Oulu, Finland

Oulu: an Ode to Winter

Meeting point
Frozen Stranding
Ice Fuel
Cyclist in the Penumbra
The Municipal Market
Oulu Nevada
Passage of Time
Cold Walk
icy Oulu River
Frigidity without Priority
Pikisaari Directorate
Sku to 2
Tietomaa, the Science Center
Meeting with Toripollisi
Lutheran Cathedral
A Sunny Reflection
Monument to the Cold
Located high in the northeast of the Gulf of Bothnia, Oulu is one of Finland's oldest cities and its northern capital. A mere 220km from the Arctic Circle, even in the coldest months it offers a prodigious outdoor life.

It's Saturday afternoon. We arrived from Kemi and a short but memorable trip on their renowned ice breaker "Sampo".

Not even too late, except for the great star who, in these extreme latitudes of the Suomi nation, with no sign of Spring, is preparing to leave the scene.

By four in the afternoon, Oulu's municipal and historic market is about to close.

On the other side of the icy street, two teenagers huddled in parkas enjoy one of the city's rare slopes.

Repeat descents sku which leave them in the middle of the square in front, safe from the traffic that doesn't pass that way or, if it does, is speedy and contained.

The Policeman and other Bronze Statues of Oulu

Nearby stands out “Toripolliisi” a picturesque bronze policeman, erected by Kaarlo Mikkonen in 1987, as a tribute from the people of Oulu to the police patrol who, from 1934 to 1979, maintained order in the surrounding Market Square.

Oulu has developed a particular admiration for bronze statues which, as such, abound.

As we wandered through Maria Silfvan Park, we came across something else: “Passage of Time".

In this, thirty-two characters half-sunk in snow and in a row on a granite pedestal, symbolize, as the name of the work indicates, the history and civilizational evolution of Oulu.

At the front end, following an executive with a cell phone in his ear, we detect a child sitting on the threshold of the pedestal, legs down.

In true Oulu fashion, residents are concerned about their exposure to the frigid winter.

Someone knitted and dressed him miniatures of a gray hat and a traditional red and white knitted sweater.

Over time, as a result of the harsh climate, the people of Oulu became hyper-creative and serious art lovers.

How else can it be explained that Oulu organizes, August after August, the most notorious Air Guitar World Championship on the face of the Earth?

Negative Temperatures, Ice and Lots of Cycling

The negative temperatures and the occasional wind from which the residents protected the bronze child can even smooth and, here and there, make the ground in Oulu slippery.

They are far from stopping the thousands of resident cyclists from cycling.

Cycling comes, in fact, from a long local tradition of simplicity, modesty and direct contact with the Nature that involves and, often, intimidates the city.

Oulu, the City Founded on the Mouth of the River Oulu

Located where the river of the same name flows into the Gulf of Bothnia, the baptism of Oulu was inspired by the Sami term that defined the abundant and rapid waters that followed the melting of ice. Lapland and that climbed the banks again and again.

Oulu, the city, today preserves the flow of the river much more controlled, but remains flat. It has its highest point in Yliliiminki, at a mere 135 meters above sea level.

Most of its centuries-old houses sit a few meters above the (then) semi-solidified flow of the river, the tower of the bright-yellow Lutheran cathedral and that of the Tietomaa science center, well above any other roof.

A series of islands serve as obstacles to the flow on its way towards the Gulf of Bothnia. These include, among others, Linnansaari and Lammassaari, Kuusisaari and Pikisaari.

These four are essential complements to mainland Oulu. They are connected by road-bridges or simplified bridges designed for the exclusive flow of pedestrians and their bicycles.

As we drive along the edge of the city, we come across an elementary fuel pump, placed on the edge of a bank, in order to supply fuel, not to cars, but to vessels that, in the appropriate season, sail there.


At that freezing time, all the boats were stored and protected in dry dock.

All except a forgotten sailboat, immobilized dignitary of the exception.

Oulu city, Finland, sailboat on iceThe temporality of Oulu's ice and thaw dates back a long time.

This did not prevent the city from becoming one of the main commercial hubs of these parts, the fifth most populous in Finland and, even more notorious, with its 214 thousand inhabitants, the fourth largest city in the world at the latitude at which it is located, surpassed only through three Russian cities, starting with the unusual Murmansk.

