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Maddening! Litter, but this takes the cake

June 27, 2014

I have often lamented about how awful littering has become in Finland. It seems there are stories about it in the daily news with reports about the mountains of garbage that the City of Helsinki (for example) picks up because of the disposable and throw-away culture we have become accustomed to.

I think it is unacceptable, and where there are opportunities to reduce, reuse, recycle (upcycle) and just-plain say no, we should exercise those options.

I was walking to work this morning and saw this cup discarded beside the sidewalk. This makes me crazy – this is GREENWASHING! There is nothing that makes the world better by using disposable cups – biodegradable or not.

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<rant over>

Midsummer greetings

June 19, 2014

Dear friends, Midsummer, aka Juhannus is upon us – in spite of the unseasonably cool weather. (The Finnish Meteorological Institute just tweeted a picture of snow in Ylläs!)

I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for surfing in and reading. Have a safe (and warm) Midsummer and I’ll repeat my holiday weekend mantra yet again: Drink responsibly, don’t drink and drive (or boat) and arrive alive!


The weather made headlines yesterday

June 18, 2014

We were warned on Monday by media outlets that Tuesday would be cold – so cold it would feel like March or October.

They weren’t kidding!

Social media outlets were going crazy with reports of snow in Salla, Oulu, Hämeenlinna – and finally here in Espoo in my own back yard. Old man winter has been blowing squalls of rain and hail southwards for a couple days now. Imagine my surprise when I looked out the window and saw this at home. Flakes falling! It’s June man!



Oulu-based photographer Thomas Kast blogged about the snow and even had video proof! Ugh!

Finns have often joked about the wintry conditions that sometimes appear in June. I finally have experienced that for myself, chalk that up as another first. Looks like we’ll have to be dressed warmly for Midsummer…

But seriously, it’s hard to believe I was staring at snow flakes flying from the sky, when just 11 days ago I was basking in the 28C heat in Kuusamo.

Pictures of the Day

June 9, 2014

Last weekend I went to Kuusamo for the first time ever. It was fantastic!

A friend of mine from work challenged me to try out some white water rafting and I was game! While we stayed at Ruka, our daytime activities were centred around Oulanka National Park and Kitkajoki. We also hiked the wildly popular Pieni Karhunkierros trail (around 12km) and enjoyed the fantastic weather. We also found ourselves atop Rukatunturi (500m) and Valtavaara (491m).

Overall a fantastic and active weekend, I highly recommend it – also because the bugs were not so bad. ;)

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So why Finland? (travel log entries – final installment)

June 5, 2014

Just in time for Throwback Thursday! This installment is the last of snippets from my travel log back in 1997. Enjoy!

July 5, 1997: (Masala camping area, just south of Veteli) I cannot believe how much I have travelled in just over one week (well the last 2 and half weeks…) I have been to three different countries and I have been from one end of Finland to the other in less than a week! It will be nice now that I am in Veteli to not have to live out of a suitcase for a little while… Last night I went and watched pessapallo [pesäpallo] with [my] cousin T, she’s a lot of fun (I think she would be fun to party with…) I learned a little bit about the game, so now I think I could follow a game if I ever went to watch. When I got back from the game, U’s sister’s and mother were at the house. I laughed so hard when Toini said, “Hello my darling,” in perfect English. I was happy to see her. I think she was happy to see me because she said that I “was home again.” We sat around the table and drank tea and I told stories about Lapland (U laughed her head off!) They thought the Canada Day story was funny – beer, koskankorva [koskenkorva], coniac [cognac], reindeer skins,… R [a guy I met] – it was funny.

I can’t believe I have been here for almost 7 weeks… I think it will bother me to go home now because I have developed the idea that I could actually live here in Finland. I will have to explore the job opportunities when I get home – or maybe even when I go back to Helsinki in a few weeks. I will definitely miss it here, when I have to leave. Then I will have to settle down – get a life and get down to the business of getting a job… That time is not so far away now… but I suppose I could make an adventure of it.

