Tuesday, 13 September 2011

New professional practice blog

As I am now in England I will no longer be updating this blog, at least not until next summer. I have a professional art practice blog, where I will document the work I am currently doing - portraits of the many significant people I met during my time in Finland. I hope my readers here will take a similar interest in this work.

http://tamsinspargoportrait.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Acknowledgements

I feel I need to thank the following people:

My parents, for their help and generosity, despite thinking this was an awful idea; my friends in England for their encouragement; Emmi, Emma and Tommi, Suski and Niklas, without whom I doubt I'd have managed; Heli and Iida, who were wonderful to live with; Jaakko; Toomas, Heli, Meri, Tari, Nelli, Vikke and Maria, Juli, Tero, Maria, Petteri, Kata and her family, the Setala family; Suomen Filateliapalvelu; Little Britannia; all the people who have read this blog, commented, sent me emails and packages, recognised me in the street, and generally been lovely.

Nice one.

The end of year essay

I'm still shocked that it's all over, and I'm not quite sure how to put it all into words. I'm still trying to get accustomed to being back in England, I'm feeling very slow and tired, and still quite unhappy. Things are better than expected - I thought I'd be crying constantly at this point. Turku already feels so far away, even though I've been talking to my friends pretty much constantly since I left. Everything feels like maybe it was just a dream.
I look back on the past year with pride and happiness. I came through a lot of things, many of which were far too personal to write about here. As you all know, the circumstances in which I went to Finland were not the best, and when I think about it I realise more and more how utterly miserable I was a year ago. Being in Finland encouraged me to get my life back as I wanted it to be, and I certainly did do that!
Living in Finland was definitely not always straightforward. At times I was so scared I could have jumped on a plane home, so frustrated I could have killed someone, and so confused I just wanted to curl up and cry. However, I can say with absolute certainty that it was worth the trouble I endured. Although my memories of winter mainly consist of unhappiness, it wasn't too long before things turned around. It certainly wasn't easy, as I have stated before, but it worked out. I really think that one of the reasons this blog has become so popular is because I haven't pretended that everything was perfect all the time. I've been honest about the problems I've experienced, most of which are just an unavoidable part of immigration.
Despite these things, I've had the chance to learn so much, try many new things, and make wonderful friends, some of whom I cannot imagine my life without. On so many occasions I just stopped for a moment and thought of how amazing it all was. I think when I first arrived I didn't really believe I could make it through, but I did. I am a much stronger person today than I was when I went to Finland. I found so much happiness in Turku, even when things weren't quite going to plan. I've learned to look past the difficulties, and appreciate all the good things that there are. I really never thought that things would go so well for me, even though I often had to struggle through.
I have had so many wonderful new experiences in the past year; opportunities I would not have had in my own country. Not all of them were huge or significant, but they still mattered to me. Even things like trying a new food have their value. I'm so glad I got to travel a bit and see some new places, such as Tampere and Norway. I've learned so much about a foreign culture, which has been fascinating. Even though I've done many good things, I still feel there's more for me to do in Finland. I missed out on some things I hoped to do, due to time and money constraints. I never went to Sweden or Poland, and I never went to Muumimailmaa when it was actually open. But I will, I know I will, because I'll be back.
After a while I really felt at home in Finland, and on Monday I felt like I was leaving my home. It amuses me that I feel this way because on my first visit to Helsinki, two years ago, I didn't even like it much and suspected that I wouldn't return. How things have changed! Maybe I just needed to spend more time in the country, or maybe Turku is the place for me. There are so many people who are close to me in Turku, and a few in other places, and maybe that's why I was so comfortable. I'm impressed that I managed to find people who I got on with so well and became close to, considering the cultural and linguistic barriers. I have been extremely lucky.
Luck is definitely the overwhelming feeling for me. I feel lucky to have survived, to have received so much help, and to have been so fortunate. If I hadn't needed to leave now I doubt I ever would have.
I'm very much looking forward to the holidays I'll be taking in Finland in the coming year, and to moving back permanently next summer. I'm just going to keep working until that day comes. I think I'll be visiting Tampere and Turku in December, and I can't wait, even though it'll be dark and cold.
I think the whole experience was too immense to just describe here. I don't think I can really explain it all. However, I would encourage anyone who wants to do the same thing to just do it. Whichever country it is, however hard you think it'll be - just do it. There will be numerous difficulties, and you might think you'll go mad, but it is a hugely rewarding thing to do. My life is much richer for having had this experience, and has also improved immensely. I think it might actually have saved my life, although I never thought the effect on me would be so great. I have no regrets.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

It's over

I'm now in England, at my parents' house.
Right now I'm not feeling very happy, plus I'm pretty tired and listless, so I'm going to take a bit of time to calm down and relax before writing the "end of year essay." Maybe tomorrow. Basically, I'm safe, I'm alive, and I wish I was in Finland.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The last week


I cannot believe this is my last week in Turku, but at least I am having a wonderful time.
It started on Tuesday, when I got a lovely surprise in the evening. I was sitting outside a bar having a drink with Emmi, we were chatting normally, and she suddenly told me not to scream. I didn't understand what she meant, she looked away, and when I looked in the same direction my boyfriend was there walking towards us! He was meant to arrive on Wednesday morning but he decided to secretly come early, and Emmi was enlisted to get me in the right place at the right time. I was laughing hysterically for about 20 minutes! It was brilliant.
The next day I decided I'd like to have a long walk around the city to see some places that have been special to me. My boyfriend isn't very familiar with Turku so we both enjoyed it, and we walked for a couple of hours. We visited a couple of parks which I've spent time in, including one with views of all of Turku. I've written about going there several times, and it's a place I'm very fond of. We also walked past the house I lived in when I first came here, and alongside the river. As I was pointing things out to him I realised how many important places there are for me here, and how much I've done. It was a really nice thing to do whilst I still can.
We didn't do so much yesterday, except go shopping with Emmi, but tonight I'm having a leaving party. I hope I can see many of my friends over the weekend, and I'm looking forward to it.
I'm still sad to be going, and it hasn't quite sunk in yet, but there are a few positives. New people have moved into my house this week and it doesn't feel the same. One of my flatmates agreed, and she now wants to move out too. I don't mind leaving the house now. More and more i'm looking forward to getting back to my education; I'm definitely ready when it comes to that. I'm glad I have something to keep me busy in the coming year.
This might be the last entry I write whilst in Finland. When I get to England I will write something to try to sum up my feelings and experiences, and get started on a professional blog about my art practice. I hope my readers will take an interest in that too, as I'm planning to make work about people I know in Turku. I've decided that the Frozen in Finland Facebook page will remain, and contain more updates about the artwork. Hopefully no one will lose interest. Who knows, maybe when I come back here I'll resurrect this blog.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Finnish things I'll miss

There's now only a week to go! This time next Monday I'll be getting myself together - meaning, having a massive freak-out. As sad as I am, I'm really looking forward to going back to university. I've got some really good ideas going, and as I'm sure the tutors will be insistant on seeing how the past eyar has affected me, I'll be making work about the people I've met here. When I get back to England I'll probably start a professional blog about my art practice, so maybe you can all read that instead of this.
Anyway, as time is runnign out, here is a list of stuff from Finland that I'm really going to miss.

1. Hesburger
Maybe it's because I'm a vegetarian, but I'd rather have Hesburger than any of the chains in England. The veggie burger in Burger King is at least edible, but I wouldn't go near McDonalds. The falafel burger in Hesburger is a beautiful thing, and I'll miss it. I should definitely get food from there once more in the coming week.

2. Karelian pies
I consider this to be Finland's Cornish pasty, as it originates from one specific area but is now popular everywhere. Plus I'm from Cornwall so I like the idea. They are extremely tasty - definitely my favourite Finnish food. I'll be able to get them from the Suomalainen Kirkko in London, but they'll probably be very expensive. I'd encourage people to try them, because you won't be disappointed. I don't eat them with egg butter, as I don't like hardboiled eggs, but even on their own they taste amazing.

3. Lonkeros
This is a Finnish alcoholic mixed drink, and many Finnish people have been astonished to hear that they don't exist in England. I can understand that, as they're probably the most normal thing to drink after beer. They come in lots of flavours, my favourites being Cranberry and Mojito. They're pretty cheap too. Hopefully Finnish visitors to London can stick a few in their suitcases for me.

4. My house
I actually really love the house I live in now. We all make jokes about what a dump it is, and to be fair our flat isn't very well maintained, and not always as clean as it could be, but I still love it. It has character, and I've had a good time there. Even though I have the shitty small room due to my lack of stuff, it's cosy and comfortable. I can hear the tuomiokirkko bells ringing in my bedroom. The building is old and beautiful, much nicer than the more modern buildings. It's in the centre of town, so everything is accessible, and I've been very happy there.

