Sauna (The Finnish Sauna Society), Helsinki
We deliberately chose a hotel with a swimming pool in Helsinki and were shocked to find the pool only opened around 2 hours per day. This is because the pool is part of the sauna experience. Finnish people love relaxing and cleaning themselves in the sauna. The sauna is expensive to run so will only be warmed up for a couple of hours each day. You'll find the swimming pool next to the sauna is ice cold. This is because it is acting as a substitute lake. the Finns love to get hot in the sauna then leap in an icy lake to cool down. Try it it's an exhilarating experience. You'll be wide awake the rest of the day.
Finally found a photo to go with this tip. It is taken on our ski trip to Jyvaskula in 1986.
Even the most lowly of guesthouses or Hostel in Finland invariably seems to house a sauna in it's depths.
Now Sourbugger loves a Sauna as much as the next woman to him, but ettiquette can be a little different in Finland. Many seem to be quite happy to take their sauna without their shreddies (*english dialect word) on. This can produce two embarrassing scenarios :
1) You enter the sauna when are down to your last pair of Trollys (*english dialect word),a pair of boxers that bear the slogan 'Home of the jolly pink giant !'
2) You enter without your kecks (*english dialect word) and due to the company you keep, and due to the fact you keep your kit on in an English Sauna you end up adding to the total amount of 'wood' in the sauna area.
A minefield for us slightly more inhibited cultures (sourbugger excepted)
The sauna has always been important for Finns. It has a long history, going back at least a thousand years, probably more. Originally the sauna was a place to bathe, but as it was the only available clean place with abundant water, it has also been a place for giving birth and healing the sick.
There are today an estimated 2 million saunas in Finland, 1.2 million of which are in private apartments and the rest in summer cottages, hotels and public swimming pools. Quite something for a population of 5 million. (Statistics)
History has seen a variety of differents sauna types in Finland and other cultures have had their own versions of the sweat bath: the native American sweat lodge, or inipi, the Russian bania and the Turkish hamam steam bath.
The first saunas
Defining the first sauna is a difficult task, because there is no clear definition of what a sauna is. Does a hot room suffice, or is water thrown on hot rocks an essential ingredient? If we only accept places that were used solely for washing, we must discard many recent saunas as well.
The nomad people wandering around what later became Finland already had primitive saunas. They heated holes in the ground and covered them with a tarp to have a warm place for bathing. There was probably an open fire in the hole, and the bathers would wait until the fire had gone before entering the sauna. The native American sweat lodge is very similar to this kind of sauna.
Such a hot room would later evolve into the smoke sauna, the most traditional form of modern saunas. A smoke sauna has a fireplace with no chimney; the fire heats the stones directly and the smoke exits the room through a small hole just below the roof. The fireplace is built by piling stones, ideally without using mortar, and takes several hours to warm up. Smoke saunas were built and used as late as the 1920's, after which they almost disappeared as new types of heaters were developed.
The sauna is a small room or hut heated to 80 degrees Celsius. It is used for bathing as well as for mental and physical relaxation.
While a hot sauna may seem a cruel punishment to foreigners, it is actually a very pleasant experience, as long as you follow some basic advice. And no need to worry, it's entirely safe.
The sauna has a long history and close relatives in other cultures: the Russian banya, the Native American sweat lodge or inipi, the Turkish hamam, even the Japanese onsen. In Finland it has at least a thousand years of history.
There are 1,212,000 saunas in private apartments in Finland (2002 statistics). With another 800,000 installations in summer cottages and public swimming pools that makes for more than 2 million saunas for a population of 5.2 million. For comparison, we have just under 2.5 million cars and trucks.