Finland-Log, Entry No. 1
So this will be my first blog entry about my semester abroad in Finland. And as you can see, it is in English. This has three reasons: First, I can practice my English writing skills, second, it is more democratic, because you do not have to read the far too complex minor world language German to read my stuff, and third, I will write significantly less when writing in English because it is really strenous to do so. Futhermore, it’s fair to the people I meet during my travels, so that they can actually read what I write about them – if that is a good or bad thing, I don’t know yet.
But let’s start at the beginning: the ferry from Travemünde to Helsinki. This is (more or less) the route:
It took about 40 hours, because over New Year’s Eve the ferry company wants to save some money and thus they just go with half the speed. I found that pretty cool but it looked like not many people have the same opinion. On the ship were around 40 passengers, most of them truckers. Normally more than 200 people take the ferry. But actually that made it a really family-like atmosphere.
I met a Russian 18-year old artist/IT-Geek (yes, the combination is correct) who really much likes transportation stuff – like ships or trains – draws them and uploads the pictures to his blog vokabre.com
. He also has some friends in the Pirate Party in Russia and he says that the party with its 15,000 members poses a really big threat to the government. He also claims that one day everyone will speak Esperanto. As some of you may imagine, I had a nice discussion about his views. For me it was fun. The other people – a German and a Spanish guy – who were listening weren’t that much interested, but that could be as well because the Spanish guy was really bad at English (as somehow most of them are) and could not follow the conversation.
Not that many people took the ferry over New Years Eve
He is, by the way, the first Spanish guy I met on my trip and he wouldn’t be the last. Most of them are all fleeing from the high unemployment in their country. And because Finland is rich and in the EU, the young Spanish people trade their warm sun against a secure job.
Well, the Spanish guy from the ferry actually moved to Finland because he fell in love with a Finnish girl, he said. This does not seem to be not that uncommon either: On the same ferry, there was a Dutch man who had married a Finnish woman. And he told me, he is not the only Dutch or „Middle/South European“ that came here for love. From my experience right now, I know many men who moved here for a woman, but I haven’t heard much of the opposite. Well, that is somehow understable: The Finnish men all look to me, well, like most men, not that attractive, and the Finnish women look to me, like, well, as if they are competing for a Miss Universe election all the time. I would not really say – as many foreigners do – that they are more beautiful than other, but they have no problem to wear some make-up and present themselves in the best way they can. And this does not to compete with the fact that Finland is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world: From my point of view, feminism here does not mean that women not dress and act feminine but that they are proud of being feminine and they like to show this proudness. Some call this lipstick feminism. I call that: cool.
– Who misses a picture at this point, click here
But back to the ferry (and thus loosing about all of my readers), or to be more exactly: to the trucker’s lounge of the ferry. There I spent New Years Eve with some truckers from Estonia and Russia I met on the upper deck. And of course we did not only drink Vodka but other crazy stuff that burned my throat as well. The one guy wanted to teach me all the time that „the governments“ and „the people up there“ are keeping the normal people down and that it is all a big conspiracy. And he said that most people only think of themselves, which is why he decided to become a truck driver so he does not have to speak with people so much. Quite paradox, because he was the one who was talking all the time.
Another one was around 24 years old or something (I just remember that it was something around that) but was taller and bigger than me and another one has been in jail for a few years which more or less determined his fate in life. He actually told me why he was behind bars but I promised I would not write about it, even though it is long time gone and „it was a set-up“, as he assured me. So we talked and drank together until some time in the morning and finally I just went to bed.
Next morning, I sweated out some of the alcohol in the on-board-sauna and just relaxed most of the time. The day after I finally arrived in Helsinki port. And the first thing I saw was ice. Lots and lots of ice in the ocean. That was the first time I realized that I have never been to the real North: Of course, I have seen some frozen rivers and the like, but I have never seen the whole sea covered with lots and lots of ice floes (Eisschollen). It just looked amazing, and I tried to make pictures of it, but since it was still dark it did not really work out.
Arriving at Helsinki port early in the morning.
