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.

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Day 14, Helsinki / Suomenlinna, January 23rd 2012

Tea 14:  Thyolo, théhuone, Helsinki.

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…..


Day 13, Helsinki / Vantaa / Seurasaari, January 22nd 2012

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!


Day 12, Helsinki / Vantaa, January 21st 2012

Tea 12: Yunnan Green Oolong, Eeero’s house, Vantaa.

Today, after telling my host that I usually wake up reasonably early I, typically, didn’t wake up until 1130!  I still thought it was early, like 8 or something, so it was a shock to look at my watch.  It’s so peaceful and quiet here, and I think that the darkness has an impact too.  It’s not totally dark or anything, but you certainly notice the difference with the time that the sun comes up and goes down.  Days are pretty short.  And the snow is continuing to fall.

When I did eventually make it out I headed back into Helsinki on the train.  It was just after 2 when I arrived and I attempted to find a few of the galleries I have marked on my map.  I made it to the first, G18, and basically wasted €5 on an awfully put together show on the drawings of C.L. Engel.  The ‘work’ was just printed in that classical info-display style you get next to actual objects in museums, but without the actual drawings, just badly printed reproductions.  In the ballroom on G18 was a collection of Engel’s furniture and apparently his saucepans, drawing tools and the occasional painting, oh and fake bread and cake scattered here and there.  It was just simply bad.  Sorry.

After that unfortunate stop I headed West towards what I hoped would be a better, and free, exhibition, in Forum Box, which is an old cold storage space and echos the kind of environment you might find in the Gluefactory, Glasgow.  It was set up in 1996

‘by sculptor Kain Tapper (1930-2004). Its main purpose is to maintain an art space in Helsinki in order to enrich and support the Finnish cultural life. Currently Forum Box co-op has 50 artist members, all of which are prominent Finnish artists and actors in the field of contemporary art.

The Forum Box building is owned by the city of Helsinki. Formerly a cold storage room, the space was renovated by the artists themselves in 1998-99. The renovation was designed by architect, professor Juhani Pallasmaa. Forum Box was opened in June 1999 with an exhibition by Anthony Caro and Richard Serra, organised together with Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.’

Currently on show is an exhibition entitled Matkalla tilaan – veistoksia’, by Nora Tapper, a Finnish Sculptor.  I really am glad I saw this show, it certainly raised the bar of work after the terrible start to the days ‘cultural’ experiences.  Also on show in the gallery’s MediaBox was a brilliant video work by Pilvi Takala called Broad Sense, which basically highlighted the humiliating failings of security within the European Parliament.  Brilliant and scarily humorous.

After that I wandered the streets a bit, I had planned to visit a couple more exhibitions, but I’m here for a while so there’s no rush.  I did happen upon another a sweet little space.  The gallery was called Galleria TILA, and is basically just a small shopfront but it was showing some interesting photographic / slide work by Kastehelmi Korpijaakko, some of the work reminded me of a few pieces by my friend Ida Arentoft (if you are reading this blog Ida, you should check it out).

After that show I headed back towards the centre.  My exploration lead me to discover a Valrhona Chocolate Cafe, which I am saving in my head for another day.  I almost succumbed to a hot chocolate there and then, but I resisted, I’m going to let the anticipation build up a bit first!

Tea was another helping of the Yunnan Green Oolong.  The water seems softer here in Finland so the more delicate nature of the tea can come out and be noticed.  It is delicate and refreshing and the perfect tea to quench thirst and soothe the mind.

Forum Box

Galleria TILA


Day 11, Helsinki / Vantaa, January 20th 2012

Tea 11: Green Tea with Lemon, somewhere in the Baltic Sea, near Helsinki.

SNOW!  Proper Snow!  Helsinki is like I had sort of imagined it would be, but even more snowy, especially after the lack of snow in Copenhagen and Stockholm.  Apparently yesterday they had 20cm, and today they must of had the same again.  There is loads!!!  I’ve not seen so much since I was a kid skiing.

I woke up in my cabin at around 8am local time, 7am head time and 6am UK time.  I was lucky in that the cabin I had booked was a shared one, and so I could of had to share with other people, but the ship was quiet and I had the whole thing to myself!  Brilliant!  So after a fairly decent nights sleep I headed downstairs to the Promenade deck in search of tea.  I didn’t get my hopes up and was therefore not too disappointed when I was limited to a small Twinings selection.  How they manage to fit so many tannins into their tea I do not know, I’m starting to think when they say ‘Green Tea’ they just mean they picked the ones out of the black tea batch that stand out a little…. It did the job though and by the time I had drunk that and eaten the extremely dry and chewy cinnamon bun thing (trust me, a camel would have struggled), it was almost time to disembark.  I headed to the top deck and out into the cold air, where I was greeted by lots of lovely, snow-covered islands, even the back of the ship had a little covering.  Helsinki soon loomed up on me and it was time to get off.

I took the tram from the Olympia ferry terminal to the central station and met my friend Eeero, who is kindly hosting me for the next 10 days, outside of the station, after me having seen him, but not him me, outside of the Sokos hotel / department store and me chasing him around for a while.  We went and got my travelcard sorted and headed to his house in Vantaa, a little way north of Helsinki.  After dumping my stuff, meeting his wife and their new baby I headed out into the snow, really really thick snow, and back into the city centre where I filled myself up at a disgustingly satisfying Chinese Buffet and wandered around the city a little to get my bearings a little.  The river running through Helsinki is completely frozen over and a weird murky brown colour, which means I will not be testing my theory that you could easily walk across it, but nonetheless I’m pretty sure that water isn’t moving for a while.  I treated myself to a bar of soap and a wee in a department store and headed back to Eeero’s place.