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My Favourite Things To Do In Oulu

5 Feb

The prospect of coming to Finland can be daunting; the winter is long, dark and cold. The language is different and Oulu is particularly far away from the hub of culture that is the capital city. This is a glimpse of my life in Oulu and what I get up to on a regular basis – proof that Oulu is far from boring, or lonely! Here are my favourite things to do in this wonderful city:

 

Lunch on campus

Lunch is a real social event here, and it’s a great way to make friends with classmates. If you spend enough time in the main restaurant, Aula, you’ll see a whole bunch of familiar faces. At only 2.70€ for a student lunch it’s a great way to save money and avoid cooking. My favourite day is Thursday, otherwise known as Pizza Day! Tuna pizza is the best and I would highly recommend it! Yum.

 

next to Julinia ravintola

 

 

Going to the movies

Finnkino is a great cinema; it’s spacious, comfortable and shows a wide variety of movies. Since I’ve been here I’ve attended two film festivals, ‘Nordisk Panorama’ and the ‘Children’s Film Festival’, which are great for showing less mainstream movies and promoting independent film-makers. If a film festival is on while you’re in town don’t miss the chance to catch a couple of movies or shorts. It can be a little pricey to see a movie, but if you go frequently you can buy a roll of tickets and exchange them on the day for actual tickets that only cost 8.50. Also, look out for half-price deals!

 

Finkino

 

Take a bike ride

There’s an extensive bike path network throughout the city and it’s much easier to cycle than walk – the distances between places can be quite long! Cycling is quicker, a good form of exercise and a great way to see Finland. In winter paths are kept clear and as long as you’re careful there’s no reason why you can’t keep using your bike. Check out my article on cycling in Finland and take a look at this website for some routes to get you started.

 

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Go for pancakes at the ‘Pannukakkutalo’

The pancake house in Oulu is popular with all ages, nationalities and professions and it’s easy to see why once you sink into your first pancake. There’s a range of savoury and sweet pancakes, as well an a creative kids’ section. My favourite to date is reindeer and smoked cheese, followed by a sweet chocolate and fruit ‘dessert pancake’. Students with a valid student card (from any country) get a free cup of tea with orders over a certain price. Their website features a menu in English to get your taste buds watering.

 

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Visit the art gallery

A small but worthwhile gallery, admission is only 2€ for students and free on Fridays. With a ticket to the art gallery you can also visit the ‘Northern Ostrobothnian’ museum on the same day, bargain! Seated just outside Ainola Park you can soak up some fresh air, get some culture and finish the day with an inventive cake in their sublime cafe (when I was there I sampled  mint chocolate and black pepper cake!) Check out their current exhibitions and find more information here.

 

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Watch a hockey game at Oulu Energia Areena

There’s nothing like the excitement that fills the air at the start of a hockey game – especially if it’s your first one. Fans get together to cheer and boo and, as a foreigner, you’ll be looking on in bewilderment as hockey players flick back and forth across the rink, all chasing a tiny piece of plastic. It is  incredible to watch, and the half-time junk food is delicious. Wrap up warm and read up on the rules before you go!

 

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Spend some time in Stockmann Department Store

By far my favourite store and probably the biggest in Oulu, Stockmann has everything! There are two cafes, a range of make-up counters, a deliciously well-stocked food store and a super fun kids’ toy section! At Christmas its range of decorations are not to be missed, and keep an eye out for its interesting design pieces, like these funky designer cows!

 

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Besides this there are plenty of other things to do – there are many bars and cafes, a bowling alley, events run by student groups on campus and a theatre to keep you entertained. Hopefully this has given you a good insight and a little inspiration!

 

Suomenlinna Fortress

25 Nov

If I could choose an island to live on, this would rank high in my list of destinations. On a cold November morning we stepped off the boat and onto dry, crunchy leaves; proof that somewhere in Finland autumn still lingered on. The cold, wild wind sapped the moisture from our skin, despite the bright autumnal sun. The quite was permeated only by a tour group of Russians and the occasional tractor driving by.The island felts a million miles away from anything, but with the comfort of being only a twenty minute boat journey away from the capital.

