28 July 2010

Oulu Tidbits - I

Picture 259The name of Oulu is derived from the word Oula, which in traditional Lappish means floodwater and in ancient Finnish sludge on the ice.

The City Hall… the neo-renaissance yellow stone building with the beautiful flower beds was originally an Assembly Hall. Since that wasn't very profitable so to say, a part was converted into a Restaurant! This current structure was built in 1887 after the original burnt down in the Great Fire of 1822 and the town had no place to celebrate the completion of the railway line to Oulu.

 Picture 506 There is a fountain outside the City Hall…has travelled here all the way from Glasgow. The story is that a gentleman got really drunk at the restaurant, stumbled out, and ruined the flower beds outside. In order to avoid a scandal he donated this fountain. The fountain is very intricately done. There are glasses attached which could be used by the riders for a drink while the bowls underneath were used by the horses.

In order for any town to be called a NOBLE FINNISH town, it seems it should boast of at least one big fire. Well, Oulu can boast of several. The biggest fire in the history of Oulu destroyed practically the whole wooden town in 1822. Of the 400 odd houses, 330 houses were burnt to the ground and only 65 were saved.

Prior to the Great Fire of 1822, the assembly hall also had a theatre which could seat 600 people. Considering that the population at that time was about 4000 people, it was a huge theatre. The current theatre can seat 500 odd people for a population of 140,000.

The church too were destroyed in the fire of 1822 and was rebuilt within the old stone walls according to designs of architect Carl Ludwig Engel. In fact, the current cathedral is the 4th one in the same place!!! The 1st one was built in 1777.  Most church buildings face east, to symbolize that a person who enters the church goes from west to east i,e goes from the evil of the present world to the glory of the New Jerusalem to come. However, this is NOT the case in Oulu cathedral as it is built at the crossroads of the roads so it accommodates the general directions of the roads.

The church has a portrait of  Johannes Messenius, which is Finland's oldest painted portrait from 1611. Its funny, but the picture has been modified over time to reflect the latest fashions and the changing size of the collar is visible in the picture!

Picture 509

Another funny thing I noticed that Saturday…the Church clock tower shows the incorrect time. It is running 10 minutes behind, though it bell indicating the hour sounds at the correct time!

The statue of the poet Frans Michael Franzen in the park near the church was sculpted in 1879 and is the second oldest statue of anyone/anything in Finland (the oldest one is in Turku)!

The building with beautiful palatial facades to the North of the church are the Provincial Government Offices – Lääninhallitus. It used to house the Governor’s residence and is considered as the only "palace type" building at this latitude!

Picture 507 One of the buildings often admired by me…the pink one behind the city hall which is now the Cultural Centre Valve was at one time it a POLICE STATION. A pink police station…sounds interesting!!!

The beautiful statue depicting the passage of time behind the city hall, that had left an impression on me on my 1st weekend in Oulu was created to commemorate 400yrs of Oulu.

One of the depictions in this statue is of a Star Boy. The Star Boys pageant as it is known today in Oulu IMG_5520is an offshoot of the old European tradition of the “The Epiphany Carol singers". While this is a dying tradition in other parts of Finland and the world, the people in Oulu are proud of the tradition and have a very popular annual Star Boys competition.

The little boy in the front is called Markki…when at the ceremony to unveil this statue, a young girl commented that ‘ohhh…he looks like Markki’  who was a friend of hers in kindergarten! In winters, someone even gives little Markki a cap, cape and woolen socks! This is the MOST often stopped at point and most photographed place in Oulu.

24 July 2010

Linja C

IMG_5727My little bus deserves a post. Its the Linja C, pronounced Linya C. I have had the most interesting time using this bus.

It has a very small route and completes the whole round from Torikatu to Limingantulli and back in just 30 mins. I know because once we reached the stop early and it was going towards Limingantulli. We should have taken the bus when it returned but we decided…lets just get on and once sit through the entire round and check it out.

Many times we would get on at the 1st stop, Torikatu and there would be no passengers till my stop which is halfway on the route!!! And I don't think they would get any other passengers for the rest of the route too! Moreover, since we were such regulars on this bus, that soon most of them started recognizing us.

I don't know if the bus drivers on the city bussi route are generally a very jovial and friendly lot but sometimes while just walking on the road if the bus passed by, they would wave at us!!!

