/train, Misc = 2125 – 1557 = 568 euros
Total = 1,70,000 INR = 2125 euros

 

There are two main reasons why this trip is cheap. Firstly, there is barely any accommodation cost. 2 nights at hostels were the only place where I spent money. Second, I did not have a rail pass. It’s 600 euros for a month long rail pass. Plus, it’s still not free to travel even if you have one. You need to pay money over top for reservations. People assume you need a rail pass when travelling in Europe, but that’s not the case.

I had to spend 240 Euros for flight tickets to Paris from the north of Norway. I also had to spend around 70 euros in buses for my last two days in Lofoten Islands in Norway. This was money that I had to spend because I ran out of time. I would’ve preferred to hitchhike but it’s more time consuming. It’s always time vs money, and I chose to spend money to get a few more days to see stuff. If I had 2-3 weeks more, it would’ve been pretty much the same cost overall.

I had to get expensive mobile internet because French people are bums and don’t speak English (sorry, no offence). It’s cheaper to get a local sim card in each country (or even survive without a sim), but it was hard conveying your message to shopkeepers in Paris, that you wanted something with internet and validity. I ended up buy a sim from Orange that works in all Schengen countries. 40 euros, 2 weeks validity for sim; 21 euros every 2 weeks for recharges.

335 euros for music festival tickets to see my favorite bands play live. I saw around 32 bands play live and had 6 days of live music on the trip.

I didn’t eat out at restaurants but cooked my own food on most days, since I had a kitchen at my Couchsurfing hosts. The most expensive thing I ate was a 13 euro burger in Copenhagen. At the same time I was never hungry or never had the motive of being frugal on food. I always left extra food at my Couchsurfing hosts and/or cooked for them.

So that’s it. When you’re travelling everything apart from flight tickets is up to you. It can be as cheap as you want it to be. I met a guy whose average cost was 1.5 euro/day in Norway. A girl whose spent around 50 euros every two weeks. Travel, Acco, Food are your three main levers and you try to cut down costs in whichever way you can. And the longer you travel, the cheaper it gets 🙂


  1. Denmark, Sweden and Norway have their own currency, separate from Euro. My forex card can have multiple currencies, but if you try to pay with a different currency there’s a 2% extra charge. Since I had too many Euros left on the card, it made sense to use them instead of recharging with other currencies, since all the Euros left on the card depreciate by 5% every year, with no interest. 

6 weeks in Europe

I did a solo trip to Europe, spending 6 weeks there, from 13th June to 24th July. I’ll give my philosophy of why I travel alone, in this post, and how I travelled in another.The original idea was to do it for longer. Go for the full 3 months that Schengen visa allows. But I couldn’t get a sabbatical from work. I used up my normal leaves to go for this one.

Why I specifically chose Europe is also quite interesting. I got hooked to metal music after listening to Megadeth play live in Bangalore last year in October. I started listening to more metal and now listen to a lot of doom/death/black metal. I discovered a lot of bands that became my all time favorites. I was blown away by their music.

A lot of metal has it’s roots in Doom metal that was originated by Black Sabbath. They are truly the pioneers of metal. 2016 is to be their last year of live performances and I decided to catch them live before they sign off. So I booked tickets to Hellfest with a lot of struggle (since they were already sold out). The festival also had Rammstein and Insomnium playing, along with the other big names like Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax. Only after I got my tickets did I actually start thinking about what dates I would go, applied for leaves and booked my flight tickets. I also found the festival Jalometalli, which was the only place Kalmah were playing. I could also catch Swallow the Sun play live here. I couldn’t get tickets for this one online though, as they had to be collected in person or you had to pay 40 euros to get them delivered, which didn’t seem worth it for 100 euro tickets.

Hellfest was between 17-19 June in Clisson, France and Jalometalli was on 8-9 July, in Oulu, Finland. It seemed like a nice midway point for the trip to have Jalometalli in there. It gave me some structure or goal on my trip. I did end up going to that one as well.


My two main motivations for travelling are:

1) Being Uncomfortable 

You get comfortable doing the same things everyday. Everything is easy. That feeling of discomfort and thinking “WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING HERE!?”, when you are trying to figure things out in an unknown place, is priceless. Hence the solo travel as well. I like travelling with friends, but it’s easy to figure things out when there are more people.

Magic happens outside your comfort zone. 

2) Meeting new people

What do people in these country do? What kind of lives do they live? What do they think? What do they like/dislike?

Travelling alone gives you the golden opportunity to interact with people. You are alone and it’s a natural excuse to be more open.

Sight seeing for me is somewhere way down on this list, if I made one. Sure there are some super classy places that you have to go. But for this trip I had none in my mind. “Maybe Trolltunga in Norway”, was the only thing on my mind.

I also like to go without any planning whatsoever. Going solo rocks, because it’s impossible to do this in a group. People start getting restless, without a plan.

There were days on my trip where I had an idea that I should go to this city next, but would look things up after waking up to see my options for rideshare/buses/trains. Then there were days where even the next destination was unplanned, and I just wandered in that general direction. An example of this in my post: Nomad in Norway.