July 8, 1997: (on the train between Kokkola and Kannus) I am heading back north for a few days, to Tornio – hopefully to golf if I can get a tee-off time. [At the Green Zone golf course which straddles Finland and Sweden – and two time zones!]… I decided that since I had a few extra days of travel left on my rail pass that I would head back down to Helsinki to see M [my cousin]. I think I am going to explore the job possibilities while I am there – what the heck, it’s worth a try right?

July 9, 1997: (Tornio, Finland) Well I went golfing today at the golf course that has holes in Sweden and Finland. My golf game was not so good today – it really stunk to tell you the truth!… It cost 200 mk to golf – but I was able to keep the golf balls – the ones I didn’t lose and the golf tees… I also rented a bike today and did some riding around in Tornio and over in Hapanranta [in Sweden]. I went to see the Alatornio church as well – it took me forever to find the place… My butt is really sore because I haven’t ridden in so long!… I have to get up at 6 AM tomorrow so that I can catch the bus out of Tornio and then catch the train to Seinäjoki from Kemi. I was thinking of stopping at other places, but I think that Seinäjoki is my best bet…

July 11, 1997: (Seinäjoki, Finland) I came to Seinäjoki yesterday. I think I came at a bad time – right in the middle fo the tango festival. I think I was lucky to find a place to stay!I stayed at a place recommended by my book [Lonely Planet Finland]… it was cool! The older lady that ran the place didn’t speak a word of English – but we got by… She was really nice. To her dismay, I asked if I could take a picture of her before I left – so I took one. Yesterday I gave her one of my [Canada] flag pins and she was so pleased – I’m glad! :)

July 17, 1997: (on the train south of Tampere) … I bought another Finnrail pass so I can do some more travelling around, I have some places to go and people to see over the next couple of weeks. I talked to T [my university exchange student friend] yesterday and he asked me to go back to Kajaani for a few days to visit – I think I can fit that in – but it’s going to be tight! 5 days of train travel in less than 2 weeks – I’m going to be happy to stay put for a bit!

July 20, 1997: (Veteli, Finland) …In the next few days I have to pack up my stuff and head somewhere else – to Lapua to visit U.R. [my grandfather’s cousin], then to Espoo to drop off my stuff – then Jyväskylä, maybe Kajaani, Lapeenranta [Lappeenranta] to see S and then back to Helsinki… I’m going to be so busy that the time is going to fly over the next few weeks. As of today I have 30 more days in Finland. I’ll be home before I know it!

July 23, 1997: (Veteli, Finland)…Well now I will have to admit that I am getting excited to go home. I have seen and done so much in Finland that I have run out of things to do. (I wish I could go back to Lapland! I know I could have done much more there!) I think if (and when) I come back to Finland I will definitely bring my bike. Today I rode to Småbönders (Swedish-speaking community) just west of Veteli and I found places that I could have gone off-roading, Having my own bike here would have been a lot of fun!

July 26, 1997: (Lapua, Finland) (early AM) Today (well yesterday) I went rowing in this AWESOME boat, the best one I have tried since I have been in Finland. And I was thinking how neat it was that I was rowing on the same lake that my great-grandfather probably rowed on. T [a cousin] said to me that he thought it was fascinating that we had a common ancestor who at one time lived off the land and from the waters of Lappajärvi and it was interesting that we were both at Lappajärvi – me being from Canada and he from a different part of Finland… Cool!

