I was living in a place called Abbotsford, an hour and a bit east of Vancouver. My disdain/respect for Abbotsford can be more closely examined in my "fictional" tale NEW FATHERS (available as a free download from HERE HERE and especially HERE). I had a few cool friends in Abbotsford and I was just learning about just how much trouble I could get into before I actually got arrested. But I was bored. And I wasn't happy. At 17 I wanted so much more. Not the selfish more: more video games, more money to waste down at the mall, more...
I wanted more of the outside world I knew existed, but seemed so far away from me. Even at my young age I felt like I was stuck, because Abbotsford was a big ol' bubble I just couldn't pop. Or didn't know how to pop, until I saw an ad in a local paper for the Rotary Youth Exchange program. Without a second thought, I applied to be an exchange student. Then I said a few clever things in my interview. Then surprisingly, I was accepted.
Hah! Those foolish Rotarians!
Having never really travelled anywhere far, other than Disneyland, I had a long list of countries I wanted to go to that were as far away (in distance and culture) from Abbotsford as I could get. Africa and Germany and Japan were on this list. What I didn't know was I didn't even have a choice as to where I would be sent. The sister club of the Rotary club I had applied to was in Finland. Finland. All I knew about Finland at the time was that Jari Kurri (of the Edmonton Oilers during their dynasty years) had come from there.
In late July 1993 I boarded a plane en-route to a small city in Finland called Pori. I didn't know then just how life altering the journey would be. Though Pori was the same size as Abbotsford (population and size-wise), it was nothing like my Canadian home. The people were mysterious. The language was impossible. And everything was invigorating, because it was so new and different. I learned to drink coffee and appreciate world music in Pori. And though Finland has no mountains, I learned how to snowboard. I could swear like a trucker in Finnish, but kids my age wanted to improve their English so badly, they never gave me a fighting chance to learn their language. But that was okay. I came to love Pori and Finland. And when I returned home a year later all I could think about was going back.
As it is with so many of our intentions in life, life always seems to get in the way. In my case, life kept me from leaving Canada for five long years.
I returned to Finland while backpacking around Europe in 1999, but I was a poor traveller at the time, having spent my year's worth of money the three months prior to arriving. I couldn't do much more than sleep on the couch I was offered, eat cheap meals of bread and cheese and entertain myself with NHL 99 on the PlayStation. It was more hanging out than visiting.
So when 2013 rolled around I began to think about how cool it would be to return to Finland and celebrate 20 years since first arriving. The only problem was I still had no money (a running theme in my life). 1993 passed and so to did my lifetime of money woes. I didn't win the lottery or anything, I just learned how to manage what little money I did make. And in no time I had squirreled away enough money to go back to Finland and do it properly.
But why constrict myself by going only to Finland?
Being part Danish, I thought it would be fun to go to Denmark as well. As luck would have it, my girlfriend also has friends in Denmark, where we were welcomed to stay as long as we wanted. With so much lodging offered up, we decided to go all out and make it a Scandinavian adventure. Finally, after six months of planning, on May 5th, 2014, I boarded a plane to Copenhagen, Denmark. Over the next two weeks my girlfriend and I visited Copenhagen, LEGOLAND in Billund (Denmark), Helsingborg (Sweden), Oslo (Norway), Helsinki, Turku and finally Pori (in Finland).
It was the trip of a lifetime. I mean, we spent a whole day in LEGOLAND. Does it get any better than that?
In Pori I walked all the same streets I had walked as a cocky foreigner all those years ago. I met up with old friends who now had families and careers, but had changed very little in all other ways. I fell in love with the city and its inhabitants all over again.
And despite the jokes about making it a tradition I return every twenty years, I know I'll be back much sooner. Just looking through the pictures, I kind of want to be back there right now...
|The unfinished pedestrian bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark|
|A taste of Eurovision 2014. This was the French band Twin Twin. Copenhagen, Denmark|
|LEGOLAND front entrance. I was nine years old again.|
|Hoth in LEGOLAND. This was my favourite part of LEGOLAND. Of course!|
|Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway|
|Vigelandsparken, Oslo, Norway|
|On the roof of the Opera House in Oslo, Norway.|
|Admiring unique architecture in Oslo, Norway.|
|Helsingborg Castle. Helsingborg, Sweden|
|Helsingborg in miniature. Helsingborg, Sweden|
|Rain won't stop me. Helsingborg, Sweden|
|Flower Festival in Helsinki, Finland|
|The Sibelius Monument, Helsinki, Finland|
|Our hostel (which is also an Olympic Stadium) in Helsinki, Finland.|
|Our hostel on an old cruise ship in Turku, Finland.|
|University students in Turku, Finland.|
|Annankatu 6, Pori, Finland. Where I used to act (and act out).|
|Everyone in Pori is in a band, or so it seems. Out for one of many gigs.|
|A day at the cabin in Pori, Finland.|
|Street art in Pori, Finland.|
|More art in Pori, Finland.|