Northern Lights

So, picture this. You live in a country that's cold and dark all winter. You get about five hours of dim light once a day, and the temperature rarely, if ever climbs above zero degrees (32F). What's a Finn to do?  Why, create all manner of lights fixtures and sculptures of course. I just came back from Helsinki, and there's a citywide art exhibit going on called "Lux". Predictably, all the of the exhibits involve light somehow. I only saw two, and of those two, only got a good shot of one.

This big ol' thing lit up the entire square in front of Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral) and if it's not clear in the video, actually had musical accompaniment.

And that's just the beginning. I've already posted about the light blocks in Jyväskylä that masquerade as innocuous bricks by day, and reveal their illumination by night. You can see them to the right.

That sort of thing is a good example of the random sprinklings of light fixtures you'll find everywhere. The highway leading out of Helsinki has, in the dirt in the center divider, two long rows of sticks topped by blue and purple lights. It's not uncommon to see a bridge lit up in odd colors, or a pass along the highway illuminated just for the sake of looking pretty. It's subtle, and if it hadn't been pointed out, I probably wouldn't have noticed it, but Finns love their lights.

Having said that, though, I should be clear--Finland isn't a neon paradise the way that, say, Vegas is. It's all very understated; Finns don't appear to be big fans of direct lighting.

"Indirect streetlighting."

This even carries over into indoor lights. Every light fixture is shaded, dimmed, redirected, or otherwise.  Take a look to the left, and you'll see an example of this on the promenade in the city center of Jyväskylä.  This also carries over to Christmas lights. A lot of people put them up, but I haven't seen anything to the degree of excess I regularly see back home. So...no overwrought displays of extreme Christmasosity, but a lot of understated prettiness.

In other news

So what have I been up to these past few days? I'm glad you (may have) asked! I've spent

"Helsinki in the evening, tram and all"

the last several days in Helsinki, seeing the sights, braving the parking garages and visiting winter carnivals. I'm sure I've mentioned public transportation in the past. Helsinki's is some of the best I've seen (though, granted, not a difficult task). You can buy a Helsinki Card that's good for up to 3 days. It allows you unrestricted travel on all public transport anywhere in Helsinki. It's a little card with some kind of tiny chip buried inside. Hold it up to a reader and it'll beep and on you go. Very cool.

"Me wearing the Princess of Winter's tiara. She offered. I accepted."

While in Helsinki, we took the opportunity to visit an aquarium as well as a kid's winter carnival. The two of us were much too old for the carnival, but we ended up having a lot of fun anyway, and all of the actors in costume seemed to enjoy our participation. At least, they pretended to. We assisted a yeti in reading a phone book, went down a slide in inner tubes for...some reason, I got spun around in a cart attached by a length of wood to a rotating column, made cotton candy, and (almost) learned to juggle. There was a backstory behind the whole thing--it was a sort of scavenger hunt where the goal was to fill up a little card with stamps--something about a mammoth sneezing and needing lots of adventurers to go hunt down ice pearls or something. You know, your basic fetch quest.  It did kind of make me wish that things like that existed for people our age though...that'd be a lot of fun, you know? Or maybe I'm too young for my age. Oh well.

I'm writing this from a resort/hotel thing in Mikkeli, and tomorrow I'm going to wake up early and learn how to cross-country ski. Wish me luck, and as few bruised tailbones as possible!

In closing, here's some pictures of Helsinki's central train/subway/bus station.