To Hel and Back :: Edit your Template To Hel and Back: June 2005

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Helsinki snapshots

Time to be more "life in Helsinki" and less mournful soul searching... So a few snapshots of moments in Helsinki.

Summer. The streets are full of tourists. This makes my head spin in the "are you speaking English?" sense for at least the first few days. This is good for also being a tourist and taking photos of all sorts of silly things that have come to mean something to me in my time here like little kiosks in the park, and the sign that says Kamp. Also it means I can assume an air of superiority over lost American tourists sporting badges that say "Caribbean Line Cruises" with their names on it in case they forget or get lost. Catching snippets of conversation; "have you seen the rock church?" asks Wilma from Wisconsin, Emerald Class on Caribbean Line. "I don't know," drawls Martine from Maryland. "We've seen a lot of churches." Indeed. Travelers don't know where they're going; tourists don't know where they've been. (Paul Theroux).

The day before Midsummer holidaying starts.
There are folk dancers in the park at Esplanadi.
The Americans' cameras whirl and click, not knowing the reality behind this holiday. The ship will be well out of port before the makkara is on the grill.
Girls in smocks, frocks, bow tied aprons and sensible shoes. An assortment of funny hats. An enthusiastic accordian player. A lady whirls out of her dosey doe and offers her hands to the Americans, most too shy to take part in something that might add value to their experience. She turns to me pleadingly and I take up her hand and we skip a little dance under the midsummer pole until the accordion makes it final wheeze.

A typical afternoon in Helsinki. Wandering and wondering. I only come here when I have something to do or nothing to do. When I have nothing to do, I really feel like a stranger and the city feels so small. I find a park that has foliage big enough to hold a small child and make a note to come back when the day is not interrupted by interludes of torrential rain. I pace the supermarket aisles looking for foreign things that might excite me amongst the pea soup and canned bear. What if I was to be the only foreigner to find malt vinegar...?

Fazer cafe in Kluuvikatu: The Karl Fazer kakao. At six euro, it's something you have to try once. Not even a six euro hot chocolate gets you table service though, so I wait an infinitely long time while the waiter pulls together a chemistry experiment and carries over to me a tray laden with assorted powders. I sniff at each like a forensic scientist. Mint flakes, cinammon, are helpfully pointed out amongst the hot milk, thick whipped cream and more. I shake the clearly marked chilli pepper over the cream and it smells deceptively sweet. I cough the powder for a good five minutes after my first taste and hide the rest at the bottom of my thick murky cup of melted chocolate.

More Helsinki street scenes

Please send toilet paper

For any doubters, I am in Finland. Yes Finland, member of the EU, first world country, and the second largest exporter of paper...

But please send toilet paper...

Because aside from being a good strong supportive state, Finland is also a country where trade unions have a virtual monopoly on the workforce - over 83% of the working population. So while the Finns don't strike as a national sport like the French, when the strike happens, it really takes a toll.

Hence the lack of toilet paper. Not kitchen towel, not so much tissues, but this time the strikers have hit a nerve, they've paralysed the nation. We are frozen mid squat, our hands poised between a pile of thick and thirsty kitchen towel and the last shreds of cheap and nasty loo roll usually stored on the top shelves of corner stores.

My three local stores are out. Rationining signs are on the shelves. And I have to travel to another town albeit only 20 minutes away, to buy toilet paper which has been imported from Germany. The public transport alone adds 3.40 Euro to my purchase.

It's enough to give anyone the sh1ts.

"Finnish loo roll crisis

A strike in the paper industry in Finland has left the country desperately short of toilet paper.

Shops have been selling out of loo roll up and down the country and people stock up.

One store manager in Helsinki said: "We have been sold out for days, and on the rare occasions when stores get a fresh delivery it is sold as fast as it can be put on the shelves."