The pros of travelling this way are that you get to decide places based on what people suggest to you or you can stay longer at a particular place if you like it there. I stayed an extra day in Copenhagen and Tromso, because I had good company. I stayed an extra day in Gothenburg to see Deep Purple play live. It’s not possible to do this if you have pre-booked travel tickets.

I wanted this trip to be a little different and less touristy. So I wanted to go up towards the Scandinavian countries, instead of hanging out in Spain, Italy, Switzerland. Plus, these are the places that you go for your honeymoon, so they could be skipped for now 😉

This is a map of the places that I went to:

Roughly 7 days in France, 3 in Denmark, 8 in Sweden, 5 in Finland and 12 in Norway is how I spent my time. Only spent 1-2 days each in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, since I wanted to go to Scandinavian countries quickly. Names of cities can be seen here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1ctmD7O1lX1RMZu2vblTfiuvLcZE

I had to and fro flights between Paris and Bangalore. I had to book a flight from Oslo to Paris 2 weeks into my trip since I realized it would be impossible to come down to Paris again, and the flight prices were rising quick. I also booked a flight from Narvik to Oslo 10 days before my flight from Oslo, since I wanted to spend time in Lofoten Islands in North Norway. So at the end of my trip it was 5 flights over 3 days to come back to India. Narvik -> Oslo -> Paris -> Rome -> Kuwait -> Bangalore.

By the way, my trip was 42 days long and I was hitchhiking. So did I get the answers to life, universe and everything? 🙂

My upcoming posts will have details on how I travelled between cities (hitchhiking!) and how much money I spent on the entire trip (budget traveller!).

 

Nomad in Norway

This is a story about the time I didn’t see a single human being for 2 days, while travelling in Norway as a part of my 6 week Eurotrip. The details of the main story are also the reason for the title of the blog.  

Prelude

With about 7 days left in Norway, I decided in Tromso that I was going to go to Lofoten Islands and just hike around and free camp my entire time. I had been too comfortable and lucky with Couchsurfing on my entire trip.

I left at 3:30 pm on 15th July from Tromso, and had no plans on where I was going to go in Lofoten. I had heard the name Svolvaer, and kept that as my hitchhiking goal for the day. I started from a spot my Couchsurfing host had told me about, and was lucky to manage my first ride within 5 minutes. An old man who was going back home to Nordkjosbotn, which is an hour ride away, called me. After he left me, I tried finding a good stop at a confusing intersection area where 2-3 roads met. It was hard to figure out which way to stand, since there were multiple ways for cars to go towards Narvik. After asking some people personally and standing at the wrong spot later for 30-40 minutes or so, I moved to the nearby gas station. I wrote Narvik on a board and stood at the space cars where coming out from. Some 20 minutes later a couple was going towards Narvik but not up to there and gave me a ride to another gas station an hour away. From here I got a ride by a guy going all the way to Bergen. He even offered me a ride for the entire way. He dropped me at a spot where a Couchsurfer had agreed to keep my smaller bag, with laptop and a few clothes, to take load of my back while hiking.

I had to wait here for 2 hours from 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm, feeling cold and dreading having to camp next to the highway. Finally 2 guys from Sweden, who had initially gone ahead, turned around and came back to me. They were going to Harstad but could leave me at the bridge that splits Harstad to one side and Lofoten to the other. On the way there, I saw that there is a hiking trail right next the spot I was going to get dropped.


(The guys from Sweden)

I started the hike at around midnight. I was enjoying my hike and thought this was impressive that you could do this in Norway. Hitchhike and then camp anywhere you want! How amazing is that! A little later I saw an animal in front, at some distance. It looked like a fox and I quietly backtracked a few metres and sat on a rock for some time, before continuing again.


(The top of the trail)

It was slightly scary, since this was my first wild camping experience. I had multiple nightmares that night about people rolling my tent down the mountain or squashing my tent or sneaking up my tent at night and so on. I didn’t use my earphones, since I wanted to be aware of potential noises at night. I woke up multiple times but then forced myself to sleep till 9:30 am.


After waking up next day, I went down and hung out by the bed and breakfast place at the base of the hike, asking people for a ride towards Svolvaer. When asking the people there, didn’t work out, I stood by the road. But the spot was quite bad, since I was on the opposite side of the road and there was space to pull over only on one side. After 2-3 hours of effort and still no rides, it started raining. I found shelter next to the building, but couldn’t stand out for hitchhiking. Or didn’t want to for as well, for some time, to take a break from my failed hitchhiking attempts 🙂
I waited for the rain to go away, but it never did. At around 5, I decided to message a few Couchsurfing hosts in the area to host me for a night. So much for camping around and hitchhiking. I was cold and didn’t really want to stand out in the rain. There were only about 3 hosts close by, with one of them not having logged in for ages. I sent a request to the other two. One of them replied in 10 minutes that he could host me. Knut stayed 20km away in Kongsvik, to the side of Lofoten, and came and picked me up.

