Category Archives: Festivals

Helsinki today: restaurants & a huge fleamarket

Today I got to taste Helsinki the way I really like it: with lots of happy people on the streets and with good weather!

This is not so easy combination that the people living in warmer climate might think… But when Helsinki wants to show its good side, it really is something! There’s a special feeling in the air…

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Today we had decided to take part in a huge fleamarket (in Finnish kirpputori), organised every now and then in different parts of Helsinki.

This time the association of Kallio, Kallio-liike, arranged a very popular street market in the bohemian & hipster Kallio neighbourhood, where everyone could just come and start selling their things – for free.

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The only requirements where to take all your unsold things back home with you and to make sure that the day would be fun & nice for everyone. And it really was! The sun was shining, there were lots of people selling and buying (perhaps more or less we were the same people but anyway) and everything went smoothly.

It’s so great when people quite spontaneously “occupy the urban space” and use it to strengthen the sense of community. The Vaasankatu street was closed to cars (actually it has been like that all the summer). Another good thing,

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However, the fleamarket wasn’t the only event happening in Helsinki today. A lot bigger one was Ravintolapäivä (Restaurant Day), which took place all over the city – and Finland – and internationally!

In short, it’s a food carnival where anyone can open a restaurant for a day – and it’s amazing how many people do it in very creative ways! You just have to take a walk in Esplanadi park, like we did, to get a good glimpse of the variety.

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Their enthusiasm is amazing, as is the fact that one gets to taste the most interesting things… Today I was mostly selling stuff at the fleamarket, but I still tasted typical Maleysian soy bean rolls with shrimps and Vietnamese frittata with cabbage. Or something like that… Unfortunately there are no photos of these delicacies, I was too hungry to think about photos at the moment. 😉

Only the creativity of the chefs is the limit when it comes to the food and locating the pop-up restaurants: they can take place homes, gardens, parks, streets, balconies, shops etc. Naturally now in the summer the most of the restaurants are outside, in the November or January edition of Restaurant Day it’s a bit different…

Thank you for today, Helsinki! Looking forward to seeing more days like this, with the city alive and many smiling people around.

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Mänttä – a little Finnish town full of contemporary art (and naked men)

Yesterday we visited Mänttä, a little town 1,5 hours from Tampere (by car). It was a nice excursion, which we repeat almost every summer with my parents. “The dying industrial town” Mänttä has been able to do something admirable – it has converted into a lively centre of contemporary art! And now Mänttä is a bit stronger, as it was merged with the municipality of nearby Vilppula in 2009.

Mänttä Art Festival (Mäntän kuvataideviikot) is an event of contemporary art that represents mostly new Finnish visual work. There are some established names in the exhibitions, but the festival is also known as a show of experimental and daring art. The artists are invited every year by a different curator. The main venue is Pekilo, a converted factory now filled with art.

And then the verdict. For me, this year’s exhibition was OK, however I didn’t enjoy the it as much as last year – probably because of this year’s curator… for me, the exhibition could have been a lot more daring and focusing on one, interesting theme.

Anyway, there’s a lot more to see in Mänttä, as interesting exhibitions are held also in The Honkahovi Art Centre and in the two Serlachius museums: Gösta Joenniemi’s villa and Gustaf Serlachius Museum, which mostly tells about the centre of Mänttä life in old times – the Serlachius factory.

Here it all began – Serlachius paper factory in Mänttä.

The town has an important industrial past – it’s the former residence of industry magnate R. Erik Serlachius, who practically governed the town with his huge paper factory. The famous Finnish toilet paper Serla was born here. These big guys were luckily interested in arts and culture, too. The factory owner G.A. Serlachius and industry magnates Gösta, R. Erik and Gustaf Serlachius have all contributed to Mänttä becoming a flourishing art town. Now their great collection of famous artworks can be enjoyed by everyone in their museums.

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Pekilo – factory building converted into art museum. Quite ugly outside, full of contemporary art inside.

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Images from this year’s Mänttä Contemporary Art Festival main exhibition at Pekilo.