The four week strike has meant that holidaymaking Finns have been returning home with suitcases full of toilet paper rather than souvenirs." From

Read all about it! Helsingin Sanomat's coverage of the crisis.
What Sami has to say about the toilet paper issue.
Toilet Paper whores from Finland for Thought

Fear and Loathing in Las Pelto

Yesterday I had a moment. Like the washing machine on reverse cycle spin, I was that same stupid girl clutching to obligations, offering gourmet dinner, reducing expectations, all to keep a relationship alive as it walked out the door, leaving a set of keys, long removed from key ring, on the hall table. Not that I was actually doing any of these things, from dinner to relationship resuscitation. But I was that stupid little insecure girl.

It was, I have to say, annoying. Not at the time, when I was tearily clutching tissues and wolfing M and Ms but when confronted by someone from the real world and realising that there is no sanity in how I feel. But it's how I felt nonetheless.

I can only attribute it to the bruising of being dumped which we all know will fade with time, but until then the bruises get shown off, not hidden, and sported and flashed and worn like a badge. I guess I use them as a warning. Stay clear, don't hurt me, but also don't expect anything stable, and please excuse anything I might do that's nuts...

I am torn between kicking myself and saying get over it and between saying it's okay, take time to heal. Recently a friend of mine went AWOL because they had, simply had, to get away and get over things. I can accept that, as painful as it is to lose them.

But how are the people who choose to stay around you supposed to react when you are a sodden ball of mess?

Today, my barbaric Yawp over the rooftops is this: "I still hurt. Someone said they loved me and walked away and left me in Finland, a country that gets excited when it's mentioned on The Simpsons. I hurt so much, some days I am nuts and cry at Russian love songs I can't understand, and some days I am so happy to be alive I can dance in the streets. Please cut me some slack and normal viewing will shortly resume."

It doesn't help that the Irish man is leaving, lucky him, exciting holidays. And I am staring in the face another three month stint of hotel rooms, which means its nakemin to my cosy little studio in Helsinki. And for once I don't want to go. I want a home to be more than my backpack and room key. I want to buy soft towels not have them delivered to me by housekeeping. I don't want to bury my emotions amongst the inflight reading matieral. I want to stand up, shout that I screwed up, scream that I have been screwed over and move on, but not necessarily move away.

For once, moving away is filling me with fear and loathing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

What if... ?

... I stayed in Australia for a month or two after working there.

What if I spent Christmas with my mother for the first time in ten or more years.

What if I travelled the East coast a little with the Irishman?

What if I made my mum's spare room mine. All mine. For nearly three months.

What if I spent time with my family.

What if I left the homeless of London for another day. Maybe there could be homeless in Sydney.

What if I was with the people who loved me unconditionally for three months.

What if I didn't go to Beirut for new year.

What if I actually paid attention to Christmas for once. And even sent a card.

What if...

Would I still be Rowena?

Sssh don't tell anyone...

Postscipt. This is the ninth year that I have lived away from Australia, the closest thing to home. This is the 43rd address I've lived in, in 30 years, not including temporary stays, long term couch sits and suitcase-in-hotel stints. I can't remember the last Christmas with people I knew the full names of. This is the 39th country I've been in long enough to send mail, contract a disease or learn some language. My most treasured posessions are my smurf, my laptop full of photos and writing and a Dr Seuss children's book called Oh The Places you'll Go.

Sometimes you need to assess your definition of home...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The land of the long white cloud

No I'm not in New Zealand, but after four days in Lapland, with the white fluffy stuff as far as the eye can see and no midnight sun bouncing on the horizon in sight, I am both confused and convinced that the bouncing sun is a myth!

Thankfully our first night camping (yes: our, the Irish man and I) was at a lake facing the sunset near a town with the amusing name of Pyhanta (pronounced a little like PooHunter; yes the Irishman and I can have very juvenile humour). We got a glorious view of the clouds smeared all the oranges and reds and purples of a Pantone Colour Book and we ooohed and aahhed appreciatively as much as the mosquitoes allowed us. On that note, the Irishman is a joy to travel with, for the mozzies like him a lot more than me. It's a bit of a novelty to not be the first person bitten and I must admit it was with some schadenfreude that I watched the top of his head get bitten (hmm reminiscent of the seagull..?) as I managed to walk around unharmed.

