Sarah and Roy in Finland
Wednesday, January 7, 2005
First three days
Here's my AirBus from Denver to Frankfort. Except for the plane leaving
almost 2 hours late from Denver (weather and de-icing), the trip has been
easier than I could have hoped for.
Monday, January 9, 2005
First days in Oulu
Jan 9 - Three days and I'm still waking up at 4am on the dot, even taking a sleeping pill. I'm settled in to the flat, which is really nice. Coffee is kahvi, and I found filters and a coffee pot but so far have not produced a good cup of coffee. I may have to switch to tea. You all know what a sacrifice it is to have to drink tea!
Yesterday (Jan 8) was great. Juha (pronounced eeU-Ha) took me for a drive around the city centre especially to see the bus routes and also around his municipality (village) north of where we live. Our area is called Rajakyla (sounds like combining rye with Dracula but roll the r, e.g. Rye-ah-cula). We went to the indoor market that is like the one in Oxford but about a fourth the size. I tried reindeer both cold smoked and warm smoked. Both were quite tasty. Even the fish looked good.
Then we went to a fish market in his village by the sea (frozen over with ice fisherman and snow mobiles) and then to the alpine centre run by the municipality (free). Kids were sledding and adults were cross-country skiing on the courses that are laid out there. There is also a ski jump, but no one was jumping that day. There are sort of covered picnic areas that are enclosed by a low stone+concrete wall with a central fire pit with a chimney and sort of metal funnel to catch the smoke (like Dean Martin's 1970s fireplace). Families gather around the fire area grilling sausages etc.
Then we arrived at Juha's home. Juha's wife is Arja (the j sounds like an i) so I think of it as Aria. We sat in the front room and talked and had a little whiskey. The kids sat there but said little and looked bored; HOWEVER occasionally they would smile or laugh leading me to think that they were actually listening quite closely.
Around 4:30, we all sat down at the table along with one of their nephews. Arja is Karelian (Finns who lived in Russia till WW2, and were forced back into Finland by the war, mainly a farming people). We had Karelian stew, which is essentially pot roast made with onions but with both beef and pork. There were mashed potatoes, a lettuce salad with a sort of creamy Italian dressing on the side, two kinds of bread and a sort of pancake about the size of a computer mouse but thin which I think is called a Karelian pie and is stuffed with something, maybe cheese. There is a butter and boiled egg mixture that you spread on the pancake. Everyone drank different things. Juha and I had red wine, and they put out beer for the older kids, but they drank milk instead. Dessert was a low fat white cheese baked with a thin white sauce (little or no sugar) until it had dark black spots, it was served with lingonberry *natural* and lingonberry jam. They collected the berries at their cabin up north last season, and made jam of some of the berries. But no sauna (they pronounce the sau like sow) this time.
After dinner, we sat in the living room and talked, the kids left, the younger to cross country ski in the back yard and the older to drive around town. The 16 year old stayed to clean the kitchen dishes etc. and watch her younger brother. We then left to go to Kymo's house for coffee and dessert (a dean of students). His wife Anneli made a dessert that consisted of a thin pocket bread cut into 1 inch triangles that were covered with a white paste that seemed to be cream cheese and smoked reindeer (very smoky tasting) with a small sliver of a light yellow cheese and two or three lingon berries. She also had two kinds of pound cakes. Of course we had another taste of whiskey and the women had white wine.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Mastering European Technology??
I haven't plugged anything into the bathroom socket yet because the socket has a big red warning tag that says "käytto kielletty suihkun ja kylvyn aikana" which the internet translates as "be forbidden spout and kylvyn over". This translation isn't terribly helpful, and actually raises my alarm level a bit.
Of course, you would imagine that a bathroom plug mounted six feet high next to the sink would be for a hair dryer or electric shaver. But who knows. I assumed originally that the warning was a "big brother is taking care of you" type warning like "don't stand in water when you plug something in." But the translation doesn't mention water or standing, so I'm going to wait until someone at work tells me what it means before I plug in the new hair dryer.
OK, I checked with the EDTECH team, it does in fact say "Don't use electric appliances around water".
Ok, now the washer (no dryer, hang drying in the basement) and the dish washer. Both user manuals are in several languages, some helpful, but the base advice I now can give is that unloike US machines, there is a separate off-on button that is not part of the selector dial, who knows why? Also, in both cases, there is a separate manual water shutoff valve that obviously needs to be turned on. Also, it takes about 2 hours to wash a load of clothes, who knows why? Also, washing technology is nothing without detergent and fabric softner. BUT there's the rub. All of the packaging for bleach, detergent, fabric softener, dish washing liquid, etc. in the store all look about the same. No Downy, no Cheer, try Omo. I may have washed the first load with dish washing liquid and used regular detergent in place of fabric softner. trust me that the clothes will be stiff if you do this.
And the DSL. First, the only thing the phone company does fast is send the bill. I received the bill the next day after applying, but it will take a month for the crew to connect the line, even though the flat is already wired for DSL.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Darkness Light and the weather
A question I wondered about before I arrived was, what about the artic winter darkness and cold?
Right now, the sun rises at about 9:30 and sets at about 4:30, and honestly, it hasn't been a problem at all. I did notice that jet lag lasted longer than in my other trips, but that could be as much my "advanced age" as the actual number of time zones crossed.
Here is an interesting view of earth showing day and night at this instance, so you can get a feel of day length.
By March, the days should be noticeably longer.
What about the cold?
The weather has been unseasonably warm here, it should be -20C . The first two weeks of January averaged about 0 C (32 F) with no wind, so it felt almost warm. This week, it has been -10 C (14 F) and a little windy, so it felt cold, but again, not uncomfortable so. There are a number of good Oulu weather sites, such as the weather underground, see: http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/02875.html
The FMI also has a good site, see: http://www.fmi.fi/weather/local.html?kunta=Oulu
here is the current temperature graph for the past 24 hours from FMI. 00 means midnight, 12 is noon, etc.:
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Sarah's First Impressions
Landed in Helsinki where Roy met me and we spent the night. The next morning we came by train north to Oulu – a 6 hour ride. From the train we saw a “Dr. Zhivago” landscape with broad snow-covered fields and dense pine and birch forests. The small clapboard houses on the farms and in the villages were painted in M&M’s colors of bright reds, yellows, greens, blues and even orange with white trim – a whimsical contrast against the white of the snow!
The temperature took a nose dive our first night in Oulu from 25 to -8F. “Nose hair freezing weather” Roy calls it. But just as quickly, it has risen again to about 25. Inside the house, however, we didn’t notice any change with the temperature drop. We had heard about the very efficient Finnish homes, but now we can attest that there are no cold spots or drafts even near the picture windows. Remarkable! We have hot water heat, and have actually turned the radiators down in all the rooms.
We’ve had snow twice since I came. Snow in Finland is of a different quality – light, dancing as it falls, and then sparkling, so it’s like walking in a field of diamonds. We have about 10 inches on the ground now, but it hasn’t slowed the pace of life at all. The streets are kept clear, and people just bundle up and go on with life. The children all wear one piece snow suits – like snowmobile suits – and are out sledding and skating in all temperatures. Babies have very wooly sheepskin wraps in their carriages and look snug as bugs.