The Oulu River delta was long inhabited and frequented by Sami people of Lapland when, in 1605, King Charles IX of Sweden dictated that a commercial warehouse should be built there, under the protection of a fort that defended the island of Linnansaari.

From the Kingdom of Sweden to Independence in 1917

At the time, the kingdom of Sweden's main rival was Russia. Now, Charles IX only decided to found Oulu after a peace treaty assured him that, at least anytime soon, the Russians would not use the Oulu River as a route to attack Swedish territory.

For more than two centuries, Oulu was safe from the Russians. This, if we take into account that, despite the peace treaty with Sweden, the Russians submitted Finland to a Grand Duchy, on paper, autonomous, in practice, subject to the Russian Crown.

As a city in that Grand Duchy, Oulu collapsed in the face of other risks and threats.

In 1822, at a time when almost all buildings were made of wood and tar, an uncontrolled fire devastated it.

In the middle of the XNUMXth century, the city was still undergoing renovation of its grid and was once again destroyed.

This time, by the powerful and already steam-powered British Navy that, in the context of the Crimean War, attacked it and several other Finnish port cities that then hosted the majority of the Russian merchant navy.

From the rubble of the fire of 1822, Oulu had gradually emerged as a major exporter of vegetable tar.

Now, during their attack on the city, in addition to the Russian vessels, the British also destroyed the structures that produced this tar, as pollutants, concentrated on the island of Pikisaari (Tar Island), as well as several other industries and the city's shipyards.

The devastation at the hands of the British forced Oulu to undergo a new, slow recovery. Nothing that the determination and supportive spirit of the adventurous Suomi nation couldn't solve.

How it came to resolve, in the context of the troubled Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the liberation from the Russian yoke and its independence.

Double Reconstruction and Recent Exemplary Modernization

Once again, little by little, Oulu rebuilt the sawmills, cellulose and cereal mills, shipyards, fishing warehouses, tanneries and foundries that guaranteed great profits and modernized it.

As often happens in Finland, in more modern times, this multifaceted industrial stimulus gave rise to strong investment in education, science and new information technologies.

Many of the young and less young cyclists we come across on the city's streets and bridge walkways are students, teachers, trainers, scientists, IT specialists and the like.

Among Oulu's biggest employers are the local university, Nokia Networks and the Nokia Group, which alone support more than seven thousand residents.

The synergy of these companies and groups with the University of Oulu is one of the most obvious reasons why, since 1980, the local population has practically doubled.

And this, it won't hurt to remember again, at the gates of the Arctic, with average temperatures, in January and February, of -12ºC but which, at any moment, can drop to minus thirty.

And that, when really powerful polar fronts invade the south, they plunge close to Oulu's absolute record of -41.5º.

An Intimate Relationship with Cold Winter and Nature

The people of Oulu are unlikely to be intimidated.

Instead, they remain faithful to their countless bike rides, jogging, Nordic ski training, winter swimming, gatherings in cozy saunas, interspersed with the cold of advances (holes in lakes, rivers, sea ice on the surface) that complement them.

Just over 50km offshore but still within the Oulu region, the big island of Hailuoto provides a delightful escape to a rural and even more natural Finland, immense and with just a thousand inhabitants. We also passed there.

Pikisaari: a Historic and Island Stronghold of Oulu

Truth be told, Ouluenses don't always feel the need to go so far away.

A few hundred meters from the historic heart of the Northern Capital, Pikisaari has long left its industrial and polluting past behind.

Its old warehouses today house some of the city's sophisticated restaurants.

It's there that we had lunch with Karoliina Pirhonen, a hostess who looks like a little barbie doll, blonde, like so many other Finns.

Karoliina confesses to us that she wants to go out for a while Mediterranean, where you can go to the beach and do some shopping that’s different from what you’re used to.

Even when traveling, it would be a vacation. Born and raised in Oulu, colder, less cold, privileged Oulu always makes you want to return.

We were five months away from the next Air Guitar championship.

And in complete harmony.



Book the flight Lisbon – Helsinki, Finland with TAP: flytap.com for from €550.

TAP plane

From Helsinki, you can fly to Oulu with Finnair.



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