Sunday, 29 January 2012

Jyväskylä: A bit of Aalto and light

The Aalto Hall at Jyväskylä is busy on this Sunday morning. More and more people pass through the heavy doors of Worker's Club (Työväentalo), beneath the colourful canopy. I'm not the only one enjoying a walk today although the temperature is close to -20C.
The neoclassical Worker's Club (1925) was designed by architect Alvar Aalto in his early career. The building has served not just its original purpose but also as the city theatre. These days it hosts events from concerts to parties; on this very day it welcomes a politician who is running for president in Finland's presidential election 2012 - and there are only two left in the race.
Such events can be very enlightening but there are also interesting real lights in this building. As you enter, you can spot a very decorative lamp above, right next to the cloakroom. Alvar Aalto's lamps have certainly changed their style since the 1920's.
On both sides of the stairs there is a colourful pillar, disguised as a classical vase, repeating the blue, red and gold of the canopy above the entrance.
The foyer on the next floor is airy, thanks to the height, but otherwise it is pretty narrow. The area is lit by golden, leaf-decorated chandeliers besides the light that floods in through the tall windows.
The Aalto Hall is located here on the 2nd floor of the building. Its back wall is curved and on the side of the foyer and it is filled with ornamented squares in brown and cream - again quite decorative! The lantern reminds me of the lanters that you can see above the doors of Aira building (also by Alvar Aalto), some blocks from here on Tapionkatu street.
The Aalto Hall itself is lit by star-shaped lamps high up in the ceiling. Stars for stars; the star of the event is speaking as I enter.
Inside the Aalto Hall, the curved back wall holds many small, delicate lamps that are wearing shell-shaped hats.
Presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto gives a content smile as he leaves the building for the next destination, Kuopio. I move on to Kauppakatu pedestrian street and am thankful for it being heated, part of the way, but only because it means there are no slippery bits. Otherwise, it is no joy to walk on a snowless street when you are wearing felt boots because they don't have thick soles.You can really feel how hard the asphalt is under your feet!
At Kirkkopuisto (Church Park) there is a single electricity distribution cabinet that has been touched by an artist. However, I don't think the artist had a permission to paint the happy birds on it. So far there hasn't been an art project to improve the appearance of electricity distribution cabinets in Jyväskylä, but one can always hope... In Finland, it's been done successfully at least in Turku, Tampere and Helsinki.
The Defence Corps building (Suojeluskuntatalo or Valtiontalo), another early building (1928-29) designed by Alvar Aalto was neglected for decades but it is finally being restored and it is now covered by tarpaulins.
It is nice to see that the tarpaulins feature the building itself! A drawing of the front of the Defence Corps building is depicted on Kilpisenkatu street and a smaller picture of the building (probably from the days it was planned) can be seen on the side of Vapaudenkatu street.
Back at Kirkkopuisto park, the benches do not offer a comfortable resting place for walkers. That is, unless you love to sit on a thick layer of snow (which someone has attempted to do...). I would need a sheepskin beneath me to sit here comfortably.
Further on, at the university campus, Alvar Aalto's buildings have moved on to modern times. The red brick walls are simple, with fewer details than in architect Aalto's works created in the 1920's. I'm looking at angular shapes, simple door handles, a single window peeking from the corner of the top floor of the university main building.
The university campus is covered in snow and resembles a winter wonderland. Aallonpuisto park is on the southern side of the university main building and sunlight falls here in the afternoon, thus making that the best time of the day for a visit. The footpaths are kept in good condition no matter how much snow falls from the sky. There are quite a few walkers about; the gentleman walking behind me kindly brings me the mitten I've accidentally dropped while taking photos and for obvious reasons, I'm pretty thankful! You can endure only few minutes without gloves or mittens in this temperature...

