Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lahti Ski Games

At the end of February, Lahti for three days played host to the Salpausselän Kisat (Lahti Ski Games). 
I went there bright and early on Saturday to watch a full day of the events at the games. It was an absolutely beautiful day and not too cold. Walking up to the stadium, there were lots of Finnish flags, and then inside the gates there was a row of stands with food and items to cheer on your country.
I went to the games with some of my other friends; my German exchange student friend, and two of the two other German au pairs who were in my Finnish class. It was nice and worked out well. It was so nice seeing foreigners around though. There were many Russians, and also people from Poland and Germany, etc. I just love when there are all of the flags flying high in the stadium though, it's one of my favorite sights.
Here is a map of the complex where all of the different seating and events would be held. There were lots of differen't cross country skiing events, also biathlon, and ski jumping.
We got there at the beginning of the day so we could watch all of the different rounds of the events. I was really excited to get to use my American flag too. We taped it onto a walking stick as an improvised pole and I waved it strongly throughout the day in support of Team USA.
Some of the skiers going past on one of the different routes. I actually met another American while I was watching in this area, because they saw the flag. I also had some Finnish people ask me if I was a "real" American or just someone with the flag, and had a few compliments on the flag as well.
Watching some of the preliminaries for the ski jumping. There were an indvidual and team competions throughout the day. All over the complex, there were different events going on.
One of the heats getting ready to take off for the cross country skiing. One of the Americans took the gold medal, and ultimately the Americans did pretty good.
Some of the mascots for the ski games. I don't really know what they were supposed to be, but they were pretty funny.
I also entered a team spirit contest, but since I was the only American, I was my own team. It was still good though, being able to cheer and show my spirit.
The Finnish flag is waved over the fence as skiers go bye in the background, heading towards the finish line within the stadium.
In the afternoon, I meet up with one of my Finnish friends Elisa, on my right, and her sister. It was really nice to have them there with me. We would watch the team ski jumping competition which was the main event of the day and the highlight of the night.
The sun went down as the competition carried on. It was so exciting and packed with fans. The American team didn't make it to the finals, but it didn't matter too much, because I still waved my flag high above the crowd. One of my friends from school actually saw the flag and came over to see if it was me.
The competition lasted for about an hour or two and was really exciting. In the end, Germany ended up winning the team final.
We got really lucky where we were standing, because the awards stand ended up being directly in front of us. It was so cool to see my first professional ski competition (ski world cup), and then have an awards ceremony happen right infront of me. Everything was so exciting and a wonderful expirence.
From one of the three ski jumps, a snowmobile rider did a flip and came down into the stadium, starting off the finale featuring fireworks. It was really the perfect ending to the night standing there with my friends watching the beautiful fireworks light up the night skies. It was such a great competition! Go USA!

The Winter Cottage in Pielavesi

During our winter break from school, my host family took me to their summer cottage in the small village of Pielavesi in the center of Finland.
It took about four hours or more to get there, and so on the way there we stopped at the Panda candy outlet in Jyväskylä to look around a bit and perhaps pick up some sweets.
When we arrived in Pielavesi, we stopped at my host grandparents house to eat some lunch. It was so hot inside the house I thought I was going to pass out, but luckily I didn't. After we ate, we went to the store and then drove to the summer cottage called mökki in Finnish.
In this case, the cottage was more like a talvimökki (winter cottage). It was pretty nice though and there were two bedrooms, a kitchen, and fireplace, and an outhouse a little bit away from the house.
We were at the very end of the road and surrounded by lake, so it was really quite beautiful. I loved how the sun fell on the lake and trees in the morning during sunrise. We spent two nights there in mökki before leaving and heading back to Lahti.
A snow covered rowboat down by the lake. The first night we were there, we walked out a bit on the lake and drilled a hole in the ice to get water for sauna so that we would be able to take a shower in the sauna that night.
The sunset was absolutely stunning. This picture doesn't do the justice at all, because it was such a brilliant red color, surreal.
Looking across the lake as the sun had finally fallen behind the trees on the other side. Far, far away in the distance there was someone riding a snowmobile around for a little while too. The ice gets to be really thick here in Finland, in many places they make ice roads across the lakes so that it is quicker for people to drive their cars over the frozen lakes instead of around, on the roads.
 One of the days, we went ice fishing on the lake. It was alright, but I didn't catch any fish. The very first time I went out on the lake, I was a bit afraid because when we were there everything was of course still frozen, but things were beginning to unthaw, so the lake was very wet. Snow had melted on the surface of the frozen lake and was hidden under the freshly fallen snow, so it was very went when you stepped, but luckily the ice was still sturdy, so no one fell through.
My host dad caught two fish while we were there, but threw them back into the lake because it wasn't enough to cook. We didn't have so much time out there fishing because there was a winter storm while we were there, so we ended up retreating back inside when the snow got too hard.
On our final day, before we headed back to Lahti, we stopped back at our host grandparent's home. There we took the snowmobile out onto the lake. I didn't drive it then but rode on it with my two other host siblings. It was so cold moving in the wind that we only rode it once, then came back. It reminded me a lot of driving a snowmobile in Utsjoki. It was -30 celsius then, so much colder. Either way, I never got frostbite, and it was a lot of fun.
This is a picture of an insane looking, old-fashioned wood cutter which we were going to take back to Lahti in a carrier. It was too heavy to lift and move by hand, so we towed it with the car. It was quite difficult and a crazy idea, but in the end it worked and we got it loaded into the carrier. 