5. The river
I'm lucky enough to live close to the River Aura, and I've enjoyed many walks alongside it. It's a bit murky, but all summer it's been lovely because so many special events for the Capital of Culture have been happening in that area. There are little pieces of artwork all around the river, which has been interesting to see. When the weather was warmer I often sat by the river and sketched or read a book, and it's been lovely. Of course, we can't forget the little dip I took in it at Juhannus. My finger is still misshapen. Living in Finland literally scarred me for life.

6. Arnold's coffee shop
This is a chain, and I'm not sure if it's Finnish or foreign, but I know it doesn't exist in England. They have amazing vegetarian toasties. Emmi and I have spent many hours there drinking coffee and putting the world to rights. It's not particularly unique or exciting, but we've spent a lot of time there, so it's important.

7. Recycling cans
In Finland, and I think other Nordic countries, you can recycle drinks bottles and cans and get money back for them. It's not a lot of money per item but it adds up. Not only does this system encourage people to recycle, it can save you when you're really broke. On more than one occasion taking cans to the shop has allowed me to have dinner that evening. You used to be able to do this in England, and I think it's a wonderful idea that should work everywhere.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The alternative tour of Turku



On Thursday evening Toomas and one other friend took me on a sort of alternative tour around Turku, taking me to strange little places they spent time in when they were a bit younger, and that I'd never find otherwise. It was really cool - it gave me a different view of Turku, and I could see it from the perspective of someone who has grown up here and always lived here. That was a good opportunity for me.
Among the places we visited were more suburban areas, which I doubt I would ever have seen otherwise. I'm happy I got the chance to absorb a bit more of Turku and see some new things. I want to take in as much as I possibly can whilst I still have the chance, and this was a good way of doing it. Obviously, it was also nice to relax with some friends who I haven't seen for a few weeks. In the end we went back to Toomas's house, which is where I've spent an awful lot of weekends this summer. He lives near to St Michael's Church, which I'd never paid much attention to before, but I took a photo because I realised it's a really beautiful building. The park next to it is also very nice - we've spent a lot of time there too. I have a lot of memories in Turku now.
Last night I went for drinks with Heli and Iida, my flatmates. Iida is moving out tomorrow and will be going to Norway, plus I'm leaving, so it's a sad time for our household. We went back to The Hunter's Inn, the nice bar I mentioned previously. It wasn't even so expensive! I'm glad I'm spending lots of time with my friends now, whilst I still get the chance.



Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Moomin museum and other recent exploits

I've just come home from spending a few days visiting my boyfriend in Tampere. I had a nice time, but the greatest thing about my trip was that he took me to the Moomin Museum! He has just qualified as the world's best boyfriend.
We were very lucky - we turned up about 20 minutes before it was due to close, so the lady working there said we could go in without paying! We still managed to see most of the exhibits. It was lovely; I got to see some of Tove Jansson's original drawings. That was very interesting for me, not only due to the art side, but because I was raised on the Japanese Moomins cartoon on tv, and the style of that is very different to the original books. The originals are sometimes much darker and moodier. There were other items too, such as Moomins books in various languages and set-up scenes with the characters. I would really recommend the museum, especially to tourists, and I think it appeals to both adults and children.
We also went to some small, commercial art galleries, and saw some interesting pieces. Not all of the work was Finnish, but it was good to see. Aside from that we visited some parks and the Pyynikki area, where there's a beautiful forest and beach. Tampere seems to have a lot of lovely, natural areas, more than in the centre of Turku, even though there are plenty of parks here too.
Someone mentioned that Turku has a different atmosphere to many other places in this country, and having spent more time away from Turku I'm inclined to agree. At least during the summer it seems to be extremely lively - I've noticed so many street performers and music. I appreciate that, having a creative mindset, but I also really like Tampere. It seems a bit calmer than Turku. Maybe I'll even end up living there one day, but I'll see what happens. I find Finland as a whole appealing, and I'd still like to see more of it.
Aside from that, my suitcase has now been collected by the courier and will be off to England soon. It was very sad to start packing my life up and taking everything away, but it had to happen.
I'd also like to say now how grateful I am for all the lovely messages I've received recently wishing me luck for my return to England and complimenting me on my writing. I'm very appreciative, and don't worry, I'm still here for two weeks. After that we'll just have to wait and see...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Two weeks to go...

I only have two weeks left in this country! I can't believe it; I don't know where this time has gone at all. I've finished my job and am now doing all the stressful stuff to sort out my belongings and get ready to go.
I'm actually feeling a bit overwhelmed because there seems to be so much to do, and I'm already unhappy about going. I'm sure I'll manage to get everything sorted out, and hopefully get myself together by then. On Wednesday a courier is coming to pick up one of my suitcases, filled with non-essential things, and hopefully everything will seem a bit more straightforward once that's been done.
I hope I can get my mindset into a more positive frame of mind, as I'm not succeeding with that right now. I can see some positives to being in England again - I'll be busy with university, and will have a purpose again, so there won't be that bored, frustrating feeling I've had whilst I haven't been working here. I'll have a student loan too, so money son't be quite as much of an issue as it has been here at times. On Friday my employer asked me what will be the first thing i do when I get home - I said sit down and eat solidly for a week. I'm looking forward to that, at least.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Bleurgh

This week is not going to plan. I was very happy being back at work, everything seemed to be as I wanted it...what could go wrong? Well, I jinxed it. After this week I'll no longer be working because my employers have decided to change their plans, yet again. I'm not very happy as I'm now stranded here with no money. I can't change the date of my flight, so I'm very irritated. This year has really made me keen to work, because being unemployed and broke is extremely frustrating and boring. I'm rather grateful that I'll be going back to university, and be guaranteed something to do.
Until this came up I was enjoying working this week. The other day I was picking berries from the garden. I've never mentioned how Finnish people seem to love picking berries and wild mushrooms. Who can blame them? At least it's free food. I have no idea if this is the right time of year, but it might be nice to pick mushrooms in a forest before I leave. I know several people who pick large batches and freeze them. It's a nice idea - I quite liked pottering around the garden picking blackcurrants and gooseberries. I felt very optimistic and cheerful - definitely not how I'm feeling today.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Stuff about books

Sofi Oksanen is a very popular writer in this country, who has won some really big Finnish literature prizes. I found an English language copy of her novel "Purge"(Finnish title: "Puhdistus") in the library and decided to read it, as she's very successful and respected here.
I'm very pleased that I'm reading it now, as it is a very good book. It's very powerful, quite gripping, and the subject matter is very intense. At times it's painful to read. The story is quite dark, but it is extremely well-written. I can understand why the author has had so much acclaim - the quality of the writing is very high, and she is also dealing with difficult subject matter. She makes the characters and situations very real. This means that it's not always the most comfortable book to read, but the story is very compelling. I'd definitely recommend reading it. Also, I used to have very similar hair to Sofi Oksanen, so that's another reason to love her.
On the subject of books, I decided to have a morning walk by the river today, and saw that there are many mobile libraries on the river bank. There are far too many to count, but they seem to have come from cities all over the country. There were foreign ones too - I noticed ones from Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, and Germany. They didn't appear to be open at the time that I walked past, but pedestrians were very interested in them. I assume this is part of the Capital of Culture things. I have no idea how long they'll be there for, but it seems a very good way to find lots of new books. It was certainly strange to see so many buses lined up. I'm so glad I'm here whilst there are so many special things for the Capital of Culture- it makes the whole thing even more exciting.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Why?

I am absolutely certain that I want to return to Finland, and ideally Turku, after I have finished my education in England. If I'm lucky I might already be back in a year from now. Of course I can't predict the future and I don't know what might happen to change things, but for now there's nowhere else I'd rather be. Knowing this, I've been thinking about why exactly I want to be here so much. I'm referring to the qualities of the country that make it so appealing, not the friends I've made or experiences I've had, which obviously make it a good place to be. It's surprisingly hard to pin down.
One big thing is that this country feels much safer and more peaceful than my own. There are terrible riots going on all over England at the moment, plus there's a constant threat of terrorism, and being here has made me realise how worrying it is. I think people in England are generally desensitised to it as it has, unfortunately, become so normal. It's not something I ever really worried about whilst I was there, and now it seems much more pronounced to me.
I think Finland is very beautiful, and I'm not just referring to the countryside. The cities I've seen have beautiful squares, parks and buildings, and are very clean too, much cleaner than your average city in England. The environment is just so nice.
In the summertime the whole place seems to come alive, which is wonderful after a long, dark winter. I think this doesn't happen so much in England because the weather is better in winter, so the contrast isn't so extreme.
I think I also enjoy being surrounded by a culture that is very different from my own; much more different than a lot of people realise. It makes everything so fascinating.
I find it all a bit ironic because when I first visited Finland, two years ago, I didn't actually like it very much. I only went to Helsinki, but I thought that I probably wouldn't go there again. Circumstances got in the way of that, and look at me now!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Recent things


