Taylors in Finland

The Grand Adventure

Mary Ann's Fulbright Exchange to Oulu, Finland
August 2001 - June 2002

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John’s trip to Gotëborg, Sweden
17 September – 20 September 2001

17 September 2001, Monday

My first flight was at 0600. Mary Ann dropped me off at the airport at 0500. I had no idea what security I might have to go through considering the attacks in New York. Turns out, we passed through the metal detectors and then walked out to the plane as normal. If there was any additional security it was very discreet. It feels strange to be flying to a foreign country without Mary Ann along.

Hope Mary Ann made it back to the house; she was never comfortable driving a car with a manual transmission. The new car will have an automatic transmission but the Geartronic option lets me drive like it has a “stick”.

Finnair uses MD 82/83s with rear doors and the stairs that extend down from the tail of the aircraft. Most U.S. airlines don’t use them anymore since D. B. Cooper hijacked a plane long ago (what a trail of terror he started!) and it felt strange to board and exit that way.

Wish my mother was alive and knew I was going to Sweden. She had hoped we might be able to visit Sweden some day but we never had the opportunity. I hope I can find Ballstanäs, my maternal grandmother’s home, and learn more about Elsa’s side of the family. Then perhaps about the Nilsson side later.

While I was standing at the airport check in I noticed the clerks whispering questions to one another, as if whispering would prevent me from understanding them. Except that I could not understand their Finnish if they were talking directly with me. I was reminded of the “Pig Latin” my mother and uncle would use when I was young and they were discussing something I should not understand.

When I arrived in Sweden I was wondering about customs and passport control. I stopped at one counter and the officer asked where I came from. After I responded “Finland”, he said go on. That was it. Went through the next door and I was standing in the terminal under the International Arrivals sign. The ride to the hotel didn’t appear so I caught a taxi into town; Gotëborg airport is twenty-five kilometers from the city center.

Gotëborg is located on a river in western Sweden and is a port for ferries to Denmark. There always seems to be one moving somewhere on the river.

After a nap at the hotel I took a river taxi/ferry to the city center; great ride and only 15 SEK (1.50 USD). If you don’t have much time take the ferry both ways for 30 SEK for a mini tour of Gotëborg. The north side of the river has a lot of apartment buildings built in the last ten years. I walked through the Gallerian - the “largest shopping center in Sweden” - and along a shopping street for about six blocks to the canal which surrounds downtown Gotëborg. The canal boat ride lasted an hour and circled the island formed by the canal. Some of the bridges are so low that you have to lie down in your seat to clear the bridge. Then we went onto the river. Gotëborg was a major shipbuilding and repair center until the 1980’s. Only the floating dry docks seem to do any business now. One of the left-over items is an eighty-four meter tall rolling crane; although not used for ship building or repair any longer, you can climb to the top for a good view of the city or to bungee-jump. The boat tour is a capsule of Gotëborg’s history since you pass by the old shipping warehouses, parks, shipyards, historical buildings and along many streets. Like most of Europe, buildings are built, used; and, if they last long enough, become revered for their place in history – but they are still in use. They don’t have the luxury of space like the U.S. to set aside buildings and parks to “freeze in time” like the Van Dyke house in New York City, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia or Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, California. Warehouses become offices and apartments, schools become offices and old mills are turned into hotels and shopping centers.

Gotëborg was the home of the East India Trading Company. At one time its “turnover”, or sales, was larger than the Swedish national budget.

Then I visited the Gotëborg Maritima Centrum, in particular to see the Swedish destroyer and submarine that are part of the collection. The destroyer was about the same size as the high endurance cutter I sailed on while serving in the United States Coast Guard. The crew size was double what we carried (254/132) and the spaces seemed smaller. I hope their food was as good as the Guard’s.

Then I went on board the submarine. Now that is close quarters. No privacy, small spaces; my claustrophobia would definitely kick in. Tall people should not apply (or have very thick skulls) and I have a great deal of respect for anyone who has ever served in the “silent service” for any navy. One interesting thing I noted was the storage for spare torpedoes. Behind the four front tubes was a rotary housing, much like a revolver pistol’s rotating chamber. When aligned a torpedo could be slid from storage to a tube very easily. Looked much easier than the more common style where they are stored in racks on the side and had to be hoisted into position.

I caught the river ferry back to the hotel for a nice dinner in the bar.

18 September 2001, Tuesday

The big day!

A taxi rolled up to the hotel at 0929, one minute early, to take me to the Volvo Factory Delivery Center. It was about a ten-minute drive, over onto the north shore of the river.

After introducing myself and showing some identity our car was moved to the inside garage where Lief walked me around the car, pointing its new or important features. I then took the car for a brief test drive on their “test track”. The “test track” is a short loop that lets you at least check that everything works, no squeaks or rattles and you have the seats and mirrors set correctly for when you hit the road. Everything worked, the car handled well and I looked forward to getting on the road for a longer drive.

