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!
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!!!)
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…..
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!
Tea 15: Lemo Mate, Eeero’s House, Vantaa.
Today I had a reasonably early start and got into Helsinki city centre at about midday. Today I didn’t really have a plan apart from meeting up with Eeero at around 5:30pm. I headed west out of the station and had a wander around the parliament building, After all the excitement of the first round of Finland’s Presidential Election the town seems a little quieter. I’m sure it will hot up over the next couple of weeks before the second round of voting. The choice seems to be between a Conservative candidate and a Green League candidate. I know who I’d pick given that choice! I was hoping to find a decent amount of statues / sculptures in that area, but apart from a couple I think I should have walked further up Mannerheimintie, maybe another day. I then ended up in the Culture Museum. That was quite interesting, exhibits from all over the place, and a little bit of education on the origins of the Finnish and Estonian languages. I pottered around there until it got a bit busy and I headed back into town. I decided that as I felt at a little bit of a lose end I’d go to the ferry terminal and buy my ticket to Estonia. Sorted that easily enough and got the tram back into town.
I got off at the stop nearest to Helsinki Cathedral, a huge white neo-classical structure designed by C. L. Engel, it looks as though he expected snow, it is really impressive in the snow, like the top of a huge iced cake. Quite beautiful. It has many intricate and interesting carvings and pillars, including the Eye of Providence, or all-seeing-eye. I decided to venture inside, it was quiet and peaceful. The inside is remarkably minimal, the altar piece and a huge painting in front of me and a few scultures. The chandeliers are pretty impressive too. And so too is the huge organ.
After a little while clicking away with the camera I went back out into the snow and wandered north, got myself some lunch (a freshly baked garlic bread, not the most gastronomic lunch, but it was warm and fresh and satisfying, and super cheap, only 99c!) I got a little lost but found myself walking along the edge of the river I photographed on my first day here, but now its completely covered in snow, the murky brown ice is now a perfect sheet of uninterrupted snow. There were some men further around doing a spot of ice-fishing, using huge screw things to cut through the ice, it looked to me as though the ice must be a good foot thick at least. I meandered along the river some more, through a park and then headed into a bookshop to rest my legs and to wait for Eeero. I read books about traveling and a TIME magazine publication about the most important historical places on earth. Then I went and met Eeero.
We went for a bite to eat, I had a really satisfying Falafel in pitta with loads of salad. After scoffing that down we headed for the Metro and to Kaapeli (The Cable Factory) for the performances we had decided to see. These were in a part called ZODIAK, a contemporary theatre / performance space. The event was called ‘The Greatest Love Songs‘ and featured 10 artists, performers and dancers. The pretext was that the organiser, Maija Mustonen, had been reading peoples love stories and performance ideas whilst listening to love songs, and so she brought together ‘a colourful group of artists and styles’, from an open call, and asked them to design their own performances, based on lovesongs. Some had written the songs themselves, whilst others chose songs, which included such classics as Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, Sam Brown‘s ‘Stop’, and even Squarepusher’s ‘My Red Car’. The performances were all brilliant. From the first piece resulting in a cupping of the crotch (the performer Masi Tiitta’s own, not mine…), to the piece that will haunt me for a while: The excellent Katri Kainulainen, who, wearing only knickers and a bra with extended straps, arms raised straight up above her head holding up the straps so the bar didn’t fall down, entered what was basically a staring contest with me, climbing over the crowd towards me. I think she won the contest…. but I put up a good fight. The organiser, Maija Mustonen, who studied at Trinity Laban, herself performed a piece to Maria Callas‘s ‘Casta Diva’, a beautiful and haunting performance, fitting to the song. And the Jarkko Lehmus (who was with the Scottish Ballet from 2003-2009) performance to the Sam Brown hit was possibly the best piece of the night, performed and choreographed excellently.
Tea today is a new one for the travel tea collection! Lemo Maté, bought from a lovely little eco-shop aptly named Ekolo. It is nice and light, the maté leaves are substantial in size so the tea is not too ‘bitty’, for want of a better phrase.
Today I headed to the islands of Suomenlinna. This is a short boat journey, which if you have a travel-card like me, is included, so is basically free. The island are an old fortress, which began life in 1748, when the Swedish, who at that time ruled over current day Finland, built it to defend themselves against Russian expansion. Suomenlinna played a key role in many disputes, swapping hands time and again, until 1918 when it became part of newly independent, Finland. It is now an UNESCO world heritage site. The island is quite pretty, the first impression was a little disappointing, the buildings on the first island are similar to those in the city, and quite close to the Swedish architecture in Stockholm. As I headed further into the complex though things got more interesting, crossing a small bridge I entered the old port area, where currently a wooden Gunboat is being constructed. This is based on the plans of architect F. H. Chapman. The main aim of the project is to employ and train young people and to revive and maintain ancient ship-building skills. They are certainly doing a good job on this project, the ship is still in a skeletal stage, but it looks as if it will be amazing when finished, it is huge!
After that I headed towards some even older looking bits of the fortress. The complex is huge, and like a rabbit warren, it would be so easy to get totally lost in there if there weren’t maps dotted about. The building is quite low, barely going over two stories for the most part, but the walls are really thick and, like I say, the labyrinthian quality must of made it an excellent defensive structure. I headed towards the Kings Gate, basically the original main entrance / first stop off for any wannabe invader. There are cannon of various ages, some from the earlier period of it’s history and some from the more recent conflict around 1918. I spent around two hours on the island before my fingers began to get numb through my gloves, definitely the coldest day so far, the exposure of the island to the Baltic Sea and the fresh bout of snowfall all contributed to this. I hopped back onto the ferry headed back to the mainland.
My mission now: TEA! Of course. I almost indulged in a hot chocolate instead, but my tea head was on and I wanted to go back to the shop that had been closed on Sunday, théhuone (Teahouse in Finnish). I was greeted by a wall of amazing smelling teas. The shop was inviting and warm. A pair sat at one table and another lone soul like me at another, so I took a third. The menu was extensive to say the least, I couldn’t read any of it except for the tea names, and country of origin. I picked one and asked to smell it. The smell was deep and reddish, exactly what I was looking for to warm me up, and to give me something different. The tea was called Thyolo, I presume in further reference to it’s origin, Thyolo in Malawi. Today I decided to take proper tasting notes, especially because it was a tea I definitely haven’t experienced before. So here we go: The tea was smooth and rounded in flavour, delicate in flavour, and no bitterness at all. There was the slight hint of Rooibos and also a smell it took me ages to pin down, but I think it might have been the very tiniest hint of Passata (tomato puree). It took me ages to think what it was, and I might still be wrong. There was an edge of sweetness to the tea, mostly from the Rooibos tones, that refreshed the underside of my tongue along and a slight and pleasant lingering metallic note in there somewhere. The tea was dark amber in colour, reminiscent of Golden Syrup. The water was heated perfectly and the timing of the brewing was to perfection, thanks to a little egg-timer used my the assistant. I also indulged in a delicious seeded Croissant with St Dalfour Black Cherry jam. It was SOOOO good! After my tea I chatted to the assistant for a while about tea and travel, she told me how, for her honeymoon, she and her husband travelled for five weeks down very much the same route as I am planning but in a Caravan, it has made me think more about using a different form of transport than the trains and buses I have planned so far…..
Tea 13: Vihreä Tee (Green Tea) with Goji, Tyrni (Buckthorn) and Karpalo (Cranberry), Caffi, Helsinki.
First things first, last night. My first experience of a proper Finnish Sauna! In fact my first experience of a sauna of any kind! There is one in the house I am staying in and it is apparently tradition that a sauna is had every Saturday. And blimey, it was an experience. Eeero apparently has saunas HOT, I was warned of this before, but having never had one at all I had basically no inkling of what that really meant. But what it did mean was 90’C! Initially I didn’t really know what to think of it, I couldn’t really understand the whole thing, but I think I do now. After the first bout of heat I went out an took a cool shower then went back in, this time I still didn’t quite get it. I got out again and this time let myself cool down properly with a cool shower and a sit down to catch my breath again. Then, once I’d psyched myself up again I went back in. This time and then the next was when I realised that the sensation is actually quite enjoyable, I think probably as your body starts to defend itself and you get a bit euphoric, I even had a strange shiver at some point that felt pretty good. That and a couple of beers followed by a nice helping of Eeero’s homemade liquorice vodka and the night was a good one, full of chatter and laughs, think I got to bed at about 2a.m.
Today I headed, once again, into Helsinki and from there took a tram north-west to Meilahdentie, I got off the tram and made my way through a little patch of snow smothered park land to Meilahti, one of the bases for the Helsinki art museum, Helsingin taidemuseo. They are currently showing a collection of new work acquisitions. For the past 6 years or so the Museum has been buying contemporary works from young Finnish artists and this was a mere 50 or so of the 400 they have so far acquired. There was some interesting stuff; a reasonably immersive set of three videos by the artist Jani Ruscica, as well as some interesting and amusing photographic pieces by Antti Keitila.
After my visit I headed onto the island of Seurasaari, this tiny island is best know for being an open air museum of buildings and structures, reminiscent of the Skansen Open-Air Museum in Stockholm. The building have all been brought to the densely wooded island from elsewhere in Finland and they act as representation of the older, simpler days of life in Finland. The oldest building, the Karuna Church, dates back to 1686! The island was quiet and peaceful and very beautiful, with views out across the water back towards the city centre and another island, Vattuniemi. Red berries and green pine needles stood out against the perfect white sheets of snow that cover the ground whilst birds chitter away in the trees, feeding from bird feeders dotted throughout the island. I also encountered the islands tallest Spruce, at a whopping 30metres!
After that long, lovely walk in the fresh crisp cold air I headed back to the tram stop, luckily managed to jump straight onto a tram and back into the city centre. I was now on the hunt for tea. After two failed attempts, one being shut, the other where I almost got my nose taken off by the woman slamming the door in my face (it would seem I had inadvertently interrupted some sort of tea event, and despite my apologies she didn’t seem best pleased, ‘No, no, no’ were the only words uttered), I thought I had failed in my mission for the day so I went and got something to eat, a satisfying Thai dish of rice noodles, coconut and red thai paste with tofu and shrimp. I then headed back towards the station but my attention was quickly drawn to the chinese new year event being held behind the Lasipalatsi (glass palace) shopping / restaurant arcade. I had a meander amongst the stalls on the hopes of finding tea, there was some but alas over-priced and uninspired options. I then noticed a little cafe in the Lasipalatsi complex that looked promising. They had a fairly large wall of teas. I asked the waitress what she would recommend and after a disappointing few sniffs of some overly flavoured and floral mixes I settled on the Green Tea with Goji berries, Cranberries and Buckthorn. The tea was a little disappointing. The water was too hot and this had burned the tea immediately, making it bitter and heavy. And I felt that the taste had been compromised in some way, it may have been the combination of flavours, but I think it may have been flavoured rather than mixed, there were definitely Goji berries in it, but as for the others I’m not so sure, there was just a distinct flavouring taste in there that reminded me of the weird fake ‘fruit tea’ you can buy. But anyway, it was ok, but I won’t rush back for more, and next time I’ll pick a tea that can hack boiling water. They seemed to have a large Rooibos selection….
Tonight Finland gets a new President!