The days are about 6 hours long now, and the time between sunrise and sunset gains more than 4 minutes a day – twice the time gained at Denver’s latitude. Because we are so near the top of the world, and perhaps because of the reflection from the snow, there’s well over an hour of twilight both in the morning and evening, with the kind of half-light that we also experienced here during the summer when the sun only set for about 2 hours.
That half-light produces what the Finns call the “Blue Moment.” Just after sunset, the sky turns a nearly indescribable luminous silvery blue that colors both the sky and the snow. This lasts only about 10 minutes before slowly fading to a silver gray and finally to night.
We thought we would miss the longer days, but we actually look forward to the “Blue Moment” each night to see what Mother Nature will produce for us.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Saturday in Oulu
In this entry, I’ll report on the Saturday we just spent with Juha, the director of distance learning at the university and his wife Arja, a pediatric nurse practitioner. Roy had spent some time with them the first week he was here, but I met them for the first time on Saturday.
Juha and Arja picked us up at about 11, and we set off for the International Ice Swimming Championships held at the marina in the center of town. Teams from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Great Britain participated. Giant blocks of ice about 5 feet long, 3 feet across, and 2 feet deep had been cut from the bay to lay bare what looked like an actual swimming pool with lanes cordoned off, flags flying, and even grandstands which were filled with parka-wearing, pennant-waving fans.
Arja and I quickly concluded that this was no beauty contest. These guys were clearly built for endurance. No diving under the water is allowed in ice swimming, so in each heat, having abandoned their bathrobes – yes, bathrobes! – on the ice, but leaving on their knit caps, these hearty souls climbed into the water with nary a shiver, the gun went off, and they propelled their way to the other end in various swimming strokes as the event called for. Mercifully, at least for the heats we saw, they only had to swim one lap. Now you’d think that they would have a friend waiting to quickly wrap them in warm clothes, but no! Instead they lingered after their swim, waving and smiling at the crowd in their speedos. I even saw one guy giving an interview to a TV reporter, no robe, barefoot, soaking wet, on the ice in 30 degree weather! Eventually, each group found their robes and slippers, and would head for the wood heated hot tub for a warming soak, and then to grab a hot drink.
While everyone at this event was out for the sport of ice swimming, Arja told us that doctors have found that ice swimming is very good for rheumatoid arthritis, and that some patients plunge into ice cold water 3 or 4 times a day and get a great deal of relief. It has also been found that the icy water turns body fat brown, which is good for the fat… My own fat turned even paler at the very thought of such a plunge, and assured me that it was very happy staying the pasty color it has always been.
After several swimming events, the 4 of us walked across the pedestrian bridge to the Island of Pikisaari, an artist colony near town center filled with colorful old clapboard homes, warehouses, and narrow, winding streets. We stopped for coffee at a warehouse-restaurant built from logs at least a foot in diameter and filled with primitive antique tables and upholstered benches. In the summer, customers sit on a wide outside deck that overlooks the river. We can’t wait to go back there for dinner!
Then another pedestrian bridge took us back for a quick tour of the city library and theater, and then to the Central Market which is very close to the waterfront. This market is a little smaller than the covered market in Oxford, and has a beautiful selection of cheeses, breads, fish, meat, flowers and even some woolen goods and pottery. In the summer, the market spills out onto the adjoining square, although only one vendor was outside on Saturday.
After tasting, shopping, and tasting some more, we came away with salmon for dinner and some cold-smoked reindeer meat, sliced very thin, that is absolutely delicious! More on the reindeer later…
Next stop was on another city island that is under development. Every house on the island must use a different state-of-the-art technology that is underwritten by their various manufacturers. The homes must all be finished by June when there will be a month long open house so people from all over Europe can see the new technologies. The home we visited was being built by friends of Juha and Arja. There were 3 technologies involved in the building that were unique. They were using cement blocks throughout for both inside and outside walls. The outside blocks are super-insulated. The inside blocks are about 30x30 inches wide and only 4 inches deep. After they are set in place using a tongue and groove method, their seams are sealed, and then they are spray plastered. They are using infloor heating combined with a blower circulating system to distribute the air. But the windows were the real prize. They had floor to ceiling double paned windows that had sensors. When it was too sunny, the windows automatically turned darker, and when there was frost or fog on the windows, they automatically defrosted. Amazing!
Last stop was Juha and Arja’s beautiful home, which is set on a lake just outside town. Three of their 4 children were there to greet us (their oldest daughter lives in the city), and we spent the evening talking and laughing together and eating the best salmon I’ve ever had! I took notes as Arja prepared it, and have enclosed the recipe as a Word document with this e-mail. Try it and see what you think. We also had a smoked reindeer mousse served with crackers as an hors d’oeuvre that was superb. (I’m keeping that recipe to spring on you when I get home!) And for dessert, they served ice cream with cloudberries that they had picked last summer and frozen, and a beautiful rolled cake made by 16 year old Katrin. Arja and Juha’s hospitality made us feel like old friends, and we’re looking forward to another visit very soon.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Holidays & Helsinki
Time for another update, and it’s been a busy week.
We saw the Finnish flags flying last Saturday, and learned that it was a national holiday dedicated to the poet Juhan Runeberg. A pastry called Runeberg's tart, first made by the poet’s wife, is always eaten on this holiday, and special readings of his poetry are held. You can read more about Runeberg and even get a recipe for the tart at http://www.finnguide.fi/calendar/feb.asp.
We celebrated another holiday last Tuesday. Laskiainen formally celebrates Shrove Tuesday, but we prefer to call it “Eat Pea Soup and Go Sledding” Day because children are let out of school to spend the day playing in the snow. Traditionally, pea soup with a dollop of spicy brown mustard and a special pastry called laskiaispulla are served on Laskiainen. Since Finnish kids don’t have “Snow Days” because a foot or 2 of snow is no big deal, I suppose a designated national Snow Day, disguised as Shrove Tuesday, is apropos!
So we could fully experience this holiday, Roy’s group at the university (who are all in their 20s and 30s and not far removed from enjoying this holiday as school children) arranged for all of us to go to a beautiful state park near Oulu to celebrate. First we ate lunch in the lodge, which of course featured pea soup and laskiaispulla. The lodge looked like it belonged in the Rocky Mountains, with pine logs and stuffed wildlife including a troll. Then we all hiked up the hill to sled. Roy and I had borrowed what Roy dubbed “Butt Sleds” – a 12 inch piece of heavy plastic with a handle grip. You sit on the plastic oval, hold onto the handle, and down you go. They proved so efficient that we’re bringing some back for glacier sledding in Colorado.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
The Civilized Finns
Since we’ve been here, we’ve found practices that may cause us to nominate Finland as the most civilized country on earth. Here are some of the things the Finns are doing “right” in our estimation.