The trip saw us "do" the Artic Circle (really, been there three times now, and still don't have the t shirt to prove it!); drive towards the Russian border a little; explain to many foreigners phoning in that the Arctic Circle was not covered in snow, and meet a little man who collected pens (20,000 hung from the ceiling of his camp site reception) and the skin of foreigners...

A disappointment not to see the sun, bouncing or otherwise, but the Irishman and I got on famously depsite tent and VW Polo sharing and a mad stint on the freeway where I decided to Baa like a sheep at anyone Finnish. The only clouds really were in the sky.

Roadtrip photos:

Monday, June 20, 2005

Daylight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Last night, stepping out of a dark pub, there for several hours, and several hours more and suddently blinking in the light. Disorientation. Have we stayed drinking till sunrise? The sky is a hue of blue you can't find in any paintshop. The Pepsi ad flashes 1146pm and 20 degrees celcius, for the Finns must always know how warm they are (or not) - there are thermometers outside cottage windows for this reason.

The light is mesmerising. It is enchanting. It is a pain in the arse when you have a hangover the next morning. The curtains cannot keep it out. It's light that can travel at right angles, round the corner of your street, into your building, past the crack of your curtains where it never quite meets the wall and into your brain.

Just as you fall asleep, accustomed to the light, or exhausted from building a cubby house of pillows round your head, the light brightens and the birds start that chirpy little singing that was so nice the first time you heard it (not like London, you said) but now drills into your head, wakes you with more force than the Nokia alarm you've got to used to ignoring. Soon you convince yourself you can hear the heavy footed hares hopping off the lawn into safety before the local drunks start to rise and commence their huddle at the Spar supermarket.

Friday, June 17, 2005

When geese go bad

In case anyone might think that Harakka Island in Helsinki is a lovely place for a picnic, I suggest waiting till the birds are a little more relaxed about the parenthood thing.

A romantic picnic is not so when your date is swooped by a seagull, completely unprovoked and at random, though I suppose from an aerial point of view, my date's head looked could have looked like a chip or a bread crust. Anyway.

I fared no better with a goose who hissed, and bit, and flapped at me, leaving me no choice but to react like the girl I am and scream and run away.

Thankfully, my date was Irish and not Finnish so there was much chivalry and protection of the girly me from the birds, rather than hunting them.

A scene set for a Hitchcock remake.

Monday, June 13, 2005


People who didn't get texts and calls from Turkey are wondering what on earth half the posts mean and how it all fits together so here's a diary like synopsis with links and pics... Of course you'll still have to trawl through May and June for detailed postings. And there is still diary entries being typed up...

May 11. Depart Finland for UK. Dinner with Adrian, a birthday celebration. Oh lovely bangers and mash.

Adrian cooking bangers, creamy mash and real gravy. MMMmmm

May 12 and 13 work in London. Enjoy fry up. Oh for a Finn to make one of these...

A fry up. Something created by God after he created earth. Canned tomato optional.
Drinks with old friends.

May 14 work in Oxon. I think it was a weekend! Dinner with Shelly and Martin, and family. Pub meals. Decent pub meals!

An English pub. Sweet and interesting with an assortment of beers and good food. One on every corner and no old men in tracksuits in sight.

May 15 work in Oxon. Ah panic, work and pack and celebrate. Weather good enough for a BBQ.

Alyssa chilling out at the BBQ.
Stock up at Tescos! Depart for Antalya in a blur.

May 16 arrive Antalya. Am told my room is gone, and am offered a sheet at reception instead.

You want me to sleep where?!
Three hours sleep. Am married off to Yilmiz of Ali Baba's carpets.

My husband's shop...
I chase cats.

