Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trip update

Holy crap...can't believe it's been such a long time aready since my last post.

After Stockholm, Nathan jetted off to London for a week to catch up with some friends while I returned to the field station to finish off my experiments. I met up with Nathan on his return from the UK and, together with my friend Topi, headed off to Tampere (Topi's home town).

Nestled between two huge lakes, Tampere has to be one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. We stayed with Topi's parents who live in a beautiful house (which his dad built) on a ridge with a breathtaking view out across one of the lakes. His parents had a lavish dinner waiting for us when we got there, consisting of freshly smoked salmon and new season potatoes. This is where we ate the dinner which is actually on top of their outdoor sauna.

Finns are very proud of their saunas (the word 'sauna' is actually Finnish).

We spent the next day exploring the city and caught up with Topi's sister's boyfriend for drinks in the arvo.

The boyfriend is very talkative (for a Finn), extremely funny and one of the campest straight guys I have ever met. He had already had a few beers when we met up with him and apparently woke up the next morning with very little memory of the afternoon at the beer garden and our dinner at the steak restaurant afterwards.

After Tampere, we all headed back to the field station to celebrate mid-summer. all the big cities are pretty much deserted over the midsummer weekend as everyone heads off to the country side to visit their summer cottages or congreggate with friends around big bonfires. We ended up having a pot luck party with some friends in (of course) the sauna area at the field station.

The next morning, Nate and I had to leave to go back to Helsinki but not before going fishing for pike with Topi. Topi caught two (for scientific purposes) within an hour and, as part of the research deal, was allowed to take a fillet which we cooked up before we left the station.

Before leaving, I also managed to find some wild strawberries around the field station. No, I don't have gigantic hands. Wild strawberries are very small, but boy are they tasty.

Flew out of Finland on Monday evening and got back to wintery Melbourne this morning. A whole month away doing fieldwork... I love my job.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Nate and I caught the ferry to Stockholm on Tuesday evening with my friend Topi. We booked the cheapest room possible which ended up being one level below the car deck. The only other people staying at that level were backpackers and gypsies.

We arrived in Stockholm on Wednesday morning. The beautiful people of Stockholm all seem to be currently obsessing over the upcoming nuptials between Crown Princess Victioria and her commoner fiance, Daniel. There was wedding related merchandise in every shop window on just about every street corner in the city. Pictures of the beaming royal couple (such as this) were emblazened on dinner plates and tea spoons and boxes of chocolate.

After getting off the ferry, our first stop in Stockholm was to the Vasa museum to visit the famous warship that sank in 1628. The Vasa is a bit of an embarrasment for the Swedes. It sank after sailing less than one nautical mile into its maiden voyage (because it was top heavy and had insufficient ballast). It lay at the bottom of a busy shipping lane in Stockholm harbour and was pretty much forgotten until it was rediscovered and resurrected in the early 1960s and is now on display in a spectacular purpose-built museum.

I'm not really a ship kinda guy but I did find the museum very interesting, not the least because of how well the ship had been preserved.... When we entered the building, I could hear a great deal of noise coming from a bunch of chinese tourists and it soon became apparent that one of them had been the victim of a pickpocket. I stepped in to offer to translate because the tourists couldn't speak any english and the museum staff couldn't speak any chinese. The victim had apparently had 2,900 british pounds pinched from her bum bag. Who the hell carries that much cash? Regardless, I guess that was her holiday ruined. After doing as much as I could to help, we resumed our tour of the museum and the ship...with my own bag firmly in my grips the entire time.

After the Vasa, we continued on our aquatic theme and visited the aquarium next door. It was a rather small aquarium but noteworthy for the spectacular rainforest walk-through display that included rain and thunder! As impressed as I was with all the pyrotechnics, I couldn't help but wonder how many times visitors might have fallen or slipped into the pools of fish below because of the sudden change of lighting (the wonky bridge over the pool that housed the pirhanas was particularly steep and slippery).

From the aquarium, we slowly made our way along the waterfront to the old city before checking out the 'newer' parts of the city centre (including a quick stop-over at the local clothing superstore, H&M, at Nathan's request).

We caught the metro back to the ferry terminal in the afternoon. Before stepping onto the ship, we couldn't resist the opportunity to have a photo taken with Moomin troll (the troll is the one in the middle).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend in Helsinki

I went to Helsinki for the weekend for some R & R. The weather, unfortunately, was a little crappy (Melbourne would actually have been warmer) but I had a good time nonetheless.

Nate and I caught up with my friend Marja and we first headed over to the Esplanadi for lunch (I had a delicious salmon soup).

It was 'Helsinki Day' on Saturday and there were a lot of activities going on in the city. After lunch we checked out a market nearby before heading into the design district. On our way to the Design Museum, we walked past some interesting plant stands on the sidewalk that had rubber snakes and lizards hidden in the pot plants. Marja pointed out that it was the entrance to a shop that sold interesting clothes so we decided to go in for a look. I ended up buying a jumper; my first item of clothing with elbow patches.

The owner of the shop was a friendly lady but she wore the most hideous outfit I had ever seen. It was a denim and leather homage to bad 80's rock paired with 90's MC Hammer pants. There was a huge hole cut out the front of the large-shouldered shirt that exposed the sad-looking cleavage of someone who really ought to be wearing a more uplifting bra.

