Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's Finland time again!

Soon after the championship in Lithuania I could pack my suitcase already again for another trip. This time I was heading to the North, my favorite corner of Europe. Saturday I took the bus from Riga to Tallinn. I managed to buy my ticket during the sales period so for only three euro’s I had a comfortable trip of around four hours.

I listened to some music which I liked to hear when I was fourteen. I was (and still am) crazy about synthesizer-like 80s mixed with some French top hits from the same period of time. Most of the songs accompanied me to my first ‘far away’ school trip. We went to Luxembourg. I remember well that during that trip I daydreamed a lot about being older and able to travel with boats and planes all over Europe, alone, without supervision. That what I was dreaming about has come true. Far away from home I’m travelling over bad Baltic roads discovering crazy but beautiful countries with nature and people’s habits way different than I was used to while still living in the Netherlands.  On my way to Tallinn I realized that it’s actually quite brave to do all this and that all my travels from the last few years made me to who I am now. I’m very privileged that this is all possible and that I can live with such a huge sense of freedom. It’s good to realize this from time to time. Well, that bus trip was such a moment.

In the afternoon I checked in at an Australian owned backpackers hostel not far away from the city center. I spent some days around new years eve 2009 there. I recently found the bill back for that stay; only 38 euro’s for six nights. Not bad! It was very clean and comfortable too, and that luckily didn’t change. 

I did some sightseeing in Tallinn but the weather wasn’t that wonderful. It was extremely dark and the sky looked like it could burst out in thunder any moment. Nevertheless I enjoyed a nice performance in front of the Jaani Kirk. A band called Reincarnation from Armenia played some lovely happy reggae tunes. Especially the instrumental parts were very strong. 

Back at the hostel I heard from a Finnish traveler that the Sunday morning boat to Helsinki he was supposed to take was cancelled. It was so windy that it was simply too dangerous, he told. I booked a ferry ticket for the same date but luckily the company I chose didn’t cancel anything. Good, because it was not even so windy anymore when the boat eventually departed. In 2009 I made the same trip to Helsinki, but then the sea shores were partly covered with huge ice plates. This time it was cloudy and sunny at the same time and it was not necessary to wear two winter jackets at once. I enjoyed passing by all the little Finnish islands.

The weather in Helsinki wasn’t too wonderful. Half an hour after my arrival it started to rain and it didn’t stop for the next few hours. I brought my suitcase to the lockers of the central railway station so that I didn’t have to annoy my sensitive hand palms even more. I visited some churches, just out of curiosity about the interior, not about the fact that it was Sunday. Furthermore I had a look at a small market with strawberries, reindeer fur, wooden spoons  and that kind of stuff. When it became even more rainy I went to two big warehouses; Stockmann and Sokos. Nothing interesting there, or at least, nothing I could afford. Finland is an expensive country, especially with the incredibly cheap restaurant visits in Lithuania still freshly in mind. A visit to the supermarket took a while. I first had to walk tree rounds through the whole shop in order to realize that food and drinks are really so expensive. I didn’t remember from last year that it was that bad. 

Just some examples of approximate prices I remembered…

A simple normal sized box of cookies: 4 euro’s
Some kind of average 1L yoghurt pack: 3,50 euro’s
One liter of milk: 2 euro’s
One 0,5L Heineken can: 4 euro’s
One 0,5L still water: 2 euro’s (in a normal supermarket!?)

Mind that these prices are supermarket prices and not from any restaurant, bar or little kiosk at a touristic place. Supermarket prices? Hello? Scandinavians reading this probably have no idea what I’m complaining about, but Dutchman most certainly do. I ended up with two pink childish juice boxes containing raspberry juice and a sandwich with some chicken spread. 3 euro’s lighter. Could be worse. 

What I really like about Finland is that they have a huge assortment in the three flavors I like the most. Licorice (hundred kinds but also available as ice cream, drinks and chewing gum), raspberry (juice, as cookie flavor and heavenly sugary candy) and mint (Oreo-like mint cookies you get really sick of if you eat too much – I did the experiment, and, even mint chocolate milk and different kinds of ice cream). 

To come back to the actual travel story… Around 16.00 I took the train towards East Finland. On the opposite there was a sweet old lady with an even sweeter old fashioned suitcase. It was clearly visible the elasticity disappeared a bit out of her face, Here chin was hanging like a thin piece of dangling skin halfway her throat. Her nails were nicely polished in an old pink shade. She asked me something in Finnish and when I told her I didn’t understand any word of what she said she asked me in English about my destination. We found out we had to get out at the same stop. During the train ride a certain rhythm developed. Every time we approached a railway where we would stop the loudspeakers informed: *PINGGG* The next stop is… (but than in Finnish, Swedish and English). The poor lady probably had some problems with the high frequencies her hearing device received. After every *PINGGG* she jumped up some centimeters from her seat. As a result I had to giggle every time this happened. It just looked too funny. So, during our two hour trip we had a lot of *PINGGGS*, whoops up in the air and silent “hihihi’s”. I had my fun.

Anu picked me up from the train station. It was very good to see her again. It has been one year ago since my last visit and I missed her a lot. I immediately felt at home again.  We had a tasty diner and exchanged many stories about our adventures during the last year. It was great to see my little note I left last year still hanging on the fridge. 

Monday morning was my first school day. I woke up at 07.00 after a good deep sleep. Anu already prepared me a bowl of Finnish strawberries. That was for sure a good start of the week! I really enjoyed cycling to school again. It’s a four kilometer trip through a nice area with a lot of trees, red painted wooden houses, blooming flowers and here and there some huge rocks. The graphic design course I’m taking is given by the teacher who gave the basics of tv production course last year. It was very nice to see her again. My new classmates are mainly Russian and Chinese. Some I still know from last year but most of them are new. Next to me sits Anatolli, the most non-Russian Russian I’ve ever met. He doesn't fit to the 'angry style of speaking' idea I have in mind when thinking about our neighbours in the East. Together with him, Jessica from Germany and some smiling Chinese girls we had a tasty lunch at the cafeteria. The first school day was a success. The Photoshop tutorials are very interesting. Also the second lesson passed by without any problems. At a certain moment there was some action though. There is a fire department located right next to school and I was quite excited when a trauma helicopter landed on the firefighter’s parking lot. I just love that sound. Nothing bad happened as far as I could see. 

My first impression of being here again is a good one. I must say I don’t understand anything about the Finnish stereotype except for their sauna usage. I heard so often that Finns are so closed, silent, shy and want to commit suicide all the time. Well, not true! Maybe that’s about winter Finns? I don’t know… As far as I can say summer Finns are great! The people I met here are so open and friendly. They smile and speak good English. This afternoon I even had a ‘waiting in line in the supermarket’ talk with an older lady. So nice! It almost felt like how my mom can always spent hours in the local supermarket, talking to any random person. Also my visit to the international office was a nice one. I met the International Services Assistant who helped me filling in some documents. Within one minute we had a lively conversation about how to pronounce ‘Hoegaarden’ and how bad Dutch beer can be. All in all the first days have been so nice and I feel so welcome here. It’s good to be in Finland again!

If you're curious for some more pictures feel free to click this link.