Travels: Belfast

Gladioli

Belfast is so very near to Dublin in the Southern Ireland and yet so far. What that? Well, the mentality of the Northerner compared to the Southerner is miles apart, in almost every way. Where the Dubliner and the rest of the population in the south are laid-back, witty, fatalistic and not-so-terribly efficient in whatever they do, the Northerner is uptight, serious, strongwilled and highly efficient in his/her basic nature.

We used to be simply awed by the state of the roads as soon as one crossed the border in Newry over to the Northern Ireland. One could really put the boot down from here on the motorway and be in Belfast in a jiffy! Marvellous. The state of the roads in the Republic were – and still are in parts – such that the journey even though not that long in miles or kilometers took a lifetime!

The very first time I went to Belfast was just four days after arriving in Ireland. There was a family funeral there. In Ireland it is of utmost importance to be there and to support the people that have had the sadness of death in the family. People go by the hundreds into the funerals and it is normally considered an excusable reason to take time out in the middle of one’s working day to attend a funeral.

One thing that used be so great to do in Belfast was the shopping. The difference between the Irish Punt and the Sterling was not that big, sometimes they were even on par. Nowadays the Euro has lost the plot to the Sterling and it is far too expensive to go shopping there anymore!

We would go to the north a lot even at the height of the violence, another name for it is the ‘Troubles.’ Rather an odd name for such a traumatic and highly dangerous time. We had both relatives and friends living in there. Some of them still do. Then when the so called ‘Peace Agreement‘ came in 1998 we took the train there from Dublin a good few times. Otherwise previously we would have gone by car to Belfast.

First of all we parked the car at the Europa Hotel and had a cuppa there before walking to the stores. Where would be good to shop? Well, the Castle Court Shopping Centre is big and has plenty of various kinds of stores in it. In those days before many of the British High Street stores such as Argos, Boots, Debenhamns, etc.  came to the south they were only in the north so hence our trekking there.  Also the Queen’s Arcade is a very expensive but beautiful small shopping mall at the heart of Belfast. The city is not big at all. Here is a map of the city centre. To tank up we would go the Cafe Paul Rankin at the Fountain Street. It used to be nearly the only one of its kind ’til quite recently. This cafe served the most delicious food – every time it was a winner.

There were not many cultural things that we did then because of the Troubles. The people did not move about that much then to nightspots or restaurants as they did in the south. Now it is different.

Tis for now. Riihele xx.

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MISTY RIVER – Photos

These photos are part of a set taken by me on an extremely cold day; some of the photos are in the morning of that day when the sun was rising,and the others later in the afternoon as the sun was setting.

River with the Fallen Tree in Grays
Fallen Trees by The Misty River
Mysteriously other-worldly scene

Mist is rising off the River
Mist Rising Off The River
White snow makes this frame look brighter

The Morning has Broken
The Morning has Broken
The sky is getting brighter by the frame letting the pastel colours really to come to the fore!

Day Breaking over the River
Day Breaking over The Misty River
Looks like the sky is ablaze with fire!

Wider Shot of White On Black
Wider Shot of White on Black
I like the light branches contrasting against the dark river underneath. The river bends into a curve and the white furry branch rests over the dark stream.

Tis for now Riihele xx.

© Photos: By Riihele. All rights reserved.

Travelogue to Dublin

DublinBus
“In Dublin’s fair city, where girls are so pretty,/I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone, /

As she wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow, /Crying, Cockles and mussels! alive, alive, oh!”

Source: Think Exist.com

The Irish are quick as a flash in inventing brilliant nicknames to anything and everything. There is a statue on a street in Dublin called ‘The Molly Malone’ of the famous ballad. Her nickname is ‘The Tart with the Cart’ – because the poor girl has a rather too low-cut outfit on her! She is the one with the ‘cockles and mussels…’ Here is an interactive map of Dublin.