Recycling: The Finns recycle nearly everything. At our townhouse there is a shed with 6 different bins. Two are for newspapers; and the others are for corrugated cardboard, light cardboard (cereal boxes, milk cartons, etc.), organic garbage, and regular garbage. We find by separating everything that we end up with only one small bag of regular garbage per week. We take plastic bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans to the grocery store where we are paid rather handsomely for our efforts while the can crusher entertains us by making mincemeat of the cans we feed it. Outside the grocery store are bins for plastic (Styrofoam, butter containers, etc.), paper (bills, ads, etc.), glass (jam and pickle jars, etc.), and tin cans. Makes going to the grocery store an adventure. We take all our recycling over there in plastic bags, and bring the groceries home in the same bags. Because…
Grocery Bags: …you PAY 14 cents apiece for grocery bags in Finland! Now before you start to grumble, you have to know that these grocery bags are heavy duty affairs that can carry nearly unlimited weight and will withstand 4 or 5 trips to the store before being relegated to garbage bag use. No more piles of bags giggling in the closet while they spawn more little bags as I’ve accused them of doing on numerous occasions. No more bottoms dropping out of the flimsy excuses we call grocery bags. After awhile, you start feeling like you’re saving the world from being overrun by landfills! AND there’s even a place inside the grocery store where you can recycle… yup, you guessed it… the plastic bags that are all torn and tattered after a month of use!
And while we’re talking about bags, you know the flimsy bags we put produce in? Well, those bags (which are free, by the way) are more substantial too. But that’s not really the point. The point is that they don’t have zip lock bags (or any bags for food storage) for sale at the store. You save the produce bags and use them for wrapping up the open cheese, cold cuts, etc. I’d always done that to some extent, but not having the zip lock bags to fall back on makes me do it all the time! Also, in the produce section, each kind of fruit or veggie has a 2 digit number. You put the lemons or oranges in one of the plastic bags and then set the bag on a scale and type in the 2 digit number. Voila! Out pops a sticky label with the weight, price, and bar code that can be scanned at check out.
Pollution: There’s a paper mill in the middle of town as there are in many Finnish cities since paper production is a big deal here. But there’s no smell! Nothin’!! Now for a girl who was raised in a paper mill town, this is nothing short of miraculous! The Finns didn’t like the smell, so they figured out how to get rid of it, passed laws enforcing it, and now paper mills and people can live side by side!
Neighborhood Perks: Oulu is divided into about a dozen neighborhoods, and people know where you live by the name of the neighborhood. I know, we do that too. But here’s the difference. Each neighborhood has a center that is available to all neighborhood groups, like scout troops and the like, but also has supplies on hand so that people can come after school or work and do art projects, etc. They also have part time, or in large neighborhoods, full time crafts instructors who poll the neighborhood as to what they’d like to do, and when they get enough folks, they teach that project. Each neighborhood also has a park with playground equipment and an ice rink, complete with ice hockey goals already installed. Wonder why so many great NHL players come from Scandinavia? Now you know! These ice rinks become grassy picnic areas in the summertime.
Infrastructure: It is possible to live anywhere in Finland and never drive. For example, Oulu has 400 kilometers of beautiful 10 foot wide bike and walking paths (no motorized vehicles allowed) crisscrossing the city, so you can literally go anywhere by bike without taking your life in your hands. In the winter people cross country ski, walk, pull sleds, and yes, bike on the paths. In the summer, the paths are used for biking, walking, roller blading, pushing strollers, etc. In addition, buses come by our place (and everywhere in Oulu) about every 20 minutes and connections to all points of the city never take more than about 10 minutes between buses. The buses are linked through a wireless network, so when you pay with your personal bus card, you can make transfers to other buses at no extra cost. We can even go out to the airport by bus. About 10 flights a day link Oulu with other major cities in Europe at very reasonable prices. And of course the train station in the center of town links Oulu with everywhere else 20 or 30 times a day.
Not only are these efficient, relaxing ways to travel. It is necessary for most Finns because a car costs about $90,000 with all the taxes added on by the EU, and gas is about $6 a gallon. And as Roy is fond of pointing out, when America’s gas costs that much (as it will, given the world situation and the inevitable future scarcity of oil products) we’ll figure out how to have a good infrastructure for travel within and between cities too!
The most important thing we’ve discovered is that we don’t miss having a car one bit. Yet at home we have not one, but 2 cars! Go figure!!
When we were in Helsinki last weekend we crisscrossed the city by trolley, bus, and metro depending on where we were going. Even in that big a city, travel was easy.
Perks in riding buses, etc.: People with baby carriages (and the babies in the carriages) ride free on buses. There are special sections on public transportation reserved for pregnant women so they can sit down. Pensioners get special rates on all public transportation. And in an “extra mile” example of why Finland may be the most civilized country on earth, the morning newspaper is put over the hand rails on the metro by previous readers. You may read it, and when you reach your destination, you put it back on the hand rail for the next passenger.
Finns always cross at crosswalks, and almost always wait for the green “walk” sign before they cross. It may be a law, because in Helsinki when some wayward Fulbrighters raced across the street narrowly escaping a trolley car, the police car behind the trolley slowed nearly to a stop and looked at them long and hard before deciding that they were stupid foreigners and driving on. But the reward for this behavior (besides not getting arrested) is that if there is a pedestrian crosswalk but no light, cars stop for you to go across.
Family Perks: Living together before marriage is very much the norm in Finland, and many couples have children before marriage too. When babies are born, the dad can stay home for 3 weeks, and the mom for 3 months with their wages paid by the state, not the employer. Then one parent can stay home for the next 6 months at a reduced salary. After that they are given a stipend by the government of about $100 per month per child because of the extra expenses of raising a family. There are no health insurance costs because everything is paid for by the government, including monthly well-kid check-ups for the first 3 years of life, and child care is state-controlled and paid on a sliding scale, so students and the poor would pay nothing for child care.
Going to college: The cost of going to college is free in Finland, but the system works differently. The number of jobs needed in any particular area – engineering, teaching, healthcare, etc. is determined by the government, and then the number of “slots” for students in that area are allotted to the various universities. When students apply, they apply for an engineering or healthcare slot and are selected according to their credentials. When the slots are filled, that’s it!
What that means is
1. There is no “major changing” as we have in America. You have to decide what you want to do before applying.
2. Only the very best get selected.
3. Many times if a field is crowded, people may apply several times before being accepted. Or they may have to “shop” for another field that needs workers. For example, the chance of getting into an engineering college is about 65% while in education, you only have a 20% chance.
4. You are practically guaranteed a job when you get out! No philosophy majors having to say, “Do you want fries with that?”
Also, academic traditions like “tenure” in a particular university are disappearing. Lifetime employment seems to be viewed as a national rather than an employer-based benefit.
I know I’ll produce at least one more missive about Finland’s civilized
ways, but I’ve bent your ear enough for now. This weekend we’re going to
the Arctic Circle, and next week is the University “Winter School” on an
ice-locked island near Oulu, so we’ll have lots of pictures in our next
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Time for another update. Last Friday Juha, Roy and I drove 150 kilometers north from Oulu to Rovaniemi for a meeting at the University of Lapland, the northernmost university in the world.
