Archive | September, 2012

Another Beautiful Evening

15 Sep

Image

It rained all day today, then around 4pm the sky cleared and it turned into a beautiful afternoon/evening. It’s been a quiet day today, I ventured to the gym and the store and spent the rest of the day in bed reading for my Finnish Literature class.

Things to note from today:

The Linnanmaa gym is very small, with only two exercise bikes and one rowing machine for cardio, the rest is weights.

Prisma is super busy on a Saturday! It’s made even harder to navigate by these weird little cars that are attached to the front of trolleys for kids to sit it. Cute, but a bit of a hazard at times.

Nothing else to report I’m afraid, maybe tomorrow will be more productive.

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Day Fifteen in Finland: Student Living

15 Sep

Things I love about my apartment block: the sauna upstairs. Things I hate: being halfway up the stairs and getting plunged into darkness.

The lights are timed and once you hit the switch they only stay on for a couple of minutes.Often there is someone close to the light switch who flicks it back on, but other times I have to carefully make my way to the top, keeping the light of the switch in view.

Aside from that, there are very few negative comments that I have about the place!

The Yliopistokatu apartments are right across from the university and are surrounded by trees and wide cycle paths. My apartment was refurbished 2002 – 2003 and it looks relatively nice on the outside and inside – clean floors, a working lift and a laundry room on the ground floor. The doorbells are a little odd, they are like the bells you find on reception desks that you ring to get someone’s attention. Often I can’t tell if it’s my bell that’s being rung or next door’s.

Inside the kitchen in very small, partially because I share with only one other person and partially because the lunches are so cheap on campus that everyone expects you to eat your main meal there. It’s roughly 2 euros 70 for a main meal, as much salad as you like, three slices of bread and a glass of milk/water/juice. The food’s not bad either. Very hearty and very warming, perfect for a cold day!

Above the sink we have a handy drying cupboard, which is like a washing up rack but it’s tucked away neatly so that the drying dishes don’t take up any extra space. The real downside is the lack of cupboard space, and I have to keep my food on a shelf in my wardrobe, but there’s a really big fridge-freezer which kind of makes up for that.

My bedroom is very large, much bigger than my own at home, and painted white, with a large window – presumably to combat the dark, cold, depressing winter days. The view is of trees and the local kindergarten. In the daytime I can hear the children laughing and playing, all wrapped up in their winter snow suits already.

Right around the corner there are three (yes three!) supermarkets, a pizza place, a post office and a craft/stationary homeware shop. I believe there is also a pharmacist. They speak English in the post office, so once you’re here you can go and ask for a form to register your address (apparently this is important if you want mail, but I’m not sure how true it is because I’ve received two letters already) and send some souvenirs home. I bought my nephew a ‘I heart Suomi’ bodysuit and a Moomin book and my sister a Moomin tin from the local supermarket.

About a fifteen minute walk away there are is also a Prisma, a hypermarket with everything from tvs to skis, another food place, a bank and a gas station.

Perfect location!

Update: I totally forgot to mention another perk of the place: you can do your laundry AND drying for free! All you need to buy is the detergent/fabric softener/whatever you choose to do your laundry with. No more waiting around for machines  either: you simply log onto to OmaPSOAS and book your washing machine and dryer. Brilliant!

Information for Exchange Students

13 Sep

There are a few things that I’ve learnt in my barely two weeks spent here that may come in handy for future exchange students, or at least set some anxious minds at rest.

First, don’t worry about maps. You’ll have two waiting for you – one of the city centre, one of the campus. When you sign your lease you’ll get another city map,  which you can use to get to the tourist information where you can pick up as many as you like =)

If you plan on walking rather than taking the bus don’t, unless you love walking so much that you don’t mind monotonous, straight, long roads and you have a lot of extra time to kill. It’s so spread out here that you’ll thank yourself when you get a bike. Make it a cheap one too, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.

Don’t worry about what you’ll do about getting a phone or sim card; one of those will be waiting for you on your desk, with some top up time on it already. You might need to unlock your phone first though, as I did with mine.

If you’re worried about getting the bus to the airport, this is what you need to say:

‘yliopistolle, kittos’

Which means ‘to the university please’. If you’re unsure of pronunciation, click here http://translate.google.com/#fi/en/yliopistolle%2C%20kiitos

To get the bus to the city centre say ‘keskustaan, kiitos’. ‘Keskuta’ means city centre, and if you’re cycling/walking there you’ll need to follow these signs.

The lightest milk is the lowest fat, the darker it gets the more fat there is.

Attend Vulcanalia (the first and biggest party of the year) by all means, but don’t rely on the Waterbus to get you home (or there, unless you’re early and get the first couple!) Stay on it if you want to have a good time, and make sure you have a way to get home. You can’t take alcohol into the venue so stay outside with everyone else and drink. We went inside and it was so quite, plus drinks were pricey – 4 euros for a half pint of cider!