I can't use my usual shortcut from the university campus via Moirislampi pond to Voionmaankatu street (there is construction work going on) but have to taken another route to Pitkäkatu street.
The old green two-storey building on Pitkäkatu street has grown quite a few icicles that are glittering in the afternoon sun. The advertising space is empty but you can use the frame to create a momentary work of art for yourself. Just pick a spot and look what's up there!
For walks in this kind of temperature (especially when it gets colder than -10 °C), I warmly recommend traditional felt boots (hand made); they are simply the best. With a pair of woollen socks and felt boots you can walk for hours and not feel cold.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Snowshoeing afternoon at Hailuoto

For a person living in Central Finland, a ferry trip from mainland Oulunsalo to Hailuoto island, close to Oulu, is quite exciting; the sea is frozen except for the narrowish passage that stays open, thanks to the regular traffic and strong ferries. I stretch my legs outside while waiting for the ferry trip to begin, under the shadow of the tall wind turbines. 
The open ferry carries quite a few cars and the journey across takes some 20-30 minutes. A glimpse of the sun is a welcome sight on this cloudy day when the amount of daylight is scarce anyway.
I breath the fresh air and walk round the deck. It is fascinating to watch not just the frozen landscape but also the round pieces of ice that are rocking in the water; they have been shaped by the waves produced by our ferry.

If you take a ferry to Hailuoto at 1.30 p.m. on a January afternoon, a snowshoeing trip cannot be a long one unless you are wearing a headlamp. We drive across Hailuoto island close to its western shore and take our snowshoes: time to go.
The marked trail begins by the side of Sumpuntie road. It is easy to spot the yellow signs that mark the way although the path itself cannot be seen through the snow. For a while I wonder how come my snowshoes seem to slip somehow until I realize that in places, I'm stepping on snow-covered duckboards that are not wide enough for my snowshoes!
The land is even and the route so well marked that it couldn't be easier. The person who walks first naturally has the heaviest job, clearing the trail for the people behind him, but even that isn't too hard.
There is enough snow on the ground to justify walking on snowshoes but there is no need for poles. We are not aiming to go far, only to the closest lean-to (laavu) because of the limited amount of daylight left for today. It's great to be out here!
The lean-to close to Hannuksenlampi pond is deserted when we arrive there. Clearly, no other visitors today because there are no traces in the snow. We are glad to find dry firewood by the side of the lean-to; all you need is to clear the fireplace and start the fire.
Our snowshoes take a break by the bench while we are warming up and enjoying our snacks.
And what can be better than cooking sausages over an open fire on a winter day... that gradually fades away and we sense darkness approaching. Oh yes, the sun has already set. I tie my snowshoes back on and march to where we started from, leaving the others to return after me. We're so close to the western shore of Hailuoto, but we've been walking in the forest. I really want to see a the seashore before it gets totally dark.
I arrive at Rantasumppu resort parking lot, pass the tiny holiday cottages and head towards the beach. The three changing cubicles stand on the dune; no swimmers about... Finally - the snow-covered beach facing the Bay of Bothnia. Darkness is already falling, and it is so blue all around me. The only sound I hear is the wind that brings fresh air from the sea.
I have never been here before but it is easy to find my way to Marjaniemi, the westernmost place on Hailuoto island. I got simple instructions before dashing off from the lean-to: when you've arrived at the beach, walk to your right, along the shore. Although it is pretty dark, I can still see where to go, thanks to the snow that magically illuminates the landscape. The lights from Marjaniemi and its lighthouse are guiding my way. However, it is best to stay on the safe side and not venture too far from the dunes because there is no way to tell where the ice might begin. For a while the snow gets so thin that I take my snowshoes off but soon it's time to put them back on again.
Step by step, Marjaniemi lighthouse gets nearer. On the seafront there is also another tall structure: a wind turbine, of course, working its way through the night. The first stars are appearing on the dark blue sky; time to say goodbye to the island and return to Oulu. What a great first visit to Hailuoto!

Monday, 23 January 2012

A small stroll at Oulu

Oulu, a rare destination for me. Leaving the major shopping area, I take Saaristonkatu street towards the market square by the shore. On a Friday afternoon at this time of the year there are hardly any stalls. Somehow I don't feel like buying ice cream from the trailer parked by the side of the market hall... Where to go next? Should I turn right, past the old, red ochre painted warehouses?
Or choose to go left where the route would take me past the modern houses by the canal? To buy some time, I go straight to Kiikeli island and check out the blue and white signs that stick out of the snow. Siisti ympäristö, mukava olla (free translation: Clean environment, a nice place to be). A friendly way to say "No littering"!

