Apparently, there's an upper limit on blog post length - wonder how often that comes up?
(note that this is part two of this week's post - part one can be found below)
PREFACE TO THE FOLLOWING
On a whim, I and a few of my friends signed up for the semi-annual ISU excursion to Sápmi, the cultural homeland of the Sámi people. A little background: The Sámi are also known as Laplanders or Lapps, though I believe those term is considered derogatory in much the same way “Eskimo” is in Canada (be they Inuit or football players). They’ve historically inhabited a large area in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and neighbouring Russia. I’m not going to claim to be any sort of expert on their culture, but I do know that they were nomadic followers and herders of the reindeer (comparable to the First Nations relationship with bison that once roamed the plains of Canada).
I wrote the account of this trip all in one go (at about 2 in the morning) a few days after I had returned home. I’ve edited it in a few spots, but I’m pretty pleased with the storytelling flow – hope you enjoy!
(note: I apologize if this sounds a little hard on Bernhard, the trip organizer. He had a thankless job all to himself. But I've decided not to edit it, because I think it's interesting to see how I was feeling when I wrote it.)
After an insane week spent rushing like mad to get my home exam and everything else done (never got around to shopping - remember that, it'll come up later), I managed to squeeze a weekend's necessities into my ND bag and head to the university for our 9 PM departure time. To save money, we had elected to sleep on the bus for our first day - I've done it before, but it's rarely something to look forward to.
I wasn't sure who all was going on the trip (there were 50 or so international students signed up) beyond a few friends; however, when I arrived, I was in for an absolutely awesome surprise. Along with me, myself, and I, there was:
- Josh (Canada)
- Linnea (Finland)
- Nina (Alaska)
- Melinda (Minnesota)
- Loes (Netherlands)
- Jana (Germany)
- Florian (Germany)
- Mark E (Germany)
- Anya (Russia)
- Ivana (Czech Republic)
- Vit (Czech Republic)
- Alex (Austria)
(just so you know, I'm making this list for my benefit :P I have a hunch that if I write down who was there that I had fun with, it'll help me remember what it was that we had fun doing)
...and so many more. The bus rides were a blast - we were always standing up and walking about, chatting and visiting and generally having a stellar road trip. Oh, and Nina and Melinda were knitting while I was absentmindedly clasping and unclasping a neon high-visibility bracelet - maybe I should take it up to occupy myself? Lord knows I'd probably get in much less trouble with my fidgeting (Dad has told me for years that I should take up knitting, like Grandma did).
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER?
After a nightcap of Becherovka courtesy of Ivana (an awesome Czech liqueur that has family history with the Zrymiaks - I believe it's also known as "stomach bitters", but don't quote me on that), I tucked in ca. midnight for the evening (I was pretty exhausted, and figured I could get a good night's sleep in). I managed to fall asleep despite the terrible "cultural" movie being blasting out of the surprisingly capable bus speakers (we had a great bus - plasma TVs, even).
But the night was not even close to being over.
We lost our way twice in Northern Finland -
Oh, wait, I should tell you the route. Okay, we were in North Norway, and headed more-or-less due east to Ivalo and Inari in North Finland - it was about three hours to the Finnish border, and nine hours beyond that. Also worth mentioning that the border wasn't even manne - we were free to take as much contraband (i.e. cheap beer) across the border as we wanted. I miss that kind of international freedom.
- as I was saying, we lost our way twice during the night. Both times the bus had to stop, and both times I woke up. We were finally saved by one of the British students (John) and his GPS – always reassuring when the driver needs a bail-out from one of his passengers.
TRAMUA AT 4 AM
Needless to say, I wasn't sleeping well after that - I don't wake up easy, but interrupting REM twice like that is no fun at all. I tossed and turned for a bit (my back was killing me) and finally dozed off. And then, at about 4 AM, the bus driver slammed on the brakes and we felt a loud THUMP! resound through the bus.
