All 22 entries tagged Finland

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March 09, 2008

The journey to Joensuu

Three weeks ago today I arrived in Joensuu after a long road trip across Europe. It was five days before that Ed and I set off from a relatively warm Norfolk. Funnily enough, the hardest part of the trip was not driving in Europe for hours on end on the wrong side of the road, but it was the first leg of the journey in England. We both thought that driving to Dover would be a walk in the park compared to the rest of the journey, but we were wrong. We did not take into account the great British weather system!

As we headed for the south coast, we were making excellent time and were thinking of where we should stop for some dinner. Then, as we approached the end of the M11, the fog suddenly worsened. We were soon on the slip-road to the M25 and searching for change for the Dartford toll bridge. We need not have rushed, because barely 200 yards onto the M25 we came to a stop. A complete stop. Luckily it was not just us, no lanes were moving. We sat for five minutes before switching the engine off and getting out of the car to see if we could see what the trouble was. Obviously, in the thick fog we could see nothing, but it was quite funny that we were stuck on a motorway with only a camcorder to amuse us. Half an hour later it was getting less funny! We were hungry, and eager to get to Dover.

Eventually the traffic began to move and we passed the source of the problem: several accidents and stopped cars due to the fog. We were on our way again – albeit slowly – and although we were now a bit behind schedule we were confident we would catch our ferry in time. The fog, however, had other ideas. Over the Dartford bridge we could see nothing apart from the fog lights of the car in front. Soon after the bridge we knew we had to come off the motorway, but unfortunately we took the slightly longer road to Dover which was our first mistake. This would not have been a problem if we did not then make another wrong turn – again due to the fog – that meant we were heading towards Ramsgate instead of Dover. A few hundred yards on the new road, before we had found a place to turn-around, the traffic came to a sudden stop. Moments later there was a loud crash behind us. We got out of the car to discover that just a few cars behind us there had been an accident that was caused by slowing traffic due to an accident a few cars in front of us!

In one sense, we were lucky that we were merely spectators on the accidents. But critically for us, we were sandwiched between two accidents that blocked the road – we were going nowhere! It took almost 2 hours, 3 ambulances – luckily I think there were no serious injuries – and a whole squad of police cars to clear both accidents. We missed the ferry! Luckily there was another one at 2am so we grabbed some sleep and soon we were gladly escaping England. I might even go as far as saying that I was pleased to arrive in France!

The rest of the journey was plain sailing. Driving on the wrong side of the road, guessing the speed limit, and navigating from country to country: it was easy after getting through Kent. We stopped for one night in Bremen, one night in Copenhagen, an afternoon in Stockholm, and finally one night in Helsinki. And so three weeks ago today I was dropping Ed off at Helsinki airport and driving the last leg of the journey up to Joensuu. Ed assures me that there will be a video of our adventure coming soon!


February 25, 2008

Buddhism in Finland

Just when I thought there was no Buddhism in Finland, I made an exciting discovery…

It happened while ice skating outdoors as the snow was falling heavily from the sky above. There is one guy who maintains the outdoor ice rinks all day long. He drives around in this special tractor that sweeps the snow off the ice. When he finishes one ice rink, he moves onto the next. But even before he has finished one, the previous ice rink is already covered in snow again. And so it goes on…


February 11, 2008

The road to Joensuu

It has been an unexpectedly busy few weeks since my last post. After the viva I thought it would be nice to do nothing for a while. But ‘doing nothing’ lasted only 24 hours. I soon realised I was not designed to sit around idling the time away and so I went back to Warwick to find something constructive to occupy my mind. For a few days I caught up with the latest developments in the Empirical Modelling group, and then Ilkka came to visit from University of Joensuu (Finland) for a week. It was very enjoyable to be in Warwick again, working on new ideas and thinking up future projects to collaborate on from Finland. In the chaos of finishing the PhD I had forgotten how much I like life at Warwick, and that I will miss all the friends who I have had the pleasure to live and work with.

But times change. Luckily I am heading for another exciting place and I already know that there will be many friendly faces when I arrive. Even getting to Finland is going to be exciting in itself. When I was in Finland last year I had this idea that it would be fun to drive there, and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. Now it looks like it will happen. I set off for Finland tomorrow, but I will not be arriving for another five days. The good news for me is that I am not doing it alone, the incredible Edward Young of ‘shocking Facebook status humour’ fame will be joining me. Just in case you are interested, here is the summary of our plan…

Countries visited: UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.
Cities we plan to stop in: Rotterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki.
Country we will spend the least time in: France (for 15 minutes!).
Total driving time: 45 hours.
Driving distance: 1900 miles.
Number of pages required to print the route on Google Maps: 76
Estimated petrol required: 64 gallons.
Carbon footprint: bigger than an elephant’s footprint.
Cost of petrol: unthinkable.
Cost of sitting next to Ed for 5 days: priceless.


December 20, 2007

Lapland trip: final part

Writing about web page http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=2436311861522438691

The final part of our trip to Lapland included a visit to Santa’s house in Rovaniemi, dinner in Sweden, and then a long drive back to Joensuu. They must have heard that we were coming as we got a police escort through Joensuu at 2am in the morning to locate Myriam’s house. A short promotional film has been compiled of our trip for your entertainment!


December 17, 2007

Lapland Tour: Day 2

We managed a whole 6 hours sleep which was luxury compared to our previous night when we only had 2. Clint prepared the breakfast, and then it was off to the local school in Salla accompanied by Eeva – Erkki’s cousin who had kindly planned us a day of activities.

Shortly after 8.30am, we were in a classroom full of 16 year old students hoping to improve their English. We introduced our five countries and then we talked about the University of Joensuu, because we had been instructed by Anton that we should do some publicity for the university on our trip. (On our return we convinced a director of the university that they should fund international students on future trips like ours to do publicity for the university!)

The school we visited were actually having an international day and the next event was a music concert of music from around the world. After their performance, we infiltrated the stage and took over the instruments. Luckily we had the talented Anya with us who spontaneously broke into a song, and so the rest of us untalented individuals hummed along to Anya and we each grabbed a drum so that it actually looked like we were ‘the band’. I do not think that Salla had ever seen anything like it… Five people from completely different corners of the world, on a trip visiting a countryside school in Lapland, exuding confidence, laughter and singing songs. And so this is when we decided that we should be called the University of Joensuu International Publicity Band!

After another class of entertaining the students with our humourous introductions to our respective countries, including the suggestion that Finland might soon invade Russia, we had lunch and then made a poster about our visit. If you ever visit this school in Salla, you should find the mark of the University of Joensuu International Publicity Band. :)

The next destination was the countryside surrounding Salla, in particular a house miles from no where, close to the Russian border, near Lake Kolunki, called Majava. In the garden there were a number of huts, one of which was the toilet, and wandering about in the field were a number of reindeer completely uninterested in our presence – similar to those we almost hit on the road! This was the house of Eeva’s husband’s family, now only used as a place of retreat from their house in the town. It was a step back into the past. A giant bear skin hung on the wall, a large collections of old cross-country skiing medals, and an old radio the only entertainment – this was probably the most unique place I had visited in Finland.

One of the huts in the garden was a smoke sauna – the most traditional type of Finnish sauna. A smoke sauna takes two days to prepare, first lighting the fire and then getting the smoke right, I assume so that the occupants do not die from carbon monoxide! Luckily this preparation had been carefully undertaken for us and so all we had to do was go enjoy it. It was great to do this unique thing on my birthday, even if I did smell like a bonfire for the rest of the day!

