18 April 2012

I fin[d] this land to be...familiar

the trip to finland (sorry, its all in one post). in many (though certainly not all) ways, i found it to be reminiscent of halifax. not sure exactly what to make of that, but there it is.

april 13 (friday):
- left home at 1p. i was still sick.
- 1st flight (3p halifax time): a full flight (thus X was on our laps), but thankfully she was content to watch "garfield the movie". one sucky thing was that my ears would not pop on the descent. it hurt like hell and it would be this way for all flights today.
- toronto (landed 5:20p halifax time): had to go through 2 silly internal check points (where they nearly rejected us and would have made us funnel back out to the main airport check-in counters and security lines).
- 2nd flight (7:40p halifax time): full flight again (thus, X was on my lap again). we got a bulkhead seat thankfully though. we sat near a family with a little girl a bit younger than X. they played for a while. X did great until she had been asleep for about 2 hours. the plane got very hot and she got pissed. we were "those people" off-and-on for about 2-3 more hours. thankfully the flight was smooth and she slept (sort of) and the food was decent. aside from the heat, another irritant was being on a flight filled with high school music students. i forgot how grating teenager speak is.

april 14 (saturday):
- frankfurt (landed 3:20a halifax time): got off our plane via stairs onto the tarmac and loaded on to a bus. after a long bus ride, we were dumped back inside to wait in a customs line. then we went through security again. then we had a long trek through the terminal. we made it to our next gate just in time for final boarding call.
- 3rd flight (4:50a halifax time): at least this flight wasnt too full and X got her own seat. thankfully she was patient on this final leg of travel and slept for half the flight.
- helsinki (landed 7:15a halifax time. 1:15p helsinki time): an easy arrival. a university guy met us (complete with a "Dr Whipp" sign) outside baggage claim and had a comfortable van, with child seat, to drive us to our hotel in. and thus began the part of the helsinki trip known as "putting your best foot forward", except i hadnt slept all "night" and didnt know my ass from my toe. the guy (Tapani) was friendly and welcoming. he pointed out things as we drove to the city. he was kind and soft spoken, not overly energetic or engaging, which was nice because i was too brain dead to feign conversation.
* at this point, i tried hard not to make any permanent first impressions of helsinki due to my exhaustion, but what leaked into my thoughts was this: the weather and airport were similar to halifax, it seemed generically european, and nothing scared me about my surroundings.
- hotel: arrived at hotel helsinki where another geologist (Pekka) met us to introduce himself and chat with dave about the following days goings-on. 
- explore: damn jetlag. i felt like i was drunk, on a boat. i was bleary-eyed and wanted to be put out of my misery, but it was only 3p. ugh. we stumbled around the corner of the hotel onto the shopping street (aleksanterinkatu) and attempted a visit to stockmann (basically, finlands nordstrom). then we hit the sokos grocery store. damn was that overwhelming. most food labels were in finnish and swedish only. we managed to find a few items and purchase them. then we went back to the hotel because it was grey and drizzly and windy outside. for dinner we managed some take out from base camp (a nearby nepali restaurant). it was "meh" for me, and one dish was waaaaay too spicy (i had a coughing spell for 15 minutes), but dave liked his stuff.

april 15 (sunday):
- sleep: despite exhaustion, i couldnt sleep for a few hours in the middle of the night due to being wacked out. X too. it made for a tired start to the day.
- breakfast: the hotel buffet was yum and huge and free. i had rye porridge and oven pancakes and bacon and eggs and cereal. yeah, i was hungry. the buffet was nice because things were labeled as being "lactose free". i guess like 20% of finns are lactose intolerant (as a nation, they are also one of the biggest consumers of dairy [per capita]...coincidence...i think not).
- morning action: we went to a nearby playground (near the botanical gardens). X loved it, though she was seriously displeased with the lack of puppy poo to be found on the streets of helsinki (a theme that would exist throughout the visit).

