Monday, August 4, 2014

The Great city of OULU!!

Our trip from the Philadelphia to Oulu was long and tiresome. After one layover in Chicago and one 9 hour flight to Helsinki followed by another flight to Oulu we finally arrived. Our adventure in the capital of the northern Scandinavia began at that moment.

Background of the city
  • Founded by King Charles IX of Sweden in 1605.
  • The name Oulu comes from a word in the Sami language, meaning floodwater.
  • Surface area 3,000 km2.
  • 5th largest city in Finland.
  • Population 190,695 with the youngest population of all cities in Europe, with an average age of 34 years – growing by 2,000 inhabitants per year.
  • Oulu is considered one of Europe's "living labs", where residents experiment with new technology (such as NFC tags and ubi-screens) at a community-wide scale
We took the bus from the airport to our apartment in Yliopistokattu (University Street). It was a 30 minutes ride, but not boring at all. We got to experience the great Finnish landscape for the first time. Besides some living compartment, the equivalent of American suburbs, and the roads, all around us was forest, lakes and green fields. The air was fresh and after having been on planes for so long we breathed deep and enjoyed the air(It was a bit cold, but the temperature did not prevent us). The bus went through the city and we were looking all around us at the beauty of it all. Even in the city we could see trees and parks everywhere. As soon as we left the city center and went crossing a bridge we got to experience one of the best sights in the city; the Fountain in the lake. 

Fountain in the lake.
It was a great view and after it the forest followed till we arrived at the university where we met our guide Stephen. The best guide in forever. Stephen told us more about the city and the university. Some facts and information we would not find in the webpage. For instance, each building in Oulu has a "storage room", which has a huge steel door protecting it. It turns out that these "storage rooms" were built after the WWII in case of any sudden military attack and their purpose was to provide shelter for habitants. Another interesting thing had also to do with the Air Raid alarms. The first monday of every month a loud alarm would go off and the purpose of it was testing the system. However, we were here for 2 of these special days and we experienced none. I guess its just a urban legend here in Oulu.


  • Oulu has a subarctic climate that has severe winters, no dry season, with cool, short summers and strong seasonality
  • The average annual temperature is 36.5°F
  •  Average monthly temperatures vary by 48.8°F
  • The lowest temperature recorded in Oulu is -42.7°F from 1966.
  • There is a lot of snow during winter and they never cancel classes.
Oulu is only 107 miles away from the polar circle so the weather here is not very warm at all times. After having left Philly at a soaring 85°F we expected a somehow cooler temperature at around 65°F. Little did we know that we would have to open our luggages and bring sweaters out as soon as we left the airport. June was not my typical mid summer month. Usually by that time I would be at the beach. Temperatures varied around the 50°F and a completely unexpected thing happened on June 16th, our second day here. It SNOWED in Oulu that day. Snow in june!! Can you imagine?! Our expectations of going to the beach and tanning a bit were shattered but the locals came to aid supporting us by saying that this was not usual and August would be better. It had not snowed in June here for 60 years. However, their statements and scientific data were good enough to convince us. 

Weather has indeed improved here. This month temperatures have been around the 80°F besides some days when it rained a bit.

Hail in Rovaniemi.
Polar Circle
Our trip to Rovaniemi past weekend did not survive the muddy weather here either. Rovaniemi, is a small city north of Oulu and at the Arctic Circle. It is known as the capital of Lapland and it the house of Santa Claus!!! Yes, yes Santa Claus. The one(we met four of them there, but I will still refer to him in singular not plural. If young kids are to read this post we advise them to skip this part.) that brings us presents for Christmas. To get back to the weather topic. It hailed that day in Rovaniemi. But not just normal hail, the pieces were big as a nut. 


Dorm from Outside
We all live in the same building but most of live in different apartments. Apartments here vary from 2 - 4 rooms, which are spacious. Each apartment has its own common kitchen and bathrooms. Laundry is done in the building next to urs. It is free of charge but we have to book online. Also there is a sauna in the same building,which we have used whenever we had free time.  
"Storage Room"

Our apartments had everything that we needed starting from furniture, microwave, fridge, oven, utensils, and also good food left as an welcome present from the previous tenants. This took me by surprise. Before leaving my dorm room, I received an email from the housing office stating that my room had to be cleaned completely. Nothing should be let on the room otherwise I would be charged $ 100. Because I was one of the last people to leave my dorm I went to throw out some trash at the trash room. I was startled! There were microwaves, fridges and all kind of things that were barely used. Because students could take those home or resell they were just throwing things out not to get charged I suppose something should be done. Not only could new incoming students could use some of those objects and stop adding to the already expensive education ill, but also the school could use it to promote the sustainability cause.  