Anyhoo...after wandering around the shops in the design district, we headed back towards the city centre and fortuitously stumbled past the city fire station which was holding an open day. Marja insisted we go in to check out the firefighters and the trucks (she was positively drooling in anticipation). Here is a picture of Marja looking very happy after checking out the fire trucks.

It didn't take her very long to point out the firefighter she liked (not surprisingly, he was tall and blonde). I much preferred the slightly stockier guy with the shaved head but Marja thought his bottom was too big. Nathan shook his head and commented that they were all rather ugly and would just as well die in a fire than call the Finnish fire brigade.

After Marja had finished checking out the firefighters, we walked the (numerous) stairs up to the fire tower and had an amazing view of the city below.

By then, some of the clouds had even lifted and we could see blue sky (though it was still very windy). By the time we descended the stairs, we were all pretty much buggered and so Nate and I parted ways with Marja and headed back to my friend Topi's place where we were staying.

By Sunday, the rain had returned. Nate and I headed back into the city for lunch when there was a break in the weather and, afterwards, walked through a very nice park past the beautiful Finlandia Concert Hall designed by Alvar Aalto (Finland's most celebrated architect). The building itself, with the sharp angles, reminds me of some of the public buildings in Canberra.

We eventually ended up at the Olympic Stadium which played host to the 1952 Olympics. The paintwork outside looked a bit shabby and I thought it was nowhere near in as good a condition as the MCG.

I left Nathan to come back to the fieldstation last night and, on my way to my room, walked past a bunch of Finns and Germans watching the match between Germany and Australia. I paused briefly to check out the score and quietly made my retreat.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The worldly pickled pepper

Finns seem to have a rather weird obsession with pickled peppers. Not any old pepper either. The Finns seem to only eat one sort. This...

Seriously. It doesn't matter what sort of restaurant you happen to walk into, chances are there's a pickled pepper lurking somewhere nearby. It's a bit like a game of 'where's wally'. So far, I've seen them dished out at salad bars, at a Nepalese restaurant on my plate of fish masala, as a garnish sitting on my 'kebab' (drenched in a generous dollop of thousand island dressing), and at a trough next to the pad thai and spring rolls at a 'chinese' buffet restaurant in Helsinki called the Tang Dynasty. Wtf?!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Nathan has decided to abandon me to return to Helsinki. I think he misses the city and doesn't cope too well without television. I'll be joining him briefly over the weekend and again mid-week to catch the cruise ship to Stockholm. Not sure if we're going to be able to get tickets for the ship...there's a royal wedding on this weekend in Stockholm and apparently everyone is flocking over to catch a glimpse of it. A colleague who is joining us will try and secure tickets over the next couple of days (for the ship, that is. We don't give a rats about the wedding). Worst case scenario, we might try to go to Tallin instead. I need the break. I was meant to be taking it easy but am working ridiculously long hours catching up on work from Oz in the mornings (when it is still daytime in Melbourne) as well as the stuff I need to do while I'm here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The two things I dislike about Finland...

There are two things I don't like about Finland. The first is salmiakki (salty licorice). Finns absolutely love the stuff. I'm not sure why, especially as an active ingredient in salmiakki is ammonium chloride (i.e. the same stuff that forms at the edge of vocanic vents and is also found in shampoo and the glue that binds plywood). The second thing I hate about Finland are the mosquitos. They are ravenous and they seem to really like my blood. I just tried going for a walk. It was overcast and they were swarming everywhere. It was so bad, I had to run back inside.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Helsinki snapshot

While I was busy at the field station, Nathan was in Helsinki being a tourist. Here are a selection of his photos.

lily of the valley

The woodland surrounding the field station is heavily laden with the scent of lily of the valley, Finland's national flower. Whilst I was out walking this evening I noticed quite a few people picking the flowers from the side of the road so I grabbed a bunch as well. Now the whole unit smells of the forest.

Friday, June 4, 2010

spices, missiles and quark

Someone has pinched the olive oil and the spices from the pantry. They belonged to someone who would've occupied the unit before we moved in. What's really weird is that our unit is always locked and the only people with keys are the three guys staying here (me, nathan and a work colleague) and the field station caretaker and cleaning staff. My colleague suspects the cleaning lady. I reckon a moose walked in and pinched it.

Apart from vanishing kitchen ingredients, the other bizarre thing about living here at the field station (actually there are quite many bizarre things) is the fact that the Finnish army trains its soldiers nearby and there is always the disconcerting sound of artillery going off. Death by stray missile was not something I had put down on my work risk assessment for the trip.

And one final thing (for now, anyway)...the range of dairy products consumed by Finns far out number what I am used to back home. This trip, I introduced Nathan to the delights of piima (kinda like sour milk) and quark (something that the station staff serve to us for dessert at lunch time and goes well with fruit).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Well, we're finally here. The temperature in Helsinki is not much different from Melbourne (actually, Melbourne is slightly warmer) so it's funny to see people out and about in short sleeved shirts and shorts. My Finnish friend tells me that it's all relative. After months of subzero temperatures, Finns are happy to take off all their clothes when the mercury pops above zero. My biological clock is still out. The sun sets here after 10pm and rises again by about 4am which makes it harder to adjust. Nevertheless, I am sleeping well and it's really nice to be back.