“Your trip is around the corner!”

Yeah I know, Southwest.

Today’s been a weird day. I didn’t get to bed until late last night (or, more accurately, early this morning) because I slept on both of my flights yesterday, so I didn’t start my day until late-morning today. There were blue skies today(!), but Norway is quite chilly. Helsinki has actually been relatively warm lately (about 36-38 degrees during the day), so to jump into below-freezing temperatures – especially after the last week in nice, warm weather around 50 degrees – was a bit of a shock. You’d think after being up north for so long that you wouldn’t forget the cold. Well, you do – at least a little bit.

But today I’ve just felt a bit…off. Maybe sluggish is the right word. Uninspired may be too strong, but basically I’ve just felt meh. I went to a Viking Ship museum today (which I loved – it was simply amazing), but afterwards I didn’t really feel inclined to explore much. I did a little, since I knew that I would regret not seeing more of the city, but still – uncharacteristic. Also uncharacteristic: I found myself missing home today, but…I didn’t really know which home I was missing.

I miss Helsinki. I desperately wish I just had even just a little more time there. I’ve accepted that I didn’t see everything that I wanted to see – that would be impossible. But by the time I get back tonight, I will only have two full days left in the city. That’s not a lot of time. I wish I could just spend some time in the city. I really, really hate to rush this goodbye. I know I’ll be glad (and don’t get me wrong, I am glad) to have taken this trip around Europe during this last week. I just feel very powerless in terms of saying goodbye to the country and the city that has been my home for the past four months. It’s like it’s slipping away from me. Maybe I just haven’t had time to process it yet.

And that’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel like the last few weeks have been increasingly out of my control. Academic obligations (e.g. attending the last week of classes) took a chunk of time out of one of my last weeks in Finland. And then exam week basically ate up another one of my precious few remaining weeks. This week, I haven’t been in Finland (obviously). So…I don’t know. The realization that my time here isn’t unlimited and that I wouldn’t have time to do everything I wanted to see/do hit me basically right after Lapland, and my perspective on my time abroad shifted dramatically. Instead of “take advantage of everything while you’re here,” it’s become “savor everything while you still can.” How sad. Once firmly in my control, my experience lately has felt like it’s quickly slipping out of my hands. I don’t like it.

And now I’m so close. So close to home.

I think Oslo has taken the brute force of the realization of how close home actually is – whatever home we happen to be talking about. Starting last Saturday, I began saying goodbye to many of the friends that I made over the last semester, which is, of course, tough. And seeing more and more of them post their “Goodbye Helsinki” messages on Facebook isn’t really making the “goodbye” experience any easier. They’re going home! And, well…I’m not. Not yet. Helsinki or Sacramento – it doesn’t really matter what city I’m talking about at this point. I’m so close to being back in both now. Oslo is weird because it’s a bit of a tease, really. Similar to Helsinki, but…not Helsinki. Just give me Helsinki already! It’s hard to fully enjoy where you are while kind-of-sort-of wishing you were somewhere else at the same time. Sorry Oslo. It’s not you, it’s me.

I don’t know why, but I felt like I got hit in the gut with this stuff today. It’s been a hectic last few weeks, and maybe things are just finally getting to me. At this point, I kinda just want to be in one place for a while. I want to see people. I just want to go home.

Sorry for the depressing stream-of-conscious-y thing that you just read through. Tomorrow, I think I’m going to go check out Oslo University. Apparently, their library is the most technologically advanced in all of Europe. I guess computers monitor the oxygen levels in the rooms in the library and adjust them accordingly so that people can read for long periods of time without getting headaches. I would hate to end on an apology, so there you go.

Maybe that famous Finnish melancholy is finally getting to me.

The “Final Countdown” Tour, part 1: Lucerne, Switzerland

I wanted to come up with a cheesy name for this last week of traveling, mostly because I didn’t just want to put “Lucerne, Switzerland” up there. I don’t think I like it, but it might just stay as is.

(This post was written on December 16. Captions were written on December 18.)

I know I’m breaking my self-imposed rule of not posting about my trips out of order, but…

I’m gonna do it anyways. I still have to write about Copenhagen/Malmo, Tallinn, Lapland, and Stockholm but I feel as though those may be written during my seven hour layover in Copenhagen on my way back to Sacramento, or (probably) once I return home. I really do want to write about my time in these places, and I don’t believe they’ll be very long posts as I didn’t do any long tours or anything there, so…yeah. Is it against the point of keeping a blog to write for it once you return? Maybe it is, but that’s not going to stop me from doing it anyways. Sometimes you just gotta stick it to the (self-imposed) man.

…about Switzerland though! Lucerne (or Luzern) was my first stop on my final-week-trek across Europe. This trip is really nice because I don’t really have much of anything planned. It’s just nice to spend time in these cities and relax – I’m not in any rush like some of my other trips. Lucerne was great! I met up with a friend from high school, Dylan, who actually stayed with me in Helsinki for a few days at the beginning of the semester. He studied in London this semester, but he’s been spending his last days abroad in Switzerland. Not a bad way to round out your time in Europe.

I arrived in Lucerne on Sunday night after taking a train in from Zurich, and Dylan and I got dinner at the hotel where he was staying (aka the hotel that he basically had to smuggle me into). I got gnocchi with a gorgonzola sauce, which was delicious. We were lucky to find a place serving food at all; in typical European fashion, basically everything was closed – it was a Sunday night though, so I forgive them. I believe that it was pretty close to 11 pm once we finished, so we just walked around afterwards catching up, and head to bed shortly afterwards.

