16 febrero, 2010

The Sauna

Firewood Sauna

The sauna is between the most known habits from Finland, something that is taken really seriously by the inhabitants, so much that they even have a cultural asociation. Before I start telling you my stories, I give you the link to the Wikipedia article about the sauna, where you can find much more information than what I can tell you. Anyway, there's lots of people coming to the blog, searching for stuff about the sauna (mostly photos ¬¬) and I see Wikipedia has some restrictive rules about how to use a sauna, so I'm gonna give you my opinion and tell you about my experiences.

I'll start talking about the sauna in Finland, another time, in another post, I'll talk about the sauna in Spain. There's no building in Finland which has no sauna, usually there's one common sauna for everyone living in that building and you can reserve some time to use it by your own. There's also some days that you can use them without reserving it, with times separated for women and men. But there are some other buildings that have a sauna per apartment, anyway it's not that common since saunas take a lot of electricity. In both cases the use of the sauna is the same, it's a heater with stones on the top, where you throw water to get the steam. The only difference is the size of the radiator and the number of stones. There's usually a bucket and something similar to a big spoon to get the water out of the bucket into the stones. Also those typical wooden benches with different levels, if you want to "suffer" a bit more (the higher, the hotter).

You can see a good example with the buckets, the benches and all the stuff in the next photo:

The inside of a sauna

I do not have many photos of the inside of a sauna. Usually it is on and there's naked people inside, so it wouldn't be that polite to take photos, nor polite neither good for the camera! Actually, that photo is the only one I've got. And now that I mentioned it, about the nakedness in the sauna, Finnish people are really open minded about it, the sauna it's for purification of the body, it has nothing to do with sexuality. So it is common to share the sauna with your family, or closest friends and not to make different turns for both sexes. Although in case it is a mixed public sauna, you are obliged to have a towel or swimsuit. The other way around, no one is obliged to be naked, but it's not really well seen; you are going there to sweat, to clean yourself, so the clothes get in the way, and it gets really dirty. To have a swimsuit in the sauna, is one of those things tourists often do.

Other things about the sauna, well, normally there is another room to sit down and rest (also drink and change your clothes) and also some showers. If there's no shower that means that there's a lake close by. It is really important to have showers before going to the sauna, also after the sauna, and in the meantime! Every time you get a rest of the sauna, it is good (and nice) to have a quick shower (just water). If there's no shower, you've got the water from the buckets, so you can throw some over your head. If nothing is available, I bet you can throw yourself into the lake and swim for a little while. Also it is common to see people with soap, the Finns normally take a shower after the last time they got inside the sauna.

What about the time you must be inside the sauna? There's no more rules than never to stay longer than you want and feel okay. You've gotta guess how long you want to stay and how many times you want to go inside the sauna. That's completely personal. Be careful with braveness demonstrations, staying too long in the sauna may be dangerous, let the Finns show their sisu with their competitions.

There's few things left to tell, not all saunas are electric, there are many (usually far from civilization) that are wood powered. They are harder to use (you've gotta chop the wood) and it takes longer to warm up (start making the fire like half an hour to one hour before you want to use the sauna), but they have something special on them that makes them nice and worthwhile. For example, depending on the wood you use, the sauna will have different kind of smells. You can also fake the smell in electric saunas with a special liquid really common in Finland, they are supposed to be mixed with the water you'll use in the stones, and sometimes they come with a special stone with holes where you can pour the liquid too. A homemade trick is to use beer on the stone (not much, just a little), and it will smell something similar to toast bread, I loved that!

And to finish with this long post, I'm gonna tell you two Finnish habits related to sauna. First, easy and known, in the winter you can bath in a frozen lake (which previously had a hole made), or you throw yourself into the snow. I did it, it was okay, but nothing really great, it's more the fun of doing it with friends (by the way, don't stay longer than a minute in the water, usually a few seconds are more than enough, really, it could get bad). I still prefer to swim in a lake in the summer before the sauna. The second habit is less known, not done by tourists. It's about using some branches as a whip on yourself, it's a special kind of branch, don't remember the tree, but they say it is really good for the skin. I never tried, and I don't miss the idea of trying. You can see in the previous photo the branches in the bottom-right corner.

Well, it was long, but I had to explain before I could really complain explain my experiences related to saunas in Spain.

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