Yay Finland! Go Finland!

I was just as pissed off as everyone else about the news over in Ferguson, Missouri. While that is an important news story, I was so focused on it that I didn’t even realise that gay marriage was legalised in Finland yesterday!

Don't ask why Chococat is in this picture. He just is.

Don’t ask why Chococat is in this picture. He just is.

It’s not a huge story in the international media, but it is still a very big deal. With the news of police brutality, bombs in Nigeria and Putin preparing for war, it’s always nice to have some good news for once. I feel very proud of the country I live in right now.

 

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8 Ways to Enjoy Autumn in Finland

I don’t think I need to tell you that autumn is here. Even if you live in the southern hemisphere or  your country is going through an Indian summer, the obsession over pumpkins and skeletons on social media has probably told you. I think autumn is a great time of year to visit Finland, but many attractions such as guided tours and theme parks close up shop on August 31st, which make it seem like there’s very little to do. But I’m here to challenge that. Whether you live in Finland or are just visiting, here are some activities unique to the season:

  1. Go exploring.

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I’ve only just arrived so there’s still a lot of Turku for me to discover. I haven’t even been to the castle or the landmark archipelago yet. Autumn walks are great to warm you up and you can see some lovely autumn colours at the same time. Ponds and puddles are already starting to ice over here and when winter comes, it’ll be both too cold and too icy/snowy to take a walk or use your bike so it’s best to do it during autumn while you still have the chance.

  1. Practice your art.

This season seems to awaken something in artists of all disciplines and inspire us to create something new, ironically enough at a time when nature is dying. It’s a great feeling to wrap up in a blanket (I suggest a blanket fort) with a hot drink (most likely a pumpkin spice latte) and do something creative.

I’ve been using the internet’s obsession with autumn photos to practice my photography, with mixed results. You could even practice your painting if you still have any feeling left in your fingers.

  1. Stock up on winter clothes.

Even in autumn, you’re going to need a good supply of warm clothes in Finland – long johns, leggings, thermal shirts and a good coat. And a hat of course.

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On the bus, I like to play ‘who has the best hat’. I always win.

You don’t want to be left without them when the weather takes a turn for the worse so it’s best to be prepared for when autumn arrives. If you’re visiting from abroad, you can stock up on some thermals which are much cheaper than they are in most countries.

  1. Wear a miniskirt and cute tights.

Even so, the change of season is no excuse for not wearing the cute clothes you want. As long as you make sure you’re warm enough and have enough layers on underneath, you can pull off almost anything. I gladly and proudly wear a cute mini and patterned leggings while everyone else is wearing their boring thermals. If it works for Japanese school girls in anime, it can work for you too!

  1. Eat an ice cream outside.

As the largest consumer of ice cream in Europe, the chill of autumn doesn’t stop Finns from enjoying an ice cream. You’ll often see someone walking down the street happily enjoying one. Soup, stew and coffee is all well and good, but don’t think that you have to survive off of them or that you have to deny yourself an ice cream just because of the season.

  1. Go for a walk on the coast.
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This is actually a river but you get the idea.

I grew up on the coast and I can tell you there’s nothing like a walk on the beach or cliffs with bracing wind in your face. As long as you wrap up warm it feels great. Just because its autumn doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beach in some way. And coming in from the cold and enjoying a hot chocolate is an equally satisfying feeling.

  1. Air out your sheets.

Freshly aired out sheets help you sleep better and most apartments have these wire frames outside to beat the dust off of your sheets and blankets. I’m often woken up by the sound of someone beating a blanket 15 yards away from my bedroom window. Once again, you won’t be able to do this in winter so it’s best to do it now before your sheets turn stiff from ice.

  1. Have a bonfire.

In the UK we have guy fawke’s night where we have a bonfire and light up fireworks for slightly creepy reasons we’ve long since forgotten. Finland doesn’t have this tradition but you don’t need an excuse to have a bonfire, cook marshmallows, drink soup and have a sing song. (Damn, that last one sounded very 1950’s!)

 

Don’t let the cold and darkness of the season depress you or stop you from visiting our lovely country, enjoy autumn any way you want to!

More autumn photos and big news

In my last post I mentioned how nervous I was about my right of residency being rejected. Well, it was accepted!! You have no idea how relieved I was to receive that piece of paper. I actually thought I would be fretting for weeks before they posted it to me, but the officer just handed it to me.

It was a good thing I applied based on family ties, as my fiancee and I have been living together for three years now. They seemed a bit iffy about my freelance income, even though I made a record profit from my business last month.

But still, now that’s done I only have a few things to worry about, like applying for an ID card and health insurance and my tax card. Ok, that’s actually quite a few things to worry about. At least one big worry is gone.

On the trip to the police station to get my certificate, I saw more wondrous autumn sites that I wanted to go back and get pictures of, so here they are. Starting with-

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Wait…What is that?!