I've been a bit busy for the past few days - I'll explain why further on. Some nice things have been going on recently though.
Last night the dance theatre opposite my house put on a show as you can see from the photo. They'd placed adverts around our building to say that anyone was welcome to attend, but they held the show in the yard between the house and the theatre, so we were watching some of it from the kitchen and my bedroom. It was really nice though - a bit unusual, so that was fun.
A couple of nights ago I also found a new bar to drink in, which really reminded me of traditional English pubs, so that was cool. Actually, I've walked past it numerous times, and I always thought it looked decent, but I'd never gone inside before. I wouldn't mind going back. The interior was very comfortable and homely, it reminded me of local pubs and some Wetherspoons. It was a pleasant surprise.
The reason I've been a bit distracted is that I've met a man! He's lovely, and has restored my faith in Finnish men. They aren't all drunk and idiotic! Until yesterday he's been in Turku, as he lives in Tampere. That explains to you why I went to Tampere in the first place. One of my friends introduced us, and I'm very happy.
I'd also like to thank the universe, in it's wisdom, for suddenly producing someone I really like immediately before I leave the country! That was clever. It seems that nothing in my life can ever go to plan, but right now I don't really care. Love travels oceans and all that.
Now there's less than one month left in Finland, which makes me feel very sad. On the 5th of September my plane leaves from Helsinki. I'm thinking of this as just a temporary absence for me, and hopefully the time will fly by, as it has this year, and then I'll be back. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.
As this experience will soon be coming to an end, I'm planning to contact publishers in both this country and England, in a bid to turn this blog into a book. It has been much more widely read than I ever anticipated, and several people have recommended doing that, so I hope I can be successful.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Awkward lunch

Today Emmi and I had lunch at one of the tiny restaurants in the kauppahalli. It was called City Sergio's restaurant, and I have to say it was a massive mistake.
I've always thought those restaurants were so cute and that it would be lovely to go to one of them, and that the atmosphere would be really unique. This place was very cheap, and perhaps that goes some way to explain the quality of the food. Emmi ate a kebab which she said really wasn't good, and I ate a pizza which, frankly, was absolutely foul. For some reason they had used pickled peppers as a topping, so there was a strong taste of vinegar, and the cheese was also extremely greasy. The whole thing was freshly prepared there and then, but it still tasted really bad. It was not an experience I intend to repeat. I suppose if you don't try you never know, but in this case I wish I'd never bothered to find out.
I really wanted the food to be good. I wanted it to be a nice experience, because the idea of sitting in the market, watching people shopping, and eating something nice is so appealing, but sadly it was not to be. I was very disappointed. There are several other restaurants and cafes there, selling various types of food, and I certainly hope that those places are better than the one we went to. It was a real let-down. I guess it was pretty bad advertising for them that we left two half-finished plates on the table; anyone walking past would see them.
After that we looked at the chocolate shop, and some of the things they sold were amazing. They had chocolate in all sorts of shapes, and even with images printed onto them, such as Finnish flags and the cathedral of Turku. It was really interesting. My favourite things were tiny chocolates in the shape of Karelian pies! They were really cute. Emmi pointed out chocolates in the shape of nuts and bolts, dusted with cocoa powder to look like rust. Everything was so cleverly made, and very impressive.
Go shopping in the kauppahalli, but definitely do not go to that restaurant.

Friday, 29 July 2011

These people will never understand me

I have written numerous entries about all the Finnish things which simply make no sense to me. Therefore, I thought it was about time I wrote about a few things that Finnish people don't understand about me and my country. I'm sure all of these things are very normal in my country, but Finnish people really don't get them.

1.) My aversion to the sauna
I'm not actually sure if other English people would exactly share my views on this, but I find sauna very unappealing, and Finnish people cannot understand why. In my country, we don't get naked with our friends and family, unless you're a nudist. Therefore, the idea of doing that in a hot, sweaty little room really doesn't work for me. It's not as though I've never seen naked people before - in art schools in England life drawing is a very normal activity, which is usually strongly encouraged, and that involves staring at a naked person for hours at a time. As a result, I'm also perfectly capable of seeing a naked body in non-sexual terms, so that isn't the issue. I just find the idea of everyone getting naked together a bit weird. I don't want to see my friends naked, I don't want them to see me naked. In England the only other person who is likely to see you naked is your partner. Maybe I wouldn't mind doing it so much if I was with a partner, but I don't have one right now anyway.
Unfortunately, sauna is so normal and so loved in this country that Finnish people find my feelings unbelievable. On a couple of occasions when I've talked about this, Finnish people have been very pushy and quite rude about it. One particular conversation I had made me think that it's unsurprising that a lot of foreign people consider the Finns to be intolerant. I know that's not the case, and that the person in question was just very shocked, but I ended up feeling like I was being punished.

2.) Chip sandwiches
Finnish people do not understand the beauty of putting a potato based product between pieces of bread or toast. I'm not one for crisp sandwiches, which are very popular with English children, but sandwiches with chips, potato wedges or hash browns are beautiful things to me. Yesterday I was discussing this with Emmi, and I told her that the night before I'd had a hash brown sandwich with loads of butter and garlic mayonnaise, and her response was to tell me that I'm quite disgusting. Sadly they weren't real hash browns, but I've found a brand of röstiperunat which are almost identical. In the city I come from there's a cafe which sells a Vegetarian Melt, consisting of either vegetarian sausages, hash browns, or both, in a baguette smothered with melted cheese. That's one reason to be glad I'll be staying there when I first get to England.

3.) School uniforms
I think pretty much every school in England has a uniform, but Finnish people find the idea quite unpleasant. Most people have argued that it doesn't allow the child any sense of individuality. I disagree - I managed to cultivate a perfectly good sense of individuality and creativity, despite wearing a uniform for 11 years. Plus you don't have to wear it 24 hours a day. Emmi said she thought it was unfair as some people might not have enough money to buy a uniform, which is a fair point, but at the school I went to, and presumably others too, they ran a second hand uniform shop. Anyone could donate pieces of uniform which they grew out of or no longer needed, and others could buy them for a much lower price than in the shops. I think uniforms also make everyone equal. No one can be bullied for the way they dress.

4.) Christmas food
I found the traditional Finnish Christmas food to be a bit odd. Very tasty, but it didn't seem very Christmassy to me as it was so different to what I'd normally eat. Similarly, when I showed Emma and Tommi a photo my parents emailed to me of their Christmas meal, they laughed for ages. Essentially, it's a very elaborate roast, but as that's very foreign to the people here they found it quite bizarre. I enjoyed the food I had last year, but I did miss the English meal, and I'll be very grateful to have it again this year.

5.) Salt & Vinegar crisps
This is the most popular flavour of crisps in my country, and I absolutely love them - they're definitely my favourite. Finnish people think it's a very strange flavour to have. They have similar thoughts on pickled onion flavoured crisps, which are also quite popular. When I first came here I did buy a bag of salt & vinegar crisps, but they tasted all wrong, which is why I've stuck to buying proper ones from England in the Kauppahalli. In this country I understand that sour cream is the most popular flavour, but I don't find them very appealing, even though they are available in England.

If I think of anything else I'll write about this again. Or if any Finnish people reading this have a suggestion of something "weird" from England, I'll try to explain it for you.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Xenophobe's guide to the Finns

If you want to know about what I have to put up with every day, I recommend this book. Emmi had mentioned it to me a while ago, and yesterday we found some copies in Suomalainen Kirjakauppa. It's written by a Finnish woman, and it's all very funny, but also true. Just looking through it in the shop gave me answers to a few things. For example, I've been wondering why people in a cold country want to eat so much ice cream. Answer: to ensure they are still the leading consumers of ice cream in the world! Plus, it means beating Sweden at something, and that's always worthwhile. We both found it funny, and I should probably buy a copy sometime. I learned from the book that if a Finnish person makes a promise they will stick to it, and the only way they'll break it is if they happen to die. Even that is considered to be a poor excuse.
Happily, there's also a Xenophobe's guide to the English. I want that one too. It points out that the people of my glorious nation share "a collective dislike of anyone who 'goes too far'." I can't say that it's not true. That book reminds everyone of some important qualities of an English person - moderation and indifference. Good point.
Seeing these books, and remembering how many times I've written about Finnish things that I just don't understand, I've been thinking recently of the things that Finnish people don't understand about me/England. I'll get to that tomorrow, I've been writing a mental list.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Dark nights

I've noticed that the nights are getting dark again. Daylight still lasts for quite a long time, but the period where it never really got dark seems to be over. I find it a bit sad. Whilst the nights were light I found them creepy, but now that they're gone it seems a shame. It was very interesting to me because it was something brand new, and something specific to this part of the world. It always amazed me.
At least I'll be leaving the country before it goes back to the dark days of winter. It feels too early for summer to start disappearing.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Went to Tampere

I went to Tampere yesterday, which was lovely. I saw this church from the train, and wondered if I'd accidentally gone to St Petersburg. Oddly I didn't take many photos.
Tampere was very nice, and I thought it looked rather like Oslo, or at least the part of Oslo that I saw when I was there. There's a flower festival going on there at the moment, so there were lots of plants everywhere, which made it look beautiful. I liked Tampere better than Oslo, and it had a lot more interesting stuff there. Although it was nice, I still like Turku more. Turku gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I won't be running away to live in Tampere just yet.
Mainly we wandered around the streets, so I got a good feel for the place. We went on a big wheel in the kauppatori, but unfortunately phones/cameras were not permitted so I couldn't take any pictures of the lovely view.
I was told that every year students from Tampere go to Turku with shovels in an attempt to detach us from the rest of Finland. Disgraceful! Why would they want to get rid of the best part of this country?
We also went to a very nice park just outside of the center, where there was a beautiful lake, and some sort of botanical garden. It wasn't too busy; very peaceful and quiet.
For once my travel plans did not turn into a disaster. On the way home I was talking to a very nice man, who dragged me onto the platform for a cigarette when the train stopped somewhere. I forgot that smoking on railway platforms is still allowed in this country. The conductor was a very nice lady, who didn't mind at all, and even came to let us know when we needed to get back onto the train. Excellent. The journey between the two places doesn't even take that long, so it all went well.
I'm very happy that I went there, as I had a very nice day. It's a good thing for me to see some new places in this country before I leave. This was totally worth spending all my money.

