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Funtime in Finland Title

It's not much of an exaggeration to call Finland the land of the mid-day moon. For much of the winter the sun struggles to lift its weary head above the horizon. In parts of the country it doesn't manage at all for nearly two months. These are dark, dark winters. It's not surprising then that one in six Finns suffers from Winter Blues -- and it can be tough on the tourist too. So what do they do to cheer themselves up? Savvy Traveler's Martin Stott headed off to Helsinki to find out.

Funtime in Finland
By Martin Stott

Listen with RealAudio: Funtime in Finland

Perhaps you are familiar with the music of Sibellius, perhaps the most famous of Finns -- a genius, but a heavy drinker and a moody, dark, depressive. He's not alone, it seems -- Finland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and high levels of alcohol abuse too. But, hey, these are stereotypes. The Finns can't all be that miserable can they? What do they do here for a laugh?

Well, for starters, they don't all hit the bottle. There is the elegant Cafe Engel in Helsinki; winter customers come here for a morning for a pick-me-up cappuccino and a "light bath." Finnish scientists reckon the best cure for the winter blues is a good daily dose of light -- so the owner's put several, specially manufactured ultra bright lamps in front of the tables. He calls this the world's first "light café" and says it's a hit with customers.

They take their morning paper and their coffee and they sit there for half an hour and read the paper and then they go out happy and glad again. It's a really good burst in the morning. The idea of these lamps is quite obvious...bring some light to this world.

But outside it's dark and it's cold -- 24 degrees Fahrenheit is a mild day here! So what am I to do with my time?

Well here is something special -- it's the Green Apple puppet theatre. I join the kids for an oddly contemporary English-language version of the Emperor's new clothes.

Puppet show act: "This is the 9 o'clock news from the Emperor's News Agency. Brad Thompson recording. The budget for the emperor's new clothes and jewelry will be doubled. The annual conference of fashion designers starts today. The meeting will be opened by the emperor himself who will be wearing a silk and chiffon ensemble."

Mmm -- Puppetry's quite new in Finland I guess, but telling stories -- now that's a very old tradition, says the company's director Ula Reitahalmee.

Reitahalmee: I remember from my childhood my grandmother and the whole family were really talkative persons -- normally Finnish people are quite are silent but it's this darkness in Finland -- the very long dark evenings -- you have to have something to do and what is more interesting than some story.

We tourists are allowed to behave like children and go to puppet shows, but grown ups here are more sophisticated. The Finns just love theatre and opera -- so in search of some levity I joined the adults at the fabulous new Helsinki opera house for a performance of Puccini's Sister Angelica. Oh dear, it's a story about a nun who kills herself with a bowl of smoking poison. Coming next- - Donizetti's Anne Boleyn! That doesn't sound like a bag of laughs either.

Perhaps it's the music of the street singers I need. The singers choose a song from the Ukraine about a man who loves one girl who became the wife of another. Very sad!

So even they're gloomy! But what's this? Go cart racing?

They've brought together some of the world's best drivers and are making them race each other on small fiberglass carts with engines the power of a souped up hairdryer motor. This should be a giggle.

But after just 20 minutes watching these things going round and round I'm bored. They're SO serious about it. If this was the States the drivers would be hamming it up -- getting out and headbanging each other with their helmets!

Four allegedly scantily-dressed women prancing around a huge arena with guns in their hands to James Bond music -- the mainly male audience is supposed to be turned on by this -- but everyone knows it's only 14 degrees Fahrenheit -- you don't go running around in a few sequins in this weather -- that's got to be flesh-colored thermals they're wearing -- and suddenly no-one's interested!

Heading back to the hotel I have an idea. I bet they sit at home watching Friends and Monty Python re-runs for a laugh. I turn the telly on and channel flick. The only foreign program I can find is from Germany -- it appears to be a yodelling competition from Bavaria! I'm coming back in the summer -- surely they'll have brightened up then.

In the meantime, from Helsinki this is Martin Stott for the Savvy Traveler -- heading to the bar. Old Sibellius had the right idea!

For More Information:

Visit Finland Virtually:

Check out this interactive map of the country:

Welcome to Finland:

Travel in Finland:

Get some background information about Finland before you leave:


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