Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Turku Castle

Back in Turku, Finland. Feeling the same sad way and that time is running out. Amongst the hustle and bustle of packing my luggage, posting it, returning stuff, closing stuff, saying goodbyes; I decided to spend one of my last days here visiting one of the biggest and "must-see" [tourist] attractions/monuments in Turku [aside from The Cathedral]: The Turku Castle!

So I set out to see this castle as a tourist and not as a student who has lived in the country for 5 months saying "been there, done that". It turned out to be nothing less than impressive, I never expected to see such old and noble architecture and relics in Finland, or Turku for that matter, it's almost as if the rest of the town is normal and within the castle walls is hidden a historical marvel. Even the outer walls aren't as nice as what is inside, you'd never expect it. Turku castle is the largest surviving medieval building in Finland, and one of the largest surviving medieval castles in Scandinavia.

This old castle dates from the 1280s over 700 years old, and includes two dungeons and magnificent banquet halls, and a historical museum of medieval Turku in a maze of restored rooms in the castle's old bailey. I went there alone, but it was worth the effort and the ride across town to the harbour area. And a nice end to my stay in wonderful-land-of-a-thousand-lakes-Finland.

For more pictures see:

Friday, 23 May 2008

Midnight-day Rises

As per my last post on "Switching Focus"; here is an update on the sunlight status of our dear old Turku, Finland. Well the days are surely getting longer! The first picture [to the left] was taken on 11-APR-2008: 7:47pm; the center one was taken at 11:25 in the night on the 23-MAY! The sun was only then setting and rose again at approximately 1 am as shown in the last picture taken at 12:50 AM!!!! [Credits to this last photo goes to Biljana Kaitovic]. This planet never ceases to amaze you!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Germany: The Bavarian Region & More...

Well it was the end of the semester in Finland and it was truly sad, however, there was one thing that cheered me up at that time. I had planned a trip to visit my so-called Erasmus-separated French girlfriend, Maïté, in Germany - a country that I’ve always wanted to visit but have never done so. With tickets booked, mind adventurous, and heart anxious, I set out for this adventure alone, on a 24 hour journey. Here was my route:

Turku > Tampere > Frankfurt > Nürnberg > Erlangen > Nürnberg > Munich > Nürnberg > Bamberg > Nürnberg > Salzburg > Nürnberg > Berlin > Frankfurt > Tampere > Turku [home at last]

[The words in bold are the main places I visited of course]

Ah, Germany: Maïté had gone there [in Nürnberg] to do her internship, and so I decided to visit the country during these last days, since I had nothing to do in Europe [all exams were over] and I had free accommodation at her place! Just kidding, I went there to see my beloved Maïté after 4 months of misery without her. Just kidding again, I simply went to spend some quality time with her and see this wonderful country that I’ve never seen before [and of course the free accommodation was a bonus!]. Of course the time we spent was indeed “quality” since it brought us closer together than ever. Who said distance separates? Only time will tell...Traveling with a loved one is truly a different and amazing experience.

Anyways, about my trip, I’ll leave out the unnecessary [and personal ;)] details, and get on with the actual places themselves and how I ended up there. First of all when one thinks of Germany, one automatically paints a picture of the war and Hitler, etc. I will not get into the details of this with you, since there are large and boring history books on the topic. I will, however, state that my time spent here in Germany was the most informative experience I had in Europe thus far. Since I had so much time when Maïté went to work, I learned a lot about the history of the war and Germany and France and their relationships and the history of Europe on the whole [via tours, museums, architectures, and displays]. It truly was amazing to discover all these things and it made me realise how ignorant I am and how the entire western world is toward European history and the war, etc. [we usually go with "if it doesn't affect you, then it doesn't concern you"].

So, Germany turned out surprisingly to be more beautiful than I imagined it. It certainly has the some of the best architecture in Europe [especially Bamberg and Nürnberg]; it's even comparable to the architectures of my highly revered and favourite cities Prague, Tallinn, and Riga. There's a lot of nature, parks, fields of yellow flowers, and castles [fairytale-like]. I even started to think it was more "naturistic" than Finland! Speaking about parks, they have a very unique concept there: the beer garden [biergarten in German]. That's right it's a park/garden, with trees and a bar, and you can drink beer! Be careful the beer comes in only half litre and 1 litre mugs, and is quite potent and robust as any good German beer would be. Drinking culture in Germany impressed me even more, the average German drinks 138 litres of beer per year, and in the Middle Ages, beer was considered to be the liquid bread of society! [Note that: German beer production exceeds 115 million hectolitres per year!]

