March Madness

I’ve realised I’m now about half way through second semester. This is a scary thing, not just because the prospect of the end of Erasmus is looming, going back the UK and a summer of driving lessons and work before the even scarier prospect of fourth year, but also because I have half of a research project to do before I go. I’m trying to find immigrants to Finland to interview, and so far I have had a few replies, just hope I manage to get at least six willing and able types before the 20th of May, which is when I’ve pencilled in a flight home.

Enough of that, for now, I’m still here and still having lots of fun, so I’m going to concentrate on that. There has been ski jumping (watching, not doing thank christ) in Lahti, which was mostly standing in the cold watching Finns do very badly, and drinking hot chocolate laced with rum. hyvaaa indeed.

Yeah, it's pretty high

Dancing on tables to suomi-pop, which was slightly more hot and sweaty. Going to see Florence and the Machine at Tavastia, which is a pretty decent club in the centre. She was gloriously red haired and Kate-Bush-y, although she did keep called Helsinki Helinski. bloody brits. An airline I’d never heard of suddenly offered €5 flights to Gdansk in Poland, so me and my flatmate headed off to join a pretty massive cohorts of Helsinki Erasmus people out there over the March break. We spent a day in Turku, which is the old capital dating back to Swedish rule, not that you’d notice. There was a castle, and a church, and then all of the stuff you seem to get in all small Finnish towns. Even the street names are the same- there is always a Mannerheim street, a University street, an Eerinkatu, often a keskuskatu, a Snellmaninkatu, always a Sokos, always an Amarillo nightclub, maybe a Stockmann department store. Of course at home you see the same stuff on every high street, but I guess I’ve been here long enough now to spot the typicalities, they’re not so exotic any more. It’s quite a nice, settled-in kind of feeling. Small-town Finland is not that exciting, but kind of nice. I got to stand on the frozen river, which was a bit exciting, although when I say stand I really do mean climb down, stand there, take a photo, freak out a bit that the ice might break and kill me, and get up again, all under the very disapproving gaze of an old finnish lady standing on the bridge. I promise there were Finnish people on the ice first, honest.

After doing the rounds in Turku we flew off to Gdansk, which was really rather lovely.  Turku airport was an actual shed, with concrete walls and spray paint on the floor directing you to departures etc,  and we had to trudge through a piece of woodland to get to our terminal which was a strange experience, but anyway, back to Gdansk. Millions of churches, pretty old buildings, cobbles everywhere (my yank flatmate was incredibly excited about how old everythig was. She may or may not have compared it to a ride at Disney World. ), very good cake, friendly visitors and Polish people too. It was one of those trips where everyone for some reason is incredibly warm and friendly- we met a couple of strange but very talkative guys at the airport who sat with us on the plane, followed by some other exchange students from a different Finnish uni on the bus from the airport, and then found a group of people at the hostel to go out for a meal with. Then we met some Polish people in the street, who kept telling us not to say things out of Borat, because it wasn’t really Polish. I never actually thought it was given that it’s set in Kazakhstan, but at least now we had been warned that Yakshimesh is not acceptable.

We were only there for two days, and did some museums and churches, saw some gates, and some wandering around and hanging out in cafes, eating Polish sausage and pyrogi and that kind of thing, and drinking Polish beer, which made me very happy after far too long drinking Finnish piss. Sorry Finland, I love you, but I do not love your beer. One night we went out with a whole load of others from Helsinki which was good fun, kind of a rubbish place, but we had a laugh, and enjoyed the novelty of smoking inside. The next day we finally found some postcards (apparently impossible in Gdansk) and headed back to the airport. We had a slightly hungover pizza in Turku and got the late train back to Helsinki, for some much needed sleep. Being in Gdansk was a nice little taster, and really left me wanting to explore more of Poland; some of the people we knew had extended their trip with Warsaw or Krakow, and had good things to say. I definitely think I’ll be coming back.

Steph in front of something pretty and Polish

I managed to forget mother’s day. In my defence it isn’t the same in Finland, theirs is in May. But still pretty rubbish I know. I had a really interesting course from a visiting Italian lecturer on narrative research, it was supposed to be for masters students but they’re pretty flexible about that stuff here so I went anyway, and was very glad I did. He was a really charismatic, interesting, interested lecturer, and it was good to be pushed more- courses here are generally pretty easy if I’m honest. We had a week of lectures this month, and then there’ll be another in May, and then we’re done.

St Patrick’s Day happened, and I met up with a guy from Edinburgh called Rory, who might be coming here next year and wanted to check the city out. Somehow we ended up going to an Irish and an Aussie bar, so not very Finnish, but I think he had fun anyway. We did get to drink green beer, so that’s got to count for something right? I realised how used I’d got to the cold when I was trying to tell him that -5 was fine, and you really didn’t need to worry until it got to -15 or -20. I’m not sure he was convinced. After a while we headed to the ESN St Patrick’s party, which as usual was a bit crappy, but full of cool people I knew so could have been worse.

St Patrick's Day greenness

I worked up the courage to try mämmi, which is a kind of cold rye porridgey thing Finns eat at Easter with cream and sugar, and looks kind of disgusting but I was told tasted like weetabix. This was clearly a lie. I didn’t even manage to finish it. It tastes like cold, bitter, malty slime. and then sugary, creamy, cold, bitter, malty slime. At least I tried it, but I think Finland can keep it.


This weekend has been quite a quiet one, but I’m going to Stockholm next week and have lots of work to do, so this isn’t such a bad thing. I can’t actually get the books I need out of the library though, so unfortunately it’s all going to have to wait til Monday. What a terrible shame. Tonight our Spanish flatmate is cooking us a meal, so that should be nice! Will report back in due course.

Categories: Helsinki

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