Playing tourist in Finland, part 1

Before I get into my continuing European adventure, I have a more recent misadventure to relate.

Last Monday, when I returned from work and turned on my computer, I was greeted with a message: hard drive failure imminent!

I consulted Phil, and we proceeded to start up. And the computer promptly shut itself down.  So, though he’d had a full day of techie work, my man went out to get me a new computer (he considered a hard drive, but the transferring the data might have taken longer than the existing drive had remaining).

I managed to complete an emergency backup of my recent documents and pictures without another random shutdown and I had my full backup from earlier in the month. Hint: back up your stuff people—it saved my Canadian bacon!

I was mostly functional by Tuesday evening, but with a new computer, there was all kind of update hell to get through. An hour and a bit of HP updates Wednesday, followed by another couple of hours of Windows updates on Thursday, and then uninstalling the crap I didn’t want, like McAfee.

I only sorted iTunes out as of Saturday and the fix isn’t perfect. I have to do a proper export and backup of my music library once I have it completely restored. Apparently saving the iTunes folder isn’t enough.

Needless to say, I’m a bit behind. Hence the late “weekend” post.

And now, Back to Kiel, Germany.

Sunday, August 6th was a casual day. All I had to do was take a shuttle bus to the airport in Hamburg and catch my flight to Helsinki, via Stockholm, at 2 pm.

My roommate for the night in Kiel had to leave at ridiculous o’clock to catch her train. She was among a number of cruisers who were taking the German castle tour with Mary Robinette Kowal for the two days between the cruise and WorldCon.

I had other plans.

I had made my travel arrangements for this leg of the trip through the Canadian Auto Association. The flight, rental car, and bus tour of Helsinki. Any Canadian travellers with a CAA membership? They’re awesome. And they’ll help you wherever you’re headed.

After a leisurely breakfast, I broke my last large Euro bill so that I’d have the proper amount to pay the shuttle bus to Hamburg airport. I caught the bus at 11 and arrived in more than enough time to get my boarding pass and … yes, queue up for the flight.

The flight itself was fine. Unfortunately, the continuing cruise crud made the journey excruciating. My ears were too clogged to pop properly and none of the tricks—chewing gum, yawning, nose blowing, holding your nose and blowing—worked.


But I landed safely and the greatest part of the pain was relieved. Fun fact: they play bird song in the Helsinki airport bathrooms.


Outside, I grabbed one of the waiting taxis and asked to be taken to the Sokkos Presidentti. This is the hotel from the outside, and directly across the street was a Zoological Institute with these two (yes, those are giraffes) having tea on the upper balcony and this one moose standing guard below. I felt at home already.

I checked in and asked the desk staff about finding the rental car place the next day, and about finding the bus tour the day after. In the elevator, I saw that the floors were all named. I was on the eighth, Tranquility, but I could have been on Sisu, or The Fairytale Forest (!)


My room was more rustic than tranquil, but I’d made it to Helsinki and wanted to rest up for my next two days of adventures.

In the morning, I grabbed my usual European breakfast, bacon, eggs, muesli, and fruit, with coffee and juice. It sounds like a lot, but I was feeding my cold and needed energy for the day ahead. That day was the day I was going to find Marttila, Finland!

An old railway becomes a pedestrian (and bicycle) underpass. Commissioned graffiti. And that green? Geraniums. Smells peppery and awesome in the morning, or after rain.

Despite the directions of the desk staff, it took me over an hour to find the car rental place. When I checked in, I confessed my doubts that I would be able to competently navigate out of and back into the city.

Without a pause, the lady at the counter rebooked me for the airport location and advised me which train to take to get there. The people at the train station were very helpful, too.

This first journey out to the airport, another traveller sat across from me and shared her adventures. She was an American and I have to confess that I don’t remember her name. I’m horrible at remembering names. She’d been laid off with severance the year before, and decided to see the world.

At the airport, I found the car rental counter and got the keys to my car, actually a crossover. I can’t remember the makes or models of cars, either. But it was white and clean, and comfortable. I spent a few minutes chatting with the two young men there. I’d Googled the directions, but wanted a back up.

They gave me a map and marked out my route, and I was off. Sort of. European vehicles, even automatic ones, are sufficiently different from North American ones that it took me a few minutes to figure out that I’d even turned the car on. They’re all hybrids.

And the stick shift is different, too. There’s no park. And the gears are in the opposite order to NA cars. But after a little trial and error, I had it down and pulled out of the airport and onto the highway (!)