In the evening we went to a church for yet another carol service. It was very informal as we all sat around tables and sang whilst sitting down. After singing 23 Finnish Christmas carols we were starting to feel our sleep deprivation and began to find even the most simple things quite hilarious. This might also explain the biscuit eating competition when we got home, and the late night animal dancing. We eventually forced ourselves to bed, our faces tired from a day full of laughter – the best way to enjoy my birthday!


December 10, 2007

The University of Joensuu International Publicity Band

On Thursday at 3am, after barely an hour of sleep, five brave souls at the University of Joensuu took to the road for a trip to the arctic circle. This international group came together from five distant parts of the globe:
  • Representing Africa, the queen of dance, Myriam;
  • From the mother country Russia, our singer and songwriter, Anya;
  • All the way from Asia, the man who has more social events than I have cups of tea, Shujau;
  • Coming from America, the cookie eater, Clint;
  • And from a little island in Europe, causing trouble in all parts of the globe in true British style and your narrator, Ant.

They had equipped themselves with thermal long johns, a Finnish map, a bunch of big yellow dudes (also known as bananas), a ton of little orange dudes, a most revered Audi A3 hire car (complete with heated seats), and an infinite supply of creativity. This is the story of their adventure.

The journey north from Joensuu to Lapland was long and slow in the snowy conditions that I had not really practiced for. It was Finnish Independence Day though, so there was not much traffic. When we set off from Joensuu the roads were icy and slushy which was pretty tricky, but once we got further north the roads turned to solid snow which was much easier (and surprisingly faster) to drive on. However, the conditions further north were made more dangerous by the animals on the road. The first time we saw a reindeer crossing the road while Clint was driving was quite scary, as slowing down is a slight issue, and then later on I almost hit a big reindeer by a couple of feet. Luckily this meant that I had to concentrate so much on spotting reindeer that there was no chance I would fall asleep. I also managed to spare a fox’s life too.

After 7 hours or so, we pulled over at a place called Ruka where we spied a ski slope from the road. Once we had found a morning cup of tea, we quickly decided that we should hit the slopes and so we signed ourselves up for a group beginners lesson. Despite it being our first time, we impressed the instructor with our skills—after all, we are the Joensuu International Band, world famous for our creativity and problem solving skills! We also provided much entertainment for the rest of the skiers. I think all of us managed to fall of the ski lift at some point, whilst Myriam managed to ski down the slope backwards, and I performed a 360 spin and stayed on my feet to continue the run.

We were on the slopes until it got dark—which was by 3pm! Then we headed north again, whilst eating the supply of food we had brought including lots of big yellow dudes and little orange dudes. By 5pm we were in Salla and easily found our cabin, which was situated next to another ski slope. We had a wander around and cooked some noodles for dinner, and I drank 3 cups of tea to restore the drought that I had suffered during the day. After dinner we took a sauna, as we had our own in our cabin, and we made good use of the deep snow outside our cabin. By this time, we had been up for over 20 hours and we were getting sleepy, but it seemed that everyone was not ready yet for bed. There was some suspicious cake making going on too.

At midnight I was encouraged to go out with Clint to check out the northern lights. Unfortunately, the only thing we saw was the northern clouds! On returning to the cabin though, it was lit up by candles and as I entered the band were singing happy birthday, the cake was ready and tea had been made! I had not really been expecting to take much notice of my birthday and this was a lovely surprise, but this turned out to be the first of many special events that would take place in the following 24 hours. Thank you Clint, Shujao, Myriam and Anya for making it so special!

(To be continued.) (See some photos.)


December 09, 2007

Lapland trip: part one

I arrived back in Joensuu at 2am this morning from a most exciting and memorable trip to Lapland with Clint, Shujau, Myriam and Anya (the newly formed University of Joensuu International Publicity Band). It was a great privilege to spend my birthday in such a warm friendly group in deepest darkest Lapland. Now I am back I have a long list of birthday messages from more lovely people – and sorry I have been out of contact the last few days – so I hope to catch up with you soon. I am also going to try to write a full report on my jollies in Lapland, which were numerous—and particularly humourous!