Monday, 18 July 2011

My birthday and Botellon

It was my birthday on Saturday! Woo! The picture is of the delicious cake that my flatmate Iida made as a present for me. She made it a week early, so obviously it's gone now. It was very kind of her, and tasted wonderful.
Luckily the weather was quite decent on my birthday, so my friends and I went to Botellon, a huge drinking party in Kupittaa park. It originates from a Spanish thing where young people decided that bars were too expensive, so they made their environment a bar, and just drank in public. In Turku it's now an annual event. We went there in the evening, and like a genius, I'd been drinking all day so I fell asleep in the middle of the park quite early. The less said about that the better, but I understand I'm not the only one. One of my friends kindly half dragged, half carried me back home at midnight. Yesterday I was rather hungover, what a surprise.
Apart from that, I had a really good day, and lots of my friends came to see me, which was really nice. I'm very glad that I've met so many people here who care enough to turn up. It makes me feel loved. There were a lot of people in the park, even more than I expected, although I knew it was a big event. It was really busy and there seemed to be a nice atmosphere. I'm very happy with how everything turned out, because I spent lots of time with my friends and had fun, which is what really matters. It was a really good weekend. The hangover was totally worth it.
Next weekend should also be exciting, as on Sunday I'm going to Tampere for the day to visit someone. I've never been there before, so I'm looking forward to seeing a new part of Finland.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A midnight walk

Last night I decided to have a late night stroll, and ended up wandering near to where I used to work, my first job in Turku.
First of all, I got quite a surprise. I worked there during December, when everything was covered in snow, so I had absolutely no idea that that area had quite a lot of trees and grass. I'd never seen it before! I'm glad I went in that direction because I got the chance to see it in quite a different light.
Being around there brought up plenty of memories for me. Winter was quite a dark and miserable time - it literally was that way, and also felt that way as there were a lot of problems around that time. Being near there made me both happy and sad. It was around that time that I first started to feel like I really loved Turku, and that it was somewhere I would like to call my home. I remember one particular morning, quite early, when I'd only had to be there for one hour. I was walking home, seeing the cathedral in the distance, seeing the roads in and out of the city, and the train tracks, it was extremely cold but very clear and sunny, and I remember thinking how beautiful it all was. I got that feeling last night too.
I also felt quite sad because I thought of how my first few months here were in some ways wasted, just like many before I came to Finland. Maybe they needed to be wasted so I could be so happy and appreciative of everything I have now, and especially everything I've gained since coming to Turku. I'm so grateful for how things have turned out. This is definitely one of the happiest times of my life.
Whilst I worked there I was staying with Emma and Tommi most of the time, and little did I know that every time I walked back to their house I was walking straight past my future home, the place where I live now. I actually walked past my current home on the first morning I was ever in Turku. I never would have guessed. It goes to show you never can tell how things will turn out.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Thank God for the weekend

As I said previously, this has not been the best week ever, but I think the weekend is going to be a big improvement and at least mean it ends well.
Last night I went with two of my flatmates, Heli and Iida, to one of the riverboat bars in Turku. We only had one drink, but it was fun because I've never been on one of them before. They are really popular, and it actually took a very long time for us to find a boat with space available. There was a really nice atmosphere around the river because lots of people were there on the banks drinking. It was good for us to do something pleasant after spending all week dealing the with stealing.
I think that today will also be a really enjoyable day. Iida works as a chef, and today she's making me an early birthday strawberry pie! She would have done it next week but she'll be working all weekend, but today we can do it together. It's a lovely thought and I'm looking forward to it very much. Then if I can scrape some money together we can all go out again tonight. Iida and Heli are encouraging me to do this by collecting empty drinks cans and recycling them...
One unfortunate piece of news though is that I now have a flight back to England booked for the 5th of September. That, very sadly, will be the end of my time in Finland, for now at least. I'm a bit upset, but I knew this time would come eventually, and I know it's better to finish the last year of university. It's just hard to leave when I love Turku and love how my life has turned out here. This really has been a crazy, wonderful experience.
My mother booked the flight for me, and the most tragic part of it all as that she sent me an email asking me for my passport number and my name! My own mother!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Trouble, trouble, trouble

Sadly I haven't really enjoyed my week off as there's been so much drama and trouble. It seems like there's something every single day. The main thing has been that one member of my household has developed a habit of stealing food and alcohol. A couple of days ago the culprit burst into tears and confessed all. We had suspected her anyway, as she was the only person who didn't seem remotely concerned by all this, but still, it's created a lot of tension. She's made it worse for herself by, so far, failing to replace the many items she has stolen from everyone else, being unable to give any explanation for her behaviour, despite claiming that she can't stop thinking about what she's done, and generally causing a lot of hurt by lying to our faces, and leading others to become suspicious and think badly of each other.
Aside from that there's been arguments, a car crash, unpleasant blog comments, and more unwanted contact from my ex boyfriend. So this week just gets better and better. I wish I was working so I at least had a distraction.
Today I'm feeling quite miserable; all this is getting a bit too much. I'm trying to stay optimistic that it will all blow over soon. I've got a few things to look forward to, for example my birthday next weekend, hopefully getting a new tattoo before the month is out, and a trip to Tampere, and I just hope that these things won't get ruined by further problems. Right now I'd like to get far away from here and just forget what is going on. I haven't had such an unpleasant week in a while.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Dear critic(s)

So I've noticed this week there suddenly seems to be an influx of comments intended to put me/what I have to say down, and generally needlessly complain. They're all anonymous, and I expect they are coming from only one person who has taken an irrational dislike to this blog, but of course I can't say for sure. Some of them I have just deleted as I have nothing to say in response, some I have left as I had something to say in reply.
What I will say generally is this: if you disagree with something I have written, and wish to make that point in a civil, dignified manner, please do so. If, however, you wish to comment in a sneering, critical tone, please don't bother. I'll either delete what you have to say, or tell you exactly where you can go.
What I write here concerns my opinions, observations, and experiences. At times I may say something incorrect, or write something as a result of misinformation. I have never claimed that this is absolutely 100% accurate. It's one thing to point out something I probably don't know, tell me more about something I mention, or to make a helpful correction, but it's quite another to intentionally write something insulting, or knowingly word your comment in a way that inevitably comes off as insulting. Personal attacks are also ridiculous.
I don't know who has been writing these comments, and frankly, I don't really care. If you are the kind of person with nothing better to do than attack strangers on the internet, you are far beneath me, and will certainly not succeed in upsetting me. If you find what I write so distasteful or unpleasant that you can't just let it go, you might find it easier to stop reading it. Because I'm going to write whatever I want, regardless of how you feel about it.