I check out the Oulu city map by the shore. The map suggests a nice walk round the frozen waters, the Oulujoki river delta - about 4,5 km. A great idea but today I prefer to saunter on my own, without a map or a planned route.
OK, let's go right, past the warehouses some of which date at least to the 19th century, perhaps even to 18th century. Restaurant Uleåborg 1881 is proud to operate in one of them and there's no forgetting which year the warehouse was built originally!

On my left, across the water and within easy reach via a footbridge, are the city theatre and main library - grey concrete buildings which are hopefully at least tolerable, if not pleasant, inside. Can't say I admire their architecture from this angle... Straight ahead there is yet another island, Linnansaari on top of which stands a lovely wooden villa. Much nicer! I cross a footbridge and and once at Linnansaari, notice a round sign. Leverkusen? Is this park dedicated to select football teams?
No, Leverkusen (probably best known by its football team) is simply one of Oulu's twin towns, and Linnansaari is a friendship park, dedicated to all of them: Boden (Sweden), Alta (Norway), Leverkusen (Germany), Halle (Germany), Siofok (Hungary), Odessa (Ukraine) and Bursa (Turkey).
The most striking thing about Linnansaari (linna = castle) is the pinkish wooden Tähtitorni house that was built as an observation tower in 1875. It was renovated as a café as early as 1912 and it still serves as one during the summer. And what is there beneath it? The observation tower was built on the ruins of Oulu castle that was destroyed in a fire, followed by the explosion of the gunpowder warehouse in the late 18th century.
I return from Linnansaari via the footbridge and turn right, following the shore to Pokkisenpuisto park. A narrow stream seems to appear from the snow, creating icicles as the water falls down the man-made steps. Plaanaoja, or Kaupunginoja is headed towards Oulujoki river delta.
Rantakatu street offers a lovely view of old wooden houses and I just can't resist them; back towards the market place it is. The brass plate on the wall of the corner of Ojakatu and Rantakatu streets tells me that the bishop's residence and cathedral chapter were moved from Kuopio to this building in 1900. The light blue wooden building (above) was home to editor and writer  Erkki Kivijärvi. There are many more brass plates on old houses in Oulu, but to read them you'd better learn some Finnish!
After examining the old houses I again cross the quiet market place and arrive at the red brick market hall, kauppahalli, which has stood there since 1901.
The interior is made of wood, with a lovely checquered floor. I admit, it's nicer to do your shopping indoors on a cold, windy day. There are lots of things on offer: fresh fish, meat, vegetables, cheese, spices, bread, handicrafts... If only I could buy some fresh whitefish to take home with me!
The fat bloke right in front of the market hall is no ordinary guardian of law and order, but Toripolliisi, or Market Policeman. (Note the spelling: not poliisi but polliisi). He is rather popular with us tourists! If you drop a postcard in a postbox inside the market hall, it will be stamped with his picture. Toripolliisi is also a name of a new restaurant (behind the statue on the left) - very cleverly out of sight of the sturdy policeman.

