22 May 2010


The purpose of our most recent trip to Finland was to experience Vappu in Helsinki. Vappu is the Finnish version of Walpurgis Night, but it is celebrated rather differently in Finland. One thing to be noted is that Vappu is about student traditions - many people found their student hats and donned them. Not just young people with relatively new hats like in the picture, but a lot of older generations had also dug old their old student hats for the occasion.

The many different overalls in characteristic colours were also hard to miss - connoisseurs will be able to deduce people's line of study by the colour of their overalls.

The attitude was generally one of fun, dressing up, and drinking sparkly - and apparently lots of balloons were also required.

One of the main details of Vappu in Helsinki is when the Havis Amanda statue (seen as a symbol of Helsinki) is fitted with a student hat in a complicated ceremony involving multiple crane trucks.

After proper dressing with the student hat, the crowds responded by waving vigorously with their own student hats.

20 May 2010

Bothnian archipelagos

It was bound to happen sooner or later - so we took advantage of one of the long weekends of the springtime for going to Finland by boat. The crossing took about 11 hours, but we succeeded in sleeping for most of the trip..

The last light of the day over the Stockholm archipelago

Sunrise over the archipelago (far) outside of Turku

08 May 2010

Spring trip to Germany

By pure luck we managed to plan a trip to Germany for exactly the last weekend before the European air traffic was interrupted due to volcanic ash.

To be more exact we went to Mülheim an der Ruhr where John (an old study and house mate from California) is currently doing a post-doc at Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung - before John and Tiffany go back to California.

John & Tiffany

Since Mülheim is not a particularly big city we were expecting to visit either Essen, Düsseldorf or Köln (= Cologne), but in fact we ended up spending the whole weekend in and about Mülheim. Therefore we also had time to visit Mülheim's Camera Obscura in the Broich neighbourhood (on 'the other side' of the river Ruhr).

Camera Obscura is Latin for 'dark room', but most people can probably figure out that in the long run you cannot run a business that consists of charging people for letting them into a darkened chamber. In principle you just need a large, smooth, white screen inside the room and a pinhole in the wall. Light from the outside enters through the pinhole and you can (when the room is dark) see a picture of the world outside (upside-down) on the white screen. The tower in Mülheim is more sophisticated than that - the pinhole is located in movable part of the of the tower on top of the dome (so you can watch all directions from the tower) and is furthermore equipped with optical lenses making it possible to focus on different distances. Now that we have tried it, we are sorry we didn't visit the one in Edinburgh.

Since John had been complaining about the lack of soft corn tacos in Germany we decided to bring him a bag of corn flour. This was a sufficiently strange item for it to require scrutiny and questioning when we passed airport security - but since corn flour is not in the least bit wet we were allowed to bring it in. Thus we spent our Saturday evening making a stack of soft corn tacos.