Once on the highway, I relaxed. Driving soothes me. And once out of the city, the landscape reminded me so much of northeastern Ontario, I could have been driving on the 400 North. Except for the tunnels.

There were a lot of rock cuts where the granite had been blasted away, but, I guess there were criteria. If the rock was so high for so long, they’d tunnel through rather than blast. So there were seven or so tunnels and at least one of them was several kilometres long. Call me a troglodyte. It was amazing.


I turned off the main highway onto smaller and smaller roads and, eventually, I found Marttila. The land around the town was all farmland. It reminded me more of some of the towns on Manitoulin Island. I saw what might have been a school, or a library, a grocery store, where I stopped to pick up some snacks for the road and ask if there was a place to eat and maybe a restroom I could use … ?

More wandering around and I found the little lunch place where I had a Panini and coffee. I tried to explain what I was doing there to the girl behind the counter. I’m sure she thought I was crazy.

I’m sure there was more to see, but I did want to get back to Helsinki for supper, so I reversed my search on GoogleMaps and navigated back to the airport. The train ride back was uneventful and I talked to the desk staff again to get a recommendation for supper.

She sent me to Kaarna.


I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything more delicious than reindeer sirloin. I’m drooling just remembering it. And Kaarna paired all of their entrees with tasty bevies. The Tin Soldier cider they recommended enhanced the flavours perfectly.


And that’s where I’ll leave you for this instalment of the journey.

I really thought I’d pack more into this post, but there you have it.

Next weekend—and it should be on the weekend, this time—I’ll cover my tour of Helsinki. Then, it will be October, and time for my next chapter update. I’ll resume with my WorldCon experience the weekend after that.

So stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The things you learn when you look into your family tree

Or … the duty of a bard

This week, I thought I’d write a little bit about genealogy.  I’m not going to post any of my family trees (I have three, though they’re incomplete and slightly out of date) … I’m just going to write about the wonderful things you can learn when you do a bit of digging.

The first is this: genealogy is one of the duties of the bard.

Whether you think of a bard as a bard, or filidh, or ollamh, a bard wasn’t just a collector of tales, a memorizer of songs and poems, but they also held the responsibility to guard the family history and bloodlines.  They were scholars, doctors, law-givers, and just darned cool, and as a writer, I feel that I have some connection to that tradition, and some responsibility for the history of my family.

I’m a Celtophile, and unabashedly so (hence the interest in filidh and ollamhs), but the family I can trace is Finnish.  Yes, Marttila is a Finnish name.  You can generally tell because of the three consonants together.  That, or the double vowels (e.g. Saarinen) are pretty clear give-aways.

The larger family name in my genealogy is Wiirtanen.  There is a large Finnish community in the Sudbury area, many of them coming from the Long Lake area of town and the Pennala subdivision there.  That’s where the Wiirtanens settled.

One of my Wiirtanen relatives still lives out at Beaver Lake, a bit of a drive out of town.  He’s a trapper and owns a farm.  Other Finnish families moved into town around Lake Nepawin (Maki Avenue was named after one of them) and there have been a few books published on the Finnish roots of Sudbury.

A number of years ago, a genealogist visited me out of the blue.  I sat with him for a few hours in an afternoon and he taught me a few things about my family, which happened to be part of his family tree, which is why he looked me up.

In Finland, at the beginning of the last century (give or take a few years) families gave up their names, and took on the names of the farms or cities where they worked.

There’s a city in Finland called Marttila.  My uncle Walter and aunt Margaret visited it years ago.  Here’s a wee map and the city’s crest from their Web site:

Notice the image on the crest: It’s St. Martin of Tours cutting his cloak in half to give to a beggar.  So Marttila roughly translates to St. Martin, not a particularly Finnish icon, but at least I know where my family name comes from.

So I started keeping a few files on my family tree.

Something else I did was to look into the kalevala, the national epic poem of Finland.  It’s a creation myth, set of legends, and features magicians and the mystical sampo, which could be, among other things, an analogy for an instrument that could track the precession of the stars.

It’s no wonder I’m into the fantasy 🙂

My mother was adopted and has no interest in looking into her family, so I’m kind of stumped there, though she tells me that she was Irish, something my grandfather liked to tease her with.  So maybe there’s a reason, I’m so enamoured of all things gaelic.

Have you delved into your genealogy?  What did you discover?