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That’s the Piduck, a pig/duck statue just around the corner from my flat that greets visitors arriving in the city from the Helsinki road. It’s even been featured on Cracked.com! The locals are just as confused by it as the tourists. Anyway, back to autumn photos:

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Turku cathedral surrounded by autumn leaves. I arrived a few hours too late to get a perfect shot of this, as it looks much better in better sunlight.

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I love how this memorial stone is propping up all those leaves:

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Food restaurant, as opposed to a normal restaurant that only serves dust and rusty nails. Also, what happened to Bruno one?

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Looks like a mermaid tail. Or maybe it’s a fish tail?

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Restaurants and cafes have blankets outside for customers to use. Frankly I’d rather just sit inside!

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Autumn in Finland

This would look much more impressive if there had been any wind.

This would look much more impressive if there had been any wind.

It’s been over a month since my last blog post, as I’ve been busy settling in, getting all the paperwork for my right of residency appointment and working on a ghostwriting job. In that time, while my home country is going through an Indian summer and trying to destroy human rights, there’s been a dramatic change of seasons here.

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As demonstrated by this artsy shot of some leaves.

Last time I took some photos of my flat and some of the places I found in town so today I wanted to take some pictures on a walk I took near my flat. But really it’s just an excuse to take artsy autumn photos.

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That tree in the foreground is the sad little tree I can see from my bedroom/office window. It’s lost almost all its leaves in about two weeks. And all the other trees around here are the same.

Some trees hanging on tight to the rock.

Some trees hanging on tight to the rock.

The birds are also very loud as they gather together to migrate. There are a large number of magpies near my flat and I think I saw a pheasant cross my path on my walk.

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The river bordering the student village where I live.

I crossed the railway bridge and explored across the river a little. It was mostly apartments and an old factory that had a sign saying ‘Reebok’ on the side. It was very quiet and lonely, even the building site only had about three guys on it. But I remembered it was 3pm on a weekday so everyone was probably at work.

I love this little house nestled in the trees.

I love this little house nestled in the trees.

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My right of residency meeting is on Tuesday and I’m starting to worry a little. Even though I’ve gotten a writing job recently and have a few more coming up, I’m still worried that they’ll say I don’t meet the requirements. I want to take a language course but I’m afraid to book anything in case I’m forced to leave the country.

But I know I shouldn’t panic too much. I just have to wait and see what happens. At least I’ve been learning to cook some Finnish foods, such as egg butter. It’s literally just hard boiled eggs mashed together with butter but it’s delicious!

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I should really focus on exploring some more and trying new things, instead of worrying so much.

Crossed the Finnish Line

So, I’ve finally made it! I can now cross ‘live in a foreign country’ off my bucket list. And I must say, so far all the fears I had were for nothing. Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. The only real trouble was buying spices with Finnish labels. But it was worth it because the spiced eggs were delicious!

The only worry I have now is my right of residency, as I still worry that they’ll think I’m not making enough money to meet the financial requirements. But my appointment at the police station to register isn’t for over a month so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it until then and just focus on my writing.

I’m more or less settled into my new place and am just waiting for my boxes from home to be shipped over. I’m sharing a flat in a student dorm building with my fiancé, who is studying a master’s degree in pop culture and North American studies. It sounds very interesting. I might apply for it next year.

But anyway, our flat. For the last two years we’ve been living in a shared house  which was practically falling apart. I’ve had a lot of different roommates but the people I shared that house with were just awful. Every roommate you ever have will either be compulsively neat and bitch at you for leaving a single teaspoon by the sink or will be almost proudly messy and leave their own dishes to rot. There is no in between and we had both kinds living in our house. They would leave greasy pans in random places and one fell on my fiancé (he was my boyfriend back then) and permanently stained his shirt. They sneered at me whenever I said hello, or even smiled at them. They would never close the windows, even in the middle of winter. They had sex very loudly. (Seriously, no one wants to hear that!) They smoked in the bathroom and left their cigarette butts floating in the toilet bowl. They even complained that my boyfriend laughed too loudly. He’s had depression in the past so if he wants to laugh until his lungs ache, he damn well gets to! I did get my revenge, though. Once I heard them calling my boyfriend a freak so I stole all their mail. Nothing official looking like bank statements or anything with a government logo on it, but otherwise you don’t call my boyfriend a freak and get away with it.

My first apartment was about this size.

My first apartment was about this size.

Wow, that got a bit ranty. This wasn’t meant to be a ‘bitching about my awful rommates’ post. So, our flat. I did love living in Bath but the rents were so expensive, which was why I had to live in a shared house. A place this size in Bath would cost at least twice as much. I’m glad that we’re finally living alone and that my money will go a lot further.

The main room.

The main room.

The bedroom, complete with the giant bookcase I've always wanted!

The bedroom, complete with the giant bookcase I’ve always wanted!

We even have a patio!

We even have a patio!