The best or the easiest thing in my mind to do when one is for the first time in Dublin is to take your pick of the tours that do the trotting for you while you can take in the various sights and then go back later on to the ones that you want to have a closer look into. This site in the link is called, ‘Dublin Uncovered’, and there are great ideas and tips for taking tours and it has lots of useful information on the sights, sounds and so on on Dublin – that is the Visit Dublin site – and the surrounding satellite towns. And here is the NASA space view over Dublin and over my favourite mountains, The Wicklow Mountains. Wikipedia information for a visitor to Dublin is in this link.

Dublin was founded by the Norman Vikings in 988 AD – I know, my lot as I have also Swedish roots – I used to say to them in Ireland while living there for 23-years that ‘ you lot would be still living in the huts in the countryside if we had not come to organize and to urbanize you into the cities and towns.’ To show what I mean I put this informative link to the history of the city of Dublin. The main tourist place to see the Viking past is in the Dublinia and The Medieval Viking World located in the Christ Church Cathedral. The other large cathedral, St. Patrick’s, is right besides the Christ Church.

The Book of Kells is in the Library of the Trinity College – founded in 1592 by the Elisabeth I. So it’s been there for a while, one can safely say! There are many other museums in Dublin and here is the main index where they are listed in a clear way for your perusal; like The Dublin Writers Museum on the Parnell Square right at the city centre or The National Museum of Decorative Arts & History in the Collins Barracks which is also in the city centre so there is no need to go on long treks to any direction.

Here is a handy guide to accommodation in Dublin hotels, also the whole of Ireland is there through the further links, and here is another very useful link to the hostels, B&B’s, self catering et cetera. I wrote about eating out in here. Also, the Kilkenny Design store on Nassau Street is a fabulous place to shop for souvenirs and have a delicious meal to boot.

Are you getting parched? Well, no panic. Guinness is everywhere at its best, of course, being the city of the brew in question. There’s even a museum to do with the same at the St.James’ Gate that again is situated right at the compact city centre of Dublin.

Then there are a few of my own favourites haunts such as the Cafe an Seine – yes, it’s very French – which is situated right in the centre of Dublin on Dawson Street. The pastries are outstanding and the coffee ab fab and the ambience very turn of the century Paris. Another great French place is the cafe called, Cafe des Amis at the Alliance Francaise.

The Westbury Hotel off the Grafton Street, where one can sit in peace and ponder what is and what will be in the most elegant surroundings. It was there that we, as in the daughters and I used to wait for the traffic jams to clear. It was also in the Westbury that I used to meet my friends who lived in the other parts of Dublin as it was the handiest for all of us for a platter & a natter! As the ladies are in wont of doing worldover. The hotel is very posh but one need not spend a fortune there as you can just have a pint or a glass of good wine for about 4-5 euros in the lap of luxury.

BON VOYAGE to Dublin – Enjoy Your Tour today!

Says, Your Guide Riihele xx.


PS.

Here is another ab fab compiled guide to visiting Dublin with masses of great links.

 


Lapland, Tornio Valley and Childhood – Part3

PIKKURII

Riihele at the age of around 4 in Ylitornio, Lapland.

Now I will say a few things of the war called the Finnish War between Russia and Sweden, and other wars and also, other things about the life and culture in the Tornio Valley – as seen through my eyes.

So – that war of 1808-1809 was the very last war that Sweden as a country has suffered while Finland, on the other hand, has been forced to go through several wars such as the Civil War of 1918 and the Russian-Finnish Wars, because there were two wars during the WW II. The first one is called The Winter War, which began in November 1939. It lasted until March 1940, when both of the countries signed a peace treaty where Finland agreed to cede 10 per cent of its territory and 20 per cent of her industrial production to the Soviet Union. This is a compiled account in English about the events of that war.

