That’s welcome in Finnish.
Welcome to the land of a thousand lakes, reindeers, and the real Santa Claus — Finland. Everything is covered in snow, it’s surreal…
the view from my kitchen window
What does Turku look like?
Turku, having existed since 1229, holds the title of oldest city in Finland. When I say I’m from Turku, most people react with ooohs and aaahs, expecting to see medieval streets and buildings and castles.
So what does Turku look like? Surprisingly, it’s quite modern. Turku burned down several times in the past, so there are hardly any remnants of its medieval past. Most of the buildings in Turku are actually quite new. There are the occasional brick buildings which were built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but the rest are modern concrete blocks that were probably built from the 1950s onwards.
Come take a walk with me down one of the streets in downtown Turku:
Do you live in igloos?
No, I live in a student housing complex in Halinen called Haliskylä, where I share a three-bedroom apartment with Johanna, a Swedish-speaking Finn, and Katri, an Estonian. Student housing in Finland is excellent. Everything is convenient and well-planned — the Halinen landscape is almost rural with a forest and Halistenkoski rapids nearby, yet there is a commercial complex across the street and school is a 10-minute bus ride away.
It’s hard decorating your room when you’re on a student budget, especially when you know you’ll be moving out in four months. Luckily, the Finnish — never one to let anything go to waste — have it all figured out. For roughly a hundred euros, I was able to deck out my room quite comfortably, with rentals from the housing office and the student union (some furniture + a starting package of curtains, a duvet, a pillow, & some kitchenware), things scrounged from second-hand shops (a mattress, a rug & a drying line) and an assortment of items from the dirt-cheap IKEA. (A full-sized pillow for 95 cents? Outrageous!) Probably the most expensive thing I bought was a new heater, and that was only after I shivered in my room for a week and finally decided I couldn’t wait until a heater turned up at the second-hand store. Hehe.
What do you eat in Finland?
When I first arrived in Finland, I found the food appalling.
Meals tasted like they had come from mass-production lines. Fruits and vegetables tasted like cardboard. Fresh meat was nowhere to be found in supermarkets — everything was either cured, processed, marinated, or ground into mystery meat and resurrected as cold cuts and sausages.
My initial theory was that Finland, being on the edge of the earth, was so far away that fruits, vegetables, and meats aged and died before they could finish their journey to Finland. And, once they get here, they are cryogenically frozen by the Finnish weather.
I was expecting the fruits and vegetables I had in the Philippines to taste the same in Finland. That, of course, was a stupid assumption.
The secret was to eat like a local.
I have since learned to buy only produce in season at the kauppatori, and have grown fond of some local favorites, like Aura blue cheese (named after the River Aura in Turku), Fazer chocolates, and the wide array of Finnish breads. Finnish bread, in contrast to the crusty & airy ones sold in France, are hearty and grainy, perhaps to help keep you warm in the harsh Finnish climate. Hardly a day passes now that I don’t have some bread — whether its crumbly blue cheese on warm monivilja viipaleet (a soft, chewy multigrained bread) for breakfast; a generous layer of onions, peppers, lettuce, and roast pork on a ruispalat (a coarse, dark rye bread); or large chunks of sunflower seed bread slathered with butter from our bread station at the school cafeteria. Yummy.
I still have to get used to salmiakki and lakritsi, though. 🙂
How cold is it in Finland?
Contrary to popular misconception, winters in Turku aren’t as cold as winters in other parts of Finland. The average temperature in January ranges from -10°C to 3°C, which, with the dry climate, often feels much warmer.
There is, however, a perennial mountain of snow. So, when in Finland, I do as anyone from a tropical country would do — indulge myself shamelessly in the list of winter-y things to do!
Are there polar bears in Finland?
No, there are no polar bears in Finland.
There are reindeers, though, and you can even visit Santa Claus and his elves at his home in the Arctic Circle. 🙂
International Masters in Management of IT (IMMIT), 2008-2010
Universite Aix-Marseille III, France; Turku School of Economics, Finland; Tilburg University, Netherlands