Traveling ever onwards we left yet another country behind after too short a time. Too short to get to know it well enough, too short to meet enough of its lovely people. Too short find all its hidden treasures. But as we slide smoothly into the ocean on a humongous ferry, dwarfed by cruise ships next to it, we still look back on a marvelous time in Finland. And as the skyline of Helsinki becomes smaller, we keep on asking each other how we ever got to be this blessed.
The last time we spoke I told you of the wonderful family in Haukipudas, at the top of the Bothnian Sea, who were so incredibly kind as to open their house to us. It was so overwhelming we’d never dream we would experience it again. Until we did…
A strong vibe “You can just hang the keys here and close the door behind you when you leave. It was so nice meeting you, I hope you have a great time!” We took a quick picture together, and that was it. Their car backed up into an empty space, turned and left. Of they went, to visit some friends. We’d done it again. Alone in a strangers’ home. Although, they weren’t strangers anymore. They were friends.
We’d met them in a national park, one of many here in Finland. The meeting-part wasn’t hard, that’s just what happens when you camp next to each other. You walk around to find a place to pitch your tent—or in this case, hang your hammock—and that’s when you meet. You exchange kind greetings and some pleasantries and all of a sudden your knee deep in a conversation full of how’s and why’s: How’d you get here? Why this place? How has traveling been so far? That happens to everyone.
Yet, apparently, somewhere along the way we give a strong vibe that we need a place to sleep. It wasn’t as direct as it was the last time. This time around it happened after a good night’s sleep, and so we couldn’t account it to these people being too quick on their feet. They had time to think.
A spoonful of culture We were in need of some help, and this new family saved our behinds. Then: “We’ve got a spare room, you can stay there if you want.” Bam. All of a sudden we are this couple who just get invited into the homes of strangers. And it’s not like we’re complaining, we’re just amazed.
So we jumped at the opportunity (because how often does this happen, ordinarily?) packed our stuff, left the national park, and traveled a short way back from where we came, to Jyväskulä. It was there that we could stay in the beautiful house of this family; a mom, a dad, and their three daughters. The daughters were adorable, mom a sports teacher and dad a doctor. We arrived at around three o’ clock, and it didn’t take long before they brought us back out onto the streets of this town. This family never stays inside long. Not even when it’s freezing outside. And if you’re wondering, the lakes here freeze over until about April. It’s that kind of freezing. Still, they go out every day. And today we were going to explore this city and get a taste of their culture. I say ‘their’ on purpose because it seems this family adds their own unique twist to traditional Finnish culture.
First off, we were going to try traditional cinnamon buns which we bought in a cute little shop, owned and run by local students as part of their bachelor degree in business. And seeing they have a lot of business students here they also have these kinds of small boutiques all over. This shop was in a little park where their two youngest daughters could run around playing, and we could sit down, and relax. As we sat down on the table appeared, not only four cinnamon buns but also a carton full of milk. We asked if that was normal: “For us it is, but it’s not Finnish. That’s why the guy behind the register asked us what we paid the last time. We’re the only ones who buy whole packages of milk here.” They laughed as father filled the cups they brought along for the occasion, and we dug in. The rolls were somewhat more doughy than we were used to, but they were good, tasty. And the milk indeed gave it just that little bit extra.
Yet, the buns were only a precursor to the highlight of the evening. After taking us for a nice hike (8 km on flip flops, let’s go!) we got to share in this families’ creme de la creme of eating experiences, the icing on their weekly cake, the food that this family would bring to a deserted island, even if it were the only thing they could take; we were getting some porridge.
“We love porridge!” Mom laughs, “I could eat it every day.” And they’re serious. We didn’t think they were, that it must’ve been a mistranslation or that they were fooling us (just like they told us our car got ticketed) but no, there it was on the kitchen top: a hot pan full of porridge. “But that’s not all, we make it special,” and so next to the pan there where bowls of banana, strawberry (the Finnish kind are really sweet) and berries, some muesli, a sort of vanilla sauce, cardamom and most important: peanut butter. The family started loading up these big bowls full of what can be described as nothing else than little porridge parties, each one of them. We sat down at the table, baffled, but excited…about porridge! And we ate, and we ate, and we enjoyed it, and we laughed at the fact that we did, because who would’ve thought. It was porridge! We decided then and there: these were ‘the porridge people.’
The porridge people: A family of athletic people, who go out to run, cycle or ski at least once a day and everyone who’s too young to participate still gets taken along by one of the older porridge people. No one gets left behind. These people are friendly, enthusiastic and incredibly kind. They laugh a lot, don’t talk unless they have something to say and love to share. But above all else, first and foremost; they enjoy a wonderful, steaming bowl full of porridge. Make it with milk, with water, make it with whatever you can find and eat it on as many of the days of your life. That is the life of the porridge people.
And these lovely people, they invited us into their home, for which we are forever grateful. We learned that you can only eat candy once a week and that every type of candy is good candy, especially licorice. That you can go to candy stores only if you do something sporty to get there and that having children doesn’t mean you should stop doing the things you love, but sometimes you just need to negotiate with them a little to keep on doing them, like taking a friend along to go camping.
So we sit here, in this new country, hoping that this one, Estonia, is as nice to us as Finland was. But first, we’ve got to buy us some porridge. See ya!