Archive | June, 2012

Just how do you celebrate 200 years?

29 Jun

If you are Helsinki, you throw a party! (Actually, I think everybody might throw a party for being 200 years old.) The Helsinki party is more than just one day: the actual Helsinki Day is one day of an 18 day event called Helsinki Week. In 2012, the event ran from May 31st. June 17th marked the final day of this celebration of all things Helsinki.

As I wrote earlier, the new cycling path Baana * was officially opened. We were there close to the ribbon cutting:

Ribbon slung between two bicycles. Where are the scissors?

The city used this day and occasion to distribute the new cycling map.

Helsinki City 2012 Cycling Map

Everybody that rode through the Baana on the official opening received a map at the end. The maps are free and have more than just the cycle paths marked. Nature reserves are included, and many of these cycle paths become part of the cross-country ski tracks in winter. Cafés, museums, beaches, grilling spots, lookouts, historical sites, camping grounds and culturally significant spots are included. I actually have three: one with the bike, one at home for route planning and one in the car for locating new spots to visit! You can pick one up from any Helsinki library, the City of Helsinki Sports Department and the Helsinki Tourist Office. Helsinki City have also provided an electronic version.

There was an abundance of events to choose from on Helsinki Day. I’ve already decided that next year I am going to ensure that I know well in advance where the Historical Café will be. This year, the event was hosted in one of the city’s numerous museum buildings: Sederholm House. This café is not just any old café. The food on offer is made according to the tastes of 19th century Helsinki. In 2012 the menu included served almond cake, apple cake, individual meringues, as well as sweet and savoury pastries. As the recipes hark back to a time less industrial there is lots of butter! There was also the opportunity to enjoy some ‘tunes’ of the era.

Café Empire (courtesy http://www.helsinkiviikko.fi/)

City Hall activities for all the family the whole day. I would have enjoyed catching up with a Balinese clown and listening to some toe tapping big band sounds. For the young at heart there was a puppet theatre performance highlighting Helsinki’s foundation as well as some unique views of Finland.

As an extra special gift to Helsinki residents all swimming pools (both indoor and outdoor) were free of charge for the day, while the Olympic Stadium and Helsinki-Vantaa Airport also arranged special 60th birthday events.

Our highlight was going to be the concert staged in Kaisaniemi Park. The lineup was a great cross-section of Finnish (popular) music, and I wouldn’t be able to nominate a favourite. Reckless Love, Erin, POTFHerra Ylppö & IhmisetLauri TähkäHapporadio, Rasmus and Chisu. Okay, since you asked I have a big soft spot for Poets, Happoradio, Rasmus and Chisu, not necessarily in that order! Our plans changed somewhat and we ended up enjoying an impromptu dinner at the Savu Restaurant. A review will follow in due course.

As the Helsinki Week page will be updated in time for the 2013 Helsinki Week, I suggest that you have a look at the wide variety of events that were organised for this year. While there is too much for one person to be able to do and ENJOY everything, at least there is no shortage of things to do. My must-do list for next year already has some entries!

* Baana is colloquial Finnish word for road / route / track, and in this use is a very good example of classic Finnish play on words. This new cycling track has been built on an abandoned section of rail track from the harbour.

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The forecast for today is…

26 Jun

Don’t be fooled by the phrase ‘midsummer’. Yesterday it was overcast in Helsinki, followed by plenty of wind and rain. Proper rain, not warm summer rain! Late in the day the sun put in a brief appearance, pushing through a late afternoon fog, before evening showers set in. The maximum recorded in the city centre was 15 degrees Centigrade (~ 59 degrees Fahrenheit), and I’m quite sure that it was less in my suburb.

Highs & lows in Helsinki, June 24 – 26, 2012 *

Temperatures generally range from a chilly 9 degrees Centigrade (~ 48 degrees Fahrenheit) to a toasty 34 degrees Centigrade (~ 93 degrees Fahrenheit). These are the extremes. Generally summer temperatures are in the range of 19 – 23 degrees Centigrade  (~ 66 – 73 degrees Fahrenheit). For detailed tables of highs, lows and averages have a look here and here. Finns embrace the summer weather and as soon as the days start warming every warm rock and sunny beach fills quickly.

It’s a toss-up between a sunhat and raincoat as to which is the most useful item of clothing in summer! Layering is your best bet to cope with a Helsinki summer day.

Be prepared for Helsinki summer weather!

Here is a snap shot of the next three days:

Three day forecast *

No matter what the weather is, good or bad, we’ll be sure to have a great summer!

* Charts taken from http://en.ilmatieteenlaitos.fi/local-weather

Happy Midsummer

21 Jun

or Hauskaa Juhannusta as the locals say.

At Helsinki’s latitude (60 10 N, 25 0 e) the sun does set for a few hours, however the sky does not darken, dusk merely merges into dawn. This morning the sun rose at 0354 and will set again at 2250.

