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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!

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

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
"The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions."


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