My colleague and I got on to the bus at 2 consecutive stops, me first, she on the next one. One Saturday afternoon we had some interesting incidents…

When we reached her stop, she was not there. The bus moved on and took a turn. I was just thinking of calling her, when suddenly he stopped. And opened the door and madam gets in. I was shocked. Its so unlike Europe for buses to let passengers in at any place other than the stop! And it seems she didn't even try and flag him down! He himself stopped and gestured to her asking her if she wanted to get on.

I still hadn't got over this incident. I was thinking its a one off, but later in the day we were returning from Limingantulli and were a short distance from the city bus stop. We were walking along the road when another driver slowed down near us and enquired if we wanted to get on!!!

Unfortunately I didn't know about this bus in the winter…it would have saved me lots of trudging in the snow with my laptop since it leaves me just behind my flat.

04 July 2010

Cooking Naan Breads and Pullas!

My Finnish friend Sirpa wanted us to teach her how to make Indian Naan Bread…so she organized a cooking evening at her place. She had invited another friend of hers – Pahvi and while Harsha was to teach them Naan Bread, they would teach us how to make traditional Finnish Pulla (sweet bread).

Equipped with our atta (wheat flour), rolling pin and pan, off we went to her place. While Harsha rolled out nice round chapatis, we 3 rolled interesting maps!

What I also found interesting was …Sirpa wanted to know how much water and how much flour to use to knead the flour? How much salt and how much oil was added to the flour? And like all Indian women…we didn't have any answer! Its like ‘Andazay sey’. I still think she is not convinced and thinks we are hiding it from her. I understand that she can’t figure how we just do approximations…coz i have the same problem when I am taking a recipe from someone. I want to know the amount of each ingredient including the salt and no one is ever able to tell me that!!

Sirapa made Saag Paneer – she used mozarella cheese - to go with the Chapatis. And it was good!!! I guess if someone had not seen her make it, they would have thought we only made it because she used most of the Indian Spices so that it tasted like proper Indian saag paneer, only not that spicy. And then we all – her family and us – ate the chapatis and saag paneer…finnish style - the saag is buttered on the chapati and then rolled up and eaten!!!

IMG_5769Now it was their turn. In contrast to us, proper measurements (its a different thing that Pahvi was chatting and forgot the count in the middle when measuring the flour) of each ingredient was used.

We made traditional Cinnamon Rolls and Berry Pulla, both of which came out very, very nice.

At times I felt like a small girl…its my turn now to roll the chapati, to cook it, to cut the roll, to fill the berries!!! It was a lot of fun!

At the end of it all, Sirpa wrote out the recipe for us coz she expects us to make it for our friends and family in India.

And that is the challenge – with my cooking skills how to make these in India!

03 July 2010

My Nordkapp Trip

Well, well, well…don't now where to begin. This trip was fun…no doubts, very tiring…again no doubts, and in its own way truly UNIQUE…yes, that is definitely a “no doubts”!!!

For when have I been on a conducted tour, where its me, a traveler, shouting Yalla Yalla (hurry up, hurry up in Arabic..something I picked up in Egypt) and not the guide herding the tourists around!!!

And where have I experienced this convoluted communication pattern…so the Driver is a Sudanese who speaks Finnish and Arabic, the Helper with him speaks some Arabic, Tamil, a bit of English, the Guide (also, the helpers wife) speaks Finnish, Tamil and some English, and finally the Tourists – 3 Indians speaking English and Hindi and 3 Chinese speaking English and Chinese!!!

And we had 2 GPS which didn't work!!! Ummm…maybe they worked only in Finland and since we had somehow landed in Sweden. Whatever!

And a guide with no money and no change!!! Always borrowing from us!

And finally where have I met a guide who says…we don’t know the name of the hotel we are going to, or doesn't have addresses or names of the points where we break for coffee etc but just a small 3 inch by 2 inch photo of that place and searches on the highway for that place using the picture, or asks the tourists to read the map and tell them how many kms are we from point x because we are running out of diesel!!!

But I guess after several years of travelling, I have finally matured to a good traveler, one who takes all these things in their stride and learns to laugh at this rather than getting irritated.

Picture 019To begin at the beginning…Friday 25th was a holiday here. We started around 1:30 from the city. Since bus service was restricted, the organizer had provided a pickup for us. It was a long trip…nearly 2500 kms up and down so I was glad to see our luxury  Ford mini van.  We could have started earlier, it being a holiday, but for some unknown reasons that was not the case. But like they say…every cloud has a silver lining. So we started late and then got lost, and so instead of reaching our destination at 8:30 PM, we were driving through the night and reached only at 2:30 AM and so I got to experience the midnight sun!

