All 12 entries tagged Finland

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November 13, 2007

Ice hole survival

Today started quite normally, walking to the university in the snow, moving quickly to keep warm, and slip sliding in the usual fashion. I went back to my flat for a lunch of fried rice – one of my two staple meals since I arrived. At the end of the day I headed to Erkki’s house to find something to do. After a good session of computer games with Anton and Clint, Erkki and Pavi came back from dinner and immediately Pavi suggested that the next activity should be a trip to the ice hole. I had heard, in disbelief, about these ice holes, where a hole is cut into a lake for people to jump in. The reason for this was unfathomable to me, and remains so! Anyway, Pavi was pressing Clint to go who had cunningly forgotten his towel and trunks, while I tried to laugh off the idea. There was no way I wanted to put my body anywhere near ice cold water.

Sometimes, though, you have to make sacrifices for your country when you are in foreign places, and I didn’t want to be seen as the weaker party – especially in the presence of a fellow American. But this was not a sacrifice, this was suicide! However, with my ancient roots, I had to honour the Gale motto: Never let the side down. So I casually went along with the idea, and Pavi kindly prepared the necessary equipment for the mission. When your path has already been chosen, or your sentenced passed, the only thing you can do is accept it gracefully and enjoy those last moments. As such, I confidently strode out into the night air ready for whatever I would have to suffer.

On arrival at the ice hole there was some confusion as to whether it was still open. For a few moments I thought that God had intervened, but He was just torturing my kilesa. My hopes were dashed, the damnable hole was open! I had used the bathroom before leaving the house, but now I needed to go again. Slowly I put on the speedos and headed out into the cold night air. Pavi was striding confidently towards the water, while I surveyed the icy surroundings. Luckily madness got to me before fear, and I pushed on quickly to the water. My feet touched the surface and before I could feel any sensation I had dived in.

Seconds later shock, pain and feared took hold of my brain. I was several metres from the edge and an odd burning feeling was attacking my limbs, the ice eating away at my skin. As the sensation engulfed my entire body, I was swimming as quickly (and as coolly) as I could back towards the edge. I pulled myself out with the ladder which was completely covered in ice – just like my body! Then it was a case of getting to the sauna as quickly as possible without passing out.

The sauna was warm, but I was shaking from the cold. For once, I actually wanted the sauna to be unbearably hot! After 5 minutes of intense heat I was still only half defrosted. Pavi advised me not to dive in because if you get your head wet then you can get cold – as if the rest of the experience was not intended to make you cold! A short time later I was warming up nicely and singing the praises of the sauna.

Unfortunately, we had to take another dip before going home. I prepared myself, took the long walk down to the edge and then plunged in. This time I did not stray far from the edge and I was out again no time, sprinting towards the sauna once more. I did not even hear Pavi saying we should go now. Apparently I was not allowed in the sauna again. But Clint followed me in, and we defrosted a second time. However, Pavi insisted that we must take a dip in the ice hole last, which meant that a third attempt on my life was necessary.

I readied myself. Then, at once, I dashed out of the sauna with a mind focussed completely on the mission. This approach was the most successful – there was no thought of pain, no hint of like or dislike, no desire to return to the sauna (well maybe). It was like meditating past the pain barrier. And after it was over I actually felt quite good. My skin was tingling on the way home, but generally I felt relaxed and satisfied. Maybe I even enjoyed the experience – in some strange Finnish masochistic way! The good news is that I do not think I will be afraid of swimming in the English sea after this – nothing could be colder than a Finnish ice hole.

November 07, 2007

Here comes the snow

Every morning I have woken up and looked towards the gap in the curtains to see if there were any signs of snow. The first two mornings I was sure that I saw white outside, but it turned out to be frosty white, not snow. This morning I saw white again, but I had learnt not to get too excited by this. However, when I finally opened the curtains I realised that it really was snow today. I took a long tour of the streets between my place and the science park to get to work, enjoying the snow-covered streets and roads. The snow did not seem to slow the walkers, cyclists, and drivers on their journey to work – everyone was moving along as quickly as usual. There is no fear of the snow on the roads in Finland, it seems that it is as natural to drive on snow for Finns as it is for us to drive on tarmac! I think the drivers here must have a sensitivity to snow that we never develop in England.

Anyway, I have not spent much time in the office today as I decided I should go out and explore the city in the snow. I found the Finnish Orthodox Church which is very pretty. See some more photos.

November 06, 2007

Settling in to Finland

It was an early start this morning as I was picked up at 8.15am to be taken to the university. (Not before I had stoked up on my English tea!) By 9am I had an office – all to myself – with my name on the door, a computer, a new email address, and my own coffee mug. After eating a tasty Paella in the canteen for lunch, Ilkka took me into town to get a bank account. So by early afternoon I was set up and ready to work – perhaps a little too efficient these Finns!

By half four most people seemed to have gone home, so I printed off a map and set out to find mine. It turned out to be less than 10 minutes walk from the office and not much of an adventure, so I grabbed my woolly hat and left for the town, which I found in another 10 minutes. It might have been quicker if I had walked at the pace of a Finn. I thought I walked quickly, but here I look slow and tentative compared to the care-free locals gliding over the frost covered paths.

I managed to pick up some vegetables in town, and I made an important discovery: Mama (Thai soup noodles). I was quite excited by this, as I am sure any Thai would have been in my circumstances. I was so excited that I forgot to weigh and price all my loose vegetables – much to the annoyance of the checkout lady who ended up doing it herself rather than attempting to explain my mistake. Anyway, on returning to my flat, I made good use of my well-equipped kitchen to make my Mama (with vegetables!) and relax in front of the television. Did I mention that my flat has everything that I could possibly need? Most importantly, it has its own sauna! In fact, as I drink a cup of tea writing this diary entry, my sauna is warming up.

[some time later…]

I can report that the sauna is excellent. Well you have to try these things out, indulge in Finnish culture and all that sort of thing. But now I am back to my heritage, having put on my Thai gang geng lay and picking up my book on the history of the British Empire, I am ready for bed.

See some pictures of my room.

November 05, 2007

Arriving in Joensuu

Exactly seven days ago I was frantically preparing my thesis for printing, eventually finishing it at 3.30am and going to bed soon after, although I was unable to sleep. I remember sitting up meditating at 4am, my mind racing from the past week’s work to the coming week’s preparation for Finland. That week actually turned out to be at least as hectic as when finishing my thesis, because I spent the time rushing between Norfolk and Warwick three times, visiting friends and family, attending a workshop and packing my thermal underwear. Eventually, yesterday, I left for Finland, arriving in Tampere late last night. Coming in to land, an announcement was made over the radio: “This is your captain speaking. We will shortly be arriving in Tampere, ahead of schedule. The local time is 8.50pm. The outside air temperature is minus one degrees, and the conditions look… urm… snowy!” Not only was RyanAir on time (Vic: you should come to Finland instead of Newquay!), but I was welcomed by snow. Even the Finns on the plane – of which there were a majority – were excited and surprised by this announcement, as was I.

I soon found my way to the hotel, moving quickly through the streets to keep warm. I went for a short walk around the town but I was tired and returned to bed. It must have been my first good sleep for weeks – a good nine hours – and I needed it. By the time I dragged myself up and out of the hotel, it was almost time to catch the train to Joensuu, a journey that would take 5 hours and the remainder of the day’s daylight hours. I must have still been feeling a little weary as I decided to grab some breakfast at an internationally-known fast-food restaurant (I am too embarrassed to mention its name). When I got on the train I was relieved that I was on my way to my final destination, and so I slept again. I think I must have been abusing my body quite badly during the last couple of weeks for it to want to sleep that much. As I got closer to Joensuu and became more conscious, although disappointed at the lack of snow in the east, I was feeling more relaxed than I have been for weeks. Arriving at Joensuu I was met by Ilkka and Sari who kindly took me to my place to drop my bags and then, more importantly, to eat!