Hot showers and a warm bed were definitely better than being outside 🙂


The craziness

On the night that my Couchsurfing host in Kongsvik rescued me, I saw the weather forecast and it was going to rain for 3 more days according to them. With barely any time left in Lofoten, I couldn’t have really stayed at home, could I? I borrowed a raincoat from Knut and decided to do a 40km roundtrip trail close to his place over the next 2-3 days. I would start this from the next day with my 12 kg backpack, with food for the entire time.

I started at 6 in the evening next day. Knut dropped me at what he thought was the starting point of the trail. After wasting an hour or so around the wrong trail, I found the right trail path at around 7 🙂

It was raining continuously the entire time. Four hours into the hike, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and thinking about quotes such as “Sometimes you do things in life, like walk 40kms in rain, because that’s how life is.”

In Norway, the trails are marked by red paint on trees or rocks every 50-100 metres. After reaching a mini peak sort of area, I couldn’t see any trail markings. I decided to scramble up some rocks and realized after some time that this was completely unnecessary and the wrong way! Getting down was an even bigger pain due to the slippery rocks and backpack. I was furious at myself for doing this stupidity since it would be at least a few days before anyone came here, in case I got hurt by falling or twisted my ankle. I vouched to be more careful and alert from this point on.

I decided to look at my GPS and found at that I was only about 4kms in, out of the first 7km stretch! Although, there was that detour and the initial part of the hike was where the most elevation gain was. I got demoted by this but carried on, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do the entire path. I decided to look at trail markings very carefully. But it was getting harder to find them, since they were on smaller rocks now instead of trees, and my glasses with rain on them weren’t helping at all. I had to stop in between and clean my glasses and look hard to find the next mark.

After an 1-1.5 hours of this, I reached a spot which looked like the ideal place to camp for the night. It was a flat place with lots of grass, surrounded all sides by small mountains and a flowing water stream from the top with a lake in the middle. I started to unpack my stuff and realized my hands were frozen from the rain! The temperature was around 10C. I tried opening the clips of my backpack for 2-3 minutes but wasn’t able to. My hands had absolutely no energy in them. I could open one and then loosened the bag a little to get out my tent. Making the tent was another big ordeal which I somehow managed.

Keeping stuff in the tent was tricky. My backpack was completely wet. My jeans were wet from below the front pockets. My sleeping bag was fucking wet at the head because some water seeped through the opening of the polythene! Before starting the hike I had kept a plastic cover over my socks to prevent my feet from getting wet. Well that lasted about 15 minutes because I had to cross multiple small streams by stepping into the water, which was basically melted snow. My feet had been wet with cold water for about 6 hours now. I was also wearing very basic, torn, running shoes :-/

I slept at one side of the tent and during the night. The base of my sleeping bag and sides got more wet during the night since the tent wasn’t completely waterproof. Every hour or so a very small puddle of water would collect in the tent on the sides.


I woke up next day and saw that almost all the stuff was wet. My sleeping bag was just manageable. My jeans were completely soaked since they were on the wet backpack. I moved my mat to the middle of the tent and kept polythene bags between stuff on the side to protect my sleeping bag and jacket. I used some dry clothes to soak up the water at the base and sides of the tents.
At this point I had no will power to continue further. Going further would mean that my feet would be wet again and that my barely manageable sleeping bag could get even more wet. I didn’t want to risk it. Plus there was also the chance of getting sick. I decided that I would spend the day in my tent reading on my kindle and listening to music on my ipod.

It was a long day. I slept, read, listened to music, contemplated the meaning of life and there was still plenty of time. I went out of tent only twice or thrice. I slept at 10 in the night. That night I stuffed my ears with earplugs and music to get better sleep.

(A beautiful place on top of mountains)



I woke up at 9:30 am the next day after forcing myself to sleep longer. It was still raining and I shouted out loudly “WHY THE FUCK IS IT STILL RAINING!”. I was angry, I was upset. I finally understood why people in western countries curse the rain so much. I finally understood the meaning of the poem “Rain rain go away”. I again said out loud, pleading “Please go away”.

I sat at the same spot, without moving and thinking what I wanted to do, for an hour. I would move out at noon and go back down even if it doesn’t stop raining.

Then at 10:30, something wonderful happened. I saw the sun shining on my tent! FUCK! I shouted out loudly “YOU ARE OUT! THE SUN IS OUT! I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU! WOOHOOOO”. I jumped with joy and stepped out of tent. I had tears of joy in my eyes and said “Sorry, I’ve taken you for granted my entire life. You are the most amazing thing ever and I will never again take you for granted. Thank you”.

I packed up everything quickly and started moving down at 11. I touched a lot of the trail mark stones and said “Thank you” to them passing by. I messaged Knut saying “Hey, so all of stuff is wet. Can you provide me shelter for another day?” He obliged and said that he can pick me up at 4. I made it down with bouts of hysterical laughter in between. Something about the whole thing was really funny.

(The red paint on the stone as a trail marking)

(Happiness or Madness?


 Being an INTP (MBTI personality) I am worried about the meaning of life, what should I do in life and all these existential questions. Midlife crisis and what not. But after getting back, just shelter over my head and food in my belly made me delighted! It was that simple to be happy!
And I saw not a single person in the mountains, for 2 days straight. Something like this would be impossible in India.
Some other pictures from the hike: