Articles, Travel

Finland, Sicily and something in between

There probably couldn’t be two more dissimilar places than Sicily and Finland and, yet, somehow, I love them both.

If Finland is calm and order, then Sicily is noise and chaos.

In Finland, people would wait for the pedestrian’s green light to appear before they crossed the street — any street, even if it was a remote street that was so completely deserted that there was more chances that a moose would appear than a car.

In Sicily, you have to carefully look both ways and be prepared to dodge oncoming vehicles, even if the light is green for you and you’re walking on the zebra line.

In Finland, people are usually quiet, disliking small talk or loud conversations, and the only sounds you hear at night are those of nature: birds, wind, rain.

In Sicily, the streets are filled with people, both tourists and locals, who seem to do nothing all day except walk, talk, argue, shout, laugh, eat and drink from morning to night. The noise goes on until very late and you better get used to it, or buy earplugs. Even the sounds of nature seems louder in Sicily — seagulls, pigeons and sea waves compete for your attention when not drowned by the traffic noise.

My more autistic side loves Finland and its silence and its people, but my more bon vivant side loves Sicily and its sun, its food, its beach, its markets, its chaos.

In Finland, you can go to sauna almost anywhere. In Sicily, walking outside under 40 degrees Celsius already feels like a sauna, so there’s no need to go to a special place for that. It’s free, too. But there’s no frozen lake where you can cool down. Even the ocean water is warm.

Finland has a great education and health system. Everything just works.

In Sicily… Well, let’s say that I accompanied a friend to a hospital to request a medical visit for a relative — turns out that, after waiting one hour on the line, she had the wrong formulary, so she needed to fill a new one in order request a new doctor which would take two or three months to finally assist her relative. On the other hand, the hospital had an amazing view of the ocean. If you die while waiting for your appointment, as you probably will, at least you’ll have a great view.

Finland is expensive. A beer at a pub costed 6 or 7 euros; dinner could set you back on 25 or 40 euros without even being that great. Sicily is cheap. A beer can cost as little as 1.50 and you can eat delicious food almost anywhere for not much more.

You’d expect that Germany, being approximately in the midpoint between Helsinki and Palermo, would be a good middle ground with the best of both worlds, but this is not exactly the case. In terms of efficiency, Germany is closer to Finland, but its slow bureaucracy is, in some ways, worse than the Italian one.

Germans are not as extroverted and noisy as Sicilians, but they are also not as quiet and polite as the Finns. Honestly, they are perceived more as cold or rude, even if in many cases it’s just an impression caused by what Mark Twain called “the awful German language.” (It’s not really that awful, but it’s certainly not as soft on the ears as Italian).

Perhaps I am someone who prefers extremes, I don’t know. But I love both the calm of the Scandinavian countries and the confusion of Southern Europe.

I leave you with a few pictures of my recent visit to Palermo. Enjoy.