The amazing thing about that war was that even though the Russians outnumbered the Finns by three to one, the battle was not a walk-over for the Russians looking at the statistics of the casualties and other details. Stalin and his cohorts had thought that it would be just that. The arrogance and attitude of superiority of the Soviets, was such that they started the war with the marching bands and soldiers arm in arm singing stirring Soviet anthems while advancing towards the Finnish lines!! What they had planned, was a short and sharp victory. But God had decided otherwise. My future would have been very, very different to what it has been, IF, Finland had been a state within the USSR. A state like Estonia, our ‘relatives’. There would have been NO freedom to travel to begin with, so I would have been ‘stuck’ and not being able to go anywhere at all!
The Continuation War is the war that was fought between the years 1941-1944. The Lapland War against the former German allies was battled from September 1944 until April 1945. The reason for this war, was the Soviet demand that all German troops were to be expelled from Finland. The task of expelling was made particularly hard because of the other simultaneous Soviet demand of demobilizing the major part of the Finnish armed forces.

The withdrawing Germans used the scorched earth tactics, so that more than one third of the dwellings were destroyed in Lapland. The provincial capital, Rovaniemi, was burned to the ground. This is the town where my mother was born and where she spent her first few years before the family moved to the Tornio Valley in the 1930’s. Rovaniemi was rebuilt after war and the world famous Finnish architect called, Alvar Aalto was very much at forefront of the same. All of mother’s eldest (five) brothers were in the war. And ALL came back – alive. The horrors of the trauma of war and gore, live on the psyche of the Finnish male – passed from generation to generation. My own ‘concrete’ evidence of the Lapland War, were the bullet holes on the flagpole, in the centre of the yard of the houses, where we lived in Ylitornio.

There are a few books on this subject of the Lapland War: the first one is by a colonel called Wolf H. Halsti. His book is in Finnish called – LAPIN SODASSA. That translated into English is like this: IN THE WAR OF LAPLAND. I do not know if it has been publiced in English or any other language. He writes very honestly and pointedly about the whole sad affair. There is a lady who wrote a book about her life in Lapland during these times of hardship, called, Laila Kanon and the book of hers is called – STADIN friidu ja metsien mies, jatkosodan rakkaustarina”. (WSOY 1997) The title in English would translate into something like: “Town Chick and a Man of the forest, a Love Story during the Continuation War.”

The property losses, at the time, were calculated to be at the 1945 US$ as 300 million dollars. HUGE amount! In addition to the financial losses, was the human distress and suffering. The number of the refugees within Lapland was 100,000. My mother with her parents and siblings, that were still at home, fled across the Tornio River over to the Swedish Övertorneå. Karelian refugees were numbered as over 425,000.

I don’t obviously have any personal memories of any of the above, but indirect ones, I do. What do I mean? Well, of that Civil War, I have my grandparents memories and view points that I still quite clearly do remember. In that war there were the Whites against the Reds. It is fairly simple as to figure out what these colours mean. Yes, they mean the hues of one’s political standing. My grandparents, on the father’s side that come from Karelia, were on the White side. I do remember Grandma Helena saying still in her old age, that when she was in an old people’s home, she was made to share a room for a time with one that had been on the Red side. Apparently, the poisonous verbal darts between them were still flying like missiles…
I found that rather amusing but had I lived through the horrors of it, I am sure, my reaction would have been different. It is so very tragic that that should have happened after about sixty years of that civil war. The sadness that there was no forgiveness and forgetting in the depths of the people’s hearts and minds!

Of all the kinds of wars, the civil war between brothers, is the most horrendous of all. No doubt. It really is the most un-civil thing imaginable. Deep, deep wounds are left in the nations that have had to go through it.

