Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The frustrating art of predicting Finnish weather

If there has been one thing that I have learned after living in southern Finland for nearly two years, it would be the unpredictable nature of the weather.  The first winter we lacked snow in December (2011) and didn't have a white Christmas and everyone complained.   I guess the snow gods woke up because the rest of the winter brought loads of snow and by April people were wishing for spring.  Then the 2012 summer arrived or did it?  May was pretty decent, then June rolled around and the rain started.  I had mentioned to a good friend of mine that Midsummer (summer solstice) would be the best time to visit Finland.  You would think late June with its eternal sunshine would also be the safest chance for good weather on a visit to Finland.  Wrong!   I took him and his family to Linnanmäki amusement park on a rainy day.
At the park the umbrellas came out, but the rides didn't stop.  This is Finland and here people just go on with their days.  We made the best out of the day and enjoyed our time at the amusement park despite the conditions.  Looking on the bright side, the rain meant the ride lines were about half the size of normal.  Spring 2012 was promising, but the summer was one of the coolest that locals could remember and that had everyone complaining and thinking that they needed to get out of Finland for the next summer (2013).

The year flew by and then again old man winter was upon us again.  The winters in Finland can seem a bit like Bill Murray's character in "Groundhog's Day". This time a blizzard came during the final weekend of November dumping snow everywhere. Snow came a month earlier this winter and assured everyone of a magical white Christmas that was sorely missed the prior year.  The winter of 2012-2013 turned out even longer and brought more snow than many had imagined.  The final snow storm didn't arrive till the first week in March and the snow lasted on the ground until just about May this year.  It was quite a long and cold winter.  Interesting enough, March 2013 had many days around -10 Celsius (15 F) and was considered the coldest March in 50 years.  April was still a bit cool and then Vappu (May 1st "May Day") came.  Vappu wasn't that warm, but since it was sunny it was deemed a success.  Which brings us to Mother's Day (May 12, 2013), the day I wrote this post.  What can I say, yesterday it was 22 Celsius in Espoo (71 F) and it is predicted (if one can actually predict weather in Finland) to be quite warm next week, with temps rising past 23 C (73 F) by the end of the week.  Surprisingly enough, this little warm streak in early to mid May will perhaps make it a much warmer month than last June of 2012.  May, June, July, August.  In Finland these months could be cold or warm, stormy, or sunny, you just never really know.  The summers in Finland can be outstanding, but they are typically short and sweet.  According to the calendar summer is from June 20th - September 22nd, but in my mind, I would have to say Finland's "summer" is July 1st - August 15th, plus or minus a week on either side.  :)  So after suffering through 4-5 straight months of cold, snow and ice, the pay back is 1-2 months of summer.  Now you can understand why Finns cherish the long, warm summer days.  That is life at latitude 60' North, and one should never have any expectations about the weather because it will be an exercise in frustration.  The key to happiness and success here is just to go about your day and forget about the weather and the predictions.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The thriving music scene in Finland

I have always loved music and live concerts and feel lucky to have grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area with its thriving music scene. I grew up with endless opportunities to see live shows in clubs, arenas or large stadiums.  San Francisco provided a diverse scene and there was never a shortage of shows or venues.  It seemed that everyone in the music industry eventually came through the area.  I have seen my share of shows and have even bumped into some famous musicians along the way.  I thought moving to somewhat isolated Finland might have meant the end of my concert days.

Contrary to what one might think, it is not just tango and folk music here in Finland.  Little did I know that many Finns are crazy about music and they are especially known for their love for heavy metal.  Since Finns enjoy music and attending concerts, there are several places for artists to play here and many of the shows are well attended.  Finland, and notably Helsinki, has many differently sized venues depending on the artist.  Most famously known is perhaps the Olympic Stadium (home of the Helsinki 1952 Summer Olympics).  This stadium gets some of the most globally successful artists who come to Finland.  Some examples of bands that have played here include Muse, Bruce Springsteen and U2.  I was lucky enough to get a ticket to attend the U2 show during the Summer of 2010.  It was an amazing show despite a bit of pesky August rain.  The stadium shows are very seasonable, and the stadiums are not used during the frigid winters.  Next in the pecking order of venues is the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki.  This Arena is also used for hockey and other events and seems to be the most popular venue for popular artists who do not necessarily want to play a stadium show.  Also, it works great in the worst of winter conditions when the stadium is off limits.  Examples of past shows that have been held here include Britney Spears, Madonna, Black Sabbath and Rush.  The last example and my favorite is the local club venues.  I am familiar with 4 of these clubs in Helsinki.  The largest one, which gets the greatest amount of international artists, is called Circus.  Steve Vai and Europe recently played here and the Smashing Pumpkins just sold out their show scheduled for this August.   In addition to Circus, other well known nightclubs are Tavastia,  Nosturi and to a lesser extent Virgin Oil (restaurant/club).  Tavastia Club gets a nice mix of local and international artists while Nosturi seems to have the metal market under its wings.  Tavastia recently had 2 shows by a Finnish favorite Von Hertzen Brothers and Nosturi recently had Scottish rocker Biffy Clyro and American guitar wiz Paul Gilbert.  Last, but not least on my well known club list is Virgin Oil.  Recent shows here included former Scorpion Michael Schenker and popular Finnish 80's rocker, Michael Monroe, formerly with the band Hanoi Rocks.

Also, Finland enjoys a nice summer festival music season.  There are numerous opportunities for music concerts during the summer.  Provinssirock in Seinäjoki, Ruisrock in Turku and the Tuska open air metal festival are a few of the larger rock events.  However, in addition to rock there are festivals for just about every music lover, including the Pori Jazz and Kaustinen Folk festivals.  Not to mention the "hipster" Flow festival.  If you are young and cool or old and established there is probably something that will appeal to your fancy.

My guess is that the Helsinki scene gets probably 80% of the international artists who pass through, however other major cities such as Oulu, Tampere and Turku get their fair share of gigs as well.  Last summer the Red Hot Chili Peppers came to Finland and decided to play the Ratina Stadium in Tampere instead of Helsinki.  I continue to be pleasantly surprised by quantity and quality of the artists who come to Finland.  Before moving to Finland I have would have never imagined that so many artists would decide to come to this country because of its relative geographical isolation.  In order to come here from central Europe one cannot just jump on a train, one needs to take a ferry or fly.  I think Finland has established a good reputation among artists and concert promoters as a place that really appreciates music and quite frequently sells out top shows in minutes.  For example, twice I tried to get a ticket for the Black Sabbath reunion show at the Hartwall Arena.  Both times (once in 2011 and again in 2013), I was not able to get a ticket because the show sold out in approximately 5 minutes online.   I once read an article that Finland has the highest per capita interest in heavy metal in the world. Hard rock and heavy metal are definitely the favorite genres among Finnish people, although there are many popular artists in various different musical categories.  There are different theories on why this true, but I think the interest in dark and heavy music comes from the fact that Finland is geographically isolated with its long and dark winters.  This environment seems to have given birth to many Nordic metal heads.

I personally like many different genres of  music and can enjoy many different artists.  I do appreciate the fact that many different bands make the trip to Finland in spite of its location.  This was a pleasant surprise for myself and I will continue to support and enjoy the music scene whether living in the San Francisco Bay Area or Finland.


(Circus belongs of within-temptation.com, Nosturi belongs to Microcuts.net, Tavastia belongs to Metro.fi and Hartwall Arena belongs to www.hartwall-areena.com)