Category Archives: Helsinki

Christmas in Finland – gloomy but beautiful

Finally it’s Christmas time! It’s been a crazy, busy fall so these holidays are really needed. “Luckily” I’ve done so many extra hours during the fall that I can stay out of the office till January, 13.

Yesterday I came to Tampere to enjoy the Christmas time with my parents. Here in Finland Christmas is a very traditional, and also quite a melancholic, time. Even most of our most beloved Christmas carols are gloomy songs telling about death, poverty and war.

For example last night I was humming a song which tells how “life lasts only a moment and it’s gloomy and sad”. The tone is happy, which makes the song even stranger.

During Christmas, we remember all the dead relatives and friends and have an eery constant feeling that all these good moments shall be over soon… Probably the national gloominess is due to the fact that Christmas takes place in December, when we have already suffered a couple of months of constant darkness and bad weather. Who could be cheerful at this point?!

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A ray of light we saw this morning. So special I had to take a photo of it… 😉

This said, I love Christmas. And it’s not that gloomy. It’s also time to really relax, enjoy good and happy moments with your loved ones (the gloomy side of me needs to add: if you have any left), read books, enjoy the snow (gloomy comment: if there is any) and to respect all the Christmas traditions – of which we have plenty! They deserve a post on their own, so now I’ll concentrate on the first one: finding the perfect Christmas tree.

In the old times Finnish people went to the nearest forest, cut a tree, brought it inside the house and decorated it. Voilà!

Nowadays it’s different, of course, at least if you live in a city. This morning my parents and I went to Lielahti, the commercial district of Tampere, to the place where we found our perfect tree last year.

Choosing the Christmas tree is always a very challenging task. The trees are too tall or too short, too bold or too “hairy”, too strange or too boring.

After carefully evaluating every single tree there, we finally found our perfect match! Now it’s waiting outside the house (we hope that nobody steals it in the night!) till December 23. Then we’ll bring it in and decorate it with all the traditional, very old decorations. A that moment the house fills with the smell of needles and Christmas can officially begin.

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Spring is (almost) here – and so is Tampere Film Festival

Ups. They say that times goes faster when you get older but I never imagined it would go this fast. And I’m not that old yet, anyway. 😉

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Photo: yle.fi

Anyway, even the Finnish winter is almost over, which is great. Today it has already been 7C degrees over zero.

However, after an extremely mild winter it feels that we haven’t been as superheroic as after surviving a “normal” hard winter. But I don’t care! I’m looking forward to taking my bicycle out of the storage room and taking all the heavy winter clothes back to the cellar. Soon, very soon… maybe next week!

Another sure sign of the approaching spring is Tampere Film Festival, which always brings me back to my dear old hometown Tampere. What changes from one year to another is the weather.

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For many years now, I’ve written articles about the festival to the Finnish magazines I collaborate with as freelance journalist. This is a tradition I love – and need. Routines give you security, they say. I always return here, meet lots of people I know and get to see a great amount of short films – the best thing about them is that they are short! It’s a perfect concept for these times full of concentration problems…

Further, Tampere Festival is among the most important European short film festivals, so one really gets to see interesting things. All in all about 500 films!

Some of this year’s highlights are short films from Africa, a rare treat in Finland, and films based on Edward Hopper’s amazing paintings. Today I saw a selection of films by a German painter-director Jochen Kuhn. Perfect ones to relax with after a long working week. 

And tomorrow more shall follow! Before that, I’ll concentrate on enjoying the time with my parents, sauna and some delicious mom’s food… Good night, everyone!

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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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More about running & nature in the city

Inspired by my own post on running I took some photos from along my favourite route yesterday afternoon – well, one of the favourite routes.. Here they come.

The photos are also to demonstrate how , living in the centre of the capital of Finland in the neighbourhood Kamppi, it’s possible to find pretty nature and the sea just 5 minutes (running) away from home.

Some people comment to me that they don’t want to live in the centre of Helsinki as it’s so “hectic” and “no nature around”.

For me, Helsinki is a green small town compared to most of the capitals in the world. You can see these “city rabbits” running around outside our house and when I open our window in the summer, singing of the birds is sometimes the only sound I hear. Quite amazing, if you think about it.

Or actually it’s no wonder, as forests cover 75 percent of Finland’s land area. For every Finn, there is nearly 4.5 hectares of forest… so it’s logical that some of the trees fit in the capital, too.

Sometimes I miss the urban feeling you get in the big metropoli but most of the time I just love to be close to the nature, trees and the sea – and still have enough people and things happening around me.