I am staying at the R’s house right now with U and K – so far we have managed with sanakirja [dictionary], kynä [pen], paperi [paper] ja “hands.” K speaks a little bit of English, but not a lot… we’re getting by though… U is a really neat man – very interested in family history, so tonight I wrote down a whole pile of stuff for him and then when he had questions I answered them for him…

August 4, 1997: (Lappeenranta, Finland) I am staying at S’s place with her kids and her mother. Her kids are quite shy (too bad), but S’s mother speaks English (cool). The weather today was great!… Lappeenranta is situated on the biggest lake in Finland. From here I could visit Russia or Savonlinna just by taking a boat – I’ll have to remember to do that the next time I come to Finland!… Today I visited the harbour area in Lappeenranta, as well as the fortress . which was neat. The stuff in the shops was very expensive however : ( I did make a very nice purchase though at a ceramics shop – a really nice vase for 100mk…

August 9, 1997: (Espoo, Finland) …M and I are going to see the hockey game tomorrow – 7 pm. I went and picked up the tickets yesterday. Should be a good game. M and I will also be making our trip to Tallinn on Friday. I can’t wait for that! It’s going to be great, I just hope the weather stays nice. Well I go home in 9 days… I can’t believe it! I [am] really anxious to get home now. I have so much to do! I also want to tell everyone about the cool things I did too.

The other day when I was in Helsinki, I met some people from Seattle… They asked me if I had been to Tallinn yet – so I told them all about my trip and told them all about the good places to go. It was nice (again) to speak with people who spoke English – my English is getting really bad because I’ve spoken in short sentences for so long! (Although my Finnish is much better now than it was.)

August 11, 1997: (Espoo, Finland) They hockey game yesterday was just awesome! I loved it. The Hartwall Arena seats about 10,000 people, yesterday there were about 9000 people at the game…

August 15, 1997: (Tallinn, Estonia on the Apollo at the harbour) Today was a great day!…

August 18, 1997: (in the plane – somewhere over Europe) Well… it’s over – I left Finland just over an hour ago and I cried… I knew that I would! I don’t think the excitement of being back home in Canada will hot me until we land in Toronto… I can’t believe that 3 months is up already! Now I have to look for a job!.. M, N, myself and M’s friend Esa went into Helsinki last night to see a FREE concert… It was really good – there were so many people at Kaivopuisto. We looked in the paper this morning and it said there were 50,000 people at Kaivipuisto last night. I would believe it because the place was just crawling with people!…

I can see out the window! I am almost home! But you know – I really miss Finland already . I was getting used to everything the way it was; hearing the Finnish language all the time, speaking with people who’s [whose] English wasn’t so good… I think mine is suffering! HA!

September 4, 1997: (Elliot Lake) It’s hard to believe that I have been home for 2 weeks already! I can’t believe that 3 weeks ago I was in Finland – to me it feels like a lifetime ago. I was an adjustment to come home – but now it is okay… I really miss Finland . I had a lot of fun there – although the trip had its ups and downs…

Maybe I’ll go back to Finland… or go to some other country, I’m prepared to do it – now that I know I can get over my homesickness! The world is mine – time to get out! Well time to get out there – that’s what I meant to write. The adventure begins…

My trip diaries - I still have them!

My trip diaries – I still have them!

So why Finland? II (travel log entries continued)

May 23, 2014

My last post was a come-clean tale about why I came here and I ended on a life-changing moment. To date that last post garnered more hits and comments (from all directions) than any other post I have made to this date. Thank you! Thank you to the people who said they didn’t feel so alone after reading that post, thank you to my friends who were honest about how unhappy they were when I left home and thank you all for the friendliness and support. Even though I am far from home, it humbles me that my family and friends think about me a lot and it’s great to hear from others who have surfed in to read.

