This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Flying in COVID-times, part II

Still six months ago one could order Kyrö distillery’s world-famous gin-and-tonic cocktail in Finnair business class. Now, going home there was no business class and no alcoholic drink service, only sachets of Kyrö distillery’s hand disinfectant gel. Times change.

The disinfectant came with a surface wipe for devices, armrests, and tray table, as well as a little booklet reassuring the passenger about the safety of cabin air. Perhaps it was required, as the two-by-two -seated Embraer 190 was packed with passengers going to Copenhagen.

For a while now, taxis in Copenhagen have had a protective screen between driver and passenger. It does lack in style compared to old-fashion limousine screens with little shuttable windows. Guess there is no going back in time.

Also, the screen carries a big bottle of – you guessed it – hand sanitizer. And as of mid-August, wearing a mask in the cab became a requirement, both for drivers and passengers.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; July 2020)


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An asylum by the sea

If the inhabitants of Lapinlahti mental hospital would have been well, I had envied them for their backyard views. Sitting there by my own free will, sipping my café-bought kombucha, I hope it gave them at least a tiny millimeter of peace and hope every day.

The Emperor of Russia gave an order to build an asylum for those needing psychiatric care, and Lapinlahti opened its doors in 1841, among the first mental hospitals in Europe. Until 2008 it has housed patients, and so so many individual destinies, hopes, fears, illusions, and disillusions.

The house is nestled in the nook of a shallow bay, surrounded landside by lush green parkland. Such a lovely place to find oneself when one is lost. Unfortunately it is never quite that simple.

(Helsinki, Finland; July 2020)


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(Nearly) no coronavirus

Over here there really isn’t much coronavirus… the cases can still be counted on two hands. And yet we are only an hour’s drive away from Helsinki. Naturally, if I would bring coronavirus with me from Denmark the entire town would know about it within a week.

Five weeks in this beautiful green bubble have gone by fast. Wish I could stay longer. Waking up to cranes in the wheat fields and crows in the spruce trees corrects my priorities every morning.

(Loviisa, Finland; July 2020)


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Sturgeons are weird creatures

Sturgeons are weird creatures. These girls are the ones who make caviar – and to whom it really belongs.

Sturgeons used to be everywhere: from the English channel to the Mediterranean, and from the Black Sea all the way throughout Siberia. Unfortunately, because catching one provides food to many, they have been fished to near-extinction.

The species of sturgeon that once swam in the Baltic Sea disappeared some 100 years ago. These days the only sturgeons out there are the Russian species which are from time to time farmed and let out into the waterways – and I have not heard of anyone catching one in a net, ever.

Curiously, these scary-looking fish lack teeth (except for the beluga sturgeon and another near-related species), and they do not use their eyes when they look for food or eat. Instead they have a good sense of smell, extended to a lot of chemical cues, and they sense weak electric signals from other living things nearby.

The Maretarium in Kotka specializes in fish found in Finnish waters – thus a lot of trout, perch, a few funny-looking pikes, and a bunch of funky eels. Even in cold Finland, where waters freeze over in the winter, there is so much going on underneath the bellies of bathing-suited summer lovers just skimming the surface of the water.

(Maretarium, Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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Please walk on the grass

In Finland, park visitors are always welcome to walk on the grass, unless specifically told not to. Of course: the grass is there to feel nice and cool against one’s feet, soft to sit down on, and a cloud of green summer to lie in.

How different it was, then, to move to Cambridge ten years ago and to learn all the rules about walking on the grass. Generally, only fellows, professors, and higher were allowed to walk on the grass in Cambridge colleges. And gardeners, of course. Except for in Newnham, a college built as a beautiful but carefully guarded enclosed space for the girls coming to Cambridge to study. Because they were not allowed out without chaperoning, the college gardens were built for enjoyment – and grass was welcomed to be walked on.

At the Anjala manor in southeastern Finland, they must have seen many timid tourists who needed encouragement: Please, do walk on the grass!

(Anjala, Finland; July 2020)


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At the older border to Russia

Pyhtää used to be at the border between Sweden and Russia in the 18th century. It is odd to think how far into modern Finland the border stretched: by car the journey to the current border crossing is 80 kilometers.

The church of Saint Henry was built around 1460, when Finland was part of Sweden. Elsewhere, this was the time of the War of the Roses, Aztecs, Renaissance, the “discovery” of America, and the Spanish inquisition. I doubt many here in Finland cared, though – the life here has always been relatively down-to-earth and simple. But this one masterpiece got built and it still stands today – very beautifully so.

