Day 22, Tallinn, January 31st 2012

Tea 22:  Südame Tea, Park Cafe, Tallinn.

What a wonderfully sunny day.  After cooking a semi-traditional English Breakfast for my host this morning, semi-traditional due to the lack of British style sausages, though we did manage to find something very similar to Black Pudding here in Tallinn.  I’m not sure my host realised quite how much meat was involved, but it certainly filled us up and gave us energy for most of the day.  We headed out into the beautiful sunshine towards the East, to an area of beautiful park land and then onto the sea, whose frozen edge we walked along, photographing the ducks and swans whose feathers were glinting in the bright, low-level sunlight.  We then headed to Lauluväljak, the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.  This is huge area, that, during the traditional song festivals, can hold about 100,000 people, 30,000 of which will often make up the choirs who sing traditional Estonian songs that can be heard for miles around.  This is also the spiritual heart of Estonia’s Singing Revolution, the event that represented the end of Russian Occupation and the dawn of Estonian independence.  We wandered to the top of the hill and then, rather sporadically sat on a bin bag, and slid down the rather bumpy but snow covered hill back to the bottom.  It was good fun, though pretty cold and we both got rather wet bums!

We then intended to visit KUMU, the Tallinn contemporary art museum, an impressive building of glass and metal, that has oxidized to turn green.  Unfortunately it turned out the gallery is closed on tuesdays during winter, so we climbed another hill, explored an old signaling / navigation post, then headed back down through the park.  At the other end of the park is the Park Cafe, a lovely little place, rather posh in appearance and it sells a good selection of teas, one of which features above, a traditional Estonian tea, a mixture of herbs including Parsley, Camomile, Nettle, Lemon Balm, Chickweed, an Birch Leaves!  It was very nice, tried it with and without sugar and it was very pleasant, delicate flavour, kind of savoury without the sugar.  Also had a lovely cake with raisins and pumpkin seeds.  After a lovely time chatting and drinking our tea, and warming out hands and drying our bums we headed back out into the cold.  We could only manage a short distance before our hands started to ache again.  So we headed into a lovely Eco/Organic shop, where I bought, yep, you guessed it some tea!

We headed back out and wandered back into the city centre and wandered around for a while, making it to this nice bit of town called Rotermann, where the old literally meets the new, physically in most cases, bits added onto old buildings, old buildings renovated.  We looked around a bit then went into the Kalev chocolate shop, hundreds of beautiful sweet trats greeted my eyes.  After a while trying to decide I went for some Dark Chocolate with Raspberry, some Dark Chocolate Orange and Green Tea, and Dark Chocolate with Cherries.  Ok, so less of a decision over which ones to buy and more of a decision to just buy them all…..

After that we headed back to the coast to a place called Linnahall, a tremendous sprawling concrete concert hall. It is a constant reminder of the soviet era, built as a concert hall but also a defensive position for the Soviet Army in the event of an attack from the the Finns.  The space is now closed but you can still walk up onto the buildings roof area and over the back where there is an operating Helicopter Pad, which apparently runs helicopter trips to Helsinki.  We could also view the old fortress prison from up here, and some beautiful views of the city, with the glorious golden sun setting over the old town’s spired churches and buildings.  A really beautiful sunset for the second night, the air is so clear and there are pinks, purples, golds, yellows, oranges, the whole rainbow is represented somewhere during these glorious times of the day.

We then walked to the Kalamaja area of town to get something to eat, walking through the train station, great big old concrete warehouses and factories until we reached Telliskivi, the arty, bohemiam area of the city.  Factories have turned to bars and artists studios. We ate in an amazing restaurant bar called F-Hoone.  Really great food was had, we shared a brushetta platter, Mozzarella and Tomato obviously featured, but alongside gorgonzola and pear, Garlicky Houmous, and a great mixture containing pumpkin seeds.  Then I ate a really lovely Linguine with Garlic, Chilli and Prawns, Ingrid, my host, has a great smelling and tasting Thai inspired Coconut soup with Salmon.  Really good, and all washed down with a great Estonian dry Cider (Kiss in Estonian).  A lovely meal, and really, really reasonably priced.

We then jumped on a tram home and are now drinking port and watching junk on the TV!  Brilliant!

Day 21, Tallinn, January 30th 2012

Tea 21: Feel Good Tea, Ingrid’s Apartment, Tallinn.

So i’ve made it to Tallinn!  Safe and sound, though rather chilly, the weather is forecasting a lovely -22’C tonight…….

