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


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


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


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.