Thursday, December 23, 2010

White Trees

"Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy?" The start to Queen's song "Bohemiam Rhapsody" goes through my mind when I look out and see these white trees. They are almost entirely coated in crystals, and they astound us. See for yourself...

That's Brooke on the bridge, on her way to go sledding.

The small round trees visible just above the bridge are Analeise's favorites.

This shot doesn't show the trees so well, but it shows the lovely reach of the sunset.

When the sun is shining really brightly, the trees simply don't look real to me.

The tops of the trees turn pink in the sunset.

These white fake Christmas trees makes more sense to me now!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Market

This year is the second or third year that Tampere has had a Christmas Market, or Joulutori. Tampere's is modeled after a German Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt).

The quality of the items sold at the market is quite high, and there's a lot to choose from. Along with many kinds of baked goods and foods, Finnish wooden baskets, and cooking utensils, felted wool ornaments and toys, and fine art prints and jewelry are some of what's available. There are vendors from Germany as well, selling bratwurst and candles, wooden Christmas figurines and lovely mustards in jars.

In this photo, Brooke is enjoying her German Bratwurst served on brotchen (a lovely, hard German roll).

The vendors had to be very well dressed for the weather, as most of them were un-heated. Closing early because of the cold is not an option - those who do are fined.

There's a small hut in which Santa receives visitors, an octagonal building in which Finnish sausages are cooked over a fire and sold and two places where you can sit down for a cup of coffee and sweets or a meal.

Santa Claus ( Joulupukki )

This gentleman, with the feather in his hat, was an official visitor from a German city who sent a few vendors to this year's market. I wonder if he really wears the feather cap on a daily basis.

After dark, the decorative lights, fires and the glowing ice sculpture make the market feel very cozy and festive even when it is very cold.

The photo above shows the ice sculpture when it was still being made. When it was completed, there were green, red and blue lights set up behind it, and musical notes were carved in the blocks of ice on the ground, as you see in the photo below.

If you are in Tampere in December, make it to the Joulutori!

Here's a video of some university students (note the white caps) singing a Christmas song in Finnish:

Bonus photos:

Cool gals in their cool coats.

On the first day the market was open, there was a small explosion. The fuel canister of one of the tall torches exploded out of its holding. The booming sound hit my chest hard, all the way across the main square. Luckily no one was standing in the way and there were no injuries. A fire crew as called - so here, you see some of Tampere's fire fighters, along with two security guards, on the right, from the market. The Finns seem very focused on safety, so it is a surprise to me that there are often open flames in public places. Small candles are left in lanterns outside shops, as are oil lamps and even torches. Their effects are lovely, but I do wonder if their beauty is worth the risks they pose.

A black smith peddles to add more oxygen to his fire.

I like the way the Old Church's bell tower, which is separate from the church, is lit in this photo. Analeise and I got to go inside it one night during the Christmas Market. Glögi (warm, sweet berry drink served with almond slivers and raisins) and Piparkakut (traditional Finnish crisp, ginger cookies) were being served. While we didn't get to hike up the steep wooden stairs to see the bells, we stood in the high entryway and enjoyed the ambiance of a place built in the early 1800's. One curiosity in the tower's entryway is a large, carved round wooden circle hanging as high as possible. It's slightly concave and is thought to be the original cover of the church's pulpit, perhaps hung in the bell tower during an early 1900's remodeling.

While this photo doesn't come from the market, it shows Analeise with the type of cookie I mentioned, Piparkakut. She made these in her cooking class at school. Thanks to Lydia for the awesome homemade hat!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Darkness and The Light

The view from our living room window, early afternoon.

People have asked how it is to live in Finland during the dark time of the year. I have not asked the rest of my family about their feelings, so I'll just speak for myself.

As I write this, it is December 7, 2010. While winter days are fairly short in Wisconsin, they are not as short as they are here. The sun rose today at around 9:30am and will set at approximately 3:00pm, with the days continuing to get shorter until the winter equinox. If we lived farther north in Finland, we would be seeing even less sunshine.

Part of me relishes the cozy feeling of being warm and inside when it is dark and snowy outside, but if we were to live here permanently, the darkness would get to me. Not only is the sun short-lived at this time of year, it is also in hiding behind the thick, gray clouds that seem anchored above us almost constantly.