This installment continues with travel log entries from the summer of 1997 when I first came to Finland. Read on and see how my attitude changed over the summer. Some additional comments I felt I needed to add appear in [square brackets]

June 3, 1997: (Veteli) … Today I am on my way to stay with one of grandpa’s cousins, A and his wife M…

June 4, 1997: (Patana) … Anyways after a late snack we hopped into a 1968 Ford something or other and went for a drive at 11:00 at night (right now it is 20 after 12 a.m. – and it looks like it does when it is 8:30 p.m. at home… This is so wild. We drove down to Vimpeli – close to Lappjärvi and where Grampa Eli [my great grandfather] was born. In Vimpeli (?) there is a round church and I was told that Grampa Eli – when in Finland, had to see “the church where the devil could catch you.” I’ll be sure to take a picture of it… (late p.m.) It has been a very long day!… In Lappajärvi there were several Kiviahos buried. I got a handle on who’s who and now I can provide the family with some information, (I feel like a pioneer – I am going to be armed with a world of new things to tell people.)… Anyways, Lappajärvi was fascinating – the Kiviahos have a world of history there. My great, great grandfather, Konsta, was a minister… Tomorrow we are headed up to Jakobstad, Kokkola and other towns along the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia…

June 6, 1997: (Hyrynsalmi) … About 45 minutes ago I drank my first coffee – EVER. I didn’t have the heart to refuse her – the lady that asked me. I sat in a Lapp style cottage [I cringe now that I see I wrote the word "Lapp."] in front of a fire and drank coffee – it was cool. I also saw my first REAL Finnish reindeer. They’re not very big at all. Much smaller than I thought… As for the past couple of days, they were FABULOUS! I saw a lot of family history and learned a lot – it was awesome – I will have to write later, we’re on our way to Oulu.

June 7, 1997: (Oulu) …Oh ya – in Kokkola I tried reindeer meat for the first time – in an omelette, it kinda tasted like beef jerky, but it was good. The drive to Sotkamo, Hyrynsalmi and Oulu was very nice – I loved the scenery, very much like home, it was great.

One of my dreams was to sit at the end of a ski jump - I did just that!

One of my dreams was to sit at the end of a ski jump – I did just that!

June 14, 1997: (Arkala) What a busy past few days! On Thursday night, T, Tiina (a friend and work colleague) and I headed for Oulu. Tiina invited me along on a trip to the south part of Finland where we were going to drop off her brother and their horse at a farm – where Timo would set out training her for harness racing… Anyways – yesterday we had to get up really early, 6:30 to meet Timo (Tiina’s brother) in Oulu to start the trip with their horse. The trip was good – although it was kinda hard to be patient sitting in a car most of the day when the weather was so nice outside. We were at a horse clinic for 3 hours – with one of the best horse vets in all of Finland. He said some really great things about Tiina’s horse – it was nice! Tiina’s horse loves to run and that was evident just from watching Tiina and Timo put on her harness…

June 18, 1997: (Jyväskylä) … I wasn’t planning to stop here so soon, but Martti [a pen pal of mine] said it would be okay. So – on the first leg of my “3 biggest cities in Finland” tour, I have stopped here… I got mail yesterday (and today)!!!! 4 letters – 2 from dad, one from G [university friend in Canada] and one from Grama B. :) I was so happy! I have so many letters to write! Grama was so worried about me being over here – now she feels better since I wrote to her… Anyways it has been a long day and I am pretty tired – I haven’t been sleeping well lately! I think this is my chance to get some sleep! I will be leaving for Tampere tomorrow via train – until then!

June 20, 1997: (Tampere) … Today we went to Suodenniemi – or near there, to Pauli and Katri’s summer cottage – it’s built on a hill! I ate so much friggin’ food today I am sure I have gained weight since I have been in Finland. :( Anyways – today I had a REAL Finnish sauna – birch branches, lake jumping and all. It was cool – being stark naked and being able to jump in a lake and no one thinks twice about it… And the sauna was HOT! HOT! HOT!… Pauli is a really great guy, I like him a lot – he knows so much and he said the same of me too. :) [Pauli has been retired for many years - when I met him the first time he drilled me with questions for hours! Back then we needed someone to translate our conversations, or we managed okay with a dictionary.]

