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Archive for November, 2010

30.11.10 – Sure, even the salt water Baltic Sea is starting to freeze right now but that doesn’t seem to stop Finns from one of their favorite pastimes, sauna. Pastime probably isn’t the right word because sauna means so much more to the Finnish people. Before my first trip to Finland, over 15 years ago, whenever I asked a Finnish person in the states what’s the most important thing to see in Finland, they all answered the same, “Sauna.”

Sauna is best when you can step outside and take a dip in a some nice cool water, preferably in one of the many lakes that dot the countryside. The quick jolt from “almost too hot” to “almost too cold” can be unbelievable stimulating and put your mind and body in a state of nirvana. That’s why most Finns have a summerhouse outside of the city, usually located along the side of a small lake. Visiting the summerhouse is usually on the weekend and more often in the summer because the möki maybe located a couple of hours from the city center, so it’s better to plan when you can stay overnight or even longer. This doesn’t stop some city dwellers from taking sauna and having a nice dip!

Both private and public sauna’s are all over Helsinki and available to almost everyone, but there are a few “hardcore” Finns who prefer the “whole enchilada.” Even though all the water outdoors is sure to turn to ice, they still want a dip while taking sauna. Every once in a great while you’ll see some water next to a building with a ladder and a “bubbler” a couple of feet out. The “bubbler” keeps the water from freezing so the sauna goers can come out of the sauna and do a quick lap and then right back into the sauna.

I haven’t seen anyone going in lately, although I pass by a spot pretty regularly, so I’ll keep my eyes open. Sauna, even though it sometimes is out in the open, is a private matter so I won’t take any pictures or stare. I probably will be looking out of the corner of my eyes with my jaw wide open. I’ve seen it on tv before and thought, oh it’s just mind of matter, I could probably do that, but now that I’ve been walking around in the -15ºC weather, there’s no way I would even think of trying! I could barely take the pictures you see above because my hands were freezing.

I don’t know how they do it but I would imagine it must be extremely invigorating.

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A Bigger Ice Rink?

29.11.10 – Here’s a little science for you. Water freezes at 0°C (32°F) because at that temperature, the water molecules slow down enough to allow freezing to happen faster then melting. Now if you add salt to the water, like in the Baltic Sea which is just a couple of blocks from where I live, the temperature needs to be lower because salt doesn’t freeze and there are now fewer water molecules to do the freezing. What does this mean? It’s frig’n cold out there!

I pass by the sea pretty regularly and I wanted to get some pictures of when it was starting to freeze. You first see sections with ice where the water is kind of trapped and not open to the sea, so boat docks with closed off sections and the little strip of water which divides Katanajokka from the rest of the harbor. The temperature is dropping steadily, it’s -15°C this morning, and everything seems to be freezing now. I’ve heard from a friend who lives on the other side of town, people are already ice fishing and sledding near Arabia where there is a large inlet from the sea. I’ve also heard that the ice gets so thick, they make roads on them to drive out to the surrounding islands. Crazy.

It’s going to be awhile before I trust the ice is thick enough to walk on but I will have plenty of other pictures coming up soon.

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28.11.10 – Sorry for the somewhat cryptic title but I’m in the process of change right now. I guess I’ve been in the process for the last four plus months but this change is slightly more acute. I need to shift gears towards the job search. I’m planning on looking into what I am most familiar with, web development.

Last week was crazy with my Finnish for Foreigners class and the final exam. I don’t want to give up on my Finnish studies so I’m planning on meeting up with some classmates at the university library for some continuation study. They are getting ready for Suomi 3+4. I’m not ready for 3+4 but I still think the daily routine of meeting in the morning will be good. My Finnish class has been my main social outlet and for now I’m trying to fill the void.

I’ll also spend my time at the library looking for work. I would much rather work at the library than at home whenever I can because I need to get out of my place and I enjoy the quiet and peaceful library environment. I hope this doesn’t take too long. I don’t want to bore you with posts about looking for work :(

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27.11.10 – “Joulu“. You guessed it, Christmas. Helsinki has holiday lights up throughout the city and most of the shopping areas are looking as if Finland too experiences Black Friday. Shoppers are filling the streets!!!

One of the largest and most popular department stores in Finland, Stockmann, which is located in the heart of Helsinki, is known for their holiday window displays. Two windows on the corner of the building are decorated for Christmas. On one of the windows they build a narrow wooden platform for small children to stand on for a better view. I don’t know what’s cuter, the window displays or the kids?

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Party Suomi-style!

26.11.10 – My Finnish for Foreigners class wrapped up this week and we had our final exam on Thursday. Some of my classmates and I decided to have a party and I offered to host the “shindig.” Because we were all studying for the final, we decided to keep it simple. The party would start at 5PM after the exam and everyone would bring something to drink and a snack. We had a couple of other things to celebrate in addition so the party was billed as the Finished with Finnish/Tania Going Away/Bazhena Birthday Bash.

My friends Mus’ab and Kevin came over right after the exam and helped me get the place ready for the party. Keeping it simple we picked up chips, drinks and 1 frozen pizza. People started rolling in on time and for most of the night there was always about 10 people partying at any given moment. Our class was great and everyone seems to get along so conversation was never a problem throughout the night. We also played Rock Band on the Xbox which everyone got a kick out of.