PS: it feels good to see these photos from yesterday, with sunshine. Today it has been raining all day. Feels like autumn already… :

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The old hospital premises of Lapinlahti. This used to be the first mental hospital of Finland, and it still has a special feeling running around its now quite abandoned garden and buildings right by the sea… The hospital use finished in 2008, and now The City of Helsinki wants to repair the area and give it to the use of the Department of Social Affairs.

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Running by the sea – perfect, I say! You can follow this nice path all through Ruoholahti till the bridge of Lauttasaari.

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Elisa equals to afternoon of queuing

Yesterday I returned to the office after holidays. More about the feelings on the Post-holiday blues blog…

Anyway, after writing this post the amazing thing was that the return wasn’t that bad at all. The moment I stepped in the door of our office I remembered that I actually liked my job and my colleagues! Rather simple.

Also there was no caos or stress awaiting me, only suntanned colleagues and a relaxed atmosphere. So, today it was a lot easier to ride the bike to work in the morning.

Although my old anxiety remains, the one that tells that one these days I have to try something of my own… but till that day, and The Big Idea of what I actually want to do, my work is just fine.

However, the only setback at the office was that my work mobile phone (Nokia Lumia 800) had died during the vacation. No sign of life. This meant afternoon of queuing at Elisashopit in the centre of Helsinki. Elisa is one of the two big tele operators in Finland (the other one being Sonera).

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I spent about an hour waiting for my turn, with lots of other people. This wasn’t the first time I was doing this in my life, and it’s equally bad when you try to call to Sonera/Elisa customer service. The waiting times are amazingly long! Once again I asked myself the eternal question: why?

This problem has been going on for years so it’s kind of a national joke already. Everyone knows that the service is very very slow.

So would it be a completely unrealistic idea to hire at least one more person for every shop to serve the customers? This would surely make the customer satisfaction rates go up and in the end everyone would be happier – especially the poor customer service staff who have to listen to all the complaints.

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Running really is a drug

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photo: Naturalrunningcenter.com

I used to run only to catch a bus, if I really was in a hurry. I hated running. It makes you sweat and it hurts everywhere in your body. At school me and my friends walked the Cooper test as a protest.

So it’s a big surprise that today I can’t live without running! It really is a drug, like they say (although I never believed it before).

How did it happen? I don’t remember, but I’m sure that I was alone when I discovered the real joy of running. This has happened to me with all the sports I didn’t like at school but later on I’ve come to adore.

I guess I’m a bit of a rebel and a free soul so I don’t like if someone tells me to do something – especially if it involves moving my body physically.

Probably I just one pretty day, a couple of years ago, went for a walk and suddenly decided to run a bit. And the next day a bit more. And more and more. Little by little I noticed that it’s actually fun and feels good, if I can decide the velocity, when to stop, where to do some streching and when to stop to admire the view. I only run outside and I’m picky with my routes.

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Luckily near our home in Kamppi, the centre of Helsinki, there are some excellent paths. My favourite ones are the one around Ruoholahti, first running on one side of the canal till the bridge and then the other side back.

My other favourite is the sea path behind the cementery of Hietalahti. Amazing views right by the sea, and normally not too many people either.

I always run alone. Only a couple of times I’ve gone running with my boyfriend but it’s just not the same. I guess I’m not of those runners who can chat about their day at the office, what to cook for dinner etc. routine stuff while running. For me running is quality time of my own, with my music and personal rhythm.

Nowadays I need my weekly dosis of running, normally I run 2-3 times a week, half an hour at a time. But this depends.

I’m completely hooked, because I get anxious if I can’t go running for one reason or another. I’ve postponed dates to go running (+ shower afterwards) and now I reserve time for my running sessions in the calendar.

After running, I feel happy and relaxed. Always.

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This post on running is my response to Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write. Thank you for the inspiration!

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Post-holiday blues… back to Helsinki

Returning from holidays is a funny thing. You never know what feeling to expect. Sometimes it’s just wonderful to be back home, have a good shower, fill the fridge with your food and lie down on the sofa going through all the photos from the past weeks in the sun. Doing absolutely nothing.

Last night was like this for me, after returning from a wonderful 2-week island hopping tour in Greece.

But this morning I opened my eyes, spent some seconds relocating myself, and when I understood that I was back home in Helsinki and that tomorrow I was to go back to work, I felt a cold shiver going through my body. Even if I like my life, work, home and Helsinki.

Then I almost got into tears while sipping my coffee and thinking that this was it (I tend to be a bit dramatic sometimes, as my boyfriend well knows). I thought it’s goodbye to freedom, sun and warm weather. Welcome another year of routine, coldness and darkness. Days that pass by without leaving a trace. I got scared and sad, just like that.