Bring waterproof shoes and a coat, you’ll need them both almost right away, or be prepared to go shopping for some soon.

I’ll make a static page for these tips and keep updating as I go =)

The Sauna

12 Sep

I have found my new favourite thing. The sauna.

As a Brit, and a shy one at that, the thought of sitting in a very warm box with naked people is a very uncomfortable one. So uncomfortable to me that I never even considered being naked myself; it’s swimsuit sauna-ing all the way for me.

But it’s something that I can’t not do while I’m here, so when my house-mate invited me to join her I said ‘sure, count me in!’ and donned my costume and flip flops.

The sauna is so popular here that you can find one almost everywhere. Our university even has one on site – lunch time sauna perhaps? I’m lucky enough that mine is only five floors up, so I can wander up in flip flops and jogging bottoms.

I was expecting a very small, very crowded sauna, but instead we walked into a large, clean changing area with a beautiful view of the university and city. The sun was just setting and the multicoloured sky was unhampered by tall buildings. On the horizon I could see wind turbines turning slowly in the evening wind. And no one else was around.

My house mate, without a single hesitation, got undressed and sauntered into the sauna, getting comfortable on the bench. She didn’t seem bothered at all about her nakedness! I, on the other hand, was much more hesitant and kept my costume on at all times. It’s also very hard to hold conversation when you’re not quite sure where to look.

After I relaxed I found the experience very calming; it was peaceful and through the glass door I could look at the soft light coming in through the window. In between sessions you can shower and sit on one of the many benches, or just admire the view. And once you’re done, just take the elevator back to your floor. I feel both relaxed and invigorated, which I didn’t think possible. A perfect way to end my day…

Day Twelve in Finland: The City and the Weather

12 Sep

Today I experienced my first pulla. It was delicious and a great reward for cycling back from town in the pouring rain. We found a lovely little shop at the back of the market hall in town that sold them. From outside the building doesn’t look anything particularly special, but inside it’s warm and welcoming. There are cosy tables for coffee as you walk through the door, followed by stall after stall of wonderful looking food. So much meat and cheese and fish, there was even a tank with what looked like very small lobsters swimming around at the bottom. Next to this was a shop/stall with bread, buns and cake. The pulla are huge (the rumours are true!) and we’d hoped to sit at the water’s edge to eat them, with the smell and noise of the market behind us and the peace of the open water in front.

It was not to be; it had started raining whilst we were inside and instead we were forced to make a hasty retreat back home.

We had had a chance to visit the city again though, and gotten a little lost along the way – largely due to my incompetence with map reading and orientation. My first impression of the city had been one of surprise and awe. It’s very beautiful (to my mind anyway), with very unusual looking buildings and very wide, uncrowded pavements. I expected, perhaps foolishly, a busy, crowded city with skyscrapers and tons of traffic. It’s hardly busy at all and there is traffic, but nothing like a city like London’s, for instance.

The city hall is really impressive (and really clean! It’s been kept very well), fronted by some lovely flowers and close to the cathedral, another incredible, awe inspiring building. At the back of the city hall is a row of figure, each of which represents those who have contributed to the creation of Oulu city.

We also located the Tourist Information, a giant building just near the city hall (you can see the city hall from inside it) and plundered it’s shelves of information. There’s a great selection of leaflets in English, Finnish and a variety of other languages and the staff are very friendly. They also speak very good English and I even felt brave enough to ask for a few directions.

A note on the weather here at the moment; when I asked my kummi what to bring with me she said:

‘I think the weather here in September is not very different from UK.
>> You’ll need some jeans, long sleeved shirts or sweaters and a light
>> jacket. It’ll rain some days so you should bring your umbrella! ;)’

That’s not entirely true.

I think it’s a little colder than Britain at this time of year, some mornings it has felt like a British November or December and my hands and feet have suffered. I also have very few clothes with me, thinking that just a few jumpers would suffice. I would recommend a mix of jumpers and long-sleeved shirts, to layer one under the other. Whilst the main halls of the university are as warm as anything, the classes can be quiet cold, especially when you’re sat down for three hours straight.

It’s much better to have a bike here in Oulu (I resisted for about a week and got so frustrated with getting everywhere slowly that I’ve borrowed one until I can find something better), but with a bike comes the need for something waterproof. Unless you want to try cycling with an umbrella. My coat is still wet from the ride back and I need it to be dry for tomorrow, otherwise I’ll be cold. Some super thick socks wouldn’t go amiss either, as well as some padded, sturdy gloves (not the thin, stretchy ones in the UK which gain holes in the fingers after a certain length of time, they’re next to useless here).

A few more pictures of the city (and the market square policeman) before I head off to try my first Finnish sauna!

Day Ten in Finland – Shopping

10 Sep

I’ve been here just over a week, but during the last three days the reality of being in Finland is starting to fully sink in. Whilst cycling through the Finnish countryside I realised that this is it, this is what I’ve been looking forward to for so long. For six months I proudly announced to everyone that I was moving to Finland, a strange new place full of weird and wonderful habits and activities. ‘Better get used to the cold’ people would say. ‘Better get used to pickled food’. I shrugged most comments off with ‘It will be fine.’ That is generally my life’s motto. I think I will add to it with something a new friend said to me the other day (quoted from  a movie):

‘In the end everything will be ok. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.’

The last two weeks before leaving were hard and the first few days were harder. I felt shell-shocked, sad and nervous a lot of the time. Excited, but with deep undertones of fear. Largely relating to being restricted because of language barriers, particularly when shopping.

Quotes from the first day’s journal entry:

‘Things that I have learnt today:

– not everyone in Finland speaks English.

-remember the essentials, for instance, the correct adaptors for vital electrical equipment such as mobile phones.

-Use the phrasebook in your pocket rather than forgetting about it and trying to use your hands to create a picture of a voltage adaptor.’

Really it is impossible to explain a voltage adaptor without the correct phrase. For future reference it is ‘adapterin’ and the Stockman department store sells them for 7 euros 95. They also speak English there, and their badges have these neat little flags on them to represent the languages they speak. So if in doubt, head to Stockman. It’s expensive, rather like a John Lewis, but I see it as a beacon of safety and help if I’m ever really desperate and stuck. They also have a great designer kitchenware section.

But if you find yourself without the essentials, here is an important piece of information – you will be able to find what you need in Finland! Whether it’s an adaptor, a phone charger or anything else, it’s highly likely that they have it. Also, not all the food is pickled. They have plenty of stuff to make everything that I would eat at home. Sometimes a little more pricey, but it’s there. The main differences I’ve found so far are in meat and cheese (a whole aisle dedicated to plastic looking sausages!)

As for the language difficulty, it’s easy to get by. This is my first experience of a non – English speaking country so it’s all new for me but generally younger store assistants speak English, the assistants at the post office do and you’re likely to find someone in the city centre that does.

A few observations about shopping in Finnish supermarkets:

They generally pack their food after they have paid for it.  The conveyor belt takes it right to the end of the till point and once you have paid you can go and pack. I didn’t get told not to when I did it differently, but it’s nice to not stick out so much now.

When you buy fruit and veg don’t just put it in a plastic bag and expect to have it weighed at the till. Check for a number on the description label, place the fruit on the scales and press the number. A barcode will be spat out which you stick to the bag and voila, apples for eating.

Another quirk of the local supermarket near us (and is supposedly quite common) is that they have lockers in the foyer for your other shopping bags/items to be stored in whilst you shop. This has had the effect of making me a little paranoid that everyone in the store thinks I’m stealing, but I’m sure that will wear off. They also have cute little cages/huts for dogs, so they don’t have to stay out in the cold!

One thing that I do to make shopping easier is trying to find the Finnish word for what I’m buying. Onions – sipuli. Most of the time I can tell by sight what it is, onions are pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s good to know. It helped knowing the names of spices and today I came across bread with the word ‘porkkana’ on it, aka ‘carrot’. I’m sure the bread is great, but I’m looking for something to put my peanut butter on and I don’t think carrot bread will do the trick.

It’s taken ten days but I’m starting to lose my nervousness when shopping. I was even brave enough today to say ‘Anteeksi, en puhun suomea’ when the assistant posed a question, rather than blushing and looking confused whilst apologising. In English.

Hailuoto Island

9 Sep

This is what The Rough Guide to Finland says about the Hailuoto Island:

‘Oulu’s best beaches are to be found on pristine Hailuoto…a perfect way to get here is to hire a bike in Oulu from Pyörä-Suvala…and then cycle out to the ferry in Oulunsalo, a distance of around 27km. The ferry runs all day at roughly hourly intervals and take half an hour to make the crossing.’

Sounds relatively easy right? Sounds like a nice easy jaunt, as though it’s not too far. But in fact, if you Google map it, it’s actually quite a distance. And the ferry leaves from Riutunkari, a part of Oulunsalo and not the city centre, which is an extra 12km (ish) from the city centre.

I did not know this when I set out in the morning and actually thought it was relatively close to the Oulu city centre (mistake) and thus did not pack accordingly. It was worth the ten hour round trip, believe me, but I would advise taking the proper provisions. There are places to stop for food on the way, but not many, and after passing Oulunsalo city centre there’s very little until you reach the ferry. If you’re going in September or later you will need warm gloves and socks at the very least because mornings are cold and it doesn’t get much better by lunch.

