a bit about oulu (pronounced oh-lu)...it has a population of about 191,237 people (making it the most populous city in northern finland). it was founded by a swedish king in 1605, and a major fire in 1822 destroyed much of the city. the same architect who designed the famous senate square in helsinki was asked to redesign oulu, so the resemblance is clear. oulu used to be known for its wood tar and salmon, but in recent decades has become a kind of "silicon valley" of finland. according to wikipedia, it 'is considered one of europe's "living labs", where residents experiment with new technology at a community-wide scale.' other quirks of note: oulu is home to the world air guitar championships and the male choir called "mieskuoro huutajat" (translation: screaming men). it also has a HUGE bicycle community.
(oulu location in finland; where our hotel was in oulu, VERY good location)
march 6 (wed):
the trip started with a looooong walk to our nearest airport bus stop. blah. to make up for it, we were able to relax in the lovely helsinki airport before the flight (its clean, has a variety of good food and awesome souvenir stands, and phenomenal kids areas). while we waited, we got X a toy airplane from the stockmann store.
we had a hard time landing in oulu due to a driving snowstorm, and afterward, we missed two buses that would have taken us in to town. once on the bus, we drove through a plentiful amount of woods to get to the town of oulu. we noted an abundance of traffic during their rush hour, something i dont really see in helsinki. we were tired and frozen when we finally arrived, so we just ate at the hotel restaurant, which turned out to be decent (we had chicken pasta and reindeer). afterward, while killing time in the lobby before bed, we were shown the kid/toy corner of the lobby/restaurant. nice.
march 7 (thurs):
started the day at the big buffet breakfast in the hotel (yum with a thousand choices). when dave went off to work meetings, X and i bundled up and poked around their market hall (kauppahalli). just outside the market hall is the bronze statue, toripolliisi, which is probably the tourist image of the town (and is famous i guess because its the only publicly displayed sculpture by the artist). our next stop was to stockmanns toy department (dont roll your eyes at me, it was before 10a and nothing else in town was open, and it was cold out! plus, i was able to start thinking of X birthday gifts). after buying food at the stockmann grocery we went to the towns "weigh n save" for more snacks. conveniently (and randomly) the store had a door that led in to the neighboring place, a huge toy store. then it was time for lunch and a nap in the hotel.
(kauppahalli; some other buildings on the market square)
in the afternoon we did some errands: post office and k-market for diapers (since finland doesnt have laundromats, i decided on disposables for this trip, first time ever). then we did the towns gem of a library. it was actually a stones throw from our hotel on a little island with the towns theater, and while the buildings outside looks "blah" the inside is dreamy. there is a cool and interesting fountain, lots of glass and staircases, a great children english book section, and parked outside were mountains upon mountains of bikes. it was beyond frigid out there most days, to me, but people were biking everywhere in very comfortable, cool, functional looking bikes. it seemed weird to NOT be riding a bike in the sub-freezing snowy town. and, for dinner that night, we again gave in to the hotel restaurant (my ham/cantaloupe pizza was yummy though, and they gave X an angry bird sucker). for post-dinner lazing about we watched a french bike race on tv. X was enthralled.
(in a little park with public art across the street from city hall; out front of the library [kirjasto])
march 8 (fri):
did the hotels buffet breakfast to start the day again. then X and i attempted the hotel pool (frigid) and wound up naked in the sauna. lol. kid loves the sauna (i think she was secretly slipped finnish genes in the womb). then we hit the library again. for lunch we indulged in a pancake (pannukakku) lunch of ham/cheese and raspberry jam/whipped cream. the pancake house (pannukakkutalo) was able to make everything lactose-free, i let us wallow in the calories because its such a rare treat to have her dietary needs met like that.
bellies full of grease, we went out to try for Xs first movie theater movie. it was so cold and the town is fairly small so i was running out of ideas. turns out i should have tried a little harder to find something else to do because our first movie experience wasnt exactly smooth. i had chosen some underwater cartoon adventure that was rated "K-7" with a picture of a spider (i assumed this meant potentially scary renderings of things like sharks [a la "finding nemo"] which X has been okay with, so we were good to go in my mind). well it turns out finland has pretty strict movie regulations for kids. even WITH my attendance a child has to be 4 years old to see that movie. :( i felt stupid. but, they mentioned that another "S" rated (for all ages) movie was just starting and we could catch that one. i said fine. it was some live-action childrens movie about a character popular since the 80s called "rölli [ja kultainen avain]". to get the tickets you had to actually choose your theater seat. really? do finns hate interacting with each other that much that they have to assign seating. okay. then we get in the theater (the movie is about 5 minutes in already, so its dark) and, working off a mental image of the floor plan in virtually all north american theaters, assumed there was a walking path between the first 8 or so rows and the rest of the stadium-style seating. wrong. i fell in to a row of seats (mercifully not populated with people). we then walked down in front of the screen and up the other side to our assigned seats. we settled in and X thankfully paid attention for most of the movie. it was weird though, while there were clearly parts where people were supposed to be laughing (its a kids movie, and seemed comedic to me) no one made a peep the whole movie. really? strange.
for dinner, we finally got out to a middle eastern place called hagia sofia. they had good food and were great with kids. back at the hotel, we vegged watching ski jumping and macgyver on tv. X really loves her obscure european sports.
march 9 (sat):
dave birthday. happy frozen winter wonderland birthday to you!
we did the brunch buffet together as usual and then embarked on a crisp walk through oulus hupisaaret park to their tietomaa science center. what a GREAT place. we all had fun. there was an "xy" (male v female, skills-based) exhibit, a vehicle "time machine" simulator, a roller coaster simulator, and marble games (big marbles spiraling down a funnel, and marbles on a series of tracks). X had a great time with pretty much everything in the place, but she really loved the marble stuff and the simulators. daves stomach couldnt take more than one round in the roller coaster simulator, but X went three times.
we then introduced dave to the pancake place for lunch. we had 4 pancakes to share, dave chose some tasty ones: apple/bacon and dark chocolate/pear. after eating we just went back around to places in town X and i had already been: the kauppahalli for souvenirs, the toy store for some small things, to stockmann for beer and snacks. then, we set off for dinner at a traditional finnish place on a island just beyond the librarys island. the restaurant is called sokeri-jussin and we chose: reindeer/mashed potato/pickles/lingonberry sauce and pike perch with a creamy chantrell mushroom sauce for meals and a lingonberry creme brulee for dessert. nothing was super fantastic, but it was tasty and a good choice for a birthday meal. and, back at the hotel, just because it made me laugh to see it on tv we watched a bit of the awful teen movie "whatever it takes", the finns choose to populate their sparse tv channels with some strange things.
(sunset on the way to dinner)
march 10 (sun):
we basically just woke up and did the breakfast buffet and got a taxi to the airport since there were no airport buses until 10:45a on sunday apparently. the airport was just opening for the day when we arrived at 10a. quite a small place. and i certainly do dislike the finnish (or broader regional?) trend of airport security being set up in such a weird way...they have the stack of plastic bins for going through the scanner area on an island fairly far away from the actual conveyor belt. what the hell am i supposed to do if traveling with a child? load up 4 bins over at the island station and then calmly shuttle my 4 loads over to the line at the scanner belt. no thanks.