Dare I hope…Spring?

It’s been a long damn winter, and I am looking for signs of spring every where. When I got back from Budapest a week ago, Helsinki was covered in snow again! Gah!

This morning, while out walking Shiva, I saw some hints that spring might be here…or at least peeking in the window. I have been told that Helsinki is gorgeous in the spring and summer. I am looking forward to seeing it for myself…assuming that this isn’t a false alarm.

But here are some pictures to prove that I’m not hallucinating:

The dog park the day after returning from Budapest (just a week ago!)

The dog park the day after returning from Budapest (just a week ago!)

These are pictures from this morning!

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In other news, I got in to see a physical therapist for an evaluation, regarding some issues with my MS and also about getting some rehab for my ACL surgery. Spent about two hours with her, doing all sorts of tests. Essentially, she is recommending some water exercises at one of the swimming pool halls, as well as relearning how to walk up and down stairs. Ugh. I hate exercising. Which is why I am like a fatted Christmas goose these days.

I have another few weeks of school left. My vocabulary has expanded, but I still can’t form sentences, which is a bit ego-deflating. I’ll take the summer off, then head back to another level 0 course for the fall. I’d do summer school, but we have trips to Greece, Italy, and France planned, so I am booked for the warm months. No, I am not complaining, not one bit!

Budapest, Hungary

I just came back from a wonderful long weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary. I love living in Europe, where so many of the neat and interesting places are just a quick plane trip away, rather than having to fly 12+ hours to go anywhere. In any case, Budapest has been on my bucket list for a while now, due to the beautiful buildings that I’ve seen in so many magazines. I was not disappointed! By far, the loveliest building is the Parliament buildings, with its Gothic style. It was just breath-taking! Next in sheer beauty has to be Saint Steven’s church, probably with the Mattias church right behind it. Also bunched up in that second-place position would be the Hungarian State Opera House, to which I was fortunate to be able to see two operas there.

Day 1, we flew in from Helsinki. We did have a direct flight to Budapest, but they were asking for volunteers to take a later flight, and since that one got us in only about two hours later, we volunteered. Basically, it made our flight free! We did have to connect through Riga, but that was pretty painless. Oh, while at the Helsinki airport, we saw some of the GoSleep pods that have been in the news. Every one of them was in use! Well, except for one which I snapped a picture of, and then a guy got in right after!

Link to flight in pictures

We got in, and we didn’t really have time for much but to check into our apartment, stroll around a bit, get groceries, then head back to fix dinner and get ready for the opera. We saw a modern adaptation of Strauss’ Ariadné Naxoszban, which was actually pretty good, once you get past the idea of it being held in a more modern setting. For this opera, we sat in the box, but in the cheap seats (really cheap, like 2€!), but still had a great view.

After the opera, we headed back to the apartment and collapsed to bed. The next morning was going to be pretty busy.

Link to Budapest, Day 1

For Day 2, we did a lot of walking! Of course, I managed to leave my Fitbit at home (duh!), but I still tracked my steps with my SHealth on my phone, so I didn’t lose them, per se. We started off at Szent István Bazilika, or Saint Stephen Basilica. Like most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and ornate. We paid the extra to take the elevator to the cupola, to get the panoramic view of the city. Well worth it! We also paid to see the treasury, where we were able to get a close-up view of a replica of the Holy Crown, which all the kings and empresses of Hungary have been crowned with. Glad to see that, because later, when we went to the Parliament where the actual crown is kept, you can’t see it very well. There is also housed here the Holy Relic of St. Stephen’s Right Hand (yes, the Holy Right Hand), and I got some gruesome pictures of it, too.

Same day, we also visited the Hungarian National Museum. You pay extra to take pictures, but it’s just a couple of euro, so not too bad. But that goes for cell phones, too. They give you a sticker to wear, and I had mine on the back of my phone, so one time I had a guy tell me “No pictures”, but then he saw the sticker and waved me to continue. They are pretty strict about it. And it goes without saying that when taking pictures of artifacts, you don’t use flash (although some folks did).