Of course I rationally know it won’t be like that. Every day brings new and good things, and I have lots of plans. For me, a new year starts in the autumn, not January 1.

I also feel this year will bring positive changes and adventures with it. For a long time, I’ve been up to starting something “to call my own”, apart from the day job. I already work as freelance journalist and do communications projects but this has been very unorganised and casual.

Now I want to concentrate myself on what I really want to do and put my full attention into it, hoping that some day it’ll carry far.. the typical dream, I guess. 🙂

Anyway, for all this and for some unexplainable reason today I felt anxious and sad. My boyfriend understood this and took me for a walk to see something I like: Helsinki with people and action.

An empty city on a Sunday morning is depressing, but luckily we encountered all this…

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One of the best places of Helsinki in summer mornings is Hietsu, the huge kirpputori where people sell things they don’t need  – but someone surely does!

You can make discoveries and the atmosphere is friendly. There’s also the inside markethall Hietalahden kauppahalli, which has reopened its doors after many years. Inside you’ll find fresh (but very expensive) vegetables, nice cafes and restaurants. I recommend Soppakeittiö, which sells big portions of yummy soups, changing daily.20130811-142643.jpg

Another thing that cheers me up are spontaneous ideas that people have to take control of the urban space. Like this note someone had left near Ruttopuisto at Bulevardi:

“Thank you Helsinki for these years and wonderful moments. Rest in joy. I will be back.”

20130811-142650.jpgI love bump into events that I didn’t know about – it gives you a feeling that the city is alive! Today we found a big International Market at Kamppi, where people from all over (well, mostly from Italy, Germany, England and Finland) had come to sell their products. Apart from food you could by clothes, jewellery and typical “festival stuff”. 20130811-142702.jpgAs part of my new, even healthier life that shall start next week, I finally bought something I’ve been recommended many times by my friends.

Arctic Chaga powder (pakurikääpä) is a fungus growing on trees and a superfood that’s becoming more popular in Finland – and abroad. I bought this pack from a nice lady from Lapland who repeated all its health benefits.

Thousands of years of Chinese medicine and many studies can’t be wrong, so I spent 20€ and bought 73 grams of the powder. This small amount should last for a long time. Tonight I’ll try cooking the stuff and tell more about it a bit later!

Enjoy your Sunday, wherever you are! Now I’ll go for a small run: another thing that is guaranteed to perk one up.

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How is it living in a cold country like Finland?

A question I’m constantly asked by foreigners when traveling anywhere outside the Nordic countries. Well, maybe Russia and Baltic countries included.

So, how can people live in a country where it’s always cold?

Ok, first of all it’s not cold all the time, all year round. Of course not. Otherwise we’d have all now emigrated to the Southern Europe.

Helsinki can also be like this! My favourite rocks at Eiranranta

A small forest with morning sun in Tampere, Finland

Also, cold is a relative term – the human body can get used to very strange conditions, also to -20C. At least for a couple of days of the year.

I feel many Finns have some genetic mutation, as they almost never complain about the cold. Or the weather in general. They also think it’s not good behaviour to do it – believe me, I’ve heard so many times the comment “please don’t complain, it could be worse“.

Well, here the criteria for bad weather is quite different as in most of the countries.

If you’re interested, here comes the average temperature of Helsinki during different months, as published on Travelhappy Climate Charts for Helsinki.

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You can read more about the Finnish seasons (the change is amazing!) on the page of Ilmatieteen laitos, the Finnish Meteorological Institute. They offer interesting info on the Finnish weather and its different phenomena in general.

Anyway, today I seriously reflected the question about the weather. We’ve been 2 weeks island hopping in Greece with my boyfriend with a temperature of 25-30C and guaranteed sunshine every day.

The thing is that I’m a person that seriously loves sun and warm weather. Especially in the winter, I ask myself why was I born in Finland where most of the time I’m freezing. (I also complained about the chilly wind in the evenings in Greece so you get an idea of my desire for hot weather).

Actually one of my life goals, which I confirmed this summer, is to be able to spend one entire year in a summer dress and flip flops. Let’s see when and where…

Today, when we returned to Helsinki (wearing my summer dress and flip flops) it was raining and +19C. Literally a chilly welcome. Eventually the sun started to shine and the temperature rose a bit.

Still, I wonder how this kind of very unpredictable weather affects the Finns living here? Does it make one suspicious towards the world… and everything? You can never trust that it will be sunny even for 3 days in a row – and the weather forecasts change all the time.

Winter evening in Kuusamo, Eastern Finland. To admire a snowflake you must go outside…

So the final answer to why reminds in the air – and in the minds of the ancestors who came to live in Finland.