(Pyhtää, Finland; July 2020)


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So many rapids

Kotka-siikakoski-2

Siikakoski

Kymi river is one of the big ones in Finland – although naturally for one used to the Danube or the Amazon it is a tiny stream. But the beauty of Kymi lies in its many rapids and whitewaters, perfect for fly fishing salmon and trout. And simply purifying one’s mind in the white noise of the water.

Kymi-2

Ahvionkoski

This coronavirus summer, my father lead a family expedition to discover the various rapids of Kymi river. Every now and then we would get in the car and spend half a day driving around. How he knew how to find the various gravely forest roads leading down to obscure fishing spots along the many arms of Kymi river, I do not not know. Either he has photographic memory after studying Google Maps, or a very good memory from his youth adventures.

Kymi-1

I forget which one this was… we stopped on a small bridge.

I tried to recall all the names of the rapids, but I realized we had been to many of which I have no photos, and others of which I have too many photos. But they all have one thing in common: the fishing rules are signposted in Finnish and Russian (and, surprisingly, not in Swedish, the other national language) – signaling that the border is nearby.

Kymi-5

Hirvikoski

Many of the rapids are harnessed for hydropower use, and most do as far as I know not have fish ladders for salmon and trout to migrate upstream. On the one hand it makes me sad that the beauty is lost, but on the other hand I am grateful they are not dammed, and that fossil fuel is reduced at least a little bit thanks to the hydropower plants.

Kymi-3

This one is lost on me, too

(Kymi river, Finland; July 2020)


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The missing point of the largest Baltic Sea naval battle

Kotka-1Right out there, outside of Kotka, a huge sea battle raged in 1790. Swedish forces sank 80 Russian ships, even if Sweden was severely outnumbered. It was the largest naval battle in the history of the Baltic Sea. It was also caused by a king who wanted to prove himself to be as great as the past kings he admired so much – and to shift the attention away from the problems he had in his own country.

In order to reclaim Finnish territories now in the hands of Russia, king Gustav III decided to go to war against his own cousin, Catherine the Great of Russia. Why not? Surely kings of the past used to do that all the time. Well, Catherine beat the poop out of Gustav’s army outside of Kotka the first time around, in 1789. Kotka-3In 1790, Catherine was probably furious, preparing to put down her cousin for good. But the wind blew up from the wrong direction, the waters were shallow and underwater rocks were strewn everywhere. Over 7,000 men died for her, compared to the much smaller loss of around 600 Swedish men. 

As I am not a historian, I cannot quite understand what was gained by any party in this battle. The borders were returned as they were, and even after this great victory, Gustav III’s grand plans never advanced far enough to recapture the lost Finnish territories. His few small attempts were beat down by his cousin. Perhaps both parties were reeling from shock so much that they gave up?Kotka-2The tip of Kotka is now a beautiful maritime park, with gardens, sheep, picnic grounds, and an ice cream stand which always has a long line during sunny days. And it is difficult to imagine the countless ships, cannons, and human bones lying on the bottom of the sea, where it not for the soldier-like ship timber erected by the waterfront as a memorial for the (arguably quite meaningless) great battle.Kotka-4(Kotka, Finland; July 2020)


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Midsummer in the country

midsummer-1No shoes were not quite appropriate for the summer photo above. But you see, the grass was still a little cool and dewy from the nightless night.

The sun did not set until nearly 11 pm here in the South of Finland. We ate at a long table out under the apple trees. There were macarons and calvados for dessert. And it never quite got dark. midsummer-2(Loviisa, Finland; June 2020)


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Shinrin-yoku, every day

shinrin-yoku-3Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, every day. The Japanese prefer slow mindful sauntering instead of aerobic hiking. As a form of nature therapy, shinrin-yoku means not only crossing through a wood, but bathing in it: letting it fill one’s lungs, ears, nose, and eyes. It means not talking or listening to music, but listening to the birds, the grasshoppers, and the wind in the trees. And it means wandering off the path to caress the warm, dry bark of a tree, just because it feels like the best thing to do at the moment.shinrin-yoku-1That is why forest-bathing is best done alone. And while I like to alternate between running and walking through the forests in Loviisa, I still do it every day. And I come out from the forest feeling very centered and alive.
shinrin-yoku-2(Loviisa and Kotka, Finland; June 2020)