That night, I got to attend a second opera, a modern rendition of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, this time sitting in the floor section. Again, perfect view. If you’ve never seen an opera before, you should definitely take the opportunity to go in Budapest. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house, and even the cheaper seats have great views. Just beware the box seats — there isn’t a whole lot of leg room, and those really cheap seats are actually two seats, one behind the other, bolted to a step platform to sit above the others. Not exactly the most comfortable. But I was too engrossed in the opera to care much. And of course, the opera house is breathtaking, as well.

Link to Day 2 pictures. A lot of pictures.

Day 3, Sunday, we hopped around town, using the Hop On Hop Off bus. There are several of them, and we bought on the one with the giraffe, or the red buses. They all seemed pretty much alike, and the cool thing was is that the buses have WiFi available. Very nifty for keeping people back home jealous of all the sights you’re seeing. We went to Matthias Church, named after a king of Hungary. I thought it was a gorgeous piece of work, but since we were there on Sunday, it was closed to visitors, so I only saw the outside.

We also went to the Buda Castle this same day and walked through it. It’s no longer the official residence of the ruling monarch, since Hungary no longer has kings, but a President, instead. He lives in the slightly smaller building to the side of the castle property. We had a picnic in a park near the promontory, and just enjoyed the view of the Danube and the trees. It’s almost, but not quite, springtime.

We also went through the Budapest History Museum, which was pretty informative, as well. We took the bus up to the top of the Gellert Hill, where we saw the statue of Freedom that they have there.

For dinner, we met a colleague of Wellu’s, and his wife, and we went out to eat at a strudel place. Very traditional Hungarian food, and all of it delicious!

Link to Day 3 pictures

Link to Food pictures

On our last day, Monday, we took the HOHO bus to pick up the boat for the included tour on the Danube. It was misting/raining, so there weren’t a whole lot of people aboard. We took the boat and got off at Margaret Island, which is really amazing, and spent about an hour there, walking through the ruins and seeing the mini-zoo from the outside (it was closed). We caught the boat back to the dock, then rode around the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the sights.

Link to Danube River pictures

Link to Margaret Island pictures

After that, it was time to pick up our stuff at the rental agency, and we headed to the airport. Our flight was delayed about 30 minutes, but everything went smoothly. We got home…to rain, snow and slush. Ugh.

Due to space limitations on WordPress, Ive put links to the albums of pictures on my Flickr account. Just be forewarned…there are a lot of pictures. Some good, some bad, some so-so. Very few captions yet, but it is on my to-do list…one of these days. 🙂

Crazy busy!

I know, I know, I haven’t checked in for ages!

Finnish classes are starting to get really intense. I still feel like I don’t know any more than I did when I started, but every once in a while I realize that I’m recognizing words in conversations or can come up with the one that I need. I’m still struggling through all the darned endings and such, but hopefully, it will click soon. We have a mega-test on Tuesday (tiistai!), and I am simply not prepared. My recall is shyte.

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In the meantime, I have this thesis paper that I am proofing, and it is really taking up my time. I’ve agreed to do it, so I must, but I find myself starting to skim the words, and that’s when I have to take a break. Unfortunately, I don’t do anything productive when I do break from it. 300+ pages to proof. By the end of the month. Crunch time is coming soon!

But let us speak of more fabulous things! It has been a spectacular week for Helsinki, nature-wise! We’ve had spring temperatures (8°, 9°, even 10°!), with mostly clear skies. On Tuesday night, we had spectacular Northern Light displays, all the way here in the city! Nothing that I could take with my cell phone, but some folks got pictures of events just down the road from me. I was able to see them from my bedroom window, and they lasted for ages!

Photo Credit: Engelsman Finland

Photo Credit: Engelsman Finland

Then, on Friday, we got to experience an almost total solar eclipse. It was about 90% covered, and quite amazing. There was a bit of overcast, so I went and met Wellu at the university, where we looked through some special glasses to see the eclipse, plus “saw” it via a reflection from the telescope that was set up. I tried using the lens on the glasses to take a picture through, but it didn’t work.

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And then finally, Thursday night was a “super moon”. Nothing really amazing, just a point when the moon was at its closest to earth. Astronomer hubby sucks all the fun out of it, calling it “bollocks”, as the moon is only a few percentage points larger, hardly enough to notice, but hey, it was a cool event to have happen along with the other two. 🙂

Winter is supposed to return this next week, so time to bundle up again. Snow is predicted. But enjoying spring while it is giving us this sneak preview.

