Thursday, August 26, 2010

One day in Tallinn

The second weekend after we arrived in Finland, we had the fortune to be invited by our cousins Valto, Seija and Hanni to go to Tallinn, Estonia on Valto's boat, Janni 2. We love spending time with these guys, so that was the main focus, but our main destination was the Old Town in Tallinn, a place whose buildings go back as far as the 1300's and whose history goes back much farther than that.

After a lunch with Valto at the large outdoor market by the harbor in Helsinki and drinks with him and Hanni at Kappeli, one of the oldest restaurants in Helsinki, we went home to find Seija.

Valto, Analeise, Bryan and Brooke
at a food stall at the harbor market:

Paella is a common dish served at food stalls.
Also, sausages, potatoes and fish
cooked in various ways are popular.

Kappeli is one of Helsinki's oldest restaurants. It's located in a grassy and well landscaped boulevard between two lovely and busy streets in the downtown area near the harbor. My understanding is that it's named Kappeli because of the nickname of an old man who long ago sold drinks and snacks on the spot where the restaurant now sits. His customers, mostly young university students, would call him pastor (pastori) for some reason. When the restaurant was formed (by him?), that nickname caused the owners to call the place chapel, or Kappeli.


and Valto enjoying drinks outside at "The Chapel"

Kate and Hanni

Bryan and the girls are being hypnotized
on the boulevard (refereed to as the Esplanade):

The first night of our trip was spent at Tall Klippan, a small, beautiful and rocky island only an hour away from the harbor in Espoo, Finland. Valto and crew took us there in style on Janni 2!

Kate and Seija, hamming it up:

Tall Klippan is owned by the marine club of which Valto is a member. They have built a sauna, a bathroom and an outdoor cooking place there. Other than that, the island's boulders and pine trees were left alone. The women have a different sauna time than the men, and when we arrived, the women's sauna time was almost over, but we made it just in time. It is very refreshing to get hot, hot and then jump in the sea. Being half Finnish, I felt as if 50% of me felt quite at home doing this and 50% of me felt that it was exotic. As I told my sister, that made me 100% happy.

Brooke, Bryan and I had a great time jumping off the back of the boat and swimming there. Analeise explored the island and had a quiet chance to read. This fuzzy photo is of a group of kayakers near the island. For them, perhaps it is completely normal to kayak there, but for me, it seemed very special to be kayaking in the Gulf of Finland.

Here are some photos from our stay at Tall Klippan:

The next day brought the rest of the trip to Tallinn. While Valto, Seija and Hanni are experienced boat people, the four of us do not have sturdy sea legs, so we felt sick after a while. Still, our trip was still very enjoyable. Our cousins are incredible hosts, feeding us delicious meals and making sure we had fun things to drink, so between that and the view of the vast sea, we had a good time. Brooke took the longest to feel ill, and she likes being out at sea and on the boat so much that she said "maybe I'll live on a boat when I'm older."

Approaching Tallinn, we saw church spires and tall buildings through a thick haze. We did not know it then, but the smoke from the numerous Russian forest fires had made its way to Tallinn and was cutting our visibility by about half. We made it to the harbor and docked, which allowed us to feel the heat. It was 38 degrees Celsius, or about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and very humid. Valto and crew got the boat ready for us to leave it, and we headed to the Old Town by taxi.

Our way into Old Town was on a street lined with flower shops, all with decadent displays of bouquets out on the sidewalk.

We crossed through twin gate towers dating back more than 700 years, and what was the first business we saw? Yep, a McDonalds. Years ago, that would have agitated me, but this time, I just laughed at the dichotomous feeling of being awed by seeing something so old and then seeing a very familiar, very modern place right away. I heard that after the free market took over, many Estonians felt that Old Town lost its charm. It is very touristy, but for me, it was still awe inspiring because of its beauty and age.

