Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 3: Tuesday: Stockholm

Leaving our tight-quarters on the ship, my group had a hard time finding a bus that could carry all of us to the place where we would buy our unlimited 72-hour bus pass. After accomplishing what seemed impossible with other really determined travelers, we made it to our hotel to drop of our things and make our way to the Drottninghom Royal Palace. In English this place is called “Queen’s Island,” which was so since it was a summer home for a Swedish queen during the 16th century. The palace style was very much Baroque, since it was redone by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and then later his son when a fire destroyed the smaller version of it.  In every room, the viewer saw impressions of what the royal family’s power that they wanted to portray to their supplicants. This is especially evident with the constant use of the queen’s monogram, the one who had the palace resize and decorated. Another major piece of evidence was the room in which the queen used to sit and listen to any petitioners from her court. The whole room was filled from the ceiling to the very walls surrounding us with murals of the queen’s power as regent over her son’s thrown and then also her son’s Godly power as king and his marriage. One must also not forget the constant use of the Swedish lion found in each mural as another representation of the Swedish power.
In another room, one might also find a public bedroom in which the queen rise from the bed, like one of the French kings, and dress before her supplicants. Then she could sit on her bed and also privately talk to the petitioner if she wanted a more private/intimate setting to talk business. This room is actually the last room in which one would see Baroque period decorations since the next generations of queens do come and make there changes here and there to fit more in current styles and tastes. The rest of the palace was mainly lightly decorated and airy. In other words, no more dark rooms filled with intense details and dark colors.  One could even find silk still on the walls with numerous pictures of past kings and queens with very large eyes. It seems though the painter were required to make their regents eyes more so since it is said that those with large, round eyes also have a major characteristic trait of curiosity.
Later we headed next door to the Royal Court Theater that is still being used today by the current Royal family. The people running it had kept it nicely preserved for visitors to see how it previously looked back when it was first made as a Rococo theatre. Backstage there was also the constant use of the very methods that they used back in the day to change scenes and make special effects. Later there was a video of how current and past theater workers use to go about doing plays and what equipment they use to use. All in all, I think anyone backstage might have had a workout planned with all of the work they had to accomplish. Just changing a scene required men to go round and round a wheel to pull back the illusion and replace it with another. And another thing, most Swedish properties were painters who could imitate stone or create illusions in rooms. This was so to not only create balance but also by saying that their painters were so good that they didn’t need to import all those expensive stones or decorations since their painters could just paint an illusion and it could look just as good if not better.
After visiting the theater we walk around the parks, which were currently adding lime trees, to the Chinese Pavilion that was made as a gift to Queen Lovisa Ulrika. We couldn’t go inside since it is only opened during the summer, like most places, but the structure was beautifully done in imitation to Chinese art and themes. There was also a restaurant that is still running and using the same space that was used as a kitchen during Queen Lovisa’s days. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 2: Monday: Helsinki

Today we toured the capital. As we walked toward and away from the Senate Square we stopped here and there to catch a glimpses of Finland’s past in the architecture that was currently being preserved. When we finally did reach the Square we saw this major memorial statue surrounded by the ‘Buddy Bears’ of each country represented in the UN. The statue was to commemorate Alexander II and his establishing the Diet of Finland and autonomy of Finland from Russia. Below his statue are other statues related to law, culture or light, labor and peace.  

Directly behind this statue was the glorious Cathedral in a neoclassical style by Carl Engel and Ernst Lohrmann. On each side of the Cathedral was the University, the University Library and the Senate House also made by Engel but in a Classicist Tradition. Later we walked around some more and viewed places like the Neo-Renaissance House of Estates, the National Bank and the art nouveau rail station made by none other than Eliel Saarinen himself along with the National Museum.

