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  • http://english.dbw.cn   2011-12-12 15:21:03

    The Nuuksio national park in Finland attracts visitors with crystal-clear ponds, pristine forests and exuberant natural beauty. Charles Lee / for China Daily


    Lured by scenic woodlands and waterways, Charles Lee finds it's easy to get lost in the natural beauty of Finland.

    Scenic reflections in a tranquil Finnish lake capture the eyes in the phantom canopy and forest, a glittering image that lures even hikers already relishing the forest itself.

    Still, you don't want to linger around just one crystal pond in Finland for too long, since the land of thousand lakes has much natural beauty to offer, even just an hour's driving from Helsinki, the country's capital and most populated city.

    Nuuksio, one of the Finland's newest national parks, welcomes about 180,000 visitors every year into the strikingly pristine forests around Helsinki's northwest suburbs. In midsummer, eighteen hours of sun everyday and warm weather make the park exuberant with plant life, although the location is as far north as Siberia.

    Conifers and birches densely blanket the 45 square kilometers, dotted by lindens with heart-shaped leaves and hazelnut trees with serrated margins. In winter, the area is a cross-country skier's paradise.

    The works of icebergs from 20,000 years ago, the landscape in southern Finland is covered by gentle hills as high as 110 meters above sea level. Valleys between hilltops gathered water and became lakes. In Nuuksio, there are about 40 lakes and small swamps in between.

    There are several marked hiking trails in the park, varying from 2 to 8 km long, but a genuine experience into the Finland wilds begins when you deviate from the main road and look for pathways through the trees and grass.

    The touch of man fades bit by bit on the way into the Nordic forest, when you see red and green mosses start to invade the trails and sprawl onto tree trunks. The thick tufts are so rampant that the layers on rocks even feel like a trampoline.

    A felled tree here and there invites you to use your hand and climb a little bit, and willful offshoots sometimes get in the way and cut your skin, but nothing seems a bother compared to the "Finnish air force", also known as mosquitoes.

    Still, arduous scratches usually miss the bumps where the fierce insects have attacked, as your eyes are captivated by creamy white trumpet flowers on green climbers and red currants dangling amid palmate leaves.

    The berries of summer can disappear if you hike with Finns. Although owned by individuals and organizations, Finnish forests are free for berrypicking and fishing. Blueberries, cloudberries, raspberries, in the summer, the little roundish fruits are always around the corner in a forest.

    The Finns use a lot of berries in local cuisines. Berry pies, juice and ice cream all remind you of the sour-sweet pulp inside the pinkish pearls. But the flavor is always best savored at its source, so you squat in front a shrub and start a massive reaping. The tiny scattered fruits hardly seem to add up to a mouthful and therefore become a mouth-watering tease.

    Nuuksio woodlands produce much more than small fruits. You can stuff yourself with mushrooms - it's fine to eat some raw if you have a local guide to show you the edible ones and can't wait to get them to the kitchen. Creamy mushroom soup is a staple dish in local cuisine.

    The park consists of an intricate mosaic of habitats, where dozens of near-threatened species live, the most famous being the flying squirrel. While it's quite difficult to spot the wild animals, encounters with bears and wolves are not impossible, especially if you move quietly through the woodland.

    In the heart of the forest, just when hikers or Nordic skiers could get a bit tired from their exertions, there is a Finnish steam sauna to ease the fatigue. The blackened hot house, usually built at a lake or a sea, is the most original type of sauna tradition in the Nordic country.

    In the log hut, there is typically a stove full of hot stones and a raised wooden platform for seats, but no chimney.

    Sauna-takers throw waters on the heated rocks to fill the room with steam. The temperature gets to 80 C to 100 C and, because the rocks are heated by burning wood, charcoal soot darkens the ceiling and eventually paints the steam-bathers' skin with oil.

    When the heat gets a little uncomfortable, you can jump into a lake. Since the body is so relaxed by the steam, the waters hit you like a close hug. Swimming among floating leaves, seeing the sun glittering through the trees that closely surround you, and hearing the distant churring trill of the nightjars - medium-size birds that are active as the evening approaches - you feel nature's touch coming in all dimensions.

    Before leaving Nuuksio, local guides will invite you to the most magical part of the trip. They ask you to find a tree in the forest, put your arms around it, close your eyes, then talk to it and listen to it to talk back. At that moment, everything disappears and you are not sure whether the heartbeat is from yourself or the forest. You feel as one with nature.

    Author:    Source: China Daily     Editor: Wu Qiong