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Got Shiva her pet passport, except that they spelled my last name wrong and put in the wrong birth date for her. I don’t want to get stopped at some border because of technical issues, so we go back Monday to get it fixed. Sucker was expensive too…over 100€ for it! But, it means all her records are in one place and now she’s essentially Finnish, and she can travel around the EU without any problems. Just in case.

Heading to Budapest next weekend, then my mom comes to visit, then we head to Italy, THEN my youngest daughter and her friend come to visit…we’re going to do a ‘girl’s cruise’ to Tallinn, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg. After they leave, we are headed to France. Busy summer!

Can’t shake this cold!

March 6, 2015

March 6, 2015

Well, in more ways than one. It’s still winter outside, in spite of the cleaning trucks going around and cleaning up the gravel. I had been assured that seeing those trucks out was a sign that spring was coming (much like that whole ‘first bluebird of spring’ malarky), but that same day it was snowing big ol’ snowflakes. So, winter is still here. I don’t think Finland has the equivalent of a Punxsutawney Phil — probably they just figure that spring comes when it comes, and they don’t need some rodent to tell them anything. Given how often Phil gets it wrong…

And I still have my cold. Sore throat in the morning, which makes me want to call the doctor, but by the time I get home from school, it’s been gone all day. Started with a cough though. That’s no fun. I figure this thing is going to linger for a while. I’m going through menthols, hot tea, and tissues like there’s no tomorrow.

I went and got blood drawn and an EKG the other day. I went early, and despite the fact there were like 30 people in the waiting area, it went pretty fast. Nothing really unique about the visit that makes it stand out from the States, except for not having to wait all that long. Got there around 8:15am and was out by 8:45am. I have my MRI set up for June, just got that letter in the mail. Then a doctor’s appointment for August, and another blood test just before that. At least I’m not having to worry about paying for these.

Annnnd. It snowed again today. I am hearing that it can even snow in May. Seriously? Ugh. I’m sorry, Finns, but I am really hoping for a warm summer. They’re short enough as it is. Put up with a bit of heat. 🙂 It won’t be like the Louisiana summers that last for nine months of the year.

The walking trails are starting to clear up, which is nice. Just a few spots of ice, but nothing to be too worried about. I know this area here is going to look gorgeous in the spring!

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My crock pot arrive today! I am so stoked. I don’t cook much, but I am looking forward to putting some dishes together with this thing so we can mix up our meals some. First thing I might cook is some good mac & cheese….it’s been a while, and I’ve been having a hankering!

National Kalevala Day

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It’s kinda like Flag Day (my birthday!), but a bit different. The flags are flying, and we’re all supposed to read the national saga (I have a kid’s version with dogs, so I hope that counts). It’s also known as Finnish Cultural Day, and it started about 180 years ago. You can read more about it here.

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On Friday, I made my way (with the help of my guide, Wellu) to the Meilahden kampus, to go see the neurologist. Going to see the doctor in Finland seems to run a bit different than in the States. When you go to see your doctor in the States, you sign in, you wait in the waiting room, the nurse eventually calls you, takes your weight, leads you back to a room, takes your temp and blood pressure, then leaves you to wait for the doctor to eventually show up and spend 5 minutes with you. Then you pay your co-pay and leave

In Finland, you sign in, you go wait in a waiting area, and then the doctor calls you from the exam room, where you go in and talk with him or her. I’ve been to see a doctor twice, and no one has taken my weight or temp, and only this time did the doctor take my blood pressure. She spent over a half hour going over my history (of MS), suggesting future courses of actions, and then ran through the usual MS physical. After we were done, she took me down to another office and dropped me off with the receptionist to make all the appointments. Then I left without paying anything.

I don’t know if it’s a better system, but it sure seemed more efficient. My appointment was for 10:30, I got there at a little after 9am (just to make sure I could find the place), was seen by 10am, and out by 11am. So, I am scheduled for two more blood tests, and an MRI and eye test, as well as getting back on a physical therapy routine. Seems like we accomplished quite a bit. I’ll see her again in August, and she’ll call me to go over the results of the first blood test, which I do next week at the local clinic.

I am finally getting over my cold. My throat is still bothering me, but I’m sucking on throat lozenges like crazy. It’s worse in the morning, of course. But I think I am finally shaking it.