Tampere's wonderful Metso Library, under November's clouds.

We've been told by many Finns that the darkness is easier to handle after snow is on the ground, as the snow reflects light. Also, Finns make sure to light up the night at this time of year. Tampere turns on its decorative lights in November, and the Independence Day (December 6) celebration features flames and fireworks - both good for warding off the dark.

Independence Day

The city lights up many of its buildings alongside the rapids that run through town. This makes our walk home feel safer and more welcoming.

The gym Bryan and I belong to (Go Go, if anyone in Tampere cares to know), has an awesome massage chair set up by a sun lamp, and while I've never used one in the states, I have sat by the lamp several times just to get some sun-like light on these dark days.

When we do see sunshine, it is such a gift, and it calls me outside, making me feel giddy and child-like in my excitement.
Perhaps I don't look excited in this photo, but I'm enjoying the sunshine!

Remember that the flip side to this darkness is extreme lightness during the summer. Finns take full advantage of the long days, many of them staying up into the wee hours, grilling and spending time with family and friends.

It is easier to deal with the darkness when I remember that it is part of what makes our time in Finland special and different from our life back in Wisconsin. We can head outside into the snow to walk or go sledding, or we can stay cozy, indoors drinking warm coffee or Glögi (warm berry drink) with our books, board games and the TV. Also, taking a sauna is relaxing any time of year, but it takes the edge of a dark winter day, for sure. If you are thinking of coming to Finland in the winter, don't let the darkness keep you away - we will have fun at any time of the year.

Independence Day in Finland

December 6 is Independence Day in Finland and marks the day in 1917 that Finland declared its independence from Russian rule.

Brooke and I enjoyed the day alone, as Bryan and Analeise were in Germany. One part of the afternoon was spent at the city's largest cemetery. As is common on other special holidays, people light candles and place them at the graves of their loved ones. Besides that, it is part of the Independence Day tradition for university students to form a procession from the University of Tampere's main building to the veterans' area of the cemetery to pay respect to those fallen in war. Brooke and I saw the procession from a distance but did not come upon the university students in the cemetery when we visited. The candles looked lovely in the snow.

The university students procession leads from the cemetery to Tampere's main square. The main street, Hämeenkatu, was closed to vehicles close to the square, and it was fun to walk there and to see the flaming columns that had been set up in the middle of the bridge.

Hundreds of Finnish flags were up around town, waving in the snowy wind. Many stores had small displays of blue and white candles and a Finnish flag.

Brooke and I did not make it all the way to the main square, which was squished tight with thousands of people ready to participate in the city's celebration. There was a speech made by a city official, the reading of a Finnish poem and the playing of some music by Finland's most famous composer, Sibelius. After that, I was happy to hear Brooke sing part of Finland's national anthem when it was played, and then there were fireworks.

Tampere's opera hall is on the left.

We headed home to watch the annual Indpendence Day ball on TV. Finland's president, Tarja Halonen, and her husband shook hands with hundreds and hundreds of guests while we ate the little cakes I'd bought for the day.

Greeting the ball's guests took two hours - how do they have the stamina? My understanding is that the reception of guests is the most popular part of the broadcast, because people like to see what guests wear to the ball. We watched on and off, as we were busy drinking hot cocoa and playing dice (thank you, Mindy for reminding me of the rules!), which Brooke was very happy to win before going to bed.

Bonus photos

We saw these kids getting pulled by their older sister on our way to the main square. They were singing and obviously quite happy with their transportation arrangement.

Brooke took this shot in the cemetery.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One day in Stockholm

Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, is situated on islands right on the Baltic Sea. It's vibrant and like many large cities, full of contrast. The medieval Old Town (Gamla Stan) is a quick walk away from the central train station and the more modern downtown areas.

We've visited Stockholm twice, on the way to or from Gothenberg, where good friends live. On a sunny day in October 2010, we got to spend a dozen hours there. That short visit reinforced my impression that Stockholm is a place you could spend many weeks and still just scratch the surface.

Before our visit this time, Bryan looked in a Lonely Planet guide, which tipped us off not only to the path we walked through Old Town, but also to what was one of our best lunches, ever. The Cafe Saturnus is not in Old Town. It's near the Ostermalm neighborhood and is a French-style cafe owned by a couple who worked in several restaurants before buying this place several years ago. They have three children and call the restaurant their fourth. Our experience there was fairly magical, so it's hard for me to write rationally about it.