Picture 024On the way we picked up our packed salad at Haukipudas and packed Chinese dinner at Kemi. The salad was devoured sitting by River Torne at Haparanda Tornio. 2 countries, 2 towns, 2 currencies and 2 time zones. Yet one city. That is Haparanda Tornio for you. Nearly half of River Torne forms the the border between Sweden and Finland. 

Barely 30 mins later we were told we are stopping for coffee break. I thought that odd…were they planning to feed us after every 30 mins or what. The place was Kukkolaforsen.  We got out and started clicking snaps and generally hung around for nearly 30 mins….but no coffee. Then we were told…this is the wrong place!!! But no matter, it was a beautiful place.

Picture 044Kukkolaforsen is in Sweden…we were supposed to travel on the Finland side along this river…how we managed to get to the Sweden side…I don't know.  None of us realized it then…including the driver and guide. It was only later when I was looking at the map and our planned route and actual route I realized that we had got on to the wrong side of the river!

In Sweden on Midsummer, family and friends get together and decorate a huge maypole with creepers and flowers and then raise it. This is followed by traditional dancing around it. Many wear crowns made of wild springs and wildflowers on their heads.  Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Young women pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future husband.

As we were travelling, I noticed that most of the houses had the Swedish flag fluttering. Was it because of the holiday or do they generally have their flag up in their houses, I  couldn't figure out. Also noticed that, across the river, very few houses had the Finnish flag!  I had heard from the Finns that Swedish is compulsory for them to learn in school. At our next stop I learned from the Swedes that their is no corresponding mandatory Finnish learning in their country! I don't know why I got upset! I guess I am getting fond of Finland…4 months and am getting possessive. Never felt like that in UK, even though I was there for 2 years!

We stopped again and started looking for our Coffee place…no name… just using a small picture and comparing it with the buildings there to see if it was similar! There weren't many people around too. Then we saw a sign…the Arctic Circle - Polcirkelland  and a small cafe. So we decided to stop there and while we clicked snaps we thought that the guide and driver will get some directions. They did talk to the cafe owner, but still didn't realize that we were on the wrong track!

Picture 109While our Chinese friends slept peacefully in the last seats, the 3 of us in the centre seats realized that something was wrong. Then Mohammad and myself decided to take over the map. And we realized that we were moving towards the interiors of Sweden. So we would have to take a detour and return to the main highway! It was already 10:30. We should have reached our destination –  Sana mountain at Kilpisjärvi by 8:30!!!

But like I said in my earlier post too…no harm..we got to see Sweden and experience the Midnight Sun.

Picture 102Finally we reached Kilpisjärvi at 2:00 AM. After going round and round for a good 10 mins we finally found our cottage. But it was worth the trouble. It was beautiful – the cottage and the place. I finally got to stay in a traditional Scandinavian Cottage. The view of the Sana mountain was awesome. That made me get up at 6:00 AM…and while many slept, I took a quick shower, a hurried breakfast and went for a good 40 mins walk. It was AWESOME!!! I wanted to stay on for some time but Nordkapp was beckoning and so off we went.

10 mins later, we realized we are entering Norway and our guide realizes that he should have filled the diesel…you see diesel is very expensive in Norway and it is recommended that we fill the tank up in Finland itself. Only god knows why they didn't do it in the morning while everyone was getting ready :-) I would have thought that they would try and save time considering our experience of the previous day.

Picture 166So U turn and off we went hunting for diesel! The pump took only 5, 10 and 20 euro notes…and our guide had only 50 euro notes! Somehow we managed to get the diesel and off we went.

Norway…awesome, beautiful, out of the world. The fjords were beautiful and it was a really, really enjoyable drive. Made the whole trip worth it.

Finally without any major adventures, we reached Nordkapp via the tunnel that goes under the water from mainland Norway to the island around 8:30PM.

Picture 252The plan was to go the cliff around 11:00. On our way we stopped at a Sami camp and then rain struck. It started pouring and became so foggy that it was impossible to see even a few meters ahead. So we decided to return and revisit in the morning. Anyway there was no chance of the sun!

Early morning, knocking on my door. Bad news...Nordkapphallen didn't open till 11:00. We had to reach back because all of us had to go to work on Monday and this meant that we would not reach at the planned time of 1:00 AM Monday morning!

But come all that way and not visit Nordkapp…we decided that we would go and somehow not take any breaks on the way so that we can make up time.

But even at 11:00 AM there was too much fog and freezing cold. Still shivering in the cold we somehow managed to visit all the touristic places.

