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"80% of Finns have a mobile phone, 40% have two"
- Anna Stevenson

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Tale from the thousand lakes
by Anna Stevenson, 23, Helsinki, Finland
Sep 13, 1999

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My French boyfriend and I have lived in Finland for a year now, and are constantly on the lookout for "Finnish" activities. Usually this means something in the outdoors, a real pleasure with the warm sunny weather this summer. Last weekend we decided to go kayaking in the bays around Helsinki.

To find a rental shop, we got on the web using our ISDN line (70% of Finns are wired) and found a place in Espoo, just west of Helsinki. To get there, we looked up the bus timetables. Unfortunately, neither of us speaks Finnish well enough to use our mobile phone to do this (80% of Finns have a mobile phone, 40% have two).

We missed the bus stop, and had to walk through half a mile of forest (right next to the freeway) back to Keilaniemi. The rental shop wasn't far from Nokia Headquarters, a huge glass building facing the sea. The owner was happy to see us, we were his first customers - all the Finns were home watching the Formula 1 race and javelin competition. We got our kayaks at a reasonable rate for four hours, the owner recommended some islands to visit, and we set out for Mustasaari (literally "Black Island") because it was "15 minutes away" according to the owner. An hour later we arrived at the forested island with the typical Finnish population of quaint wooden houses.

The first thing you learn about the weather in Helsinki (and generally southern Finland) is that it's always windy. I taught scientific English to a group at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and they explained to me that there is still no way to correctly predict the winds, save to say that there will be some. Mustasaari was no exception, and after a half hour of freezing gusts we hopped back into our kayaks. We paddled down to the southern tip of Lehtisaari, thoroughly soaking ourselves on the choppy waters, and returned, exhausted, three hours after we'd originally set out. Getting out of my kayak I didn't move quickly enough, and splashed into the surprisingly warm water, my kayak slipping out from under me.

Now I can say I've been swimming in the Baltic Sea.

If you plan on kayaking or canoeing anywhere in Finland, do so in the summer months. The Baltic ices over in October-November, and doesn't thaw until April. For this reason, most rental shops close in September and open in May or June. I would also recommend kayaking the lakes rather than the bays - the islands in the bays look deceptively close to each other, the water is choppy, and the wind unforgiving. The lakes are cleaner, quieter, and you'll get more scenery for the time spent on the water. Prices for renting kayaks are according to the type of kayak and time spent. We paid 15 US$ each for four hours in intermediate kayaks, four hours in an advanced kayak was 40 US$.

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