Well, now I've cleared that one up, we can hopefully all move on to nicer things.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

So this is "normal"

I've had a brilliant week. I'm so happy that I've got this new job, not only from a financial point of view, but also that I now have some structure and routine in my life. Being unemployed for a long time is extremely boring. It's so nice to get up first thing in the morning, and have a purpose for the day. This was exactly what I needed.
I'm really enjoying the work - the family are all very nice, and the children are generally well behaved. I feel welcome in their home, and I don't have to do anything too extreme or taxing. It has been quite tiring this week, but I suppose it's a shock to my system to have to be up early and do lots of things after such a long time spent being idle. It's just a shame that this job, or something similar, never came up before now, as it's so perfect for me. I actually have all of the next week off because the children are going for a holiday, which is a bit disappointing as I'd like to be doing something. At least now I have a bit of money so I can actually do something nice, not just sit around at home.
Another nice thing about my work is that it's in the countryside, which is so different to what there is in my country, and it's quite a good experience to see this. I'm not really a countryside person, but it's interesting to see somewhere so different to Turku, and to have a change of scenery for a few hours each day. The downside is that I'm covered in insect bites as the weather has been extremely hot this week and bugs are everywhere.
On Thursday this week I went to visit Emma's sister at her home. She and her family live in Hirvensalo, which is an island connected to Turku by a bridge. I'd never been there before, but it's a very pretty area, which lots of trees and greenery. I doubt I'd choose to live there, but it was a nice place to visit, and it must be good for children living there as there's so much space. Hirvensalo is very suburban, whereas I'd much rather be in the city. I had a very nice dinner with them, and saw their home, which is lovely. It was nice to do something different and meet someone new.
On Friday Emmi and I went to see the medieval market that's being held in Turku this weekend. Unfortunately, that was the one time there was a heavy downpour of rain, and we got soaked. It's so hot that we dried off relatively quickly. We didn't buy anything, but there were lots of pretty craft items for sale, and it was good to see people dressed in costumes from the middle ages. We also saw a large hog roast, which didn't impress me much, being a vegetarian. I'm glad we went to have a look; it's a pretty big deal here and attracted a lot of attention. Many people had mentioned it to me and recommended it, so it was worth having a look.
I hope the next week will be equally enjoyable, and that I find something interesting to occupy myself. As I now have a travel card for buses, paid for by my employers, perhaps I can take a trip to Naantali or somewhere else nearby.
Plus it's my birthday in two weeks! All gifts and cash donations will be accepted, haha.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Juhannus and another happy thing

First off...I have a new job! Finally! As an au pair for a family who live in Kaarina. I met them yesterday and started working today. Obviously I'm very pleased, and I also think it's very nice to have the opportunity to be outside of the city. They live in a quite rural area, and although I absolutely love Turku and where I live, it's nice to have a bit of variety. In terms of wages and other benefits I'm also very satisfied, and the family seem very nice, including the children. There was a lot to do but it wasn't so bad. So let's hope I've now turned a corner regarding money and work.



Now, onto Juhannus (midsummer). As I said, that's not a thing in my country, but Finland makes a massive deal out of it. And it was a pretty epic weekend. It started on Thursday, when we took a trip to Pori to rescue a friend escaping from the army for the night because he wanted to see Petri Nygård. That was a successful mission, but obviously I cannot name names with this.

Friday involved drinking throughout the day, which I wouldn't normally do but it seemed acceptable. Nothing very significant happened, apart from noticing how many shops and bars were shut for the holiday, which felt very odd. I'd been warned that the city would be quite deserted, and that proved to be true. I will say that I disagree with what I was told about midsummer drinking being a generally happier occasion - at least amongst my friends there seemed to be constant fights. Which was unfortunate, but they usually got sorted out.

Saturday involved more drinking, and me taking a surprise dip into the river, which was extremely unhygienic. I also managed to break my finger in the process of getting out again. Oh dear.

But now things should be back to normal, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of the week. Here are a few pictures from my weekend.



Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Forte

I've been told before that I should go to Forte sometime, which finally happened yesterday. It was definitely preferable to Marilyn and Vegas, which I wrote about before. It was nice to have a girlie night out for a change, as I haven't done that for ages now. It's not the best club I've ever been to, but it's better than some of the other options in Turku. The interior was nice, and there were lots of friendly people there. I think Sunday is the really big night there, as all the bar staff who can't go out on Friday and Saturday apparently go to Forte on Sundays. Several people have told me I should go there one weekend, and I wouldn't be opposed to going again. The music wasn't quite what I like, but it was good enough for dancing, and better than in some other places where they seem to play "Selvä Päivä" and not much else.
Best of all, it was extremely cheap, and they had various cocktails. Some creepy old men bought us all strawberry margaritas. The drinks were good, the men were bad. It was a good night though, and I'm glad my friends called me else I would have just been at home being boring. However, I still find it a bit awkward when I go outside at 4am and it looks like the middle of the day. Yesterday was the longest day of the year too, so it was really weird. I'm not sure I'm going to get used to this.
Our night ended with eating burgers in the street, kindly bought for us by some friendly men. I have to say, if you've been out drinking in Turku you should go to Semi-Burger in Erikinkatu. The food is amazing, and it was pretty perfect after lots of drinking. I think I'm in love with their vegetarian burger. Maybe I was just drunk, but everything about it seemed perfect. It's a bit expensive (€4 just for a fairly small burger), but it's probably worth it. When you're drunk you don't really mind how much you're spending anyway. There was a long queue so I think it's a popular place. I'll certainly be going back.
So all in all it was a successful night with a happy ending. The occasional midweek night out is never a bad thing, so today I'm feeling rather cheerful.

Monday, 20 June 2011

More thoughts on Finnish people

This weekend I've noticed how much my Finnish friends love alcohol. I know not every Finnish person is like this, but a lot of them are, and I'm wondering how to keep up. This weekend it's midsummer, and from what I know that involves copious amounts of drinking. Just like every other weekend. I'm quite intrigued, as midsummer isn't a big deal at all in my country, but here it's a big party and tradition. Or just an excuse for a big party. Maybe it's a manifestation of how happy the Finnish people are to get a bit of daylight and sunshine. I'm sure it'll be an interesting few days at least.
Another thing I've noticed recently is that Finnish people, if they consider you as a friend, are extremely loyal, and will do absolutely anything necessary to help you. All along I've had a lot of help from my friends here, but it just suddenly occurred to me. If you need something, a Finnish person will do whatever they can to sort you out, whatever kind of help you may need. I have to say that sometimes English people, myself included, can't really be bothered to go out of their way. Only on a couple of occasions since being here have I thought this of a Finnish person. So we all need some Finnish friends, because they won't leave you hanging, and they will go far out of their way to make sure you're ok. Maybe I've just been extremely lucky with the people I've met. I think that although Finnish people may seem cold or reserved at first, once you are close to them they are the opposite of that.
Plus, a potential childcare job has come up, which I'm fairly hopeful about. We'll see how it goes, but at the moment I'm staying optimistic. Finding a new job would make me so happy. So everything here is going well enough - now I just need to deal with the student loan company in England, who, as usual, have made a mess of things. Ideal.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

My moment of linguistic genius

Earlier I looked something up in the textbook I had for the Finnish course I went to, and then decided to look through it a bit more. Unfortunately whilst I was going to that course I was in the middle of breaking up with my ex, and lost the confidence to keep going, which I still think is a real shame. Since then I've been picking things up in a more casual way, but today I was compelled to have a look through the book some more and see if I could make some use of it. After all, it was fairly expensive to buy, so it's much better to still use it, even if it's on my own. Other people have told me that I speak more, and better, Finnish than they would have expected, so I think I should keep developing that.
Anyway, I came to a section with a few paragraphs describing a fictional Finnish family, and was amazed to discover that, as I read through it, I understood most of what was there! Not every single word, but I definitely got the gist of it. Plus, using what I already knew and had heard in the past, I managed to work out some of the new words and sentences! I feel like I have accomplished something good today, and now I'm much more inspired to keep using the book. It's hard to use the pages on grammar by myself, as the book doesn't contain any english text or explanations, but I can definitely use it to extend my vocabulary and look up thing like how to ask questions.
Added to that, the daycare finally contacted me regarding my wages! I was asked again for my bank details, but the email included a wage slip with tax information. How they managed to get the tax card but not the bank account number, which was definitely in the same envelope, is beyond me, but who cares! Hopefully I'll get my money tomorrow and can buy some decent food. A diet of noodles and toast is getting depressing now. Also, once I have the money I'm going to call the council about selling paintings in kauppatori. I'm really excited about doing that; I think it's a really good opportunity. Today has actually turned out to be a rather successful day.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Hotter than hell

It's insanely hot! I never imagined it would get to be like this in Finland. Yesterday it was 33 degrees, which is such an enormous difference from the winter. English summers ofter get to these kinds of temperatures, but I didn't really expect it to happen here too. On Friday I even saw a rather fat old lady jump naked into the fountain outside the main library. It wasn't very attractive, but the police turned up very quickly. I can understand her feelings though. I constantly feel a bit dirty and disgusting, even right after taking a shower. I think it's going to cool down a bit next week; I really hope so because it's a bit too much now. This has been constant for about a week, and the weekend has been ridiculously hot. However, I'd rather it was like this than as cold as it was during the winter.
I've also noticed that it's not actually getting dark anymore - the sky just goes a kind of greyish-blue at it's darkest. For me it really is the strangest thing. The picture is of a very beautiful sunrise froma few weeks ago, but there isn't even a proper sunrise anymore. I'm not sure if I like this phenomenon or not.

It's now Monday morning. I started writing this last night, and apparently I spoke too soon, because I was woken up at 7.00am by thunder and torrential rain. It's not cold, just very grey and wet. I think I preferred the ridiculous heat and sunshine. Oh dear.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Something special for my lovely readers

As a special treat for being so loyal and lovely, I came up with this:

Frozen in Finland readers can have 20% off the price of any of my artwork listed on Etsy!
Please note that this is a discount on the cost of the item only; shippng costs will stay as stated on Etsy.
To take advantage of this, please contact me directly via email, with your name and address, and obviously specifying which piece you want. I will confirm the total price for you and send you my paypal details for payment. Nothing will be shipped to you until payment has been received. Now go buy some art!