After getting breakfast the next morning, we went out to explore the city a bit. And wow! I finally saw Switzerland in all of its snow-capped-mountain-y beauty. Dylan’s hotel, the Hotel Zum Weisen Kreuz, was basically in the middle of the most scenic part of the city (I’m guessing that it’s the most scenic part of the city because it’s on all of the postcards I purchased). Simply stunning. The views were just incredible, and it was nice to see Switzerland during the day. It was also really nice to see the sun, which has been rarely shining in Helsinki lately (Hours of sunlight in Helsinki this November – just a bit different from San Diego!).

Our search for some of the more picturesque views brought and our exploration of the city brought us to a couple Christmas markets, the bank of a beautiful lake, a few castle-esque buildings, a school with a really large wall, and many other places. I’d tell you what those places were, but I don’t really know. We basically just wandered around and saw ‘stuff’ – a much more accurate description of what we actually did.

As night fell, we got dinner (I got tortellini) and went to see another Christmas market, where we both picked up different gifts and keepsakes. Just walking, talking, looking at what all of the shops offered was a really nice experience, too. It was great to be able to just see and enjoy the city, nothing rushing you.

Today, Lucerne was grey, foggy, and cold – I’m used to it. We started the day a bit late, spending most of the day just going in and out of various shops. We both picked up more souvenirs and ate our fair share of fresh Swiss chocolate, but other than that it was basically just spending time in the city. A lazy day in Switzerland (and I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way!).

I caught my train to the Zurich airport on time, but it left about 30 minutes late. I then had to make an unexpected transfer to get to the airport, so I was a bit delayed. But I got there on time, so no real complaints from me.

But right now, I’m in Poland (Note: I didn’t have access to WiFi, so I’m actually posting this from Oslo)! To be honest, I don’t really have any reason for being here – sensing a trend? – other than the fact that I wanted to come here because a few of my friends from back home are Polish. So I’m here! I’m excited to explore the city tomorrow (I think I’m going to a castle?), and I’ll probably do another write-up tomorrow. I realized yesterday that by the end of this week, I will have been in Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe. That’s neat! I leave for Oslo on Thursday night, but it’s all about Krakow for now!

I can’t believe it, but I’ll be home in a week. Weird.

Click on the pictures for a larger view.

Taking off from Finland. It's been almost non-stop grey for basically the last month and a half in Helsinki, but sometimes there are moments -- brief moments -- of utter beauty when the sun comes out.

Taking off from Finland. It’s been almost non-stop grey for basically the last month and a half in Helsinki, but sometimes there are moments — brief moments — of utter beauty when the sun comes out.

Above the clouds! Look at that (view courtesy of AirBaltic).

Above the clouds! Look at view (courtesy of airBaltic).

Riga, in all of its glory (at least from what I saw, which was basically just the airport).

Riga, in all of its glory (at least from what I saw, which was basically just the airport).

Thanks Zurich.

Thanks Zurich.

Whoa! Switzerland is beautiful when you can actually see the sights. Who would have thought?

Whoa! Switzerland is beautiful when you can actually see the sights/when it’s not nighttime. Who would have thought?

Like, come on!

Like, come on!

Just look at that peak! It's easy to see where Walt Disney got his inspiration for his theme parks...

Just look at that peak! It’s easy to see where Walt Disney got his inspiration for the Matterhorn.

Dylan and I next to the waterway near our hotel.

Dylan and I next to the waterway near our hotel.

Just look at it! Absolutely beautiful.

Just look at it! Absolutely beautiful.

Proof I was in a city called Luzern.

Proof I was in a city called Luzern.

Dylan and I looking at a wall. I don't remember what it was named, but there were conservation efforts made to save it from being torn down, I believe.

Dylan and I looking at a wall. I don’t remember what it was named, but there were conservation efforts made to save it from being torn down, I believe.

Statue selfie #1

Statue selfie #1

Imagine if this was the view from your house...

Imagine if this was the view from your house…

Or this!

Or this!

Switzerland may have been expensive, but the views were priceless.

Switzerland may have been expensive, but the views were priceless.

Absolutely stunning. It's not hard to see why people fall in love with Switzerland.

Absolutely stunning. It’s not hard to see why people fall in love with Switzerland.

At the end of the walkway next to the water. You could sit there and just stare for hours.

At the end of the walkway next to the water. You could sit there and just stare for hours.

The Lucerne (Luzern?) Christmas Market

The Lucerne (Luzern?) Christmas Market

A small band played Christmas songs at the Christmas Market.

A small band played Christmas songs at the Christmas Market.

Statue selfie #2

Statue selfie #2

The hotel where Dylan was staying (and where he had to essentially hide me away).

The hotel where Dylan was staying (and where he had to essentially hide me away).

Always have to snap a picture of the flag of the country I am visiting.

Always have to snap a picture of the flag of the country I am visiting.

What a goon.

What a goon.

(This part of the post was written on December 19.)

