Monday, 17 August 2015

Road trip: Western Finland, world's oldest diving suit and goth rock

Here is the second part of my road trip around Finland. I will probably divide it into two or more parts, because we visited more cities on the coast area and if I squeeze them all into this one post, nobody will have the patience to read it.

As mentioned in the previous post about eastern Finland, it differs from western Finland because they have had different influences for centuries. East is closer to Russia and west is closer to Sweden. And if you look at the map can you blame them? It is much easier to sail through a small sea than to strut through woods, especially during the time before automobiles.

I threatened to continue to tell fun facts about languages and wildlife in Finland, so here we go:


For several centuries Finland was under Swedish throne and when Sweden handed Finland over to Russia, the Russian Tzar decided Finns could continue to use Swedish as their official language in governmental things and legal things etc. Do not get me wrong, Finns spoke Finnish, especially the lower classes. The noblemen and merchants spoke Swedish, Russian, and German, mostly.

Today, if at least 3000 persons or 8% of the population in a municipality are Swedish-speaking Finns, the municipality is required to have all the street names in both Finnish and Swedish. If the municipality has majority of Swedish-speaking citizens, then Swedish may come first, like in this street sign. The name of this street is Big River's Road.  Some small municipalities can be almost solely Swedish-speaking.

That traffic sign underneath the street's name means that the vehicle approaching an intersection is obligated to give way to other vehicles coming both from left and right and pedestrians too. When I was in Washington D.C. I noticed Americans do not have this sign, instead they can have STOP signs on all roads leading to an intersection. We do too have STOP signs in Finland, but they are used only in crossroads with extreme poor visibility. Otherwise that triangle is sufficient.

Almost all municipalities in Finland have both Finnish and Swedish name. Helsinki in Swedish is Helsingfors, Oulu is Uleåborg. Yet another tedious fun fact: Borg means a castle or a fortress in Swedish. 

Dangerous wildlife

When driving around Finland there will be several times one will see a warning sign depicting an elk. Elk is the most dangerous animal in Finnish nature. Year 2010 there were 1302 collisions between a car and an elk. during 2000-2009 76 humans died in a car accident involving an elk. To compare: in Finland a bear has killed one human during the whole 20th century. The last time a wolf killed a human was in 1881. The second most dangerous animal in Finnish nature is a wasp. It has killed seven humans in 10 years.

These elk signs are common in Sweden and Norway too and at some point some German tourists had a tendency to steal elk signs on their vacation in Sweden. Maybe they thought they were exotic, but it is very dangerous to steal or sabotage a warning sign and it could lead to somebody else's death. Smartly, many tourist shops sell elk sign stuff these days!

Now to more touristy and less educational material!

Oulu has been featured a bit already, so not much more about it. We drove from east Finland to Oulu, spent there two days and then started to drive down the coastline. The first stop we made was in the city of Raahe.

Raahe has the first local museum in Finland. As you probably know, museums are bigger versions of cabinets of curiosities. They were first private collections of odd things and souvenirs people showed off to their acquaintances.

A Finnish doctor & physician Carl Robert Ehrström loved culture and decided to found a museum open to public in 1862. Before 20th century it was not easy to travel, especially if one was not from a wealthy family, so a museum that showed a bigger glimpse of the world was an amazing thing back then. I think it still is today.

Raahe was a big city when considering sailing and commerce and many of the things exhibited were from sailors, especially things they had brought from all over the world as souvenirs. Here are exotic creatures in glass jars, human skulls and a human fetus, and some apothecary's trinkets.

In another museum in Raahe one can see the world's oldest diving suit from the 18th century. And when saying oldest, I mean oldest that still exists. There were probably multiple suits like this back in the day. Its name is Wanha Herra, which means an old chap or sir. It is made out of calfskin and it looks pretty weird. In the stomach area is a hole where the human crawls in. the loose leather is then rolled tightly and attached on waist. The air to breath is pumped through the upper part and when the air is used it exits from the back.

This old diving suit has toured around the world in different expositions, the last time was 1998. After that they noticed that travelling strained the suit too much. Now Wanha Herra is in a glass cage but they have made a replica of him with the methods that were use in 18th century. The new suit is called Nuori Herra, which means a young chap or sir, and they have successfully tested if one can actually dive in it and survive. The longest diving session with Nuori Herra lasted 40 minutes.

Obviously visitors are not allowed to touch the old chap but they did have a metallic diving helmet to take the disappointment away. The instructions were clear. 1. Stand below the helmet. 2. Remove eyeglasses etc. 3. BE CAREFUL. 4. Slowly pull the helmet over your head.

I managed to bump my forehead on the helmet while putting it on.

In this museum they had also an exhibition of Raahe's local rock bands and among them was one goth rock band! I am not featuring photos of this much, because it was all in Finnish and I can't imagine you being all thrilled with a photo of an informational board in strange language. In this photo you can see there were boards and dummies dressed in selected bands' gig clothes and other things. You could sing karaoke, the best songs of the bands from Raahe.

Charon was founded 1992 and originally they played death metal but everything changes through time and so did the artistic desires of the band's members. Their goth rock is nice, melancholic and romantic, beautiful.

I love the fact that their final compilation album in 2010 was named A-sides, B-sides & Suicides. Especially because when it was released, hardly anyone was listening music from a cassette or anything with A- and B-side. And that it was the last album of Charon so the suicide part is not just a rhyme. There is something funny and poetic about it. Oh, and all members continued their musical career with other projects, mind you.

I tried to find a specimen of Charon's music with decent voice/video quality. I was not completely successful, but no matter. Here is their song Worthless from album Tearstained. Album was published 2000.

Next up: Self-portrait as a reindeer and other disturbing art!


  1. Det var intressant att läsa om Finland, tack för rundvandringen! Eftersom jag bor längst ner i sydväst så vet jag mycket mer om Danmark och knappt inget om Finland.
    Men jag måste fråga; Storavägen betyder bara '(the) Big Road' på svenska. Menar du att ordet 'flod' finns med i det finska vägnamnet men inte det svenska?

    1. Jå, det finns, men jag har ingen aning varför. O_o "joen" menar "flods" och "suur" menar att nogånting är stora och tie = vägen. Kanske finskatalande folk hade den där namn och svenskatalande det andra och man ville inte glömma eller förstöra en av dem? :)

  2. I love Charon, my uncle drove their bus on tour once... I still have the CDs at home! And when you said "Borg means a castle or a fortress in Swedish." - the German word for castle is "Burg" which is pretty close! Maybe I should try to learn Swedish? Finnish seems a bit overwhelming...

    1. Swedish and German are both Germanic languages, so I believe it would be relatively easy for you to learn Swedish! :D Plus from the Middle Ages German merchants have traveled and immigrated around Baltic Sea, including Sweden and Finland, so both languages have a lot of loanwords from German. *Tedious fun fact no. 14* :D

  3. The diving suit is so cool! have you seen any live elk? I hear they are huge!

    1. Luckily I've not seen an elk in the wild. They are huge! The size of a massive horse and they can be really aggressive during the mating season. O_O

  4. I have a few friends who have elk warning signs but as far as I know those were bought and not stolen... And I hope so. That museum sounds amazing, too :-D I guess the helmet alone would feel quite scary to put on already!

  5. Wow, elk are dangerous!

    That diving suit is so creepy looking! :O