After lunch at the University we headed to the Parliament House that was currently quiet since everyone went back to their home region to take care of affairs that day. On the way there we walked past a stature of President Mannerheim, a very much-noted figure in the history of Finland. As we gave up our cell phones, got ride of our bags and coats and turned off our flash, I noticed that the building itself created this very cold, bank-like feel that I would expect at a very old American bank. It was pretty much minimally adorned with artistically laid floors and weird MP elevators that never stopped moving and had no doors (so one must be careful with stray body parts J). 

There were the usual statues here and there of past presidents and a ceremonial press room, but overall the only think that caught my attention was the stairway that had this major lighting from the windows making it seem like one was walking up into Heaven itself while some of the halls that lead away from it had dark (or black) doors that looked pretty ominous. Finally, when we reached the end of the tour we ended up in the place where all the MPs meet and deal with the nation’s policies. It was very much what I expected except for the naked statures of Past, Present and Future standing against the main wall behind the podium. The subject was appropriate but what made it a sort of scandal at the time was the fact that they were naked men with one naked woman holding her baby, the future. Personally I kind of like the artist choice but the Finnish people found it inappropriate for an area where there should be no distractions.
 After that we walked Esplanadi Street and stopped again here and there at buildings that still had restored structures of Finland past. Following that, it was off to the ferry and Stockholm.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 1: Sunday: Helsinki

The air was cold. Not surprising since it was winter and I was currently residing in a Nordic region. What was unusual was the fact that we were farther South from the University, which should have been colder than here. I guess since we were closer to a big amount of water I should have expected it. Anyways, my group had disembarked the train and dropped off our stuff at the hotel after an overnight ride to Helsinki from Oulu; the capital of Finland, after first being in Turku and then finally in present Helsinki (which had previously been on the mouth of the River Vantaa for defense and trading but it later proved unfavorable and was moved to its’ present location.)
I can definitely say that it was a major improvement in architecture in comparison to the forest city of Oulu. The very air and cultural vibe suggested that I stepped into another side of Finland. Since we arrived on a Sunday morning it was pretty quiet, so I was able to focus more on my surroundings rather than the constant distraction with traffic and people.
  We left the city on a tour bus to head out to a sort of artist colony (as I call it or maybe someone else did but I can’t remember) to see the homes of major names in Finnish culture and history. We first stopped at the home of architect of Eliel Saarinen, which was currently being run as a museum of the architects and artists who once lived and worked in and around Saarinen’s house. At first glance it caught my attention. The greenery lovingly attached itself to the walls. The lake, Hvitträsk or white lake in Swedish, calmly flowed behind the house. The doors and windows warmly welcomed in not only visitors but also the light itself. It was like one of those storybook houses you read about but hardly see in America. There were very few dark areas in this house in my opinion. One could basically be close to nature here without being battered by the weather in the National-Romantic style that Saarinen worked with. And with all the furniture and rooms being quaintly made by the architect and his creative family there was also a story like all good homes should have.
Saarinen had first married a girl named Matilda Gylden. Being a man who worked twelve hours a day on his creations or projects, he rarely had time for the beautiful social butterfly. She then went across what I call some sort of courtyard to spend time with Saarinen’s fellow architect Herman Gesellius. At that same time Gesellius’ sister, Loja was living with him to help with his current projects. She not only worked with Gesellius but also worked side by side with Saarinen during his twelve-hour workdays. As fate would have it both couples became really close and in 1904 both Matilda and Saarinen got a divorce and then married their lovers. One would think there would have been animosity between the two couples but in actuality they staid pretty close. As evidence or result of this story, there was a stained class window of Matilda sitting on a bench in the middle with Saarinen and Gesellius sitting on each end, in the common dining area and in the kid’s play room.  This was my favorite piece along with the hand stitch carpet benches by Loja. I must say that Nordic countries sure do know how to decorate and build homes.
Another thing I would like to mention was how Saarinen designed his bathroom. Not a big fan of saunas (unusual in Finland), he placed this pretty big bathtub in its’ stead. Though what caught my eye and attention were the sinks. Yes there were two of them, which from my limited exposure, was not very common in Finnish bathrooms at that time. These sinks were placed at windows instead of the common walled mirror. It is said that Saarinen believed that one would live longer if one didn’t see oneself in the morning. Personally I am in total agreement because no one looks great when his or her eyes first open. In fact, I love this concept so much I am going to make my bathroom that way when I build a house.
In addition to some of his work in Finland, there are a lot of structures that in Saarinen constructed in America since he got more work there. The most known work was with his son Eero with the creation of the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan, the Paris World Exhibition and his son’s design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. After the North tower of his home was burnt down, Saarinen moved his family to America since the cost to repair the tower and upkeep the house would have been major in relation to the slow job market he had in Finland.