I leave the waterfront behind and take Kauppurinkatu street towards the city centre, but very soon find myself on the side streets, looking for a cosy café. There seems to be a suitable one at Pakkahuoneenkatu street...
The windows of café Kofeiinikomppania are decorated by cute stickers, nice, but a peek through the glass tells me there is much more inside. Once inside, the selection of teas and coffees is quite impressive.
Teatime! Actually, a bit early for that, but a pot of tea will do just fine. There are so many different kinds to choose from, and when I've narrowed down my choice to two, I get a sniff from the tins. Green tea with sour apple or green tea with vanilla?
The order is placed at the counter but after that you simply choose your seat and soon you are served a pot of freshly brewed tea, timed exactly right and in the right temperature. The white china cup does justice to the tea - you can see the colour so well. The walls of the café are painted in shades of gold and brown and right now there is an art exhibition by local artist Lauri Ahtinen. Soft jazz is playing in the background and an electric samovar is bubbling on the antique sideboard. The bathroom is well worth a visit; it is beautifully lit, including a small chandelier, and you can write or draw a message on the blackboard. Crayons provided. A great idea!
Above the window sill of Kofeiinikomppania, there is more artwork: a long and winding road (to my eye...), made of crocheted shapes in different colours by Irina Kylmänen (2011), but it is really called Kaikki kuut (All Moons).
Time to get off the plush sofa and step back onto the streets of Oulu. After a couple of turns I arrive back at the pedestrian zone and Rotuaari square (a local word for trottoir). The simple stage is surrounded by rusty, star-decorated metal walls but lies there deserted. Right next to it the square is crowded, thanks to the Finnish presidential election 2012: the 8 presidential candidates have their own stalls there, offering a chance for a cup of free coffee, a brochure and a chat with the candidates' volunteer supporters  - or with fellow voters. There's time to think about who to vote for when you're on a walk...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Jyväskylä: walking and dreaming

An amazing Sunday morning: here comes the sun! The rays of sunlight make the world shine and sparkle, especially the pure, white snow which makes you think it is already late February or March. On a grey day you can't easily imagine how beautiful all the dried-up stalks of hay or other plants can actually be. Especially when wearing coats made of crystals.
The willows surrounding the fields of Kortesuo are also covered by lacy, delicate frost. The weather is absolutely perfect for a dreamy walk.
At the other end of the archery field of Viitaniemi, next to the garden allotments, the atmosphere is simply magical. When I look at the glittering, still snow, in my mind's eye I can already see myself enjoying 'hankiainen', the snow crust that is hard enough to walk on; in real life, the time for that comes towards the end of the winter in Finland.

I continue my walk following Harju ridge to the quiet university campus. There's hardly anyone about so I have the park almost to myself. Where next? The only open café in the area on a Sunday is at Alvar Aalto Museum so best to head there.
The cool, -10 °C weather has made my cheeks red so it's great to step into the museum and its cosy café. I was hoping to find something really delicious here today and it's my lucky day: the rhubarb pie both looks and tastes fantastic. Plus it gives me energy to keep on walking...  I'm not in a mood for the architecture exhibitions of Alvar Aalto Museum today, just for a bit of design, and pick up a free badge that advertises World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 before stepping outside. I turn back to Jyväskylä city centre on Seminaarinkatu street and pass the university.
Close to the corner of Kauppakatu and Vaasankatu streets I spot a new name on a window: Lounge. I take a peek inside throught the window - a small counter, an ancient cash register, chairs, small tables. Is somebody's dream coming true here in the shape of a new café? It looks promising, at least there are loads of coffee cups, an espresso machine and - a huge pack of ghastly yellow Lipton teabags. Oh please, please let them get there proper tea, something that tastes good! Anyway, a new café is always welcome to Jyväskylä.
I walk further towards the city centre and abandon thoughts about turning left or right. At Kirkkopuisto park (Church Park) a handwritten sign is stuck to the snow. Hyvä arki. How to translate that? Happy ordinary life might be the closest translation. As I get closer to the people I see more signs.
A friendly man gives me a handout and tells more about what is going on. Today, January 15, is the birthday of Martin Luther King and to celebrate that, Jyväskylän torikokous - Occupy Jyväskylä has organized an event called Sunday of Dreams. Everyone can share their dreams here - write your own on a piece of paper or cardboard. Someone has wished more warmth (lämpöä). I wonder if he or she was feeling cold...
Someone has written his or her dream on the dark rock sculpture by Kain Tapper: toivo (hope). A bunny rabbit is dreaming especially of more snow (lisää lunta) but not just of that: her second wish in smaller print is more friends (lisää kavereita).

Let's keep on dreaming. You never know, our dreams may come true some day.

Martin Luther King: I have a dream (text, mp3)
More photos of the event at Torikokous Jyväskylä - Occupy Jyväskylä pages