June 23, 1997: (Turku) I must have worn the soles out of my shoes today – I walked all around the downtown area of Turku. I walked Irina (she’s originally from Poland, lives in Canada, goes to York [University], will be working in Finland for the summer and the going to school in France for a year… WOW!) to the bus this morning and then did some touring around Turku. The cathedral was GORGEOUS! [I still think this is an impressive building.] I loved it there! Unfortunately many of the museums were closed. [It was Monday.]

June 24, 1997: (Turku) … Today was a good day. I went on a boat tour this morning to Naantali – it took 3 hours so that burned up some time. The boat was an old steamer and man did it have one helluva loud whistle! I was really happy that the weather turned out to be nice both yesterday and today, it sure made touring around much nicer… I find that things in Turku are not so well-marked. I had a really frustrating time both yesterday and today trying to find some of the museums… Despite the frustrations, however, I really liked Turku – there is much to do here…

June 25, 1997: (Espoo) … Here in Espoo the planes leaving the Helsinki airport fly right over Matti’s [my cousin] apartment. Today I saw some planes flying out and I got homesick! In a way I wish I could leave now – I feel like I am missing so much at home. I wish I didn’t have to miss the summer… :( Oh well, next Monday I will have been here for 6 weeks and after that it is only 6 more weeks to go…

June 26, 1997: (Tallinn, Estonia) Tallinn was GREAT! I am so glad I did this trip! I went into the Old Town area – thank God I had a map!… Even though I only had a few hours I was able to see a lot (Marine Museum – AWESOME), the modern art museum of Estonia, climbed the Old Town tower and went to the Estonian History Museum – cool.

June 29, 1997: (Kajaani)… We are heading up to Lapland tomorrow, we’re even going to Norway! It’ll be awesome!…

July 2, 1997: (Sevettijärvi) The past couple of days have been great! Right now we are in the northeast corner of Finland – Lapland to be exact… Today we drove along the Finnish-Norwegian border for a few hours – it was BEAUTIFUL! The landscape there is so different. I really liked it. I wish I would have had a video camera! We drove to Kirkenes in Norway – tucked into a fjord on the Arctic Ocean. I even stuck my foot in the water to say that I was THERE!… Friday morning I say goodbye to T and head back to the west to be with my relatives, I will be there for a few weeks and then head off somewhere else… Yahoo! SAUNA TIME!

Installment three coming soon!

So, why Finland?

May 20, 2014

A lot of time has passed since I moved here and I no longer answer the question, “Why Finland?”

So why did I come here? If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I had some exchange student friends from Finland when I was in university. I also have relatives here. I am not sure how the idea came about, but I decided I would save money to come here and visit after I was done school. I did lots of odd jobs and so on to get myself here and travel for the duration of the summer.

I was serious, yet some people were skeptical. When my mom realized I really was serious, she chipped in some funds and bought me a new camera for Christmas that year.

Remember this is pre-Internet boom time and easy access, so I made an effort to learn more about Finland and read books and looked stuff up in encyclopedias. My cousin Paula gave me a book that she had purchased when she came to visit Finland in the early 1990s. (She also travelled through Europe for a bit when she finished university.) I still haven’t read it, maybe I should to see if anything written there still holds true.

In my final year of university I took a course called “Aging in a Multicultural Society” and Sudbury, Ontario is home to hundreds and hundreds of people who had moved from other parts of the world. And I thought, Finland – why not? Sudbury has the Finnish Rest Home, which caters to elderly Finnish speakers. Our professor encouraged striking up a relationship with an elderly person who was from elsewhere and that led me to Liisa Honkaranta. If she was alive today, she would be 114 years old. I’ll have to tell you more about her some other time, but she predicted that I would come here and never leave. Obviously she knew something that I did not.

When I got here in 1997 to visit, I finally felt like I found a place where I really fit in and that I could truly be myself. It took some time to come to that realization, but it came. I came back in 1998 and I stayed, so this is still the place for me.

