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Åre and Finnish Roots 

Hej,

Towards the end of January, it was time for Apple Ski Week, an annual trip the sporting association takes to a resort in Åre Sweden. Neil and I had obtained tickets in September by queuing overnight at the student union (it is quite common here to wait in line 6 hours to buy tickets to parties, though this ski trip was the first and last time I ever queued).

We left on a Saturday evening for the 12 hour bus ride to Åre (in central Sweden, near the border with Norway). We got stuck in this crappy bus with a failing ventilation system. It got so hot and humid in there we called it the "bastu bus" (bastu is Swedish for saUUUUUUUUUna). We were in the very back of the bus, so the condensed sweat dripped from the back window onto my face all night. Quite pleasant...

We made it, moved into the small flat with our Swedish peer students Maggie and Henrick, and four other Swedes we didn't know. We spent the next five days out on the slopes. I had rented a snow board, it was okay, but it lacked the fuzzy stuffed duck like my own board. The weather was mild, above freezing, but the sun only made a 5 minute appearance on one day. The snow was good for the first two days, and then can icy the rest of the time.

Our best day was the second when Neil and I took off without the other exchange students (they were still recovering from the night before). We went to some back areas which only had t-bars. We rode off trail through the thin woods. It was great fun weaving in and out in the deep powder snow. Sometimes if I crashed it was so deep I could hardly get out of it.

After skiing everyday, it was time for dinner number 1 (soup) followed an hour later by dinner number 2 (pasta). Then it was off to the pub to socialize, back to catch a little sleep, and then up for the opening of the lifts. An exhausting schedule to say the least...

It was a good five days, on our return trip, Neil and I managed to wrangle our way into another bus, so we had a nice comfortable ride home.

After Åre, I spent almost a month straight going to classes, jättedålig! (giantly bad). I'm taking a second course in statistics (my last math course ever) and a computer science course in Systems Programming.

About a week ago, I left for a trip to the motherland: Finland. I had been in contact with a distant relative, Risto Kuusisto in Helsinki. We had been in contact by email and phone for several months, so I made arrangements for him to meet us upon our arrival in Helsinki.


Modeling the robe of knowledge on the ferry deck.

Neil had finished his degree project, so he decided to come along as well. We took one of the big Silja line cruise ships from Stockholm to Turku (on the west coast of Finland). The boat ride was okay, there were two pub/discos on board. One was filled with pensioners (30 years or older) and the second was filled with pre-teens. We eventually just gave up and retired to our cabin.

We spend the next day in Turku, going to some museums and such. We took a bus to Helsinki in the afternoon, using the trip to catch up on some much needed zzz's. Risto met us at the bus station and didn't seem to have much trouble recognizing me (there is some family resemblance, we are both blonde, handsome, smart, sophisticated, and suave men, but I digress).

Risto lives in a house in the northern suburbs of Helsinki with a Japanese women Yukako and an American Kevin (who is currently back in the states) and a black giant snoozer Willma. You can say they are TINKOD, triple income, no kids, one dog. Friday evening they were hosting a dinner party, Yukako had fixed a range of Japanese dishes to eat (including sushi!). At dinner we had representatives from Finland, Japan, China, India, Scottland, and America. After dinner it was of course time for a traditional sauna and a soak in his Jacuzzi.

On Sunday it was time for all the relatives to come over. Risto had invited all the Kuusisto's over for lunch (this amounted to about 30 people). Each new arrival was introduced to me (except for one who was introduced to Neil as a joke, hehe, she looked very confused) and I cross-referenced them on my big, 8 sheet family tree. Good thing I had made the tree, helped a bit with remembering the names (though it was still a losing battle). The lunch was quite lively and animated, just like a Vertanen get together in the states only it was in Finnish. Finnish by the way is impossible, it is completely different from Swedish, I only managed to learn three words the whole time. A lot of the Kuusisto's had been to the states, so they had photos of my parents and grandparents from a long time ago. They even had one photo which was very blurry, but I think it was me as a young boy.


Hmmmmm, what's in this canon...

We spent another three days in Helsinki, touring the local sights and museums. The best place we went was the science museum, they had lots of things to play with and a good exhibit on Chaos. The weather was crappy, never saw the sun the whole time, got rained on a lot (but better than 110F any day, hey KJ?). We also met with a few old friends from Australia, Kai and Elpo.

We ended our stay in Helsinki with a night at the symphony (Risto and Yukako gave us their season passes). The next morning, Risto dropped us off at the ferry terminal. I was leaving the motherland again, but I imagine I will return much sooner this time.


Old stone tower in Tallin, Estonia.

Rather than go straight back to Stockholm, we were crossing the bay to Tallin Estonia. This was a short ferry ride, 3 1/2 hours. Neil and I found a seat in a lounge in the back of the boat. It was smoky but okay, well at least until these three over-the-hill lounge singers, complete with tacky yellow jackets, showed up and started to play. They played Finnish tunes, polkas, and bad show tunes.


City square in Tallin.

We spent the day exploring Tallin. It is quite a beautiful city, old towers and castle walls, churches, cobblestone squares. Of course the best part is that it is so CHEAP! Food and such was half the price of Sweden. We had a nice meal at a good restaurant and had another meal three hours later at McDonalds. The prices at McD's were on par with the US, it brought a tear to my eye. If we'd had more time I would have eaten another combo meal.


A Russian orthodox church in Tallin.

We took the overnight ferry from Estonia to Stockholm (and you better believe I knew exactly where the life jackets and life boats were). It was mainly a cargo boat, no fancy lounges or anything (but it was CHEAP!). It was almost empty though, so I could lay out on the floor to sleep. The duty free items were almost half the price of the Silja line ferries, so Neil and I both had quite a burden in our packs to carry back to Linköping.


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