Along the way we stopped in Kemi, a city known for its Ice Castle where people can spend the night in an ice hotel room, have a drink in the ice bar, and even attend church services in the ice chapel. It is open from shortly after Christmas until April, and is made more elaborate and spacious every year.
We also visited Finland’s national elite sports complex where coaches
receive specialized training and literally every sport from ski jumping to
volley ball is represented. As we watched from the car, a biathlete skied
past, stopped to fire at a target, and took off down the trail. After our
tour, Juha headed back to Oulu, and Roy and I set off to visit Santa
And of course no visit to the Arctic Circle would be complete without a
picture by the sign proving to one and all that we were there. We had
taken the Travel section of the Denver Post with us, since they publish
pictures of Denverites who travel hither and yon around the world and have
their pictures taken with the Travel section. So we posed at the Arctic
Circle sign with the paper. Then we posed by the big globe. Then Roy took
a picture of me by one of the giant snowmen near the Arctic Circle sign.
Then, since the finest selection of Finnish handicrafts is available at
Santa’s place, we spent lots of money. In fact, if you hadn’t known
better, you’d have thought we were tourists having a fabulous time at the
top of the world! We topped off the evening with reindeer steak topped
with lingonberries. Alas, we have no shame.
You see, even the peaked roofs in Finland occasionally need snow
removal. The very tall buildings have a pulley-like contraption that
travels along the peak of the roof. The shoveling daredevils, who
undoubtedly have the most dangerous job in Finland, hook their belts on a
rope attached to the pulley, and then shinny down the roof to clear away
the snow. Roy saw one house that had a shovel still on the peak, and bare
shingles the general width of a derriere leading down the roof and over
the eaves to a giant pile of snow about 12 feet below. I suppose they’ll
find the shovel’s owner by May…
We came back to Oulu by train Saturday evening, but not before we found
a grocery store whose name might not make it in the U.S.
Monday, March 07, 2005
The day after we arrived home from Rovaniemi, we packed up again to attend Winter School. Roy is involved as a mentor in a virtual doctoral program run by Kalidescope, a European Union funding source like the National Science Foundation in the US. The University of Oulu received a grant from this organization to provide an international course exploring the core theoretical issues and empirical questions in different subfields of technology enhanced learning. Although the semester-long course is online, where students from 11 countries have a series of assignments, internet chats, and one-to-one online mentoring with professors from 6 countries, they came together for an in-depth 4 day session here in Oulu called Winter School. The goal of Kalidescope, through their virtual doctoral program and meetings like this, is to form alliances and collaboration among the member countries’ scholars. Roy was the only American taking part.
Winter School was held at Oulu University’s Bothnian Bay Research Station on Hailuoto Island, about 7 kilometres from Oulu. The Bothnian Bay, at the northern end of the Baltic Sea, does not have the saline content of deeper parts of the sea, so the bay freezes solid in the winter. There are 2 ways to get to Hailuoto. A ferry keeps a slushy path open across the bay with the occasional help of a mammoth-sized Icebreaker, and there is also an ice road marked with little pine branches stuck in the ice to show the way.
When our van, piled high with luggage, beer, food for evening parties, more beer, and two other participants drove up to the ferry dock, I breathed a sigh of relief that we were taking the “safe” ferry route, and were not motoring across on the ice. Then I saw our travel companions waiting with us to board. Two enormous trucks filled with rock, a city bus, another university van, and about 20 cars intended to sardine together on what seemed a ridiculously small ferry. But I didn’t feel any sway at all as the boat crossed the bay. Since the ice on either side is solid, there are no waves in the ferry lane, and thus, no sway. It was like being in a hovercraft, except for the sound of ice grinding under the bow.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Sarah's Parallel Universe
Time for another update, and in this entry I’ll concentrate on my life in Oulu. For while Roy has been enjoying the heady world of academe, I have been adopted by the doll makers of the city.
It all began when I sent an e-mail message to a listserv of 700 doll makers from all over the world, asking if anyone knew any doll makers in Finland. Lina from Sweden (who longs to someday visit Nashville and pursue her dream of becoming a country and Western singer) wrote back with two names for me, and both lived in Oulu! When I arrived here I sent an e-mail to each one. I think I told you about hearing from Eija, who invited me to a craft show she was in. Eija received a very large order for her dolls at the show, so although we have met a couple of times for coffee, she has been hard at work cutting, sewing, stuffing, and delivering her handiwork.
Meanwhile Toini, the other doll maker I had written to, gave my name to her friend Marja-Liisa Ahosola, who contacted me and asked if I would like to visit Toini’s with her. Toini, it seemed, was shy about her English, and since Marja-Liisa speaks 5 languages fluently, she took on the job of translating.
Marja-Liisa and I visited both a class that Toini was teaching on making portrait dolls from a prototype through the mold making process to porcelain (a 90 hour course!) and in her home, where she let me “adopt” one of her wonderful elves named Iitu for my collection. She teaches all kinds of doll making – soft sculpture, needle-felted dolls, sculpted dolls, porcelain – the works! In fact most of the doll makers here work in several different media. I'm taking Toini’s felted doll class in April.
Those visits were only the beginning of a friendship with Marja-Liisa that is sure to last many years. In addition to doll making, Marja-Liisa is accomplished in many other fine crafts – weaving, china painting, Finnish tole painting, and all aspects of needlework. Not content with merely doing life-sized work in these areas, she is also a miniaturist, and received the distinction of becoming a Fellow in the International Guild of Miniature Artists (IGMA) several years ago for original design in lace – which she makes with a single strand of silk thread! This summer she will teach in Maine at the IGMA Guild School demonstrating the construction of one inch tall needle-felted teddy bears. The prototypes she has shown me all are wearing tiny crocheted hats and vests and dresses made of silk thread using the smallest crochet hook they manufacture. Absolutely incredible work!
With Marja-Liisa as my guide, I have seen and done things in Oulu that would be impossible without her help. We’ve visited antique stores and flea markets I’d never have found on my own since the Finns hide them at the end of lanes and in the basements of apartment buildings. She arranged a tour of a wonderful crafts school located on Pikasaari Island, where the best artisans in the region vie for places to learn woodworking, silversmithing, graphic arts and print making, dress design, weaving, pottery, and even restoration of Finnish landmark buildings. Marja-Liisa took a three year course of study there in weaving, and was greeted warmly by her former teachers. Later I learned that she had been named the school’s outstanding student when she graduated. (Well, of course she was!) The 270 students at the school learn their crafts on state-of-the-art equipment, and all supplies and even lunch every day is free of charge. Eleven cities in the region and the state fund the program.
Through Marja-Liisa, I also met Rauni Huttunen. We visited her class in doll dress design, and she invited us for an afternoon of hat-making in her home. Little did I know that I would be treated as an honored guest at a luncheon, where courtly etiquette combined charmingly with boisterous good fun as I tried to learn a tongue-twisting toast in Finnish. We did finally get around to hat making, after a “tour” of Rauni’s beautiful miniature doll’s house, where an exquisite handmade bustiére rested on a hand-crocheted coverlet waiting for the Victorian lady of the house to dress, and the basement scullery was equipped with minute towels hand-woven for Rauni by Marja-Liisa. Rauni had made and upholstered most of the tiny furniture herself, even making petit point cushions, rugs and table runners. Every room was in perfect proportion, with attention to detail that was amazing!
