Finland – Asterix

Metal Militia

Heavy metal music is huge in Scandinavia, particularly in Finland. Apparently there is even a bunch of sub-genres (death, black, folk, power, cello and symphonic)… who knew!? Let’s put on our leather and black make-up (is that even a metal thing?) and take a closer look at some of the country’s biggest metal acts:

Apocalyptica

This band is made up of three classically trained cellists (Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, and Perttu Kivilaakso) and drummer Mikko Sirén. The quartet originally began as a Metallica tribute group – yes, using nothing but cellos – before evolving into other styles of music. Apocalyptica has even worked with Mr. Gwen Stefani (aka Gavin Rossdale of Bush fame). Their 8th studio album should be out sometime this year for Finnish metal fanatics everywhere.

Stratovarius

Around since 1984 (although no original members have been with the band since 1995), Stratovarius is one of power metal’s most influential groups, releasing 18 albums over the last 30 years. Over that time, the ensemble has cycled through 15 different members, but has managed to remain critically and commercially successful. Some of their best singles include: Black Diamond, Speed of Light, and the 10-minute Destiny.

Sonata Arctica

Originally a hard rock band under the names Tricky Beans and later Tricky Means, the group finally settled on Sonata Arctica when moving to the power metal genre, although they prefer to call their style melodic metal. The unit cites Queen as a primary influence, as well as fellow Finnish metal band Stratovarius. A RPG-style (role playing) video game was even supposed to feature the band and their music, but was cancelled for unknown reasons.

Hevisaurus

First of all, great name (providing it means what I think it does: a massive kick-ass, metal wailing dinosaur) and second, they’re a children’s power metal band! Where else do you ever see the term “children’s power metal”!? I looked into it a little more and the band actually dresses up in dinosaur costumes for their performances and has a detailed backstory including being hatched from metal eggs that were dormant for 65 million years before lightning and witches’ spells cracked them open.

Children of Bodom

One of Finland’s best-selling musical acts of all-time, Children of Bodom’s style has been described by fans as melodic death metal, power metal, thrash metal, early symphonic black metal, and neoclassical metal (how can there be so many ways to describe one act!?). These guys aren’t making easy listening tunes, with album titles that include Hatebreeder, Hate Crew Deathroll, Are You Dead Yet?, Blooddrunk, and Halo of Blood. I hope they find peace in what they’re looking for!

Nightwish

The most successful Finnish band outside the country’s borders (and third best-selling within Finland), Nightwish has numerous chart-topping albums and singles around the world. For the group’s debut album, songs were written and performed in both Finnish and English, but the band has largely dropped their native tongue, with lead vocalist and keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen stating that “Finnish [could] quickly sound really cheesy.”

Lordi

This group (known for their concert theatrics, such as wearing masks, costumes, using pyrotechnics, and horror elements) won the 2006 Eurovision song contest with their “Hard Rock Hallelujah”. With the victory, they became the first rock act and Finnish band to place first in the competition. After their big win, Lordi hosted a free concert in Helsinki’s Market Square. The ensemble even have a soft drink named after them. Lordi Cola features artwork of the band and apparently tastes like death.

HIM

With their album Dark Light, HIM (His Infernal Majesty from The Satanic Bible) became the first Finnish group to have an album certified gold in the United States. The band has earned a reputation as a ‘love metal’ group and how could you not come to the same conclusion with album titles like Razorblade Romance and the use of a altered pentagram logo turned into a ‘heartagram.’ HIM has also been described by themselves and critics as ‘Goth N’ Roll’ and ‘Scandinavian Blues.’

Finland: Asterix

Asterix Cocktail

  • 0.75 oz Finlandia Vodka
  • 0.75 oz Pisang Ambon
  • Top with Lemon-Lime Soda
  • Dash of Lemon Juice
  • Garnish with a Cherry

While I lean more towards classic rock in my music preference, I have to say that many of these Finnish groups have great names and that’s a good start in the performance industry. Add in monster masks and dinosaur costumes and I might be sold on the whole genre!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4.5 Sips out of 5):
Wow, Finlandia Vodka is 2-for-2 when it comes to great cocktails. I just love the flavour of banana that comes through in the aftertaste thanks to the Pisang Ambon… and I’m not even a banana fan. Everything works well together here and I urge all you little sippers to give the drink a chance. It also looks so cool!

