Tervetuloa Turkuun

Last week I went to Turku, which is a coastal city in the far southwest of the country, very close to Sweden.  

I traveled to Turku to participate in the ‘American Voices Seminar’ held by the University of Turku’s North American Studies department, and co-hosted by the Finnish Fulbright Center.  All of the American Fulbrighters were invited to give a short (20-minute) presentation on ‘something American’.  We were instructed to choose a topic that was of interest to us, and that was ‘American’ – this was actually really hard for me.  What’s ‘American’?  Because I didn’t want to talk about politics, or history, or something equally likely to showcase my ignorance of exactly what it means to be ‘American’.  I chose to go the silly route, and presented about Halloween traditions.  The other Fulbrighters pulled out all the stops, though, really stepping up to the cultural ambassador plate.

Some notable presentations: 1) Free Speech: American Extremism? (really interesting to see the difference in reactions between Finns and the Americans in the audience when confronted with the legalities and an historical account of the US’ First Amendment);  2) The Archaeology of Barbie (I had no idea that you could do archaeology on something not fossilized, and without a whip and fedora…);  3) An Introduction to American Deaf Culture (really eye-opening about the way that our society thinks/acts/interacts with an almost entirely independent part of the population);  4) The Anatomy of a Classic Philadelphian (this was about how to recognize an authentic Philly Cheesesteak, which made me drool a LOT);  5) Peanut Butter: History of a Misunderstood Condiment (does it really get any more American than this??);  6) The Fly-Over States: America’s Most Under-Valued and Misunderstood Region (aka: the Midwest. Represent!!); 7) A Quick History of Track Town, USA (during which I learned all about Eugene, OR, where I have visited multiple times, but it apparently took moving to Finland to figure out exactly what the big deal with ‘Prefontaine’ is); and 8) Trails in Vermont: Visions of Wilderness and the Rural Ideal (this presentation made me think, perhaps shamefully, for the first time about how the people who design and build hiking trails influence the way that I see, experience, and think of ‘nature’, and that the trails themselves have personality).

Outside of the 2-days of presentations, I did a fair amount of exploring of the city.  I visited the ‘kauppatori’ on my first morning.  This translates to ‘market square’, but I think in English this lacks context.  A Finnish kauppatori is an outdoor market that’s set up in a square-block area permanently dedicated to hosting a market, so it’s just a whole square city block that’s building-less and cobbled (in the cobblestone sense).  When the market is open, there are stalls and tents, and tables of fresh produce, meats, nuts, crafts, and made-to-order food stalls.  When it’s closed, the area looks a little strange and barren – a flat area surrounded by tall buildings, almost like a divot.  Turku’s kauppatori is particularly famous, as ‘Turku’ is an old-school way to say ‘market place’ in Finnish, which summarizes the origins of this port side, commerce-central city.

Turku also used to be the capital city of Finland, and has hosted the annual Declaration of Christmas Peace at the Great Old Square.  As is tradition, at noon on Christmas Eve, there is hymn-singing and the President reads out the Declaration of Christmas Peace from a bilingual parchment scroll (Finnish and Swedish) from the balcony of this building.  This has been a tradition since the middle ages, with the lone exception during the Winter War of 1939.

Turku is also famous for it’s castle (which I did not get to, unfortunately), and it’s cathedral.  I knew of the cathedral because it’s the very distinctive logo for a brand of Finnish mustard.

The cathedral was amazing, as evidenced by the number of pictures of it you’re about to see.  I’ll start with a Jump! picture I did with a number of other Fulbrighters.  From left to right: Ben, Rae Ellen, Hannah, Lucas, Me, Meghan.  (Photo taken by Lindsay)

And then the inside:

And this is Rae Ellen, who found the door to the staircase that leads up to the bell tower!  We did not break the lock and go up, but it was still cool to find.

Rae Ellen, Lucas and I were the last holdouts of people leaving the city, so we decided to explore a bit.  We found this neato wooden sculpture (and then climbed it, naturally).  Rae Ellen is doing a Jump!

And then photographing me and Lucas from below: 

This is Turku’s main library, right on the river and the edge of the downtown area.  This is the older, statelier-looking side, and at the back (which you can’t see here), there’s a modern addition, which is mostly glass and schmancy. We bought some libations and went down by the river to relax and watch the sunset.

And perhaps my absolute favorite thing about Turku was this smokestack, which Rae Ellen pointed out.  This is a super nerdy smokestack (or whoever erected it had a Dan Brown thing), as it has the first 10 numbers of the Fibonacci sequence in neon down its length! 

On the travel side of things, this Turku trip was my first time on an overnight sleeper train.  Here’s my adorable sleeping cabin, where I got a remarkably good night’s rest:

On my way back to Rovaniemi, my train was delayed and I had a few hours of unexpected time to explore Tampere, another large southern city.  It was a Sunday afternoon, so there was unfortunately not much open.  Exception: The Tampere Moominvalley Art Museum!  I was super excited about this, enough so that I a) actually went to a museum of my own accord and by myself, and b) paid to do so!

Anyways, the Moomins are a super-famous Finnish cartoon, created by Swedish-Finnish Tove Jansson, a political writer and satire cartoonist during WWII.  Jansson wrote 8 Moomin novels, one book of short stories, and 3 picture books of cartoons. The Moomin tales are based on the adventures and trials of a family of friendly trolls, who live in Moominvalley, a magical place where there’s no money, no need to work a job, and everything is shared and pleasant.  Each of the books tells the story of a trial (flood, getting lost outside Moominvalley, accidentally waking up during winter hibernation, etc.) that the family overcomes by working together.  The main family is Moominpappa, Moominmamma, and Moomintroll (or just Moomin), who are all white, rotund, large-snouted trolls with adventurous, mellow and clingy personalities, respectively.  There are a lot of auxilary characters as well, my favorite of which is Pikku My (or Little My, pronounced as mue, like ‘muse’ without the ‘s’).

Pikku Myy is awesome because she’s really tiny (see scale with respect to other characters above), loves mischief and catastrophes, and is inexplicably angry and often mean spirited (if ‘muwhahahaha’ existed here, I feel like it would be her catch phrase).  She also likes things messy, which I can relate to.  I find her to be comforting with all her small-package sassiness and plotting, and I think I would have especially connected with her as a child.  

The crown jewel of the museum is the miniature 5-story Moominhouse, created by Tuulikki Pietilä, Pentti Eistola and Tove Jansson, complete with little figurines of all the characters.  Disclaimer: there were no cameras allowed within the museum, so the picture of Moominhouse is off the museum’s website. 

The only outdoor indication that you’ve actually made it to the Moominvalley Museum was this 3-foot tall statue of Moomintroll himself, who’s just so damn cute, even if he is an inveterate momma’s boy: 

That concludes this bit of traveling in the south of Finland.  To wrap up, I’ll share that Finland is having municipal elections next week, so every city has areas with large displays of campaign posters (but only in designated public spaces, so it seems too orderly and polite to be politics), as seen spanning this Turku bridge: 

Each candidate gets assigned a number, and you vote using the numbers, but all signs include a head shot, most of which are flattering and professional-looking.  So to steal and mix SNL and Jon Stewart things, here’s your moment of Zen:

Really, Kimmo?  You couldn’t find a better picture of yourself to make into a giant poster you plaster all over town?!  Really?!?!

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