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This piece was composed by miscellaneous stuff found near the venue.

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At Honkahovi we enjoyed lunch (champignon soup) while admiring the peaceful lake scenery. The villa has also what was once the biggest one-piece window glass in the Nordic countries.

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Sculptures in the garden of Honkahovi by the lake.

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Joenniemi villa. Inside you can find some wonderful artwork from the Serlachius family collection.

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A typical old Finnish wooden house next to Joenniemi villa – inside there is a nice cafe-restaurant.

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We also passed by the centre of Mänttä – and saw some naked guys on the street. I would say this was the most daring performance I saw at the Contemporary Art Festival this year!

Credit of all these photos: Helsinkimylove

Juhannus – Finnish Midsummer is special

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The midnight sun. Credit: YLE.

Last weekend we celebrated juhannus, the Finnish Midsummer. It’s an important party here in the Nordic countries, I would say the second after Christmas.

Our Midsummer traditions have pre-Christian origin. Like most of today’s Christian festivities, also Midsummer used to be a pagan holiday. The Christian faith then associated the date with the celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist. That’s practical.

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“Kokko” in Pispala, Tampere. Tens of people came to see the lighting of this bonfire waving Finnish flags. The weather was wonderful, too.

Anyway, some of the old traditions still go strong. For example the bonfires, kokko, which are burnt by the lake or the sea. We also get a couple of young birch trees and place them at the front door – with lots of flowers everywhere!

Midsummer is a night full of magic, so it’s the perfect time for performing some rituals like putting 7 flowers under your pillow for dreaming about your future husband or wife… mostly the tricks are for young maidens seeking suitors and fertility. Probably it’s a high time to update the rituals!

The true star of the party is the midnight sun. This time of the year, the night does not exist. And you don’t really feel like sleeping either, which is both good and bad, of course…

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It’s not midnight sun… but almost. Juhannus in the neighbourhood of Pispala, about 11pm.

During Midsummer, Helsinki becomes a desert city, as everyone heads for the countryside and the summer cottages. Even if every year there are more and more activities also here in the city for those who decide (or have to) stay.

As the idea of renting a cottage felt quite stressful, we chose a “a middle” plan and spent the Midsummer with my parents in Tampere. It’s quite a big city but as my parents live by the lake, it’s almost like being in a cottage (without thousands of mosquitos, which my boyfriend fiercely hates).

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The traditional “ball” grill, pallogrilli, for preparing “makkara”, the Finnish sausage. My parents have one just like this.

It was a perfect choice! My parents were happy and, as many music festivals are organized on the Midsummer, also near my parents’ place there was Pispala Festival that took place on the beach of a lake – with 20 bands performing during two days.

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Sauna inside a tent at Pispala Festival. Cool idea and even better as it’s only 10 meters away from the beach.

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Pispala Festival was organised for the first time this year – and it was a big success!

Pispala is the hippie-punk-alternative-bohemian neighbourhood in Tampere (still, even if there are more and more yuppies moving in) so the place has a vivid alternative culture scene. There’s also a 100-year old public sauna, Rajaportin sauna. I highly recommend it, if you ever go to Tampere!

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Finnish traditions include beating your friends with “vihta”, a bunch of birch boughs tied up in a special way. It’s good for your blood circulation! Credit: http://www.pispala.fi/rajaportinsauna/satavuotta/jutut.html

Barbacoa is the thing to eat for juhannus. My parent’s are not so much into barbacoa, so we only did it once with the typical Finnish makkara that has different flavours. Then we had sauna, where we beat each other with vihta (another tradition) and drank some beer. Well, we drank very little taken into account that heavy drinking is closely associated with juhannus. Actually it’s very sad, as every year we calculate the dead after the party is over. This year at least 15 people got killed, and most of the deaths were related to alcohol: traffic accidents, drowning in the sea or a lake, fires… I wish one day we would learn to drink a bit more moderately. Let’s see what happens the next juhannus…

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Finnish juhannus – theory and practise. There’s a point here, even if this year we had sunshine. 😉 Credit: Naurunappula.

