I had a lovely  job this week. I was commissioned to guide and assist a Belgian tv-crew to shoot documentary film of the Finnish sauna culture. The film will probably not be about the most usual traditions in out country.


The Oddities

The host of the show Otto-Jan Ham is appearing among other things in the sauna bus, in a de-luxe sauna compartment in Hartwall Arena stand, he is invited to the most distinguished Sauna Club of Finland in Lauttasaari, he is getting traditional cupping in Kotiharju sauna in Kallio and he is visiting  the sauna in  the Pyhäsalmi mine. The mine sauna lies in the depth of 1410 meters. The manuscript of the documentary is thus including a lot of the Finnish Oddities that we all are so proud of. We do have more saunas than we have cars in our country and the tradition is as old as the great Pyramides in Egypt.

One of the oddities is the Sauna bus that was taking the crew on a sightseeing tour in Helsinki. The weather was lovely as you can see, soft grey and white, just perfect for a nice dip to the snow between the löyly sets…


Here the bus is parked at the Uutela outdoor park. Finns don´t use the Sauna bus every week, but the bus is an excellent way to arrange a sauna party. In the sauna bus there is furthermore also  karaoke equipment. And the sauna bus has four wheels and a very skillful driver Jokke, who can take the clients to beaches and other good locations to take a sauna.


Our crew was served by Jokke ( on the right) and Esa who drove the Mercedes.  The Sauna bus is owned by Jari Aalto –


Shooting the film is an exact job and the crew worked from early morning to late night to get proper shots for the final editing. Koen de Leeuw, Kris De Chapms and Pieter Jan Lul representing TV Vier in Belgium at their work. The document of Finnish saunas will be broadcasted in approx one month and it can be watched at the internet



In the Hartwall Areena the crew documented the sauna in the match between Jokerit and Ässät.  We had a good luck to meet Mr Reliability of the Finnish National TV : Arvi Lind.


Arvi Lind told  he already had  played one and a half hours of ice hockey with the Zoom team in the afternoon.  Arvi keeps playing ice hockey at least twice a week and he has reached already 73 years of age… Arvi Lind was ready to explain  the game and the features of the Finnish ice hockey culture to his Belgian colleagues.


The special compartment with sauna was a hot experience for the crew. The friends on the benches are Markku and Mikko Aalto who are actually professionals in freezing business.


It is important that there are people like Hjallis Harkimo in Finland… One can learn that when introducing Helsinki and Finnish sports to foreign visitors.


The Finnish Sauna Society



There are five stoves and five different saunas in the Finnish Sauna Club, three smoke saunas and two saunas with chimneys. The saunas are heated on six days a week and last year  there were burned 450 cubic meters of peeled birch tree.


The wood is brought from Somero and it has to be dryed at least for one year before it is accepted to the saunas. The peeling of the wood is reducing the forming soot that is of course black and creates a lot of smoke but also it can easily catch fire and that is very dangerous in sauna business.  This wisdom is passed to the crew by the Heating Master Ari-Pekka Paavola. ”I wake up early, light the fire in the owens at half past five in the morning. Two full loads of birch wood is being burned first and the last touch of finesse is made by a light burning of black alder,” he describes his daily routines.


Ari-Pekka is taking the sauna THREE TIMES A DAY – FIVE TIMES A WEEK. This totals approximately 650 times of sauna annually, when the sauna bathing at home with the kids is added. ”At work taking the sauna is part of quality control” he explains.

The Finnish Sauna Society is providing useful information for the visitors and us tourism professionals:



How does it feel?

Otto-Jan Ham, the host of the sauna program was experiencing the core of Finnish hospitality in a nutshell and in a haste. On the same day, non-stop he bathed in several types of saunas, tried winter swimming in the Gulf of Finland and was cupped in Kotiharju Sauna

”I feel as if everything I have inside me was taken out of me and then put back. Very strange but good.” His colleague said: ” You look as if you just about survived a plance crash”.


The crew started shooting at Kotiharju stalking behind the snow pile. The guys taking the sauna are cooling at entrance of the saunas. The cupping lady Birgitta Palojärvi (, puhelin: 044-3741323) took good care of his Belgian guest.


The Finnish sauna culture is appreciated always when experienced in a proper way. It is only in the Finnish sauna that a visitor can be both alone and in a company of high society democratically naked. He can be naked together with other bathers and remain still in privacy. He can keep silent or chat or get philosophic.

The Finnish Sauna Society has framed on the wall this  letter from his Royal Highness Prince Philip: ”I was able to satisfy myself by personal experience that the sauna is indeed as pleasant as it is made out to be. I was therefore glad to be formally introduced to … I thank you for sending me your illuminated certificate that I have bee duly initiated into its mysteries.”

Prince Philip took the sauna during the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952.



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