Tampere, Finland – Spies, Sauna, Black Pudding and Tango
By Rupert Parker
Finland is a huge country with a tiny population of just over five million. It does have more than 180 thousand lakes, however, and as the plane started its descent to Tampere, all I could see was forest and water stretching to the horizon.
The Manchester of the North
Tampere is Finland’s third largest city and the Nordic industrial revolution started here in 1820 when a Scotsman, James Finlayson, arrived to take advantage of the power of the rapids and manufacture industrial machinery. The town quickly became Finland’s industrial powerhouse and was known as the Nordic Manchester. As well as the dark satanic mills, it also shares a taste for Black Pudding with its British counterpart.
Today most of the industry is gone but the factory buildings have been preserved and are stuffed full of restaurants, shops and museums. There’s something strangely attractive about a town which still wears its industrial heritage proudly on its sleeve, and they’ve even preserved the massive steam engine which used to power the mill.
Living with the Bear
Until 1917, Finland was part of Russia and the onion domes of the Byzantine Orthodox church are a stern reminder that the great Bear is still a close neighbour. There’s even a museum dedicated to Lenin since he was a regular before the revolution, dodging the secret police, and it’s in the same room where he first met Stalin in 1905. Alongside a couple of death masks is the sofa where he apparently passed a few nights when he was on the run.
More recent history is captured in the Spy museum where you can also take an eight-stage secret agent test, and get a certificate to prove you’re a bona-fide spy, although I thought the point was that you were meant to be undercover. They’ve got a collection of spy paraphernalia including tiny cameras, radio transmitters and code machines and, if you’re looking for inspiration there are potted histories of famous agents.
Of course the main reason for coming to this part of Finland is to experience the wilderness. Most city dwellers have summer cabins in the countryside, usually at the water’s edge, complete with their own Sauna, so I elected to become an honorary Finn for the day. First was the ritual donning of the warm, waterproof suit, then an impromptu lesson in rod and line technique, and finally a bracing journey to the middle of the lake. Then you cast and cast and cast…and catch nothing. At least my guide managed to bag a Perch, a Pike and a couple of Zander, but, unlike me, he knew what he was doing.
The next part of the ritual is the Smoke Sauna – this is more like it. While the fish smoked, I sweated and sweated –when it became unbearable I jumped in the freezing cold lake, then a bout in the hot tub before repeating the procedure. It certainly gives you an appetite and smoked fish never tasted so good. The best was yet to come – Crayfish are native to the lake and a delicacy in these parts, and as you peel each one you get a shot of Schnapps and a burst of Finnish song. Strangely I now find it difficult to remember the words…
Last Tango in Tampere
Now I was really beginning to like Finland I faced the ultimate test. Tango is a big part of their culture, long divorced from its Argentinean roots, and they take it very seriously indeed. So seriously that I was forced to have lessons before they would allow me out on the dance floor, and it was fiendishly difficult, particularly the turns. And so it was that I took my place with sequined peroxide ladies and balding men in cardigans and tangoed the night away to the sound of a Gypsy singer. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll have me back…
Ryanair flies daily from London’s Stansted to Tampere.
Visit Tampere Region has Tourist Information
Hotel Cumulus overlooks the rapids and is close to Central Square
Mieliaitta Cottage, Sastamala is by the lake and has a smoke sauna
The Grill Restaurant is good for steaks
Nasinneula is a gourmet rotating restaurant with fantastic views over the city
Hameensilta has live Tango on Fridays and Saturdays
Vaparetket Fishing Guide Services organizes fishing trips