All 7 entries tagged Joensuu

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April 16, 2008

The longest tug of war ever?

This morning was the opening ceremony of Scifest 2008 where we successfully launched a new style of cross-continent tug of war. One team in Joensuu, led by the mayor of the city, and another team in Grahamstown, South Africa, took part in what is probably the longest ever tug of war, thanks to a combination of modern technology, technical expertise and luck. It looked like Finland was going to lose (they were pulling up hill) but then a large group of children came to the rescue right at the last minute to pull South Africa over (as well as overwhelm the solid construction at the end of the rope!).

If you click on the following link and watch the Finnish 10 o’clock news then after about 16 mins (near the end of the programme and after the weather) you will see some clips of our team (in Finnish of course!):

MTV ten o’clock news

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!

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 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!

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Edgar Allan Poe
"I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty."


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