Last Saturday my wife and I arrived in her hometown of Naantali. We have been looking forward to a longer vacation for some time now since the situation in Shanghai/China didn't allow for bigger journeys without taking the risk of entering a region that from one day to the next could have a Corona-case and therefore being put into involuntary quarantine upon return to Shanghai or - even worse - some quarantine hotel in that region. So, we stayed at home for the past six months and didn't leave the city.
It has been straining, to say the least. As someone who grew up in nature, being exposed to constant noise and polluted air has some strong negative effects. I'm referring to both mental and physical stress. I have never realized how stressful life in the city is even without doing anything particularly stressful. I do not have to commute, I do not have to use a car, I don't have to go shopping if I don't want to. Yet, every step you take outside of your own compound is a risk. You have to avoid being run over by scooters or bikes, people are bumping into you because they are constantly looking into their phones, traffic rules generally don't apply, even though there's a high presence of traffic police nowadays... Yeah, I get it, I'm a ploughboy... So there's no point in complaining. A lot of people love the city and I can understand why they do - just as well as I can understand people (like myself) who'd rather live on a small farm and be self-sustaining. It's a different culture, different attitudes and all that.
Nonetheless, being clear about my personal preferences might help you to understand why I love being here in Naantali so much. In the past couple of days I've probably met 10 people in the streets walking by. That might be due to the fact that it's been around -20 C outside. But even if it was warmer, I guess I wouldn't see many more people. That being said, during the winter it is so calm and quiet around here that I consider taking brisk walks in the twilight some form of meditation. Just a few days ago I told my wife that it was too dark to take a walk but my wife just said "you'll see what you have to see" - and she was right, as always. You focus on every step you take and the longer you walk the more you "see". You start paying attention to what matters: your breath, the characteristics of the ground under your feet, the way you move your legs, arms and shoulders...
If you choose to leave the small town of Naantali while the sun is up (generally between 10am and 2pm) and drive north for a few minutes, you'll be surrounded by beautiful forests and with a little bit of luck, you will be able to spot deer, elks, hares and the occasional ursus arctos. Yet - in my opinion - The most impressive spectacles of nature are the sunrise and the sunset. I have been to many places that claim to have "the most beautiful sunrise/sunset" (e.g. Oia on Santorini - which for me is the most beautiful sunset for a few different reasons) but the variety of colours you see here in the morning sky as well in the late afternoon is and remains mind-boggling to me. Here's a picture of the sunrise at around 0930am:
Besides all the positive side-effects that come from being outside and breathing the fresh air you get some of the best and 'freshest' food up here. No take-aways, no pre-made dishes, no unnatural preservatives... at least if you chose to do so, you get everything fresh and local. And by local, I mean within a few minutes from my in-laws apartment. For example, the rye bread you buy in the supermarket will only last for 3-4 days because its so fresh and it is produced nearby so you only buy small portions or - if you don't want to make the trip to the market more often - put some in the freezer. While you're at it, you can also buy some of the many varieties of flour that is made locally and bake your own bread. I just made pasta for the first time this week with eggs that we got directly from a farm roughly 10 minutes from here and flour that was harvested and ground in a mill around the corner. The main ingredients for the pasta sauce consisted of handpicked mushrooms that my in-laws collected this autumn...
Well, I think you get the idea of how much I enjoy being here. I also hope that you can forgive me for being so biased about this place. I believe, however, that there's nothing wrong with highlighting all the positive things that I experience here while not needing to pay too much attention the downsides. For me, this is the result of finding a place where your body and mind are really in sync... and there's no doubt in my mind that finding this place can drastically improve your life.
I wish you all a wonderful Christmas time! Stay safe and healthy!