Analeise and I had artichoke soup with shrimp, seasoned with lemon and what I think was French sorrel. The crusty bread that came with it countered the creamy, tart soup and made me very glad for my appetite. Bryan and Brooke both had generous roast beef sandwiches, served on top of dark green and purple salads. We ordered bottles of lemonade for the table, and they turned out to be organic and also quite expensive, but on that day, we were willing to spend and just happy to have the yummy lemonade.

For dessert, we split one of Cafe Saturnus' very popular and very large cinnamon rolls and a piece of perfectly-made, rich and dark brown chocolate cake.

Some of the other dessert options

The cafe is not entirely easy to find. The restaurant's only sign is the one on the window, and it's on a side street, but if you have time, make an excuse to find this place. If you go, know that you order at the counter and are then served at your table.

The shadow of the cafe's sign
The glass tile floor was designed and laid by the artist Cilla Ramnek (see below for a link to her blog). I would happily return to this cafe just to have a nice cup of coffee and dessert and to look again at this floor.

We had been a bit grumpy before our meal, but as the food arrived, and we started to eat, we were transformed into our happier selves and sat together, talking and laughing and drinking in the colorful, elegant atmosphere. We left the cafe and walked, giggling in the sunshine, to the lovely park that houses the National Library of Sweden.

Good food can work wonders on your spirit! Analeise's face demonstrates our whole family's mood after leaving the cafe.

Bryan and the girls approaching the library's front door

These lovely statues are in the library's entryway.

Gamal Stan is Stockholm's Old Town and is heavily tourist-ed, but don't let that stop you from going. The old buildings (starting from medieval times) are very close to one another, forming narrow streets and foot paths that go past restaurants, shops and galleries. The colors of the walls are worth the visit for me, as they impart a memorable warmth. Many of them are what I now think of as "Swedish Yellow," and they have a special charm, especially on a sunny day.

Swedish Yellow...
Bryan and the girls in Gamal Stan

Sweden's oldest continuously operating bakery is located at Järntorget 83. Open since 1785, Sundberg's Konditori serves their hot chocolate in large porcelain cups with a generous serving of whipped cream on the side. The raspberry tarts were perfectly prepared and contained the small surprise of a layer of dark chocolate under the berries.

I ordered tea and had use of my own sweet little pot for our time at the bakery.

Cafe Saturnus
Only in Swedish, this link will at least give you the address and show you the location on a simplistic map. There is a link to their blog there, but when I checked, there was only one post, which contained a photo of their deserving-ly famous cinnamon rolls and a cappuccino. The cappuccino I had there was terrific, by the way, so I'd recommend the coffee.

The National Library of Sweden
If you are a library enthusiast, don't miss a visit to this library. We only peeked in here, but I would love to go back. The vast majority of their materials are available only for reading on-site, and it is a well-used resource, being very busy the day we were there. According to their website, the library "has been collecting virtually everything printed in Sweden or in Swedish since 1661." It's situated by a lovely, large park and would serve as a restful break if you are otherwise busily visiting the more touristy areas of Stockholm.

Artist, Cilla Ramnek

Analeise's favorite store

Indiska is a Swedish fashion/housewares store with Indian and other Asian influences that Analeise first found in Tampere, Finland. Lucky for her, there's one just up the street from our apartment.

Bonus Photos:

Bryan and the girls walking down Drottninggattan...
Quotes from Swedish author August Strindberg's work are a permanent part of a pedestrian section of Drottninggattan (Queen Street).

Analeise and Brooke in a shopping area near the main train station.

It feels strange to write about an American store here, but we did go into an Urban Outfitters in Stockholm. The venue was originally a stage theater and then became a cinema before closing and sitting empty for a few years. The store managed to fit itself into the space, maintaining the stage for fitting rooms.

This gorgeous way of painting the ceilings seems common in Sweden, as we saw it here, in Stockholm's main train station and in an art museum in Gothenberg.

This lovely building is adjacent to the Cafe Saturnus.

warm, fun style

A side view of the royal palace.

The front entrance of the royal palace. The upper floor is getting some care.

This handsome fellow faces the royal palace from a building across the street.
Some more Gamal Stan shots:

A photo taken while walking back from Gamal Stan to the train station.