The Russian-Sweden War of 1808-1809 over Finland, also known as, the Finnish War, became “familiar” to me through the history lessions at school and also through the Finnish literature. We read Vänriikki Stoolin Tarinat The Tales of Ensign Ståhl – year in, year out, so that, even today, I can give direct quotes of the same! I used to love reading those stories in rhyme about that war.
This is the war (February 1808 ’til September 1809) – that resulted the Valley being cut in two parts with the Tornio River as the border. The choices for the actual border included the River Kalix on the Swedish side – the Russian request – the River Kemi on the Finnish side, to the south of Tornio – the Swedish request. The Tornio River was the agreed joined compromise. From that time on in 1809, Finland became part of the Russian Empire until her independence in December 1917.

Finland was under the Swedish rule from 1352 – 1808, and under the Russian rule from 1809 – 1917. We have, as a nation, learned how to live as a “filling in-a-sandwich” to the bigger and more powerful nations than ourselves that are on either side of us! It takes skill.

Tis for now. Riihele xx

Lapland, Tornio Valley and Childhood – Part2

MAP

The Tornio River unites Sweden and Finland – Övertorneå and the neighbouring Finnish town of Ylitornio lie on opposite sides of the river, which also makes the border. This mighty river provides countless opportunities for fishing and recreation. It presents the amazing spectacle of the spring ice break-up, that I mentioned in the Part 1.

Breathtaking scenery can be viewed from the peaks of mountains on either side of the border, from Luppioberget, on the Swedish side and from Aavasaksa, on the Finnish side. Aavasaksa is a very popular place for the tourists to come at the Midsummer time to view the spectacle of the Midnight Sun.

The landscape in the Tornio Valley features varied countryside of both mountainous and flat landscapes. Tornio and Haparanda are situated on the coastal plain by the Gulf of Bothnia. Further north, from Övertorneå and the northern part of Ylitornio Municipality, the mountains become more prominent. The Arctic Circle is at the latitude of 66.55° N. It goes right through the villages of Ylitornio, on the Finnish side of the river, and Övertorneå, on the Swedish side. This latitude also marks the southernmost parallel at which one can experience the Polar Day, another name is the Midnight Sun and Polar Night, which is also called – Kaamos in the Saami language.

The Polar Day culminates on June 21, when the sun remains above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is light all day. On Aavasaksa mountain – situated on the Finnish side of the river in Ylitornio – one can admire The Midnight Sun between the 15.6-7.7. The Polar Night begins on September 23, at the autumnal equinox, which culminates on December 21, when the sun does not rise above the horizon for 24 hours – and it is dark all day.

Talk about the TWILIGHT ZONE. During the Kaamos – the dark period – everything is in these fabulous shades of blues, pinks and lilacs. It is terribly picturesque altogether. I am quite certain, that you would have seen photographs of Lapland in these gorgeously soft pastel colours, even though it did not cross your mind at all, that they were taken during the Kaamos.

The inclination of the earth’s axis, at an angle of 23.4 degrees, due to the influence of the moon, the location of the Arctic Circle is also changing. Currently it is at the rate of 14.4 metres annually. The Arctic Circle is moving northwards. This process will continue for a further period, after which the process will be reversed and the Arctic Circle will start moving south.

In this border country, as anywhere in a situation alike, a special, local culture, both Swedish and Finnish has emerged. Yet it is somehow distinct from both. A majority of the residents speak Tornio Valley Finnish – Meänkieli – the native language and the bearer of the culture. Culture, that is distinctive in religion, in the local cuisine with its eastern influences. Here is the list of spices: saffron, sugar, lemon, ginger and orange-peel that were used. Also cumin was used in all the bread making in the 18th century as described by a Frenchman. Living in the border region has given the people of the valley a characteristic mentality and a genuine pride – a deep awareness of who they are, rather than the ‘nose-up- in the air’ -variety. The local population is meant to be even more fanatical about hot-hot sauna baths than the rest of the Finns.

Well, one must try, in any which way, to keep warm – somehow! The temperature difference between summer and winter is roughly 60ºC. In winter the temperature creeps down at times to -35ºC or even more. It’s cold, but the air is dry and with the right clothing you can still spend time outdoors. When summer comes, the nature awakens from the slumber, gets over its shock because of the long, long freeze and begins to work 24/7, as it will be light and bright daylight round the clock!! Temperatures of around +30ºC and sometimes even higher are not uncommon.