And then, of course, there was the class I taught last weekend. Marja-Liisa had asked me if I taught a class how many students I would like. Well, 2 days after saying that I was really hesitant because they wouldn’t be able to understand me and that probably I could teach 6 or 7, she had a venue, 7 students (including Toini!) and was urging me to get a supply list ready so she could translate it for the group. Yikes! Pictures of our intensive 2-day foray into translated instruction show a group as intent as any I’ve taught in the States, and some great results in heads and hands. We’re going to have a follow-up class to put the doll together after they’ve constructed legs and sewn the bodies. My technique was quite different than what they have done before, so it will be fun to see how they incorporate some of these new ideas into their own work.
As an aside, the craft supply scene in Finland is abysmal, and a million dollar business venture awaits me if I could bear to leave kith and kin to establish the first Finnish Hobby Lobby…
This weekend brought yet another adventure, as 8 of us traveled 3 hours by train to Seinäjoki for a doll and antiques show. I had met only 3 of the women before the trip, but by the time we made our giddy way home by train, we were laughing like old friends and even exchanging childbirth stories -- a universal bonding ritual, it seems, among women!
The adventure will continue next week
at Rauni’s English class. It seems she is attending a large miniatures
show in London next fall and decided some time ago to brush up on her
English before her jaunt. So she practices with me every chance she gets,
and enlisted me to come and “talk about America” with her class. Should be
P.S. We now have over an hour more daylight than Denver -- 14 hours of visible light a day -- and are gaining light at a phenomenal 7 minutes a day! Midnight sun, here we come!
Sunday, March 27, 2005
I promised to tell you about Finland’s Easter witches. It all started when I began to see little witches everywhere – florist shops, stores, the doll show we went to, on greeting cards, everywhere! At first I thought they were a version of our kitchen witch. But they had appeared so suddenly and were so pervasive I knew they had to be something special.
One day on a flea market sortie with Marja-Liisa, I stumbled across a table runner decorated with Easter bunnies, eggs, chicks, spring flowers, and – yup – witches! “Why witches,” I asked.
“You mean you don’t have Easter witches?” she replied.
I allowed as how witches were probably the last thing I’d think of in connection with Easter. She shrugged. “We’ve always had witches,” she said. “The kids dress up as witches and when they come to the house on Palm Sunday we give them candy.”
WHOA! Halloween on Palm Sunday???
So off to my local internet I scurried, googling madly to find answers to my latest Finnish conundrum. And you, Dear Readers, are the fortunate recipients of my new wealth of knowledge…
It seems that in Finland, as in most cultures, folk, pagan and Christian traditions have converged over the centuries to produce modern day practices that are taken for granted. Like most early peoples, the Finns of yore were deeply superstitious, and believed that when Christ was in the tomb between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, evil in the form of witches flew through the land. Not so long ago, people hid from Good Friday until Easter, not even cooking or heating their homes for fear that witches would see the smoke and be attracted to the house. However, they often set huge bonfires on the Saturday before Easter to scare off the witches. Go figure…
Coupled with the Christian tradition was a longing for spring after a long, long winter. With the literal rebirth of the earth and Christ’s resurrection, it was time for a blessing and wish for prosperity in the coming months. Thus, people would cut willow branches, force the early blooming of catkins, decorate the twigs with streamers and feathers, and playfully switch at their neighbors to wish them good health. They would give these decorated willow twigs to their friends to save until the cattle were driven to the summer pastures. If the herder used the decorated switches, the cattle were also given a blessing.
OK, put all this in the cultural Cuisinart, whir for a few centuries, and here’s what modern Finnish children do to prepare for Easter:
About 2 weeks before Easter, they cut willow branches and put them in water to force catkins. At this time they also plant Easter grass where the Easter bunny will hide eggs and candy. Yes, it’s real grass, sold in all the stores in seed packets decorated with chicks and bunnies! We had to try it, of course, with great results! Much more fun than the plastic confetti stuff we put in Easter baskets in the States!
They also plan their witch costumes during this time and learn a verse to “bless” their neighbors. A day or 2 before Palm Sunday, they use bits of tissue paper, feathers, and streamers to decorate the willow twigs which by this time have turned into pussy willows. These decorated switches are called virpovitsa.
On Palm Sunday (Palmusunnuntai), starting at about 10:30 a.m. and continuing all day, kids dressed as witches come to the door and follow a ritual called virpominen that must date back centuries. They wave the willow twigs (the modern version of switching their neighbors) and recite the following verse:
vitsa sullepalkka mulle!
For fresh, for health
for the coming year!
The branch for you,
the treat for me!
Have a Peaceful Easter.
Then they give the branch to the neighbor, and collect their reward. We read that people give candy or coins. Roy never takes change with him, and empties his pockets as soon as he comes home, so we had an abundance of change for our witches, though we saw that most people had given candy. We couldn’t tell if the coins were a treat or a disappointment, although one pair of witches stopped outside after they left to count their money, and we got a picture of them through the kitchen window.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
The Pope’s death has dominated the news here for the past week. Five of the 10 stations we get on TV are news channels (2 Finnish; 1 German which broadcasts several hours a day in English; EuroNews which broadcasts simultaneously in 7 languages; and the BBC, see TV guide below called ohjelmat http://ohjelmat.info/tv/index.html). EuroNews especially has had almost non-stop coverage of the Pope’s illness and death since there are so many Catholics in the countries it serves. The languages it broadcasts in are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese, although Finland only subscribes to the English broadcast. Some of the retrospectives EuroNews has done since John Paul’s death have been superb – showing the humble, charismatic man, always surrounded by people yet always alone.
I suspect that if Canada were an
aggressive, politically unstable presence, our world view would be
different as well.
Monday, April 11, 2005
A Weekend in Jyväskylä
This weekend Roy and I traveled 6 hours by train to Jyväskylä (pronounced Yee-văs-kee-lă) to see Finland’s Lake District. The mostly flat landscape of southern Finland boasts over 188,000 lakes – more than any other country in the world. In the Lake District there is more lake than land, caused by the continental glacier during the last Ice Age. (And in a related “gee whiz” statistic, once the immense weight of the glacier melted, Finland’s landmass started to rise. The land around the Bay of Bothnia where we live has risen over 36 inches in the past 100 years, and overall Finland adds about 2.7 square miles of landmass every year!)
On the train, we never traveled more than 2 or 3 miles in the Lake District before coming upon another beautiful lake surrounded by pine and birch forest and sparsely dotted with summer cottages along the shoreline. Unlike Colorado where lake front property is at a premium, Finland has more than enough shoreline to cater to second home seekers. Indeed, nearly every Finnish family has a summer cabin handed down from generation to generation, but the Finns’ idea of a getaway is quite different than ours. Most Finns prefer to rough it on their summer vacations and cabins usually have no electricity or running water. (But nearly all have a wood fired sauna!) People pack in their provisions, pack out their garbage, and leave the surrounding wilderness pristine.
