Vappu, what is that all about?

Here in Finland there is a lot happening around the first of May. This day is called Vappu . It is a national holiday and a day for the spring, the students and the workers. The tradition comes from the “Walpurgisnacht”.  Especially student celebrate Vappu with different events sometimes starting already one week before.

We started celebrating Vappu on the 29th of April. As everyone we were wearing our overalls (haalarit) from then until the 1st of May. In the afternoon there was a little get together for all the exchange students. As the weather was nice we were sitting on the grass at the hill of the art museum, just enjoying life.

The 30th then got more interesting. A lot of students met in front of Educarium (one of the university buildings). There was free punch, a band was playing and we got the first balloons for that day. At around 5 pm students started to gather on the hillside in front of the Turku Art Museum. There were so many people. We didn’t know that Turku had so much! From each faculty there was one student carrying a flag, a band was playing, more balloons were distributed and everyone was happy. At 18:00 o’clock one of the students gave a short speech (in Finish) and then all Finish students put on their white student caps (ylioppilaslakki), which they get when they graduate from high school, all at the same time. After that everyone went down to the river. The dentist students then cleaned a statue, which is there, with a big toothbrush and the statue got a cap as well. In the evening we cooked together with a big group in one of the student village’s kitchens.

On the actual Vappu day, 1st of May, everyone went to the Vartiovuori hill for a big, big picnic. Again a band was playing and everyone had a blanket, some food and drinks to have a nice day around friends.

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Starting Barbeque Season

This evening we took our bikes and drove to another student place nearby. We met with a few people and had barbeque together. It was really nice and we had a lot of fun playing Frisbee, even though it was really hard as it begun to get dark… We then realized that we are in Finland. The day before was really warm, but that evening it got really cold again so that we already left the place at 9:30h.

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Get together at TSE

Today the International Office of the Turku School of Economics invited all exchange students for a get together between 12h and 14:00h. Munkki (Berliner) and sima (mead) was served and in the end there was a lottery and a group photo was taken.

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Posankka & Ikituuri

At the main street which leads to the student village there is Posankka sitting in the grass, the pink mascot of the housing association which is supposed to be a mix between a duck and a pig even though we don’t know where to find the duck parts :). In anticipation of Vappu (we will explain it later) which is on the 1st of May he today got his student cap. After that the Ikituuri had open doors. Ikituuri is a new building here in the student village. It is a very high tower with a round shape. From the top we had a really nice view over Turku and the student village. We got a patch for our overalls, a balloon and had some juice there.

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As we said earlier we went not only to St. Petersburg, but also to Moscow. Moscow was on the schedule roughly from April 22nd till April 25th.

April 22nd
We had a good, but rather short night’s sleep in the train as we arrived at about 9 a.m. But that night train was a nice experience after all. Only a shower in the morning would have been nice as well. From the train station we were taken onto a bus tour through Moscow. We saw Novodevichy Convent, the Red Square, Sparrow Hills (where one of 7 huge stalinistic buildings is situated), the Peter the Great Statue and much more – such as the chaotic traffic in Moscow. We had the chance to get off at some places to take pictures and especially the Red Square we would see again and again during our stay.
After the city tour we went to check in at the Hotel Cosmos just across the All-Russian Exhibition Center. We had loads of time before the next event and visited that after we had relaxed in our rooms for a while. The All-Russian Exhibition Center is an older exhibition center mainly featuring pavillons of the Soviet nations and inhabiting huge, stalinistic architecture. In its middle there is the golden “friendship of nations” fountain. During our visit there was also a fun fair set up … Just next to the exhibition center there is also the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture that was once presented at the World’s Fair in Paris (1937).
In the evening we attended a guided subway tour. The old parts of Moscow’s subway are mainly from the 50’s, i.e. from the old Soviet days. To show off the domination and future paradise of Socialism the decorations of the subway were very rich, ranging from pictures, over mosaics to gold.

April 23rd
The next day we had a Kremlin tour. The Kremlin is not only a single building, but a fortress (“Kremlin” derives from the Russian word for fortress) with at least 3 churches and some presidential buildings. It has originally been a fortress to take refuge in and as a seat of the rulers of Moscow. Before the Russian emperors lived in St. Petersburg this was also the center of their life. The funniest features are a huge/biggest cannon that has never fired a shot and a huge/biggest bell that has never been rung. After our tour we were lucky to see a presentation by Russian soldiers supposedly practicing for a presentation at May 9th festivities. Horses, marching and music produced a nice program.
For the rest of the day we walked around the area of the Kremlin as the travel company didn’t manage to get tickets for the ballet. We saw an oldtimer rallye starting at the Kremlin and walked all the way to Peter the Great Statue next to the old chocolate factory. In the end of the day we had a nightly bus tour through Moscow that also took us to the illuminated Kremlin and the Red Square. There the humongous and expensive shopping center (just across the Red Square) was lit as if it were Christmas 🙂

April 24th
On our last day we checked out at about 11 a.m. and supposedly through that missed the chance to see Lenin. However, we went to the circus, which was very nice, even though we didn’t understand a word 😉 Afterwards we were taken to Arbat Street, a long shopping street. Whatever it was, but there were loads of (mainly) school students offering “free hugs” along the whole way. It felt like someone had sent all schools to this single street. Other than that we found a closed post office and had lunch from McDonald’s before we were taken further to an old Soviet bunker. That bunker was once built and used secretely to be home to the airforce command. The structure resemblemed that of a subway and could resist even nuclear strikes being located about 60 m beneath the earth’s surface. Our last stop before the train station was the Red Square again. We took some last photos and said good-bye to Moscow.
At about 10.50 p.m. our train (a night train again) left for Finland. We had a fabulous evening with a whole bunch of people in our 4-person cabin.

