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A magic day in Finland

"beep" Darkness!

"Beeep, Beeep" No, light! It's already bright outsides! Did I sleep in?

"BEEP BEEP BEEP!!!" - Eight o'clock in the morning, my alarm clock is ringing.

This in itself is a novelty, since for the first time while travelling, I did not manage to forget my clock at home. Still, it is much too early to get up, my head is aching, and I am sure that I will collapse if I have to leave the bed right now. I decide to stay in bed, close my eyes just for five more minutes... just five! Somehow, it is strange how the "value" we attribute to "time" depends on our situation;
when I am waiting for the train to arrive, I'm sometimes annoyed, hoping that the minutes will pass quickly, and time is not worth a lot. But then, in situations like this morning, only five additional minutes seem worth king's ransom...just five minutes! If only time could stop flowing!!

I slowly drift back to sleep, but luckily not for long, since we will meet for breakfast only fifteen minutes from now. At least, while I cannot easily get up in the morning, I am usually quite quick with finishing morning procedures after taking the first hard step. Part of this "ability" is due to the fact that I usually shower in the evening, which has also the side effect of making my hair look like I had an intimate encounter with a hurricane. People who have known me for some time will eventually get used to this, but there are exceptions.
I usually pretend that I do not care about (hair)style anyways, which of course is not completely true...

So, after shaving, washing and combing (futile, of course!), I take a look around the hotel room. It is (already? still??) very bright outsides, but unfortunately the sky is overcast. I hope this will improve soon.
Since this is our last day in Turku, I think hard about things that I do not want to forget when packing my bag. Packing however will have to wait until after breakfast, since Maggy and her boyfriend will already be waiting for me to arrive. I grab my solar-filter, which I brought all the way to Finland just for this cloudy day, and meet my colleagues at the elevators. At the breakfast restaurant, I cannot resist all this good-looking things and - as usuall - load my plate with too much stuff. While having breakfast, I take a look around. Most of the people look quite "destroyed".
Three full days of Collaboration Meeting, including a full schedule of talks and discussions (and, in case of our friends from Switzerland, a honest attempt to jogg around the Baltic Sea) can be very strenuous. Astrophysics in itself can be. But then, I have never seen so many people having so much fun in what they are doing and loving their work so much, which is a great consolation. And, you get to travel a lot, a nice side effect of international collaborations.

Maggy, her boyfriend and myself will make use of the opportunity and spend one additional week on vaccation in the beautiful Finish countryside. I am looking forward to this very much, since I have been in a lot of stress during the past weeks.
I had to write down some of my research, and in between I'm helping to organize a summerschool in July, which takes up a lot of time. And then, I would like to finnish diploma studies in the not too distant future...
It is always the same: When I dream of finnishing something important (not only in astrophysics, but also in private life), I say to myself: "Ok, when this is finally over, you can be content with what has been achieved, you can relax and find peace again." But then, when the moment arrives and it is done, the past already beginnes to pale, and the pressure to find something new starts all over again...
On the one hand, this is a part of life and enables us to always look forward and come to terms with the past, but on the other hand I sometimes wish it would be easier to find some safety, something fixed in life.
So, our vaccation will hopefully be a nice opportunity to get away from the pressure of referee reports, reading papers, answering email over email and thinking about all this weird concepts and ideas in theoretical physics. Also, I think I get along really well with my two colleagues and hope that I will get to know their "private" side a little better.

Although Maggy is occupying the desk next to mine in our bureau, and her boyfriend is only one room away, it is always difficult to find the time and opportunity to exchange some personal thoughts, views and stories in the midst of all the work (and sometimes - only sometimes! - chaos). I know that Maggy must be playing Badminton really well, since there are some prizes from tournaments pinned on the bureau wall. Also, she seems to like literature and travelling. About her boyfriend I know that he is into fast cars and in love with Munich, which undoubtedly is a nice city and has the advantage of being close to the Alps. So, it seems that we three share some common interests and could spend a nice time together in the Finish countryside.

Before departure however, we have to pack our luggage. In between squeezing all the stuff into the much too small bag, I notice that - finally - the sun is free from the clouds. Out of the hotel window, I take a look through the solar-filter, and then rush and pick up Maggy and her boyfriend to also have a look. In between the haze, a small black dot is visible on the bright disk of our star: Venus.

Although (or because?) we are "professional" astronomers, many of us do not really often observe the sky with their own eyes any more, which I think is sad. The romantic wonder of the night sky has always been a source of inspiration for the entire humankind, as well as for the individual.
Having seen this astronomical event after all, we finnish our packing efforts and head to the rental car company.
The car we get for our vacation is really nice, but has two downsides: it is quite small (we jokingly state that our Spanish colleague probably suspected this and so decided not to join the vaccation), and, what is much more disturbing, it seems that it is nearly impossible to touch any part of the car without breaking it.