This one got away...
People speak to me in Finnish. Late scramble for bus to Nevsehir.

May 17 Arrive Uchisar on only two hours sleep. The village is perfect, sleepy, gorgeous, real, breathtaking. I fall in love with it. I meet the staff at 1001 and get adopted. Ahmet the camel man carries me over nettles. I meet H. I watch the sunset from the Kale. Refer to blog.

May 18 I am 30. I balloon. Walk with Tom, dinner with Fritz and Tom. And then a date in Goreme with H. Refer to blog.

May 19 H and I fight but we eventually walk the valley to Goreme. H asks me to stay in Uchisar.

May 20. H and friends walk Love Valley. I make friends with a small French girl. I play with Bonjo the dog, Gigalo and Lutfi. Lutfi makes his move. I am gracious in denial. Lutfi and I go to Turkish night and I am taken to Avanos.

May 21. I walk in Ozkonak with 2 French girls. We get very lost. I feel a cold coming on. I have rejected H's calls till now. He comes to Avanos to say goodbye and tell me to start acting 30. The hotel provides Turkish music and we dance the night away. I try to steal the most perfect cat.

May 22. I have a sore throat. I take a lift with Americans to Aksaray but we detour in Ilhara Valley. I stop in the valley, not sure I have the energy to make it to the churches and back up again. I feel a little unwell. I arrive Guzelyurt and sleep it off.... I wake up to get panadol from the chemist. Strangers offer to take me to hospital. I try to sleep it off. I wake for meals. H tries to find a car. I tell him I'm fine. Refer to blog.

May 23. I have just enough energy to get to reception. I am taken to hospital. I have a temperature of 40 celcius. I need two drips for rehydration. I have low blood pressure, I start to faint. I have tonsillitis. They try to explain a problem with my white blood cells. In the afternoon, H comes and takes me to Uchisar. Refer to blog.

May 24. I can't breathe through my nose. My body aches. The doctors start the first of two courses of injections for the next few days.

May 25. More of the same.
May 26. More of the same.
May 27. More of the same. Some rambling blogs on this.

May 28. I come off the injections. I leave Uchisar. Refer to blog.

May 29. Taner meets me at Antalya. I sleep. Kemer scares me. Refer to blog.

May 30th. I sleep more. The rally starts and all days blend into one until June 5th with the first of the goodbyes.

June 6th. More tears more goodbyes. Adrian and I head up into the mountains to Gul Mountain resort and eat watermelon.

June 7th. We discover little villages. I sleep.

June 8th. Depart for Helsinki. More tears, goodbye to everyone, Turkey and of course, Adrian. I nearly pass out in Austria. The Austrians don't care. I arrive Finland midnight, dazed and confused.

The rest is history!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lost in the rainforest

There's a building in there somewhere
The rain stopped at about 4am when I should have been hearing the call to prayer. The silence from the rain was just as blissful.

The seasons in Finland are so dramatic. On my return, the following morning I woke up, not to the cat in the window but a wall of greenery. So green it looked unnatural.

Today I almost couldn't find the laundry, which is alarming, because it's only the building next door.

And I really couldn't spot the S market which is shrouded in greenery. The whole place looks different as a result. And really quite beautiful.

My mother tells me it has rained for nine consecutive days in Perth. Only in Australia is this news announced with happiness. Good for the plants, the farmers. Even the wet office workers know not to curse it. Apparently the wettest winter for 70 years...

Compare and contrast the spring pic above with winter view here

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Rain and reality

It has started raining.

Everyone told me it rained before I came back and I should rejoice, scantily clad in Esplanadi at the two days of sun that greeted me on my return.

But now it rains and the sky has fallen grey and will be grey to midnight. And each rain drop says "you're back you're back". It hammers into the window and mocks me.

Returning has been so hard. It's always hard. Adrian and I used to suffer terrible post travel blues after Croatia, Greece, France. We would refuse to eat ordinary food, we'd drink and eat imported stuffs and stick photos of happy memories on our fluro-lit desks at work and come home and scowl and sulk.