The boat trip was pretty easy, just turned up, got on, waited and got off again, then it was a short bus ride to the city centre and I managed to navigate myself to Ingrid’s flat.  I was greeted with some lovely Feel Good tea, which has basil, tarragon, apple and all sorts in it.  Very nice indeed, and make in a lovely glass teapot, which makes a big difference.  Also got treated to three Estonian classics, firstly Elk butter (aka pâté), on homemade bread, then a bit later on, after a quick shopping trip, another traditional dish of pork jelly (imagine the jelly bit from a pork pie, so, mostly that with bits of pork in it) though made from wild boar.  It was a little bit unattractive at first, but it actually tastes pretty nice.  It is served with strong mustard and vinegar.  On bread too.  Then the Pièce-de-résistance, dark chocolate with espresso filling, from Estonia‘s oldest chocolatier.  Lovely!  The company is called Kalev.  On the boat over I actually managed to sample their chocolate.  Well, I say sample, I mean buy a whole bar and eat it.  It was dark chocolate with Grapefruit and was really good.  I look forward to trying their other delights!  Stuff here is already noticeably cheaper than in Finland, transport and food, so hopefully I can make amends on the expensive-ness of the Scandinavian leg.

Tomorrow Ingrid has kindly taken the day off work to show me around a bit, I think we will go to see a gallery and a park and probably go for some tea or hot chocolate somewhere, I’ve already heard of some decent places!  Fingers crossed!

Sorry for short postings today, quite tired and it’s time for bed!

Day 20, Vantaa, January 29th 2012

Tea 20: Power Tea, Eeero’s House, Vantaa.

Today I finally did NOTHING!!  Yes, I’m sorry to say that today I had an exceedingly lazy day.  I woke up late, ate breakfast late, wandered to the shop, ate lunch late and just spent the day learning how to say thanks and hi in Estonian and browsing around on the internet, semi-planning the next stage of my trip.  Tomorrow I leave Finland for Estonia.  To Tallinn.  I’m quite excited about this next stage of my trip because not only do I have very little idea of what to expect, I am also staying with people I do not know.  This might put fear into some people, but thanks to the joy of couch surfing I’m mildly confident that it’ll all be ok…..fingers crossed, if there is an abrupt stop to my entries on here then you will all know why!!

The temperature today hasn’t gotten any better than in the above image, hovering menacingly around the -10’C mark, still, a good 6-8′ better than last night!  But then last night was my second and final Finnish Sauna experience.  Much the same as the last time, really hot and stuffy.  I seemed to find it a little harder to adjust myself to it this time.  But it was enjoyable, my skin feels fresher today certainly.  The beers and chocolate were good too!  I now feel that it might be wrong to have a sauna anywhere other than Finland, as it was my first experience, and I doubt I will find anyone who likes them quite as hot as Eeero does, last night was another mega-cooking 90’C-er!

So yes, today was a day of relaxing my legs, the miles they have walked in the past three weeks is anyones guess, but a clue would be LOTS!  And a day for preparing for the next leg, getting my washing sorted, making sure I know where my passport is, and the ticket for the ferry to Tallinn from Helsinki, and having a vague map / idea of where I need to go when I reach Tallinn.  I’ve not done it yet, but I think my next job might have to be tea research for my next destination!

Tea today was a Power Tea to at least give me a bit of pep for the evening, it’s strange not going out, but I think it was probably a good idea, I don’t think I have properly rested since I began traveling.  And I don’t know when my next opportunity will be. The Power Tea is good, I’ve not had any for a few days so it made a good change, the liquorice seems to be getting stronger.  And hopefully the ginger will be good for my immune system.

Anyway, tomorrow is a travel day, so it may be another belated posting on Tuesday.  But it might not be….. WHO KNOWS?!??!?! Not me!  (it’s great!!)

p.s.  The first photograph below is a 30 second exposure taken from my bedroom window late last night.  The other two are from Helsinki that I haven’t posted yet.

Day 19, Helsinki, January 28th 2012

Tea 19: Green Opuncia, Wayne’s Coffee, Helsinki.

Today was another bright sunny day, though without cloud for a day or two it has become considerably colder, the thermometer is currently hovering around -16’C……

Eeero and myself headed into town at around 12 to go and see a few exhibitions and to hang out in the city together, as this, unfortunately, hasn’t really happened so far, due to his work and baby commitments. We had a few exhibitions in mind that I had purposely avoided for when we could both go and see the shows as I knew Eeero wanted to go and see them.