Our arrival on the island

The boat costs only 5€ for a two way journey, and it’s free to enter the island. There’s a museum in the tourist information that costs 6€, but our little group was happy enough to take the opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise. Not much was open in winter anyway – for this reason I would suggest that if you plan to have lunch there you should take your own food, because the only restaurant was quite expensive. There is a cafe and convenience store, but we didn’t visit either so I couldn’t comment on the prices – my guess is that they’d be quite high though.

View from the ferry

A pleasantly autumnal day greeted us

Construction of the island began in 1748 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. The ferry to reach it is located just by the kauppatori (market square), not far from the city centre, and a big sign makes it easy to find. Once you land you’ll pass through a small tunnel and find a few little shops and a church on the other side. Further on there’s the tourist information and the museum, followed by more little shops and restaurants – all shut because of the season though.

So much blue, no wonder there is blue on the Finnish flag

Church bell

A grand memorial in the square

It’s a pleasant walk through the small village, passing a memorial stone, some old farm machinery and many, many cannons. I read that up to a thousand cannons can fit on the island at once – not bad for a small island.

Two of the many cannons

At the water’s edge it was beautiful – but freezing!

If you go in November make sure to wrap up warm, gloves, hat and all, because it’s bitterly cold right next to the ocean. If the weather’s good make sure to take advantage of it, because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip on a rainy day; everything is outside and there’s little change to get away from the weather. It’s a very beautiful island, but we spent maybe only two hours there – you could spend more if it was the summer though. A lonely beer bottle sat on one wall, a relic from the summer parties no doubt.

There were many little doors that led into buildings built into the ground – I’m not sure what most were but the restaurants on the far side were built like this too

There’s very little sun here in Oulu this week and looking at these pictures is making me miss it even more. But hey ho, there’s always next week =) I’ll be in Lapland so I may not be updating regularly,but I’ll try. Hope you’ve had a good weekend!

 

Review: Kuningasidea

17 Nov

Kuningasidea are one of those electric bands where it doesn’t matter if you like the style of music, you’ll love them enough to be converted within minutes. Okay, so I don’t speak Finnish that well yet and I barely understood what I heard, but from the crowd’s reaction they were funny. Even without understanding the meaning of their words I found them to be incredibly likeable and talented. They transformed a dingy club filled with your average Friday-night regulars in teeny dresses and sky-high heels into a ska/punk/brass gig with a jumping, screaming and laughing audience.

Let me tell you how we ended up at the Apollo Live Club at 1am in a Friday night – a place where I least expected to be when I left the house at 6.30pm the previous night. We had just finished up at a Saami celebration concert (which I will cover in another post when I have a chance to get some extra facts about it) and we went to a bar for a drink. We sat outside and my Finnish friend kindly asked these guys if they could loan me a cigarette. We got chatting and it turned out that they were in a band and playing a gig that night. When we asked how much it was they replied with ‘Well, we can probably get you in for free’. Promptly our names were added to a list and voilà, we had plans for the night.

They were really friendly guys from Helsinki, two of a twelve part band who were just finishing up on a tour. They were just hanging out at a bar before the gig, like anybody else, enjoying a pint, a chat and a smoke outside. Their band name translates as ‘The King Idea’ in google, and it was a damn good idea to go and see them. They were wild and crazy and had the crowd jumping and clapping within minutes. I had so much fun that an hour passed before it felt like I had even blinked.

The singers were great and full of character, one running into the crowd and singing in people’s faces, wrapping the cord of the mic around his neck and clapping enthusiasticly to the beat. These guys had a lot of skill in the way that all twelve of them worked seamlessly together, but without being dull; each individual sound clicked into its own proper place. When they played you could tell that they really enjoyed what they were doing and for them it was all so much fun. Everything in the way that they sang and moved screamed this affirmation.

I was truly jealous – they seem to be living the life.

They’ve just released a debut album and if their live performance is anything to go by it’ll be worth buying. I plan to do so as soon as I’m awake in the morning. In the meantime you can here a couple of songs on Youtube: Ootsä messissä? feat. Paha-Nuutti and Prinsessa to start with.