Left Nordkapp at 1:00 PM. 10 mins before we reached the tunnel I warned the guide. we need to take money out as we need to pay the toll at the tunnel. I would have thought that they would know this. Its something that every website screams about…how expensive Nordkapp is, how they overcharge for everything etc etc. But she maintained that they had paid the toll the previous day and it was not required today. I decided not to argue. When we reached the point, she realized that she needed to pay the toll. But she had only ONE 500 euro note. And that fellow was going to return the money in Norwegian Krones, which also was not acceptable to the guide. Ufffff... Patience...I collected money from everyone and made her promise she would return it to us in Finland after getting change for the 500 euros.

Several hours later began the story of the diesel. We were running out of diesel and they wanted to avoid filling up in Norway. I guess this was the only time I got cheesed off. If we had got stranded, what would they have done, I DONT KNOW.

They asked Mohammad to tell them, how many kms was it from where we were to Finland as we had diesel for about 100 kms. I mean...should they be reading the map or us!!! I wanted them to fill up a bit, but they were like, we’ll manage. Yes you will..provided you stay on the right track. We reached this junction. In the map there were 4 roads, at that junction I saw only 3. So I was just telling them that are we sure we are going the correct way, and I was overuled with a "this is correct..its Highway 92 that we have to take". So i kept quiet. But 92 in the correct direction is what I wanted to say! I had my doubts and so kept looking for some road sign telling which city and looking for the same in the map. 25 kms later…I screamed…we are going in the wrong direction…into Norway instead of towards Finland! U turn and back!!!

The Chinese still slept peacefully while Mohammad and myself got totally jittered.

Finally some diesel in Norway and off we went. I wouldn't take my eyes of the road and the map till be reached Inarvi...where we had some nice hot Mushroom soup even though we had planned for dinner in Rovaniemi. We actually reached Rovaniemi only at 2:30 AM and Oulu at 5:15AM.

What a trip!!!

02 July 2010

Midsummer and Midnight Sun

Midsummer as the Scandinavians call it, is the longest day of the year…what we as kids mugged by as the Summer Solstice. I was lucky to be in Finland this year…cause this day makes sense in these northern countries. From where we come, its just a day in the geography text book. Here its a festival!!! They celebrate this day as the beginning of Summer, of their vacations, of the time to wake up fully from the cold, cold winter and just enjoy the Sun.

route I decided to visit Nordkapp or North Cape @ 71o 10’ 21” to experience the Midnight Sun. Considered to be the northernmost point of Europe – I say considered because actually the northernmost point is Knivskjellodden which is about 1.5 kms more north of this, but this is the more touristy one, better marketed – just the entrance to the cliff costs 215NOK (which is about 30 euros). Anyways it attracts people from all over the world for its spectacular beauty. Its a cape right on top of Norway on a small island called Mageroya …a steep cliff overlooking the  Norwegian Sea.  Check out the Google Map…that was supposed to be our route, though we got a bit lost and went into Sweden….not that I regret that. But more details on the trip in another blog.

This blog is about MIDNIGHT SUN. Several conversations I have had made me realize that people have misunderstood the word Midnight Sun. Many people asked me if I captured it on camera. Earlier also people had told me to …take snaps of midnight sun for us. 

Well…I didn’t…because its not a moment that we can really capture unless we take snaps regularly for a couple of hours from the same point, same angle etc etc…  Its an experience. As the word suggests, it is NOT about seeing the sun at midnight. You can see that right through the Summer even in Oulu!!!!

Its the experience that the SUN DOESNOT SET. So over a period of 3 hours or so you can see the sun gradually setting and then without actually setting it will start rising again!

And about clicking photographs...even if I do click a snap, it might as well be a snap taken in the afternoon...there is no way to distinguish whether the snap was taken in the afternoon or in the midle of the night...it looks just the same.

It’s beautiful to see sunsets over the sea…anywhere in the world. So it would have been wonderful to have this experience in Nordkapp. But the normal weather conditions there are foggy so chances of experiencing Midnight sun there are rare. And that is what happened when we reached. It was raining and very, very foggy.

My trip mates were very disappointed. I wasn’t…because the previous day we had got lost and while driving through Sweden around 1:30 AM, I had told my trip mates…do you realize that the sun didn't set and has started rising again. And this is, I think, the few times in my life that I haven't regretted that I am just not able to sleep unless conditions are favorable (read..dark night, nice cozy bed, soft pillow). While some of them slept peacefully, I as wide awake staring out of the window when I realized that I had just experienced the MIDNIGHT SUN!!!