As I was pretty groggy throughout the morning, I'm going to let Nina take the narrative from here, from her article about the trip, Bring your Gun!:
At some point in early morning I felt the bus jolt and as I looked out the front window I noticed a blur of fur and antlers get sucked under the front of the bus. We had hit a reindeer. Through the back windows of the bus I saw an image that will always haunt me. The reindeer was struggling to get to its feet away from the bus that had hit it, but it couldn’t because its back legs were broken. It finally gave up and lay in the snow bank, resigned to its fate. The bus driver got off the bus, and in the general confusing of waking up, many students didn’t see or know what was going on.
Coming from Alaska were guns are as abundant as shameful politicians, I was horrified that nothing could be done for the animal slowly dying in the snow. The bus driver returned to his seat, shut the door and we left.
We had been promised reindeer this trip. I didn't realize they meant it like this.
We stalled for a bit while the bus driver arranged to have a local come and fetch the carcass (it's a felony not to report and remove reindeer roadkill). After the whole bus finally calmed down, we started on our way and I finally fell deeply asleep..
Due to the fracas with the reindeer, we were forced to skip our shopping stop in the bustling metropolis of Ivalo. We thus arrived at Inari for our scheduled day in the "Educational Capital of Sápmi".
So, we arrive... and hmm. Not much of a capital. Not much of a town, even - 600 people. And yet, we still manage to get lost. Needless to say, group morale is wavering at this point.
We finally made our way to the Sami museum, the "highlight" of the town - and cruised through it in thirty minutes flat. Some highlight. I think the majority of the students appreciated the couches and hot coffee more.
It turned out that the park behind the museum had a beautiful little trail leading past a old farm buildings, smokehouses, and a peaceful little creek and waterfall:
Thankfully, this made up for the short time we spent at the Museum. Oh, and there was a section that wasn't for those with weak stomachs: a very thorough demonstration of various traps used by the Sámi - they were remarkably clever and effective, but we started getting a few chills as we walked past a dozen or more.
WE'RE HERE FOR HOW LONG?
But after that was done... we had eight hours to kill in a town with nothing. And I mean nothing. So what else? We went to the bar.
For a small town bar, it was pretty impressive - I was able to get a pizza large enough for two meals for less than fifteen bucks,
and the view was great!
(yet another pizza story: I tried the meatlover's. It included shrimp and mussels. It tasted like... pizza with shrimp and mussels. I actually wound up picking the mussels off. They wre good and all, just not with the pizza.)
(Dad, if you're reading this, can you bring a Houston's Pizza to the airport when I fly home?)
We bought cheap Finnish groceries (tube steaks and rye buns - recommended by Linnea as a Finnish delicacy) and after confirming that there was nothing more to do in this town, headed back to the bus for a nap.
Well, at least, that's what I did. Others went back to the museum coffee shop. But the nap kicked major butt.
Oh, and I also snuck into the hotel and unwound on their piano, to the delight of a few of the other students - I really appreciated the chance to play and the enthusiastic listeners.
BERNHARD'S FIRST MISTAKE
Finally, we made our way to the church for our tour (though to be honest with you, it just looked like a small-town church). And we waited. And waited. And finally, the trip organizer called the number of the tour guide, and without saying anything (that I heard), started walking away from the church.
And into the souvenir shop.
Apparently, there had been a mix-up and he had booked us a tour of the.. souvenier shop. Good news for the shop, they made an absolute killing. But cultural? Hmm. Maybe not quite so much.
In sum total, we had spent about eight hours in Inari, with a grand total cultural exposure (not including the local barfly culture) of 45 minutes, plus taxes.
We boarded the bus at 5 or so and headed back to Norway, to the "Administrative Capital" of the Sámi peoples, Karasjok. In a pensive mood, I wound up sitting shotgun (on the tour-guide's seat) with my iPod, just staring out at the highway ahead through the massive front window. It was so calming - I remembered how much I love just driving (or riding) and I was able to do a lot of good thinking.
