So I’ve been back in Helsinki for quite a while now, but unfortunately uni work and travel and all sorts of bits and pieces have got in the way of blogging, and now there’s lots to catch up on! Last time I blogged my friend from London and her husband were about to come to visit, so that happened, and they seemed to like Helsinki, even if they were pretty horrified by -20. I’m getting weirdly used to subzero temperatures, although every now and again we get a bit of a thaw, and then it gets back to stupidly cold and we have to reacclimatise and get used to not feeling any extremities all over again. Ears and fingertips are a sacrifice you kind of have to make in this crazy weather. I keep having lots of ‘oh god, it’s cold’ kind of conversations with Finns at train stations, which is expanding my vocab at least. My Finnish is actually getting quite a bit better now, yesterday I had two almost conversations with Finnish people while waiting around in train stations, which I felt pretty proud of. Both along the ‘oh fuck, it’s cold. it’s not this cold in england eh? what the hell are you doing in finland’ kind of lines, and of course I didn’t understand most of what they were saying, but I managed with lots of nodding and smiling and ‘joo, on kylma,’ and about the only things I know how to talk about are where I’m from and what I’m doing in Helsinki, so it went okay, and I think I managed to sound a bit like someone who spoke some Finnish. Margareta (henceforth Maggie, she’s kind of Thatcher-style scary when it comes to mess. only kidding mags.) keeps making me speak Finnish in the flat, and she’s really good (the crazy horse has actually been studying Finnish for like 3 years, but then Hungarian is part of a degree, so she obviously has a thing for stupidly difficult languages), so that’s making me learn to say more things instead of kind of understanding but not managing to say anything in reply. She also speaks Italian, so we get to flex our languagey muscles over breakfast which is kind of nice, if a bit unfair on everyone else in the flat who don’t speak Italian.
When Tara and James (the Englishes) were here I took them to Suomenlinna, which I’d been to back in the Autumn when it was all sunny and green, so it was strange to see it now all frozen over. OH and I missed the most exciting bit, which is that the SEA was FROZEN. It’s still crazy to me that something so big and salty can actually freeze, but I can testify that it can, from the noises the boat was making on the way over. We didn’t manage to stay too long because it was just too damn cold, but the ferry over made it kind of worth it. Apart from that, we spent lots of time going to see Helsinki sites, art galleries and churches and things, interspersed with coffee/beers to thaw out a bit in between.
Before they arrived I went with a couple of people to SnowSplash, which was a kind of Finnish version of the Jamaican SunSplash festival, if that doesn’t sound like a totally crazy concept. Basically, lots of white boy reggae which was amazingly entertaining, and I got to meet lots of drunkety drunk Finns, which is always good. The music was actually pretty good, although I didn’t manage to understand much, and apparently at one point I was singing along to Jukka Poika singing about how his ex-wife was a pig. I can’t comment. All good fun though.
I’ve had lots of work to do, an exam last week on criminology which was lots of (at least interesting) reading, and then I’ve got another one next week so it’s lots of time with my nose in a book hiding from the scary cold. This week we had a big intensive one-week course on women and international development, taught by a Finnish-Canadian woman who was probably the loveliest, least scary lecturer I’ve ever had. A bit like a school nurse, but one who knows lots about social enterprise and rural inner mongolia. It was a really interesting course, but getting up 9am every day was pretty grim and probably hindered how much attention I was paying to all of her stories about village health care in the Philippines or whatever else she was talking about. The course culminated in a group presentation, with the class split into two, so ten people a group, which if you’re as much of a control freak as I am work-wise was a bit of a challenge, especially when we only had 3 days to do it in. We managed a half-decent presentation in the end though, on women tea-pickers in Sri Lanka,and no professors fell asleep this time so that’s got to be a plus.