Of course there are many excellent reasons for living in Helsinki. And the few hot sunny days we have really are wonderful!

Also there are many people in Finland who don’t share my view. Their attitude to weather is stoic.

Or maybe they mystically forget the bad days and remember only the best of all our seasons: the bright snowy days, spring blossoming and autumn leaves with amazing colors…

Autumn at its best! At Billnäs village on the South coast of Finland

Yes, of course all this is nice. Personally I just can’t forget that many many mornings you wake up and the world is grey and you go to sleep and the only change is that now the world is black. For me this is pretty depressing, for many Finns not.

I guess that’s the trick of living here! You need a bad memory or some genetic modification…?

Rowing my little boat on a rainy day, in Tampere, Finland

Rowing on the same lake on a sunny day. Quite a different feeling.

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Back to blogging – and it feels so good!

This must be one of the most common comments/explanations/excuses for a blogger, but I can’t avoid it either: I’ve had a crazy spring with a new job (which is excellent!) and too many (too interesting) freelance writing and proofreading projects accumulating… ln brief, my poor blog has been abandoned for some months.

However, all that is now gone. We enjoy summer even here in Helsinki and I’m full of inspiration and with a long list of interesting things to write about!

Most of them include the word Helsinki, but as I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel quite a lot this summer, I must tell about these trips too…

Actually right now I’m lying half dead on our dear home sofa after 2 weeks of heavy island hopping in Greece. The best souvenirs are a happy and relaxed mind, suntanned skin and about 100 photos from Athenas, Sifnos, Milos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros and Antiparos… more about these islands we visited when I get the photos and mind arranged.

Ah, it feels so good to be back. 🙂

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We want local food – but what is it?

Where do you come from, broiler?

Local food is a big thing in Finland these days. It’s truly in fashion, at least the trendy people of Helsinki constantly talk about how they want their food local.

New (expensive) stores selling local products pop-up all around the city. Like this one, Anton&Anton in Töölö.

Of course, the elder generations know better and have been consuming local food all their lives – without making a fuss about it. Still, I think this one is a good trend – as long as it doesn’t make the prices go up too much. And there is another major problem: nobody really knows what actually is local food?

This weekend I’m visiting my parents in Tampere and yesterday the local newspaper Aamulehti published an opinion about local food, which will surely provoke debate.

A guy called Visa Merikoski, the director of MTK Pirkanma, the local division of Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners, claimed that soon even broiler from Brazil will be considered as local product, if the current trend continues.

He says that yes, local food interests the consumers a lot, and this is way so many supermarket chains are now thinking hard how to take the advantage of the trend. They sell images and when it comes to local food, the tendency is to lie – just a little bit.

Why? Because “at its worst” Polish wheat, Danish pork or Brazilian chicken might end up being local food as in most supermarkets one can already find products, whose origins are not announced correctly.

As consumers prefer local food, it seems logical that the main reason for hiding the origins is that they are not from near here… not even from Finland. In the end, the consumer believes he/she’s buying something he isn’t. This could be called cheating, or at least hiding the truth.

The thing is that everyone has the right to define local food from their own point of view. The consumers think that only small-scale production means local and they hate the idea of industrial production. Some connect local food to organic food.

The food production industry thinks that what counts is where the food is made, not from where the ingredients come from.

Then there are the farmers, who want ingredients that arrive from as near as possible – at least from inside Finland.

And the food production workers think that domestic work is very important.

One might guess that all these different ideas cause a mess when it comes to marketing local food.

(Finnish?) rye bread

For example, Mr. Visa tells that in one local supermarket they don’t tell the origins of a pork product, whose name refers to something 100% local (the product in this case was Tapolan ylikypsä kinkku). Probably it had been made right here in Tampere, but not telling it makes one suspicious… naturally.

So why don’t the producers tell the facts, when the information would attract more consumers??

One might also find bread – on the shelf reserved for local food – whose wheat has travelled a long way. The bakers tend to explain that domestic wheat is not always available, so they cannot commit to using it. This is not true: one can always get domestic wheat, it just might not be as cheap as the foreign ones.

In brief, every Finn has encountered products that carry a Finnish flag or other symbol referring to it being national, even if the product might be something totally different.

Does this mean it’s Finnish – really?

If we don’t talk about this openly, the same tendency will continue – and someday we won’t have any means to know from where our bread, salad, fruit, meat, fish or chocolate comes from. No thanks, we have the right to know – and to be able to choose.

Everyone (the politicians, media and food producers) know well what’s going on – so please do something about it!

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