Shiva and I tried out a new dog park this morning. We rode the 79 to the park, and there were a few dogs there. She ended up in the ‘small dog’ side, because there was a male Newfoundland in the big dog pen, who weighed over 85kg, and the owner was afraid that he might hurt Shiva if he tried to dominate her. So she went and played with the terrier, and she and a large German Shepherd chased each other along the fence. I think I may stick to our regular dog park, though. It’s bigger and all one enclosure.

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For the last two days, I’ve been thinking of all the things I wanted to write about, but you’ll have to bear with me for a few more days. My brain is just not up to it, and there’s little room room for pictures. So I am going through and scaling down my picture sizes, to make room. I didn’t realize how large the photos from my cell phone were, and it’s used up almost all the space I am allotted! Once I’m done, I’ll start bombarding you all with more pictures. Maybe by then, spring will be here, too!

And since I’ve been sick, I figured a little retail therapy was in order. I went out and bought myself something I’ve wanted since I got here and saw them everywhere. Now I have one, unique, like every one else! Don’t judge me. 😛

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The winter blues

Bleh. I am so done with winter.

I have a cold.

I am losing my voice.

I feel bleh.

However, I am coming off of a trip to Turkey that was more amazing than I thought it would be, so there is that. But I had to leave sunshine (although not much warmth) and come back to grey skies and slush.

Budapest, Greece, Italy, and France are in my immediate travel plans. Looking forward to those!

Helsinki in February is mostly about slush. The black and grey ice and snow starting to melt away, leaving behind the several layers of grit and pebbles in its wake. Also, the melting ice reveals all the dog poop from earlier, trash, and other detritus that is pretty gross to look at each morning on my walks. Why can’t folks just lose money in the snow for me to find?

Life has settled into a routine now. I’m on to around 5 months now here in Finland, and (other than this lengthy winter!), I find something to love about it almost every day.

I have become a sauna convert.

I take my shoes off when I go in to someone’s house, and it feels natural now.

I got my first Kela check. Score one for socialism. Gotta love a country that pays me to go to school.

Even though I figure I can count the number of Finnish words I know now on my fingers. Damn, this is a hard language!

That’s about all for now. Things are slow, since it’s the end of winter. When I see spring…things should pick up. 🙂

Trip to Turkey

They say that Finns love to travel, and several studies seem to back up the assertion that Finns are the “most-traveled” nation, with some estimates of over seven trips a year. It’s a bit easier to do as a Finn, since the civilized work schedule offers plenty of time to take off for parts abroad, plus many tour companies cater to the idea that Finns like to get the heck out of Dodge for a week at a time.

I just got back from one of those tour group weeks, which took place over the “ski week” vacation time. It coincides with Mardi Gras back home, so it was nice to get away from all the reminders that my friends were attending parades and donning the festive green, gold, and purple. However, at some point in the week, it was the same temperature in Helsinki as it was in New Orleans. Go figure!

Our trip was to Antalya, Turkey. I will admit, Turkey was not on my bucket list. It may or may not be on yours. However, if you are a foodie or a history buff, you should definitely add it there. While unseasonably cool (of course, since I wanted heat), the weather most of the week was beyond beautiful, and the landscape was breathtaking. We had blue skies, some white fluffy clouds, and I simply could not take a bad picture if I wanted to. This was not due to the skill of the photographer, but rather the beauty of my subject matter.

We left early Saturday morning, and flew on a budget airline called Corendon. The flying posture was “knees around ears”, and I would bet money that it has the tightest seating arrangement of any commercial airliner. And it is no frills. On a four hour flight, you paid for drink and food, and got really chummy with your seatmate. We arrived at Antalya Havalimanı airport around 1300, and were herded towards our bus and tour guide. We found out that we were staying at the Siam Elegance Hotel and Resort, which was…well, my takeaway from that stay is that the beds were very hard. I dreaded going to bed at night because of the state of my back come morning. Other than that, it was okay, but definitely a hotel that is simply there to shelter tour guests.

Our tour included an Antalya city tour and lunch, and that included two stops to see our “sponsors”, which, according to the tour guide, was the reason why our tour could be offered at such a cheap price. We got about an hour in the old city, which was enough time for me to spend more money than what I should have.

