Leaving Finland

On our last day in Finland, we had a little adventure. We had planned to catch an early morning train to the airport, so we arrived at Helsinki central station around 5am. However, to our surprise, the doors were closed when we tried to get in. Looking through the windows, we couldn’t spot any life inside! Fortunately, as we made our way to another entrance, we spotted a bus waiting at a nearby stop. We approached the driver and asked if the bus was heading for the airport and, thankfully, it was. We made it to our flight on time!

I later asked on an online forum why the station was shut. It turns out that while the station building itself was closed due to the shops inside being shut, the train platforms were accessible from the side entrances, bypassing the need to enter the station. I’m not sure how we were meant to know this!

We loved our time in Finland. It’s a special country. I was reminded how unusual it is when I saw Finland’s entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest — Windows95Man. One of the band members performed bottomless but the few clothes he wore had Windows 95 logos! Eurovision is renowned for its eccentric characters, but Finland may be on top of the list. I remember when, against the grain, Finland’s 2006 entry, Lordi, a heavy metal/hard rock band, won the contest. The first and, so far, the only time Finland has won.

Despite its small size (less than 6 million people), Finland has achieved much — from Nokia’s global dominance in the mobile phone market to Linus Torvalds, the Finnish creator of the Linux kernel, whose software powers countless computers worldwide.

Situated at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe, Finland has a unique identiy. While many Finns probably wouldn’t regard themselves as Eastern European, the country has navigated the geopolitical landscape carefully. During the Cold War, Finland avoided antagonising its domineering neighbour and, when it was safe (after Soviet Union’s collapse), joined the European Union. More recently, possibly fearful of Russia’s special operations, Finland joined NATO.

One of Finland’s shining achievements is its education system, consistently ranked among the best globally. With free and compulsory education from age seven to eighteen, Finland ensures that all its citizens have access to quality education, whether pursuing academic or practical careers.

A Short History of Finland (J Clements, 2022) says the education system recognises that not everyone wants to go to university. For the more practically minded, there is vocational training. This creates the cooks, hairdressers, plumbers, carpenters, and electricians of the future. And, ingeniously, “all households can have an annual tax break for home improvements and domestic service, as long as the money is spent on accredited labour”. This encourages tradespeople to go through the system and, as a result, they are taxed, which means there are fewer cowboy builders.

Perhaps it’s these aspects of Finnish society that contribute to its reputation as one of the happiest countries in the world. Since 2018, Finland has consistently held the number one spot in global happiness rankings.

Route travelled: London-Helsinki-Rovaniemi-Helsinki-London

Leave a Reply