Turku is a beautiful city full of old buildings that are even older than the state of Finland itself. Back when Finland was still a part of Sweden, Turku was the capitol city, as it’s only a boat ride away from Sweden, and the Swedish influence is still felt here. Most signs are in both Finnish and Swedish, much like the signs in Wales are in both English and Welsh.

As a university town with students from all over the world, in fact my fiancé is the only Finnish student in his class, Turku is probably one of the most multicultural cities in Finland. This suits me just fine as I can eat all of my favourite types of food – Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian, etc. There’s even a shop called Little Britain (Ha ha!) selling British goods like PG Tips and Heinz baked beans. And most importantly for me, the bookshops have English language sections. I’m just disappointed that there don’t seem to be any writing magazines published in English here.

Some places in town even feel more like Paris or Vienna than Finland. There are even classy little cafes with tiny tables outside, complete with pretentious hipsters sipping their overpriced cappuccinos and judging you.

Turku cathedral, which makes a useful landmark to point me to the direction of my flat.

Turku cathedral, which makes a useful landmark to point me to the direction of my flat.

The central library. I plan to spend a lot of time here.

The central library. I plan to spend a lot of time here.

There are a lot of interesting sculptures and outdoor art pieces.

There are a lot of interesting sculptures and outdoor art pieces.

Even so, there is an amazing sense of freedom that comes from living in a foreign city. It’s like I’ve finally reached the stage in my life where I’m mature and financially independent enough to have the lifestyle I really want. I’m working for myself and not for an employer. I’m no longer financially dependent on my parents or the government. I think that sometimes we do need a change in our lives to get away from things that brought us down in the past and start afresh.

So now that’ I’m settled in and the headache of moving is gone, I can finally get back to working and writing, and hopefully find some time to explore the city and the country more.

Three weeks to go

Exactly three weeks until my flight now. Yesterday it finally set in and I became physically ill from the stress – I was fatigued and depressed, had a headache all day and could barely eat. Part of it was because I lost out on a chance with a potential new client. It’s not like I can’t find new clients, but it reminded me that my residency pass could be denied if I don’t make enough money and I can’t stop worrying about that.

Thankfully I’m feeling better and more positive today, thanks mostly to the family dog constantly asking for attention.

This is her 'pay attention to me' pose.

This is her ‘pay attention to me’ pose.

After watching Doctor Who (better enjoy it while I can, it’s not hugely popular in Finland) and having a long bath, I brushed up on my Finnish a bit more. I’ve been making flashcards to help me learn, as visuals are often a better way to learn and I can whip them out anywhere to have a quick lesson. The only trouble is my drawing skills are so terrible. I only hope that I can distinguish my own drawings.

As you can see, 'puhelinkioski' is Finnish for both 'phone booth' and 'Tardis.'

As you can see, ‘puhelinkioski’ is Finnish for both ‘phone booth’ and ‘Tardis.’

Three weeks to go…

Preparing for take off

It’s just under a month until I leave the UK for Finland. For the rest of August, most of my time is being spent selling or getting rid of the huge pile of stuff I don’t want or need. I’ve sold a lot on e-Bay and Amazon already, and gotten quite a lot of money to put towards my moving expenses. It’s even given me the idea of selling used books and vintage games to make some extra money. There is potential to make a good second income from it.

The current 'to sell' pile

The current ‘to sell’ pile

Learning Finnish is also taking up a lot my time. I’m trying but it’s a very hard language for an English speaker to learn. The only other language I studied was French at school. I got a B for my French GCSE, so you’d think I’d be at least passable at French, right? Not even close. I can count to ten and say I have a pet dog but that’s about it. Three hour long lessons a week for five years and I still don’t know any French. If you can’t tell, British schools are terrible at teaching foreign languages.

I think I know why. Memorising French words and phrases for an exam is like teaching a parrot to talk. It knows what to say but can’t understand the context behind it. Plus, as soon as you leave the exam hall, there’s the overwhelming relief of ‘I never have to do that ever again’ so by the end of the summer you’ve forgotten every word of French you ever learnt, and probably the teacher’s name as well.

I don’t want my Finnish to be like that. I know it will take a long time before I can even have a basic conversation, but I want to try at least. I could probably get by in Finland without learning the language since most people speak English anyway, but I like the challenge more than anything. Having a rare skill on your CV always looks good.

I’m fluctuating constantly between excitement to be moving and complete fear for what will happen when I get there. I could have my residency pass denied or forget some important form that will land me with a hefty fine. People keep telling me to relax and that it will all go fine but I can’t help but worry all the same. The best I can do is get everything ready in good time and just wait and see what happens. I’m told that even on a low income, my residency pass will be accepted as long as I can prove I’m not trying to get on the benefits system. Even if it is denied, I know my parent’s will always welcome me back to their house for as long as I need. I’ve had major set backs in my life before and although I would be upset and ashamed if my pass was denied, I wouldn’t let it stop me for long.

Only three and a half weeks to go…