On Saunas and Sleep Deprivation

By - September 28, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

Right about now, I should be on an airplane winging my way back to Brussels. Instead I am sipping horrid instant coffee in a blurry-eyed state, in my Helsinki hotel room. My head is throbbing from lack of sleep and I can only image that my poor overworked husband feels ten times worse.

We are still in Helsinki today because, yesterday afternoon, things on Andrew’s project weren’t going as planned. The higher-ups decided it would look better if Andrew stayed on, even though he could probably be just as useful from Brussels. In addition to the Helsinki project, (interesting name for a band) he has his normal projects which he has been working on every evening at the hotel. Last night it was nearly 3 am before he hit the bed. In itself, that would be enough to make anyone stressed and sleepy. But there is more going on at our happy little Holiday Inn than meets the eye.

When we arrived in Helsinki last week, I was very impressed with our accommodations. The hotel is brand new and beautifully decorated. We have had excellent service and even the food is very good and un-cardboard-like (albeit typically overpriced as all hotel food seems to be). Then there was the fantastic sauna, which I had to myself everyday… until Monday.

When I went into the locker room for the sauna on Monday, I was dismayed to see a pair of sandals on the floor. No more private sauna for me. I’ll admit, I have the North American prudishness about my body and can’t stand wandering around naked in the presence of others. It always freaked me out when I went to the gym and some of the women insisted on not covering up in the locker room.

But, I figured, when in Helsinki, do as the (Helsinkians? Helsinkites?) Finns do. So I showered and stepped into the sauna and plunked my naked self down as far as possible from the intruder in my private time. As she tossed water on the hot rocks, she said something in Finnish. I apologized and said I was English. She had asked me to tell her if it got too hot and then proceeded to ask where I was from.

I gave the explanation and answered the standard questions (i.e. what the hell I was doing there) and asked where she was from. It turned out that she was from a town outside of Helsinki but she was at the hotel, with 25 others, because she’s participating in the Finnish Idols competition. That’s right… It was my brush with Finnish stardom and we were both stark naked in the sauna.

In a 7 story hotel, you would think the odds would be 1 in 7 that we would be on the same floor as the Idol wannabes, but it was inevitably 100%. While I’m sure they are lovely, wholesome, Finnish youngsters by day. They are noisy, door slamming, irritants by night.

After 2 nights of being woken up somewhere between 3 and 4 am when they all came back to crash, Andrew spoke to the front desk. When he mentioned the nocturnal noise levels, the hostess asked for our room number. When Andrew replied, she gave him the ‘Oh, you poor bastard’ look and said that she would speak to the crowd.

While packing up all of our things and moving to another floor for only 2 more nights doesn’t appeal to me, neither does having an over-worked, sleep-deprived, and potentially murderous husband.

Despite these recent events, I really have had a wonderful time in Helsinki. It is a beautiful city and in many ways it reminds me of home. I’ll write all about it… once I’ve had a bit more sleep.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
- 2 days ago

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