A tourist in my own country

One could think that visiting your old home town as a tourist is all sunshine and rainbows but, for me at least, it’s a bit more complicated than that. While I love catching up with my dear family and friends as well as stuffing myself with those lovely Karelian pies and rye bread, I also get this weird anxiety that I’ve struggled to put my finger on. The main reason I left Helsinki and Finland was because I found it suffocatingly small and roaming exactly the same streets that I did for so many years seem to trigger those same feelings.

I just came back from a long weekend in Finland and noticed that while the anxiety level fortunately seems to decrease by every visit, I still couldn’t fully shake that distressing feeling.  However, by acknowledging it, I was able to reflect the reasons behind it and actually had a bit of a moment of enlightenment – I realised that everything looked and felt so familiar it was kind of like sliding back to my old life and the one in London began to feel almost like a distant dream. Obviously, rationally thinking I knew that wasn’t true but I think those feelings arise from knowing that without taking the leap of faith and moving to London, I’d still be stuck in leading the okayish life in Helsinki while constantly counting days to the next holiday.

Also, it’s easy to think that while you are living your new life abroad everything and everyone else stays put but obviously, that’s not how it works. As much as you’d like your visit to be the highlight of your friends’ month (or at least week) you can’t really expect them to go out of their way to move their life around in order to adapt to your tight schedule for the weekend visit. However, like all relationships, friendships require time and effort and therefore, the visits can also be a wistful reminder that not everything will stand the test of time and distance.

It might take a few more years for me to enjoy fully anxiety-free trips to Finland but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time last weekend – the trick is to treat your stay as any other tourist vacation. Obviously, it’s a bit different when you are staying with friends and family but I always strive to do something that I didn’t come around to do while I was still living there.

No trip to Finland is complete without a sauna so this time we decided to try out the architecturally impressive Löyly – a public sauna, restaurant and bar. Unfortunately, due to the stormy weather we weren’t able to dip into the freezing Baltic Sea but thoroughly enjoyed the heat as well as the delicious post-sauna salmon soup while watching the raging sea.

Despite our short stay we also decided to visit our dear friends in Mikkeli which is about 3 hour train ride from Helsinki. They have an amazing house by lake Saimaa and its big windows make you feel like part of the surrounding nature just by sitting in the living room. While London is a very green city, you never really achieve that level of connection with nature, not even in the outskirts of the city. Despite being a self-proclaimed city girl, I do appreciate and share Finns’ special relationship with nature and feel instantly more relaxed when gazing at the lake in total silence.

And talking about silence – when coming from a metropolis like London, what really struck me in Finland this time around was the lack of noises. You can kind of expect that on the lake shore in Mikkeli but we were staying at our parents’ place in Kamppi, right in the centre of Helsinki, and had real troubles falling asleep as it was almost too quiet. I guess that just shows how quickly you can adapt to new surroundings as silence wasn’t the only thing that didn’t strike as odd before living outside Finland. For example, while walking in the centre of Helsinki me and Mimosa kept asking each other where all the people were as the streets were so empty. For comparison, according to the Office for National Statistics the population density of our borough, Kensington and Chelsea, is 12,884 people per km² while in Helsinki it is only 2,934 people per square kilometre, and that really shows. I also think that Finns take for granted the fact that you can get high quality drinking water straight from the tap – or at least I know I did.

As mentioned earlier, I think it may take a few more years for me to be able to just dwell on the nostalgia when vising Finland and only observe the differences rather than comparing the two countries but I’m sure I’ll get there at some point. Until then, I’ll just use the same tactic to suppress those distressing feelings that has worked well before – stuffing my face with Fazer Blue.

– Milla

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