Tuesday, 5 June 2012

the friendly Finnish

As a child growing up in the 60's and 70's I was much entranced by the fabulous Finnish designers of that era, the bold prints of Marimekko and classic glassware by iittala and was delighted to discover that this year Helsinki was named World Design Capital, unfortunately a fact that was sorely missed as we arrived at the airport and, having cleared passport controlled, were funnelled through a painted besser block corridor not dissimilar to the passage way to the public toilets at an outlet shopping mall back home. We followed the stencilled footprints and were disgorged at the baggage claim area.

Helsinki, home to less than 600,000, is more like a large country town. The inner city itself has many buildings of architectural merit but once outside of the CBD, most buildings are 3 floor walk up apartment blocks; monuments of post-war pebble-dash.

With approximately 5.4 million inhabitants, Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. The pace of life is much slower here which may account for the lack of young backpacker types who usually infiltrate most countries during the summer months. The speed limits are also excruciatingly slow. Even for a caution driver like hubby, containing his speed to 30 kph in built up areas and 60 kph on some major roads was very difficult.

The language is completely different to most other Latin/Germanic based languages in Europe and is more closely related to Estonian. When you hear it spoken it sounds like someone speaking Hungarian with a Swedish accent. Their words are unbelievable long and some almost constitute a whole sentence in themselves.

The country is bi-lingual with all people learning both Finnish and Swedish at school, though I have it on good authority that most Finns are hard pressed understanding modern Swedish and the Swedes have a good laugh at the Finns who speak a form of Swedish not spoke since their grandparent's day. Luckily nearly everyone we've met also speaks English.
It's a good thing we brought the GPS, as we would be hard pressed reading the street names before we had passed them by. Their map writers have been extremely challenged as most street names are longer than the streets themselves. Then there is the added confusion of all signs being written in Finnish and Swedish. Imagine approaching a round-about and having to decide at the spur of the moment whether to take Hernasaarenranta, Hylkeenpyytarjank or Heitalahdenranta. We could have been going round and around for ages trying to decipher the signs. Though I can only imagine we might have been more greatly entertained had we a GPS that enunciates the names of the approaching streets, like the GPS our friend Edna has.

On our last day in Finland we are enjoying the best weather so far. Outside our hotel room the sun is shining and it is pleasantly warm, I'm down to only three layers of clothing, it's almost as warm as a winter's day in Brisbane. We have enjoyed a mixed bag; not only regarding the weather, but also as far as our accommodation is concerned. This hotel adjacent the airport, in preparation for our early morning departure tomorrow, has the smallest rooms we've seen since Singapore where our room was little bigger than Harry Potter's room under the stairs. One of us had to exit the room if the other wanted to change their mind, even our caravan was spacious by comparison.

Having booked all our accommodation via the internet we were faced with some surprises. At one location our accommodation, unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, was on a farm. The place was unoccupied when we arrived with only a note on a window with a phone number which in due course we dialled. We were informed the key was in the door of one of the two ground floor units and someone would arrive to make our breakfast in the morning. Next morning we arrived at the main house to find the door unlocked. We entered but it appear void of all life, treading softly we headed upstairs in the direction of the sign "reception". The lights were out but we could see what appeared to be a dining area. Having located the light switch I followed the sound of faint music emanating from an adjoining room. I rapped tentatively on the door; no response. I opened the door sufficiently to see the form of a sleeping person beneath the covers on the bed. We decided to wait expecting the person to surely rise. Half an hour later our patience ran out, it was eight o'clock, we rang the number listed on the window. A phone warbled in the room next door. I hung up. Our phone rang..."would you like breakfast now" a sleep slurred voice asked", "we are waiting in the dining room" I responded.

Another thing that made us say, "What the..." is the custom here of housing poker machines inside supermarkets. Between the entrance and the check-out counters, on any given day, you can find the citizens of any town, large or small, having a flutter on pokies before (or maybe instead of) buying their groceries. A dotted line around the perimeter designated the area for over 18's only.
Having come directly from Singapore we were unprepared for the sudden drop in temperature and the very long days and almost non-existent nights. Being so near the Equator, Singapore's days and nights are almost equal in duration. When the sunsets it does so in a rush and then it is suddenly night and pitch dark. In the morning the sun veritably leaps into the sky and then there is day, bright and hot. Over here the sun spends an eternity receding slowly behind the horizon and then at around 11pm seems to only hide from view casting light into the sky almost until it reappears at 3am. 4 hours of night; must be a great market opportunity for manufacturers of block out curtains! Harder still for us Aussies to comprehend are the 4 hours of daylight they have here in winter. Though they do tell us it's not so bad as all the snow reflects a lot of light and it doesn't seem so dark....some consolation!
Perhaps it is because of the long winter nights but the Finns drink the most coffee on earth, and though I fail to see the link, they also eat the most ice cream....either way that makes them my kind of people!

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