Thanks again to Dylan for letting me stay with you! I’ll try to have my Poland post up pretty soon (maybe tomorrow?). Poland was amazing. I really loved my time in Krakow, and I just wish I had more time to spend there. The city was really beautiful, and there’s just so much history that lives in that city. I saw most of the major sites, but I just wish I had a little more time. Oh well. Now I’m in Oslo! I think I’m visiting the Viking Ship museum tomorrow, recalling what I learned in my Old Norse class. Exciting!

USD Honors Newsletter Interview Transcript

I’m jumping the gun a little bit, as the final newsletter isn’t sent out until tomorrow…

But I was recently interviewed by a fellow member of USD’s Honors Program about my time abroad in Helsinki. She did a great write up (which you can read here), but for obvious reasons she couldn’t fit it all of my responses into the article. Since there is a good portion of my answers that didn’t make the final cut, I thought that I’d post the full answers here.

I hope that my answers give a bit of a greater insight into my experience here! And if you’re a student considering studying in Helsinki, I hope this gives you a deeper look into what you might expect when studying in Finland…or gives you the final push into studying here!


Where in Finland are you studying, and what are you studying?

I’m in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Helsinki is more or less the cultural hub of Finland, so it’s been really nice to be right in the city. The majority of my courses have been economics courses, but I’m also taking a logistics course this semester.

How long is the program, i.e. one semester, two…?

The program is just for the fall semester.

How did you settle upon studying in Finland?

That’s a funny question for a lot of reasons, and one that I’ve thought about a lot since I’ve been in Finland.

When I was initially going through my options of where to study abroad, I wanted to choose a country where I knew I could have a fairly unique experience. I really wanted to immerse myself into a culture that I knew nothing about, and Finland certainly fit that bill.  When I initially inquired about studying in Finland, I was told that “maybe one” student from USD would attend Aalto University every year, so that piqued my interest in a lot of ways – and hey, now I’m that “maybe one.” The exchange with Aalto offered classes for my major, which was not necessarily a huge factor in my decision, but one that certainly did not go unnoticed. Finland is one of the safest and happiest countries in the world, which my parents really liked to hear. But really, I just wanted something different than the usual study abroad experience. I didn’t want to choose somewhere too comfortable.

And to be totally honest, I went into this entire experience a bit blind. One of the funniest things about my semester in Finland is that I don’t really have any good reason for being here other than the fact that I chose to come here. I didn’t know much of anything about Finland when I applied. I was not particularly drawn to Finnish culture in any way — mostly because I didn’t know anything about it. I had no idea what living in Finland would actually be like, other than that it would be cold during the winter. I didn’t speak to any USD students who had previously studied in Finland, and no USD students are here with me now, so I didn’t really have any major discussions with people beforehand. And I didn’t really do much research or planning before I arrived in Finland. I had no expectations for my semester abroad because I literally did not know what to expect. And I think that’s precisely why my experience in Finland has been as amazing as it has been. From the moment I arrived in Finland, I was handed a blank slate. And that’s what’s really allowed me to tailor my experience to what I’ve wanted it to be. When you know nothing about the culture you’re living in, when you know no people in the country, and when – for the most part — you don’t really know what you’re doing, you have no choice but to learn, to meet people, and to just figure things out. Nothing is familiar, and everything is new. You have nowhere to go but up. And after having spent time here, I don’t think there could have been a place that would have suited me more perfectly. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

How did you go about setting up your program? Did you have to work out an exchange?

Everything was basically laid out for me. USD has a pre-existing exchange agreement with Aalto University’s School of Economics, so I just had to fill out USD’s internal application and then apply to Aalto as an exchange student. I didn’t have to put any effort into actually organizing the program as it was all done for me. Getting housing abroad was as easy as filling out an online application, so that was also a huge burden lifted off of my shoulders. The administrative parts of actually going through with the exchange on my end have been pretty easy. The most tedious part was probably getting my residence permit, but that was just filling out paperwork and attending a meeting at the Finnish consulate in LA.

Did you have to be competent in Finnish before arriving? Are your classes in English or Finnish?

I knew absolutely no Finnish before I left, and I still know basically no Finnish even after living here for a few months. Finnish is actually one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. It doesn’t have any really close relatives other than Estonian and Hungarian, so jumping into it is a bit difficult. Whereas Swedish has Germanic roots (and is comparatively understandable from an English speaker’s point of view), there’s no real familiar reference point in Finnish for people who speak English. However, there’s a real sense of acknowledgement by Finns that they need to learn another language (or, more accurately, other languages) than Finnish. It’s no coincidence that there are five million Finns and five million Finnish speakers. The entire country is essentially fluent in Finnish and English, with older generations often fluent in Swedish as well (Finland is officially a bilingual country). There’s been basically no language barrier for me since I’ve been here, which has been a real blessing.

All prospective exchange students also have to have a certain level of English proficiency in order to apply to Aalto, as all of the classes that exchange students take are taught in English. From my experience, basically all exchange students are fluent or very highly proficient in English. It’s so cool, for instance, people from Germany, Singapore, Norway, and Japan having a conversation in English. So again, language hasn’t been an issue at all, really. If you can fit it into your schedule, you can take a course in Finnish, but it’s not mandatory.

What has been the best aspect of studying in Finland?

That’s a tough one. It’s a bit like asking me to boil down my experience here into a few sentences, but I’ll give it a try.