Now I scowl and sulk alone and the bottom lip drags on my wooden Finnish floors, and my crossed arms and silent face blend with the Finnish crowd.

I went to the Outback bar and saw the empty shaken eyes of another foreigner out of love but still in Finland and I felt for them the pain of broken dreams. "I'm working 250 hours a week!" he said and I thought "be grateful because over-work and exhaustion is better than contemplating the reality of being here on the other side of the world with far too many Ks and Us in your sentences and no love".

The rain falls harder now, rain without character, not like the fat hard drops of Cappadoccia.

I console myself with the emails, texts and photos of Turkey of friends made in a handful of moments, longer lasting and stronger than those attempted in more time in Finland. I lose myself in my shrine of postcards, and photos and travel souvenirs, rocks and restaurant cards, and my last glasses of visne suyu. Monday, I tell myself, Monday I will be ready for Finland.


Why do most pools close for the summer in Finland?

Is it true there are washer women in some pools?

Why are bathing suits optional in the main swimming pool in Helsinki?

Why can men only wear Speedos?

Is it true there is a toilet paper shortage?

Why can't I view the Guiness website in Finland? Or download music via Napster? (without lying on both occasions)

Why do men like Aku Anka / Donald Duck and women read Mills and Boons?

Things I contemplate about Finland.

I want to stop blogging

People read this and think they know me.

They know Rowena the Blogger. Of course I am conscious of writing for an audience, writing a story, developing a character. Some characters would not recognise themselves. I don't give them this site's address, I choose my readers.

Sometimes my words are formed in flippant three seconds. Sometimes they are deliberated on for hours. You don't know which are which.

I want to stop blogging to stop people reading the wrong way, but it is the way of letting words out of my head. Words that don't always have meaning but words that you might exchange with a bus driver, neighbour, shop assistant, colleague. Remember I don't have that chance, and those words crowd my head every night and make it difficult to sleep. The blog lets them out. A higgledee piggledee mess of words that let me fill my head up with new ones as each day leads to stunted conversation.

It's only a blog.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Whats going on?

In case there are people reading this blog, don't go away!

I am back! What happened was a small illness, a complication of tonsillitis, low blood pressure, crazy white blood cells, a big infection and me falling down in a small Turkish town. Naturally, blogging was far from my mind.

My recovery led straight into work, which I must admit, I took fairly easy (ie I had ice cream breaks!) because my head was still moving around when I wasn't and dinner still consisted of a lot of pills. Any spare time was spent sleeping, with an odd attempt to get old journal entries (yes pen and paper!) onto the blog.

Additionally the tail light of my laptop blew, which meant you could only see the screen with infrared goggles or if you were a rare Norwegian bat.

So now everything is back dated, and you have to read backwards at least chronologically, but not like Arabic script.

I hope this makes some sense and is at least excusable.

Typing as fast as I can...

International business transactions

An Australian gets a Turk to help her fix her computer. An Irishman posts on a message board, gets a Scotsman called Jesus, a monitor is connected and I can blog again.

That's international business transactions in Helsinki.

Thanks everyone.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A full Finnish day

It's bloody light, bloody bright but I am so so sleepy with jet lag and lag lag and sickness lag and I can ignore it.

In Finland now I rely on the kindness of strangers. An Irishman I have never met sends instructions on how to get to a doctor.

Outside it is so green I can't believe it's real. Someone has placed artificial leaves on every tree surely. I have not seen a spring like this.

The terveasema (translates as hello station?) won't let me see a doctor. I look well, they say. I look foreign, I think. I am dark skinned and mention Turkey and don't have a permanent social security number. Bad strategies. I am too tired and sick to argue and vow to go private. It knocks the wind out of me. I really want to cry.

The post man has left hundreds of presents, junk mail, cards, care parcels, news from home. All treasured.