The first show was at the Taidehalli Museum, just west of the train station.  The Finnish artist, Elina Merenmies has something of a retrospective on there at the minute.  Certainly a large collection of her works all in one spot anyway.  There is a mix of ink drawings on paper (often handmade) as well as numerous oil and tempera on canvas pieces.  The space is quite beautiful, especially the main and largest space.  High ceilings and windows make the space feel airy and expansive.  Eeero said that he has never been to a show there where the height of the spaces has been utilised, and this seems like somewhat of a shame, maybe one day someone will realise that potential.  Elina’s work is interesting and, often, well produced.  Intricate line drawings and highly detailed paintings are abundant, what I feel let the work down the most though is her titling.  Maybe one or two of the titles were good, sometimes brilliant, but in general I felt her titling to be annoyingly obvious, or opaque, showing that really the artist could see nothing more in her own work than what is staring you in the face.  It was a shame as I felt it really brought the work down a peg for me, it made me enjoy it much less and as I went around I found myself pleading for something at least a little more refreshing and vibrant.  I don’t wish to end on a negative note, the work is certainly good, revealing and intriguing.  I just wish there were no titles stuck next to every piece, and as for the red sticker dots……

After that show we headed to the Amos Anderson Museum where the artist Anssi Kasitonni currently has a show.  This show was really good fun.  The pieces Anssi has created are brilliant.  Funny, witty, and full of life.  The kind of art possibly most artists want to make, but, from my own experience and knowing that of others, is really, really, really hard to do.  A full size, highly detailed golden horse stands resplendent as you enter the first space.  Again, a full size, detailed American Muscle Car takes centre stage in another. Darth Vader stands poised with a flaccid light saber. Whilst the video ‘Planet of Sexes’, is hilarious, lo-fi genius.  We spent quite a long time in this show, there is plenty to see and do, an arcade machine of Anssi’s other animation and video pieces, buttons to push here and there, and if I was complaining about the terrible titles of the Merenmies show, then this had the opposite effect.  Brilliant.

After that we had a quick buzz around the rest of the gallery / museum, various things were on, an architectural design competition, a collection of  African artifacts and a rather good show of Finnish work from the 60’s – 80’s.  We then headed towards our final planned stop.  The show, or piece was at a space called Sinne, the piece by artist Tanja Koponen is called The Inside Is The Outside.  Unfortunately it would seem that this piece wasn’t working perfectly.  The space should have, in theory, been lit up with orange fluorescent lighting, but when we arrived this didn’t seem to be the working.  The idea is / was that the space would be lit up, therefore attracting people into the space, and then when they enter the lights should turn off and the viewer realises that they are in a kind of nothing space.  Litter covers the floor and sides, a slight hint of smoke, through sight a smell, fills the space and the windows are smeared and blurred.  The space worked very well in this instance, but we both came out wishing we could of had a full experience, and both wondering how effective it really would be should it have been working properly….. I guess it was just one of those things.

We then headed back towards the station, stopping off, of course, for some tea.  Today I had a very unusual tea, Green Opuncia, or in layman’s terms, Green tea with Cactus!  It was quite bitter, but definitely tasted of Cactus, slightly acidic and, for want of a better term, ‘spiky’, giving a strange sensation along the sides of the tongue, kind of cool but with a definite tone of….. well… cactus I suppose!

Day 18, Helsinki, January 27th 2012

Tea 18: Chocolate Tea!, Fazer Cafe, Helsinki, also Green Tea with Strawberry and Vanilla (left).

Today was such a beautiful sunny day, the sunniest of my time in Finland so far.  I took the train into town for the last of my travel card trips.  The sun was shining down and glinting off of the soft white banks of snow as I day dreamed out of the window.  Once I arrived at Rautatieasema (Helsinki Central Station) I headed north-west, up past Kiasma and the parliament and congress buildings, the sun behind me, actually managing to feel a little warm on my back at points.  I was heading back towards Seurasaari, to visit the art museum Meilahti again, mostly to pick up the pack of cards I had seen there but been unable to buy a few days previous.  It was great to be in proper sunshine again, you don’t realise how much you miss it until it comes back.  And with the snow all around reflecting it all it felt like I was bathing in it.  I wandered through patches of woodland that line the coast, the snow deep and crunchy beneath my feet.  I made it to the museum and had another wander around the exhibits, taking in the ones I had not spent so much time with at my last visit a little more.  After that I headed back towards the city centre.  Following the coastline a little longer this time, I passed another park and gave it a short look, an interesting sculpture dedicated to Sibelius, ‘the most famous composer Finland has ever produced’, according to Eeero, though his wife is ‘the best composer, Sibelius is just the most famous’.  It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture, n doubt helped by the sun glinting off of the pipes.