We dined at a small pizzeria next to the university. My pizza had so many vegetables that I think I have had enough vitamins to make up for the junk food earlier. Next stop was the supermarket where I quickly found some essentials: milk and Twinings English Breakfast tea. Ilkka and Sari found this most amusing. I do hope this tea is the real thing – I cannot stand that weak excuse for tea made for the European palette. We may not have many culinary delights back in Blighty, but we sure know how to make a good brew. After shopping we visited Erkki’s house where I met, and was welcomed into, his family. I was shown around the house, given more food, and given a room to stay in whenever I wish. It was a real warm welcome and made me feel that I definitely did the right thing coming here. Returning to my flat later in the evening I was really looking forward to all the plans we have made for the next few weeks. I just hope there is some snow! Actually, I cannot wait to get to work tomorrow morning – after my cup of English tea!

November 21, 2005

Last day in Finland

You might think that it is quite dull and lonely if you are in a foreign city on your own with nothing to do. But not if you have genes that I have…

I woke up after 9am, showered, and prepared myself for the cold. My stomach was still nicely satisfied from the evening meal, so I thought I would get some brunch while I was out. I had circled all the places on my map that I thought would be worth visiting, such that I could do a walking tour of the city, and then I set off. I walked around the harbour, visited the first of many churches, then down to the president's palace, where I watched the changing of the guard — these guys must be super patient standing around in the freezing weather!

Next I walked up to the Senate Square, one of the main attractions in the city, with the cathedral as the centre piece of the square. Not particularly big for the capital city's most important religious building (I think it is probably smaller than Ely cathedral), but quite an impressive structure which can been seen from all over the city. All the buildings in this area are a similar style and it is very pretty — I especially like the cobble/brick streets, and the trams! In true Japanese tourist style I spent a bit of time taking random photos, quite a few with trams in the background. I wish we had more trams in England.

Outside the cathedral at Senate Square.

(Do not let the blue sky give you any misconceptions about the air temperature!)

While I was here I got talking to a Mexican guy who became my travel buddy for the day. He was quite a character, and had been travelling around Europe, with quite a few stories to tell — mainly involving the opposite sex. We set off to see some sites together and walked past a couple of art galleries which were closed, and then on to the national musuem. That was also closed, at which point we started to see a trend: they close on Mondays. Still we set off on a long walk to see some other sights, including the Sibelius Monument.

Standing under the Sibelius monument.

We also went to another church (as they were open!) and visited more of the old part of town. After several hours of walking around we were tired, and, more importantly, freezing! So we headed to the shopping area and found ourselves a nice coffee shop where we could watch the world go by (or should I say: watch the girls go by).

I headed back to my hostel late in the afternoon and spent a bit of time defrosting in preparation for my first meal of the day. A Mexican restaurant had been recommended to me, and so I headed off into the city again to find it. However, on the way I happened to pass a Thai restaurant. The one I had past the previous night didn't look all that Thai, but this one looked quite good and I spied a Thai-looking woman from the window. Before I knew it, my legs had automatically carried me into the restaurant! It was a quiet little place, with three friendly Isahn women running it. I immediately got chatting to them and they were quite interested to hear what a Thai-speaking English guy was doing in Helsinki. I could even hear them nin-tah-ing about me in the kitchen! It was a great meal, and I spent a couple of hours there chatting over a cup of coffee afterwards. As I left I wondered how I always seem to meet Thai people no matter where I go in the world.

Now I am back at the hostel preparing to leave tomorrow morning. I have heard it is not much warmer in England, and given that they don't have saunas, I am not in a rush to get back. I really can't understand why we don't have saunas in England — we definitely need them in winter! Also, the fact that I have now found some great food in Finland proves that I could probably live here after all. Snow and saunas are a great combination — I will be back again!

