Archive for January, 2012

Finnish Chrstmas: Last days in Oulu

January 27, 2012

December 26-28

Sleeping continues to be a problem. We are doing our best to get our bodies to turn around, but it is terribly frustrating to be dead tired and yet unable to sleep.

On the 26th we payed a visit to Olli and Tiina. We heard that Aino had been looking forward to playing with us since the morning, and that is in fact how we spent much of the visit. Once again, Aino seemed to latch onto me in particular. She showed me her new toys and showed off her knowledge of letters (with a good deal of help and prompting from her mother, but still under her own power) by spelling her name, my name, E.’s name, and her little brother’s name with wooden letter blocks.

On the 27th a storm blew through Oulu. E. and I had wanted to walk out to the market hall, but the weather held us back. It wasn’t terribly cold and we could have dealt with the snow, but the wind was howling right off the ocean making things quite unpleasant outside. Instead we just took a short leg-stretching walk around the neighborhood.

A view across the water in Oulu. This was about midday in the northern winter light.

In the evening we met up with Olli and Tiina and the kids plus Ville at a restaurant in town where we had a good dinner. At the end of the meal, Aino again invited us to come home and play with her. Olli and Tiina confirmed the invitation, so we went and spent a few hours playing with the kids and having evening tea with the grown-ups.

The next day the weather was much better, just above freezing and sunny. E. and I took our walk into town to browse through the market hall.

The Oulu market hall. The big Christmas tree was actully put up for the filming of a Japanese soda commercial.

Olli and Tiina had informed us of a new restaurant in one of the old wooden storehouses around the market square which serves a variety of pancakes, so we went to check it out for lunch. This was no IHOP. The savory pancakes included smoked reindeer, marinated salmon, and variety of other meats, while the sweet pancakes were full of all kinds of fruit. We got one smoked reindeer and egg pancake and one cloudberry and ice cream pancake to share. Both were very good and we were quite full when it was all over. We also went to browse the Pentik shop, one of Finland’s home design shops, for their after Christmas sale.

The pancake restaurant

We had a sauna after walking back, then a bit of a rest and some food before heading to the airport to get our flight to Helsinki. The check-in line was horrendously long and slow. If E. hadn’t noticed an inconspicuous and poorly signed electronic check-in kiosk we would probably have missed our flight. But we made it to the flight. We both dozed a little bit on board and arrived in Helsinki a little refreshed.

Lissu was waiting for us at the airport and accompanied us into the city to find our hotel. We booked a room in a hotel that is much more upscale than we would usually go for, but we got a very good offer on it when we were making reservations for this trip. When we arrived at the hotel to check in, the desk clerk told us that they had upgraded us to a deluxe room, though we’re not sure why. The room is very nice, though, spacious and comfortable. We spent the evening chatting with Lissu, which was also wonderful.

Finnish Christmas: joulu

January 11, 2012

December 24-25

We have had more difficulty than usual in adjusting our sleep schedules. I had wondered if the winter darkness in Finland might make things easier, but I think this has been just about the worst trip we have ever made for getting our schedules turned around. E. and I have both been consistently waking up around 3 in the morning, unable to sleep any more no matter how tired we may be. After getting up and hanging around for a few hours, we have generally been able to go back to sleep sometime after 8 and drag ourselves up again in the afternoon, but it has not been easy on us.

In any case, the day after we arrived was Christmas Eve, the time when the holiday is traditionally celebrated in Finland. Ville arrived at the apartment in the afternoon and we got up to see him. He hung around for the rest of the day and we enjoyed his company very much. Of all E.’s family, I’ve always found him the most difficult to understand, partly because he tends to use a lot of unfamiliar slang and partly because his voice seems to be pitched at a frequency that my ears just don’t hear very well. I’m glad to say that I had a much easier time understanding him now than ever before. On the whole, my understanding of Finnish has gotten good enough now that although I don’t understand everything I am rarely lost in the conversation. I can’t always form a sensible response, but it is a pleasure to understand the conversation going on around me.

Leena and her Tiina (it can be terribly confusing having multiple Tiinas in the extended family) came for a visit in the evening and we all sat down to Christmas dinner together. There was plenty of talk and much laughter. We could not have asked for a better Christmas Eve in Finland.