After that visit we headed to the colony and looked at the artist Pekka Halonen‘s Karelian house, Halosenniemi. As expected at any Karelian home, it was made out of timber. Though the crown jewel would be the humongous of a window that let in the light of the day for Halonen to work freely on his paintings. The rest of his house was decorated in themes of his artwork in each room respectively. One main difference from Saarinen’s home was the fact that the rooms were larger and the doorframes were bigger. After that we took a tour of the Ateneum Art Museum that was currently hosting work by Halonen and other historical or contemporary art. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oulanka Logbook

My name is Nichole Fraser and I am from North Carolina, USA. This is a documented logbook of my trip to the Oulanka Research Center, 13 September – 16 September 2010. My Guides were Leo Koutaniemi and Erkki Mäenpää.

Day 1-Monday 

            The day was cloudy and raining but slighter colder the more North to Oulanka my group went. Our guides were Leo Koutaniemi and Erkki Mäenpää. The first stop that day was at some sort of ancient beach. We saw our first close look at the dark-red blackberries. Evidently the berries found all over Finnish soil is a great source of revenue for those families with extremely large families (in comparison to American families). The sand and gravel found at this site is also used for the foundations of Finnish houses and bases for the roads we were driving on. In fact, it seems the dirt roads of smaller towns and villages consisted of such sand and gravel. When I first arrived at this spot all I saw was a flat expense of sand, gravel and a few trees but leaving I saw the livelihood of Finland all around me. This kind of reminds me of home (North Carolina), when the town I lived in had a couple of grocery stores and a gas station. Most of our income came from farming and the growth of tobacco.
            The next stop on our way North to the Research Station was at a place where the land consisted of peat bogs. It looked more like a swamp to me but in the parts of the U.S. that I lived in, the swamps that I past by had some trees here and there. This area just had the trees surrounding the bogs. Our guide Leo said that the bogs found here are sometimes used as insulation for Finnish homes against the cold. Again I ended up looking at my surroundings through different eyes. Leo even said we could eat the
bogs! I passed on that opportunity but the feel of it had a meaty quality to it.

            After, we began to come across more and more reindeer. We then stopped again and followed the reindeer into the forest. Leo then stopped and shoveled some of the soil. He then explained to us that only the topsoil (a small dark layer at the top of the soil) has the nutrients to grow plants and trees. Whereas in America most of our soil is nutrient causing more and more of our trees to grow abundantly until they become tall, old trees, while Finnish trees are barely growing in such abundance. This is the first reason I came across that explained the slow loss of forest in Finland.
            The last nature stop was at Ruka. It was once an open area for locals to go ski or snowboard during the winter. But like all areas it seems, the world caught up with them and new construction for a ski lodge along with a very small amount of commercial stores and restaurants were built. This, I believe, is another reason Finnish forest have lessened. Not to mention the constant use of the land for skiing and like activities have destroyed the land entirely. I couldn't even see as much moss or lichen on the ground like one would see elsewhere in the area. This sadden me because I thought since I already came from a country losing most of its’ nature to industry, that Finland would be the last place I would find such loss. 