More Helsinki photos

November 20, 2005

No more bread and cheese

I arrived in Helsinki, immediately jumped on a tram and easily found the hostel that I had booked. The most important thing next was to eat. I surveyed the plentiful literature on Helsinki that had kindly been left in my room, and I decided that my body could no longer bare pure carbohydrates for sustainance. I identified a number of Chinese/Thai/Asian restaurants in a particular area of town and I set off in that direction. This was a great idea, as I quickly worked where the main areas of the city are, and also how the public transport works. They are almost too organised these Finns. Once I located my target street, I quickly assessed the options and picked the cheapest, most basic looking chinese restaurant. They had a great vegetarian choice (for Finland) and my szechuan tofu and fried rice was ready in no time at all. It was delicious. I think I might have already eaten the last bread and cheese for this trip.

Koli conference ends

Writing about web page

More snow had fallen overnight and I was reluctant to leave the cosy Hotel Koli with its fine views and relaxing saunas. As always, time goes too quickly.

Yesterday was a busy one with presentations the whole day, except for a little break in the afternoon. This was an opportunity to explore the area of the national park. I set off suitably unprepared, but quickly found a route following a path through the trees. It was a long walk in the ice and snow, more great views which culminated in a climb up to the summit once again. After the afternoon presentations it was time for our third portion of oil and carbohydrate. Then came the best part of the day: sauna time. We spent several hours in the sauna, taking regular breaks in the jacuzzi and occasionally rolling around in the snow outside. The Finns call this making 'snow angels'.

This morning saw the closing presentation of the conference, we packed our bags and caught the bus back to Joensuu. The drive was quite entertaining — it seems that snow doesn't mean that you have to slow down! Once in Joensuu, I caught the first train to Helsinki. Now I have a day to explore this city!

November 18, 2005

Koli conference begins

After 18 hours of travelling, I was pleased to arrive in Koli up in the northern Karelia region of Finland, especially as there was a thin layer of snow on the ground. The temperature was well below freezing and my body was just happy to have a shower and go to bed. I was very hungry as the only food I had eaten all day had been on the flight: KLM food, what more can I say? My housemates had advised me to bring instant noodles, but I hadn't, and even if I had there was no kettle in the room — some of you know what I mean!

I woke up early, very hungry, and I was one of the first up for breakfast. I had half expected (and half hoped) that we might have had some special hot continental breakfast. As I think Karl Popper would agree, learning only occurs when something unexpected happens. I have learnt that you should never underestimate the Finnish need for bread and cheese at any time of day. However, I did manage to brew myself a half decent cup of tea — with milk! I also discovered some warm porridge which, when taken with tea, was enough to start my day. I ate breakfast overlooking the trees and lakes surrounding Koli. This is one of the highest places in this region and, on a clear day, you can see trees all the way to the horizon. When I went back to my room and opened my curtains, I discovered that I had a lovely view too.

The view from my hotel window first thing on Friday morning.

The morning session of the conference passed quickly with some excellent talks, and I was ready once again when lunchtime arrived. I am not really sure what it was that I ate, but it involved mash potato and salad. After my carbohydrate fix, I set off in the cold to walk up to the summit of Koli, just a short walk from the hotel. It was particularly pleasant even with the small amount of snow that was covering the trees. My hands were a bit cold as I didn't bring any gloves, so when I got back to the hotel I had to buy a pair, also at great expense.

As I walk through the trees towards the summit of Koli.

The afternoon session was long, and unfortunately my presentation was the last of the day, by which time everyone was getting quite sleepy. I think a few people were conscious for a few moments of the talk. Anyway, after that it was dinner, which was another feast of carbohydrates for us vegetarians. My main course consisted of potatoes, swede and carrots, with a tiny amount of sauce that appeared to be the leftovers from the mushroom soup we had for starters. Warwick people: I am dreaming about eating rice with you on Tuesday already!

