Kuopio!

Tervetuloa Kuopioon!  I live in Kuopio now.  I actually moved here about 6 weeks ago, but with all my travelling, I feel like it’s taken me this long to actually get to know this city well enough to write a post about it.  Some facts about Kuopio (pronounced kwah-pee-oh): it’s situated in Finland’s ‘lake district’, which means the central and eastern part of the country, which looks a whole lot like upper Minnesota (about half the land surface area being water).  Kuopio has a population of around 105,000, which apparently makes it the 9th largest city in Finland!

Kuopio train station sign

Kuopio is home to 4 university-level schools, the largest of which is the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio.  UEF-Kuopio is why I’m in Kuopio, as one of my two formal Fulbright affiliations is with the biogeochemistry research group here.  I have to admit that I was really sad to be leaving Rovaniemi.  I really like it there, and I was feeling a tad grumpy about relocating at the end of January.  Fortunately, Kuopio has slowly weaseled its way into my heart, and while I still miss Rovaniemi and look forward to my monthly visits there, I’ve come to really appreciate what I’ve got going on here.

Welcome to Kuopio!

Here’s a brief intro to the downtown central square in Kuopio.  First is a shot of city hall, followed by a picture of the central market building, which will unfortunately be under renovation the entire time I will live here.

Kuopio City Hall Central Market

And here’s the Kuopio church:

Kuopio Church

Primary among the ‘pros’ of Kuopio is that I’m back in a university environment, which is a little like coming home.  I understand what’s going on, and how things on a university campus work, and that’s undeniably comforting.  I’m also a part of an amazing lab group – it’s big, it’s international, they’re all super nice, and they all work on trace gas science (which is what I do).  This means that all the lab instruments and gadgets are exactly what I need to do my work, which has never happened to me before.  It also means that everyone there has expertise in the problems and work similar to what I am doing, so it’s possible to swivel about in my desk chair to an office mate and ask ridiculously specific science and statistics questions, because we all share a common knowledge base.  It’s a little like scientific utopia, and I’m loving it.

Here are my major Kuopio haunts (aka: my walk to work), displayed in order as if you were walking from outside my dorm building to my desk at UEF:

Kuntokuja Dorm

Path from dorm to trailtrail from dorm to universityRevenge of the gravel!IMG_2201

Inside Bioteknia BuildingHallway to my lab!Lab Group HallwayMy desk!

And for a little something that you can’t find in every university, this is a wooden sculpture that the leader of the biogeochemistry lab group dedicated to the group.  If you can’t read the plaque dedication, it says ‘Worrying for You’.  I like to think that as a temporary member of the lab group that this wooden man will take away some of my woes.

Worrying For YouFor those times when I actually leave work, I live in a neighborhood called ‘Puijonlaakso’, named because it’s the area adjacent to the Puijon Tower (standing in some version since before the turn of the 19th century).  Here are two shots of the tower: one during the day, and then one at night, how I most often see it when walking home from the university.

Puiljon Tower by day Puiljon Tower by nightDespite my codependent relationship with my UEF desk, I have a semi-active social life here.  I have multiple lab mates that are of my age cohort, and I have 2 roommates (flatmates, really).  As far as my living situation goes, Finnish dorms have a lot more privacy (than American ones), as it comes standard that each person has a private bedroom, with shared kitchens, bathrooms and common rooms.  My roomies are an Italian business major, and an undergraduate medical student from Slovakia.  They make me curb a little of my natural hermit behavior, as they are both significantly younger and more energetic than myself.  My labmates are a little more my natural speed, socially, but it’s been nice to have both.

One excellent Saturday night was spent with one of my labmates who served as a Kuopio ambassador.  We ate at a restaurant downtown, hit her favorite pub to try their homemade licorice liquor, and then saw a concert!  It was an artist that I really like named Irina (she’s played a lot on the radio station I listen to), and it was most excellent to see her live.  Here’s a link to hear a currently popular song of hers: Irina.

Irina Concert 2The venue (which my guidebook assures me is the preemo spot for Kuopio nightlife) was an underground number, with a truly shocking sound system.  Even with earplugs, it was a little overwhelming, as the noise vibrations were so powerful that I could feel my clothing shaking against my skin, and my drink almost shook itself off the edge of the bar ledge.  I had some small concern for the potential of my heart to cave into the auditory pressure and rhythmically reset.

Irina Concert 1

I survived the decibular onslaught with no obvious arrhythmia, and then began my first Finnish pub crawl in earnest.  Kuopio, much like Austin, Madison and other college towns in the states, has a single street upon which the majority of the bars reside.  We hopped about for a few hours, trying all the bar-specific delicacies, as each bar makes their own variety of a number of Finnish drinks.  This epic night concluded with some Finnish dudes chastising me for being from Dallas but not knowing the names on the Stars’ roster as I waited in line for a kebab sandwich that I felt, at the time, was necessary for my survival.

I have also had a few really nice outdoor excursions here in Kuopio.  Most notably, I have gone ice skating!  Kuopio is home to an annual outdoor skating marathon (yeah, as in 26.2 miles of speed skating), held on a track created on the lake surface in the harbor downtown.  The harbor actually has a series of tracks of 1, 2, 4, 7, and 12km distances, all starting and ending at the winter resting places of large, touring boats.

Kuopio Harbor frozen-in boats in Kuopio HarborThe boats, currently frozen into the lake in often awkwardly-slanted orientations, have been converted into small coffee shops for the people skating and skiing on the lake.  This is like the down-to-earth version of ski chalets that serve hot coffee and cocoa, as they’re boats of questionable quality and stability frozen into the edge of the Kuopio lake harbor.

Boat gone coffeeshop

There is also a community grill situated on a small island about a kilometer out onto the lake.  You can bring your sausages or other grilling materials to this wood campfire and enjoy a sizzling sausage before/during/after your wintery exertions.  I have not yet done this, but it’s only a matter of time.  :)

Communal fire pitThe one unfortunate thing about skating on the lake is that the ice surface is far from perfect.  There are giant, scary cracks in the ice, which make forward motion impossible when your skate blade falls into one. Ice Crack See-through ice crackskate-in-ice!The crack hazards mean that I spend most of my skating time staring at my feet, making sure I’m adequately playing the icy, high-speed version of ‘don’t step on a crack’.  I royally biffed it a few times, not gonna lie.  I also haven’t ice skated since I hit double digits, so I am neither very fast, nor graceful.  I think I’m outskated by everyone over the age of 3, but I have fun, so I don’t much care about the toddlers skating literal circles around me.

Kuopio skating track

Kuopio lake ice skating track skating feetAnd because this is Finland, it’s standard procedure to just leave your shoes on the side of the track, because you know no one will steal them!

worry-free shoesThere’s a lot about Kuopio that I’m still exploring, so more to follow soon.  I am trying to organize a group to attend an ice hockey game (Finland’s favorite sport), and Kuopio is known nationally as the home of the (debatably) delicious ‘kalakukko’, which literally means ‘fish cake’.  Kalakukko is a rye-bread loaf stuffed with small lake fish native to the area, and a major part of the fish-centric diet of an eastern Finlander.  More on kalakukko later, because it deserves attention.  For now, I’m enjoying being back on a campus, where signs like these exist.  It took me a while to figure out what this first one is telling me is forbidden… Bubble tea?  Lollipops?  Magnifying glasses?  Oh!  Ice cream cones being melted by coffee steam!  :)what?!Oh, college...

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