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Finland – Arctic Circle

Full of Hot Air

Hanging out at Ma and Pa Sip’s place can often feel like an all-inclusive resort vacation. Good food, great drinks, and there’s even a pool and sauna. I hesitantly include that last item, as it may cause a wave of Finnish backpackers to show up at Ma and Pa Sip’s front door. Apparently, Finnish people are big into saunas and there’s even a culture around the hot houses that is unique to the country. Let’s learn a little more about that… NOW!:

With a population of only five million people, it’s staggering to learn that there are more than two million saunas in Finland. That’s an average of one per household. Many Finnish websites state that the sauna can only be truly enjoyed in Finland, its birthplace. In fact, “sauna” is a Finnish word and one of the few that has spread into other languages.

Finnish Saunas

Speaking of birthplaces, long ago, most Finnish mothers gave birth to their babies in saunas. Can you imagine taking a girl back to your sauna for the first time and being able to say: “And that’s where I was born…” Talk about a mood killer! The sauna’s versatility has largely led to its popularity. A sauna can provide everything from a roof over your head, to a stove to cook food on, to a place to keep warm during the long winter months.

Saturday is the traditional sauna day and most Finnish citizens try to get in a steam at least once each week. Saunas can be found outdoors along the country’s shoreline, in apartments, at corporate offices, and even in their Parliament and 1,400 meters deep at the Pyhäsalmi Mine.

While in the sauna, some users may beat themselves with a leafy branch of a birch tree, which is said to relax the muscles. When the temperature gets too uncomfortable, these crazy Finns will jump in a pool or other body of water to cool down. Even wilder, in the winter, they will roll around in the snow or cut a hole in the ice and jump into the frigid water below. Here’s where I’m down with these nutty folk, though, as following their steam, it is customary to enjoy some sausage with beer to finish the experience. Then you can lather, rinse and repeat as many times as you want!

Sauna Reality

The sauna is a sacred place to many Finns and so it is a huge party foul to swear while inside. Controversial topics are also avoided as arguments in the sauna are frowned upon and conversation is generally of the relaxed variety. It should be noted that in Finnish folklore, a sauna elf lives in the structure and is its spirit.

Men and women often sauna separately, although younger generations are more open to group sauna time (remember, everyone is supposed to be totally naked). Families use the sauna together, as well, but at a certain age, teenagers split from their parents. For Finnish business people, a sauna invitation is in the same vein as going to lunch or drinks. If a foreigner refuses an invite, this may be looked down on by the host. If staying with a Finn, the sauna might be warmed up in your honour, making it that much more difficult to pass up.

Sauna Funny

The World Sauna Championships were held from 1999-2010 in Heinola, Finland, despite the Finnish Sauna Society (yes, this organization actually exists) strongly opposing the event, due to the health risk of being enclosed amongst hot temperatures for long periods of time. The competitors basically tried to sit in the sauna the longest and be the last to leave the structure without assistance. Finnish athletes (no, that can’t be the right word for this) dominated the event, which ceased operations after the 2010 championship, due to a Russian competitor dying from third-degree burns and a former five-time Finnish champion needing to be rushed to the hospital where he was put into a medically-induced coma for six weeks.

There are different types of saunas commonly used throughout Finland, which differ depending on how it’s heated or the building it’s housed in. The heating options include: a smoke sauna, a wood stove sauna, and an electric stove sauna. Housing differences comprise everything from portable tents to saunas built into cars, buses, trailers, and even bicycles. There are companies that rent mobile saunas and there’s even an annual event for the phenomenon in Teuva, Finland. This must turn into the largest gathering of sweaty, naked people on earth, which has me thinking that it’s time for a refreshing drink.

Finland: Arctic Circle

Arctic Circle Cocktail

  • 1 oz Finlandia Vodka
  • Top with Ginger Ale
  • Splash of Lime Juice
  • Garnish with Mint Leaves

I don’t use Ma and Pa Sip’s sauna as often as I should. It helped in getting Mrs. Sip into the pool on cooler days, with the promise that she could retreat to the sauna when she got too cold. Manipulative, yes… but you would do it too if you ever saw Mrs. Sip in a bikini!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
This was a very nice drink that is as easy on the eyes as it is on the palate. Ginger Ale has got to be one of the best mixers out there and it always works nicely with Lime Juice. I don’t think I’ve ever had it before with Vodka, usually putting it together with Rum or Whiskey. It works here just as well as with the other spirits!