We pulled into Karasjok at about 9, and proceeded to get utterly lost. Again. The amount of turns we took, we were all convinced that it must be a huge town. We were so surprsised when daylight came and we learned how not-big the town actually was. Strike two for Bernhard.
In Karasjok, we had the choice of staying at the hotel, the cottages, or the pub. Six of us had decided to stay in a cottage, but after learning that they only slept four, I suggested the boys sleep in the pub. And so, after dropping the half-dozen students off at the hotel, the bus made its way up the hill to the pub.
And then the roller-coaster ride began.
Halfway up the hill, the bus got stuck. And started to slip back down the hill. And drove back up the hill. And started to slip down. Repeat about a dozen times times. Include major tilting on occasion. And a genuine fear that our driver would lose control.
We finally slid our way down to the bottom of the hill and received the all-clear to disembark (which we happily did).
Then Josh and I made our way up the hill to the pub that awaited us.
What a place.
Not only were the rooms in perfect condition (just like any motel room, clean, tidy, and relatively new), but there had been a slight mix-up in translation.
It wasn't a pub, it was a failed nightclub.
TWO PERFECT OPTIONS
Picture this, if you will; a hotel wing on top of a hill. Go down the stairs and you're in a comfortable meeting room with television, couches, and a fireplace. Open one door and you find a sauna; open another and you find a full kitchen.
Open the third door and... you're in the middle of a small urban bar with one striking feature: a huge circular dance floor in an attached concrete structure. With party lights and a disco ball.
And here's the part that still blows me away. Not only were we allowed to use it, the night manager encouraged it - turned everything on, gave free reign on the ice and glasses, even explained the sound system. In short, we had our very own nightclub at our disposal - and the whole night to use it.
Ecstatic about the potential ahead, we booked it down to the cottages where the majority of the students were staying ahead. It turned out the cottages were everything you could ever want from a vacation home - snug little wooden huts complete with sauna, potbelly stove, couches, and a beautiful forest locale. We were almost convinced to stay for a quiet evening there.
But with some cajoling, we managed to hike everyone back up the hill (no more than 10 minutes) to the pub.
THE BEST NIGHTCLUB YET
I'm not even joking. I had more fun with thirty friends and our own DJ than I think I've ever had at a proper nightclub. It was a great night - from the cold pizza to the mock coat-room (I even handed out tickets) to the great dance music to the surprising skill with which I was able to recall a thing or two from my dance classes at the U of S. I even had the priveledge of dancing to Boney M's "Rasputin" with two real live Russians.
And as shocked as I am that we had access to such a place, I still can't get over the fact that the proprieter was even encouraging us! He let the fun go until half past three, extremely generous on his part. Exhausted and exhilirated, I tucked into bed. After a terrible day, it had been a singly amazing night.
BERHNARD STRIKES AGAIN
(pictures above from the morning walk about Karasjok)
Five short hours later, I was up and showering. We had another church tour scheduled for 10 AM, at the oldest church in the region (courtesy of the Second World War). After taking stock of who else made it to breakfast (precious few), Jana and I headed out in search of the church. Luckily, our hillside perch made spotting the steeple pretty easy, and we set off towards the city centre (valid in this case, as Karasjok has a few thousand citizens).
The walk was highly enjoyable, with a beautiful sky and great views of the frozen river and the Sami parliament building on the riverbank. But halfway to the church, we were given great pause for doubt. For the bells of a DIFFERENT church had just started to ring.
Damn. Decisions, decisions.
I reasoned that logically, the old church should be the one in the city centre, and with Jana's assent, we continued downtown. We caught up with another one of the Germans, and arrived at the church a little after the scheduled tour (maybe ten minutes or so).
And there was nobody in sight. Not even our fearless leader Bernhard (who had told us the night before that he might be "too tired to make it to the tour") or his crew from the cottages.
It had turned out that there had been a mix-up, yet again. Bernhard had forgotten to confirm the tour, and so the church had simply forgotten about him. He had taken his cottage crew to the wrong church (the new church on the hill), and there received a tour consisting of "This is our kitchen - this is our boot room - this is our worship area. Any questions?"
