I’ll admit it: I only tried a sauna once during over three weeks in Finland. Perhaps it was due to my pre-existing prejudice to any intentionally over-warm rooms. Before my visit, I was skyping with my boyfriend. He remarked that I would of course have to try a Finnish sauna, and I replied that I would, but I didn’t really like saunas. The look on his face was that of utter confusion, as if it was not really possible that I could be a normal person and not like saunas. How could anyone not like saunas? Nonetheless, I am not one to side-step new experiences, so I gave the Finnish sauna a try when we visited the summer cottage of a friend. It’s a big part of the culture. There are over two million saunas in Finland, which is one per household on average. The sauna at the summer cottage was a cute little wood outbuilding with benches built high up in the small room. Once the wood burning stove was hot, we all took our places on on the benches, and water was repeatedly thrown onto rocks on top of the stove to create steam. It was incredibly hot, and I did feel at some point like my face was falling off. Needless to say, the other American in the group and I did not last very long. While the two Finns and Norwegian were enjoying themselves, I was thinking how long I would need to stay so that I didn’t look like a complete wimp. When it was just too hot to bear, I ran out and jumped into the cold lake. Then we did it again.
While I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the experience, my skin did feel great afterwards, I can see how if one was used to it, it would be both relaxing and beneficial for health on a regular basis. I think if I lived there, I could get into it. And now, two fun facts I found when looking for statistics about how many saunas there are in Finland: Finnish soldiers on peacekeeping missions are famous for their saunas, which are often some of the first buildings to be erected in new camps, and before there was public health services and hospitals, woman would give birth in the saunas because they were the most sanitary environments available.
[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more pictures of Finland.]