Sunday, August 31, 2008

A delightfully unexpected feast, et cetera.

This past week of orientation has been quite fun. Although I have to say that most of the actual "orientation" was rather dull, the week itself was full of new friends and small adventures. One evening after the orientation lectures, the school held a "get-together" party in the lobby with, no I am not kidding, The Ghost of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as the entertainment. I have to say that I did not expect to come to a Finnish University only to hear a Bruce Springsteen cover band sing American hits. Meg and I also decided that the singer curiously did look quite a lot like a younger Springsteen. The experience was strangely comforting and disorienting at once.

Later that evening, our tutor Niina picked us up and we walked over to, again not kidding, "Passion," a trendy and youthful little bar/hangout that was currently projecting soundless Spanish soap-operas onto a large screen. The orientation week included an entire 45-minute lecture on "culture shock," assuring us that it was a normal and even positive experience. We went on a bus tour of the city on Thursday afternoon and got to see some sights that probably would have been spectacular had it not been pouring down rain. Although the observation tower's view was a bit lacking in the fog of the rain, they did serve a mean donut in the cafe downstairs.

Friday night we spontaneously joined a school-sponsored pub-crawl with Isaac, Joe, Patrick, and Sebastian. The "crawl" ended up consisting of three bars and a stop at McDonald's before the bus ride home at 1 am. One bar was particularly nice and looked like it could have been a quietly sophisticated coffee house by-day, but it unfortunately played the typical Finnish heavy metal music and had Ozzy Osbourne videos on the flatscreen. However, it did have an entertaining foosball table. We are starting to become good friends with some of our international neighbors and it has been really fun to have a group of people in our same situation. They all have personalities of caricatures and are endlessly entertaining. More on that later.

Last night our French friend, Elise, surprised us all and delivered what could be called nothing short of a feast. She had mentioned cooking dinner for everyone on Saturday, but a single casserole or french roast had come to mind. Instead, she evidently spent all day Saturday in her kitchen cooking up three different kinds of spectacularly delicious quiche, potatoes au gratin, little sausage bites wrapped in puff pastry, little fried pork pastry bites, artfully zig-zag cut tomatoes and cucumber topped with a cheese sauce, and chocolate mousse, apple tart and ice cream for dessert. Oh, and like a good Frenchwoman, she brought Champagne as well. This was all served to about 14 of us in the cramped hallway of our apartment building, as our building is lacking an actual common room. Needless to say, we were all pretty stunned to be served this amazing feast with the utmost graciousness.

I was almost embarrassed that she had gone to so much trouble, especially considering the price of food here. She must have spent a fortune on all of the ingredients. Naturally, we insisted on helping her clean her tornado ravaged kitchen, but she was reluctant to even let us do that. Eventually she tricked us by asking if we wanted tea in her adorable accent. We said 'that would be lovely' and she cleverly replied with "ohhhh ok, well you will have to come upstairs with me to sit and drink it, ok?" That little French trickster, trying to get us to stop cleaning! :)

Meg went out with the rest of the gang last night to a bar on the river, but I was too tired and full from our meal to do anything except Skype the Apple Support line. Yes. My power adapter for my computer has melted and is no longer of any use. This is a problem because it is quite difficult to find anything Apple-related here in Tampere. Luckily I now have two addresses of stores that will hopefully be able to provide me with a new adapter.

We spent today in our apartment researching trips that we would like to go on this fall. If all goes well, our itinerary will look something like this:

Sept. 24-Oct. 2: Marrakesh, Morocco
Oct. 17-27: Milan, Florence, and Rome, Italy
Nov. 9-17: Barcelona, Spain
Nov. 21-26: Lapland, Finland (Snow Country! Complete with Reindeer and Husky sleigh rides!)
Dec. 3-7: Dublin, Ireland
Dec. 13-20: Paris, France

As you can see, we may not really be in Tampere all that much. This is because we really don't have to take very many classes here to fulfill our UO credit requirements and some of the classes consist of only reading and a book exam. As long as money allows, we will be heading to all of these places in no time!

Anyway, that's enough for now. I need to start doing these more often so they are not so impossibly long. I will post more pictures soon!

Miss you all!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A stroll through the city and first glimpse of University.

Yesterday was the first day of this trip that we have had nothing scheduled or planned out to do. So we headed into the city to explore a little bit on our own. It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day and we found some really pretty parts of the city that we hadn't seen yet. It was comforting to see this side of the city as opposed to the soviet industrialism of much of downtown. We found a beautiful restaurant that we think might be a good place to have a nice dinner one of these days, perhaps after we have starved for a bit. 

We also discovered that in order to fulfill the normal credit load for UO, we do not have to take very many class hours here. So far, I think this will mean one class on monday and one on wednesday. There are exams one saturday out of each month, but this should still allow for ample travel time on the weekends, which opens up lots of opportunities! As long as money allows, of course. Eek. 

Last night some of the other international students went around and knocked on everyone's doors to get every to get together and hang out in the upstairs hall, since there is no common room or anything (but there are two saunas. strange.) so it was really fun to meet everyone. There are people from London, Jordan, Slovenia, Germany, France, Greece, Mexico, Nepal, Czech Republic, China, Turkey, and Ecuador. It's a pretty crazy mix, but everyone speaks english so that is helpful. It was really nice to arrive at the orientation today and actually see familiar faces, even if we don't know their last names yet. We spent most of the day running around with Isaac from South London, Joe from Jordan (formerly NYC), and Sebastian from Germany. 

We got a lot of practical, boring stuff done like getting bus passes (yay!) and getting accounts at the University. We ate lunch in one of the student cafeterias and I was pleasantly surprised to see that you can get quite a nice buffet of lunch for only 2.30 euros, which is unheard of for any meal here. I think we will be eating there quite a lot. We also went on a University tour around the buildings, which are super modern and futuristic looking. All of the facilities seem very high-tech and clean, which is a change from the traditional college look at UO. 

Tomorrow we continue our orientation with a series of multiple welcome lectures all day long. Hopefully they will keep it interesting!

Here are some photos from our stroll around the city. 

If anyone has any pronunciation tips for the above sign, please let me know. :)

Sandwich...12 dollars, Using the restroom at McDonald's...1.50, Going to the airport three days in a row to retrieve lost baggage...Priceless

It took us a good 28 hours of travel time getting on and off planes, but we have finally made it to our final destination of Tampere, Finland. It has been a rough first few days, to say the least, but we are getting the hang of things and can see the light of actually settling in. 

As soon as we made our way to Tampere's main square via taxi, we met up with our "tutor" Niina. She was very friendly and spoke very good english, but insisted that we immediately go shopping for bed linens and food because if we didn't, we would probably have to sleep on the floor with no blankets and starve. This was stressful. In the first two hours of our arrival, we had suddenly spent 200 dollars and had ended up only with the worst bed linens imaginable and just enough food to make salami sandwiches and PB&Js. 

We arrived with about 100 pounds of luggage each. This did not help when we had to take a bus and then walk half a mile to our apartment building. And that, was only really my luggage because the airline managed to lose Meg's two checked bags. We came to pick up her bags the next day, but alas, the three people who were working in the airport simply did not know where the bags might be. We returned the next day and finally left with said baggage, after waiting for three hours and spending 4 bucks on two candy bars for sustenance. 

After two lunches and two dinners of cold sandwiches, we had McDonald's downtown and it tasted so good. I don't even like McDonald' all. But it was the best thing we could find for under 10 bucks and it was well worth the splurge. The downtown here is rather large and reminds me a bit of Minsk. It has that cold, industrial, soviet look with a few architectural buildings scattered around. There is even and H&M. Despite the fact that we both knew we could not even think of buying anything in the store, it was comforting to be somewhere familiar. 

Our apartment is a bus ride from town, which has caused some financial issues because a bus ticket costs 2 euros (3 bucks) and the ticket only lasts for one hour. I have probably spent at least 30 dollars just taking the bus to and from town to get all of our errands done. Luckily we will be able to buy a discounted bus pass on monday. Phew. Our apartment is spacious, but quite stark. There is not much furniture and our beds are terrible. Despite the fact that we are pushing it to stay up past 8 pm, we have both woken up with tired and sore bodies. 

We finally made it to the store yesterday to reluctantly buy a 20 dollar water pot so we could actually cook food. We discovered that spaghetti, meatballs, bread, potatoes and eggs were all relatively cheap, but that we would probably be having little to no cheese during these four months. I believe a bag of plain mozzarella was about 9 dollars. Looks like noodles and butter for us!

We start our orientation at the University tomorrow and I think things will get better from there on out. We will hopefully meet some cool international students, although I am slightly worried about finding fun things to do around town that won't break our bank. 

I looked at what classes I might take and I think I found a couple good ones. I will hopefully be take a class on U.S. Presidential Elections and a seminar on Gender in Politics. This will amount to class once on mondays and once on wednesdays. As long as money allows, this should provide for some fun travels!

So long for now. Miss you all.