By the time I had made it into town I was starving hungry, so I decided to pig-out and go to the chinese buffet that had rescued my stomach on the first day.  It took me ages to find it though, after stumbling on it by accident knowing nothing about the city on my first day, learning more about the city and getting my bearings had totally erased it’s location from my mind. After a good 20 minutes searching I finally found it.  I ate and filled myself up basically completely, pretty sure I over did it just a bit.  But it was good and got the cold out of my bones at least.  After that I went to meet Ella, the couchsurfing girl again.  We met in central station and headed to a cinema to check the schedule.  At the minute in Helsinki is a documentary film festival, called DocPoint.  We looked through the timetable and decided on an intriguing and slightly disturbing sounding film about a cathedral built from 12,000 white dresses, with the addition of some menstrual blood for good measure.  The film is called Water Children, and it was being screened at the Maxim Cinema.  The film is actually extremely beautiful, not at all what either of us expected.  The cinematography is wonderful and the perspective on the idea of menstrual blood completely different from what either of us expected.  The artist, Tomoko Mukaiyama, a Japanese Pianist, early on describes the blood as ‘the only blood that isn’t negative or aggressive.’  The film is beautiful, heart wrenching and funny.  It is a really wonderful film, directed by Aliona van der Horst, I urge anyone with the chance to go and see it, to go and see it.

After the film it was a short trip next door to Fazer, the Finnish Chocolatier cafe.  Inside is sprawling with chocolates, cakes, every treat imaginable.  I went for a wonderful Chocolate tea, tea leaves with added pieces of cocoa beans, it was rich and really tasty.  I have had chocolate tea before, but this one was much better, no real bitterness, just smooth and elegant.  Alongside it I treated myself to a bar of Fazer Milk Chocolate with Pistachio and Salt.  A great combination, even if it was milk chocolate!  Ella went for a lovely refreshing and clear Green Tea with Strawberry and Vanilla, alongside a fruit filled pastry, for some reason called a Weiner!  After a good chatter and some more laughs we went our separate ways and I headed home for some dinner (yet more food!!!)

Day 17, Helsinki, January 26th 2012

Tea 17:  OK, not Tea again, Hot Chocolate……, Valrhona Cafe, Kamp Galleria, Helsinki.

Apologies for the terrible photo, but my battery ran out straight after taking this one, so it’s the best you’re getting today!  And yes, it’s not tea, but hot chocolate, but maybe that can become a theme too…..once a week maybe?

So today I had a lazy morning, and then headed into town for about 2p.m.  I was going to visit a gallery I had picked up a flyer about, but when got there, luckily not too far from the station, it didn’t look all that appealing from the outside so I gave it a miss. Instead I headed back on myself then went back towards the old town.  Today was a slightly warmer feeling day than yesterday, possibly due to having put my long-johns on today….. So I decided to visit the part of town I had gotten a fleeting glimpse of yesterday, the old town and then on down to the seaside.  The buildings in old town are all very pretty, some looking quite medieval, whilst others have got an art deco feel to them.  One even looked as though Charles Rennie Mackinstosh could have had a hand in it’s design.  After pottering in and out of streets, window shopping in antique and shoe shops I headed further south to the sea.

The sea was a great sight, and it smelt like the sea too, which immediately made me happy.  I think that is one of the things I will miss most on my journey down through the balkans.  The icy tessellations were rippling up and down, rather mesmerizingly.  I headed across a frozen wooden bridge that lead to a small island, the wood creaking and crackling beneath my feet, somewhat unnervingly.  The tiny island was locked to the land by ice, and completely saturated by foot deep snow, making it tricky to navigate.  But reaching a small crest the extent of the ice could be seen and beyond the sea lapped about happily, making the ice ripple and wave up and down even more.  I stood and watched this rhythmic motion for ages, hypnotized by the movement.  My hands began to ache with the cold, bringing me back to my senses.  I wandered around this island a little longer, and across a sea defense barrier onto another tiny spot of land then headed back to the mainland.  I wandered through two majestic snow covered parks, my boots sinking deep into the soft, perfectly white snow, trying to warm my hands back up with sheer will but to no real avail.  I decided today was the day for visiting the chocolate shop I had seen a few days ago.