We ended up hiring the hotel tour guide, Tufan, to drive us out to Aspendos, Side, and Manavgat Falls on Tuesday. Best money we spent. We weren’t rushed, he took us where we wanted to go, we had time to wander the ruins without worrying about missing a bus, there weren’t crowds of people, and it was just perfect. He even took us by an ancient Roman bridge, and dropped us off, and we walked to the other side and met him there, with time to stop and take plenty of pictures. In Side, we walked through the old town, all the way to see the Temple of Apollo, then ate lunch at a cliffside, open air restaurant, within sight of the temple. The view from the table is my new happy place.

We toured the Aspendos ruins, which was amazing. Leave yourself plenty of time to do that. We spent almost two hours, climbing the amphitheater, as well as the “goat paths” to the ruins of the basilica and other structures. Again, plenty of time to soak in the ancient history and take some amazing pictures.

Wednesday, we took a group tour of a river boat ride down the river to the Mediterranean Sea. Since it was the off-season, it was pretty cold, but the landscape was gorgeous. Our guide took us to see the mosque in Manavgat, which is one of the largest in the Antalya Province. It was very interesting to hear about all the rituals associated with their prayers, and to see the beautiful building.

Thursday, we had hired Tufan again, and he took us to Perge, to see the ancient ruins there, as well as back to the city of Antayla, so that we could go to the museum. After wandering through the museum, we walked along the coastline, and made our way back to the square, where he met us. We had some street food along the way — I heartily recommend the hot buttered corn with pomegranate sauce!

Unfortunately, I am restricted on space to add pictures, so I will leave you with a link to some of photos I took, posted to Flickr. I hope you enjoy them.

Excuse me while I market…

I’m just beginning to take this blogging stuff more seriously, since I’ve actually managed to keep up with it for more than six months! I’ve created a Facebook page to allow for more interaction, and so if you’re interested in seeing that, you can go to this page and “Like” it. I’ll be posting the blog updates to that page, rather than my personal one, and adding some random pictures and such that I may or may not include here. Bonus material!

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I started this blog as a way to keep my friends and family included in the things I’m doing here. It’s grown a bit from that, and now I write more with an eye to providing some helpful information every once in a while. I figure there are plenty of blogs and sites out there that talk about all the sights and attractions of Finland, so my blog is more focused on letting readers know what it is like to live in Finland (Helsinki in particular) on a day to day basis. The experiences of figuring out the bus system, going grocery shopping, doing laundry, and the sorts of activities that we take for granted that become something quite different in a new country. I still hope to cover the interesting sights of Helsinki and other places that I visit, too.

I also appreciate very much the contributions from my readers. Some of you have been very helpful in adding to my contributions, correcting or enhancing the information that I post, answering questions, and providing interesting insights into the country. It’s made doing this very fulfilling to have that feedback. Thank you!

As always, I am open to suggestions, criticisms and compliments on how I’m doing!

Ylioppilas time!

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Today is a pretty special day for the graduating classes of high school. In what is apparently a tradition, the kids dress up in costume, get loaded up into the back of dump trucks, and are driven around the city, tossing candies to the crowds that are congratulating them on their upcoming graduation.

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However, their graduation is not guaranteed. This parade happens before they take their final exams, which they take after the winter holiday (which is this upcoming week).

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It seems these kids know there are risks involved!

It was pretty fun to hear the kids laughing and whooping it up. It’s a neat tradition, and reminded me so much of the Mardi Gras parades (that I’m missing, wah!).

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This whole thing is really an amazing bit of Finnish culture. The studies and the exam appear to be quite exhaustive and difficult, and it’s really great to see the kids celebrated for their academic achievements.  There is a quite long history about this that you can read here, if you are interested.

What’s that bright light in the sky?

Today was a gorgeous day in Helsinki, Finland! Just want to announce that!

It got up to around 8°C, with blue skies and the sun shining.

Here’s some pictures:

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Sunrise

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Blue skies outside of Viikin tiedepuisto campus.

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Blue, cloudless skies on the way to the bus stop. Glorious!

Sunrise on Feb 10, 2015

Sunrise on Feb 10, 2015

Had my first exam in my daytime Finnish class. Hope to find out tomorrow how I did. If she doesn’t count off too much for spelling (hahaha), then I might do okay.