That night was another difficult one for E. and me. We got very little sleep at night and I was not up and about again during the day until after 4– I missed the daylight entirely!

That day Olli and his Tiina came to visit, bringing Aino and Matias, our niece and nephew, along with them. Ville, clearly a favorite uncle, came to visit as well. Aino is now almost 4 and Matias just turned 2. When last we saw them, Aino was still getting used to talking and Matias was not yet crawling. Now Aino is chattering away (though even her parents don’t always understand what she is trying to say) and Matias is up and about and staring to babble, with actual words occasionally coming out.

The niece playing with the water toy we brought her for Christmas. She is so full of energy that this is about as good as it gets trying to take a non-posed picture of her

Aino was a little shy at fist around us unfamiliar people, but by the end of the evening she was just as cheerfully energetic as I remember. Matias is clearly very much in the wake of his older sister: what she has he wants, and what she does he copies. I can remember being a younger brother and feeling the same way about my older sister. It certainly looks like Aino and Matias have a good relationship– lots of playing together, hardly any fighting or struggling– and we can hope that it continues. I have certainly been very glad to have had such a good friendship with my sister for so many years.

The nephew, on the other hand, knows how to relax

Aino is without doubt the sunniest and most cheerful child I have ever known. I hope with all my heart that those qualities will stay with her as she gets older. About Matias it is harder to say, but if anything he seems like a serious child, quite content on his own and capable of great concentration when not following Aino’s lead in more rambunctious games.

At the end of the evening, as Olli and Tiina and company were getting ready to leave, Aino invited the two of us to come and play with her tomorrow, which we plan on doing.

Finnish Christmas: To Oulu

January 6, 2012

We had quite a good trip to Finland, although, as usual, it made for a very long day. We woke up late and spent the day getting ready for the trip quite at our own pace. We ate up the last perishables, set a timer on the lights, made sure the windows were all secure, and all of that.

Our first flight was from Boston to Reykjavik. The Boston airport was surprisingly quiet. There was no line at the check-in desk and hardly a line at security. I was carrying a bag full of fudge which I was sure would set off alarms going through the x-ray machine, but there was no trouble over that at all. We got through in what must be just about record time, then had a bite to eat and settled in to wait for our flight.

The flight to Reykjavik was completely full up, as far as we could tell. We were seated in the very back row of the plane, which meant that our seats didn’t recline, but also that there was no kicking from behind. We arrived in Reykjavik in the wee hours of the morning and had to go through a new round of screening. Once again, the fudge went through without a problem.

The only food we got for free on the plane was a drink and a cookie. They were selling meals, but we didn’t feel like paying $14 dollars a head for a dish of pasta, so we were again hungry when we got to Reykjavik. We found a little food in the terminal, then went to wait for our flight to Helsinki. There was a snowstorm blowing around the airport and probably bad weather elsewhere in Europe because we kept hearing announcements of flight delays: Stockholm, delayed; Copenhagen, delayed, Oslo, delayed; Amsterdam, delayed. We were wondering what would become of our flight to Helsinki, but it boarded and left right on time. I’ve never yet seen a flight to or from Finland delayed by winter weather.

Unlike the flight from Boston to Reyjavik, the flight out of Reykjavik to Helsinki was almost empty. We each got a whole row to ourselves. Again the only free food was a drink and a cookie, so we arrived in Helsinki hungry once more. Fortunately we know where to get good food cheap in the Helsinki airport, so we filled our bellies and got ready for our next flight to Oulu. For the third time we went through security screening and for the third time the fudge went through unremarked.

I normally can’t sleep on planes, but after a long enough day even I can drop off. I dozed a little on the flight to Oulu. I had a dream about sitting on the floor with our niece and writing (something we’ve never done), so I know I was actually asleep and not just sitting with my eyes closed.

The Oulu airport has had a big expansion since we last flew through it. We arrived in a completely new and unfamiliar part of the terminal, but everything worked efficiently. We got our luggage and were met by Timo. Back at the Ervasti apartment Paula welcomed us with good food. As soon as we had eaten, we went straight to bed.