December 18 – Holiday Hopper

Christmas Vacation

I prefer to spend Christmas at home with family and friends, but that’s not for everyone. Some like to get out and see the world, leaving the comforts of familiarity far behind. If that sounds like you, here are some of the best places to travel to for Christmas joy!

Leavenworth, Washington

This quaint little Bavarian-themed town is great to visit at all times of the year, but it particularly comes alive at Christmas, beginning with its annual lighting festival. The Family Sip spent a few Christmases in Leavenworth when the Sip Advisor was a wee little sipper. We enjoyed many hours playing in the snow, going cross country skiing, and causing a general ruckus in the hotel halls. It’s hard to not be in the full Christmas spirit when you’re so surrounded by it.

leavenworth-lighting

New York, New York

One would probably start by visiting Rockefeller Center for outdoor ice skating and ogling the giant Christmas tree placed in the center of the plaza, but I for one would try to relive Kevin McCallister’s adventures from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York… especially if I can convince a couple cons to provide me with willing Wet Bandits impersonators! For Pa Sip, there’s also the Holiday Train Show, featuring numerous model trains rumbling through an intricate New York landscape.

Lapland, Finland

Home to Santa Claus Village and Santa Park and located near the Arctic Circle, this area has long been considered Santa Claus’ base of operations, where reindeer and polar bears (of the Coca-Cola swilling variety) can be found inhabiting the region. It’s here that you can get a photo with one of the most legit looking Santa’s I’ve ever seen… perhaps he is the real thing. Whoa, mind blown, I’m off to Lapland!

Disney Theme Parks

You never need a specific reason to go to a Disney park, but seeing the resorts at Christmas is a must at some point in every person’s life. I love how rides like the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World are updated for the holiday season and the park’s Christmas Parade and Christmas Fireworks Extravaganza are spectacles that should be witnessed. Add to that all the Christmas treats, merchandise, lights, costumes, and everything else and it’s a holiday overload… in a good way!

Christmas-at-Disney

Bethlehem, Israel

Birthplace of Jesus Christ and home to the nativity scene, thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem each year to celebrate the holiday where its roots stem from. The Church of the Nativity sits upon the spot where Jesus is said to have been born (a silver star within the church marks the exact location of Jesus’ birth) and empties out into Manger Square. Numerous religious events take place around the Christmas holiday and regardless of your denomination, you can celebrate at some point in the area.

Reykjavik, Iceland

With its proximity to the North Pole, this may be the closest you ever come to Santa’s workshop. In fact, just outside the Icelandic capital is The Christmas Village, which offers everything from live musical performances to shopping opportunities to the Yuletide Lads (not one or two, but 13 Santa’s). Apparently their ‘mother’ can also be found nearby, but can you imagine the hardships she’s gone through raising 13 boys who are all unemployed and want to hand around children all day?

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Dubbed ‘The Christmas City‘ this place has taken celebrating the holiday season to new heights. They even have a live advent calendar, where each day, a different shopkeeper comes out the Goundie House door with treats for those attending. Christkindlmarkt is molded after the traditional European winter market and offers visitors the chance to buy arts and crafts and food. It doesn’t say anything about booze, but you hope that’s there too. I mean, you really, really, really hope they have that, as well!

Drink #352: Holiday Hopper

Holiday Hopper Drink Recipe

  • 1 oz Melon Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Crème de Menthe
  • 0.5 oz Crème de Cacao
  • Top with Milk
  • Garnish with Mint Leaf and Chocolate

After researching for this list, it’s clear that there aren’t many places that would be bad to spend Christmas. Perhaps war-torn areas and such should be avoided, but so many cities have something to offer for those looking to get away for the holidays.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4.5 Sips out of 5):
This is one of those drinks that really surprises you. Given my aversion to Crème de Menthe, I can never really trust it, especially when it’s expected to play nice with other more normal ingredients like Melon Liqueur. Here, they all come together for a wonderful and enjoyable taste, perfect for a dessert beverage.