Day 2 –Tuesday 
Today we went on the Hiidenlampi nature trail, which wasn’t too far from the station. We first, though, made a stop by a tree that was standing next to the student housing. We noticed that some of its bark was pulled off and Leo asked the group whether we knew what did it. We named a few animals but we never guessed right. Evidently, it was a bear! Boy was I staying inside at night!
We then headed on over to the Visitor Center to watch a video as a sort of intro to Nordic nature. Let me just say the video made me wish I could stay in Finland and live on a lake and just see nature change from beauty to beauty. If that were a class, I would sign up quickly. When the clip ended, we roamed around before we set off on the trail. I noticed right away that there were a lot of people, both young and old, walking the trail. Watching them made me feel like I was such a lazy person. I never really went outside while growing up because I had major phobias that mostly consisted of insects, snakes and dirt. So going outside was a big no, no for me. I guess one would say that this whole trip was about me facing my fears and actually getting dirty for once.
As we entered the trail, I felt like I was entering a whole other world, a glimpse into the past per say. We saw the different textures of the hillside next to the lake/waterfall, reindeer eating different edible species in the grass (over 200 species to be exact), and even more berries. Our guide, Erkki then went into detail about how these berries are produced and how most of the berries found there were mostly Northern berries since they were able to reproduce easily. However, due to the increase reindeer population, the berries along with most of the vegetation there have been majorly reduced. I didn’t see how big the impact of reindeer in Finland until the next day. We continued on past some sort of reindeer shed to a little hill. The climb up was very difficult to say the least. It seems, according to Leo, that the Russians called that sort of trail a certain Russian name I couldn’t catch but essentially in English it is considered a Tiger trail. This sort of trail has to be difficult to manage, something not easily reached. I would say that description was quite accurate considering how Erkki was walking along an easier trail right next to it. We were laughing at out idiocy for choosing the difficult path but Leo’s explanation made me pause. By taking the more difficult path I would feel  an higher accomplishment and learn from my mistakes faster than taking a much smoother path already laid down by past travelers.
In the end, though I couldn’t completely remember all that was said, I felt I learned more going out of the park than when I first came upon the trail. 
Day 3 –Wednesday
            Today was the most challenging trail of the whole week. We were going to traverse the great Juma area. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be in the beginning but as we steadily traverse onward I knew I was in for a treat. Don’t get me wrong it was fun and a great experience, but boy was I tired in the end. We saw more evidence of animals on the ground and by the bark of the trees there but of course not many animals present, being as us humans were stomping all across the trail. Pretty soon we had to go down this very steep incline that included me holding onto trees, branches, dirt, basically anything I could hold on to for dear life so I could get down as fast as possible (I did not want to end up caught in the current of the river below us!).  After getting across the river we saw some Finnish people who had some sort of summer home not to far from where we were standing, picking berries from the ground. Let’s just say that there were a lot more in abundance here than at the place we were at yesterday. It also seems that there were a lot more of those annoying little mosquitoes here. They just popped up everywhere we went saying "Here we are" and "Don't forget me"! Crazy psychos!
Another major difference to the trail today to the one yesterday was the gravel on the trail. It seems the gravel was harder to traverse than regular dirt trails. I really don’t know why they put it down anyways but I guess it would be easier to see at night with moonlight than dirt. Anyways, we stopped a little ahead to get a clear picture of clear cutting. It seems Finnish people do this just to bring up nutrients in the ground for growing things and also I guess for the lumber.  Surprisingly so we came across a very unnatural trashcan sitting in the midst of the forest. Leo then went into detail about how Finnish people were gradually losing land to the park for preservation but if one were to have a summer home nearby they were required to take out the public trashcan like the one we came across. It seems though, the matter of lands and home lost is a very sore issue here. I wonder if the government pays back for resident’s loss appropriately?

