The Retrodorm

This week I am heading back to home after a pretty amazing 3 months in Turku. People have started to ask me if I enjoyed myself or what was my favourite part of my ERASMUS exchange. Without a doubt I enjoyed myself, but to try to pin down just one event or experience as my “favourite” just wouldn’t give a fair representation of my time in Finland. What I can say is that my time in the Retrodorm, the 5 floor former nursing home at the top of a hill, has helped to make my 3 months in Turku truly unforgettable.

On first glance upon noticing the dampened pages on the front of the building reading ‘The Retrodorm’, the 6/7cm foam mattresses that greet you when you first open your room and the shared shower areas off the communal kitchen; you would be forgiven for immediately  turning around and looking for alternative accommodation. Despite this however I can happily say that choosing to stay at The Retrodorm was one of the best choices I ever made.

NiallBurke3The famous travel writer Tim Cahill once commented that ‘A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles’. For me, the significant part isn’t that I have lived in a country over 3,000km from home for 12 weeks – what is more important is that I have made some great friends from all over the world; from Belgium and the Netherlands to Germany and  as far away as Australia (to name a few!). I know that I won’t be short of a place to stay no matter where I end up in the future and I think that they know that the same stands for them when they travel to Ireland.

Looking back at the time I spent in The Retrodorm doesn’t make leaving any easier because we all know that the chances of us living in such place again in the future – with that same sense of community and camaraderie – are quite low.

Text and photo: Niall Burke

St. Paddy’s Week in Turku

70 million people worldwide claim Irish heritage. It should come as no surprise then that many Irish people are of the opinion their national holiday is often better celebrated abroad. From parades in New York and Sydney to green rivers in Chicago to green Pyramids in Egypt, it is pretty heart-warming to see the mark Irish people have left around the world and the affection so many nations continue to hold for our heritage and culture. This March 17th just passed, for the first time that I can remember, I spent St. Patrick’s Day outside of Ireland – in Turku to be exact.

When I first arrived in Turku I, for some reason unknown even to myself, didn’t really hold out too much hope of meeting other Irish people… clearly I should have known better! There are few places around the world where you will struggle to find an Irish person; we’re well accustomed to travelling to far-flung places. And speaking from experience, while we Irish always try our best to integrate and meet other nationalities, it is nice to have a few familiar accents floating around nearby! That is something that I think I will remember about my time here in Turku when I leave next week – the network of fellow Irish that you know are there to back you up or buy you a shot of Jameson or a pint of Guinness… even though you wouldn’t think about drinking whiskey or stout when you’re at home.

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I titled the blog ‘St. Paddy’s Week’ because the celebration of my national day in Turku extended well beyond 24 hours. From the St. Paddy’s party in Marilyn organised by ESN on the 13th to feeding my housemates Shepard’s Pie (minced beef/lamb topped with mashed potato and baked in the oven) on St. Patrick’s Day itself; my St. Patrick’s Week in Finland is certainly one I am going to fondly remember.

Text and photo: Niall Burke

Artic Swimming in Norway

I’m a little too young to have a ‘bucket list’ and that’s probably for the best as I discovered last week. Before I set off to Turku almost 3 months ago, while I had thought about meeting Santa Claus and hopefully getting a glimpse of the Northern Lights, driving over the Norwegian border in Finnish Lapland or swimming in the Arctic Ocean were things which had never crossed my mind. Nevertheless ‘having a sauna at the edge of a snow-lined beach before running into the Arctic Ocean’ sounds like something that could easily occupy a line on even the most extravagant bucket list.

Last week some of my adopted Turku family and I (probably one of the most peculiar families you could ever conceive – 11 students from 9 different countries) headed to the ski resort of Saariselkä in northern Lapland. Despite the sighs which an additional 5 hour bus journey (on top of a 14+ hour bus ‘expedition’ to our Lapland base in Saariselkä) to Norway initial drew, I sincerely doubt anybody left the small village of Bugøynes in Finnmark disappointed.

Bugøynes, 500km north of the Arctic Circle, is quoted – by the pillar of reliability that is Wikipedia – as having 230 inhabitants (according to a local this is likely a gross overestimation for the winter months). And while this idyllic seaside lacks a tourist office, it boasts a post-office, two small grocery shops and a café that seemed to rely, at least during the winter months, on brave Artic swimmers.

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Propped about 50 meters from the beach are 3 wooden huts: 2 changing rooms and a centrally located wood-fire sauna. We took some time to warm up and mentally prepare for what was the longest 50 meters of our lives and went for a swim in the clear and ice-free (thanks to warm currents originating from the Gulf Stream) waters. And after returning to the sauna – the capacity of which had at least doubled with frozen adventure seekers desperately trying to get warm – we somehow convinced ourselves to do it all again!

Text and photo: Niall Burke