Porvoo & Baking

In February, I went to Porvoo one Saturday because my host brother had a hockey game there.
I ended up walking from the hockey center and going to the old city of Porvoo on my own. It was quite nice to see the city again, because the last time I had been there was way back when it was still fall and now it was wintertime. I crossed over one bridge to get to the main part of the city and there were about 15 different people ice hole fishing in the river. It may be a bit hard to see in this picture, but that's what the black specks are.
I walked through the streets of the old town and looked in a few shops. They have some nice souvenir, handycraft, and specialty shops, including one of the Brumberg candy company stores. This is a picture of the old town hall (the pink building), which is now known as the Porvoon museo.
I ended up going to the Porvoon museo while I had a bit of time there. It was really nice and included two different buildings with a few different exhibits. In the old town hall, there was an exhibit on the history and nature of the area, glass art, paintings, old artifacts and toys, etc.
The art exhibt covered a bit of the first floor and the entire second floor and had lots of great pieces of artwork by all sorts of famous Finnish artists. I was one of the only people in the museum at the time and was a bit afraid while I was on the second floor. Not because I was alone, but because it was so old that the wooden floors were a bit uneven and creaky and I was afraid I was going to fall through the floor.
I went to the other building afterwards, which was a house that one of the nobles had built and lived in. This isn't actually a picture of that museum, because that building was directly across the square from these buildings. It was also a nice museum. Porvoo is one of the oldest cities in Finland, so there is a lot of history there.
Looking down one of the streets. At the end is the candy store. I had a couple hours of wandering around in the city which was very nice.
Back at home, I learned how to bake porkannasämpylä which translates to a carrot roll. It doesn't really taste like carrot though so not to worry, it is just a nice bread roll.
It is fairly easy to make, all you need is shredded carrot and the usual ingrediants for breadmaking. Unfortunately I don't have the instructions infront of me and it was so long ago, so I can't write how to make this.
It was very tasty and quite healthy too, so hopefully I can also make it back in the US for everyone to have and maybe I will post the recipe later on if I can find it.

Finlandia Hiihto (Cross Country Skiing)

Towards the end of February, Lahti hosted the Finlandia Hiihto, which was a big cross-country skiing competition.
People from all over Finland and all over the world came to take part in the skiing competition which went all around through the pathways of Urheilkeskus. The Finlandia Hiihto was one of those competitons that anyone could enter, so there were hundreds of competitors.
I really love when there is some sort of competition going on, because then all of the flags are up around the stadium for the different countries.
This year happened to be the 40th year of the competition. There were several different levels of events ranging from the length of races; 25km, 50km, 75km, and some races for youth skiers too. When I first arrived, I saw one of the groups leaving. It was really amazing watching all the athletes piling up the hill out of the stadium at the same time, to begin the race.
Here is the start line for one of the events. Everyone just lined up and then left at the same time to ski.
One of the skiers coming to the finish line.
This is where most of the events took place. In the stadium was the start and finish, and in the background, there were also skiers practicing going down the ski jumps too. 
 Here is a picture of me from my first time cross country skiing. My friend taught me how to ski around pikuvesijärvi during one PE class. It was a lot of fun, but I was awful. My friend walked quicker than I could ski and everytime I finally got the hang of it she would look over and then I would nearly fall. It was great nonetheless and something I would definately like to do again if I get the chance.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Abit ja Wanhojen Tanssit

This Valentines Day (February 14th, 2013) was a little different for me. In Finland it's not so much about the whole 'love is in the air' theme, as it is about the seniors of the school being done, and a celebration for those who are now the oldest in the school.
In the Finnish lukio (high school), there are three grade levels. First years, second years, and third years. The third years are in their final year of lukio and next they will go on the university afterwards. Later on in the year, they have huge matriculation exams, so they finish school on the February 14th after all of their class exams are done.
Each school has their own theme, this year the abit (seniors), chose a barn/farm theme, so there were lots of different animal costumes, etc. On the last day, they all dress up, and then there is the abitgala (which is the senior asembally), there all of the students in lukio sat and watched. Being a second year, I had to sit in a giant chicken coup with my friends. The show was amazing! There were funny videos the students had made, and different songs, and challenges for the teachers.
After the abitgala, all of the abit students got on stage briefly and then went out to the large trucks. They had made different posters to decorate the trucks, having to do with their farm theme. Our school had three different trucks, and all of the abit got onto the trucks and thats how they left the school. They throw candy and drive down to the center.
In the center, trucks from all the different schools drive around and people throw candy. It looks like so much fun! They parade several times up and down the streets. This year some of the different themes were pirates, horror movie characters, Disney-themed, and construction workers among others.
Once the third years had left, I went over to my host sister's friend's house, and they did my hair and makeup for me. Then I went home and got dressed and ready to go for the Wanhojen Tanssit (called the Old Dance, because it is for the oldest students in the school). All of the second years are able to do the wanhojen tanssit if they decide too, and every year it takes place in the evening on the 14th.

All of us had been practicing since October, so it was very exciting that at last the time for the dance had actually come. We had learned nine different ballroom dances; Das liegt bei uns im blut, teinipoloneesi, cicapo, pas d' Éspagne, valeta-valssi, salty dog rag, the lambeth walk, tango jalousie, and the wieninvalssi.
On the evening of the 14th, the dance is for friends and family to view. There is a live orchestra thanks to some of the middle school aged children in the peruskoulu which is also part of the school. There were two different groups with about fifty dancers, and I was in the first group.
It was so much fun dancing among my classmates, especially since we had all worked so hard in preparation for it all. It was nice, but also a bit of a challenge. My dress ended up being a bit too long, so I kept stepping on it and tripping myself and my partner.
Here are some of my friends dancing in the second group. Each group did the same dances, just at a different time because there wasn't enough room for everyone to go all at once.
This picture is actually from February 16th. That morning we danced once more at school, for all of peruskoulu to watch.
Here is all of the dancers after our in school performance on the 16th. Afterwards, we went around to the different classes of the first years and peruskoulu and gave them the 'youngster treatment' by making them sing songs, dance, or solve math problems, etc. We were then served a special lunch in the cafeteria, with some of the first years acting as our waiters. It was so nice.   
We had one final dance a the sports hall, in a different part of the city. In the sports hall, the first year students and the general public came to watch. It was really busy there, because all of the schools were dancing at different times in some of the different gyms.
It was really great, because both groups got to dance at once. Everyone was together for the final time. This picture is from the teinipoloneesi. That was my favorite dance, because I really liked getting to dance and interact with so many different people.
 Here is another picture from the same dance, where we got to shake hands and move around in a circle. There were many different steps and things we did.
After our final performance in the sports hall. I think that all second year girls doing the dance would agree, that it is the one (or two) days, that you get to dress and feel like a princess. It was magical.
Ailey happened to be dancing after me, so I watched her school too. All of the different dresses and dances were wonderful. It really was a great day!