29 September 2007

30 September 2007 – A productive week

The medication for Errol’s cold has really made a difference. Having stopped taking the medication that was making him tired, he has been able to concentrate and again make good progress on his thesis. He has now completed one analysis pass over his interview data and restructured the opening chapter of his thesis. With few distractions at the university this week, he has been able to put in some good solid days of work.

Marilyn has done more language reviews this week and has two lined up for early next week. This hasn’t stopped her making progress on her craft work.

Last Sunday (23rd), we attended an English language Lutheran church service led by Erkki. Errol read one of the readings. The church was of modern construction and quite a contrast to the main Lutheran church in the centre of town. Although the congregation was small, there was good fellowship.

Marilyn has spent the bulk of the weekend at a felt making course run by the local Community College. There was an introductory evening class where we met the tutor and were shown the various items we could make and given our ‘needs list’ for the weekend. This was totally in Finnish so was a bit of a challenge, however, the tutor did provide working notes in English for the practical sessions. Marilyn made a hat and a pair of small shoes and also a square of felt to be used at a later date. The hat and shoes are seamless so this was an interesting exercise. The range of items produced by the class was fascinating, with mittens, mats, wall hangings, shoes and hats, even a poncho.

After the cold and wet weather of the last couple of weeks, there have been clearer sunny days. The colours of the trees are now changing rapidly and the leaves are beginning to fall. It is interesting to see how some trees have quickly changed colour and lost their leaves while others in the same row are still green. This has led to some competition in taking photos to see who can capture the best images and colours. Honours are equal at present!!!

22 September 2007

22 September 2007 – Interesting working week

It is really looking like autumn here now. The trees are changing colour and the leaves are beginning to fall. Darkness comes now about 8 pm. The daytime temperatures are still around 10 degrees.

Having submitted the paper for the Koli conference, Errol got a better idea of how to represent the issues in the paper. He spent a day preparing diagrams and a presentation for the research day yesterday. There he presented his thinking and gained good support.

Errol developed a cold during last week and it began to shift to his chest. Päivi is a doctor so she made a house call and prescribed some medication. However, this left Errol feeling tired and not able to concentrate particularly later in the day. The cold is improving. We suspect the cold was caused by the difference in temperature inside the apartment and offices compared with outside. Finnish buildings tend not to lose the warmth so even now you don’t need lots of layers inside. Outside is quite a different story. Warn jackets are a must and with rain every second day, carrying an umbrella is essential.

We haven’t shared too much about Massey University or Errol’s department. His department went out of existence on 30 June and we have been waiting for the process of redundancy, reconfirmation, and redeployment to work its way through. Errol had sought enhanced redundancy but that was turned down so he is going through the process for redeployment to the Department of Computer Science in the College of Science. This in theory would still be on the Wellington campus.

We have heard very little about how others in the department are faring but we did find out in the interview that there is a lot of uncertainty about any position even in Computer Science on the Wellington campus. This makes the completion of the PhD even more urgent and the looking for another job a high priority.

Marilyn has been English editing two papers for a Mexican PhD student over the last two weeks. The subject matter of the papers has been interesting, and it is also interesting to see the difficulties in converting other languages into English. Sentence structure is a big difference as well as the words available. We have noticed this watching English TV programs with Finnish subtitles as well.

16 September 2007

15 September 2007 – Summer house in autumn

At last night’s Bible study, it was suggested that we join another trip to Koli. This sounded like a good idea so we joined Päivi, Adele, and Matti (Erkki and Päivi’s son) for a day out. On the schedule for the day was some Ligonberry picking for the women and wood cutting for the men. We were visiting Erkki and Päivi’s summer cottage. At this time of year, that means getting the cottage’s fire going in its big concrete and brick casing. The aim is to heat the bricks so that they give off heat for the rest of the day / night. The Finn’s not only insulate their houses well, they also know how to store heat so that it provides warmth for long periods. This usually means a fireplace has some form of stone casing that holds the heat. There was also the fire for the sauna to be lit.

Erkki joined us late in the afternoon just as Päivi was finishing the Pulla baking lesson. After a sauna, Marilyn and I drove back to Joensuu in Erkki’s car.

12 September 2007

12 September 2007 – Restaurant meal

Despite being away from our normal environment, some traditions just have to happen. Ours is going out for a birthday meal. Other commitments meant we didn’t do it yesterday so it was off to a local restaurant which served local dishes this evening. Adele came with us and helped keep us entertained for the evening.