Remember, if you want a discount you'll need to contact me, ot make a purchase through Etsy - they'll automatically charge you the full price.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Remember to relax

Lots of things have happened today to get me stressed and pissed off. I really overspent at the weekend, and I'm not very proud of myself. It looks like my rent will be paid in installments this month. However, if the pre-school I had an interview at could be bothered to pay me for my time, as they promised, it would likely solve the problem. The lesson we've learned this weekeend is that drunk people shouldn't be allowed to pay with cards or withdraw money. Bad things will happen.
Despite all that, I had quite a relaxing few hours sitting by the river tonight. It was very hot today, and lots of people were walking around; I felt very connected to Turku for some reason.
Another lovely thing is that the benches by the river, near to the library, have special Capital of Culture Marimekko designed cushions. There are lots of street art things around the river area, such as balloons with ships on them in the trees, and giant ducks in the river. I'm so irritated that my iPhone charger is broken so I can't take any pcitures. If I wasn't a big drunken fool I could have bought a new one already...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Clubbing hell

This week I've found myself in a few different clubs in Turku. I've often walked past two places that are next door to each other, Nightclub Vegas and Nightclub Marilyn - I'm amused that the word "nightclub" is used, because I don't think anyone in my country actually says that anymore - and I always got the impression that those places were cheesy hellholes. Now, having gone to them both, I can say for sure that they are!
Vegas, in particular, seems to have a lot of strange, older men who want to prey on small English girls. It's never a good sign when your friends have to form a human shield around you to protect you. Both of these places struck me as a 17 year old's dream, but it was a bit tacky for me. Lots of girls wearing far too much make-up, and lots of guys who have no concept of personal space. Fun. Someone told me that Marilyn is usually frequented by 18 year olds who have just discovered the joys of legal drinking. A lot of bars here have higher age limits to keep out teenagers who don't know how to handle their alcohol, so I assume that's one of the only options for them. I suppose at least I can say I've been to these places, but I don't plan on going to them regularly.
Last night I found myself in another club, the name of which I don't even remember, and for some reason being able to skip the line, leaving lots of unfortunate people standing in the cold. That place seemed to have a bit more class, and the interior was more stylish, but I don't think it will be a regular place for me either. Again, at least I went once. I'm told it's a very new place, and it was definitely preferable to the other too. The music wasn't quite to my taste in any of these places.
It's still very hot, so I'm annoyed that I seem to have picked up yet another cold. My nose is very stuffed up, but I suspect I'm just a bit run down - I think I've been overdoing it with going out and drinking for the past couple of weeks. Hopefully I'll feel better after a few quiet nights.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Vesi exhibition

Today is an insanely hot day here, which I think set me up well psychologically for seeing an exhibition about water. I enjoyed the show, but I think I preferred the last exhibition I saw at Wäinö Aaltosen.
The picture is of my favourite piece from the show, "Sink First" by Tina Eskilsson. The medium is pencil, and it looked very impressive. The placement of the figure, with a gap at the top, made the idea of sinking very convincing.
I also really liked two films, by Hannu Karjalainen and Renja Leino respectively. Both of them used sound and image in such a way that made the water seem to really be there, like I could touch it. Karjalainen's film "Surfer", was particularly good, showing waves crashing against rocks. It reminded me very much of my home, it was very emotive and captivating.
Again, the layout of the exhibition was great, and successfully showed the many functions of water - as a cleanser, as part of recreation and sport, as a dangerous force etc. In the first room there seemed to be some emphasis on visual distortion caused by being underwater, which was interesting to look at.
My only complaint would be that this show was really focussed on photography, and I would have liked to see some more paintings and drawings. There were a few included, but they seemed like an afterthought. The previous exhibition I saw at this gallery covered a wide spectrum of media, which kept things fresh, but that was not the case today. I have nothing against photography, but it's not my primary interest, and the exhibition seemed a bit unbalanced to me.
However, the subject matter is interesting, and there were plenty of really great images and compelling works, so I'm pleased that I went. This show runs until August, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next at Wäinö Aaltosen.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Food and Art

I just ate some lovely falafel from Hesburger. I haven't been there for a while, so it was a nice treat. Actually, I mainly bought it because I ended up having a spontaneous night out last night, and on the way home around 5am I went to Hesburger, and as soon as I got to the front of the line the woman announced that they were shutting and wouldn't cook anything else. Evil people. I really like Hesburger, I think I'll miss it when I'm back in London. Perhaps I should open my own franchise. It's a lot better than Burger King or McDonalds - their vegetarian food is actually edible for a start.
I don't really get cravings for English food anymore. When I first came here it was really annoying. On a couple of occasions when I've been hungover a fried breakfast from a greasy cafe would have been ideal, but unfortunately there's no way to get that kind of thing here. Finnish people really don't understand fried breakfasts either - when I've tried explaining it they can't accept that it's breakfast, and tell me they might eat it for dinner but it's not breakfast food. I think if a hungover Finnish person ate at a greasy cafe they'd change their minds - it's hangover heaven, and every English person knows it, especially the students.
The other day I did have some bad cravings for food from Wasabi London. Their tofu yakisoba is amazing, and they have lots of really tasty vegetarian sushi too. I recommend the seaweed, soya bean, and red pepper gunkan. It's bliss. In London I regularly went to Picadilly, one of my favourite areas, to visit the commercial art galleries, and always bought food from there on the way home.
On the subject of art galleries, tomorrow I'm planning to visit Wäinö Aaltosen again. I would have done that today but I'm feeling sluggish. The new exhibition there is by Finnish, Swedish, and Estonian artists, and is themed on water, which will be of great interest to me. I grew up by the sea, and absolutely loved it, and always felt connected with water. Wherever I settle myself will need to be on the coast, or have a large body of water nearby. I love the river in Turku, which luckily is just down the street from where I live.
I really liked the last exhibition I saw at Wäinö Aaltosen; I liked the way pieces had been grouped together, and the general layout was really good, so I think this new show will be very enjoyable.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Turku is a happy place

I was walking home from my friend's house at 3am on Friday morning, and it was amazing to see that very far off in the distance the sky was red where the sun was just beginning to rise. It was beautiful and strange. At the moment I'm getting about five hours of darkness each night, and I find it almost impossible to believe, it's so far from what I'm used to. One evening last week I was talking to one of my English friends on Skype, it was around 10pm, and I showed him on the webcam what the sky looked liked outside. He said it looked the same as it was in England, which is two hours behind Finland. I'm sure that it's dark by 9 or 10pm there. At the moment the darkness here seems to be between 11pm and 4am. It's so strange.
Walking home like that seemed oddly magical. It's nice that I can walk home alone at night and still feel quite safe. When I lived in Canterbury I could also do that, it's smaller than Turku and very non-threatening, but there's no chance I'd do that in London, or even the city I come from. I love living here.
Yesterday was a quiet day, but I noticed something about a particular R-Kioski shop. For people reading this in Turku, it's the one in Erikinkatu next to Lidl. Every time I go in there I've noticed that the people working there are unbelievably cheerful and friendly, more so than in any other shop. Is the management putting something in the water?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Lovely friendly Finns

Once again, what's all this about Finnish people being cold? Because, once again, a nice Finnish person who I've never met emailed me to ask to meet me! This lady invited me to a summer party tonight at a kindergarten, but as the weather has been crap today I decided against that, and also invited me to visit her home and family sometime. I'd be very happy to meet her at some point. So, I ask for the hundredth time, if Finnish people are so cold and horrible, how do these things happen?
Several of the friends I have in Turku are people who contacted me after reading this blog asking to meet me or inviting me to do something with them. Additionally, there are various friendly well-wishers, some living in Turku, some in other parts of Finland, who I have never met but who often write nice messages and comments for me. Then there are also the numerous people who have sent me emails or messages with advice and good wishes about looking for a job or adapting to Finnish culture. Last week a Finnish girl even wrote to me to ask for my advice in helping her foreign boyfriend settle in this country. For such a cold and anti-social nation they're all being very nice to me. Most Finnish people are quiet, and often seem shy, but they are so clearly not unkind or unpleasant. I've found lots of cheerful, friendly, cheeky little Finns. Plus, I'll be honest, I do quite like getting the "fan mail", so please keep it coming. Really, if any of you end up alone in a foreign country, just write a blog - you'll make loads of friends.
It's nice that this is happening, because apart from this the weather is rubbish and I'm running out of ideas when it comes to the job hunt. I tried applying to Itella/Posti this afternoon but their online job search decided not to work for me. Thanks for that. I decided to try listing some paintings on eBay as well as Etsy, but every time I go near eBay it decides to be naughty too. It seems that we're just not compatible. I'm looking forward to getting paid so I can call the council and get permission to sell paintings in Kauppatori, which hopefully will bring forth money, and be a lot of fun. I'd still like to do some tutoring or childcare, as I know I'm good at it and could probably make some reasonable money. If any of you need to be taught or looked after you know where I am...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Strange musical evening