(riding the bouncy seal at the playground)

- lunch: we had a brunch buffet meal at sunn with tapani (the guy who picked us up from the airport) and another geologist and their spouses. the restaurant was on the second floor of an old building overlooking the senate square in front of the helsinki cathedral (senate square is apparently bounded on each side by buildings that represent the 4 main forces in finland [political, religious, scientific and commercial]). a lovely view. at lunch, i found it hard to express my enthusiasm for a potential life in finland or to, generally, act social (as these kinds of meals normally require), but i had X to keep satisfied. i was able to chat with tapanis wife though, which was nice. she was very tolerant of X (actually, everyone was) so i tried not to feel too bad when i had to leave the table so long before everyone else was done. X did okay at the table, but once she was done eating, she wanted to get out and walk around. and, when she got bored of wandering around inside, we walked around the square in front of the church. while climbing the steps up to the church, some high school students talked to us and were very nice to ask what we thought of helsinki and make other chit chat (i was envious when they seamlessly switched from finnish to english when they engaged us). and then everyone was done with lunch so we regrouped and they showed us around a little bit. part of the university of helsinki is located nearby (in fact the geology department used to be right around the corner from senate square, until it moved to its new campus in kumpula). our lunch companions showed us to a nearby playground for X as well, and then they left us to the rest of our day.

(photos taken by tapanis wife: X and i on senate square [you should be able to find X bright blue jacket]; the helsinki cathedral above senate square [we are tiny specks in this one]; sitting on the steps to the cathedral, the students who talked to us are the group of 3 on the lower left side of the pic)
(photos by tapanis wife: X rediscovered the joys of the slide in finland; not sure if you can see, but X is on a bouncy moose)

- explore: the weather was very nice today, so we wandered from the playground down to the waterfront. it was very beautiful and appealing (much more so than halifax). we also saw the place where the seasonal outdoor farmers market (kauppatori) is on the waterfront. then we walked the esplanade back toward our hotel. how very nice and very european. the place to feel the pulse of the city, and to be seen. after we turned off the esplanade, we stopped at h&m kids near our hotel to get X a few things.

(papa and X next to a waterfront boat with the uspenski cathedral in the background; mama and X riding a turtle near the grounds for the market [kauppatori])

- dinner: we were tired and it was sunday night. thus, we ended up at one of our hotels restaurants called memphis. what foul food.

april 16 (monday):
*dave left by 9a for his interview*
- breakfast: X and i scrambled in the morning to get ready and go down to breakfast before the buffet was closed. we made it.
- morning action: we went to stockmanns 7th floor cleaner service to drop diapers off for laundering (while slightly better than iceland, finland still doesnt have many laundromats). we also went down to the sub-level to their grocery store. a patient employee showed me the food labels at the bakery and prepared food counters with the finnish words for "without lactose/milk/soy". armed with this information i was able to gather a decent lunch for us. it was quite a posh grocery store with tons of choice. then i attempted to find the nearest branch of the citys library (based on uncertain directions from the hotel staff). it was a no go. bummer, because i would really have loved to see the childrens section of a finnish library, since its a place we utilize so often in halifax.
- lunch: back to the hotel for food (from stockmann) and some rest (the combo of being sick, jetlagged, and not in european-city-walking shape really kicked my ass).
- afternoon action: we headed out to find the aquarium (based, again, on hotel staff directions). again, it was a no go. i was too tired to make a massive search once i realized i didnt really know where the entrance was. at least we got to experience the citys tram. as we walked back to the tram stop we saw a playground, so X and i went to check it out. then we went back to the hotel and i was totally dead. since i didnt know when dave would be getting home, to entertain X i got in the bathtub with her and let her have a looooooong bath. dave came back at about 4:30p, and it was clear he had had a good damn day. he said the interview and teaching lecture went well and he learned lots of interesting things about the job and the department.
- dinner: the cleared air post-interview made us excited to get out for dinner. we chose the nearby zetor. it had great atmosphere and decor for X (farm/country themed with a little [empty] stage with lights on that she ran around while waiting for food to arrive). the food however was heavy and fatty and occasionally salty. ack. X did eat some of my stew meat with potatoes though. after dinner, we wandered through the biggest bookstore in scandinavia: akateeminen kirjakauppa. X got a finnish sticker book.