Jyväskylä is located on both sides of beautiful Lake Jyväskylä, with most of the city of 75,000 on one side, and the university and suburbs on the other. One bridge for cars and a sculptural pedestrian bridge connect the 2 sides, and of course in the winter folks can take a short cut across the lake by skis, snowmobile, or on foot. We didn’t see anyone on the ice while we were visiting, so it probably isn’t safe for travel anymore. A lovely walking path curves along the lakefront, and on our strolls from the hotel to city center we saw the beginnings of spring in pussy willows and buds on the bushes and trees. During the summer months the lake must be alive with water sports from the size of the marina and the swimming areas we passed.
We were especially impressed with the vibrancy of the city. The walking street in city center was teeming with shoppers on Friday and Saturday, and even though we didn’t eat lunch until 1:30 we had to wait for a table at a restaurant.
High on our list of Jyväskylä “to do’s” was a visit to the National Craft Museum of Finland where there was a special exhibit of the last 100 years of Finnish crafts. Explanations were given in both Finnish and English, and the variety of crafts included in the exhibition was astounding! Traditional crafts of weaving, pottery, basket making, and stitchery were extended to include wood carving and gilting, barrel making, fly rod construction, shoe and clock making, ship building, metal work, and even creating prostheses for artificial limbs.
The museum also displays regional costumes from the Iron Age to modern times and documents the changes in costume design and materials over the centuries. Finland has even named a panel of historians, seamstresses, and designers who oversee and approve changes suggested for costumes so the authenticity of each regional costume is preserved. As an aside, we have only seen one “costume” that was displayed in the museum worn day to day here in Oulu. It surprised us to learn that there is a Roma or gypsy population of about 6000 here whose ancestors came to Finland during the 16th century. We’ve seen several gypsy women in traditional dress both on the bus and in stores here. For some pictures of Roma dress, click here.
The museum’s permanent collection features modern crafts including the beautiful curved wooden furniture inspired by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto; felting done for clothing and decorative arts; rya rug making, photography exhibits; and of course dolls! We came away visually overwhelmed by the scope of beautiful craft work we saw. As an added bonus, the museum shop was featuring my friend Eija’s dolls in the window. Very impressive! I’ve included a picture but must apologize for the reflections.
After a great conversation with 2 Americans we met at the restaurant where we had lunch on Saturday, we started home. The Victorian train station at Jyväskylä is so typical of the stations across Finland that we took a couple of pictures to show you. Alas, the city has outgrown its old station and has built a modern cement and steel structure adjacent to it, but thankfully they have preserved the gracious reminder of bygone days.
A regional train chugs through the Lake District, stopping at many of the villages along the way. As we passed small farms we wondered how long ago the custom of stopping to pick up people along the route had to make way for greater speed and a computerized time schedule. Instead of resenting the frequent stops, we loved seeing the tiny, well-kept stations and old steam engines that had been lovingly preserved on local sidings.
On the way home we were especially impressed by the number of log carriers and piles of logs we passed. Logging is Finland’s most important industry, and forests cover 65% of the country. Both birch and pine are harvested, and the logs are shipped to lumber mills and paper plants scattered throughout the country. But the Finns are very careful with this renewable resource, preserving most forests in their natural state, and replanting for maximum growth potential on the plots designated for harvesting. As the trees grow on these plots, the bottom branches are pruned, making for ease of cutting and beautiful straight trunks.
While we were gone, Oulu celebrated its official 400th birthday on April 8th, although the celebrations are wisely being postponed until the summer tourist season. To read more about the history of Oulu, click here.
And while we were dodging April showers both in Jyväskylä and walking from the train in Oulu, Denver was receiving a 10 inch snowfall! It was so impressive that the BBC reported on it complete with footage of spinning wheels and stalled traffic! That kind of storm with blizzard conditions and huge snowfalls is unusual here, we’ve learned. Instead, it snowed a little almost every day during the winter. But because it doesn’t get above freezing, the snow builds into the impressive heaps we’ve sent you in pictures. But now all of the walkways are clear (as Denver’s will be soon with the 60 degree weather predicted for the coming week!) and we have officially abandoned our down jackets. Ah, spring…..
Next up, a journal entry of “Finn Facts” that we’ve collected. Stay tuned…
Friday, April 22, 2005
First, the most important news of the week in Oulu that may not have reached you in the States yet…
Sunday night for the second year in a row, Oulu clinched the Finnish hockey championship, beating Helsinki 3 games to 1 in a best of 5 series. Tuesday evening 30,000 people gathered in city center when the trophy, dubbed “The Boy”, was presented to the team. And in a ritual that could only happen in Finland, the team’s first act after receiving the trophy was to take “The Boy” to the sauna with them. Anyone who would like a t-shirt commemorating the championship (not the team in the sauna) should mail requests along with the size needed and the U.S. equivalent of 25 Euros to us. Last year’s championship t-shirt can be had for 5 Euros…
Pictures courtesy of Helsingin
Sanomat, Oulu Kärpät, and IIHF.
You always take off your shoes when
you enter a Finnish household. It particularly makes sense in the winter
when you don't want to track snow all over. But the Finns take off their
shoes year around. It really cuts down on carpet wear and tear, and the
house does stay cleaner! Even at parties when everyone is dressed up, the
shoes are left by the door. Children take their shoes off at school
However, television shows are maddeningly off schedule. One reason is that the Finns don’t have enough commercials to fill the gaps in the American shows they televise. There’s always an 8-10 minute gap to fill at the end of “Friends” or “ER”. But even then, the next show may start 2, 3, or 4 minutes after the hour – just when you’re about to give up on seeing it. Roy has 3 Finnish TV schedules as “Favorites” on his computer, and he spends the evening surfing with the remote trying to outguess the system. As an added challenge, American and British programs are scattered over 5 or 6 channels, so TV watching is always an adventure, with the occasional gem that makes the effort worthwhile.
Another television (and film) Finn
Fact: Finns believe that it is important to see a television show or film
in its original language. So programs are aired exactly as they were
filmed with the addition of Finnish subtitles. We thought this was a
particularly high-minded practice (once again illustrating the cultural
ethics of the country) until last week when one of our very favorite
movies was on television. We couldn't wait to watch it. But when we tuned
in for "Cinema Paradiso" we found that it was in (of all things!) Italian
with Finnish subtitles! Cultural ethics met our hegemonical American world
view head-on, with Italy and Finland coming out the winners and us
switching to "Night Rider" for our prime time viewing.
Here's an e-mail we received after posting this entry...
From: Sami Makelainen
I've enjoyed reading your blog at http://rclariana.blogspot.com/ for some time now (count me in as one of those strange Finns who love to know what other people are thinking about us ;-) and really like it. It's been fun reading about your big and small "adventures" in Finland. The latest Finn Facts-post was great and I just thought I'd comment on a few things - for additional insight or just for fun,whatever.
