Monday, October 31, 2011

Hockey and biking

Took during my Sunday bike ride

Hi, all: I can't believe it, but the weather back home is colder than it is here in Finland. While we have enjoyed temperatures in the 40s and near 50 (which is actually very nice for this time of year), back in N.C., the weather has already dipped into the 30s!
The Rauma ice hockey arena

Figure skaters performed during time-outs
I will say that the wind here can make it seem colder than it is, and it can whip up at any time. I went bike riding Sunday, and by the harbor, the wind was pretty strong. I biked for an hour, and I really enjoyed it. It makes me more sympathetic to riders back home who don't have all the nice bike paths that we have here in Finland. I was also surprised at how many people were out walking, jogging and biking, when the temperature was 44 degrees. And most of those out and about were older people (even older than me -- ha, ha!). I know what you're thinking -- Pam, who is always cold, out bike riding in 44-degree weather?? Yes, it's true. The longer you're out in it, the more you get used to it. I actually like temps in the 40s now. Or, as we say in Europe, temps from 7 to 9 -- degrees Centigrade.

We went to our first hockey match this weekend with some friends. It was the big rivalry -- Rauma versus Pori. I'm happy to report that Rauma won 4-1. Hockey still isn't my favorite sport, but it was fairly entertaining. The best part was the figure skaters who performed during the time-outs. The arena was very nice and of course, was packed with local fans. 

Tom tried out the sauna this weekend, but I still haven't had any interest in sitting for 30 minutes in extreme heat and humidity. I know it's supposed to be good for your skin and all, but so far, the only time I've been in the sauna is to hang laundry. Yes, the sauna is multi-purpose.

I'm excited because we finally are going to Helsinki this coming weekend. The only time we have spent there is at the airport. We are staying at the Radisson Blu, near the town's only casino, so we will report back to Tom's poker buddies if we get brave enough to play.

Remind you of a certain movie?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Party Times

Lunch with our friends at the Talbo

We had a great time Saturday at our two get-togethers. First, we had lunch with some of the American expats and families/spouses/significant others. We ate at a restaurant in Old Town that surprisingly, Tom and I had not been to before. That's probably because it's only open until 4 p.m., and we were always trolling for food around 7 p.m.

Anyway, it was great fun. This was the first time in Finland I have seen French Onion Soup on a menu -- it's always either tomato or mushroom, mostly mushroom. Now, I love both the tomato and mushroom soups, but it was really nice to have something different.

Thanks to Jeremy for organizing the lunch.

That evening, we had dinner with over 60 mostly French expats at a local banquet facility in Old Town. The theme was French Creole, and the two volunteer chefs spent all day cooking. Tom and I actually stopped by that morning (to make sure we could find the place), and chatted with them while they cooked.

Pam, Severine and Julie at the Creole dinner
The menu certainly was eclectic -- for appetizers, there were "shooters" of various mixtures, such as guacamole or tomato/basil/some kind of white cheesy mousse, something that resembled and tasted like potstickers, and my favorite, pitted prunes wrapped in bacon. Yes, that might sound unappealing, but trust me, it was delicious. Even Tom, who is not the most adventurous eater, liked them.

The chefs made sure everyone was happy

The first course was a puffy potato and fish croquette, and the second course was a curry-type chicken with black beans and rice. Very good. 

Desserts were outstanding -- little shooters of vanilla milkshakes infused with Irish liqueur; berry parfaits;  skewers of fresh fruit, and the best chocolate brownie dessert ever. It was so good I brought two home in a napkin!

Tom says the Americans should host a similar dinner with either chili or Tex-Mex. Only we can't do Tex-Mex because we can't find Mexican cheese anywhere. Maybe Cincinnati Chili? I'm sure even some of the Americans have never had that!

In other exciting news (for me, anyway), we finally bought a bike. One of the local sporting goods stores put them on sale 40 percent off, which made the high price a bit easier to take. Now, we thinking about buying ice skates...

Dessert -- always the best part!
Very fancy appetizers

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Finnish Food

Famous -- or infamous -- Finnish Karelian pasties
Hi, everyone!

The grocery stores cater to many cultures 
We are getting settled into the new apartment. Had normal eggs, bacon and hashbrowns for breakfast this morning -- sounds mundane, but to us, it was wonderful! In restaurants and the hotels, the eggs are always runny and taste funny, the meats are strange sausages and cold cuts, and the potato product is the Finnish specialty, "Karelian pasties," which are bascially  crusts filled with either a rice and egg mixture or a mashed potato and egg mixture. The pasties would probably taste okay if they were hot, but they're always cold on the breakfast buffets.

The grocery stores have plenty of potatoes!
Picked up our new car yesterday -- a nice, gray-blue 2011 Peugeot. Hopefully, we're going to buy a clothes dryer today -- I washed a black sweater the other day, and it was sopping wet, so Tom put it in the sauna, turned the heat on and let it dry in there. We've heard lots of people use their saunas to dry clothes, but I still want a regular dryer.

My cart -- about $150 worth of stuff
I did my first big grocery shopping, and it was an experience, trying to figure out all the translations. I had to ask my Finnish teacher for some translations, like butter is "voi," and all the different kinds of meat and milk, etc. It's like they have a different word for everything! I wanted to make beef vegetable soup our first night in the apartment, and I could not figure out which was the lean ground beef. So I just guessed, and it worked out okay. The beef definitely has a different flavor here, and I think it is because it is all grass-fed and not shot up with hormones and additives, like much of the beef is in the U.S.

And, as you might expect, the prices are very high. I spent about $150 and didn't really get that much. Oh, well, that's why we get a cost-of-living adjustment, right?

We have two fun things today -- a lunch get-together with the American contingent, and a Creole dinner with a group of the French expats.

No, it's not my bike! But it does make a good beer carrier!

Monday, October 17, 2011

More Musings

Pretty fall flowers in Rauma
Hi, everyone! Still not in the apartment, but I have found plenty to do. Tom and I went shopping at IKEA in Turku for some furniture, and I plan to go back tomorrow for some more good stuff. By the way, here in Finland, they pronounce it "ick-ee-ah," while in the U.S., we prounounce it with a long "i" sound. At the Charlotte store, Kristen and I love the chicken fingers and fries; well, they don't have that in the Finland store's restaurant. Tom and I shared -- what else -- that Finnish favorite -- meatballs with lingonberry sauce and fries. Actually, it was very tasty.

I also have enjoyed other shopping forays to Turku. Last week, I visited the most wonderful store that sells clothes and accessories that are only made in Finland, something that I had been looking for. I bought myself a warm wool hat and some scarves for gifts. The things in the store were so beautiful, and the saleslady was so friendly and helpful. I had a hard time making up my mind; oh well, I'm sure I will go back! I also look forward to the big Christmas markets they have in Turku and Tampere to look for holiday gifts.
Kaisla, the Finnish store in Turku

I have met so many people from so many places, and I am very thankful for these experiences. In my Finnish language class, I have met and chatted with very nice people from South Korea, South Africa, Germany, Bulgaria and Poland. And last Thursday, we welcomed two lovely ladies from Arkansas (!) and Czech Republic. The girl from Arkansas is around Kristen's age, and she told me she spent last summer here, decided to stay and got a job teaching English to kindergartners. And she didn't need to be fluent in Finnish to do it! She said she also teaches a photography workshop. Hmmmm, I could teach English to little kids, too.

The woman from Czech Republic said she and her husband and daughter have lived here three years (!). Her husband works at OL3, same as Tom. And my South Korea friend said her husband works at the big shipyard here. It just amazes me that so many people from so many different countries end up in this little community in southwestern Finland.

My French friend, Julie, took me to a local fitness center today. It was so nice to get back to a gym to run on the treadmill, work out on the elliptical and lift some weights! I have really missed going to the Sportscenter at home (and I miss my Sportscenter buddies!).

Hope all is well with you all! I just hope that big volcano in Iceland doesn't erupt and wreak havoc with our travel plans to come home Thanksgiving week. Let's all hope the volcano decides to go back to sleep.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Better apartment, Tampere visit

The bathroom has a sauna!

Well, so much can change in one day! I saw a terrific apartment this morning, and I said we would take it! It's in a good location, pretty new, the bathroom is HUGE and has a sauna!

The kitchen is very modern and has a dishwasher. The balcony, living room and bedroom are also big. It only has one bedroom, but it's worth it to get such a nice-looking place. It is on the fourth floor, has garage parking and even covered parking for bicycles.