These temperatures are the norm nowadays. I don’t remember – EVER – in my childhood that the temperature in the summer would have reached much above the 15-20ºC mark! We swam no matter what the weather was like during those short, but, bright summer months. It really was a bit of ‘it’s now or never’ – because the summer was so very short, that, if one blinked, twas over!

The coldest temperature in Ylitornio that I have experienced in my entire life was all of -44ºC!! Do ponder that. Insane, I say.

In this valley, the life revolves around the Tornio River, as I stated already earlier on – this 520 kilometres long river of tranquil pools, foaming rapids and swirling waters that winds its way towards the sea. The people, who used be one nation under the Swedish rule for several centuries. It should be of no real surprise that there is such unity and conformability with the populations on both sides of the river here, as historically, culturally and geographically they were ONE NATION for a time period of six to seven hundred years. That is an awfully long time. It is not going be wiped of by any artificial ‘border’ – however hard the politics of the day may try.

Two peoples, and if the Saami is counted as they should be, that would make three people, four languages and a majestic river make Tornio Valley unique . The local population use several languages, Swedish, Finnish, Saami and Meänkieli. Meänkieli – Our Language – that is what the name means in English – is a language spoken in both Swedish and Finnish Tornio Valley. Meänkieli is a language derived from Finnish. Newspapers and books are written in Meänkieli. Even films have been made in this language. In 1999, a new Minorities Act in Sweden recognised Meänkieli as an indigenous minority language. In Finland it does not have such a recognized status.

Unfortunately, I think, because it is very different from the Finnish in many ways.

When we moved to the Southern Finland, the people there did not understand what we were saying for most of the time and so we had to learn the ordinary Finnish. The southerners thought that we were speaking in Saami. They also thought that we had lived in a Kota – the Saami dwelling special to them.

It must have been the only few weeks that I have ever been silent in my entire life while learning the ‘other’ language!! (Finnish Finnish)

This area belonged to Sweden for several centuries, as already mentioned above, until 1809, actually, when Sweden ceded Finnish Tornio Valley to Russia which I will go into more detail in the next posting in Part 3. That war of 1808-1809 is the last war that Sweden has fought. Finland has not been as spared from wars, but we do have a Big Bear of a neighbour on our eastern side. They do not.

Tis for now. Riihele xx

Memories: Sweden

Swedenpics

‘Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.’
Oscar Wilde in
  “The Importance of Being Earnest”

This fabulous scenery – taken by me – is a small town called, Öregrund, which is situated in the archipelago that lies in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. This gives you an idea how and where Sweden is and what it is like. I have not yet really lately talked about my time in Sweden but tis now.

The relationship between the Finns and Swedes is very much one of love-hate. Rather like the Brits and the Irish – the master and the mastered, I think. There is in both nations’ dependency on the other that even now, though severed years ago, is still so very strong and hence resented by the underdog, mastered nation. “Du Gamla, Du Fria, Du Fjällhöga Nord“…! The national anthem of the Swedes. The nation was a super power in the Baltic region in the times past. Not that terribly long ago, really. It is quite like a child saying to the mother: “I am big now.” Yet always looking for the mother’s approval and being in a kind of competition with her; to outdo her and everything that she stood for.  Complex, but intriguing. How it pops up to the surface every now and then is, when the Finns meet the Swedes in ice-hockey or the Irish play against the Brits in rugby. NO MERCY GIVEN – NO MERCY ASKED. It is: Let the best nation win. More often than not, it is not the best nation that wins as far as ability and skill are concerned but the one with the greatest will to win.