I think Finns are crazy about sweets for the simple reason that they're really good here. When we (me & my wife) lived in the US we learned to avoid most candies there - they didn't taste nearly as good! And we found out why, too: turned out sugar is (relatively speaking) extremely expensive in US compared to Finland. The manufacturers thus often used mostly or partly artificial sweeteners. And you could taste the difference.
The bus drivers are polite everywhere else except in theHelsinki-area. Very rarely do they say hi or goodbye when changing shifts here.
The reason for movies and TV series being in the original language is not just the desire of the viewers. It's because dubbing is expensive and Finland is such a small country it's not worth it. But it's also a preference - for example, watching a movie in Germany is royal pain for me since you can hardly find anything with the original soundtrack.
What comes to Roy missing peanut butter, you should be able to find the real thing from Behnford's when you're in Helsinki (it's at the Kämp Galleria shopping center, see http://www.behnfords.com/) They specialize in importing all kinds of american foodstuff.
On hot water, there was once an interesting inci. They cannot, however, be "against good manners" - so unique and foreign names are possible, but you cannot name your kid something completely stupid like "XQ".
Anyway, thanks again for a great blog. I'm looking forward to the next "Finn Facts" part!
Ps. I hate coffee, so not every adult does the coffee-thing :-)
More Finn Facts
For these Finn Facts, you need a short history lesson. Here goes:
In spite of its ancient history, Finland as we've been describing it has really been built in the last 10 years. It waa month when Germany was defeated in WWI, and the monarchy collapsed. Then Finland established a republican form of government and elected a president. But there was still internal unrest between Swedish and Finnish speakers, and Civil War skirmishes continued into the 1930s.
During the ‘30s Finland formed ties with Germany because it was so afraid of its huge neighbor to the east, but a secret pact between Germany and the Soviet Union allowed the Soviets to invade Finland, and in 1939 the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland began. This was when the Karelia region was taken by the Soviets, and 500,000 refugees fled into the western parts of Finland. (I mentioned the displacement of the Karelian people in an earlier entry.)
The Soviets became hungry for even more land, and because Finland was cut off from the help of the Allies, they turned to Germany for help, allowing their troops to cross Finland on their way to Russia. Finally, an armistice was reached with Russia, and then the Finns had to fight the Nazi troops in Lapland to get them out of the country.
In 1945, a general peace was negotiated, and Finland remained independent, but at a terrible cost in territory and war reparations to the Soviets. The monetary debt was paid primarily in ships and machinery, but it drove Finland into rationing and poverty. And as late as the 1980s, the Soviets tried to infiltrate Finnish politics to drive Finland away from Western influence. Even in the early 1990’s, Finland was in a depression with 20% unemployment.
But joining the EU in 1994 was a huge boon to Finland, and the EU has helped them with infrastructure, tourism, and rural development. Today, with technology firms seeking Finnish expertise, a profitable lumber industry, and a United Nations “quality of life” ranking of #5 in the world, Finland is at last solidly on her feet and thriving in the new millennium.
This history affects many of this entry’s Finn Facts.
Language and Literature: Because it was the language of a conquered people through most of its history, the written Finnish language is rather recent, and therefore quite pure – meaning that pronunciation vis à vis spelling is very consistent (as opposed to English where “ough” has at least 6 pronunciations). The intricacy comes in the way words are put together in their 14 or 15 case structures (there are 3 in English), the plethora of double letters (which the Finns can hear when they talk but I can’t), and the very unique vocabulary I secretly think was devised as code to keep their conquerors from understanding what the Finns were saying about them.
The first book written in Finnish wasn’t published until 1870, and today the Finns take great pride in their literature, especially the epic poem The Kalevala which catalogs the mythic deeds (and very bloody warfare) of witches, wizards and strongmen.
As an offshoot of this, it is very important to the Finns to retain uniquely Finnish given names as I mentioned in the last entry. One priest refused to christen a baby unless the parents used the Finnish spelling “Niko” and not their preferred spelling – “Nico”.
National Crafts: Finnish crafts are treasured and encouraged. There is a system of continuing education courses throughout the country where masters of Finnish crafts (like those trained in the craft school on Pikisaari Island) pass on their knowledge. This system is subsidized by the government, and the courses are very inexpensive. A three day needle felting class I took recently cost only 21 euros (about $25). Last weekend we went to an exhibition of some of the work done in these classes, and as the following pictures attest, the work is incredible. The nominal fee also allows people to take advanced classes in their interest area, which of course improves the quality of their work over the years.
May Day and Tallinn
Hope I didn’t scare you off with my history lesson last time! To make up for it, this blog entry is filled with spring revelry and pictures. Here goes!
Last weekend we met Justin in Helsinki just in time for the May Day celebration, known as Vappu here. This national holiday is part St. Walpurgis Day (the smallest part although that’s where the name Vappu comes from), part workers’ holiday akin to our Labor Day, part rites of spring, and part recognition of students (the biggest part). In Helsinki it starts at 6 p.m. on Walpurgis Eve, when the statue of Havis Amanda – the symbol of the city – is “capped,” and continues through the night with revelry, rock bands set up at various points in town, lots of drinking, and some hungover picnicking the next day. Of course there’s special food associated with this holiday – a kind of funnelcake fritter called Tippaleivät and mead called Sima, a mildly alcoholic drink associated with spring. For the recipes, click here.
We headed out early on April 30th to see the marketplace before the festivities began. The Helsinki marketplace is right at the harbor, and vendors set up outside early each morning to sell everything from flowers to fish to woolens.
At about 2:30, the conventional merchants packed up their wares, and carnival vendors took their place with streamers, noisemakers, masks, leis, silly hats, and some downright rude paraphernalia to hawk to the revelers.
As we wandered around, we saw young people in jumpsuits which one wag suggested made them look like escapees from a cable installers’ convention. These jumpsuits were of every color of the rainbow, and were decorated with patches – lots and lots of patches. We learned that different disciplines of the university adopt different colored jumpsuits, and the folks wearing them tended to move in packs, creating pockets of color like spring flowers in the growing crowd of people. Many of the troops also carried a kind of smallish boat captain’s hat which we learned was the official hat of university students. The tradition is that partygoers can’t put their caps on until Havis Amanda, nicknamed “Manta,” gets hers. Many, many alumni also come back for the May Day homecoming, and proudly don their student caps (though not the jumpsuits) for the celebration.
A Trip to Ruka
Last Tuesday, Roy, Justin, and yours truly DROVE to Ruka, a ski resort in Eastern Lapland about 210 kilometers from Oulu. We’d consulted bus and train schedules, but since we were day tripping, a rental car seemed the best option. It also provided yet another adventure since we hadn’t driven anywhere in Finland (or Europe for that matter).
Hertz was happy to provide us with a brand new Ford Fiesta, Roy signed on as chauffeur, and we set off!
Shortly after leaving Oulu, we entered Reindeer Country. In Lapland, the semi-domesticated reindeer herds roam free (remember the Public Domain Policy?), and outside every town is a sign reminding folks of that fact.