By studying in Finland, I think you automatically open yourself up to a much different cultural experience than if you choose a more traditional European country, like Spain or France. Scandinavian culture is just so different from “European” culture – it’s less of a subsection of European culture and more of a separate category all together. I think there’s a sort of cultural understanding between the Scandinavian countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) that the other European countries can’t ever have, and that leads to a pretty distinct separation between the two collective “European” and “Scandinavian” cultures. Scandinavian priorities – beautiful and simplistic design, environmental consciousness, reverence of nature, technological advancement, social progressiveness, and ever-increasing efficiency – are exemplified in almost every facet of life. They are just ahead of the curve – ahead of everyone! And it’s amazing to actually see how that system operates and how different it is from the United States. On the one hand, I love immersing myself into Finnish culture, constantly learning. On the other hand, I’m always comparing what I’m learning to what I already know. And that’s quite amazing, I think. To actually live here allows you to have an understanding of a part of the world that most people simply don’t understand, and that’s pretty cool.

Of course, getting to understand Finland includes getting to understand Finns. I have really grown to love the Finnish people since I’ve been here. While at first they may seem extremely quiet and reserved (and I think many would say awkward), they’re extremely warm, friendly, and curious once you’ve spent some time with them. And it’s always a great moment when you see a Finnish person smiling! It’s quite hard to describe in words exactly what the Finnish people are like (I can say they’re extremely intelligent and always well-dressed), but being around them has been one of my favorite parts of my time abroad – trying to blend in with the Finns is fun and difficult at the same time, but it’s a part of the experience. Of course, without the blonde hair and long legs, I don’t look like what you would consider a stereotypical Finn!

And I think studying in Finland gives you the opportunity to travel places of the world that many other students either overlook or fail to consider to visit. When you’re here, it’s easy to go to places like: Copenhagen in Denmark; Stockholm or Malmo in Sweden; Oslo or Bergen in Norway; St. Petersburg or Moscow in Russia; Tallinn in Estonia (it’s only a 2 hour ferry ride away!); and then you can still visit all of the other European countries too, if you want! The United Kingdom is only a few hours away. And so is Central Europe. And so is the rest of Europe! But when you’re in a country like Finland, you get to easily go to places like the Finnish Lapland – a real winter wonderland (and the home of Santa, because he’s a Finn). There you can go dogsledding, try snowshoeing on fells and frozen lakes, ride in reindeer sleighs, ski down world-class slopes, and so much more. Where else are you realistically going to do that? Lapland was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I wouldn’t have even known about it if I hadn’t studied in Finland.

If I sound a bit ramble-y, please excuse me. It’s really quite hard to try and sum up my experience. I’ve described Finland like this before, and I have no problem describing it like this again: I think that Finland is a magical place. It’s kind of like the hidden gem of Europe, the “Pearl of the Baltic” as it’s sometimes called. I think Finland flies basically off of the radar of the rest of the world, which really is a shame because it doesn’t try to. I don’t think many people really know about all of the opportunities that Finland has to offer, and that’s really too bad considering how amazing of a country it is. Helsinki is a city that is as busy as you want it to be – you’re free to explore as much or as little as you want. My experience in Finland has been the experience of a lifetime, and I honestly hope that more people take advantage of the program that is offered through the exchange between Aalto University and USD. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a program that is more accommodating to exchange students than the program with Aalto.

Which other countries/major sites have you visited since arriving in Finland?

I’ve been to: Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews); Russia (St. Petersburg); Denmark (Copenhagen); Sweden (Malmo, Stockholm); Estonia (Tallinn); and the Finnish Lapland (Levi, Rovaniemi) so far. But by the time I leave for the United States, I will have also visited Switzerland (Lucerne, maybe Interlaken?); Poland (Krakow); and Norway (Oslo). I tried to focus on staying up north for the duration of my stay in Finland. Scandinavia/Northern Europe is quite a bit different than Central Europe, and I really wanted to immerse myself in Scandinavian culture rather than attempt to get a taste of European culture in general.

Does your experience in Finland tie into future career plans? 

You never know! I have absolutely loved my time in Finland/Helsinki, so I certainly wouldn’t mind coming back. Finland is the most technologically advanced country in Europe, and they’re really on the cutting edge of a lot of recent trends in technology. If you’ve ever played “Angry Birds” or “Clash of Clans,” then you’ve played pretty hugely popular games developed in Finland. Rovio and Supercell (the makers of Angry Birds and Clash of Clans, respectively) have really been leaders in how people purchase and experience digital content. As a result, I think Finland is pretty invested in seeing how people consume content now and how they will in the future, especially after these companies’ successes during the recent App Store boom. There seems to be a surge in studying the changes that have accompanied this boom, and that’s a topic that I’m really interested in, so you never know.

Anything else you’d like to add/anything else that I should know?

If you (as in the newsletter readers) would like to read my blog about my travels, you can find it at callmejarjar.wordpress.com. I’ve put up lots of pictures and I try to write a lot, so if you want a glimpse of where you could possibly travel if you go up north, please check it out. Also, people can contact me at jaretthartman@sandiego.edu if they have any questions about studying in Finland.

Also, one note on the Aalto Exchange Program: Aalto does a really good job of planning trips for its exchange students. My trips to St. Petersburg and the Finnish Lapland were both organized through Aalto Business School’s student union KY. I just had to get my ticket. They also offer other trips and experiences for exchange students, so you are more than welcome to take advantage of those offers. It’s really convenient so that you don’t have to organize all of the trips by yourself. Aalto does the heavy-lifting, so to speak; you just have to pay for your spot and show up. KY really takes good care of the exchange students (even going so far as to pick you up at the airport when you arrive and deliver your apartment keys to you), and I think you won’t find a program as dedicated to serving its exchange students as Aalto’s.


