Archive for December, 2016

Christmas peace

December 24, 2016

This year has not been a good one for holiday cheer. In addition to stressing out about the news, I’ve been wading through the end-of-semester grading and preparations for the spring while trying to draft another book chapter. It hasn’t felt very Christmasy here. Yesterday I finally decided to call a halt and put myself on vacation, and I’ve been feeling better every since I did. Preparations for our Christmas dinner are well in hand, presents are wrapped under our tree, and I’ve stopped stressing out about things that haven’t gotten done. I’ll get back to work soon enough. Right now, I’m happy to have myself a little break.

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Utility pole crash

December 13, 2016

Yesterday morning I was up early to make pizza for the departmental holiday party. We got a wet, slushy rain/snow mix overnight and I wanted to give myself plenty of extra time for driving to campus. I had been cooking for about half an hour when we heard a plow truck going by outside, then suddenly a big crunch. We looked out to see that the plow truck had struck the utility pole right next to our driveway and the pole had just snapped and come down. The truck was stuck, tangled up in downed wires, and blocking our driveway and the road. Fortunately, it didn’t look like the driver was hurt.

Pretty soon we had a fire truck, ambulance, and several town utility trucks out front. They got the plow truck disentangled, then to work clearing the old pole out of the way and installing a new one. The whole process took about four hours and we were blocked in until it was over. Happily, we only lost power for about ten minutes during that time. I was able to finish my cooking, but I couldn’t get out of the driveway in time to make it to the party. I was sad to miss it, but at least I didn’t have to try to drive to campus on slushy roads.

I give a lot of credit to the town utility crew. They were on the job right away, they got it done, and they were good about communicating with us as it was happening.

Finland, November 2016

December 1, 2016

It’s been a tough fall—a tough year, really—so we decided to take a break over the Thanksgiving holiday and go to Finland. Plus, we haven’t been to Finland in almost three years, so it was high time to go. We found a really cheap flights-plus-hotel deal and planned a city walking holiday in Helsinki. E found us some suggested routes that would take us through several different parts of the city, including some we haven’t seen before or have only glimpsed from the windows of a bus.

Helsinki seascape at noon

Helsinki seascape at noon

Our travel went smoothly enough. We flew from Boston to New York then New York to Helsinki. After getting some lunch at the airport we took the brand new airport train to the center and walked to our hotel. The hotel is older and a little haphazardly updated. Our room was small and oddly shaped, but perfectly good enough for what we needed. Plus it had an excellent breakfast that kept us going most of the day.

The areas of our walks

The areas of our walks

After traveling all day Sunday and into Monday and sleeping for the rest of Monday, we woke up very early Tuesday morning and spent a few hours planning our walking until breakfast was open. After breakfast we went out to walk in Katajanokka and Kruununhaka. Katajanokka is an old harbor district that was rebuilt as a mostly residential area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that period, the major architectural style in Finland was Jugendstil, a style related to Art Nouveau which combined references to nature and medieval decorative arts with a love of asymmetry, peculiarity, and colorful details. Helsinki has a rich collection of Jugendstil buildings and Katajanokka is one of the great districts for them. Kruununhaka is an older district where buildings of many different eras coexist and is also home to many of the important historical buildings of state. The weather started out gray and rainy, but gradually dried up over the course of the day, although the clouds never broke. For dinner we hit Eerikin Pippuri, our favorite kebab joint, with E’s Helsinki-dwelling sister L.

Owls as decoration on a Jugendstil house

Owls as decoration on a Jugendstil house

On Wednesday we set out to walk around Töölönlahti and through Kluuvi, an area of parks and older buildings around the bay that separates the main body of the city from the mainland. Unfortunately, we ran into a lot of construction that we had to find our way around, so we kept getting off our route. The weather was also the worst of the week that day: cold, wet, raw, and rainy. After that day, it was good to get back to the hotel, have a snack, and heat some water for tea. For dinner, we went to Zetor, a restaurant that serves traditional Finnish farmhouse food in an aggressively country-kitsch atmosphere. It’s sort of the Finnish restaurant equivalent of being inside a country music song, but we love going there because the food is so good: simple, traditional, unassuming, but perfectly done.

The door of a Jugend house, made to look like a little tower

The door of a Jugend house, made to look like a little tower

On Thursday we enjoyed window shopping in some local stores in the morning, then we took the bus to visit L in her new apartment. We enjoyed relaxing and chatting with her through the afternoon. Since it was Thanksgiving Day in the US, we considered the possibility of cooking a big dinner at L’s, but the previous tenant left the kitchen in pretty miserable shape and we didn’t really want to fight with it all, so I treated everyone to dinner at a local restaurant by way of celebration. We had a wonderful day together.

Statue of a Czar, from part of the old city built when Finland was under Russian rule

Statue of a Czar, from part of the old city built when Finland was under Russian rule

On Friday we walked around Kaivopuisto and Eira, some of the richer parts of town. A long time ago Kaivopuisto used to be a little spa village a the southern edge of the city. Now the city has grown up around it, but there are still some beautiful old villas tucked among the modern apartment blocks and office buildings. It’s also the center for a lot of foreign embassies, so we walked by a lot of fences and flags. Around midday we stopped at at seaside cafe for tea and cinnamon buns. The weather was better, warmer and dry with some breaks in the clouds, but it was still nice to get inside for a little while. Afterwards we followed the self-guided walking directions for a while, but the last part of the route went past modern buildings that didn’t interest us, so we veered off and headed back to the hotel. L joined us for dinner in the evening and we went to a fancy pizza place for dinner. My pizza had smoked reindeer, cranberries, and dots of cloudberry jam, in addition to tomato sauce and cheese.

The oldest wooden villa still standing in Kaivopuisto

The oldest wooden villa still standing in Kaivopuisto

On Saturday, we walked in Kallio, an old working class neighborhood that has more recently become a student and hipster district. (Also apparently the local red light district, given how many strip clubs and massage parlors we walked by on one street—I’m surprised that whatever local tourism board wrote up these walking guides decided to send us that way, especially since there wasn’t much to see on that street in the way of architecture or public art, which is mostly what the tour highlighted.) It was a shorter walk with less spectacular things to see, but we still enjoyed it, especially since it was the best weather of our trip, partly sunny and positively warm. After our trip we went candy shopping. We may have rather overdone it, since we ended up with 14 pounds of stuff, but I’m not complaining. E’s parents made a surprise trip down from Oulu that day and joined L and us for dinner in the restaurant hotel. It was nice to see them again after such a long time.

Sign in front of a candy shop: "Candy is good"

Sign in front of a candy shop: “Candy is good”

The next day we headed home. We left the hotel in the morning and took the train to the airport. Our first flight was to London where we connected to a flight to Boston. Heathrow was a bit of a mess and a short connection time plus poor signage had us dashing down wrong directions then having to turn around and run back. We made it to our flight (which turned out to be delayed, so we would have had time to walk at our leisure anyway), but the whole ordeal was rather more stress than we needed. In any event, we made it back home tired, sore, but happy after a relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable trip. Now it’s back to work as the semester comes crashing to an end and I have more book chapters to draft.

Statue of a bear

Statue of a bear