Our Lonely Planet book warned of motorist/reindeer encounters and admonished that since there are 230,000 reindeer wandering around Lapland drivers should slow down when they spot one, “regardless of its location, direction, or speed.” The book says that reindeer move slowly and don’t respond to car horns “nor do they seem to feel that vehicles deserve the right of way.” Because reindeer adhere so stubbornly to this philosophy over 3000 of them are killed every year…
Not 30 kilometers from the first sign, we spotted a group of 4 reindeer nonchalantly nibbling grass on the edge of the highway. By the time we’d returned home at 9:30 that evening, we’d come across 10 more groups with from 4 to 8 reindeer per covey.
The reindeer in this picture are interesting because one has only one antler. Both male and female reindeer have antlers, and shed them in the spring – not necessarily both at the same time from the look of things! Of the reindeer we saw, some still had last year’s antlers, some had shed their antlers and were awaiting new ones, and some had beautiful new velvety antlers.
As we traveled north and east, we noticed that the trees were often covered with a soft greenish-grey growth not seen in the Oulu area. This turned out to be Reindeer Moss, which really isn’t a moss at all. This lichen comes by its name for two reasons: 1) it is eaten by the reindeer especially in the winter when ground foraging is impossible, and 2) it looks for all the world like reindeer antlers! To learn more about Reindeer Moss, click here.
On our way to Ruka, the flat terrain that we’ve come to expect in
Finland gave way to hill country, and we passed beautiful lakes that
varied in size from less than an acre to over 15 acres. I hadn’t expected
to see lakes in Lapland, but if you look at a map of Finland, I think
there are enough lakes overall so that all Finns could claim one for their
very own! The lakes in Lapland were in varying degrees of losing their
winter ice. We saw only one where people still were venturing out to
Justin decided no vacation in Finland would be complete without an hour or 2 on the slopes, so we cobbled together a passable assembly of gear, and he was even able to rent his brand of telemark boots and skis in good condition. You can see from his grin that he was in his element! And because it was mid-week in mid-May, he quite literally had the slopes to himself!
garnishes of sour cream, parsley, and red onion before heading home.
We hadn’t traveled far before we were pulled over at a road block by the local sheriff who happily switched from Finnish to English when we looked confused, and subjected our chauffeur to a sobriety test. Roy blew into a tube, passed with flying colors, and we were on our way. (Look again at the picture above for proof that Roy was drinking coffee!) We were so taken aback by the stop that we didn’t even think to take a picture!
As an aside, we had learned how strict the Finns are about their drunk driving laws from Markku, who drove us around one afternoon, but took the car home and came back on his bike before having a beer with us after our outing. The maximum legal limit for alcohol in Finland is 0.05 – quite a bit lower than in the U.S.
But the true hour of reckoning came when we had to fill the gas tank. With gas priced at nearly $6.40 a gallon, the true cost of traveling by car was astounding!
One of the most fun parts of our trip was finding road signs that we
hadn’t noticed when we traveled by bus and train. Here are a few that we
thought were especially fun, as well as some that we couldn’t figure out
click here. Wish we’d studied this site BEFORE we left
instead of finding it after we’d come home!
Hope this finds you well and enjoying the warm weather and longer days. Here in the far north, we officially have no more true night time darkness. As Justin remarked, “It just becomes the Blue Moment for about 3 hours and then the sun comes up again.” And Justin should know, since he has been enjoying the singles scene in Oulu where the fun begins at about 10 p.m. with karaoke and bikini and line dancing contests, and the bars don’t close until 4 a.m. Justin will leave on Sunday, and Jared and Alison arrive Tuesday. Just time to wash the sheets and towels between visits.
We’ll leave you with some professional pictures of Ruka from their Web site.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
A Weekend in St. Petersburg
We’ve just returned from a whirlwind week in Helsinki and St. Petersburg with Jared and Alison. We met them last Tuesday and saw the Helsinki sights on Wednesday. Thursday the 19th was Jared’s 30th birthday (Yikes! My youngest is 30!), and he and Alison celebrated by going to Tallinn for the day. That evening we ventured to Garlic, our favorite Helsinki restaurant, for a birthday feast of smoked salmon and reindeer kabobs -- absolutely delicious! Even nature seemed to be celebrating as you’ll see from the pictures.
It’s early Thursday morning in our last week in Oulu. As I sit in the living room watching a seagull fly toward the sea and waiting for Henry our neighborhood hedgehog to trundle by on his daily rounds, I’m aware of how much we’ll miss our life here.
Last Thursday before they left for Stockholm, Jared and Alison joined us for a farewell outing planned by Roy’s Oulu University colleagues. We traveled by van to Kierikki, an archeological site on Ii river about 30 kilometers from Oulu, where researchers have found evidence of a colony over 5000 years old. A beautiful visitors’ center has been built on the site using Finnish log construction in which the logs are nested tightly so there is no need for chinking. At the dig, after the artifacts were excavated, a Stone Age village was constructed, and guides in dressed in leather and animal pelts explain how the inhabitants lived.
The first order of business when we arrived was a toast of champagne, a
gift for Roy of a beautiful book with images of Northern Finland, and
tearful hugs all around.
Then we spent the day learning if we could survive in the Stone Age.
The guides divided us into the Seal tribe and the Deer tribe (led by Roy,
naturally), and we competed in trap construction, splitting firewood with
sharpened stones, boiling water with rocks heated in the fire, fashioning
slate jewelry by “drilling” holes in it with quartz, “hunting” with bows
and arrows, and cooking venison over the open fire. Great fun! The Deer
tribe won, although the all-female Seal tribe I was on served the venison
with more style (and taste) by using juniper berries as a rub for the
meat, and garnishing the birch bark “plates” with sprigs of pine and
Sunday we had dinner with Marja-Liisa and Markku at their home. I took
some Colorado Columbine that I had started from seed for their garden, and
learned another interesting Finn Fact. Marja-Liisa told me she couldn’t
thank me directly for the flowers (or in this case, the flowers-to-be)
because it is considered bad luck. I’m sure if we lived here for a decade,
we’d still be learning the fascinating quirks and customs of this country!
After a delicious meal, we walked to Rauni and Pekka’s house for dessert.
Rauni had 5 different desserts for us to try, after which the men retired
to the porch with a bottle of cognac, and Marja-Liisa, Rauni, and I had a
great chat. It was my turn fothe 15th century. The church built in 1694
and many farm and logging industry buildings from the 18th and 19th
century form an open air museum there where demonstrations of tar making,
salmon fishing, and log floating take place every summer. We wandered the
grounds visiting the classic log and clapboard buildings, and finding
picture perfect settings everywhere we looked. What a wonderful way to end
our time in Oulu, and what great company we had!
Now we are packing furiously, and Marja-Liisa and I will meet one last
time at the Central Market after she gets off work on Friday so she can
help me tell my “reindeer man” who speaks not a word of English that I do
not want my smoked reindeer sliced this time, but to leave it whole so I
can bring it back to the States.