That all said, cycling to Hailuoto was a great way to see the Finnish countryside and I made two new friends whilst doing it. We arranged the trip via the exchange group on Facebook and had a brilliant day, even though we had only just met.

I began at 9am from the Linnanmaa campus and met the other two girls at Tirolintie, another cluster of student apartments. We cycled along the edge of the city until we made the highway. The route to Oulunsalo is signposted well (as most routes are) and after about an hour we reached the city centre – although we didn’t realise it was such until we asked an old Finnish man for directions. Maybe it was so quiet because it was a Saturday morning, but it was a very humble city centre.

From there we made our way out onto the highway again. The cycling here in Finland is great because the network of bike lanes is so extensive. Instead of cycling on the highway you can cycle alongside it on very wide, very smooth paths. I expected a lot more potholes in a place with such harsh winters, but I was surprised to find that it was easy going the majority of the way.

We passed many open fields and felt surrounded by the wild. Often there were abandoned sheds in them and very little livestock. We passed through a  few small ‘villages’; groups of about ten or twenty houses, often very beautiful and elaborate and usually with a school set in the middle. All of them were quiet, and we passed very few people. Occasionally a moped or mini-motorcycle would come humming along the cyclepath (which seems to be the norm here), surprised and sometimes baffled to see us foreign cyclists. You must watch out for these because I don’t think that they expect company and occasionally we had to move quickly to get out of the way.

We passed only one other group of cyclists on the way, who looked like they were going a long distance, and they looked much better prepared! Panniers, waterproofs and everything. It made us look like rookies!

We finally ran out of a cycle path after this and passed a very small, very tired looking village. Despite this, they still had a football pitch and a slide in a makeshift playground. The road here was the worst, especially for my racing-style bike, as it suffered from a lot of pot-holes and rough stones. I had to concentrate hard not to get bumped off my bike by a stray stone or particularly deep hole.

After this we were forced to cycle on the open road. Normally I hate this, but it was fine; there weren’t enough cars for it to be a problem and they had plenty of space to go around us. The worst thing was that they were probably all laughing at us from their warm, fast vehicles. It was quite a monotonous ride for a while, with our view being only the single, straight road and trees on either side.

When we did reach the coast we realised that our effort had been worth it. It was stunning. The sky and the sea were so blue and you could hardly tell where one ended and the other began. It was so peaceful that none of the wind turbines were turning; everything was still and calm. A wave of excitement washed over our group, giving us all a burst of energy after the long ride.

Before you get on the ferry you can get snacks at a small hut and use the toilet (which is free and pretty clean, much better than the one on the other side). There are also maps, brochures and postcards for sale, and a giant map showing you the island. We had lunch on a bench whilst we waited for the ferry and enjoyed the sunshine. By this point I hadn’t been able to feel my toes for about an hour and tried to massage some life back into them and soak up the weak sun that was shining down on us. It was nearing 1.30pm so I bought some chocolate for energy to eat alongside my peanut butter sandwich, and was glad for the extra sugar.

The ferry itself was larger than I expected, although this would make sense as it seems to be quite a popular summer destination for the Finns. One of my riding companions also told me that many people from Oulu choose to buy retirement homes on the island, which doesn’t surprise me. It’s a truly beautiful place. In winter the ferry doesn’t operate; instead you can drive across the ice!

     

We were the only cyclists crossing, and once we reached the other side we realised why. Once again a long, wide road stretched out in front of us. Sadly, Hailuoto’s action all seems to take place on the other side of the island. That’s about 20km of riding before you find anything worthwhile. It was beautiful, but it was dull. Next time it would make much more sense to grab a bus or hitch a ride to the other side and back. At the time, however, we didn’t realise this. We cycled for nearly an hour and stop at the place labelled ‘potti’ on the map.  We had a short break as we admired our surroundings. Pictures can’t capture the atmosphere and the colours of the water and the sky. In the distance we could see livestock (possibly cows, but they were so far away) grazing and I thought to myself ‘such lucky animals!’ I also thought how good the meat would be from them, roaming around, completely carefree in their beautiful environment.

       

After this we headed back, content that we had at least seen something of the island. We all said how much we would like to go back in the summer and camp. It felt like we had only really scratched the surface of the experience of Hailuoto and I would have loved to see more. There is only a small paragraph on it in The Rough Guide to Finland and I think it deserves more, if the outdoors if your kind of thing.

It was a long journey home and we stopped many times to rest our legs. Although it was easy cycling it was getting to 5.30pm and it had been a long day. The sunny afternoon turned into a classic autumnal evening, with the sun shining gold on the fields. When we finally made it back to Oulu we were nearly exhausted, but the view over the river lifted our spirits enough to get us home (just).

All in all it took 10.5 hours and we cycled roughly 90km/55miles. Essentially, from Bournemouth to London. If I had known that when I started I wouldn’t have gone, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Which is why I’m glad I didn’t know.

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