A big thanks to Kate for putting this all together! I wouldn’t have put a lot of these thoughts down on (virtual) paper without you contacting me to do the interview, so for that I’m very grateful.

St. Petersburg: Day 3

(Note: This post was written on November 9. The captions for the photos were written on November 28…and December 14. Man, this post took too long to get up.)

Hello from somewhere between St. Petersburg and Helsinki! I don’t really know where I am right now since I’m on a boat, but I think it’d be safe to say that I’m on the water. As I’m writing this, my three cabinmates are sound asleep and it’s only 9pm – it’s been an exhausting trip for sure! But I really will miss St. Petersburg. It’s been unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I’m extremely sad that my trip is over. I don’t know how to sum up the experience, but I do have this to say: if you ever have the chance to visit St. Petersburg, go! The city is often called “The Venice of the North,” and for good reason. It’s exceptionally beautiful, and the city offers so much to see (I know it sounds cliché, but the city is simply packed with things to see). If the opportunity presents itself, please go (not for me, for you!). It’s been a very special three days, and St. Petersburg has proven itself to be a very special city. It’s been an amazing trip, one that I hope I don’t ever forget.

But…on to today! The day started early once again, and once we were checked out of our rooms, we head directly to the Hermitage Museum. I could go on and on about the Hermitage Museum, and it was truly one of the most impressive places I have ever been to in my life. To say it was unbelievable would by all means be true. But to say its size, grandeur, quality of art, and sheer number of pieces was essentially incomprehensible would be more accurate. I said in my Day 1 and 2 blog post that I doubted that I would ever see such opulence again in my life…and then I went to the Hermitage Museum and saw how wrong I was. Simply astonishing. Most museums would kill to have just one Rembrant, a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Picasso, etc. The Hermitage, however, has it all: a hall devoted just to Rembrant; dedicated rooms for Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Renoir, and many other world class artists (there are literally thousands of rooms in the Hermitage’s four buildings); entire halls for masters from the different art capitals of the world; a Da Vinci (apparently it was once said that only a Russian emperor could afford a Da Vinci, and voila!); sculptures, ancient artifacts (I saw hieroglyphs!), mosaics, and so, so, so much more (our guide said that there are over 3.5 million pieces on exhibit, and I believe it). It is said that if you spent literally all of your time actually looking at each piece, it would take you over 7 years to see everything in the museum. If you stopped for normal human breaks (e.g. eating, etc.), it would take you almost 9 years. I hope that gives you a little better of an understanding of why I said that the scale of the museum is almost incomprehensible.

I wish I could have spent years in the museum, but I only was able to stay for a few hours. A tour of the most famous cathedrals in St. Petersburg began at exactly 2:30 pm, which meant that my four hours at the museum would have to suffice (for now, at least!). First on our list of cathedrals was the Church on the Spilled Blood, the only cathedral in St. Petersburg built in the traditional Russian style. Built on the very spot where Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated, this cathedral has actually spent the majority of its lifetime as a museum (or as a warehouse during the Soviet era, if you can believe it). As is the theme in St. Petersburg, it’s lavishly decorated inside and out with gold and all sorts of precious stones. Mosaics cover all of walls and ceiling, intricate silver chandeliers hang over the guests, and marble plaster creates beautiful designs on the floors.

Our next stop was St. Issac’s Cathedral, a stunning church dedicated to Peter the Great’s patron saint, St. Isaac (and the only church to be dedicated to St. Isaac in all of Russia). Despite being one of the most visually impressive locations in St. Petersburg (in my humble opinion), the church only took 40 years to build – almost no time at all! The cathedral is simply massive. The pillars surrounding the cathedral themselves stand 51 meters tall, weigh 114 tons, took one year to polish, and are one single piece of rock (all shipped in from Finland). I don’t know how they did it, but I’m glad that they did. The inside was exceedingly beautiful (sensing a trend?), and the walls were covered with frescos (which actually have suffered from the humid weather in St. Petersburg, as humidity tends to ruin plaster). This cathedral is a museum as well, but one chapel inside was recently granted standing as an operating place of worship (and therefore, no pictures inside of the chapel). I could keep saying that the whole thing was simply unbelievable to see, but I don’t want to bore you with that sort of repetition. It was unbelievable though, to be sure. Definitely one of my favorite sights in St. Petersburg (and I have pictures of it during day and night!).

The last two cathedrals were both dedicated to St. Nicholas. Both were operating places of worship and significantly smaller in size than the other cathedrals (which isn’t really saying much though). They had their own charm and unique histories though. One of the cathedrals was one of the only freely operating cathedrals during the Soviet era due to its connections to the Russian navy (many of the soldiers prayed at that church in particular). The other is operated by a slightly altered branch of Russian Orthodoxy, one that survived a centuries-long war with the main Russian Orthodox religion. Each was beautiful by its own right.