December 02, 2007

A weekend of choirs and rock bands

I have not been very disciplined in my blog writing this last week, but this is not for the lack of things to talk about. I moved out of my flat on Tuesday, and so now I am staying in Erkki and Paivi’s home where I have been made very welcome and entertained a great deal. There are always people coming and going here, so there is never a dull moment!

On Friday night Clint and I went to a concert at the university that was put on by the choir. It was all in Finnish, but the singing and music was really good. The concert was celebrating forestry, for which the university has a big department, and all the choir were dressed in traditional Finnish clothes of people who work in the forests. After the concert, and after wandering about the town, I ended up in an Irish pub playing scrabble and drinking hot chocolate! :)

On Saturday we went to see the Joensuu basketball team beat their opponents from another part of the country. I never thought my first basketball experience would be in Finland, but at least I was there with an American who could explain the rules to me!

In the evening I went to Ilkka’s Christmas party at his house which involved quite a different concert from the previous night. It was a small gathering of friends which I was privileged enough to be invited to. We sat around eating and drinking (as is necessary at any Finnish occasion) in Ilkka and Sari’s living room with some special entertainment: Ilkka’s band Takauma played a short set of their own songs as we sat bopping away on the sofa. It was really good, so good in fact that I am sure the neighbours were rocking away to the sound of the drums and guitars in the surrounding houses. After the performance, we had the traditional Christmas drink (Glögi) which is similar to our mulled wine, and then we headed to the sauna. There was plenty of light fluffy snow in the garden (the snow goes like that at -10 degrees) and so we rolled about in the snow to cool off in between trips to the sauna.

Also at the party I learnt to make ice lights. Here is what you need to do… Fill a bucket with water and leave it outside for a few hours (or if you are in England you probably need to leave it for a week or put it in the freezer). The water freezes at the surface and at the sides and bottom. Using a knife (which it seems everyone carries in Finland!), cut a hole in the top of the ice and pour the water out. Now with a little persuasion (or hot water) the ice in the bucket will come out in one piece that forms a hollow cylinder. Then a candle can be placed in the hole to make a pretty ‘ice light’.

Today (Sunday) has been different again, because Clint and I took Dr. Lee from South Korea on a tour of the local area up to Koli. Clint organised a university car and we were free to drive wherever we liked for the day – the American and the Englishman as tour guides in north Karelia! Koli was as beautiful as ever, with the lake starting to freeze over completely, and now the surrounding slopes have enough snow we saw many people out skiing.

We rushed back to Joensuu to catch the university choir performing at the main church in the city. I was surprised this time that they were singing most of their songs in English, and I was most pleased that I was able to sing along to the classics such as O Little Town of Bethlehem and Oh Come Let Us Adore Him. I am sure that Warwick Buddhist Society choir wish they were here! Joensuu university choir sang beautifully as ever (especially Anya!), although some of the hymns were not exactly in the style of Narborough church and their set failed to include (in my opinion) the best Christmas carol We Three Kings Of Orient Are. I hope there will be chance to warble away to this one when I get back to England. :) It seems that I am consistently attending church events whilst I am in Finland – as yet I have not met another Buddhist!

Back at the house we were able to relax over tea and cake – an activity that should be cultivated at every opportunity. The cake, expertly baked by Paivi, was to celebrate the fact that Erkki has secured funding for an international science festival for children (SciFest) – and if SciFest tastes as good as the cake then it will surely be a big success.