Here are some photos:

The bathroom is huge!

The kitchen is very modern
Exterior of the building

The living room


Sunday, we drove two hours to the city of Tampere. It was the capitol of Finland way back when Russia ruled the country, so you definitely can see the Russian influence. There was a really cool outdoor market with mostly stuff from France (my new French friends would have liked it!) The bread, especially, was just like we get when we are in France. And you know it was good, because that booth had the longest line of people waiting to buy it!

Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, most stores and museums were closed. I will have to go back on a weekday. Tampere even has a Lenin museum, which I think would be really interesting.

Fresh French breads and pastries at the outdoor market

I couldn't resist buying a fresh pain au chocolat! It was devine!

Reminds me of Aix-en-Provence

Flowering plants in Tampere

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Crazy week

Well, this certainly has been an interesting week: I finally got to see an apartment, Tom's car got hit by a deer/baby elk on his way home from the plant, and my brain hurts from trying to learn Finnish and carry on conversations in French.

The apt. is on the top left corner
On Wednesday, we finally learned that there was an apartment available for us to look at. Tom had a late meeting, so I met with Satu from Areva, who showed me the place. The good: It's in a nice, quiet location (very close to our current hotel), it's on the top floor of a seven-floor building, with a balcony and great views, has two bedrooms, kitchen, large living room and lots of storage.

The bathroom
The bad news: The bathroom is TINY, the shower looks barely big enough for half a person, the washing machine takes up most of the space, there is no dryer. Oh, and there was a woman sitting in the living room when we walked in. It turns out that she and her boyfriend (who works at the power plant) had to leave their apartment because of a water problem, and they were told to move into this newly-vacated apartment for three weeks while their place is repaired. So, if we take the apartment, we have to spend three more weeks in the hotel.

We did find out Friday that a "very nice" one-bedroom is available, so we are going to try to look at it Monday or Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Tom was leaving the plant about 7 p.m. It was dusk, which we later learned, is the prime time for all the wild animals to go out and menace drivers. Tom was driving along the long road from Oikiluoto to the main highway, when he saw something charging toward him at full speed. He laid on the horn, slammed on the brakes, but the animal hit him smack on the driver's side. There were cars in front of him and behind him, but the stupid critter had to hit OUR car.

Tom called me and said a moose had hit his car, so of course, I was freaking out. You know, there are all those moose crossing signs along the roads. It turns out that it actually was a deer or baby elk (although people say that deer aren't very prevalent around here). It dented the side of our rental Mazda, completely tore off the side mirror and shattered the driver's side window. Tom was covered in glass but was not injured -- he was very, very lucky. 

Okay, the really weird part is, a man drove past, stopped his car, and pulled an ax out of his trunk (kind of scary that there are people driving around with axes in their cars, but, hey, obviously it comes in handy), and chopped the dying animal's head off to end its suffering. He also dragged the animal off the road, and told Tom that people would pay good money for the meat!

Glass inside Tom's car
Some of his co-workers who stopped to help took these pictures. There were some photos of the dead animal, but they were just too bloody and icky to post here.
The police came, made Tom take a breathalyzer test (!), wrote up a report and followed him back to the hotel. Hertz was great -- they came and got the damaged car that evening and brought us another one.

Welcome to Finland!

Thursday morning, I had my second Finnish language course at the local Adult Education Center. I really like the class and my teacher (whose name is also Satu). I am the only American in the class, and the others, including the teacher, are always asking me how to say things in English. The other students are from Germany, China, South Africa, Bulgaria and France. It is such a difficult language. Finnish has no prepositions, Rauma has its own dialect, and there are tons of endings that are added onto words to change the meaning, serve as prepositions or make new words. Not to mention that you pronounce every letter, and many of the words are 20 letters long...

Tom signed me up for a spouses' dinner that was held Friday night at an old church in Old Town that is now a banquet hall. It was lovely. There were about 50 women there, and, just as I was afraid of, I was the only American. The vast majority were French, which was fine. There also were a few women from Germany, Finnland and Poland. One of Tom's co-workers, a very nice French engineer, Severine (sorry if I misspelled her name), had invited me to attend, and she even picked me up and drove us there. 

