Dispatches from Finland: Arrival

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Paul Richardson

by Paul Richardson (VIMS Marine Biodiversity Lab technician)

The Long Journey from Virginia to Turku and then Korpoström
At over 6500km, traveling to Finland was the longest journey I’ve ever made.  At 42 years of age I’ve never been out of North America, and traveled only once outside of the United States (a brief ski trip to Canada a few years back).  With all of the ZEN research going on at VIMS right up until my departure, I had little time to be nervous for my first true international travel experience. My United flight on a spanking new 757 provided surprisingly good food, and there was a selection of movies. One thing, however, that I really appreciated was the flight monitor where I could see the plane’s progress, its speed, the arrival time (which was always further away than I wanted!), the temperature outside of the plane, etc.  Being the irrationally nervous flyer that I am, it was somewhat comforting to know that the altitude was 36000 feet, speed was 580mph, and the temperature outside was -60oF.  Sitting upright and cramped, combined with my excitement  for the trip, I couldn’t sleep a wink all night.

In Copenhagen I was thrilled to get my first passport stamp. Then I boarded a bus to go across the tarmac to a Scandinavian Airlines flight to Turku, Finland!  The plane was pretty empty – the benefit of flying into Turku at the end of the tourist season. Every other seat was vacant, which would have been nice for the trans-Atlantic flight.

Flying over the Archipelago Sea in Finland

During our approach, we flew right over the Archipelago Sea where we are conducting the ZEN experiments in Finland. I snapped a few pictures of some of the estimated 30,000 islands.  Despite the cloud cover obscuring some of the smaller islands, it was comforting that the view looked like a more vibrant version of the Google Earth images that I viewed a few days prior.

Stocking Up with Provisions!
Once on the ground in Turku, I was thrilled to find that all of my bags made it through four connections and two airlines half way across the world.  I was even more thrilled to find that ZEN collaborator, Dr. Christoffer Boström, was waiting for me just outside the gate.  First we went to the City Market in Turku to stock up on food and other supplies before traveling to the marine station on the island of Korpoström . The City Market is amazing.  It’s the size of a Super Wal-Mart back home, with a department store and a grocery store, but most of the food and produce is local and luomu (organic).  I had no idea what any of the labels said, but Christoffer, a self-proclaimed food nerd, gave me the tour. When he said something was good, more often than not, it went into my cart.

With my blond hair and standing 6 feet tall, I didn’t feel terribly like I stuck out as a tourist until I asked for a grocery bag. Most of the stores in Finland (and I’m told Europe in general) do not give out grocery bags.  If you don’t bring one, you have to buy one.  City Market generously gave me one – my first welcome to Finland present!  The bags are big so I managed to get all of my 100+ Euros worth of food into it.  I got many delicious meats, breads, herrings (I love pickled herrings!) and luomu produce – tasty, but food here is not cheap!  Cans and bottles have 15 cents tacked onto the price of each so that you can bring them back for 15 cent refunds each.  Didn’t we used to do that back in the States?

A Little More on the Subject of Food

One of Paul’s favorite food finds – Finnish berries

The summer in Finland is an amazing time to visit if you’re a food nerd (or foodie, as we say).  Because the sun shines for so long during the day, and at a low angle, the produce is extremely flavorful.  Carrots and potatoes and other veggies are about half the size of what I’m used to in the U.S., but they are twice as flavorful.  You can also go into the woods and pick berries.  You’re even allowed to go onto private property as long as you stay at least 300 meters from any dwelling.  With long days of fieldwork and lab processing I haven’t exactly had time to go berry picking in the woods, but I have picked a few on the side of the road and I’ve bought more than a few.  If you do plan to go berry picking in Finland though, you need to beware of ticks and getting lost.  Apparently, more than one berry picker has fallen victim to ticks and their associated diseases or wandered away and never made it home.  The good thing about being on a small island like Korpoström where the marine station is located, is that if you do get lost you can always walk until you find the coast and then follow it home.

My New Digs

Christoffer Bostrom on the ferry

After the trip to the market, Christoffer and I took a two hour scenic drive and two ferry rides to my new home for the rest of the summer in Korpoström.

Åbo Akademi University’s field station in Korpoström, Finland

Åbo Akademi University’s field station is in Korpoström which is an island in the Archipelago Sea.  This facility is a unique melding of modern art, science, and recreation. On one side you have the Strandboden (beach hut) that is basically a hotel with a marina.  Then on this side there are the Åbo Akademi labs, offices and my quarters (a modified office). The park service also has some space and there’s a restaurant and a museum. All of this is situated conveniently on the water where our research vessels are located.  I’ve been to the restaurant three times and it is delicious, but mostly I cook my own food purchased from the market trip in the little kitchen upstairs. Listening to all the numerous non-English conversations going on at the Strandboden and the restaurant, I still feel like a tourist, very far from home. But, I am slowly becoming accustomed to my new surroundings, and I can definitely spot the tourists. They speak English.

The Finland 2012 Crew

Graduate students Marie Järnström and Camilla Gustafsson help with the ZEN experiments in Finland

In addition to Christoffer and myself, there are three very skilled graduate students helping out with the ZEN work: Marie Järnström, Camilla Gustafsson, and Anna Törnroos. Anna was here for one week for the set up and to be Camilla’s dive buddy. Camilla is a PhD candidate at Åbo Akademi University who will be defending soon.  Marie is Christoffer’s intern and a master’s student of Åbo Akademi; she will leave to continue her studies at the end of August. These gals are all pretty much locals. Among other languages, they all speak Swedish and, luckily for me, they all speak English very fluently. I’m not sure exactly where Cami and Anna are from, but Marie is from the island of Mossaia, which is three ferries to the North West.

That’s it for now – I’ll save descriptions of the field site and the natural history of the Archipelago for my next dispatch.

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