But 17 years ago yesterday I landed on these shores, jet lagged, confused, slightly culture-shocked and homesick! The near 24-hours of daylight in Kainuu was a shock to the system. What follows are some excerpts from the travel diary I kept that summer. It’s been a long time since I pulled them out, but they’re fun to read… I was such a greenhorn! :D

May 18, 1997: (Toronto, Ontario, Terminal 2, Gate 105) – 9:25 p.m. We’re late in leaving… I guess that is to be expected. I have a window seat – but man is it cramped in here. I have to sit like this for 10 hours (I think that is what I heard). The flight attendants are all speaking German – it is so strange to hear people speaking another language. I think the feeling that I am leaving for 3 months is starting to sink in… I am going to be in another country! Across the ocean. WOW! This is COOL!

May 19, 1997: (9400m somewhere over Europe) The flight from Toronto was good, it wasn’t as cramped as I thought it would be. It was neat to see the coming of the night over Canada and the dawn of the day over the Atlantic! The land in Germany is beautiful from the air – I took a few pictures from the air – just so I can prove I was over Europe! It was sunny in Frankfurt when we landed. (The pilot just said we would be getting to Helsinki early and it is only 9C – I didn’t bring my clothes for nothing! The clouds we are flying over right now are covering the land – so I assume that it is raining in Finland… Yuck! Can’t get away from it.

(On the flight from TO to Frankfurt) The people I was sitting beside are archaeologists and are affiliated with the U of T [University of Toronto] and they were on their way to Damascus to do some work – they were quite nice.

The Frankfurt airport is ENORMOUS! I walked around a bit after I got off my flight. We had to be put on a bus and brought out to our plane for Helsinki – I even lucked out and got a whole row of seats to myself.

I don’t think the feeling of being out of Canada has quite sunk in yet – it will when I can’t watch an NHL hockey game, the soaps, trash TV or the news… We’ll see how it is in a few days.

May 23, 1997: (Kajaani) I have been here for four days and my body still has not settled into this time zone. I may have gotten three hours of sleep (if that!)… Today I am on my way to Veteli for about 10 days to visit my relatives… I was feeling very homesick the other day – so much I was crying. I am still pretty homesick, I am (in a way) looking forward to this trip being over. I miss my family and friends and everything that is familiar to me. I hope the next 2 and half months go by very fast. I guess I am not very adventurous! Ha ha!

May 26, 1997: (Veteli) … I have found my body clock again – even if it doesn’t get dark, I’m okay now. I have slept a few good nights since I have been here – hopefully there will be many more…

… I did some exploring around Veteli today… It’s a nice little place, but not much to do unless you spend time walking or riding a bike. I feel much better now that I am here – I don’t feel so homesick like I did in Kajaani. I mentioned it yesterday (“Minulla on koti ikävä.”) and I started to cry. M’s (my cousin) parents made me call home. Mom wasn’t there, but she did call back. We talked for about half an hour. Today I am not feeling so homesick, which is good.

May 30, 1997: (Veteli) … Despite the good time I am having, I am still really homesick. I talked to my mom last Sunday and cried the whole time… She said it was understandable and that she would have been really surprised if I wasn’t homesick.

The one thing I really miss is reading. The only thing I have been reading in English is my own handwriting and some travel brochures. I really miss reading and keeping up on current events.

June 1, 1997: … I have been quite homesick and because of that I had forgotten (until last night) to focus on the idea that this trip to Finland is an education in life for me…. It is giving me much more than I could get out of school. Just thinking of that idea has eased the homesickness somewhat – that I am glad for, I think I may make it thru the summer if I keep my focus on that idea…

I still remember this moment – it changed my life.

I’ll leave it here for now. Look for another installment of travel log entries soon.

I nearly took a tumble into a river in Veteli and got covered in mud, my host was very amused!

I nearly took a tumble into a river in Veteli and got covered in mud, my host was very amused!


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