While I was waiting for the insurance to be extended from two weeks to six months I ordered some accessories – the prices looked reasonable, especially since they included installation. The major accessory was the block heater ("engine water heater” as it is called here) which is an absolute necessity considering winter in Finland has temperatures to -30C (-22°F). Wall outlets to plug in your car are standard here, just part of the landscape, and are provided wherever you work. The options were installed and the car was ready when I got back from lunch.

I walked to lunch at the Volvo World Headquarters. There is a section of the cafeteria set aside for Tourist and Diplomat deliveries. After lunch I visited the Volvo Hall where they had a variety of old and new Volvos on display. Then I went on a tour of the Safety Centre. Volvo, a number of years ago, started to visit the site of any accident that involved a Volvo – the police would call them. They have accumulated the data on over 26,000 accidents. The statistics help them determine how accidents happened, what safety features worked and what needs to be added. As consumers we only see the smooth skin of the car but it is amazing what they have put underneath, like crush zones, side impact protection, electronics and air bags. The cut-away model was interesting.

Unfortunately, the factory tour I had looked forward to was unavailable. I enjoy technology and seeing how things are manipulated, put together, etc. I hope to take the factory tour when we return the car next summer for shipment to the U.S.

After the tour I headed for Stockholm. The Swedish highways are smooth and it is easy to keep up a good pace unless you get stuck behind a truck. When possible they will move over to the right to let you pass – many of the two-lane highways have paved shoulders that are a lane wide. The majority of the traffic flows right at the limit – very few speeders.

Highlight of the drive to Stockholm was Jönköping at the southern end of Lake Vättern. The area reminded me of the lakes in the Swiss and Italian Alps. I drove along it for about thirty minutes before turning northeast towards Stockholm. I found a motel about fifteen kilometers south of Stockholm.

19 September 2001, Wednesday

Stockholm – I drove in and got lost. During my drive I drove around an island that included an amusement park, theatre and lots of park land. Also drove by some embassies. The streets in Stockholm are mostly paved vs. Helsinki’s cobblestone so they are definitely quieter as you drive about. The city is clean but Helsinki is cleaner.

Stockholm is as cosmopolitan as San Francisco – but then, while waiting at a traffic light, a man in a suit rides up with a briefcase clipped to the luggage rack. He is in lane two of three lanes. Here bicycles are ridden in traffic, not on the sidewalk like Oulu.

I found downtown by accident. I was lost, saw the “P” sign for parking and parked. Turned out I was in the heart of downtown with the Tourist Information office only a block away. I took a boat tour through the harbor. There are over 200,000 pleasure boats for 1.4 million people. From the water Stockholm looks a lot like Helsinki except the hills are steeper, the buildings a few stories taller and a mix of old and modern. Many of the significant buildings are on the water.

Swedish store clerks are the quickest to switch languages. I would stay “Hello” and they responded in English, without hesitation.

One of my goals in Stockholm was to do some research on my maternal grandmother’s family. I asked at the Tourist Information office for any info about the town/village. One of the notes added to the story written by my grandmother was that the family estate was now on the map as a tourist site. Well, no such luck for me. I went to the City Library to see if I could find anything out but the man in the genealogy department was swamped. I need to do more research on the web for the next trip.

Bikes are common in Stockholm. In Oulu the bikes are ridden on the pedestrian/bike paths while in Stockholm they ride in the traffic.

Drove back to the hotel for dinner.

20 September 2001, Thursday

I had purchased my ferry ticket for Thursday morning on the Silja line; I’ve been told it is the nicer of the two lines to Turku. Got up at 0415, dressed and started north to Stockholm. Silja line ferries to Turku leave from Kapellskär, about forty miles northeast of Stockholm. Drove through Stockholm, didn’t get lost, found the E18 highway and arrived at the ferry terminal at 0530, before sunrise.

The “ferry” is a cruise ship that you can drive your vehicle onto. Feels strange driving into a steel tunnel that runs the length of the ship. 300 SEK ($30 USD) for the Volvo and me, very reasonable. The ship has duty-free shops, casino, movie theatre, bingo, upscale restaurant, fixed-price buffet, serve-yourself buffet and fast food shop. The ship is diesel powered so there is always vibration and it varies according to where you are on the ship. The duty-free store is aft and all of the bottles rattle constantly, as if I was in a liquor store next to a freight train crossing. Even forward, in the buffet, there is a rumble and the coffee in your cup is always rippling.

As we sail through the thousands of islands, some of them solid rock and only a hundred meters long, the ship weaves it way (and leans) to follow the channel. In the buffet I am sitting level with the tops of trees on most islands; outside, five decks above, I can see over the nearby islands to others in the distance. Global warming, if it occurs, will be a disaster for coastal Finland and Sweden. Few islands appear to be over thirty meters tall (one hundred feet) at the tree tops.

Mariehamn is the administrative center for the Aland islands and a transfer/turn-around point for people riding the ferry to take advantage of the duty-free stores.