And with these two cathedrals, the tour came to an end (as did my time in St. Petersburg). If I had to choose one word to describe my time, I probably couldn’t. ‘Unforgettable’ doesn’t really do it justice, but it sums up what I’m trying to get at nicely. I honestly think it was one of the best experiences of my life, and St. Petersburg will always hold a special place in my heart. I can’t stress enough how much you should go if you have the opportunity. I didn’t know what to expect when going to Russia, but I know that this experience went above and beyond any expectations I ever could have had. It was a truly amazing time in an amazing place.

Click on the pictures for a larger view:

The Hermitage Museum. This is just the Winter Palace portion of it, though. There are another three buildings that make up the museum.

The Hermitage Museum. This is just the Winter Palace portion of it, though. There are another three buildings that make up the museum.

A pillar outside of the Winter Palace

A pillar outside of the Winter Palace

I don't know what this is! It was on the other side of the Winter Palace

I don’t know what this is! It was on the other side of the Winter Palace

Me looking awkward in the main hallway of the Winter Palace

Me looking awkward in the main hallway of the Winter Palace

Just a window.

Just a window.

A small look at the second story of the main hallway. Spare no expense, right?

A small look at the second story of the main hallway. Spare no expense, right?

A large painting covering the ceiling of the main hallway.

A large painting covering the ceiling of the main hallway.

Just one wall (!) of the main hallway room-thing.

Just one wall (!) of the main hallway room-thing.

A look at the upstairs pillars

A look at the upstairs pillars

Cover up, geez.

Cover up, geez.

Wall art.

Wall art.

Where did they even get all of this gold?

Where did they even get all of this gold?

To think I've lived my entire life just using standard light fixtures.

To think I’ve lived my entire life just using standard light fixtures.

Just a room. Don't remember what it is exactly. Too many extravagant rooms.

Just a room. Don’t remember what it is exactly. Too many extravagant rooms.

A bit more ceiling in this picture.

A bit more ceiling in this picture.

There's the double headed eagle that I talked about in my first St. Petersburg post. The double-headed eagle has historically been the symbol of Russia.

There’s the double headed eagle that I talked about in my first St. Petersburg post. The double-headed eagle has historically been the symbol of Russia.

The portrait hall. Each painting is of a Russian general. The green spaces with no portrait are reserved for those who died before they had their portrait made. That specific green was the color of the general's ceremonial uniforms.

The portrait hall. Each painting is of a Russian general. The green spaces with no portrait are reserved for those who died before they had their portrait made. That specific green was the color of the general’s ceremonial uniforms.

Portrait hall selfie

Portrait hall selfie

The Throne Room

The Throne Room

A view of most of the throne room

A view of most of the throne room

Look at that pattern on the ceiling...

Look at that pattern on the ceiling…

...and look at it mirrored in the hardwood floor!

…and look at it mirrored in the hardwood floor!

Jarett Hartman, Russian tsar

Jarett Hartman, Russian tsar

Nice chandelier, I guess...

Nice chandelier, I guess…

Just in case you wanted to see the chandelier again.

Just in case you wanted to see the chandelier again.

I'm writing these captions about three weeks after I was in Russia, so I don't really know what this is.

I’m writing these captions about three weeks after I was in Russia, so I don’t really know what this is.

Pure extravagance

Pure extravagance

The Vatican wouldn't let the Hermitage Museum have this particular piece of their flooring, so they just made an exact replica instead.

The Vatican wouldn’t let the Hermitage Museum have this particular piece of their flooring, so they just made an exact replica instead.

Casual

Casual

The Peacock Clock! It's all mechanical and it all still works. It's not particularly accurate, but, as our guide told us, time wasn't as precise back then either. Though it is still fully operational, the museum has chosen to stop winding it up regularly, so it just sits still most of the time. But when it's active, it has a whole array of moving parts. There's a short one minute clip of it in action on a tv screen right beside the display.

The Peacock Clock! It’s all mechanical and it all still works. It’s not particularly accurate, but, as our guide told us, time wasn’t as precise back then either. Though it is still fully operational, the museum has chosen to stop winding it up regularly, so it just sits still most of the time. But when it’s active, it has a whole array of moving parts. There’s a short one minute clip of it in action on a tv screen right beside the display.

This is a mosaic of really small, layered pieces of glass. You wouldn't be able to tell unless you look really close.

This is a mosaic of really small, layered pieces of glass. You wouldn’t be able to tell unless you look really close.

There were a few of these tables. I can't remember the name of the technique, but it's essentially a mosaic...with precious stones.

There were a few of these tables. I can’t remember the name of the technique, but it’s essentially a mosaic…with precious stones.

IMG_0560

There were lots of tapestries in the palace/museum. To be expected, surely.

There were lots of tapestries in the palace/museum. To be expected, surely.

That's a Da Vinci! I don't generally photograph art (though it was allowed), but I bent my own rules for this one.

That’s a Da Vinci! I don’t generally photograph art (though it was allowed), but I bent my own rules for this one.

I don't think I've taken as many pictures of doors or doorways in my life.

I don’t think I’ve taken as many pictures of doors or doorways in my life.

This is just a copy of a famous ceiling in Rome...

This is just a copy of a famous ceiling in Rome…

What's up with all this ceiling work? Who even looks at a ceiling?

What’s up with all this ceiling work? Who even looks at a ceiling?

Ceiling!

Ceiling!

This staircase was used in a famous Russian film called October, I believe. They used it to showcase the Bolshevik takeover of the Winter Palace, though that's not what happened in real life.

