Mid-May marked the beginning of the end of my year in Finland. All of my lessons and concerts at the Sibelius Academy wrapped up, and I braced for 1.5 months of being a tourist and a tour guide.
First, I took a spontaneous trip to Oslo. It was my first time in Norway since 2009, when I was a student at the International Summer School. At that time, I had never left the US and was completely starry eyed about Norway. Six years later, would Oslo still captivate an older and much more seasoned traveler?
After a morning flight and train ride into Oslo, I was greeted by a fellow St. Olaf alumni, Ida. She and I were friends and bandies, but only for a short year, as she was a freshman when I was a senior. She gave me a warm hug and we started chatting as if we saw each other yesterday. We hiked around Bygdoy on a beautiful spring afternoon and prepared for many fun adventures during my short stay in Oslo. I explored the city center, the royal palace, and other familiar sights on my own one morning while Ida worked. I was pleased that I could still navigate around Oslo and surprised at how much had changed in the city over the past six years. Ida and I visited the sculpture park, the Nobel Museum, and my beloved Sognsvann (my get-away for hiking, jogging, and swimming during my summer at the I.S.S.). We also made Norwegian waffles, and I fulfilled my yearly quota of brunost by eating it with almost every meal. YUM! Another highlight was connecting with a fellow I.S.S. alumni who is living in Oslo. When you go so many years without seeing someone, it’s easy to worry if things will be socially weird. However, so far in my life that has never been the case. Reconnecting with old friends and classmates is always worth it!
Beyond the sight-seeing aspects of my trip to Oslo, I had plans to visit a band rehearsal. Norway has an incredible wind band culture, with thousands of bands located throughout the country. Bands are ranked into divisions based on ability level, and competitions, concerts, and festivals occur throughout the year. Ida’s band was in the top division, and they sounded great even in their sight-reading rehearsal. Students at the University of Oslo were guest conducting and leading the rehearsal, and they did a fabulous job. I had a blast watching and listening, and the evening was capped off by the traditional trip to the pub for a beer and some pizza. It was fun and educational to chat with the band members and conductors about Norway’s music scene, and it gave me an even stronger urge to travel to Norway again (permanently!). What a beautiful, healthy, and musical country!
While my new Finnish friends and American Fulbright friends have been an incredible support system this year, I was amazed at how unbelievably refreshing it was to hang out with an Ole. The bonds that are made in college, and especially in the St. Olaf Band, are impressively strong. I can’t believe I had forgotten about that sensation! Skype, social media, and emails have helped me keep in touch with friends and family back at home, but nothing beats getting to spend some time with another person face-to-face. Let that sentiment be valued for generations to come!
Bygdoy and Sognsvann
After my trip to Oslo, I impatiently counted down the days to seeing Chris again. We had finally planned a proper “honeymoon” (11 months after our wedding…), and after 2.5 tough months of being apart we were SO ready to spend time with each other.
We visited Copenhagen, Brussels, Bruges, and Amsterdam in 6 days. Sounds like a lot (well, it is), but it’s definitely manageable to travel around Europe and see a lot of sights in a short amount of time. We found that the best way to learn about the city and meet fellow travelers was to go on free walking tours (these exist in most European cities). For example, we met a Canadian during our Copenhagen walking tour and went out for some beers at Mikkeler bar that evening. It turns out she is a scientist who has studied abroad and recently got a top-notch job in the US. In Brussels we got an explanation for why the city is the way it is (it’s very unorganized and is a strange mix of French, Flemish, old, and new…basically a “melting pot” of Europe). We also got a great sampling of Belgian beers on a beer tasting tour, meeting many interesting people from all over the world. Of course, Chris and I had plenty of time to explore the cities on our own, eat nice food, visit museums, hold hands whilst walking alongside the Amsterdam canals, and talk about life. The whole week was pure bliss for us, and while it was tough to say goodbye again the trip was more than worth it.
This past week my parents visited me in Finland, thus beginning my one-month-long phase of being a tour guide. It was pretty surreal seeing my parents in sights that have become so familiar to me on my own: the metro, the music building, the parks around Helsinki, etc. They were excited to see and do a lot, and we had a fantastic time together. We went to Turku and Tallinn, Estonia, as side trips. My parents, both Cold War era Americans, never thought they’d find themselves in a former Soviet Union country. We went on a KGB tour at our hotel and learned about the spying tactics that were in place during that time and also about life in Estonia during Soviet times. Other than that, we ate good food and did a lot of walking around and exploring. Finnish summer is in full bloom, with many flowers and new leaves on the trees. Though the weather is still cool and windy, it is a perfect time to enjoy Finland, especially with almost 20 hours of daylight every day! I will get to repeat the Helsinki-Turku-Tallinn tour with my friends from St. Olaf in a few days, but now it is time to rest and enjoy the suomalainen kesä.