Aside from drinking, architecture, and history, there's always this mystery and uncertainty about going to a country where the language is different from your native one. I found German to be quite similar to English, and it had little traces of French and Dutch too; I think if I stayed there long enough, id' be able to pick up the language easily. I did learn the two most important words that one needs to learn when going to a country of a foreign language:
"Prost!" [That’s "cheers" in German!] and "Danke" [that's "thank you", of course].

Moving on: I should start with Nürnberg, since I only stopped off in Frankfurt for a short time, long enough to have a "Frankfurter" [hot dog] in Frankfurt ;).
Nürnberg or Nuremberg [in English], is a small city surrounded by a wall, it's famous for its wood on concrete architecture, wooden and traditional toys, sausages [the Nürnberger], and well the Nazi party rally grounds, and the Nürnberg trials. In any case, this is where I spent most of my time during my trip, and fell in love with German culture and country. The trip was less hectic than the super-trip for Christmas, since it was more spaced out.

One weekend, on Friday the 9th, there was a large country fair in Erlangen, a student city nearby. This was so German, with traditional foods, entertainment, and beer drinking! So it gave me a good opportunity to see the true German nature and their carnival-like celebrations. The following day was a bit less exciting but important never-the-less, we visited the Nazi rally grounds - The Nürnberg Dokumentations-zentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände, where I discovered a lot of the history of the war that I didn't know about - how romantic!

On the Sunday of that weekend, we both visited Munich, which was nice, but not as impressive as Nürnberg. There was, however, a chance to taste curry bratwurst or curried sausages [which to my demise was just normal sausages sprinkled with raw curry - how absurd how can you eat raw curry? silly people!]. Also significant in München [the German name for Munich] was the English Garden where of course at the center exists a huge beer garden.

The week following, I just bummed around Nuremberg during the days, going to the toy museums, the train museum, the telecommunications museum, the underground tunnels [The Nuremberg Underworld], etc, just familiarising myself with the vast history of the city and the country and the continent. Waiting for night when I could see my darling at home after work. The next Friday after recommendation by some guy in the fair at Erlangen, we toured Bamberg, a small UNESCO protected city neighbouring Nürnberg. By far, the prettiest, cutest, most beautiful city in Germany [that I have seen]. Bamberg is one of the few cities in Germany that was not destroyed by World War II bombing. There we tasted Rauchbier (or smoked beer in English), which is famous to Bamberg, at a tavern called Schlenkerla! It's like smoked herring with out the herring taste!

The next stop on the weekend was Salzburg in AUSTRIA! I’ll talk more about this in the Salzburg post.

After all this Germanizing, I had to eventually leave, happy to finally go back to my home sweet home in Turku, but devastated to leave my Maïté behind for the third time! As the train doors closed and I watched her scroll by into the distance, I prepared myself for my biggest stop ever, one of the global playboys [of trance]: Berlin! [Note: I was stopped by police twice on my way there, for passport checks, I felt somewhat prejudiced, but it could just be me being paranoid]

Berlin: I set aside one day to tour this immense city, [I underestimated the size], but I did just that, I covered all [or most] of Berlin in one day! This was largely thanks to the free tour groups available in Berlin: the New Berlin tours. They are A-M-A-Zing! It’s free, fast, and efficient, the tour guides are full of energy, and explain history in such a fun and exciting way that you become engrossed in it.

Seriously, I came home to Trinidad and borrowed books in the library on world history, it was so impressive. Anyways: Berlin: so this city is ugly, because of the war and the constant bombing and rebuilding and separation and re-joining, etc. It's very multi-cultural [every structure having history with the French, English, Americans, Russians, etc] and the buildings: there are old ones, new ones, refurbished ones, etc. It's like a huge jigsaw puzzle. As for the Berlin wall, I really expected something like the Great Wall of China; however, I found a silly broken down thin piece of concrete wall, no thicker than my palm...there's lots of history and fame about it though. Among the sights seen were: Oberbaumbrücke, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, Reichstag building, and The Brandenburg Gate.

It was a tiring day but I did get to stand on the area where Hitler’s bunker was and supposedly where he committed suicide, how exciting! On the train to Frankfurt, I met a cool semi-drunk girl [stepping out of the train each time it stopped to take 3 pulls of a cigarette], Connie, who changed my negative perspective of Berlin; she explained the multiculturalism of the people and the excitement and diversity of the city.

The End.