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Being a Refugee in Finland

The last couple of days I’ve been in Seinäjoki, a city about 3 hours’ train trip away from Helsinki. Seinäjoki is the capital of the province of Southern Ostrobothnia, and with a population of 58 000 it’s one of the fastest growing urban centres in Finland. Even if you wouldn’t believe it.

It was my first visit to this town, which seems very small and, sorry to say, ugly. Well, this is nothing “personal” as it happens with most Finnish towns. During the fast urbanization in about 1970s, most of the old pretty houses were torn down and replaced by boring concrete blocks. This destruction is a tragedy for our cultural history.

Anyway, to compensate there is some fine Alvar Aalto architecture. Lakeuden Risti is the symbol of the city.

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The church by Alvar Aalto is the proud of Seinäjoki – with some other building designed by Aalto. Credit: Yle.

It was my first time in Seinäjoki. Sometimes traveling inside your own country is a lot more exotic than going far away. You think you know what you’ll get, but nope: people act different, they speak another dialect etc. Very eye-opening!

Why was I there? At my work we organise events called Markets of Possibilities, which take place around Finland in about 20 cities each year. So we travel to see how they go.

In these events Finnish NGOs tell about their work and offer “exotic” food and program. The aim of is to bring out the multicultural side of Finland and tell the locals what they can do “for a better world”.

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Markets of Possibilites are fun events. Here’s the Choir War in process. Don’t know about the technical quality of the signing, but these ladies were devoted.

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Flashmob by local students. They had also danced in supermarkets etc. Go Seinäjoki!

There, I met there The Refugee Woman of the Year, Malalai Rahim from Afghanistan, as she participated in a panel about refugees’ replacement in Finnish cities. Finland has agreed to receive 750 so called “quota refugees” every year, but the problem is that some municipalities don’t want to have them.

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Malalai Rahim, this amazingly active lady, seems to know everyone in Seinäjoki.

This year, Seinäjoki has promised to receive a group of 20-30 people from Congo, but the neighbouring towns have said “no”. It’s a sad thing, especially as we talk of so small numbers. I think Finland, being a wealthy country, could receive more people. But our country is still very homogenous and people are a bit afraid of “opening the borders”. Even if we’ll definitely need more foreign work force in the future.

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Panel discussion held in Seinäjoki about quota refugees and their replacement. Speakers included a representative of UNHC, vice mayor of Seinäjoki, immigration officer and Malalai Rahim.

Malalai Rahim made a big impression on me. She spoke very good Finnish and her story is amazing. The talebans threatened her life, as she was a woman working as a doctor in Afghanistan, so she had to leave. In Finland, she studied the language and went to the university to get another degree, to be a gynecologist. Now she works in a hospital in Seinäjoki, has 5 children and is actively involved in local politics trying to help newcomers. Me and my colleague, who were just about to complain how tired and stressed we felt, fast shut up.

Malalai made good points about refugees’ integration in Finland. We need to make our social integration program a lot more efficient! It’s not enough to give people a bit of food and money; everyone needs to feel meaningful and get to work, too. Otherwise you stay at home, get isolated with your problems and soon you are not even able to raise your children. I really hope this idea has some impact, coming from the mouth of someone who truly knows what suffering and life as a refugee are about.

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There is already one Congolese family living in Seinäjoki, and in the fall there should be some more quota refugees from Congo arriving. Getting ready for the Finnish winter… Credit: Yle

As a refugee, one should never lose faith and become bitter for what you have to go through. You MUST raise your head and go on. But a little help is needed, and it’s our responsibility to offer it.

Everyone should remember that things can change fast. What if one day we need to leave our country? How would you like to be treated? We have experience about this in Finland, as during The Second World War almost 80 000 children were sent to other Nordic countries as refugees. They were called The Finnish War Children.

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Finnish war Children in Turku. Credit: Wikipedia.

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What is a quota refugee? Within its refugee quota, Finland accepts for resettlement persons defined as refugees by the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and others who are in need of international protection. The refugee quota is verified in the state budget for each year.

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