april 17 (tuesday):
- breakfast: did the hotel buffet as a family. 
- morning action: i ran to stockmann to pick up the diaper laundry (miraculously, they did it right and got everything back to me). then we met pekka in the hotel lobby and he took us all on the tram up to campus. we saw a few buildings of the natural science campus, and the inside of the physics/geology buildings and the department that dave would be working in. nice digs, the sharpest campus buildings ive seen on most any campus. while dave poked around the department, X and i sat for a bit in their common/lounge area. everyone who encountered us was very nice and friendly and seemed genuinely happy to be at work (it may sound simple, but the vibe of contentment at work is not one i regularly encounter).
- lunch: X and i headed back to the hotel for food and a break. on the way back to the tram, we encountered Xs daily dose of puppy poo, which greatly satisfied her. then we got lunch from the other hotel restaurant, fransmanni.
- afternoon action: we walked to the natural history museum. what a gorgeous little collection (they only had 3 smallish floors of stuff) with lovely animal scene displays. X was in heaven. they had a great "nature of finland" floor. and, happily, a collection of animal poop too. X, needless to say, was beside herself with joy. the only downer at the museum was when we started to have our snack in the (empty) cafeteria and were asked to move to the (dirty) snack area on the 4th floor because we werent purchasing anything in the cafeteria. and then the museum closed and we walked (or rather, i dragged ass) back to the hotel. dog tired again.

(elephant in the foyer of natural history museum; X peering in to the lit portals of poo)

- dinner: we had dinner reservations with two geology people (pekka and tapani again, no spouses). pekka came and got us at the hotel and on our walk to the tram we popped in to finlands fashion mecca, marimekko. i think im in love, the place could definitely drive the dreary winter doldrums away. but anyway, we were off to dinner at saaga, a mid-scale restaurant featuring lapland cuisine (lapland is the northernmost part of finland). i was less than excited to have to corral X at a fancy restaurant at the end of a long day and long travel trip. X did pretty well but she and i again spent a lot of time away from the table trying to keep our minds occupied while waiting for the food to arrive (a trickling fountain, and a bear skin on the wall were major fascinations). while others enjoyed a couple courses to their dinner, i ordered only an entree: reindeer. and it was pretty good, not gamey at all (X liked it too). after the main course was eaten, X and i bailed.
- decompression chat: after X went to bed, dave and i finally got to touch base on what had happened since we arrived. i extracted the info about his interview, the job particulars, and feelings about the department and position and other things (we didnt chat monday night because he passed out when X went to bed due to several previous days of lack of sleep and stress). from what dave told me, i am truly impressed by him. he seemed well received and his talents seemed to be recognized and appreciated. the job sounds basically ideal (more in a future post), and thus, we started talking about the future and what it would mean to live in finland and started the process of thinking through a move. we only talked in generalities and really very little about finland specifically. mostly just, what it would mean to move, what we would have to experience, how we feel about the process in general and vaguely finland in general. and then we were dead tired.

april 18 (wednesday):
- morning action: we got up, ate, and packed. i went to stockmann to get X some chicken for the flight home. surprise, some HUGE annual sale was going on! i think i rubbed elbows with half of finland. and then tapani met us at the hotel to drive us back to the airport.
- 1st flight (1:20p helsinki time. 7:20a halifax time): a full flight again! thankfully it was short-ish.
- munich (landed 3:50p helsinki time. 9:50a halifax time): we made it to our next gate with about 20 minutes to spare and had time to grab some rice for X (we relied 0% on the airlines offering anything X could eat).
- 2nd flight (4:40p helsinki time. 10:40a halifax time): full again! ah! and at first we had the two middle seats of a four seat row. wtf!? they were able to convince a lady to move around though, and we got the two middle seats in bulkhead. X dozed once for 45 minutes but was otherwise awake for the entire 8+ hour flight! it went as best as it could i suppose, but i was so, so, so done traveling when we were only 4 hours in to the flight. ugh.
- montreal (landed 1:10a helsinki time. 7:10p halifax time): we had to go through customs, collect our baggage, recheck our bag, and get to our gate. then we had about a hour to wait before we boarded. thankfully, X was RUNNING around the airport (burning off the last of her steam).
- 3rd flight (3:30a helsinki time. 9:30p halifax time): ANOTHER full flight (yes, that makes 5 of the 6)! thankfully X was able to be convinced to sleep without much fuss and the 1.5 hour flight passed relatively easily.
- halifax (landed 5a helsinki time. 11p halifax time): got our bag, rode the shuttle bus (with a woman who name dropped "jean-claude van dammes wife" in regards to some compliment she received about her diamond ring from said lady on her caribbean vacation). then we transferred the sleeping X into her car seat with moderate success and she went back to sleep for the rest of the ride home. i then got her in to bed easily when we got home and very shortly joined her. mercifully she was convinced to stay in bed until 9a (halifax time) the next day.

*click here for the full (yet still sparse) picasa album of the trip.*

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