Finland, Finland, Finland!

29 June - 3 July 2012

My arrival in Helsinki wasn't terribly exciting.  I bought a bus/tram ticket from the ferry terminal and lugged my bags to the stop, and took the tram to the train station where I bought a ticket to Tampere, where Sanna lives.

When I got into town I bought a Finnish sim card and tried calling Visa and Westpac. A couple of hours, infuriating accents, strange phrases, and bad call quality later we established that someone may or may not have tried to make a payment on my card, and so it was safest to cancel the card and send me a new one.  Only catch being it would take several weeks for a new card to arrive.  Ummm... So they would also allow me to claim some 'emergency cash' if I would just give them my address in Finland for the next week. Ummm... I don't think this system is set up for travellers. In the end though I managed to get some emergency cash, borrow some from Boyd while I was in the UK and then be told by Lloyds bank when I went to sign up for an account that I could use my eftpos card in cash machines.  So all was fine in the end. It turned out that the payment was for my airfare from Helsinki to London - I have no idea why it wasn't processed earlier, or why Visa thought it looked dodgy.

The train to Tampere was nice, like all the Scandinavian transport thus far.  Clean,  fast and not overly crowded. The train trip took just under two hours and cost about 25 Euro. It was a two storey train, so I got a seat in the top carriage, almost completely to myself, and nearly fell asleep.

Tampere is a city north of Helsinki. With over 200,000 people in the city it's Finland's second biggest city after Helsinki. It's situated between two large lakes.  But then most of Finland seems to be lakes to me.

Sanna is a friend from high school.  She came as an exchange student for a year, to Whangarei of all places!! Someone must have done some pretty awesome marketing! I'd visited Sanna in 2002 while I was on my exchange to Groningen, but had failed spetacularly to keep up any form of correspondence in the intervening ten years. So thanks to the wonders of Facebook I was able to get in touch, and Sanna offered to let me stay. Thanks Sanna! You really must come to New Zealand and let me repay the favour some day.

She met me at the train station, and we drove back to her place. She and her partner have almost finished building an absolutely amazing house from scratch, both being practical engineers. With the subtley different lighting in Tampere and the choice of colours and furnishings, I LOVE this house! Doesn't hurt that it has a sauna too, though apparently this is common practice and you'll find that almost every house in Finland has one. Sadly my photos don't do it justice.

The kitchen and dining room.

Upstairs living room.

I really loved these lights over the dining table.

Sanna and I.

A dim shot of the sauna. 
I want a sauna in my house one day now! There were fairy lights in the ceiling, and   the scent in the water splashed on the hot rocks was called 'sauna scent' and smelled of Christmas.

Sanna and I were great company for each other, we both had lingering colds that just wouldn't let up. So we took it pretty easy for the few days I was visiting.

We went to an outdoor market, at the Tallipiha Stable Yards. A gorgeous setting in amongst old buildings and it was a particularly nice day for hanging around outdoor watching people. That day there stables were the site of a retro fair, so there were people wandering around in meticulously put together outfits from the 30s to the 70s, and with a good dose of 40's and 50s. My kind of place. I wish I'd had the money (and the bag space!) to browse the clothing racks. But instead I made the more wallet (and shoulder) friendly choice and bought a small bag of chocolates and Finish sweets from one of the little boutique shops in the old buildings.

Carousel and stalls at the market.

Horse-drawn carriage rides.
One unusual thing at the market was the open cellar for people to go down into. It was an attraction in the market, but was nothing more than an example of how people used to store food before refrigeration.  I was surprised how many people were curious about this. I was, because I've never been into a cellar before. So I was impressed at how much cooler it was a few metres below ground.  It was around 20 degrees outside, but in the cellar you needed a jersey to keep warm. It was a pretty large space, too, about the size of a small lounge.

Cellar entrance.
The smell of smoke drifted across the market and we eventually ended up at the salmon smoker's stand. I'm not entirely sure what was on it, but it was delicious! Hot and smoky with salt and seasonings on it.

Preparing a traditional smoked salmon dish.
Doing what one should do with delicious salmon - posing for a photograph.
Flowers outside the sweet shop.

Another afternoon we went for a walk on the hills between the two lakes, looking down either side past the houses to the water. As in Wellington and everywhere else one side got more sun and was therefore where the richer people lived. Perhaps almost unique to Tampere, the water levels in each of the lakes was different, which required complicated locks in the town centre, but from up here it was hard to tell the difference.

The bicycle gets a good view out over the lake.

Streets at the top of the hill.

One of the houses on the posh side.
We spent the evening relaxing at Sanna's place, and enjoying the sauna and a room to myself.

One notable thing that separates Kiwi and Finnish culture - the Finns seem to have no problem with getting naked in social situations. As much as this trip was about breaking out of my comfort zone and extending myself, I couldn't quite muster the courage to accept the invitation to share a sauna with Sanna.  So under careful instructions about not being too long, how much water to put on the rocks, to shower before and after, and to have a large glass of water afterwards, I had my first sauna. Lovely. I don't see why every house in NZ doesn't have one.


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