The former Dutch now Finnish guy took me in his bus (fully loaded with alcohol from Germany) to the city centre where I could get the keys for my student apartment. But as the bureau was closed that early in the morning I just needed a place to kill some time. So the first coffee I drank in the country, which has the highest consumption per capita of coffee worldwide – what makes the Finnish in my opinion really likeable-, was in a McDonald’s restaurant. The coffee didn’t taste that good. But the refill was for free. And that was when I started to like the country.
Okay, I realize that I start to write to much again. So I will just show you some pictures and add some information to it. Maybe I will explain some stuff in more detail later. Or not.
These pictures above were made at Soumenlinna
. It is an island fortress that was build under Swedish rule in 1748 against the Russians. Which did not really work out, since it was taken over by the Russians in 1808. The Russians then neglected the fortress a bit, so that in 1854 a fleet of French and English ships could shoot at Soumenlinna for three days without resistance. The cannons in the fortress were not up-to-date and the cannon balls couldn’t reach the enemy.
The island shows the history of Finland very well: The country was always a battlefield, most-often between Russia and Sweden. And when both nations had more important stuff to do during the beginning of World War I, the Finns declared their independence. That is more or less the history of Finland (yeah, there is more to it, but right now that’s enough to know).
This is the Senate Square in Helsinki. It was built by the Russians when they made Helsinki the capital of Russian-owned Finland. The building which is illuminated by a light show in the beginning of January is the Helsinki Cathedral, it is THE landmark of Helsinki, a solid Facebook source told me. The statue that is merely visible on the right shows the Russian Emperor Alexander II. Yes, the Finns have in the center of their capital a statue of a Russian Emperor. Why? Because he was the one who gave Finns some autonomy over themselves in the 19th century. Compared to other Emperors he was a nice one. Enough to build a statue for him.
Yes, that is indeed an Angry Birds shop. The company Rovio who produced the game for Smart Phones is a Finnish one, and it seems like many Finns are mad for these birds. The company even built an Angry Birds theme park and they sell Angry Birds soda which is – so someone told me – more popular than Coke.
You may only guess one time what music is playing in the background. Of course: Gangnam Style. I took this picture on a sit-sit which is a party for students where people dress up, sing, drink, sing, drink, sing, sing and drink some more. I liked it, especially that the songs were in Finnish. Ah, yeah, at the end they turned on the sauna because it’s Finland, there is always sauna somewhere.
And yes, this is Finland as well. Look at the price. That’s right: One beer 0,5l in a can costs in kiosk six Euro and fifty cents. There are stores that sell it for a lower price but still it is way too expensive. The Finns have a weird relationship to alcohol: They really want to drink a lot of it but they know that and that is why they make it really expensive so they don’t drink too much. What means: They drink not that often, but when they do, they do it as if there is no tommorrow. A very effective way of handling one’s addiction, I think.
In my apartment, I live together with a German, an Austrian, a French, a Japanase and a Chinese guy. The Japanse one – his name is Kazu – gave us some rice cake with seaweed and soy. Tasted good and is really sticky. After we ate it, Kazu told us that people sometimes die because the rice cake gets stuck in their throat. We all really like each other here.
Last Friday I went with some people to a Philharmonic Concert. And whenever the musicians stopped playing the whole crowd started to cough. It is not a cultural substitute for applause – that the listeners did as well – but it seems to be very common to have a sore throat here in Helsinki. By the way, I have been sick twice already. Sucks when you spent almost half of the time of your Erasmus trip in your bed when you actually want to study. Or drink.
I have been doing some more stuff but just one more thing: I’ve been to a Poetry Slam here in Helsinki and for this I wrote a text in Finnish and English. I let my flatmate Mario from Austria take this video for proof.
I sent a longer version of the text to the Helsinki Times – a Helsinki newspaper written in English – and it got printed the other day and it is as well available online. My first text published in English. Yeah.
Alright, that’s it for now, I promise I take some more pictures. I’m just not the paparrazi guy and I don’t like to take pictures of people. But I know already that I will be very sad when I don’t have any images of the people I hang around here with. So, until the next post,