I sleep in the afternoon for five hours. And at night I sleep a full night's sleep. My muscles are sore from lack of use. I feel two dimensional and it's hard to move the parts of my body together to make one movement. But I am well enough to not need a doctor.

Later, I meet the Irishman, who buys me ice cream on the harbour while boats pass and tourists pass along the locals, excited in the sun.

I message Turkey a hundred times and we all wish I was there, wish you were here. The cats miss me, I miss the rocks, we miss, and kiss and promise it won't be another year. And this time we know it won't. This time it's too hard to let go.

I message everyone I know in Finland to remind them who I am. Don't forget me before I go.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Genesis again

Arriving back in Helsinki is strange.

I have to re insert the language chip. I can count to five in Finnish then it becomes Turkish. I tell myself that "kiitos" rolls off the tongue but I say "tesekkurler"instead.

I don't know what floor I live on. Third or Fourth. I press both, and at third, realise the door of the lift doesn't look right so it must be fourth. I peer out and read the door plates at fourth and sheepishly push the button for fifth... Ah so that's where I live.

The flat is warm and stale. It's still light though it's close to 11pm. The sky is turning an electric blue.

I can tell The Finn has been here. But there are no notes, nothing nice, nothing personal or tender. Just a presence. I work to cover it. The Finn has not returned messages. He called after a request some time after he learned I was in hospital. It can't be more over than that.

The sadness overwhelms me. There is no warmth in this flat aside from the heat from the walls baked in the day's sun. There is no warmth in this country. I think of Turkish men who cried when they said goodbye. I think of the compassion shown when caring for me ill. I compare it to Finland and sink into the sofa knowing that I am going to have to start all over again, find people, remind them who I am, and why it might be nice to exchange moments in life.

I wander the small steps of the house, reminding myself where things are and what is not there anymore.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Hot without sunshine

I am hot but not from sun and even this time not fever. I am working from a conference room where the heat from copiers and computers can do little against the airconditioning.

Yesterday I was taken out for ice cream. I stay in the same hotel as the conference centre so I don't get out a lot. In fact I hadn't been out since Tuesday and yesterday was well a day a long way from Tuesday. I blinked in the sun, marvelled at the puddles on the ground (apparently there had been torrential rain) and wondered at these big fluffly clouds on the horizon. The ice cream was good too.

The last couple of days I have been feeling post sickness lethargy, hence the need for ice cream. Either that or at the old age of thirty I just can't do event work. My bones ache and I can feel where the injections were still. My hips are covered in delicate shades of purple bruising. On a positive note, I am only taking anti inflammatory tablets now which means dinner is more of a meal and less of a drug overdose. It's always amusing in the Turkish staff canteen (this year's is less like a prison but we still make the reference) with my metal tray with indents for bowls and my pile of pills, it really keeps the hospital feel. Sometimes, as a treat, we are allowed to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant because all the Russians and Germans have fled. The food is the same and the service is doubly surly to make sure we don't get ideas above our station. The first night they even made us pay for water.

I am managing six hours sleep a day which is enough but after last week is still exhausting me. Yesterday as a joke, someone called me at 5am and pretended it was 730 and that I was really late. You can imagine my sense of humor failure. The only good thing was, as I struggled to find my comfy spot and go back to sleep, in the faint distance, I heard the call to prayer...

Last night, H called, and I held his shirt and dreamed. There's nothing there but dreams are good to keep you going when the reality is this hotel. I was in Uchisar, the view was mesmerising, the cats were on my lap, and the call to prayer battled with the crazy dog who moans back at the imam and the invisible donkey that brayed beneath my window....

Balloon pics

are slowly going up here!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I hate resorts

I don't like Russians in armbands with cellulite bikinis at breakfast, German newspapers and surly hotel staff. Crossing in tunnels to get to the outside world and being separated from reality by all inclusive resorts.

I miss seeing the horizon. I miss knowing everyone in the village. I miss H. I miss the call to prayer.