They still have four more gigs to go so check them out on Facebook to see if you can get to any of them, it’ll be well worth it! Luckily I’m in Helsinki on the 8th December anyway so I will be heading to the gig on the 7th if all goes to plan.

Helsinki Cathedral

16 Nov

This was the first ‘attraction’ that I visited when I reached Helsinki. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky as I rocked up to the cathedral, ready to begin my sightseeing.

It’s an impressive building to come across, particularly so with it’s bright, white exterior contrasted against the brilliant blue of the sky. I was impressed the by size of it, and the wonderful condition that it’s in.

The Cathedral was completed in 1852 and sits in the Senate Square, the power base of Helsinki, which also holds the university building and the offices of the Prime Minister and cabinet of Finland.

 

It was built to resemble to architecture of St. Petersburg – I’ve never been, so I couldn’t comment, but it’s a beautiful building and an impressive feat for the time. How they managed to create such incredible architecture without modern tools never ceases to amaze me.

The place was filled with tourists but it wasn’t super busy, and when we got inside people were respectful of the request for silence. The interior was simple but stunning, and I spent a long time taking it all in whilst sat on one of the pews.

 

 

When going to Helsinki the cathedral is definitely worth a visit, but don’t worry about leaving too much time to do so – we were done in half an hour or so. It’s an impressive building though and, if you’re like me and enjoy churches, don’t leave it off your list!

 

Review: Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma

15 Nov

The first night I was in Helsinki I spent my time at Kiasma, the Contemporary Art Museum. It was open until 10pm on Friday so it seemed like a great alternative to drinking – which, after barely any sleep, I was not up for! We dropped our bags off in the free cloakroom and began another mind-expanding journey.

Kiasma’s website tells us the origins of the name:

‘Kiasma is the Finnish for chiasma, a term that describes the crossing of nerves or tendons or the intertwining of two chromatids’.

After entering the building I was directed to a curved slope, and walking up it to pass through the sliding doors I felt as though I was entering a body or passing through into another world. The interior is linked so that you can look down on places that you’ve visited, or look up to where you will be.

The exhibitions vary greatly, form giant canvasses to short films to interactive displays. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would highly recommend it; it’s well worth the 8€ (student price).

At the moment they have these exhibitions. By the way, I’m not an art critic, and I don’t always know how to put into words my opinions on art, because I’m not an expert and I respond to art largely with feelings and emotions, so don’t expect an indepth analysis. I just like to enjoy and appreciate art!

We began with an exhibition by Osmo Rauhala. There were many large canvasses which filled the walls, of simple but beautiful pictures which had themes of nature and science all criss-crossed over and interlinking.

Next was an exhibition by a British artist, Toby Zielger, which I confess that I didn’t understand, until I listened to the explanation that the artist provides at the end. You can watch a video for a couple of minutes at the end and it’s well worth a listen.

‘Reality Bites’ is a really big exhibition which takes up three floors of the building and features a number of artists. I really loved one piece by (another) British artist, Peter Liversidge. It was called ‘Proposals for Kiasma’ and it was a collection of typed letters which suggestions that he was either willing to carry out, or pay someone to. Some where profound, some silly as hell, and some were actually really good ideas! I laughed a lot at this one.

We spent well over two hours there, and I would have stayed longer but I was starting to feel really tired. If I’d been more awake I would have sampled the cafe on the ground floor. we did take a quick peek in the shop and it was filled with loads of quirky things, many of which I would have bought had I the space in my backpack. This trip was one of my favourite parts of the weekend and I will most likely go back when I return to Helsinki. My mind was buzzing with ideas and I was feeling much more uplifted than I had before I entered. I really can’t think of anything bad to say about place.

Overall rating 10/10

 

 

Review: Eurohostel

14 Nov

Being the first hostel experience of mine I was slightly worried about this aspect of the journey. I’ve heard so many horror stories about hostels that I was really expecting this to be an awful experience.

It was 7.45 when we arrived at the Eurohostel, I was groggy from a lack of sleep and I just wanted to throw my stuff down and get a cup of coffee. It was pretty easy to get to the hostel from the train station – about a half hour walk, which was nice at sunrise.

