As the plane approached Helsinki I peered out of the window...all I could see was pristine white!!! I wondered had I really bargained for this when I accepted this assignment. I never imagined that there would be soooooooooooo much snow. Somehow all the time that I was preparing to come to Finland, all the programs shot in the Arctic Circle that I had watched glued to the National geographic seemed to have vanished from my brain.
Now it dawned...I was going to be in Oulu which is just 200 kms away from the Arctic Circle!!! And it is NOT going to be like Aberdeen with intermittent snow which would vanish in 3-4 days but several inches of snow for weeks and weeks. Heaven help me!!!
From the airport we went to the Hilton Helsinki Kalastajatorppa hotel where we were to spend one night. A visit to my company's office was scheduled for the next morning. Later in the evening we would travel to our respective client locations. My colleague was keen we go for a walk after we settled down a bit. Maybe get a quick bite or something. At the reception the gentleman gave us the map but at the same time added...with a smile...you’ll be back soon...its -19 degrees outside!!! The first few minutes were nice but after some time I could feel my toes and fingers freezing. Later I realized that the hotel overlooks the Gulf of Finland and so there was this really cold wind from that side. Within 10 mins we were back in the cosy warmth of the hotel.
Next day any apprehensions that I may not get any decent veggie food in Finland were put to rest. For lunch I had this awesome mushroom soup. The mushrooms had been ground to thick soup and the different varieties of bread with that was a really filling meal.
My first impressions of Oulu...it’s a cold cold place. But people are really warm. They may not speak the English language but will try to help you. Won’t just shake their heads with a "No English" and walk off like in some parts of Europe. But stop and give u this warm smile and try and help.
As I walked to my bus stop I could feel the cold seeping in through my long boots. It’s a misconception that long boots is the way to go in winter in these places. Leather Boots are for fashionable places where it is cold but not sub zero and you would still like to wear skirts. In places with so much snow woolen socks are a necessity!!! Especially if you don't have a car and would be walking to and fro from the bus stops. Moreover you need boots with a good grip or you will be sliding all over the place on the ice. The leather boots have too smooth a bottom to be able to walk without fear on the snow. I saw most people were wearing moccasins or the woodland / timberland kind of short boots. Some girls were wearing what are called Ugg boots - I guess so called because they are so UGG!!!
Luckily when I reached office (with frozen feet) I saw that everyone was in casuals- jeans and moccasins or keds. Thank god...no formals here!!!
Client office was so organized. Within 1 hour I had a fully configured laptop and all the relevant access rights. One day to get a secure id to be able to log on to the LAN! WOW...most IT companies can learn something from them!
Later in the evening was Shopping time. A helpful English speaking person behind the counter helped me get the right bus pass...though grocery shopping was a different ballgame altogether.
As I stood in front of the milk racks I remembered my friends post on shopping in the US. I was one worse off than him...all the labels were in Finnish. Walked up and down the aisle and just stared at all the labels... I just wanted plain milk and plain yogurt BOSS!!!!
Even Honey comes in 7-8 flavours. At least the jam bottle has the fruit made on it so you can decide. The honey bottles did not have any picture of the fruit either. I like pink so pink honey it shall be. Thank god it tastes good!
Fruits and Vegetables are in racks with several labels. There is no clear demarcation as to which label is for which pile. And you need to take the chosen fruit/vegetable to an automatic weighing machine, type the code from the label and get a sticker with the amount due to stick to the packet!!! I definitely didn't want to be using the wrong code.
It took me more than 45 minutes to pick up basic groceries...a task that in M K retail takes me less than 10 minutes.
Often I had seen snowplows shoveling the snow from the roads and pedestrian pathways and piling it up on the sides. As I was walking I wondered what would happen when all the snow melted. There would be slush all over the place. But a few days later I saw a truck carrying loadfuls of snow away!!! They do have everything thought over.
I have now developed a new found respect for those staying in colder climates.