View from the roof of our building at 00:00. We are surrounded by Green. 
I got to live in a four room apartment but we were only 3 tenants. I, Moudit and Jean. Moudit was a pre-junior from India who studied Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. This was his second year in Oulu and he had been working for one month already. Jean was a soon to be Freshmen in Software Engineering for France. He arrived the same week as us and was here for a summer internship funded by the French government. It was a nice thing to have two roommates from two
View from my window. I'll miss this.
different parts of the world. We spent a lot of time sharing ideas, opinions and our views on different topics. It was a great experience to get the input and learn from cultures different from mine. I could easily notice the "laid back" and "live your life" point of view from an European, the thorough and deeply work hard ideas of an Indian and also the somehow mixed opinions of work and live of someone from the Balkans who studies in the States. As an international student I would joke by saying that I was international squared. However, the best culture exchange came when it was cooking time. They do not say "Food brings people together" for no reason. 

Center City 

Park in Center City
The city of Oulu was founded in 1605, but a huge fire destroyed much of it in 1822. After that the architect redesigned the city in the neoclassical style. The whole city is build with small blocks and there not many tall buildings. There are parks everywhere and bicycle routes dominate most of it. Most of the street are cobbled. The main street as in most other European cities has many shops on both sides.

The Bobby
The Market Square (Rotuaari) is at the seafront and a very popular meeting spot. There are cafes, ice cream vendors (A special section dedicated to them) and many other vendors that sells veggies berries foods etc. "The Bobby" is a policemen statue at the Square that overlooks the activity there. Judging by the number of people who take photos there it is the most famous tourist destination here. Something that I have noticed at the Market Square is the Finnish youth. They just gather there, sit next to the sea and bring out their drinks. They talk, laugh, and drink there. It is a good way to spend a summer afternoon. 

Other things in Center city are the: The Oulu Cathedral, the City Hall and the good Pizza they serve all over the city in every pizzeria. Don't forget to try reindeer meat. It is splendid. 

A green and sustainable city

  • Oulu has the greatest per capita amount of bicycle paths in Finland. There are 550 kilometres of bike paths, which averages out at 3.5 metres for each Oulu resident. This year we will build another 20 kilometres.
  • The greenhouse gas emission has dropped by 33% from 2010 to 2013.
  • One of the fastest growing urban areas in Finland.
  • The City of Oulu owns about 17,500 hectares of timberland.
  • Landscape in the Oulu region has a great deal of variety: sea, archipelago, low-lying coastal land, river valleys, agricultural land and extensive marshes.
Bicycle tracks in Oulu. Red is our Dorm
When flying from Helsinki to Oulu the first five minutes we could see cities and man populated areas. After those five minutes until we landed there was only forests and lakes. That is Finland, sustainability here is a big cause. And Oulu as a city puts a lot of efforts into it. There are different conventions in which the city participates to lower the green gas emission. 

At the Park.
This one yawns, rolls, and pitches.
There are parks and forests everywhere. For instance, our university and dorm is located in the middle of a small forest. There is a lake behind our dorms and a botanical garden as well, where we have located the shire. The best thing we have come across and that also brought back our childhood memories was the games at the park. As engineers those games caught our eyes and we spent a lot of time on them. 

Everyone bikes here in Oulu. Maybe it is summer but I have not seen many cars. I think that people here buy bikes because distances of traveling are fairly short, it is cheap, convenient, easy, and healthy. There are bike tracks everywhere in the city and you can reach every location. Sometimes it is faster to take the bike than the public transportation system.

Center city here we come!!
Because centercity is around 5 km away from our dorm and we wanted to try biking around here we all purchased bikes the first week. We bought the bikes online on facebook in a group dedicated to selling or giving away used things (sustainability again). The bikes were cheap and affordable by us with a mean price of 30 euros/bike. However, Coming and going back from center city costs 6.2 euros before 11:00 pm. Plus when we go to center city we go through a beautiful park and also cross by the lake fountain. We have travelled all around with bikes and the good thing is that there places to leave bikes everywhere. 
When talking about sustainability I should of course mention energy. There is a dam next to center city. It was build in 1940 and it is located in a very beautiful park. The dam has also created a artificial lake which people here use for sunbathing. I have to point out that "sunsets" from the dam are marvelous. Besides the dam there are also windmills at the beach. 

But what has caught my eye is the cleanliness of the city. I have not noticed any cleaning staff but neither have I noticed any one throw something in the street. The citizens are so conscious about the environment and its importance. In a conversation with my mentor he was saying that there is no police controlling hunting and fishing. People just do not hunt or fish when it is not the right season. The first time we went to center city we noticed this protest. It was a small group but they were still protesting against nuclear plants in finland. 
Ashleigh with Ducks.

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