UNIT TRIP: Take a walk on the wild side Review

by Ema Hana Kačar, AA 2nd year
Intermediate Unit 9

11 November 2013
Nellim, Finland

 

Nellim is a quaint little village in Finland with the humble population of 150 people. It consists of a handful of little wooden cabins surrounded by the vast Lapland wilderness, a few huskies and trigger-happy locals. There is also a church.

 

Coincidentally, Nellim was also the final destination of Inter 9’s first unit trip. Sure, our peers might be getting a nice tan in Sao Paolo or roaming the streets of Manhattan, but we were going to see the Northern Lights, right?

 

D-Day: After triple checking I had my passport, scribbling a “see you later” note for my roommate and making sure the stove was off, I made my way to the airport. Once past the check-in, I immediately spotted a few familiar faces, exchanged a series of hugs and how-are-you-doing’s followed by inevitable sighs of excitement. We were ready to venture out into the freezing cold of the Arctic Circle.

 

After the intimate security pat-down routine and a relatively uneventful set of flights, we arrived in what seemed to be a windy, freezing version of what we imagined in our mind’s eye – Oulu. With an early start scheduled for the next day, we wolfed down a couple of reindeer pizzas and went to sleep.

 

A little Aalto highlight

Come dawn there were 12 sleepy faces blinking at me over coffee in the hotel’s dining room, up and ready for what we came here for, the crescendo of weeks of research and preparation, the climax of our journey – visiting Alvar Aalto’s long-forgotten and seemingly abandoned wood processing plant in Toppila. After a short, chaperoned tour of the remaining factory buildings we were let into the silo – the apple of our investigation’s eye. Under a thick layer of dust, dirt, and the occasional dead pigeon, rose an incredible mechanism of old wood-processing machinery, spread out through numerous floors above us. Once the initial awe and wariness wore off, the silo became overrun by 11 rogue students setting up experiments, tripods and cameras in each and every corner of the deserted building. It was like witnessing a group of scientists poking and prodding a newly discovered animal, hoping it was something that would finally get them onto the cover of Time magazine.

Eight rough hours later we were glad to be back in the warm embrace of the hotel, our pockets brimming with memory cards containing more information than we had hoped for.

 

A room with a view

When my alarm clock went off at a silly hour the next morning, there was still morning dew on the windows framing the predawn skyline of Oulu. With bags under my eyes and a bad hunch the sun may never rise again I made my way to the 9-seater van, behind the wheel of which I would eventually (and slightly hesitantly) find myself. We set off on a seven-hour drive to the deer-infested winter wonderland that is Nellim.

 

Three hours, a few snowball fights, and numerous cups of coffee later we arrived in Rovaniemi, an en-route Aalto mecca. The mind-blowing attention to detail within his buildings really justified the fact that he is considered a national hero in Finland – the numerous Aalto restaurants, Aalto cafés, Aalto streets and even the rather peculiar Aalto radio station suddenly made sense.

 

Boys will be boys

Alas, there is no rest for the wicked – after a quick vehicular picnic we were on the (increasingly icy) road again. Snow started coming down, draping the landscape in white and muting the sound of the car’s tyres making its way up north.

Entering the Nellim Wilderness Hotel four hours later was sort of like reminiscing about my last visit to the Natural History Museum – stuffed wolves, deer and other furry critters gazing at us from the walls, eyes blank and mouths open as if they’d just told a bad pun and were waiting for a reaction.

 

The following morning we were awoken by the unfamiliar sound of tranquility – city folk unaccustomed to the silence of the wilderness and the muffling power of freshly fallen snow.

 

Inter 9 venturing into the woods of Nellim

With childlike excitement we trod upon the soft ground for hours, hoping to soak in as much of the northern allure as we could before returning to London the following day. Red-nosed and watery-eyed we reluctantly returned to our base and started conducting more experiments for our research, this time substituting our concrete jungle environment for the rough, extreme conditions of the arctic landscape.

 

“Let’s do this” was the battle cry at 5 am the next morning, ready for a long drive to the Oulu airport and a series of even longer flights back to our natural habitat where the weather suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

 

Sit back and enjoy the ride

For more information:

Intermediate 9 Unit Brief

Intermediate 9 Extended Brief

Nellim Wilderness Hotel

Oulu

Ema Hana Kačar on Projects Review 2012-13