Reindeer steaks, salmon, and blueberry tarts were some of the local fare that we tried. Adele wouldn’t eat the reindeer as that was eating Rudolf!!

10 September 2007

11 September 2007 – Marilyn’s birthday

With the trip to St Petersburg being Marilyn’s birthday present, today was filled with work for both of us. Errol had his paper for Koli to continue working on, and Marilyn was doing a final proof reading of a PhD thesis for one of the staff here. However, we did manage to talk via Windows Live to both Paul and Amanda which was nice. Amanda had secretly delivered her birthday gift when she visited and Paul & Hayley organised flowers to be delivered in the late afternoon, a real treat.

09 September 2007

10 September 2007 – Back to reality

After a pleasant night in our Helsinki hotel, we flew back to Joensuu. We spent the afternoon catching up on emails, downloading photos, and recovering from all the walking of the last few days.

08 September 2007

9 September 2007 – More cathedrals, then Finland.

We set out this morning with the goal of visiting the cathedrals we could see from the hotel. The first (Holy Trinity Cathedral) had brilliant blue domes, although 3 were still being restored. It will be lovely to see once all 5 domes are completely restored. On the street frontage outside this cathedral was a monument made of cannon barrels. Beside the cathedral we found a local market of small stalls, mostly selling clothing, all crammed together in quite a small area. We then headed across a couple of canals to the next cathedral, and on the way found another lovely one, smaller than the others and not even rating a mention in the guide books, but beautifully painted in pale yellows and greens. St Nicholas’ Cathedral had wonderful golden domes and is the main cathedral of St Petersburg. (Many of the others are now only museums). We were there just as a service was commencing so got to hear the bells in the bell tower tolling.

We headed along to the central city area to check out the Metro for our afternoon journey, and found a large modern shopping centre where we stopped for lunch. We collected our bags from the hotel and travelled on the Metro to Peter & Paul Fortress. We wandered around here dodging both the renovations and the groups of soldiers being shown around the historic defence base. There was another cathedral here, with a golden spire. Then it was over to the railway station to wait for the train back to Helsinki.

On the way to the station we passed some of the most modern buildings we had seen in the city – all glass and curved frontages. These were in stark contrast to the gray blocks of buildings in the central city. The area around the station seemed to be open for modern development.

07 September 2007

8 September 2007 – Cathedrals and palaces

We slept in following our late night! But that seemed fairly normal as once we were out and about, the streets were relatively quiet until late morning. We seemed to be out before the tour buses as well, and these gathered in large numbers at each attraction.

We went first to St Isaac’s Cathedral and climbed the 300 steps to the colonnade (base of the dome) where we had a great view over the city. We were able to look down on the Blue Bridge which is the widest bridge in the world. It was great to see all the domes and steeples of the numerous cathedrals in the city centre.

From there we headed through the Admiralty Gardens and past the Admiralty itself, to the State Hermitage Museum and Alexander’s Column. We spent time taking photos of the large plaza in front of the Hermitage and the wonderful buildings encircling it. Then we went in and had lunch in the Hermitage before embarking on our viewing of the interior. It is an amazing place, truly overwhelming with so much artwork and sculptures as well as the magnificent decoration of the rooms. Even with being quite selective in what we looked at, we were there for almost 5 hours and still didn’t get to see all that we had hoped to do. We did meet the Australians who had travelled on the train with us, and also some Londoners who we had bumped into up on the colonnade in the morning. It is certainly somewhere that could be visited frequently without exhausting the new sights and may well be better done in ‘small doses’.

We headed back to our hotel after stopping for our evening meal on the way. This day really highlighted the difference between the dusty, dirty streets and the magnificence of the restored buildings.

06 September 2007

7 September 2007 – St Petersburg, here we come.

We had an early start to catch the train to St Petersburg. Finnish customs agents stamped our passports as the train approached the Russian border, but the Russian Border guards collected everyone’s passports and retired to the restaurant car to process them. After a lengthy wait, they were returned by the Finnish conductor.

We noticed a distinct difference between the Finnish farms and homes and the Russian ones. This was even more evident the closer we got to St Petersburg.

We walked from the railway station to our hotel through what the guide book called ‘remont’ – repair and renovation – in almost every building on that main street. The hotel was on the embankment of one of the canals and was quite pleasant. It was not too far from the centre of the city, so we were able to walk to most places we wanted to see.

We walked to Nevsky Prospekt, the main street, and purchased a set of Babushka dolls as Marilyn’s birthday present. We then went to the Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood. This was a spectacular building with spiralling domes of blue, white and gold. It wasn’t a large building but was covered with mosaics on the outside. We went in and were amazed at the number of mosaics on the walls, ceilings and floors. These were very impressive and were made up of very small tiles.

After a meal, we found our way to the Nikolayevsky Palace where we saw a performance of Russian folk dancing. We chose this rather than a ballet performance. There were quite a number of local artists performing a range of traditional cultural items. Although this was called a palace, it looked more like any other big building in St Petersburg until we entered the foyer where we were greeted by a huge staircase and enormous chandeliers. The performance was held in one of the rooms at the front of the building. Caviar and champagne were served at the intermission. Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel through almost deserted streets (not a pickpocket or vagabond in sight!)

05 September 2007

6 September 2007 – Setting off in expectation

During the last few days we have both worked steadily on our tasks. Errol has been busy at the Science Park and Marilyn has been working on her stitching at the apartment. As well as working on his thesis, Errol has been working with a lecturer here at Joensuu to prepare a paper for a conference in November at the Koli National Park, north of Joensuu.

Today saw a change as we prepared for our midday flight to Helsinki, at the beginning of or long weekend trip to St Petersburg. Once we had settled into our hotel in Helsinki, we walked to Yue & Tomi’s home for a traditional Chinese meal prepared especially for us by Yue’s mother. It was lovely to meet up with them all again after the wedding party.

03 September 2007

3 September 2007 – Half way

It is hard to believe that with the beginning of September that we have been here a month and a half. However, it is noticeable that the days are getting shorter with the sun now setting around 8:30 pm. The day time temperatures are also lower with the last week being quite wet and cold (temperatures around 10 C). We are told that this was unusual and that we should expect it to be fairly reasonable for most of September. We have however made sure that we have some warmer clothes just in case.

On Thursday, 30 August, we visited the Caralicum museum and saw some of the history of the region and an exhibit on colour partly created by one of the research groups from Joensuu university. We also attended a Lutheran church evening service to listen to the choir as the professor’s wife was a member.

Over the weekend, we hired a car with two others with the intentions of visiting a few more of the tourist attractions. Two of these were old churches. The one at Kerimäki is the biggest wooden church in Finland. It has seating for 3000 people with 2 levels of balconies on each side and one balcony across the back. It seemed out of place in what seemed like a very small rural community. Note: Errol is standing by the door in the photo!!!

We also attempted to visit an old copper mine but discovered on arrival that with the end of summer (31 August) many of the tourist attractions close down or go into a reduced operation. We were able to walk around the outside of the mine complex but not go in to the underground café. This also applied to other possible sites that we thought of visiting.

We did stay the night at the Valamo Monastery. This proved to be an interesting experience although we didn’t make it to any of the church services. Valamo is set up to cater for guests and if you want to get away from modern technologies for a while and experience some peace and quiet, it is a wonderful experience. We went for a 5 km round walk out to the lake shore and to experience some of the peaceful atmosphere of this area.

We also returned to Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna. Unfortunately it was raining so Errol was unable to take some of the photo sequences that he was hoping for. However, our South African friend and Marilyn took the tour of the castle while Errol sat with a Joensuu PhD student from Mexico who is researching games for learning. They talked about how you might use virtual reality to make the walls talk and bring what was a static display to life. Since the café in the Great Hall in the castle was closed, we retreated to a café in the town for lunch.

Our final stop for the weekend was at the Lusto forestry museum just outside Punkaharju. Savonlinna is on islands between to lake systems. To get to and from Punkaharju, we went along roads that seemed to follow small ridges between the lakes. It was quite spectacular and if it hadn’t been raining would have been well worth a photo or two. By now we were also all getting tired so there was less desire to stop for the photo opportunities.

The forestry museum showed how much Finnish forest relied upon horses and the water ways. We had noticed in one of early walks around Joensuu how logs were still be transported on the lakes so it was interesting viewing some of the history. Rain at the museum stopped us exploring the outdoor exhibits.