I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the hostel, finding a clean, large, well-lit reception area which was connected to a restaurant/lounge area. There was a row of telephones and lockers on one wall, and the other was home to a range of touristy leaflets and gifts. The menu for the restaurant looked kind of expensive for our budget and I just bought some rolls from the market square (which we really good!) instead.

 

Terrible picture but give me a break, I hadn’t really slept. That’s the main entrance and on the right is the restaurant. Behind me is the reception desk.

The girl at the desk looked of a similar age and was incredibly perky and welcoming, especially for that time of the morning. They had rooms for us already in the day (but if they hadn’t we could have locked our stuff up in the lockers easily) and she arranged a room for us for the second night too. They originally hadn’t had room but I asked out of interest and something had become available since our booking. My friend wasn’t sure that she wanted to stay there and whilst we were debating/arguing about this the girl intervened and said that she would reserve a room and if we didn’t want to stay we could let her know by the next morning and she would cancel it. I couldn’t imagine a hotel doing that!

Our room was huge and had a tv, a desk, two beds and a giant wardrobe – all for 23 €, towels included. Even the view was good for a hostel! I wish I had taken more pictures, because I really like this hostel.

 

View from the hostel

The bathroom was pretty clean, although it only had two toilets for a whole corridor it wasn’t busy whilst we were there so there wasn’t any waiting. The showers are a bit weird and a bit open – the doors are made of opaque glass which cover from your neck to your knees and have a nice big gap down the middle. I showered super early so no one else was around, but you can use your towel to cover it.

The second night we had a bigger room because two friends were joining us. It looked a little like this:

It was easy to get to town from the hostel – it was about a fifteen minute walk, past the port and through the market square. There was a k market just five minutes away too, for snacks and the suchlike. As it was 24 hour access we could come and go as we liked, so it was pretty much perfect. I slept great both nights, and will be heading back there for my next stopover in Helsinki (potentially all of my stopovers actually).

So, to conclude.

Pros:

– Clean, spacious, comfortable and CHEAP (23€ per night with student discount)

– Within walking distance of a supermarket and the city centre

– Super friendly staff

– 24 hour access, so no lock out

Cons:

– Slightly public showers

– Only two toilets per gender per floor

– Bit of a walk back from the bars etc in town

– Expensive food

Overall rating: 7.5/10

 

 

58: Oulun Yliopisto

28 Oct

I haven’t posted many pictures of the campus, and none of the interior, so I’m using that as an excuse to put my essays aside for a little while.

Oulu University website tells me that it was founded in 1958 and currently has around 15, 500 students. There are 400 incoming exchange students and 350 outgoing, which is a lot! during orientation they said that this year was the most international students that they’d ever had.

 

 

These are dotted all about the campus – you can leave your coat, free of charge, for the day. It’s a great idea, but I admit I haven’t been brave enough to do it yet, in case my coat gets accidentally  picked up by someone else! (this happened to a friend of mine last week, he got it back eventually though!)

 

This is the are next to the main restaurant, it’s a handy place to meet people. The grey screen is a touch screen device which shows you what’s going on in the city in the week.

 

Most of the signs have Finnish and English ^^

 

Chess, anyone?

 

This place does the best coffee (in my opinion) but don’t go there at lunch, it’s manic!

 

Coat racks and day lockers.

 

Pegasus library

 

Cute, aren’t they? I’d love one for my bedroom.

Pegasus library has three floors, computers rooms, study desks, silent study areas, a reading room and…

 

… this little gem. All the free newspapers and magazines you could want to read. Brilliant!

As campuses go, this one is pretty nice. And it’s all connected, so once you’re inside you don’t need to go back out to get to another class =)

Hope everyone has had/is having a nice weekend!

 

 

39: The Irish Festival and Rovaniemi

9 Oct

I have been awfully neglectful of my blog in the last week. I’ve been so busy here – trying to study, socialise, live, sleep, eat… one of them has to go, I’m sure of it. While I’m enjoying every second of my time here it’s hard to get time to stop, or even slow down. 