The event started around 7:30 with champagne cocktails; dinner didn't start for another hour (those Europeans like to eat late). The appetizer was a salad and excellent pureed vegetable soup. The entree didn't come for another hour; it was roasted pork tenderloin with pureed yellow turnips and a cabbage mixture; dessert was yet another hour later; unfortunately for me, it was tiramisu, my least favorite dessert in the world. On second thought, it was good it was tiramisu, since I didn't need dessert anyway.

Enjoying dinner with other expats
My dinner companions were very nice and welcoming, but they spoke French for the most part. Which was good, because the more I listen, the more I learn. They actually all spoke pretty good English, but they asked me to speak slowly and, just like in my Finnish class, asked me questions about English. I think the worst thing about English for foreigners is all the contractions we use. When I am talking to non-English natives, I try not to use contractions, but it is really difficult because we use so many in our conversations. They kept apologizing for forgetting and speaking in French to one another, but I really didn't mind. Lots of times they would translate for me what they were talking about, and I could understand a bit here and there.

Tom stopped by after he ate dinner alone at a restaurant. I think he wanted to make sure I wasn't miserable. What was funny was after he left, my French table mates all said that they thought I sounded British while Tom definitely sounded American. I think it is because I was trying to talk without using contractions...

Didn't get home until 12:30 a.m., which is waayy past my bedtime. But it was fun, and I enjoyed getting to meet some other people.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Random thoughts

Things I've learned:

Can the moose read this?
There are moose crossing signs everywhere -- but no one we've talked to has actually seen a moose. And how do the moose know to cross the road where the signs are? Can they read?

Also, there are moose-hunting stations near the power plant. These are really rickety contraptions, and my thought was, do you really want to be on this thing if a moose is charging toward you?

We went to a "Mexican" restaurant in Turku on Saturday. It's the only one around here. While it is a very cute place, the wait staff was great, and the beer was cold, they don't serve Tex-Mex food as we are used to. Which is fine. It's just not what we have been craving. They have things on the menu like crispy tortillas topped with lettuce, crab ceviche and aioli (they love mayonnaise in Europe, you know) and ostrich skewer with sweet potatoes, fried vegetables and coconut-mint sauce. Our waiter said they used to have antelope on the menu, but they removed it because the meat is so tough. I will say they had fajitas and burritos, but we wanted basic enchiladas and tacos, which were not available. We ordered chips and salsa and mini quesadillas from the appetizer menu. The red sauce that came with the chips was bland, and the habanero sauce was too fiery. The mini quesadillas came with delicious guacamole, but we just couldn't figure out what was in the quesadilla filling. 

Cantina Azteca in Turku
I later figured out what the problem with the mini quesadillas probably was when I went looking for Mexican-style cheese in the grocery store. They don't have it. The funny thing is, I love Emmental cheese, which is expensive in the U.S. and you can only buy in slabs. Here, Emmental is the MAIN cheese -- you can buy it shredded, sliced, diced and in slabs. There's also plenty of Gouda and Mozzarella (pizza cheese), but no Colby, Monterey Jack or anything related. We're going to be very sad if we can't get Mexican cheese. Next time I go to Turku, I'm going to look for it in the big grocery store there -- perhaps they import it.

We came across this on Saturday
Another random thing -- Never totally trust your GPS device. We bought a Garmin to help us navigate around here. I drove to Turku by myself last week, and the Garmin directed me onto a pedestrian-only street before I even realized it. I almost freaked out, because all of a sudden, my car was surrounded by pedestrians and bikers. I had to drive very, very slowly until I could make my escape.

Later, I found out from one of Tom's co-workers that the same thing had happened to him, so that at least made me feel a little better. But it was very scary.

I've already mentioned how expensive everything is here. We have been shopping for a bicycle, but the price tags are ridiculous. Just a basic, no-speed bike will set you back 240 Euros -- about $320! I want a three-speed bike, and that will probably cost around $400.

We also have been car shopping. A small Peugeot, 1.6-liter engine, four doors, about the size of a Honda Fit, will cost around $20,000. We want the Peugeot 308, which is a bit bigger. A 2008 with about 70,000 miles will cost about $22,000. A new one is closer to $30,000. These are small cars! We thought about getting a diesel, but you have to pay a very steep diesel tax every year. Several car dealers told us that unless you plan to drive between 18,000 to 20,000 miles every year, it won't be worth the cost.
Moose-tracking station -- doesn't look safe

That's enough for now. Until next time!