It turned out that the cultural stuff was continuing today too, so the hangover did not beat me! When I walked near the river earlier there was a zip wire strung up across it, which I think was bordering on stupid, but no one appeared to fall in or get stuck in the middle.
We went to a gig on the riverbank this evening, it was free, and the band are apparently quite famous. It meant nothing to me, but Jätkäjätkät anyone? Imagine, if you will: Finnish rap that's channelling a bit of ska, with a mandolin and an accordion. It literally made no sense, but it was fun. Personally I wouldn't pay for it, but they were good. It was quite nice whilst standing in the sunshine.
Of course, because it's summer in Turku, there were some mad hippies. I've now had the experience of watching a fat, middle aged, possibly homosexual man grinding against thin air, slapping his belly, and doing some Bollywood style hand movements. That was interesting.
This particular weekend was organised by a group from, of all places, Manchester. We were informed of this by a lovely English man on stage, and I was a bit tempted to run at him screaming "Oh my god, English, English!" Thankfully, I resisted these urges. This was another part of the Capital of Culture stuff.
I'm so glad to be here, involved in all this mad stuff. Turku is buzzing at the moment, and I don't think I've seen anything like this. Maybe after winter, when everything is so dark and cold, the people here just appreciate summer and the opportunity to be outside a lot more. This city seems a lot more sociable now. I've never really felt this in any other place, and it's really exciting. There seems to be colour everywhere, and it feels like a totally different place to where I was during the winter. I've gone through some big changes since then, so maybe that's affecting how I feel. I always prefer summer, but I feel so excited this year, and I don't even know what's going to happen!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Weird weekends

Yesterday there was some kind of free street art party, and also a march through Turku to legalise cannabis. I didn't go to either of those things, because I was battling a hangover of epic proportions. I swear that I get worse hangovers in this country, and someone told me a long time ago that Finnish beer is brewed slightly differently, so maybe that has a negative effect on me. Finnish hangovers, unfortunately, seem to be vomit-inducing, and that's never been the case for me before now. Maybe I'm just getting old, but yesterday was a particularly bad one.
When I left Klubi on Friday night - I believe at around 3.30am - the sky was already light, which was really trippy. I felt extremely disorientated after that. The light levels here are still driving me mad, and I'm only in the southern part of the country. I'd quite like to visit Oulu, for example, because there's 24 hour daylight in summertime there, and I find that idea so bizarre. I don't think I can quite believe it without seeing it for myself.
This week I need to stop being lazy when it comes to the job hunt. Since I came back from Norway I really haven't made enough effort, and I know that I should. As well as more money, I really think I'd benefit from having a bit more structure to my days. The only advantage of the current situation is that recently I've been painting and working on art a lot more than I had been. Unfortunately I'm not yet in a position where I can afford to concentrate on that completely, so some proper work is definitely required.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Slooow

It's been a slow week for me, I think I'm losing my momentum a bit when it comes to the job search. I've also been a bit sad because all my friends are graduating from university now, and if I wasn't here I'd be among them. This week I've had to keep reminding myself of all the positive parts of being here, and that I'm having this mad experience that they aren't. I've confirmed with the university this week that I will be back, and in a way it's comforting to know I can go back, whilst the people I know are now being shoved into the real world. I've spent this time in the real world - it's lovely and all - but going back to student land probably won't be so bad.
I've noticed that the weather really affects how I feel - it's been rubbish for most of the week, and I've felt rubbish, but today, now that it's nice, I'm feeling perkier. Maybe because it's Friday, and weekends here always seem to get interesting.
Hopefully next week will be better. I've just been getting a bit bored and restless. There's only so many times I can go to the park and draw trees before it starts to get tedious. I guess that's what happens when you're broke - you can't afford to do anything interesting, so it feels like there's not really anything you can do. However, the money situation is looking up, so maybe this won't be an issue for long.
When I'm in a good mood, like today, I keep thinking how sad it is that in a few months everything will change again. If things could stay how they are now forever I wouldn't really complain. The past few months have been one of the happiest times of my life, and after the miserable year I had before that I really appreciate it. I'm definitely back to who I used to be, and that's how I want to be.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Ice hockey

In my efforts to integrate I ended up watching ice hockey in a bar last night. Unfortunately I had no money to get as drunk as the many sweating, nervous middle aged men. But we won! I would not have liked to be around if Sweden had won, but instead it was 6-1 to Finland. Excellent.
I don't really get ice hockey. England isn't very into snow/ice based sports, but the atmosphere was about the same as English people watching a football match between England and Germany. Basically, there would be blood if they lost.
We went outside when it ended and someone was already running down Yliopistonkatu with his shirt off. Walking home was a bit terrifying - there was a lot of drunken screaming, and someone had already passed out in the street. For a few hours after that there were a lot of car horns. It didn't really affect me but at least the rest of the country was happy.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Damn you Suomen Partiolaiset

Today Suomen Partiolaiset (the guides and scouts of Finland) decided to have a big parade through Turku. Which is lovely and all but it was such a big thing that all the traffic was being redirected and getting across the street was near impossible. Why did I decide to go to the supermarket whilst they were parading around? I had to stand in the street waiting to cross the road for about 10 minutes whilst they all marched past. It gave me a chance to see the whole thing, but it took a very long time. I guess because of this the flags were out yet again. I think this week we've only been without flags for two days!
I'd also like to point out how happy I am that United Kingdom did so much better than Finland in Eurovision. I know we were far from winning, but as long as Finland did worse it doesn't matter. I was watching it at a party with a lot of Finnish people who didn't really appreciate me laughing at them. They admitted that if things had been the other way around they would have given me even more shit for it, so I think I was justified. I like the Azerbaijani song, so I'm happy with that, but my favourites were Iceland, Denmark, and Switzerland. I don't understand why two of those countries did so badly; I think Switzerland were actually in last place. I didn't even vote but I would have gone for Iceland, and UK just to be patriotic. I think Paradise Oskar should have done better though, he's very sweet.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Yesterday

My job interview was a success! Which is especially impressive as the person I was meant to cover for turned out to be the class teacher, not an assistant as I had assumed. I walked in, was put in front of a group of five year olds and told to teach them! It went ok though, and the girl acting as an assistant, who was a student on a work placement, asked how long I'd been working with children and didn't believe that I'd never done it before. Maybe this runs in the family or something. My mother was overjoyed to hear about this, although I don't think I want a teaching career.
Unfortunately, the job doesn't start until August, so even if they offer it to me I will be unable to take it. I've always intended to leave in September, plus I need a job right now. If it was starting next week or next month it would be perfect, and I would jump at the chance. I'm actually pretty disappointed because it seemed like a really nice place to work, and it appears that I'd also be good at the job. They are paying me for my work yesterday morning, which I'm very pleased about, it's definitely very welcome. I guess I deserve it because they basically used me as a substitute teacher.
For the rest of the day I just hung out at my friend's house and then with my flatmates. I was in a bit of a bad mood about the job. We watched ice hockey and the Eurovision semi-finals, and I'd like to remind everyone to vote for Finland. If you live in Finland vote for the UK!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

This week so far

It's been a very hot, sunny week in Turku so far. My enthusiasm for being here is back, so maybe bad weather was the problem. I've been out today putting english/art tutor adverts in supermarkets, and it's disgustingly hot and sticky. As stupid as it may sound, it never occured to me that it would get this hot in Finland. Of course, there are hippies everywhere, wandering around and playing music in the street. It makes for a really great atmosphere. I feel like I'm somewhere a bit more exotic than Finland.
This week I've been reminded of how much Finland likes to get the flag out - they were on the flagpoles for the past two days. Sunday was Mother's Day, but I'm not sure what the reason was yesterday. In my country the flag doesn't come out so much. I think it's quite nice to walk down the street and see them everywhere. It can be a shock sometimes to go outside and suddenly be surrounded by lots of flags. I've also been told that when someone dies the flag on their building is often put up at half mast as a sign of respect, and I have seen that a couple of times.
However, the most exciting and important thing this week - I have a job interview on Thursday! I'm so pleased, and I'm very determined and motivated to get the job. I just had a phone call about it, and I have an interview and trial period in the morning. It's at an English language pre-school, and I'd really love to get that job. Luckily, my lovely mother works as a primary school teacher, so hopefully she can give me some professional advice on dealing with large volumes of small children. When I called my parents to see if she was at home my father's advice extended to "try not to kill them." It would be so great to have a proper, sensible job and be more secure. I'm determined to make myself absolutely perfect for the position. I'm even happy to sell out a bit and adapt my appearance, seeing as that's not as conventional as it could be, and frightening the lovely children definitely won't make me seem like Mary Poppins. This means tattoos will be covered, hair, shoes and clothes will be sensible, and I need to somehow get my lip piercing out, which right now is proving difficult. On Thursday I will boggle everyone with my brilliance. If that fails, I'll just baffle them with my bullshit.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Alko