And so, our second church tour flopped.
THE LORD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS
However, there was a nice end to this story - though it had nothing to do with our organizer. The three of us made our way to the new church, and as soon as we got in, my eyes lit up. There, in the corner of the gorgous hardwood church (everything - chairs, walls, roof, everything) was this beautiful work of art:
Learning a long time ago that for things like this, there's very little harm in asking, I found the priest and inquired as to whether or not I could take on their organ.
And he said yes!
After playing to my content, I caught up with Alex and he informed me he was planning to stay for the service; having a few things on my mind, I decided to accompany him.
And I was extremely glad I did - beyond the chance for reflection, it also afforded me an opportunity to witness one of the neatest services I've ever seen. As I said before, the Sami parliament is located in Karasjok. Over 90% of the population speaks that language. Thus, the entire service was given in Norwegian - and translated immediately into Sami by a lovely old lady at the priests's side. We sang in Sami, and more than a few of the men and women were wearing their traditional dress. Beyond the beaty of the service, it was the single greatest exposure to the Sami culture of the trip. And it wasn't even planned.
(and on a Norwegian note: I even managed to recognize the Gospel - pretty proud of myself.)
JUHLS' SILVER GALLERY
After a relatively quick bus ride (highlighted by reindeer and an awesome nap), we arrived in Kautokeino, the "cultural" capital of Sami (seems like everything's the capital - or maybe that's just Bernhard again).
Our only destination was Juhls' Silver Gallery, a house/museum containing the life's work and collections of a husband-and-wife team of artisans specializing in silversmithery, but dabbling in nearly every art form imaginable. (Note: they're both still alive, and both still living in private quarters of the museum). I can't even describe to you what this place was like; it was a gallery, it was a store, it was a museum, it was even a barn (there were chickens and sheep in one room). And architecturally, it was incredible - curving roofs, random little staircases, no right angles, and spirals into the ground. It's too bad I was too exhasuted to properly appreciated it - about the only thing I can tell you about my time there is I got dismantled by Flo in a game of chess:
After about an hour oohing and aahing at the paintings, mosaics, tapestries, and prices, we piled onto the bus for the long drive home.
(I feel bad that I wasn't able to write more about the gallery, it was one-of-a-kind and very cool - they've got lots more pictures on their homepage here if you want to go look.)
Excited for my food from the day before, I opened my grocery bag to make my sandwiches, and realized I'd forgotten to buy the hot dogs! And so, I had two mustard and cheese sandwiches befrore anyone felt bad enough for me to donate some meat to the cause.
Regarding the trip home: again, it was highly enjoyable. A highlight for me was when I regaled Anya (a Russian, for crying out loud) and Flo with the tale of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. I also carried a phrasebook around with me all weekend; while never using it on anything important, we had a lot of fun using various German, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and French phrases on each other.
Finally, I want to mention that Berhnard was in top form on the drive home by: (a) insisting that we watch a cultural Sami movie even when a majority of the students wanted no such thng, (b) refusing to stop at a gas station for food, despite the fact that we had 7 hours ahead of us (c) stopping at the "alternate" Sami parliament for 15 minutes for pictures when it was pitch-black and we couldn't see the building, let alone take pictures of it, (d) being exceptionally difficult to convince that dropping students off after midnight with all their luggage and a 1 km walk home was not a good idea, and (e) giving us a tour of Tromsø as we pulled into town near midnight - in a tour-guide voice.
We arrived near midnight, I got home, flopped into bed, and listened to the Riders beat Calgary. A great end to a weekend that, though a near-disaster in terms of "cultural" content, manged to be one of the most enjoyable I've had yet. It just goes to show what a difference friends can make.
P.S. My dinner that night consisted of tinned mussels and crackers, while lunch the next day was.. tinned fish and corn. And that was for an 8-hour day. Next time, I'm coming home to a stocked fridge.
Hope you enjoyed that tale of my road trip to Finland - hopefully you'll hear from me soon!