After a while, we manage to stuff all our things and ourselves into the Citroen and are on our way to Kimito Island, where we have rented a cottage for our holidays. Soon, the population density becomes quite sparse, the houses hidden in the vast Finish forrests, and what on the map looks like a large town turns out to be a modest village consisting of two supermarkets and ten houses. Generally, a large fraction of the inhabitants seems to live isolated in the countryside, and just the "market place" of the area is indicated on the map as a "village". Still, the overall population density is much lower than at home, and the nature very beautiful.
After collecting the key for our cottage from a friendly gentleman in a very small bureau, we have an additional two kilometers drive on a muddy road through the deep forrest, and then we stand before the cottage. I am a bit nervous since I made the reservation, and I hope that the other two will like the decision I took, which is always a difficult one from far away.

What immediately strikes me inside is that every wall, the roof and the floor have wooden blendings, which I like very much. Truly Finish.

Our host tells us that the next supermarkets are in Dragsfjärd and Dalsbruk respectively, which makes for a 20 minute drive if we forget anything. On the upside, no one will occupy the other cottages in the vicinity while we are here, so that we should have a really peacefull time. Somehow, I have always liked the idea of being away from the "civilization" and on my own for a while, even if it is just in a cosy hut in the forrest. And what a forrest it is! Unlike in central Europe, where, upon building a house, all trees in the vicinity are rooted out, here the trees completely surround and hide the cottages.

To the shore of the small adjacent sund it is only about 50 meters. The water is cold. I stick my toe into it, and feel the blood leaving the tissue.
C - O - L - D!!!
There is also a very tiny sand beach, and we even have a private rowing boat, which will be fun to navigate. I tell my travel companions that we should use it to cross the Sea to Stockholm, but not surprisingly, they are not sold on this idea. Probably, they are getting used to hearing this kind of nonsense from me; I hope they are not already annoyed.
Afterwards, we take the 500 meters walk through the forrest to the other side of our small peninsula, to the "real" coast of the Baltic Sea. I like the sight of the waves on the Sea through the leaves of the trees very much. On the coast, it is quite windy, and the waves are larger than in the sund, but still only some ten centimeters in height. One can not actually see the open Sea, the view is blocked by numerous small islands of the archipelago. The beach is rocky, and the polished, age - old granite bedrock forms impressive cliffs. Since my childhood, I have always been fascinated with things far away, in space as well as in time. The grass is always greener...

After returning to our temporary home away from home, we unpack our luggage and move into our bedrooms. Then we drive off again to Dalsbruk, where we have a very good dinner in a small restaurant. As a side effect of the relaxed atmosphere, we even develop an idea which might help in aligning the optical axes of our Cherenkov telescope. Perhaps our boss should pay for the vaccation!

Meanwhile, it is late in the evening, and the sun is about to set. This however does not mean that it will be dark soon. It is the time of the summer solstice, and so far up in the north, the sky is at least a bit blue at any time of the day. This takes some time to get used to, but the atmosphere of the long evenings is quite unique. Also, I can go to sleep even more easily if already the morning is beginning. Somehow, this gives me the reassuring impression that someone else is awake and taking watch while I am not.

To watch the sunset, we return to the shore and see the red globe sink behind one of the many islands. Together with the beautiful surrounding landscape, this is a very moving sight.

Back in our living room, we discuss what places we would like to visit during our stay. Maggy's boyfriend favours doing a full-day round trip of the archipelago by car. This however means an entire day of driving, which in my opinion will be very strenuous, and so I am a bit opposed to this idea. Probably, I am (as alas quite often) too relentless in my rejection. I do not want to raise any negative emotions, and in fact I would be perfectly content with doing this round trip if the other two really want to do it. I just want to point out that it might be strenuous. Somehow, the discussion seems to be going nowhere. As so often, I already regret having raised my criticism. Oh well...
But then, perhaps I am overanalizing. Surely, the different opinions will be sorted out and all will be fine!

For a final round of relaxation before going to bed, our sauna is the right place. While we are surrounded by the hot air and water vapour, I realize that perhaps one reason why a sauna is so relaxing is that due to the heat, I am completely focused on just being there, resisting the hot air, and there is no capacity for all the futile thoughts about those everyday sorrows. It is so hot in here that one cannot sit on the benches without a towel, and my hair is heated up to the point where it hurts the skin on my neck. Just breathe, slowly!
After several minutes, I have to go out, to the cold, to the water. A soft drizzling rain is hitting my skin, but I do not even feel the cold, just the impact of the drops. I see the water, run into it. The cold bites my feet and legs. I dive into the water, feel my chest contract from the cold. It is difficult to breathe, and my heart races. I stay in the water until my heartbeat slows down again. When I arrive back in the living room, I feel a bit dizzy and as if the cold water is running through my veins. And relaxed, very peacefull and relaxed. All stress and problems of the day are gone, driven out by the heat and washed away by the Sea.

Lying in my bed, I rest my head on the pillow and close my eyes. All tension vanishes, the events and emotions from this special day find their place in my memories. Slowly, from the random noise on the inside of my eyelids, images are forming, and from the singing of the blood in my ears, sounds. I drift off to a dream, to another magic day in Finland....

Alfred