It is only been three weeks since I woke up with a hangover from my Saturday night out after Iceland Noir but it feels like a lot longer mainly because there’s been so many changes in my life since then. The biggest and most noticeably one is that I am no longer living in Iceland having called time on my stay there after two years of living in the tiny Nordic nation of imaginary elves, Sigur Rós and footballers capable of beating the English. My new haunt is Porvoo in southern Finland or Borgå if you are of the Swedish-speaking variety of Finn of which there are more than a few around here. There are always a few things to get used to when you move to a new country and one of the main ones you need to wrap your head around here is the dual-language usage. Everyone here speaks Finnish but in the south there is a large number of Swedish-speaking Finns. This is not just a small minority of people either. In some places in the south-west of the country they are actually in the majority. All the road signs here are in both languages. Finnish on top and Swedish underneath. Police cars have the word ‘Police’ written in Finnish on one side of the car and in Swedish on the other. Ambulances have the word ‘Ambulance’ on them in English only. No room for making mistakes there. Shop assistants often wear small badges on their chests with little flags indicating which languages they speak. Little Finnish flags, Swedish flags and the Union Jack are the most common ones you’ll see. Whereas in Iceland I only had one language to get to grips with – albeit one of the most complicated beasts on the planet – here I have two. I frequently find myself learning a new word in both languages at the same time. While Swedish is perhaps the simpler of the two languages to learn being more similar to English all the subtitles on TV are in Finnish and that is a great way to learn vocabulary no matter what anyone says.
Another challenge or delight in any new place is the food and here it’s pretty much all been delights so far. Even the dreaded Salmiakki which foreigners are supposed to loathe I have fallen in love with. It is Finland’s famous salty liquorice that really has to be tried to be believed.
They even have Salmiakki chocolate here as well as lemon and liquorice yoghurt which is totally amazing and apparently there’s a lemon and liquorice ice cream as well. Karelian Pies are another big thing here. They are small open-top pies made with a sort of shortcrust pastry made from rye flour and filled with rice. It’s the sort of fluffy rice that you might use in desserts. We eat them hot or cold with cream cheese on top.
Another huge thing here is the great outdoors. Where we live it is five minutes in pretty much any direction to the woods. Forest might be a better term. The trees start just behind the houses here and go on forever. They are criss-crossed with dozens of walking trails covering huge amounts of land. Some are about 3 or 4 km long while others go on for 15 or 16 km. In summer people head out to collect lingonberries and wild mushrooms for their kitchens while in winter you are more likely to come across people keeping fit out going for a walk or a run.
As the sun is pretty much gone by 3:30 in the afternoon at this time of year you can only use them fairly early in the day but there is one just down the road from here that has ‘street lights’ that wind along its entire length creating a spooky-as-hell light when they turn on.
It’s a cool way to get some exercise and it’s really easy to let your mind drift and empty itself as you wander through such breath-taking nature. The only thing you have to concern yourself with, apart from staying sufficiently warm, is moose. They live in the forests here and are generally very happy to keep out of your way which they will do if they can smell you coming and with a nose like that that happens about 99% of the time. It’s only when you surprise them apparently that they get rather upset about you being in their woods.
I haven’t seen one yet but I’m quite excited about the day that finally happens. That is after all one of the big attractions of living here in Mooselandia.