I did what thousands upon thousands of the Finns then did: we took the ferry to our neighbour’s across the Gulf of Bothnia to work and for me it meant at first to be an au pair in the Stockholm area. It is rather amusing that the French phrase that describes this word means: ‘equal to’. Funny, because  the au pair, in most cases, is anything but equal to any other thing than a cheap labour at the whim of the employers who themselves know very little about children and child rearing. This was my case, too. I am afraid my au pairing memories of Sweden are not great but my social life memories are first class, though!

My first impressions of the Swedes and Sweden in this region – as I am familiar with the Lapland Swedish variety since childhood – was that they are much more open and, also, have a more positive outlook on life in all its aspects than the Finns do. I found it much more relaxed and easier to breath in every way. Even the weather was milder than what I had been experiencing in Finland. The coldest I have been in Lapland was all of -44 C!! I know, insane!  At that stage I did not know that my family roots go to Sweden, I just felt so at home from the word go! Only the last few years have we been aware that this is where some of the roots go quite far back there as well to other countries on my mother’s-mother’s side.

My time in Sweden was such a brilliant and blessed time. A time for healing and a time for good friendships that are, even today, extremely strong, close and vibrant! The hospitality of the Swedes, that I experienced, was most extraordinary and warm during all my years living over there. Did we drink coffee, tea; also, hot chocolate! Rivers, it must have been when the total amounts are all added up together. Even these days when I do pop over there, it is still ever the same.

We used to arrange these great parties where everybody was told to come to them dressed up to the nines. The lads were told very firmly that if they appeared at our do’s in their usual jeans & t-shirts -ensemble, we girls would not talk to them again. It worked, as they always came well turned out. The parties themselves were sometimes, as in mid August in the summers, the Crayfish Parties when we would have beautifully set out long tables in the garden. Cook gorgeous food and take our time eating and have great time together. Different teams of us in the gang would do the cooking and another team would do the clearing and tidying up. One of us was and is a qualified chef but after feeding the hungry beasts for a few times on his own, he got wiser as the time and feeding went on; hence, the teams came into being! Other times it was somebody’s birthday or another like occasion. Food, again, played a large role in them as it is the best means of getting people to enjoy and relax in one another’s company in any and every culture!

One among other marvellous things, I must say, to my parents credit is that they did not try to stop one doing this thing or that thing but quite the opposite; they encouraged me to go and do whatever was on my mind. Also, they had such confidence in me and my ability for survival that it was with a bushy tail and a positive outlook that I left, every time.

When young one really is not bothered about things like: not knowing anybody or how to arrange this or that, one just trusts that it will be fine. And so it is many a time, actually. Could it not be said of the people as well; that we begin our life, our walk with a whole but tight bundle of various shades like a rosebud not opened yet? Then maturing, opening to the full bloom like a rose, we have maybe one or two colours that are more prominent than the rest. With colours I mean, traits and that which is so typical for and to us that it is us. And these things essentially make you, you and me, me!

All in all the years in Sweden for me were exceptionally good and the years that I still have great memories of. The times that were like an investment for the years to follow. I go to Sweden at regular intervals to visit and to feel at home again!!

Tis for now until the next posting. Riihele xx

 

On The Occasion: ROMANCE

ROMANCE is the SCENTED, DELICATELY
PERFUMED OIL
that keeps the story going on
and on and on….

PURPLEROSE.jpg

Romance is the mutual appreciation ‘society’
exclusively given/shown
to The Loved One by The Loving One.

2PIENIORKIIDI.jpg

Romance, in the long run, is the very thing
that will keep/smooth the ride with its
valuable oil all the way from the
beginning of The Love Story
of yours to the end of
your days alive….

ruusunuppu.jpg

Slowly, but surely,
tis the motto for the A-Z of the Romancing
each letter aka each trait,
whatever peculiarity each has,
sense of humour, et cetera
et cetera –
one gets to really know,
to understand
and to appreciate only after a good while.

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All the Text and the Photos by Riihele xx.