Tall walls surround Old Town, which was built on a steep hill. We headed toward an overlook at the top of Toompea Hill. On the way, we passed the Russian Orthodox cathedral and heard chanting from inside. We did not mean to intrude, and there was a gate blocking our way inside (this was not a touristy thing, it was a real service), but we were able to see a little bit of the service from the gate (women with their heads covered by scarves, priests in tall hats with gilded robes chanting...).

After that, we continued to walk up to Toompea Hill, and from there, we were able to get an expansive view of the red roofs and church steeples of Old Town. Here is a photo of us all together and of some of the views from Toompea Hill:

We ate in Old Town's main square, and while we enjoyed sitting and talking with Valto, Seija and Hanni, I'd recommend that you try a place that is less visited - ask a local or read a guide book. The service was extremely slow (it took 1.5-2 hours for us to get our food), and the food was mediocre and overpriced. An Estonian guy here in Tampere told me that is normal for the touristy restaurants.

After a hot night on the boat, most of us had amazingly refreshing showers at a sport center next to the harbor (the facility was built for the 1980 Olympic sailing competitions, held in Tallinn). Thinking that the water was going to be more rough than the day before (Seija was at her limit, and the Jarvi-Beamers had all felt sea sick), we tried to get tickets on one of the large ferries back to Helsinki. All of them were full, so after a little shopping, we bought sea sickness pills and a lot of non-carbonated water and headed back to the boat.

If you ever go to Estonia, it is known for beautiful knitting and nice linen things. Seija bought a linen sauna robe for her brother, and she says that they last for years and get softer and softer after each wash.

Our return passage surprised us, because the forecasts were wrong, and the seas were calmer than the previous day's. The sea sickness pills worked, Valto and Seija had prepared another delicious lunch, and we made it back to Espoo feeling fine.

It was time to say goodbye to everyone. Hanni and Valto worked to unpack Janni 2 while Seija drove us to the Helsinki train station for our 2 hour trip back to Tampere.

We were happy to have gone and happy to be going back to lower temperatures in Tampere. Also, Terhi, our exchange daughter from 2008-2009 was going to visit with her brother Samuli, the next day, and it was time to go home and prepare.

Brooke, Terhi, Analeise and Samuli,
before they left for Tampere's amusement park, Särkänniemi.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First post about the girls' school

The Amuri school, as seen from it's courtyard:

Art on the side of the school.

The girls attend the Amuri School. It takes about 25 minutes to walk the slightly uphill way there (Perhaps you'll hear stories from them years from now about walking to school in the snow, uphill both ways.... this is a bit of a Jarvi joke). The Amuri school is a publicly run international school with an emphasis on English. The majority of Brooke's classes are taught in English. By Analeise's grade, the language switches, and the majority of classes are taught in Finnish. She has a special teacher who helps students whose primary language is not Finnish.

Interesting differences from what we've experienced in the US:
  1. Their schedules are the same every week, but they vary daily. This means that Brooke starts school at 8am or 9am and gets home at 1 or 2pm, while Analeise starts at 8, 9 or 10am, and gets home at 3 or 4pm. This depends on their classes for the day. It's a little like a college schedule in the US.
  2. The school provides basic school supplies (paper, pencils) at no charge to students
  3. The school provides a lunch to students at no charge, and no one packs. There is only one choice for lunch each day (ex. fish soup or meat gravy), and it always comes with a hard rye bread that we might call a cracker and salad.
  4. Religion is a required part of their schooling, but the teachers are not aloud to try to convert anyone. In the older grades, they study things such as world religions and discuss religious philosophies. In the younger grades, they learn bible stores. Also, a few times per year, the whole school attends a service put together for the school at a nearby Lutheran church. Parents are able to ask that their children do not attend services and are assigned to an ethics class rather than a religion class.
  5. Classes are routinely 45 minutes in length, with a 15 minute break between each class. My understanding is that students do a lot of socializing and homework during these breaks.
  6. Cell phones are an accepted part of life. They are not to be used during class, but students can use them during breaks and before and after school.

