Monday, 23 April 2007

A journey to the University of Lapland

Today I decided to visit the University of Lapland.

Well, why not?

Every journey should begin and end with a sauna, I was told. Probably by Olli, font of much knowledge (though not including where the best coffee in Tampere is). So the crack of mid-morning found me in the communal mens sauna in the hotel, armed with nothing but the regulation tissue to sit on. This time, the sauna was crowded, but I'm getting used to the whole nude-strangers-sweating-on-either-side-of-me thing. The only downside is that either the heat, humidity or sweat (hopefully just mine) makes my nipple piercing sting like hell, which hasn't happened in years. Apart from that, it's a pleasant experience.

Leaving the hotel, there was one vitally important place to visit first, as recommended by Professor Badger after the excellent gamers in society seminar. Here in Rovaniemi, they renamed the square in honour of the locals who brought back the Eurovision Song Contest prize. So, here's the obligatory picture of handprints:


Not far from here is the Arktikim, a museum dedicated to Lapland and Arctic culture and environmental matters.  The main building itself is eye-catching, formidable, but still seems to fit in with its natural surroundings, in the way that only the best museum buildings (thinking especially of the Getty above Los Angeles) do. A narrow, tall, glass tube extends directly northwards, pointing away from the city and towards the pole:


In the end, most of the day was spent in here. I'm not usually a museum and gallery person; one day in Madrid, when in yet another endless exhibition of highly religious paintings from the 16th century I decided "enough!" and have rarely set foot in such buildings again. But, the Arktikum had a lot going for it, including:

  • the shop, which instead of selling the usual tacky souveniers had an impressive selection of mind-blowing pictures of the Northern Lights.

  • a well thought-out and explained display about climate change, which was more convincing than the somewhat disappointing Inconvenient Truth film. (On a side-point, and this has been bugging me for months, in Al Gore's film, why is the bit with the polar bears dying done as a cartoon, but in Planet Earth it was shown as real footage?)

  • an exhibition on Sami life and culture, which made for some stark contrasts with Hebridean and Gaelic culture. More on that another day...

  • stuffed animals in various scary poses. Dig that bear! Roar! And each had a button which, when pressed, turned on a sound recording of the animal. Not a wimpy little recording, but a full surround-sound speaker system worth that could be heard in Oulu. Probably.

  • a short film in their college-style auditorium with some pretty good photography of remote countryside scenes.

  • a simple but pleasing lunch, at around 10 UK pounds, of as much coffee as could be drunk, plus hot bread, some kind of weird butter (probably containing the animal it came from) and a large dish of simple pasta in a blue cheese and reindeer meat sauce:


Yum.   But the highlight of the museum trip was a small circular area, separated from one of the exhibitions by black netting. You were invited to lie on the foam mats on the floor and relax. Hmmm, another clothes-off sauna-type Finnish experience? No; a vertical floor-based projector shone an increasingly surreal film onto the ceiling, showing the northern lights turning into imaginary animals such as foxes that proceeded to run around the ceiling and stare at you. This was totally awesome, and it occured to me that it would be even better had I been a little drunk, Luckily I remembered the quantity of vodka I've been carrying around since Tampere. Some light refreshment, then happily lurching back inside, I resumed the horizontal on the floor and watched the film again. Eight more times. Each, better than the last.

Then someone from the museum came in and said, very politely, that they were waiting to close:


... so it was time to leave.

Feeling in need of air, especially now I was full of pasta, reindeer and vodka and after lying down for quite a while, I resumed the trek to the University of Lapland. The walk took me along the banks of several rivers and, due to leaving my map in the museum, unnecessarily across four bridges. This is an easy city - and country - to walk around. Wide open paths everywhere. Lots of pedestrian crossings. Cars that stop at said crossings. Signpostings. No chavs or neds shooting at passing walkers with air rifles (ah, how I miss the joys of riverside walking in Glasgow and Sheffield).

And people use these paths to full avail. I tried counting the number of serious walkers i.e. those going at speed, or with walking poles, or several dogs, and lost count somewhere after 300. That's not counting the many, many cyclists and joggers; which also possibly explains why there's been no sight of a fat or unhealthy-looking person in this city.

On the way, I passed various people fishing on the frozen river. An understable activity, especially after seeing that the TV here is the generic euro-crap of the type we get in the UK. Finnish Strictly Come Dancing. Finnish Fort Boyard. Finnish phone-ins at several Euro's a go where, in three hours, somehow no-one guesses the missing letter in FINL_ND. But that's nothing compared to the disappointment of turning up at the cinema in Rovaniemi, hoping to find some excellent Finnish, Swedish or Norwegian film (there are many), only to find out that the main film showing, here in a cinema on the Arctic Circle, is Mr Bean's Holiday :-(

Back to the walk. Some of the rivers were partially or fully frozen over. On some, people could be seen wandering around, or sitting there looking like they were possibly fishing, or camping, or doing some other kind of sedentary activity:


After passing several of these fishing (or maybe not-fishing) folk, one pair were waving at me. In the interests of international relationships, I decided to wander over and say hello.

I haven't walked across a frozen river or lake before, and it wasn't the most comfortable of experiences. In the mind, things get exaggerated; "Was that a cracking sound?" "How heavy was the reindeer pasta?". But eventually I reached the fishing-or-maybe-not couple, who seemed to be oddly guilty. Maybe they were fishing without a permit, or up to some other highly visible but dubious activity? Or worried that they were waving over someone heavy enough to crash through the ice. Their English wasn't too good (though a lot better than my Finnish), but they did offer me coffee, and cheered up immensely when I emptied the last of the vodka between the three cups.

After a while of broken conversation, it was established that all three of us were Nintendo Wii owners and players, with them both preferring Sports Tennis over other games. [Thought: no matter where you go in the world, even if it's on a frozen river on the Arctic Circle, you'll meet video game players.] They gave me directions to the University of Lapland, so the journey continued. Finally, after wandering around an estate of smart apartment blocks, I came across the main campus:


But it was closed.

Anyway, no more blogging for a few days as I wander northwards a bit. No doubt on wednesday, driven mad by the boredom of multiple airports, I'll be blogging like a loony. Näkemiin.

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