Last week saw the Irish Festival come to Oulu, the most northern celebration of Irishness that exists, so I’m told. And they seem very proud of this fact here in Oulu. I began by seeing the Swedish band ‘Turas’ play at Bar Hemingway in the city centre. The relatively small (but incredibly cosy) bar was packed come 9pm and the band was bang on time to start. They played lively Irish jigs and one of the group sang a Irish song alone – a brave feat in front of so many. The Guinness tasted great and flowed from the tap and during the second half a number of students demonstrated their skills for Irish dancing. We finished the night with an ever-so-slightly tipsy bike ride home in the drizzle that’s fixed itself over the city.

Friday night we caught the movie ‘One Hundred Mornings‘ at the Valve Cultural Centre, another hidden gem (for me, anyway). A very intimate cinema sits on the second floor, which was packed for the showing. A dark, edgy, though-provoking movie, ‘One Hundred Mornings’ didn’t disappoint. Almost at the other end of the spectrum was ‘Parked’, the movie that was showing Saturday night. It was sold out and I could understand why. It was a hilarious, inspiring and slightly melancholy story about a homeless man who was living in his car. The acting was top-notch, the actors brilliantly cast. 

Not content with my extra-curricular activities of the week I decided to join my groups of friends in a trip to Rovaniemi on Sunday. We left at 7.55am and reached the town around 10.30. The train was comfortable, roomy and on time – the opposite of British trains. I love the landscape of Finland. We stopped for a few minutes next to this place:

One of the girls we were with began squawking: ‘Why are you taking pictures? It’s so ugly!’

I couldn’t believe it! These settlements dotted the railway line, places of life and of work; real people live here and work to survive and that is what makes it beautiful. It’s not dressy or fancy, but it’s a brilliant example of survival, planning, sturdiness and determination. Everywhere at the moment we see these huge piles of logs where people are preparing for the winter and gathering the supplies to help them through it.

We arrived at Rovaniemi and visited the library which housed a small art exhibition of Sami art. it was very beautiful and thought provoking, but everyone was keen to get to ‘Santa’s Village’ – which has reminded me that I must go to the art gallery in town and soak up some culture next week. 

Santa’s Village was a little disappointing, I have to say. Maybe our expectations were too high. It was pretty, yes, and there were lots of shops with quaint little gifts and cheesy Christmas decorations, and beautiful hand-crafted bowls and the suchlike. There were many cafes and places to eat and the buildings were all made of rustic wood, but that was really all there was to it. We met Santa and he was a neat guy, he let my friend hug him and another was allowed to touch his beard, but that was the highlight and it was over in about ten minutes. 

We went back to the city centre and hiked up a nearby hill – the name of which I have forgotten but which I will look up. It was most hilly area I have seen in Oulu thus far, and it was beautiful. There was a brilliant lookout tower near the top (I think, we didn’t actually go any further) which gave us a great view over the city. After this we headed back to town and sat in (another) Bar Hemingway until it was time for our train. I managed to practice my Finnish that day and think I did pretty well, and we had a great laugh. We were all shattered by the time we got home and had to cycle home in the rain, but it was a great experience.

Here are some more pictures from the day:

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Hopefully this post has  not been too lazy! Admittedly it has been written in haste, and whilst I’m supposed to be working on a presentation and an exam for tomorrow. I will do better next time!

In the meantime, have a good week =)

Finnish Food Mistakes

28 Sep

Two typical Finnish foods have been recommended to me this week and, sadly, they have not lived up to the yummy yummy pulla that I last sampled. 

Food numero yksi:

Salmiakki, aka salted licorice. Sounds odd, but worth a try. So I thought, anyway. The result: had to pick them out of my teeth in the middle of the street and throw them away. My tongue felt like a slug fizzing and shrivelling from salt. 

(By the way, on your first attempt don’t put two in your mouth in one go). 

Food numero kaksi:

Villi, aka goopy salty sour yoghurt something. I peeled back the lid to find a crust on top, not unlike that found on clotted cream. ‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘It smells bad, but if it resembles clotted cream in one way…’ 

Believe me, nothing else about it resembles clotted cream. It tastes a little like unwashed feet smell and it has a consistency of PVA glue, the kind you get given at school for art class.

I still cannot get the taste out of my mouth. Next time I will stick to foods in the bun-and-cake families. 

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