After our class on Tuesday we headed to a park in the South of the city to join in with the sledging day celebrations-that’s right, when it’s pancake day in the UK, it’s sledging day in Finland. Apparently they do it even when it’s not snowy, but this year it’s been such a cold winter that really wasn’t a problem. The students were out in their overalls in force, this time armed with sledges, or even plastic bags for the slightly less prepared, plus a fair few who’d gone all-out and built their own sledges as part of a competition that happens every year. The best ones we saw were the SitSit sledge (complete with fully-laid table, chairs and SitSit guests singing drinking songs), the pirate ship (captained by a guy who’d turned his overalls into a pirate costume) and a giant sausage-sledge built by the German faculty members.
Oh, and the sauna sledge, which apparently got stuck when they tried to go down the hill, and lots of naked men had to get out and push. Unfortunately by this point I’d got too bloody cold and gone home to study, but it sounds like an experience. Oh and we got free pea soup! Served by a Finnish soldier, out of a tank. Obviously.
And free ice cream! Less useful in the cold, but I’m not one to say no to free. Actually, the other day I found myself eating ice cream in -12, and it made me feel like a real Finn. I still don’t like Salmiakki though, I really don’t think that’s going to change however long I spend here.
This week I’m back to hardly any classes, and kind of looking forward to it, although I’ve got mountains of reading to do for my Edinburgh project and for my methodology exam next week. Tomorrow is another early start though because we’re going to the Fazer chocolate factory at 7.45. It better be worth it. What am I saying? Free chocolate. It’s going to be worth it. In theory I’m then going to the gym at 12.30, but we’ll see whether that actually happens. Everything seems to revolve around food at the moment, but in weather like this every fibre of your being calls for carbs and fat and duvet, and it’s pretty hard to resist. I’ve been going out a bit less recently, which is kind of a combination of the cold and the workload, but I did go to the ESN party again this week which was a welcome break, and then last night I went round to the place of this girl I met ice skating a few weeks ago and she cooked up a storm of Korean food, which I think counts as a cultural experience for this week. The food was actually really good, and really strange both at once, rice cake soup (chewy, not crunchy if you were wondering) this amazing roast chicken-noodle-potato thing, and lots of Korean sushi and meatballs and things, but no barbeque or KimChee, which were the only Korean foods I’d ever heard of.
We’ve been having a weekly flat meal with my new flatmates every Sunday where one of us cooks food from our country, which has been really fun as last year we didn’t really manage to do much all together as a flat. So far Steph (the Texan) did cheesey spicey TexMex, and Larissa did Greek food (she’s aussie, with greek and finnish parents, so she kind of got to choose whatever she felt like) which was really good, and tonight it was my turn. I was kind of feeling the pressure, partly because the other two made really lovely food, but also because English food has such a shit reputation I kind of needed to prove it’s not all bad. I made toad in the hole with onion gravy, plus some leeks and carrots, and it all got eaten so I guess it can’t have been too bad! I’m really looking forward to tasting the Chinese food real people eat when it’s Grace’s turn to cook, and also when Maggie does Croatian- fingers crossed for squid.
What else? Ice skating, more studying, a very funny, drunken 80s party, booking trips to Gdansk and Stockholm for March, stressing about my Edinburgh project, more Sauna in the apartment block, lots of afternoons holed up in the Aleksandria study centre, lots of hassle trying to sort out more banking and travel card problems. Steph has lots of lists of things to do before she leaves Finland, and I think I kind of need to follow suit to make sure I don’t leave with lots still left to see, but I do have lots of visitors coming later in the semester, so I think that will push me to go out and see more sights etc. On our way to Gdansk we’re flying out of Turku, so we’ll have a few hours to see the city which is apparently quite old and pretty, and used to be the capital under Swedish rule, so I figure there must be something to see there. Not sure the same can be said for Gdansk, I get the impression its kind of small compared to Warsaw or Krakow, but at least I get to tick Poland off my list of countries.
Okay, enough now, I have to go sleep so I can get up bright and early and stuff myself stupid with Finnish chocolate.