Trip Start Sep 12, 2007
6Trip End Oct 31, 2007
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After a rather uncomfortable sleep (I think I was still suffering from jetlag), we woke up the next morning greeted by sunshine and clear skies. We had breakfast prepared by Mikko, which was nice.
We had showers that morning, and I have to say, the Finnish know how to build their showers. Lots of water pressure! It was also interesting because they keep their washer and dryer in the shower "room", and there is no tub or distinct shower cubicle. Instead the entire floor is made of tile and there's a drain at the end of the room where the shower head is. Otherwise, there's nothing really separating you from the toilet or the washer/dryer.
It's been interesting seeing the few things that are different between Finnish and Canadian things. For example, many the women's washrooms here have sinks IN the cubicles. And instead of being a stall, the bathrooms are more like little rooms, so there's a lot more privacy. They also have little hand held water sprayers that you can use instead of toilet paper, if you want. It's all very self contained and convenient.
Anyways, as we were getting ready for the day, we discovered that our adaptor plugs were not sufficient for our Canadian appliances. That meant that we couldn't use our hairdryer or flatiron, though luckily my laptop had it's own power converter built in. Lesson learned: power converters are expensive, so leave the appliances at home and buy new ones (or borrow them!) when you arrive in Europe.
Finally, we were ready to go to Tampere. Mikko helped us pack one of his many cars. His latest car is a black Audi sportscar, which is quite flashy, but we ended up taking the Volvo station wagon instead.
At Mom's request, Mikko first drove us a few minutes away to Mom's childhood home. I took a few pictures, though we had to drive quickly away because there was a woman on the front porch who was watching us suspiciously. My mom was amazed at all the new houses and developments that were going on in the area. She also pointed out some of the areas her and her siblings used to play in, where she went to school, etc.
After our brief tour, we headed out onto the highway. I was rather surprised to find out that the speed limit here is 120km/h, so we drove 130km/h the entire way. However, half an hour into our drive (Tampere is 1 hour and ½ away), Mikko realized he forgot his cellphone and we had to turn around.
The thing about Finland is that everyone here, even children, are expected to have cellphones. It's much cheaper to own a cellphone than it is to actually have a landline installed. Apparently, it costs 500 euros to have a landline activated. I was shocked, but it also explained why everyone here is always talking on their cellphones. You never leave your house without one. Mikko actually lent us an old cellphone to use. Unlike in Canada, where you have to "activate" your cellphone to get a phone number and then you put the minutes on, here you can just buy 20 minutes of time and it'll give you the phone number with it, no extra charge. Then you can keep on refilling the phone with the same number until you're done.
On our way back to pick up Mikko's phone, we also stopped to fill up on gas. Gas stations here are HUGE, and contain a small grocery store, a restaurant, a convenience store, and even slot machines for gambling. Another thing that was different about the gas station-the price of gas. It costs 1.39euros/litre, which converts to about $1.70/liter. My mom was shocked at how expensive it was, but that explains why a lot of people prefer to bike and walk in Europe.
Once we'd gassed up, we headed back to Mikko's house, picked up the misplaced cell phone, and drove out once again to Tampere. This time our trip was relatively undisturbed, though we did stop at another gas station on the way to pick up some coffee. Coffee is much stronger here, so I felt a bit silly using four cubes of sugar and four creamers (whereas normally I use only 2 and 2).
We eventually reached Tampere, and it took us only a few minutes to get into the middle of downtown where we would be staying in a rented apartment. My grandma's cousin, Kaija, had arranged for us to stay on our own in an apartment that her friend owns, which has turned out to be quite the blessing. After introductions, and learning that Kaija and her husband don't speak any English, we went up to the flat and got the grand tour. Apartments in Finland are quite small, but the one we are staying in is quite nice regardless of the size.
Once the tour was finished and Kaija had given Mom a bunch of instructions (in Finnish, so I have no idea what the two were really talking about!), we parted ways. Kaija and her husband had someplace else to be, while Mikko was going to drive us to go see my grandma in the hospital.
Since falling ill, my grandma has lived in the extended care facility in one of the hospitals. Retirement homes, or full care nursing homes are quite difficult to get into, and many elderly people end up staying in the hospital simply because there is no room for them anywhere else and they are unable to take care of themselves.
Our first visit was a bit of a shock, especially for my mom who had seen my grandma four years ago in much better health. To be honest, my grandma isn't doing very well and it is sometimes difficult to see her in this state. Even though she sometimes recognizes my mom, she doesn't remember who she is or other details of her life. She has good days and bad days, and we're planning on visiting her every day.
After our visit was finished, and Mikko had already left, Mom and I walked home to our apartment. It's only about 30 minutes away and is quite scenic, so the walk is actually rather pleasant (as long as it doesn't rain). It's also pretty cold here, requiring most people to wear scarves and jackets at the least. We stopped at a small grocery store on the way and picked up a few items. Unlike North America, grocery stores here are mostly small and offer only a limited variety of items. The cost of groceries is pretty similar, though the quantities are much smaller. There are no 4 liter jugs of milk here, only 1 liter (and 2 liters in the bigger grocery stores, which are few and far between). The produce selection is much smaller as well, with baskets of fruit rather than cartons. The reasoning for the small sizes lies in the fact that people grocery shop much more frequently here than Canadians. Instead of going once a week, people often go every day or every second day, picking up only things they need within the next few days. There are small grocery stores everywhere, so it's rather convenient to run out for some milk when you have none left.
Anyway, once we'd purchased everything we needed for the next few days, we made our way home. That night was rather quiet, with mom and me setting up the apartment. By 10pm, we were both tired and went to bed.