On my way back into the city centre I passed the Galleria Sculptor, on Eteläranta.  I decided to pop in, and was greeted by a show by Peter Svedberg, entitled My Cut.  He has created a number of mirror based scultures, sort of kaleidoscope type things and a fantastically simple, but perfectly executed illusion.  The pieces, initially simple looking, were actually quite complex and intriguing.  And, as I’ve said, executed extremely well.

I made it back to the small arcade of posh shops that constitute the KAMP Galleria shopping centre and headed for the chocolate shop, a Valrhona store.  I browsed through the various bars of chocolate and was convinced by one bar in-particular, the words ‘Floral and Oaky‘ doing most of the work, so bought that and ordered a hot chocolate.  I sat down and was brought a cup of delicious warm, velvety, rich hot chocolate.  The kind of hot chocolate that makes your cheeks tingle and a smile come to your face instantly.  There was no pomp, no cream, no fancy chocolate dribbles, just proper, excellent hot chocolate, smooth, with the perfect balance of sweetness and the edge of bitterness.  And served with a smile and a little square of chocolate and a glass of water, perfection.

After this delicious break in the day I wandered around town, back to the bookshop I had visited yesterday, sneakily read a few bits and bobs, about Nothingness, Wabi-Sabi, and about tea.  I then met Eeero at the station and we headed out to watch a performance at ‘Lanterna Magica’ called ‘Between Two Skies’, a collaborative performance and installation between Nanni Vapaavuori, Elina Lifländer and Leila Kourkia.  The performance was intriguing and the space was fascinating, starting in what looked and felt like an ancient abandoned basement, and turning into a hugely comprehensive secondhand bookshop, filled to the rafters with what has to be one of the best ranges of reading material I have seen for a long time.

After the performance we went to get some food, we went to the basement of one of the many shopping arcades and ended up in a little area that was again, like the place in Stockholm, reminiscent of a small scale Singapore style Hawker centre.  We got some food from Habibi, the Middle Eastern stall, though how middle eastern Goats Cheese on Chicken with chips is I do not know.  But it was tasty and filling, and reasonably cheap.  We ate and then jumped on the bus home, bumping off of snow piles on almost every corner we encountered, not to mention the roundabouts…..

Day 16, Helsinki, January 25th 2012

Tea 16: Flunssan Nujertaja (The Cold Cruncher), Cafe Java, Helsinki.

Today was another snowy day and my earliest start so far.  I was in town for around 11a.m, though I did experience my first snow related train delay today. A few minutes only, pretty impressive considering the amount of snow and the rather balmy -7’C….  I was meeting up with a person I met on Couchsurfing who had offered to show me around a bit of the city.  I met her in the train station and we went for a little bit of lunch in the university cafeteria.  I had a satisfying portion of Elk medallions.  They were pleasant, a lot milder in flavour than I had expected.  But the portion was good and set me up well for the rest of the day.  We then took the Metro to Kaapeli (The Cable Factory), where I had been the night before.  We visited the photography museum there, which was unfortunately half shut, but that did mean we got into what was open for free, my favourite price!  There was an interesting exhibtion of self portraits from various groups there, as well as a small exhibition that was mostly about the development of human rights.  We then browsed around the small bookshop and headed back out into the cold air.  We took a tram towards the old town and wandered along Kalevankatu and stopped off in a small Greek cafe called Cafe Delicato where we both had a lovely hot chocolate, and Ella had a slice of expensive but tasty looking blueberry cheesecake.  We sat and chatted for a good long while about life, learning, traveling, mono-brow parties and boob inspired pizza before braving it out into the cold weather once more.

We wandered around the old town a little more, occasionally lifting our heads from the inside of our jacket to take in views of the rather beautiful architecture around this area. Yellow townhouses line the streets with sweet windows and pointy rooftops.  The weather seemed to have gotten even colder though so we didn’t stay outside for long, but got onto another tram back into the city centre.  We headed for Cafe Java, which my guide for the day had assured me did a lovely tea, the Cold Cruncher.  And she was right.  The tea was just the ticket, warm and soothing with lemon, honey, ginger and a spiced Rooibos tea all in perfect balance.  It was the perfect answer to such cold weather.  I was made even better with the addition of a good slice of apple strudel cake on the side.  Today was definitely one of those made for sitting in cafes watching the world go by, and observing all the cold people outside rather than being one of them.  My guide, Ella, was an interesting and funny character with a smiling face and plenty of good stories.  She seems to have lived, visited or travelled through pretty much every country in Europe.  Another boost to the confidence levels for the continuation of my travels!