April 25th
We had to get up early for customs (7.30 a.m.), which first came through the train on the Russian side and then again on the Finnish side. At that point we somehow realized that Russians really seem to have a different mentality. The Finns seemed much friendlier and welcoming. Kind of felt like coming home 😉
All in all this has been a trip that we wouldn’t want to miss. We’ve had great retentions towards Russia, which in 99% of the cases did not come true. Whatever the causes we are even considering going back to Russia for another nice stay in St. Petersburg or Moscow.

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St. Petersburg

As usual ESN organized a great trip for exchange students. Together with the traveling company Aikamatkat Timetravels they offered us the possibility to do a seven day tour to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow between the 18th and 25th April.

Monday 18th April
At 14:00 o’clock a bus picked us up from the Turku bus station to drive to the Makasiini Terminal in Helsinki. During the bus tour we finally got back our passport we gave away three weeks before to get the Russian visa and had the possibility to sign up for a lot of extra activities during the tour. At the ferry terminal we got on the M/S Princess Maria which took us directly to St. Petersburg during a 13 ½ hour trip. As there was still a lot of ice on the sea it wasn’t the most silent sleep we got there, but the breakfast buffet was nice :).

Tuesday 19th April
Arrival time with the boat was 9:30 h. We were on time and just had to pass the passport control. Together with around 15 other people we went through there quite quickly and waited for the others in the terminal. After a while of waiting we thought that the bus had probably already left without us as nobody else was coming. Happily a guide came and took us to a bus and surprisingly enough no one else was there yet. We had to wait for another 45 minutes before everyone was through the control. We heard just afterwards that especially the American and UK people took quite long to pass as they were checked by two or three people very carefully….
Driving from the Terminal in direction to the city center we had a first little city tour.  We for example saw the most Northern Egyptian sphinxes. They decorate the shore banks of Neva river. We furthermore passed the Peter and Paul fortress, the Aurora battleship, the Split of the St Basil Island, etc.  At around 1:00 am we visited St Isaac’s Cathedral. When it was build, it was the tallest Orthodox Church and still is the second largest in the world. After the church visit we drove to our hotel called “Hotel Moscow”. It was located right next to the famous street Nevskiy prospect just around 3km away from the center. It is a huge building and our room was located at the one end. This means that we had to walk for hours from the lift to the room… After resting for about 30 minutes we had a small walk around the hotel area. In the evening we then had a Russian dinner with a folk music show. That was really nice, the food was good, we got a lot of vodka and the show was funny.

Wednesday 20th April
After breakfast we started a bus tour to Pushkin, the Catherine’s Palace in the village of Tsar at 9:30. It is located around 26 km from the city center. It was the summer residence of the Russian tsars. Catherine’s Palace which was redesigned 6 times during the old days is the main building surrounded by other beautiful buildings and nice parks and is 325 meter long. It is already impressive from the outside. But we were lucky enough to also have a tour inside. It was so impressive with all its gold, the famous Amber room and all its decoration. We spent quite a long time there before driving back to the city. There we had free time which we used to walk around the city to e.g. visit Kazan Cathedral and the Field of Mars or Marsovo Polye, a large park. In the night we had a limousine cruise through the city. Our group were 16 people and we got a big dark red Ford limousine. Soviet Champagne was served and we had a lot of fun driving around and stopping at the Rostral Columns and St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

Thursday 21th April
We checked out from the hotel in the morning. At around noon we started a guided tour of the State Hermitage Museum. It is a really big museum of art and culture which consists of 6 different buildings which are all connected to each other. It is one of the largest and oldest museums of the world and comprises nearly 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. Our tour lasted for more than 3 hours. After that we were really exhausted. Not only the art they have, but also the buildings themselves are so interesting and we might only have seen a very little part of it. Probably interesting to mention is that we have seen works by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, etc. there. Even though we are not really interested in arts it was impressive to see pictures from all these famous painters.
In the afternoon we then also visited the Cathedral on the Spilled Blood, a very colorful and funny looking church. At 21:00 o’clock we ended our day with a river cruise through the canals of St. Petersburg with champagne. After that we drove to the Moscow railway station (in St. Petersburg) to take the night train Megapolis to Moscow.

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Short Trip to Russia

We’ve successfully returned from Russia … Stay tuned for updates on our trip 🙂

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