Sunday, October 31, 2010

Arctic Birthday

The Birthday Gal

My parent's, Becky and Denny, visited Finland for three weeks starting in mid-September. First they saw our cousin Valto and his family, who took them around Helsinki and then three hours north-east to Mikkeli to see Valto's mom and sister and her family. They had a great time jumping in lakes after saunas, visiting museums, and going on Valto's boat. He loaned them a car they used to drive to our place in Tampere.

8.5 hour train ride to Rovaniemi

Their timing couldn't have been better, because it meant they were with us for Analeise's fourteenth birthday. As Bryan had to be in Rovaniemi for a department meeting, we took a train and met him there for Analeise's birthday weekend.

Denny and Kate

Analeise and Becky

Rovaniemi is situated along the edge of the arctic circle in northern Finland in an area called Lapland. Lapland is gorgeous, rocky and full of forests and lakes. It extends into Sweden, Norway and Russia and is the traditional homeland of Sami people.

The Sami were (and to some extent still are) a nomadic people whose livelihood depended on shepherding reindeer. There are between six and thirteen different groups (depending on who you ask), or tribes of Sami people, each with distinctive dialects, types of dress, customs, etc. We were very lucky during our Rovaniemi visit to spend time with Tim Frandy, an American PhD candidate who is in Finland on a Fulbright scholarship. He spent the majority of the 2010 summer living in a tent, learning and recording spoken Sami and eating his fair share of reindeer.

With Tim as our guide, we visited the Arktikum museum, which deserves its solid reputation. The museum houses exhibits about the Sami people, the northern lights, the biology of the area and more.
Denny's photo showing some Sami works at the Arktikum museum

Unlike in southern Finland, where the leaves change mainly to yellow during the fall, Rovaniemi's trees offer the full range of fall colors. Finns call that time "Ruska" (pronounced Roos-ka), which means "brown," but also "the fall colors."

Bryan's department went on a hike in a national forest one and a half hours north of Rovaniemi. Here are three photos from that excursion.

Knowing that we are missing our pups in Wisconsin, Bryan arranged an off-season visit to one of Rovaniemi's dog safari parks. We kept the visit as a surprise for the girls until Analeise's birthday morning. Can you imagine driving into a forest to find 297 husky and malamute dogs?

Our guide has worked at the park for three years and knows each dog by name. She told us a bit about the park, gave us a traditional and delicious warm berry drink and cookies and then took us to meet the dogs.

All the male dogs are leashed to their own tree. Most of the female dogs are in large kennels, which helps prevent un-planned cubs. Young dogs are paired in a kennel with another dog, usually a well-behaved and older one, so that they have someone from whom to learn. As "working dogs" their year revolves around the winter season, with rest in the spring and summer and training in the fall.

It seems that we pet 100 of the dogs, and while they barked, it wasn't overwhelmingly noisy. I understand that is not the case when it is feeding time in the evening! Brooke did get a bite (no broken skin, but a scare) when she stuck her hand in the wrong dog's kennel. Our wise guide finished our visit by letting the girls pet the puppies again.

Not all of Rovaniemi is above the edge of the arctic circle, and Analeise wanted to cross that line on her birthday. Going to the dog safari had accomplished that goal, but across the road from the dog safari, Santa's village has the line marked. Finns claim that Santa lives in Rovaniemi, and this is held as true by many children. The place is touristy but is quite fun. If you happen to be in Rovaniemi and have children, I'd recommend going. There are shops, a cafe and the area where you can visit Santa. Visting Santa is free, but be prepared to shell out money if you want a photo with him. By the way, Brooke asked Santa for a set of drums for Christmas, and Analeise asked for a set of ear plugs. Yep, sisters.

It usually costs 6 Euros to get this certificate proving that you crossed the arctic circle, but this nice woman gave it to Analeise for free as a birthday present.

After we met Santa, we went downtown to do some shopping before heading back to the hotel for some rest. Somehow Becky and Denny seem to hone in on the best stores. They found one called Aarnivalkea, which is one of the two Rovaniemi shops that sell only Finnish items. Aarnivalkea specializes in items made in Finland's Lapland. It has a fantastic variety of knives with gorgeous birch handles, silver jewelry, birch (and other wood) kitchen tools, Christmas decorations and more. They even sell reindeer leather.