This is the courtyard of the school, where students spend their breaks and
the time before the first bell of the day rings:

Here are a couple of photos of the girls on their first day of school, August 11, 2010:

Finns start school at age 7 and stay with their teacher through 6th or 7th grade. After that, they switch teachers for different subjects. The Amuri school has 550 students from grades 1-9. There is a principal and a vice principal. The regular classroom teachers teach music and art, but there are special teachers for certain classes (Textile arts, Physical Education and more). Currently students only have phy. ed. one day per week, but a law is supposedly about to be passed in Finland that will require more time.

So far, a class they both like is Textile Arts. They enjoy the teacher's "use any fabric in the room" approach. They even get to go shopping with their classes for fabric for their big project. Analeise intends to make a coat. Brooke's class is currenlty making bags, and Analeise is making a purse. The older students (Analeise) were encouraged to bring a mug to class so they can have hot cocoa. Sounds fun!

Students in Brooke's class, like all students in the younger grades,
do not wear their shoes in class.

Brooke has 27 hours of class:
  • Art, 3 hours (one class per week for 2 hours plus 1 hour separately)
  • Biology, 2 hours
  • English, 3 hours
  • Finnish, 5 hours
  • History, 2 hours
  • Math, 4 hours
  • Music, 2 hours
  • Phy. Ed, 2 hours*
  • Religion, 1 hour
  • Science, I hour (I think this is an Earth Science class)
  • Textile Arts, 2 hours*
*one class per week for two hours
Students address teachers by their first names. Brooke's teacher is Anna and is really nice. My understanding is that the class doesn't stick to the printed schedule exactly, with Anna having some freedom to work on things at different times when necessary. I believe there are 24 students in Brooke's class, and she says that the courses are a bit more in depth than what she is used to. She regularly complains that she doesn't like the lunch, which puts her in the ranks of most of the people I've asked about school lunches here. That said, the lunch is hot, free and made at the school every day. Luckily for Brooke, we have tasty food at home (today's snack was an apple, a banana and toast with hot cocoa)!

Analeise has 30 hours of class:
  • Biology, 2 hours*
  • Computer Class, 1 hour
  • English, 4 hours
  • Film English, 2 hours*
  • Finnish, 5 hours
  • Health Ed, 2 hours
  • History, 2 hours
  • Home Ec., 2 hours*
  • Math, 3 hours
  • Phy. Ed, 2 hours*
  • Physics and Chemistry, 3 hours (one class per week for two hours, plus 1 hour separately)
  • Textile Arts, 2 hours*
*one class per week for two hours

Analeise adores her Textile Arts class, saying that it's a minor miracle that she now looks forward to school on Monday morning. English is a boring class for her. Its aim is to instruct non-native English speakers, and she feels like she's back in second grade when she's there. That said, she's learning some British words and phrases, as they study the Queen's English. She is not enamored with going up and down the five floors of the building every day, but unlike Brooke, she does not mind the school lunches.

Both girls have homework regularly. This was unexpected for me, as our Finnish exchange daughter had said that she'd never had homework before going to high school in the U.S. Perhaps is different school-by-school and teacher-by-teacher. There is a website parents have access to, similar to one used by our school district back in Menomonie, at which absences, homework and grade information and messages from teachers can be found. There is a parent organization, but I have not contacted them yet. The principals have an open-door policy. I will volunteer there at least once per week.

Except for a few events organized by the parent organization, extra-curricular activities are not arranged by the school at all but by community offices. There is a recreation space called "The Point" between the school and our apartment that is free and open to students in different grades at different times throughout the week. Brooke tried it out and liked it (open gym, ping pong table, video games, drinks and snacks to buy). We could sign the girls up for various classes at local community centers (arts and crafts, music, dancing, various sports, extra language instruction, etc.) but are going to hold off on that in the beginning, as getting used to a new city, home, school and friends is already enough.

If you want to learn more about the Amuri school, this link will bring you to its website.

Walking to school: