20 June - 1 July
"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
- Miriam Beard
Anyway, please don't worry about whether I'll like Finland! Big buildings aren't everything, and at any rate I had my fair share of churches, cathedrals and castles last time round, especially in Krakow & Prague. All I'm really interested in is experiencing different countries and cultures, and Finland has a sense of mystery for me not shared by most other European countries - so far up north, so little-known by outsiders, and so full of ice, midnight light and longer words than I've ever seen in my life! Besides, it seems that whatever Finland lacks in architecture it makes up for in natural scenery - I've seen a few photos of Lapland and they look spectacular; all glowing snow, ice-capped mountains and those amazing rainbow-coloured illuminations in the sky (I forget what they're called in English, but you know what I mean). I can tell you now though that there is no way I'm going swimming in some ice-cold Finnish lake, lol... I might deprive myself of sleep but I'm not THAT masochistic!
"Man, you look fucked."
This was one of the first things Nath said to me when we met at Amsterdam airport, fresh-faced and excited after just two days in Europe, and - he was right. I looked and felt fucked. But after just one night in Amsterdam I'm starting to get over my inexplicable Finnish lethargy, and so the time has come to relate all of my adventures since leaving the United Kingdom and arriving in Suomi, the Land of Melancholia and Midnight Sun.
I don't have the time to go through everything I saw and experienced in Finland right now, so for the moment I'll just go through a few impressions and, when I'm in a proper Internet cafe (not in a hostel bar-room, being sonically raped by the awful music here), I'll send out my collection of images from Jyvaskala, Helsinki and Stockholm.
Basically, I think of Finland and I think of reindeer kebabs, summer cottages in the middle of nowhere, of a language impossible to imitate (let alone understand), and of a people so blue-eyed they look like the desert Fremen out of Dune, genetically altered by geriatric spice. As well, I think of melancholic rock music and a sky permanently lit by sunlight (in summer there's no darkness in Finland, even in the deadest hour of morning), of crap 80s-model cars and of Hesburger, probably the most appetizing fast food chain I've ever come across. But these, of course, are just surface impressions, and they don't do justice to the ten days I experienced travelling around Finland with Miss Emilia Jarvinen, a charming and undeniably gorgeous girl, even if I always made fun of her love affair with the mirror. Whether it was wandering around art galleries or discussing human psychology at 6 o'clock in the morning, I had a very enjoyable time in her company, despite a strange succession of stomach aches and a chronic sleepiness that I haven't experienced since Vienna last year - ironically, the very same time as I met this young lady. Anyway, as I said, it's impossible to go through everything we did right now but it's probably worth describing a few highlights, so, here goes!
The first of these was a couple of nights me, Emka and a few of her friends spent in the Juvonens' summer cottage, a place rich in family history and traditional Finnish atmosphere. Although I was expecting a damp, dank, one-room log cabin worthy of The Blair Witch Project, the summer cottage was actually a really lovely place surrounded by curious outbuildings and a forest straight out of Myst. There, in the middle of the Finnish wilderness, we were able to chill out, eat, drink, light bonfires and basically do anything that didn't require electricity. However, I should admit that not everything was so rosy and "in harmony with nature" as it may sound: the place was also plagued by Mosquitoes on a scale far greater than what we experience in Australia - just to give you an example, at one point I was lying on my bed and counted no less than seven mosquitos floating around the ceiling, no doubt waiting for their blonde victim to close his eyes and fall helplessly sleep. I was eaten alive by these little f***sticks while I was there, and arrived back in Jyvaskala with a face and hands covered in tiny red spots. It's only after you've braved a couple of nights in Forest Finland that you know what the Finnish word "sisu" (roughly translated as "guts") is really about. Incidentally, it also refers to a particular salmiakki (liquorice) lolly which is largely responsible for my having gone to Finland in the first place....
I guess another obvious highlight was our visit to Stockholm just three days ago. In the end we only had a few hours there but the city struck me as quite similar to Prague, with a grandiose Old Town and a modern and vibrant city centre. However, I have to say that the stereotype of Swedes being blonde & blue-eyed isn't particularly justified. There's no argument about the Blonde & Blue-Eyed status of the Finns, but the Swedes really look no different to Australians, and almost every blonde I saw there was obviously of the dyed variety, with brown, black or "homeless-blonde" roots crowning the otherwise Nordic-coloured head of hair. Perhaps adding to this factor was the fact that Stockholm is quite multicultural: not even close to the scale of Amsterdam (which is well beyond a joke, to be honest) but definitely less homogenous than its salmiakki-addicted neighbour to the east.
Anyway, there's a 20-minute time limit to these computers so I better give one of the poor sods behind me a go.... I apologize for taking so long to write this but, as I said, Finland was hectic and I really didn't have the time! I'll definitely be more consistent from now on though and, by all means, keep writing back - it's always good to hear from you guys.
P.S. I'm almost blind from all the marijuana smoke drifting around in this place.... seriously, you wouldn't believe how common weed-smoking is in Amsterdam. Like, as common as cigarette-smoking anywhere else. Unbelievable!
Jyvaskyla's equivalent of Bourke St. Located in the middle of Finland, this definitely gets the gold star for Most Boring City I've Ever Been To.
Built in the nineteenth century as a symbol of the Russian Czar's power, the neo-Classical Church of St Nicholas remains the most impressive and well-known building in Helsinki.
This Orthodox Church near the waterfront is one of the more obvious legacies from Finland's days as "Russia's backyard".
Riddarholmskyrkan (Church of the Nobility), where many of Sweden's monarchs have been entombed.
View from across Riddarholmen (Island of the Nobles), on which most of Stockholm's historic sites are situated.