Following Paul Lindfors’ trail, I explained to the ship’s purser that I had been in the U.S. Coast Guard and asked if I could get a tour of the bridge. “We are under heightened security and tours are not possible”, he explained. Bummer, I would have enjoyed comparing the 1930’s technology I used on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WHEC Taney, which backed out of Pearl Harbor, to the 1990’s technology I have read about and seen on television.

While I was having a cup of coffee, about an hour before we landed, I got up to take a picture of a passing island. I said “Excuse me” as I blocked a table’s view for the moment. The women asked in English how long I had been in Finland. The three of us chatted for a while. The couple knew Vallejo since their son had attended the California Maritime Academy there. It is a small world.

I did my tax-free shopping just before we arrived and was able to take my purchase to the car. The car deck is closed except for thirty minutes after departure and thirty minutes before you arrive. I then earned the car has an alarm system. I had unlocked the car, stowed the purchases, opened the sun roof and window, took the key out and sat down to wait. About fifteen minutes later I went to clean the mirrors and set the alarm off, surprising the deck hand and myself. I had to scramble to find the unlock button.

I think Finland will have ferries for a while. Southern Finland is geographically isolated from Western Europe with the Gulf of Bothnia to the west, the Baltic to the south and Russia to the East. The ferries offer an inexpensive method to move people and vehicles. The start of the European Union will have some effect due to the reduction in tax-free shopping advantages.

As I drove off in Turku I kept looking for customs until I realized I was on a public street heading for the highway so I headed for Tampere. The farms between Turku and Tampere appear to be larger than those near Oulu. I don’t know if they are larger or if they just didn’t leave any trees up for windbreaks between the fields. I was making good time as I approached Tampere so I headed for Jyväskylä. That was a wonderful road to drive due to a combination of rolling hills (reminded me of the New England area in the U.S.). I would pop over a hill and see just trees but the next turn might reveal a “picture postcard” view of a lake with a cabin or farm. This stretch was a little slower due to the trucks that cruise at 80 Kph but they would move over when they could and there were occasional passing zones.

It was dark when I rolled out of Jyväskylä after a food and fuel stop. From there on, light traffic and the road stretched ahead of me, punctuated by a string of trucks going south and the occasional town or village. No moon so my view was whatever the headlights illuminated.

The trucks and buses often have lights on top of the cab. When you first see them they blink off and the vehicle disappears. Then the rest of the truck comes over the rise with the running lights stretching behind it. Some trucks will have the factory headlights and fog lamps plus four more lights on a grill bar and two more on the roof. They must have huge alternators to drive ten front lights, the running lights on the tractor and trailer and the cab hardware (radio, CB, heater fan, instruments, etc.).

I arrived in Oulunsalo around 0030 Friday and crashed (into bed, that is).

The next day Mary Ann got to see her “new” car (I had driven almost 900 miles).


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I'm almost there. This shot during the taxi ride from the airport. (2595)

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You can dance your way to Denmark or Germany on the ferry. (2596)

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On the north side of the river. (2600)

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Working dry docks. (2608)

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This is not a ship; it is a floating parking garage. I think I'll mail this to Willie Brown (mayor of San Francisco). (2609)

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A shop-aholic's delight = six blocks of stores! (2610)

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Low bridge! Everyone has to duck during this tour boat ride. (2615)

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Tight fit for all. (2616)

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The "lipstick" building. (2618)

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Lief introduces me to our Volvo V70. (2625)

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"Wringing it out" on the test track. No rattles, no squeaks and everything worked that I could think to test. (2628)

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The Safety Centre tour was the alternate to the factory tour. (2637)

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A cut-away V70 showing all of the safety features. (2634)

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Oscar, the dummy, has a new girl friend. He's a survivor. (2636)

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Great highways in Sweden. (2638)

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A view of Jönköping. (2640)

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Downtown Stockholm. (2642)

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A fountain in the Kungstrad Garden on my way to the harbor tour. (2643)

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My Stockholm harbor tour is waiting. (2647)

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The National Museum. (2649)

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A yacht harbor with some of Stockholm's 200,000 pleasure boats. (2652)

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A view from the harbor tour. (2655)

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The Royal Palace. (2656)

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Bicycle riders in downtown Stockholm. (2660)

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The long steel "tunnel" (car deck) of the Silja ferry from Sweden to Finland. (2661)

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I hope the first command when underway is to "bear left". (2665)

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Mariehamn in the Aland archipelago. A short ferry stop. (2668)

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A "sister" ferry to the one I was on, heading west to Sweden. (2671)

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Lots of rock and no tall islands. (2673)

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On the road again, between Turku and Tampere. (2675)

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A Finnish major two-lane highway. (2676)

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A modern bridge across the highway in Tampere. I like the architecture. (2677)

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Mary Ann's first view of her new car. (2760)

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A Swedish car with Swedish plates. How appropriate for me, since I am one-half Swedish. (2758)

Last Update 2003 11 14

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