  So we continued on our trail and came across TONS and TONS of stairs (I wouldn't need a stair master here!), the cleanest water one could ever come across, more stairs, and this amazing view. After that it was all down hill from that. I guess that could be taken literally because the trail came to an end and found the bus waiting for us. Afterward we stopped at a research experiment location on the way home. It was just another piece of evidence how the reindeer have affected the vegetation dramatically. I guess I couldn’t believe it until I actually walked in the controlled environment.
Day 4 –Thursday
Today was a little less arduous. We had some lectures on the Northern lights (which was very informative on the myths and science of it) by Thomas Ulich and also more on the forest and forestry in Finland by Erkki. After lunch we got on the bus and drove by a small village, that was so small you could fit the whole population on a bus and stopped at a few of the Russian borders in the area. At the first border there was some sort of border lodge that travelers use to stay on their way across the border. It seems that there was once a time when places such as these were in abundance but now not so much. Most of them have been bought and renovated into homes since they sell for such a cheap price, which is smart if you like being isolated. At one of the borders there was a in your face kind of evidence of moose activity. Instead of clear cutting there was massive carnage to all young trees that left a whole area looking like some major disaster hit this one spot at the border. Who knew that animals could be so destructive? Of course man has done his part by chopping down tons and tons of trees just for the likelihood of money in their pocket or walls for their summer home. One such evidence of the use of trees for these summer homes is a sort of log cabin getaway that Leo took us. It had the usual sauna (but a more rustic kind) with a lake that one could jump in. How much more relaxing could you get. Though I don’t think I would want to stay there being how isolated it was. I don’t do isolation very well, unless I have tons and tons of people coming with me.
After this little trip along the border we came back to rest up for our trip home. This was a great experience but I was ready to go home. Maybe I will come back one day and walk the trail just to see if anything has changed. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010


So I head over to the grocery store.
          I got my list and
   My meager money :(
You know I should have expected it, but give me a break! This is the first time abroad for me. In fact, the first time I went to the grocery store I was in a such a daze. "I'm in Finland" just kept repeating in my brain. Good thing my kummi, student tutor, was there to help me out or I would have been standing at produce section trying to figure out how the system worked. I mean how was I suppose to know that I was suppose to weigh my lemons and get a sticky for them? In America we just put our produce in bags and the scanner at checkout has this sort of weighing scale that calculates what to charge. Though I kind of like the Finnish way since you know way ahead of time how much you are going to pay.

About the store.
    Let's just say it's like a mini Walmart. It has clothes, stuff for your home, stuff for fishing (?) and fixing things, makeup, bath and body supplies, and then finally food. The name of this lovely establishment is Tokmanni. You can get basically everything you need at this store and it's only a minor walk from the apartment and university. There is also this other bigger Walmart-like store called Prisma that is a good ways down the road. This one is actually nicer and you can find more American products (though very expensive: like why would I want to buy soda for what seems to be 5 American dollars? I rather drink water!). However, it seems everything whether Finnish, Swedish, American and so on is actually cheaper here. But if you know me well, I (of course) head to the closer store and pay a few cents more than walk in the cold to a nicer, cheaper store.

Now about the FOOD!
      So for those who love food with less preservatives, less amounts of sugar and fat, more varieties of bread (some literally taste kind of like they came out of oven fresh), tons and tons of alcohol, yogurt, meat and milk. Then Finland is the place to be. Oh and did I leave out seafood? I'm so sorry, but maybe it's just me and I never notice it in great quantities or maybe that's why there were fishing supplies at the store (?) I don't know.  
      Anyways, to live in Finland one must try the porridge. I know ewww, but it's not so bad when you put some fruit or jam and just stir it around. It can be very filling and make you feel very warm inside.
     My personal favorite is a tomato and cucumber sandwich. Since I am not sure about the meat market, I have been holding back on buying anything meat related unless it's clearly states it's from a cow or chicken. So the T and C sandwich has been my main meal here. I absolutely love it. It has swiss-like cheese (it's very big here, not a lot of cheddar going around), the usual tomato and cucumbers and buttered bread. Then after, I would have some peach yogurt and be content until tea time. Then out comes the cinnamon cookies. Can I just say yummmmm!
   That's another thing here. It's seems Finnish people are very into there coffee and tea here. I mean when you go to the restaurants (no school cafeterias here, they serve real food to students!) they give you a choice of milk, water or juice. No soda unless you want to pay extra. Then when on break there are so many places on campus where one can get coffee or tea. I guess one must keep warm with the constant winter days here.
    Salad and beets is also a big portion of the meals here. It seems the Finnish way of eating salads is to eat lettuce with A LOT of carrots and cucumbers. Their salad dressing is the BOMB though. In addition to salad in the Finnish addiction is fruit. At every meal or throughout the day it seems a lot of people are eating fruit and don't forget yogurt. I mentioned it earlier but I was talking about eating an American known brand rather that the usual Finnish brands. The Finnish brands taste kind of weird but I learned later there are no preservatives and very small amounts of sugar in it. Not tasty. It took me forever to figure out what I liked by trying everything available but I did and I am paying extra weekly for the taste.

   Now I can't end this without talking about the bread quantity. It might just be me since I'm American and never seen such a variety but at every meal there is bread and butter available. It's like there is a need to add as much carbs as possible to the daily diet. But don't get me wrong the bread here is way awesome. In other words once you go Finnish you can never go back. Maybe that's a good thing in comparison to the average American diet...but I don't think I would go so far as to acquire a taste for milk and add great portions of meat to every meal though I do love the bread.

I might just have to write another blog on food here because there is so much I left out. But from one bread lover to another I say goodbye until next time.

My trip to Oulanka Research Station will be next! Expect it in the coming week. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

To Finland

So after many days of packing and unpacking, I finally made it to the airport and my destination. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to catch my flight. Everything was going good. My passport was in my hand. I had my resident permit newly placed in it. All of my documents were copied so that I had a copy and my mom had a copy so if anything should happen I would have proof of citizenship. My acceptance letter was filed away in my book bag for customs along with my laptop for the plane.

Pretty soon I was in New York and wondering "why am I here?" Well I said to myself, "It's too late to turn back now." When it was time to leave I basically wanted to cry my way across the ocean. I literally had this guy laying on top of me the whole way to Finland and everyone was acting very cold and pushy. Pretty soon I found that was just normal Finnish behavior toward strangers. The whole trip was basically very awkward.

When I made it to Oulu, I was sooooo tttttiiiiiireeeeeed that I just wanted to sit in baggage claim and sleep. But I found the illustrious bus 19 that I was suppose to ride to my apartment just sitting there. However getting on the bus was a different matter. I had two very heavy duffel bags and a driver who didn't speak any English. Let's just say it was a miracle that I got on the bus with my bags and a receipt in my hand. My ability to call people at that moment wasn't working so I had to facebook my kummi student (student tutor (godmother) or basically student guide), Anne, by cell in order to tell her I was coming. I was just sitting anxiously, looking at the driver for some sort of signal, looking out the window for a glimpse of Anne, looking at the driver and then I saw her. I waved to make sure I was looking at the right person and she sort of waved back smiling. I got up fast and said "Sir. Sir. Sir! Stop the bus. I am getting off." The driver looked at me like I was crazy and the other people on the bus were smirking but I didn't care. I just wanted to find my room, unpack my things and just fall to sleep. But of course that wasn't going to happen to me.

First I had to power up my phone since it was dying and then unpack. I was paused due to me blowing the fuse with the adapter I used for my phone. One minute I was happy and sleepy, then the next mad and frustrated. I ended up with no electricity for awhile and pretty soon I found out I had not internet until I signed my lease. To say the lease I was pretty much sadden at my arrival.

My name is Nichole Fraser. Business Administration student at UNCG. Current cry baby and I am signing off.