The famous Finnish landscape from the top of Koli.

After the meal though, we went to do what Finnish people do best: saunas. I discovered that there are as many saunas in Finland as there are women. I spent an hour moving between the hot sauna and the cool jacuzzi — it was great. Most people were drinking beer, but I was happy just to enjoy this chance to relax. After my body was completely shrivelled I retired to my room for the night.

Finland: take two

It was another early start, the same as last time, to begin the journey to Finland. My flight from Birmingham at 6pm, I had to be up before dawn, and the coldest day of the year was there to greet me. How pleasant the views were this time taking-off as the sun was rising on the horizon — the lights of London twinkling as those vacant expression-less city workers haed for the tube.

Sleep reigned over the majority of the journey as little can be recalled of the transfer in Schipol International Airport, except that the flight to Helsinki was delayed. Mental note: I must visit Amsterdam sometime; this is my third passing through Amsterdam without stepping out the airport. Each time I have thought that the Dutch are at least as disorganised as me — it must be the weed.

On arriving in Helsinki I noticed a distinct change in scenery. Two months ago it had been all green with trees but now the leaves are gone on all but the toughest Christmas trees. Winter is setting in. Just looking outside gave me the chills. Although there is no snow, there is an icy look about the trees, the roads, the lakes, and even the people. Once I stepped outside I knew why: one o'clock in the afternoon and the temperature is below freezing. Now where is my hat?

I headed off to the train station, bought my ticket, and then began wandering around as I had done two months ago. I didn't find an adaptor for my laptop (as I forgot to bring one), but I passed the same coffee shop and found the same cute girl working there as last time. I went in and ordered an extortionately-priced, miniscule-sized cappuccino. She didn't remember me. I decided she wasn't that cute after all.

The train to Joensuu departed just before 4pm, by which time it was getting dark. I had made sure I left the coffee shop at the last possible moment to minimise the time spent in the cold. I played it just right, the train arrived minutes after I found the platform. Once again I was on the top deck of a double decker train. It was fairly full, and quite warm which was by far the most important feature. As I sat contemplating the five hour journey ahead, I wondered if the sauna would be open when I finally arrived at the hotel.

After some period of time, I don't know how long as I have learnt to ignore time on long journeys, I gazed out of the window to find a white covering on the ground. It was a pleasant surprise, but unfortunately short-lived, for the next stop had no sign of snow. I hoped that they had some snow in Koli — the location of the conference and one of Finland's most famous national parks. It would be at least another hour on a bus after I arrived at Joensuu. I hoped that the sauna was still open!

To keep me entertained, and warm — the temperature was getting noticeably less comfortable — I took a walk down to the food cart. Not much option, so I ordered a coffee. I didn't have the patience to try my hand at the liquid substance they call 'tea' here. It doesn't have the same qualities as the mighty drink by the same name that powers the British empire. However, warm and refreshed, I returned to my seat and gazed out into the darkness where an expanse of trees lay under the (near) full moon of loykratong.

September 15, 2005

Winter has arrived

Those moments I enjoyed outside a cafe on Sunday in the warm sunshine seem a distant memory. The last couple of days the weather has been slowly deteriorating and I sit here in a nice warm office contemplating the wind, rain and falling temperature outside. My work is nearly done here, and in a couple of hours I will be heading to the train station to go to Helsinki, and then catching a plane back to England in the early hours of tomorrow morning. It has been a very brief trip, just enough to give me a taste of Finland, and it has been very enjoyable. I am already planning a longer trip for next year, and you can guarantee that the first place I will be heading will be the sauna and the lake!

I will be back in England tomorrow morning, and probably the first thing I will be doing is having a real cup of tea — with milk!

Quote of the day Go to 'Today's Quote'

Paul Tournier
"Sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can."


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