I never thought that I would actually end up in Finland one day, but here I am having an exchange semester and having the time of my life. At first, Valkeakoski might seem as not that much fun, it is a rather small town with no actual mall and covered in snow for about half of the year. However, the activities that you could engage in are those of a lifetime, and the beauty is that you can do them every day while you are here, and never get tired of them.
1. The frozen lake
Valkeakoski has two lakes, Vanajevsi and Mallasvesi, where the first one freezes entirely as soon as the temperatures are -10 ᴼC. This temperature seems a little extreme when you think of it at first, that’s what I believed. But, as far as you wear proper clothes that cover you entirely, you will be fine. If you come from a sunny place, such as me for example, do not forget to take Vitamins D daily, because your body is not used to the absence of sun. Now let’s get back
Figure 1: Looking at the sunset over the Frozen Lake in Valkeakoski
to the lake. As soon as the signs are put on it you can walk in the lake, and do other activities that you would normally do during a White week during Winter Break.
I was terrified when I first walked in the lake because I had never walked on ice before. I could not stop thinking that the ice might break and I would find myself drowning in a lake. However, that is not the case at all. It is possible to ski, slide, ride your bike, or even drive in certain parts of the lake. Of course, only after the signs are up. The ultimate experience is to visit the little Island in the middle of the lake. Even if you do not know Finnish, like me, is easy to understand when you can walk on the lake- the place will be more crowded. If you are lucky you can meet Fins ice-fishing and join them. I have come to realize that Finnish people are very friendly if you approach them first, and most of the citizens of Valkeakoski speak basic English.
2. Jump in the Cold Water
One of the main activities in Valkeakoski is going to the sauna. There are many different options, you can choose to go to the sauna at the swimming pool- separated for men and women-, or to different public saunas that can be separated or shared, also ask your landlord or rental office whether your building has one that you could use on your own privacy or with friends. There is one rule though- in most of the saunas you are obliged to get in naked. Not in the best sauna in town though. The sauna that I will describe is very close to the city center, it has a 5 Euro entrance fee, and you might even get student discount. It is next to the Mallasvesi Lake which is not entirely frozen.
Figure 2: The Bridge over Mallasvesi’s Lake, before going to the sauna.
Being so close to the lake makes this sauna the perfect destination to experience the ultimate, Finnish Experience. When I saw the people in their swimming suits, swimming in the lake, while everything around was covered with snow and I was covered with three layers of clothes, I was terrified. But do not let the looks trick you and make sure to experience jumping in the lake with under 0 ᴼC outside. For you not to catch a cold make sure to stay long enough in the sauna. Stay as long as your body can take it, I was the first one to get out of the sauna because I could not endure the heat for more than 10 minutes. Then just get out and walk as fast as you can so you will not lose the body temperature you gained in the sauna. I walked very slowly at first because I was scared to jump. However, a nice Finnish lady helped me by encouraging me after she heard me say: I cannot do this. As I mentioned earlier the Fins are very nice and friendly people. Hold on the sides of the stairs so you will not fall in the water and just jump. Some just use the stairs and only wet their feet, but I figured that is better to fully jump in the water so your entire body has the same temperature and is easier for it to get used to the instant change. Make sure to keep your head out of the water though because you will have a literal brain freeze. Then get out of the water and walk in the building. You can get a shower, or you can go to the sauna again and jump in the water for the second time. Maybe you can swim. The more you do it the more you get used to it and the less cold it is, well this is how it happened for me at least.
3. Snow-angels (wearing a bathing suit)
Another extreme that is absolutely necessary to do in order to have the ultimate Finnish Experience, is jumping in the snow while you are only wearing a bathing suit. The bravest among us, and most of the Fins do this even naked- but make sure you are not in public areas because that would be inappropriate. Similar to the jumping in the lake, is easier to do this after you have been to the sauna. Saunas help to intoxicate your body. The heat makes you sweat, and the sweat helps the intoxication. Also, it heats your body gain the proper heat to endure the cold. Afterwards just get outside and jump in the snow. I was not able to make snow-angels because I found jumping into snow harder than jumping into the water. For me, the snow was colder than the water and I had to get up very soon and get back inside and get a cold shower. Cold showers help because if your body is cold and you pour warm water on it you will feel a little burn. Next time you are in Finland, Valkeakoski especially, make sure to do these activities and you will have the (Ultimate Finnish Experience).