Bazhena, the birthday girl, was one of the last ones to arrive because she had to prepare to exit her apartment the same day and head back to St. Petersburg in the morning. We had presents, a great chili-chocolate cake from Fazer‘s and quite a bit of booze to consume if it was going to be a “real” Finnish party where the party wouldn’t end until all of the liquor was gone. Rum, champagne and white wine bottles were piling up on the balcony/ice box because we ran out of room in the refrigerator. We did are best trying to get rid of the liquor but finally headed out around 10PM to go to the karaoke bar down the street… which we closed!

I always like the fact that our class was made up of so many different nationalities so all in all at the party we had the following countries represented: China, India, Russia, Belarus, the United States, Ireland, England, Brazil, Finland, Jordan, Thailand and the Ukraine. It was a great time and I woke up a bit depressed that the class was over but we’ve already made plans for study groups, maybe some dinner parties and I’m planning on hosting an ice skating party soon.

Thanks guys for the great fun. I hope we all keep in touch.

More pictures on Flickr!

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My Ice Rink

25.11.10 – With the recent decrease in temperatures and the increase in the amount of snow on the ground, everyone has had to make changes. You walk slower because you don’t want to fall. You wear more clothes because the wind can cut through your first couple of layers and chill you to the bone. What used to be unobstructed paths are now a wintry obstacle course.

Not all changes are bad. I’ve been keeping an eye on the soccer field in the park across the street from where I live because my landlord told me the city converts the soccer field to an ice rink in the winter. After the first couple of weeks of light snow, the groundskeepers would plow the snow off the field and build a small berm around the perimeter. Now that the temperatures are almost always -10°C, each day, they start at one end with a large hose, spraying from side to side while walking backwards. Within two to three days a rough patch of ice taking up half of the field could be seen. Each day it gets a bit larger and thicker.

The groundskeepers are using a different technique from the one I was used to growing up in Ohio. In Ohio, they had a permanent berm made out of earth and on one side of the field was a fire hydrant. When it was cold enough, they cracked the fire hydrant open and flooded the field for a day or two. The two foot deep pond would then take a week or so to freeze.

I don’t know how long the Finnish technique will take. I’m hoping in the next couple of days I’ll see people using the rink. I may not know how long it will take but I do know what the kids and I will do this weekend, buy skates!

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Emma’s New Doo

24.11.10 – Emma got her haircut. She emailed me the night before a couple of pictures of some styles she liked. I handed over my phone to the stylist and I guess a picture’s worth a thousand words. Luckily ;)

Side note, it’s snowing like crazy here but it’s still easy to get around town with public transportation. The buses and trams are hardly phased by the weather.

Another note, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I wish I could say I was happy about that but it’s a bit odd being all the way in Finland and so far from the festivities. I’m heading to Jaana’s house on Saturday because she’s hosting a Thanksgiving party. That should be interesting.

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23.11.10Tilt-shift is a photographic technique which simulates a miniature scene by using selective focus, usually accomplished thru camera movements on a small- or medium-format camera. I recently downloaded an app, TiltShift Generator, for my iPhone which simulates the technique. Like most of the photographic apps on my phone, it does a pretty good job of simplifying an otherwise complicated process with promising results. I hope you like the samples and hopefully I’ll have more to come in the near future.

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22.11.10 – Brrrrrr! It was cold this morning! What happened to my warm little tree fort in the sky? I had to don my long underwear under the blankets and let them warm up before I could get out of bed. A check of the thermometer just outside my kitchen window told me it was -5°C which has been the norm all week, nothing crazy.

I’m pretty sure every apartment I’ve been to in Finland has radiators. Maybe it’s a result of being a Nordic Welfare State (BTW, Finland isn’t a Socialist country because the countries means of production are not state-owned), an “all for one and one for all” kind of sharing characteristic in this country. Transportation leans more towards public trams, buses and a small but easily accessible metro, rather than everyone owning their own car. Healthcare may not be cutting edge but it’s available to everyone and it’s affordable. Why not share the warmth with radiated heat instead of individually controlled thermostats in each apartment?

Radiators require a little maintenance though ;) My landlord showed me the radiator “key” when I was first moving in. “Put this in a safe place where you can easily find it!” Each room has a radiator, a flat panel almost flush to the wall which usually spans as much length as possible on the wall facing outside and almost three feet (or a meter) high. There’s a simple knob valve which opens it up, on, or closes it, off, with a couple of turns. There’s also a little valve as high as possible on the radiator. Over time, the radiator will become filled with air and lose the ability to heat the apartment. You basically open the valve with a special key to bleed the air out of the radiator and maximize the warm water in which allows the radiator to do its job.

Getting out of my warm bed wasn’t easy but at least I knew the drill and got the place nice and toasty in no time. You only need to do this every couple of months so hopefully I’ll be set for a while now ;)

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21.11.10Helsinki makes the most of these long winter nights by kicking off the holidays early and illuminating parks, shopping stores and some of the major streets with holiday lights. While walking home this evening, I passed through Esplanadi, where the tallest trees on the block were wrapped in shimmering blue lights. It’s always nice to walk through Esplanadi at night because of the bright lights from the hotels and shops that border the boulevard but now with the holiday lights… it’s magical.

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