This staircase was used in a famous Russian film called October, I believe. They used it to showcase the Bolshevik takeover of the Winter Palace, though that’s not what happened in real life.

That's a big coffin

That’s a big coffin

Hieroglyph selfie

Hieroglyph selfie

Me and some Roman dude (I think it might have been Jupiter)

Me and some Roman dude (I think it might have been Jupiter)

Those are all seals. You carve into the outside, place a thin piece of metal through, and roll on wet or malleable clay -- and voila! You have a receipt for a transaction, an important declaration, or some other piece of information that may or may not need to be disseminated to the masses or used over and over again.

Those are all seals. You carve into the outside, place a thin piece of metal through, and roll on wet or malleable clay — and voila! You have a receipt for a transaction, an important declaration, or some other piece of information that may or may not need to be disseminated to the masses or used over and over again.

Don't know what this is, but I'm sure it was expensive to create.

Don’t know what this is, but I’m sure it was expensive to create.

Again, I don't like taking pictures of art, but here's Picasso's "The Two Sisters." I didn't take the photo for the painting really, but rather for the thick glass covering it. Look at that! I believe this was in the second of the two rooms dedicated to Picasso.

Again, I don’t like taking pictures of art, but here’s Picasso’s “The Two Sisters.” I didn’t take the photo for the painting really, but rather for the thick glass covering it. Look at that! I believe this was in the second of the two rooms dedicated to Picasso.

The front of the Cathedral on the Spilled Blood. The cathedral is situated on the spot of Tsar Nicholas II's assassination. It wasn't the easiest job being a Russian tsar. I chose not to be one because of some of the dangers associated with the title.

The front of the Cathedral on the Spilled Blood. The cathedral is situated on the spot of Tsar Nicholas II’s assassination. It wasn’t the easiest job being a Russian tsar. I chose not to be one because of some of the dangers associated with the title.

That's all mosaic! They learned that frescos simply wouldn't cut it in St. Petersburg's humid climate. Unfortunately, not all cathedrals in St. Petersburg learned that same lesson...

That’s all mosaic! They learned that frescos simply wouldn’t cut it in St. Petersburg’s humid climate. Unfortunately, not all cathedrals in St. Petersburg learned that same lesson…

It's all covered!

It’s all covered!

One of the many mosaics in the cathedral. I mean, the entire place was covered in them!

One of the many mosaics in the cathedral. I mean, the entire place was covered in them!

Part of the amazing floorwork in the cathedral. This part was roped off as a result of conservation efforts. While those designs cover the entire floor, most are protected by floor mats so that the general public can view the inside of the church.

Part of the amazing floorwork in the cathedral. This part was roped off as a result of conservation efforts. While those designs cover the entire floor, most are protected by floor mats so that the general public can view the inside of the church.

One of my initial attempts to try to photograph a larger area of the cathedral. There's just no way to get more than a sliver of the church in a photograph. It's all massive!

One of my initial attempts to try to photograph a larger area of the cathedral. There’s just no way to get more than a sliver of the church in a photograph. It’s all massive!

The main alter of the Cathedral on the Spilled Blood. In Russian Orthodox churches, the first image seen on the right is Jesus Christ. Next to that image is always the saint to whom the church is dedicated.

The main alter of the Cathedral on the Spilled Blood. In Russian Orthodox churches, the first image seen on the right is Jesus Christ. Next to that image is always the saint to whom the church is dedicated.

One small part of the ceiling in the Church on the Spilled Blood...

One small part of the ceiling in the Church on the Spilled Blood…

...and another part of the ceiling. How do you even get up there, much less create entire mosaics up there.

…and another part of the ceiling. How do you even get up there, much less create entire mosaics up there.

One final picture with the cathedral. After this, I bought a hot dog.

One final picture with the cathedral. After this, I bought a hot dog.

One of the pillars outside of St. Isaac's Cathedral. That's one solid piece of rock! A fine Finnish import, if I do say so myself.

One of the pillars outside of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. That’s one solid piece of rock! A fine Finnish import, if I do say so myself.

That's a door!

That’s a door!

A (relatively futile) attempt to photograph a larger portion of St. Isaac's Cathedral. I can't emphasize just how huge the cathedral.

A (relatively futile) attempt to photograph a larger portion of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. I can’t emphasize just how huge the cathedral.

Alex and I in the lobby of St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Alex and I in the lobby of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

The models for the original visions of the St. Isaac Cathedral

The models for the original visions of the St. Isaac Cathedral

The ceiling in one part of St. Isaac's Cathedral. Look at that!

The ceiling in one part of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Look at that!

One of the portraits where people place candles and pray. Many people go up to these portraits and kiss the surface.

One of the portraits where people place candles and pray. Many people go up to these portraits and kiss the surface.

That's St. Isaac in the middle. He's a relatively obscure saint in Russian Orthodoxy, but he shared a birthday with Peter the Great. And now his cathedral is the largest in St. Petersburg.

That’s St. Isaac in the middle. He’s a relatively obscure saint in Russian Orthodoxy, but he shared a birthday with Peter the Great. And now his cathedral is the largest in St. Petersburg.

Jesus Christ is always the central figure in Russian Orthodox churches.

Jesus Christ is always the central figure in Russian Orthodox churches.

Don't really know what I was going for here.

Don’t really know what I was going for here.

