Monday, October 09, 2006

Finland - IMAGES

Digital cameras are the greatest. I can't even imagine how expensive it would have been to pay for the film and developing for all the pictures I took while I was in Finland. I must have looked like a total tourist nut, because I took pictures of absolutely EVERYTHING I found interesting - which was A LOT. I do wish that I could post all the pictures, but alas - bandwidth being what it is, I'll just show you a few of the images I think make up Helsinki's character...

Helsinki is big on statues and sculptures. Some of them, like this near the Esplanade have an almost Socialist feel to them. Very Power-to-the-workers. Others, like this sculpture of composer Jean Sibeleus, celebrate national heroes.

Another Helsinki feature is the Kauppatori, an outdoor marketplace in the harbor. Check out how some vendors just dock their boats to sell their wares.

For us more modern-type shoppers, Helsinki features at least three big malls - Itäkeskus (the largest mall in Scandinavia,) Forum,and Kämp Galleria, in addition to the major department stores, Stockmann's and Sokos. Here are some images of Kämppi - the front courtyard with its sculpture, and an equally artistic-looking interior - looking up from the first floor.

Look at what they have in the post office! These are bars of Fazer chocolate, complete with special cardboard envelopes in which to send them. The idea is that if someone you know is sick or sad or happy or having a birthday or whatever, you can send them a bar of chocolate to let them know you are thinking of them. You gotta love a country that knows the importance of chocolate!

And last, but not least, where else can you see Moose Crossing signs within just a few kilometers of a metropolis?

Only in Finland...

Finland - LAHTI

Once upon a time, I lived in Lahti. I have many fond memories from Lahti - including the tall, handsome Finn who lived in my kerrostalo (apartment building.) My roommates and I cleverly called him Pitkä Mies (Tall Man,) or simply Pitkä (Tall.) He had the bluest eyes and the most gorgeous build, and when he smiled... ahhhh... sorry. Where was I?

Oh, yes. Lahti. One of the other cool things about Lahti were the ski jumps. Lahti is famous for their Sports Centre, which features three tall ski jumps that tower over the city. The first time I ever became interested in ski jumping was in Lahti. You can imagine how excited I was to return to Lahti after all these years and visit the Sports Centre again.

As many of you know, I'm just completing work on my next book, S.A.S.S. - THE FINNISH LINE, which is set in Lahti. It's about a ski jumper from Park City, Utah who studies abroad in Finland, and gets the opportunity to jump in the Lahti Ski Games. I came back to Lahti to make sure I got the feel of the place right, and to visit with a trainer from the Lahti Ski Club, Kathleline Jongeling, who was kind enough to spend time with me to make sure I got the technical parts of the jumping thing right. She even had me climb up onto the ramp on one of the hills so that I could see how a jumper would gauge their takeoff. Thanks, Kata!

To the right is Kata. I was lucky to have met her when I did because she will be returning to Holland in a few weeks to train young jumpers in her homeland.

Here I am to the left in front of the ski jumps. Woo hoo!

This sign outside the hockey arena says "long live Finland." I second that, and add, "Long live Lahti!"

And long live Pitkä, wherever you are...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Finland: IDOLS!

I don't know about you all, but I'm an American Idol groupie. (I like the tryouts because they're just so weird and I like the finals because the stable has been weeded out - if you will pardon the mixed metaphor. Sometimes don't have patience the stuff in between, though...) This past season I was rooting for Elliott and Chris, who were both robbed. ROBBED, I tell you!

Anyhow, I'm pretty sure you know that the Idol craze is not limited to America. More than 30 countries have their own Idols contests, including Finland. They've had two seasons here so far.

One of the finalists last year was Roni Tran Binh Trong, who we had the pleasure of seeing in concert. If you guessed his is not a typical Finnish name, you're right. His heritage is Vietnamese, though he was born in Thailand grew up in Finland. Whatever his background, I just have to say, he was one awesome entertainer. Smooth, mellow voice, very cute, just the right amount of dance moves.

The concert hall in Hyvinkaa was rather small, so it felt like we were getting a personal performance, which was pretty cool. Anna was able to stand right next to the stage and took these photos for me. Here's Anna after the performance with Roni.

Special thanks to Roni for his permission to post these photos on my blog. Best of luck on a long and profitable career!