November 21, 2007

Snow fun in Kitee

Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/aharfield/gallery/kitee_edtech_phd_seminar/

I am starting to quite enjoy the Finnish idea of work. Today we had a PhD seminar/brainstorming session for the EdTech group. Rather than hold it at the university, Clint organised for us to go to more inspiring surroundings in the town of Kitee about one hour from Joensuu. So we rolled up at the Evangelic Folk High School of Kitee in time for a big lunch to get the day off to a good start. This was followed by a tour of the buildings, in which we got a glimpse of the swimming pool and sauna that would later be the place for us to continue our discussions in the evening. Before we started the intellectual work though, we decided to build some snowmen and partake in a good snow fight. I have been eager to make use of the huge amount of snow laying waiting on the ground. The first few days of snow in Joensuu I was very tempted to start a snowball fight on my way to university. I am sure if you transported the whole of Warwick to Finland right now, there would be huge snowmen everywhere and one large continuous snowball fight throughout the day! So today we finally got to let out our childish excitement about the snow. This clearly contributed to the creativity in the seminar, because when we finally got down to doing some thinking it was really productive. I think singing the school’s hymn in Finnish also helped our creative juices flow.

However, the fun did not stop there, because after the presentations in the afternoon we had dinner and then continued discussions in the sauna, steam room and swimming pool (see the photos). This is definitely not your average school. If my school had been like this then I am sure I would have been much more creative and would have probably have won a nobel prize by now. So Kitee definitely has the thumbs up from me, and thanks to Clint for organising an exciting day. The only problem we have to solve now is how to find another excuse to go to Kitee for longer next time. :)


November 20, 2007

Koli Conference

The last week has been pretty busy and so I have not had a chance to update you all at home. I got down to some serious work last week, well some work, but it was not that serious. My teaching involves a weekly workshop on Creative Problem Solving. I can hear you all questioning what I know about creativity, and it is true that I am probably learning more than the students that I am supposed to be helping. The trouble is that they are just too imaginative, I cannot keep up! So far they have been thinking up magical watches that can assist you on a first date, proving the existence of aliens, and designing a computer that can buy Karelian pies. If you have a problem that needs solving then let me know and I will put it to the class – I am sure they will soak it up. :)

Last Thursday night I got on a minibus to Koli for the annual baltic sea conference on computer science education (Koli Calling 2007). It was dark (as it is quite often here!), it was snowing (which is also common), and our confident driver was propelling us to our destination at breakneck speeds down country roads covered in snow. I was sat in the front seat, and I could just about make out two grooves in the road, either side of which was a foot of snow. Thick snow was falling heavily from the sky and hitting our windscreen giving the effect of badly tuned television. It was quite an experience. If we had been in England, the country would have crawled to a halt by now, but in Finland driving on snow is as common as tarmac – and seems therefore to be treated so! (I had to chuckle at the BBC news yesterday about the inch of snow that brought chaos to roads and homes across the England.)

The conference was excellent: the talks were very entertaining, the people at times dressed as pirates, the scenery spectacular, and we had saunas every night until the small hours. We had time to explore the surroundings each day, and I took some photos.

On Sunday, Mikko took us on a hike around the Koli national park for a couple of hours in the snow. It was quite special to be making paths through deep snow. I thought that people would be skiing, but according to the Finns the snow is ‘not good enough yet’. I cannot wait to see it in December when the downhill ski routes open. As you can see from the photos, the trees are already quite weighed down with snow.

After our hike we visited Koli church for the Sunday service, where I learnt to sing hymns in Finnish for the first time. This might actually be a good way of learning to pronounce the more difficult Finnish letters (like ‘y’ which I gather is pronounced ‘ou’). I have not made much effort to learn Finnish during the activities of the last week, especially having met so many foreigners – but this should change now I am back in Joensuu and I am making attempts with Clint to be ‘friendly’ to the ‘locals’.

This week I still have a few activities to keep me busy. Tomorrow I am off to Kitee (a town about an hour from here I believe) with the research group for a PhD seminar day which should be fun – especially as there is a sauna and a swimming pool. The good news is that the swimming pool is not a lake, but it is inside and there is a slight chance it might be heated. So this might be one of the few non-masochistic activities available in the area. I will report back soon!


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