Frescos don't fare too well in humid weather. There was an effort to make mosaics of many of the frescos in the cathedral, but I believe it was never a completed project.

Frescos don’t fare too well in humid weather. There was an effort to make mosaics of many of the frescos in the cathedral, but I believe it was never a completed project.

One of the original frescoes in the cathedral.

One of the original frescoes in the cathedral.

Average ceiling work. Eh.

Average ceiling work. Eh.

A good look at one of the back walls of the cathedral

A good look at one of the back walls of the cathedral

Just another picture of a ceiling...

Just another picture of a ceiling…

Another example of one of the mosaics.

Another example of one of the mosaics.

I believe this location is called The Seven Bridges, because you can see seven bridges from this point...This isn't rocket science people.

I believe this location is called The Seven Bridges, because you can see seven bridges from this point…This isn’t rocket science people.

The first of the St. Nicholas Cathedrals I visited.

The first of the St. Nicholas Cathedrals I visited.

Here you go, dad. I'm in the picture.

Here you go, dad. I’m in the picture.

Here's me again. Same cathedral, same Jarett.

Here’s me again. Same cathedral, same Jarett.

The entrance of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The entrance of St. Nicholas Cathedral.

A view of St. Nicholas Cathedral from afar.

A view of St. Nicholas Cathedral from afar.

The second of the St. Nicholas Cathedrals. The space for prayer inside was much more limited than the first St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The second of the St. Nicholas Cathedrals. The space for prayer inside was much more limited than the first St. Nicholas Cathedral.

And the end of the journey! Time to go home to Helsinki.

And the end of the journey! Time to go home to Helsinki.

(This final part of the post was written on December 14.)

Well, that took too long to put up. I really hate that I didn’t put it up earlier, but I’m glad it’s done now. I’m afraid that some of my trips will be written about after I am back. I don’t know if that defeats the purpose or not, but I’m going to do it anyways! So take that. I have lots of time in airports over the next week, so I’m going to try to do a lot of writing. I still have so much stuff to put up. These last few weeks have been a blast, but they’ve been filled to the brim with something, whether that be travelling or exams…or just trying to catch a breath once in a while. The problem isn’t forcing myself to write, but rather forcing myself to find the time to write. What I’m trying to get at is…just stay tuned, I guess!

 

The Beginning of the End

I said goodbye to a lot of good friends tonight. I don’t want this experience to end — not yet. I feel like the control over my time abroad is slipping away from me. There’s just so little time left. I’m just about at the end. You never really think that these final days would ever come, but here they are. I wish they’d just wait just a little while longer to come around.

I only have a little over a week left abroad, and only two full days of those are in Helsinki.

I leave for Switzerland in just a matter of hours. After Switzerland (Lucerne), I head to Poland (Krakow) and then to Norway (Oslo). A good last trip, but “excited” isn’t really the right word to describe how I’m feeling right now. Of course I’m looking forward to seeing these countries, but I think I would have been just as content relaxing in Helsinki for a week. I know that I will be glad to have gone on this last trip, but I don’t really want to be away from home. I’ve been realizing that I’ve seen a lot in Helsinki and Finland, but I haven’t seen even more. With such a short amount of time, of course, you’d never be able to see it all (heck, you couldn’t see it all in one lifetime!). But there’s always more to see.

Where have the past four months gone? I’m not ready to leave yet.

A White Thanksgiving (Another Mini Post)

Well, it’s late and I’ve decided to not upload my final St. Petersburg post. Oh well. I think about the blog a lot, believe it or not, but each post takes a considerable amount of time to write (and to caption especially). Heads up: there’s 83 pictures in the next post!

But I’m writing this little post from the Finnish Lapland, about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle! Cool (literally). It’s -9C here, but with the windchill it feels like -25C. That’s about -13F or, in other words, really cold. But it’s really beautiful up here. This is nature in its purest form. And everything is covered with snow! My first snowy Thanksgiving. I didn’t get to have any turkey today, but I did go snowshoeing!

That's me in a Lapp hut. We stopped there to warm up in the middle of snowshoeing tonight. Warm sausages, hot glögi (oh boy are you gonna read a lot about that soon), and traditional storytelling helped fend off the cold...if only for a little while.

That’s me in a Lapp hut. We stopped there to warm up in the middle of snowshoeing tonight. Warm sausages, hot glögi (oh boy are you gonna read a lot about that soon), and traditional storytelling helped fend off the cold…if only for a little while.

I’ll talk more about it in a later post, but snowshoeing was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was simply breathtaking, and it was really just perfect. I don’t really know how to explain it any better than that. It just felt right — snowshoeing in the Finnish Lapland! Why not?

Tomorrow morning, our exchange student group is going for a tour on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. And tomorrow night, I’m going horseback riding on an Icelandic horse for some more night sightseeing. Hopefully I’ll get a peek of the Northern Lights. But wow, what a way to spend some time in Lapland!

Well that’s it for now. I’ll put up the final St. Petersburg post up soon. But three posts in one night! It’s a Thanksgiving miracle.

Bonus Picture:

Me in my new hat. You wouldn't believe how warm it keeps me. You also wouldn't believe how cold it is. Gotta stay toasty somehow.

Me in my new hat. You wouldn’t believe how warm it keeps me. You also wouldn’t believe how cold it is. Gotta stay toasty somehow.