Brooke at Aarnivalkea
In the background is a man named Tom. His wife Juleen is another professor here in Finland on a Fulbright. They live many hours away from Rovaniemi and just happened to be in town at the same time as us. We ran into them in this shop. Fun coincidence.

After Analeise had happily spent some of her birthday money, we went back to our hotel. While the rest of the gang rested, Analeise, Becky and I went on a hike. The sun was shining, so we got to see the full effect of Rovaniemi's stunning "Ruska." That evening we ordered pizza and had store-bought cake, after which Analeise opened the last of her gifts. Birthdays at the arctic circle have their charms.

birthday earrings and sisters, reflected

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turku, Finland - Midieval and Modern

American Fulbright Professors and Students in Finland, 2010-2011
Bryan is third from the left in the front row.

Each year there is a gathering at a university in Turku called the American Voices Seminar. It is attended by university students, especially those doing North American Studies, and the presenters are American Fulbright recipients in Finland. This year's seminar took place in October, 2010.

The presenters are given a lot of freedom on the topic of their presentation, and our family did a presentation about what we like about Halloween - mainly costumes, trick-or-treating, being with friends or family and eating candy (Thank you to friends who sent us Halloween photos). The girls put on costumes; Brooke was a ghost, Analeise was a bunny. They had a good public speaking experience, and they handed out candy we brought from the states (Starbursts, Jolly Ranchers and Skittles)at the end of the presentation.

Bryan attended the full slate of presentations over a day and a half, but the girls and I took some time to go to site seeing. We walked along the beautiful Aura River, which runs through Turku, providing a connection between the center of town and the ocean.

We came upon a museum, Aboa Vetus/Ars Nova. Combining the archeological dig of a medieval section of town and a diverse collection of modern art, the museum's fascinating and full of contrast. If you're in Turku, I'd recommend the museum.

Analeise at the museum's cafe, which served some of the best cake (chocolate and a raspberry torte) we've bought in Finland.

One of the main architectural attractions in the city is Finland's National Shrine, the Turku Cathedral. The foundation was laid in the 1200's, and the church was dedicated as the main cathedral of Finland in 1300. We did not go inside but were able to appreciate the building on a beautiful fall day.

While there is religious diversity in Finland, the country's over 80% Lutheran, with Christmas and Easter being very important holidays. In Turku, the start of Christmas is announced on Christmas Eve on the balcony of this city building:

My understanding is that a city official reads an old, official declaration that the "Christmas Peace" has begun, and this is a quiet, almost solemn affair. The declaration warns citizens that disturbing the peace during Christmas will be punished. I guess Finns like their Christmas Peace to be peaceful! If you'd like to read more about this tradition, click here for a 2005 article by the Finnish embassy in Washington. The article includes an English translation of the declaration.

There is a medieval castle in Turku can be found by following the Aura River to the ocean.

It is over 700 years old, was heavily damaged both by attacks and fire and then finally in a bombing during WWII. The castle went through a huge restoration which was finalized in the 1980's and 90's.

A toiliet fit for a king?
This toilet is right off the room where the king's council room.

Early graffiti?
These are leftovers on the walls of the scribe's quarters.

While a lot of the castle has been relatively newly recreated, you can still see murals and walk in tight spiral staircases that are centuries old and imagine what life must have been like long ago. The castle is now one of Finland's most visited museums, and if you go, take some time to sit on one of the numerous windows' benches. Also, if you are going to, or coming from Sweden on a ferry, the dock is within walking distance of the castle.

Bonus photos and a video:

I took this video of Analeise right by the Turku Cathedral. By the way, she dropped her phone somewhere around the church, and a nice woman who works there found it and mailed it back to us.

Bryan and the girls on the way to a bus stop. They're walking towards a mall in Turku. Many malls in Finland display their stores' signs, as you see here.

A half hour bus ride outside of Turku is this relaxing spa called Naantali. We went here to swim and relax, and while it was very enjoyable, it was not a place I'd recommend if you have children who want slides and wave pools. This is more of a luxurious and laid back place. The attached hotel is expensive, but it also looked very nice.

Here are some photos of the Aura River:

You can see the Turku Cathedral's spire in the distance.

Check out this ferry bridge - it's free!

The Aura River before a snowfall