For more pictures see:

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Austria: Salzburg

Salzburg, bet you never heard of it. Well, allow me to introduce you to some of the more famous and popular traits of such a lovely little city. Firstly, it's in Austria [that's Austria and not Australia!], it is the home town and birthplace of Mozart, and also the city where the musical "The sound of Music" was filmed! Ok, that's not so exciting, but Maïté [Maite Bouysse] and I decided to visit this place since it was on the border of Germany, quite close to us, and just to travel somewhere new together! I got border-checked on the train & realised that I forgot my passport, but everything turned out fine. We had one night and two days there and had to see the entire, hilly city that was surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains - quite an amazing sight. The city is adorned by baroque architecture including the many churches [which happen to be extremely noise when all their bells chime at the same time].

It is a German speaking city [more precisely Österreichisches Deutsch: Austrian German], and some of the major sights include: The Old Town of Salzburg [nominated World Heritage Site in 1996], The fortress Hohensalzburg on a hill dominating the old town, Mozart's Birthplace & Residence, The Giant chess board painted onto the ground, the Mirabell castle with the garden of the dwarves and the garden of the roses, and Getreidegasse — A long, narrow street with lots of shops, famous for the old-styled signs of profession outside each store!

Of Course, just as in Germany [and because it's so close to Germany], Beer AND Sausages are famous here! We had a nice pint of Austrian beer at a cellar & beer garden up on a mountain: The Stiegl Keller. Located at Festungsgasse 10, this Stiegl brewery restaurant serves traditional food and the famous Stiegl beer [a symbol of Salzburg city] right from the barrel.

On our way down from one of the magnificent viewpoints, I heard a girl behind us speaking about Finland! She was indeed Finnish and from Jyväskylä the student city in sweet old Finlandia! It made me feel a bit homesick, after being away from the country for a while. This just shows how much and how fast we get attached to a place. When I saw her for the third time in the city that day, I took it as a sign of fate, and decided to go speak to her, revealing that I am [or was] studying in Finland.

One of the funny things was that in all the tourist shops, there were these Mozart merchandise, like totally degrading the guy, he made such classy art and this is what he's become, a crummy plastic figurine or a picture on a cheap t-shirt. Let the guy rest in peace! They even go crazy about these Mozart chocolates or Mozartkugel; they're everywhere. Only in Salzburg you can buy the original chocolate "Mozart Balls". In 1890, confectioner Paul Fürst originated them in Salzburg. It's not enough to see him, and hear him, now u get to eat him! What's funnier is that there's these t-shirts saying "No kangaroos in Austria!" apparently a lot of people mix up Austria and Australia:

- "hey man I have just been to Austria!"
- "Really? Did you see any kangaroos?"

For more pictures see:

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Ruissalo: The Natural Finland

Our last days in Finland, in deed it's sad, our emotional attachments to this country, it's people and culture has truly grown the same as it had done in France. Feeling as though we've been here so long, and done nothing, [not as much travel as in France], and feeling as thought time is running out on us, we decided to visit RUISSALO.

This is one of the archipelago islands off the coast of Turku, Finland, and is famous for the great summer concert event Ruisrock! The purpose of our visit, however, was a little less about hardcore metal, and more about the discovery of nature. It was truly surprising how beautiful Finland could be in the spring and summer days, with the trees all green, blossoming with bright white and yellow flowers, and not dead as in winter. After all, Finland is one of the most forested countries in Europe, and my visit to Ruissalo surely proved that to me. The weather was even hot, and I started to sweat; wanted to dive into that beach, but no one else was bathing :(

For more pictures see:

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Mayday: Retropop

After the hustle and bustle and drunken adventures of Vappu, all Finns gather the next day, on May Day: the European Labour Day, to relax in a large park. This day is celebrated with live entertainment, grilled food, Bar-B-Que's, and hundreds or people having a picnic styled lunch on the grass, in the [rare] warmth of the spring-summer sun. It become custom in France on the 1st of May, to give a sprig of lily of the valley, a symbol of springtime [and the national flower of Finland!], however, it's not the tradition [ironically] in Finland.

On this day, we met a lot of students we knew, and among the IMMITers present were: Kris, Marcos, Slavo, Biljo, Merie, Jose, Ting, Wasiq, and I [of course]... But the greatest event here was the live performance of RETROPOP!!! This was the [Finnish] band that we discovered on our Lapland trip through the Finnish radio stations. I can't believe I got to see them, the lead singer is soo cute; and we even went backstage to talk to them and express our greatest commitment to them as fans! It's just like before I left New York, I got to see Avril Lavigne [for free]; likewise, just before I left Finland, I got to see Retropop!

For more pictures see: