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Embracing My Finnish Roots

Country No.72 holds an extraordinary place not just on the map but in my heart. Finland is where my Mum was born. Being half-Finnish, my sense of curiosity about my heritage always lingered. It's funny how a sense of belonging can sometimes be found in the very place where our loved ones took their first breaths. It definitely provided some insights into my demeanour and with a new affection and understanding for my Mum.

It has been a long time in the making. We have made several attempts to visit, and they just didn't come about, but this time was a success, and it was even more special to have my Mum and Dad by our side.

Let's start from the beginning. We arrive in Helsinki, and the first sign we see as we walk off the plane is a typical conversation with a Finn, basically all one-word responses. This is very enlightening, and I am starting to understand my conversational skills already!

Riihimäki, Finland

Family whisked us away to Riihimäki, where my Mum was born and my family reside; it is only a 40-minute drive, but within 10 minutes of leaving the airport, we were stopping for coffee and cake at the gas station, something the family likes to do, so we took the opportunity to taste our first Pulla (Cardamom bread) from Finland, what we called Coffee bread growing up and loving our visits to Grandma and Grandpas for the delicious treats.

We were back on the road, and the first thing we did was visit the supermarket. This is not your typical grocery store, but one where you can buy all your groceries, produce meats, and household needs; it was enormous!

Once we were stocked up, we were in the apartment the family kindly offered for us to stay and settle in; it was tucked away from the city centre in peaceful surroundings.

The next evening, my Mum's cousins hosted us for a BBQ, which we were very excited about—a home-cooked meal! Johanna, Antti, and their precious children were an absolute treasure, making us feel at home and nourishing us with delicious food and joyous company. We soon became fast friends, and as we were leaving, the kids were just as heartbroken as we were; it was a pleasure to be around such a warm and loving family.

The evening was spent going down memory lane, viewing old sepia photographs from Grandpa's side, seeing Mum and the family growing up, and meeting Grandpa's side of the family. It was lovely to put faces to names and meet all the young ones.

The region we were in for the evening was named Pöyrynkatu, actually after my Great Grandfather; my Mum's maiden name is Poyry; he was a stone mason and involved with building many structures in the area and putting it on the map; a plaque is still there to honour them.

Riihimäki is home to The Finnish Glass Museum, so this was on the sightseeing list for the next day. The museum focuses on glass design and the history of glass, and it has been operating since 1981 in a renovated glassworks. The museum presents the history of glass dating back over 4,000 years and the 300-year history of Finland's glass industry. The collections consist primarily of Finnish household, design, and art glass from the 18th to the 21st century.

Wayne was afraid as soon as he heard this was on the agenda, especially with me being in such close proximity to so many glass displays; he couldn't wait to tell everyone how much havoc I would cause with my clumsiness. He was right, of course, and a few minutes in, I tripped over a stand holding a glass sculpture; although I was lucky, it was so significant and stable that we averted a catastrophe!

The upper floor of the building is devoted to the history of the Finnish glass industry and products such as bottles, polished crystal and pressed glass. The history of Finnish glass design is divided into sections, including the history of serial manufacturing, art glass, and glass art.

Located on the ground floor, the exhibits showcase the fascinating journey of glass and provide a wealth of basic information on glassmaking techniques. From the art of glassblowing to the marvels of mechanical production and the intricate decorating techniques, each display holds a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be discovered.

A deep dive into the history of glassblowing: Glassblowing was invented around 40 BC in Lebanon. This technique permitted mass production and spread into the Roman Empire by ca. 100 AD. Along with the Middle East and Italy, glassmaking concentrated in the Rhine valley near present-day Cologne. Glass also came into wider practical use. The Finnish Glass Museum's collection of Roman glass includes bottles, tumblers and jars from ca. 100-400 AD. Most of the pieces are from either the Middle East or Central Europe. The objects are excavation finds, and a surface with a metallic sheen has formed on them because of corrosion in the ground. The Roman Empire was divided into Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, and the Western Roman Empire in 395. The Western Empire fell in 476, but Byzantium lived on until 1453 when the Turks conquered Constantinople, present-day Istanbul. The heritage of Roman glass was passed on to the Islamic world via Byzantium. The Middle East had a historically strong tradition of glassmaking. The heyday of Islamic glass ended with the Mongol invasions of the 14th century. The Roman heritage spread to Venice in the 14th and 15 centuries through the influence of Byzantine and Islamic glass.

After strolling through the endless glass sculptures and pieces, which were very interesting and mesmerising, the clan popped into the hunting museum, and we scouted a place for lunch for us all to enjoy in a local restaurant.

Following this, it was coffee, cake and ice cream time at the apartment with the extended family; we all sat around chatting with Mum translating, as some members were only Finnish speaking; we have gotten as far as hi, bye, thank you and cheers, so assistance was fully appreciated. Finns love their ice cream. It comes in large blocks, and you cut it up like a cake and serve it on a platter; they get points for the quality, especially the liquorice flavoured!!

We all retired early for the evening as sleep doesn't come easy during Spring and Summer in Finland to be fresh for our next Finnish adventure, which takes us to explore Hämeenlinna, a village nearby. In this part of the world, the concept of darkness takes on a whole new meaning. With the daylight night sky, it felt like the sun was teasing us, refusing to surrender to the darkness entirely.

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Paul Dunn
Paul Dunn
Jun 16

Magnificently magical

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It was so special to be with Sally and her parents, visiting where her mum was born.

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