I finally went to Alko yesterday! I've been here for almost seven months now but never needed anything from there, until yesterday when Minttu and I were going to the park and wanted a bottle of wine. Other people have always told me I need to go to there sometime, and the system it's part of is very different to in England.
For those who don't know: in Finland wine and spirits cannot be purchased at the supermarket. They are only available from a government controlled chain of off-licenses - Alko. Most large supermarkets have a branch of Alko next door. I'm told this is one of the measures, alongside alcohol only being available for purchase for 12 hours a day, to try to control alcohol consumption. I'll be honest, it's not really working. Norway seemed to have similar restrictions, and it wasn't working there much either. Still, it must provide plenty of money for the Finnish government, who own Alko, and therefore have a monopoly.
Anyway, it seemed to me pretty much the same as an English off-license, it wasn't that special. At least I've been in now anyway. I laughed when I found non-alcoholic wine on the shelf; that seemed a bit pointless. As always in Finland, there was a random drunk attempting to buy a bottle of vodka, who had it snatched from him by the lady on the till, and was shouted at until he wandered out and was jumped on by security staff. Standard. I'm not convinced to go there more often, beer is still a lot cheaper.
The other thing I've just noticed is that at the moment the sun starts rising at 3.30am. Not cool. I sometimes go through little phases of not going to sleep until around 3 or 4am, which is what's happening at the moment, and when I did try to go to sleep it was already light in the bedroom. It was a bit frustrating, and now I'm extremely tired but I don't want to waste the whole day in bed. It's not even the longest day yet! I think I'll have to sort out my sleeping pattern.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Itchy feet

I'm feeling restless. Maybe it's just post-holiday grumpiness, which I'm very prone to, but I thought it might not be an issue this time because my home is still a foreign place. Although, going away made me realise that Finland isn't that foreign anymore after all. It's quite comfortable.
It's not that I'm unhappy or I don't want to be here - I'd certainly rather be here than in England. In Oslo last week I would have killed to be back in Finland. I've been extremely fortunate here too. I live in a nice place with two lovely people, I've established a very good social life, and I've adapted to the culture of this country. Every time it's looked really bad something has happened to sort things out, at least temporarily. I can't believe my luck to be honest.
Maybe it's just because the weather wasn't so good until today that I've been in a bad mood. Right now I wish I could go somewhere brand new and do this all again. Perhaps I actually like having a certain element of discomfort in my life, or the feeling of everything being new, confusing, and exciting. Back in the day simply going to the supermarket was exciting because everything about it was unfamiliar. I suppose it's inevitable that that will fade away eventually, and maybe I just hadn't noticed until now.
I think my problem may well be that I now have to get back to the real world and start sorting out work/my finances again. On holiday I could completely forget about that and just have a good time. Plus with Easter falling the weekend before that, and applying for jobs at that time seeming a bit impractical, I had quite a long break from dealing with that stuff. Now I need to get back on it, and maybe it's just a bit of a struggle. I'll get there eventually, I'm sure. I hope.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Beautiful Bergen




Fjords, seen from the train





Fantoft stavkirke and the sunset by the harbour





View of Bergen from a mountain and view of one of the mountains




Me, trundling through a forest




But I still love Finland more.

I'm home

I got back to Turku last night, and proceeded to sleep for a very long time. I hadn't had a proper night's sleep since last Tuesday, so I desperately needed to catch up. I had a brilliant time in Norway and I'm really glad that I went. Later on I'll make another entry with some pictures because I have so many nice ones.
My sleep deprivation started last Wednesday. I had to get the bus to Helsinki at 5am on Thursday, so I decided to just have a short nap before leaving. As I'd drank a large can of Red Bull it didn't work out so well. The flight wasn't very long so I only slept for an hour, and then I landed in Oslo.
I didn't really like Oslo, but other people, incuding Norwegians, all told me they didn't like it either. It was quite pretty, but it wasn't very interesting. Luckily it was very hot and sunny so I spent my day wandering around, sitting in parks (of which there are many), and sketching. What I did like was that there were so many sculptures and statues, which gave me plenty of drawing material. The thing I absolutely hated was that there were so many beggars - I was approached by about 20 people throughout the day, which seemed a bit outrageous. If I'd only visited Oslo I would have quite a bad impression of Norway, and definitely would not be willing to return. Maybe if I'd been more energetic and hadn't been alone I would have had a better time. I had been given some suggestions of things to do, but I was so tired that I just wasn't in the mood.
On Thursday night I got the overnight train to Bergen, which took about eight hours. On the train everyone gets a little bag containing a blanket, inflatable pillow, eye mask and ear plugs, which was a good idea. Norwegian trains are quite comfortable, so at least I got some sleep then. I remember waking up at 5am when it was just getting light, and the landscape was so beautiful that I couldn't close my eyes again, despite being exhausted. I must have fallen asleep eventually because I woke up to the train conductor announcing that it was 6.30 and we would soon arrive in Bergen.
Immediately I found Bergen preferable to Oslo; it's much more beautiful, and is surrounded by seven mountains. I've never seen anything like that before. I met Selina and we took the tram back to her house. Originally we'd planned to have a nap but because we hadn't seen each other for so long we couldn't stop talking! The royal wedding was on that morning, so we decided to be patriotic and watch that, with snacks and alcohol. We played the now famous royal wedding drinking game, which lead to me finishing a bottle of wine by noon...not something I do on a regular basis. This was definitely the most drunken holiday I've ever had.
In the afternoon we walked to a forest, where there is a very beautiful church, Fantoft stavkirke. It's very famous for being the first one burned down by Varg Vikernes in the Norwegian black metal church burnings. It was rebuilt, and it was absolutely stunning. I can't believe anyone would want to damage such a lovely building, but then Varg clearly isn't quite right in the head. We sat in the forest and had a couple of beers, the weather was beautiful and it was a really nice afternoon.
Later we went into the city centre to have dinner. Bergen really is a lovely city, the architecture is quite old and most of the streets are cobbled. There's a mountain in every direction, and I really liked it. I can understand why Selina is so happy to be living there, I found the idea quite appealing too.
We met a couple of her Norwegian friends, and in the evening went to quite a dodgy club night. It was set up for the foreign exchange students, and I think most people were there because it's cheaper than a night out in central Bergen. Selina went to stay with her boyfriend but a couple of her friends looked after me, a Norwegian girl and an English girl, they were both very nice. She'd given me her house key so we went back there and at least got some sleep - about 8 hours which was the most I managed throughout the whole trip. At least I felt more lively when she came back on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon we had a barbecue with her boyfriend and friends, which was nice. We were lucky that the weather was great all weekend, warmer than it was in Turku last week, and I've since found out that it rained over the weekend. I made a good choice to go away.
In the evening we went out to an Irish pub in the centre of Bergen, lots of Selina's friends, her boyfriend's friends, and friends of friends turned up, so there was a very good atmosphere and there were lots of new people to meet. I found Norwegians to be very nice, sociable people, and as they'd never met me before they were all keen to chat to me. It was a good night and I felt very welcome.
Sunday was a typical Sunday - very lazy. We just watched tv and chatted all day as Selina was hungover and I hadn't slept very much. The good thing about northern countries is that even if you go out quite late, there will still be light for a long time. We didn't leave the house until almost 9pm, but it was still bright enough to do things for a few hours. Selina showed me around the centre a bit more, and we took a tram up one of the mountains! I found the idea a bit mad, but when we got to the top all of Bergen was visible and we watched the sunset. It was amazing, and the view was unbelievable. On the mountain there is also a Norwegian troll, who we cuddled and took photos of. We went back down and got some food, and sadly that was pretty much the end of my trip.
After a few hours sleep I had to be up to get the train back to Oslo at 8am. At least this time it was the day, so I could see the beautiful countryside. Norwegian countryside is absolutely stunning - I saw mountains, fjords and forests, and some places were just breathtaking. What a lovely landscape! Then it was back to the airport, and home to Finland.
It was a shame to leave, but it was also quite nice to be back. I finally understand my mother's mantra that "it's nice to go away but it's nice to come home again." Being in another place where everything is alien to me made me realise how comfortable Finland has become for me. It was nice to see things written in Finnish and to be able to understand again. I got back to Turku at about 10.30 last night, and it was good to get home.
That being said, I'd really love to visit Bergen again. It's a wonderful city that I'd highly recommend, and it was also so lovely to see Selina again. Even before she went to Norway we didn't see each other much just because of circumstances, but we talk almost every day and it was great to actually be with her and spend time together. I'm very glad that I took the trip, I had an awesome weekend, and I hope that at some point I will be able to go back, probably without a day in Oslo. I still love Finland, but Norway was brilliant.