2328 and the sky is still bright

0314 this morning – the sun is about to rise

A new day has dawned

Midsummer also marks an unofficial start to the summer holiday season. Many people start their annual summer vacation on this weekend.

My apologies in advance if you are visiting Helsinki this weekend. It will be very quiet. I didn’t believe that the city could be so quiet and was quite shocked the first (and only) time we stayed in Helsinki over the midsummer weekend. The majority of people head out of the city, either to their cottage (by the sea or on a lake) or by boat. This weekend sees many guest marinas filled and overflowing as sailors jostle for the best harbours and an elusive sauna slot.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. Seurasaari host a traditional bonfire on the island, bringing the country to the city and Linnanmäki have a traditional dance arranged on their new entertainment stage.

The author is leaving town with the family so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you a great midsummer. Hauskaa juhannusta!

Did you know that ‘Helsinki’ is actually four cities?

17 Jun

If you are a casual visitor to Helsinki, you may not have realised that Helsinki is actually made up of four different cities. Helsinki springs to mind first, and is the city situated on the harbour. Espoo is our near neighbour to the west and possibly is best known as where Nokia is headquartered. Vantaa is to our north, and is the location of HEL (Helsinki-Vantaa Airport). The fourth and smallest city (in terms of area) is the beautifully named Kauniainen which is actually situated within the city of Espoo.

Metropolitan Helsinki (dark green) / Greater Helsinki (light green)
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Helsingin_seutu_-_Helsingforsregionen.svg)

Each city maintains its own bus network, and through shared ticketing it’s possible to travel from city to city. Some planning is required and the journey planner is one of the most useful tools for working out how to get around Helsinki. So useful, that I even downloaded the application to my phone so I can check my route on the go, and not have to worry about printing out the connections.

Coming soon: island life in the city!

Yobot!

16 Jun

What do you get when you take a man from Ohio, send him to Portland for a while and then transplant him to Helsinki? I’m quite sure that the words ‘frozen yoghurt’ were not the first to spring to mind.

I was first told about the Yobot shop a few months ago. Then I happened to walk past one day on my way to an appointment. It was a cold day, not particularly sunny and the Yobot shop was full of happy students. A few weeks ago, when my husband and I had a spare hour up our sleeves and were in the neighbourhood, I convinced him that we should check this place out. Tom was behind the counter and quickly introduced us to the concept: serve yourself, add the topping, pay the weight. Enjoy!

My first Yobot: Vanilla, Chocolate yoghurt, muesli and berries

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit with Tom and ask a few questions about him and the business. We started off by talking about how he got to be in Finland in the first place. Like many he had a Finnish spouse, and had been holidaying in Finland for many years before moving here. Although the marriage did not last, the family ties remain and Tom has settled here, providing his family with the opportunity to appreciate their Finnish heritage as well as enjoying life in Finland.’I love Finland … and … I knew what I was getting into’.

My main interest was ‘why yoghurt’? For Tom, it was time to do something different from the web development work that had been his bread and butter. Time for a change and he knew that food would go over well. It helps that his ex-wife is also his number one fan * and that he loves frozen yoghurt. This was the right business for Tom to ‘break ground and learn the ropes’.

Business philosophy has the power to make or break a business. Tom worked for twelve long months bringing his idea to fruition, and has already built a decent loyal clientele from the locals. It’s job security and he has total control over his job description. What better job is there than to be paid to do what you love doing? He’ll know when he’s made it, because a young lad of 5 or so will come to the counter with his own pot of yoghurt and a big “!@* eating grin! My son is already a big fan too, although I think that is more to do with the large graffiti style logo that dominates one wall. As you can see from my ‘regular customer’ card I’m also a fan!

Loyal customer card: after 2 weeks!

His space in Töölö is quite compact and already Tom has eyes on the future and something to carry him through the winter. Finns however eat a huge amount of ice-cream (14 litres per person per annum reported in 2006), so some re-education could send hordes of Finns to Yobot even during the winter months. We talked about selling frozen yoghurt on the go. It didn’t go so well for the business that tried it earlier. Tom misses the ‘food-cart culture’ that is so prevalent in Portland. It’s building slowly in Helsinki, and for the vendors has not always been an easy journey.

The machine serves up vanilla, a second flavour and then a mix of the two. The ‘other’ flavour changes quite regularly: the machine is cleaned out every 5 days and after the 2nd cleaning the flavour is changed. I’ve tried chocolate, peach, orange and the most recent flavour is banana which I sampled today as a take-away. (It was very pleasant to sit in the park, catching a few rays and eating my yoghurt at the same time.) The hardest part is trying to work out what topping to put on top! Chopped nuts, diced fruit, hard candy, honey, flavoured syrup, cinnamon, jam, crushed biscuits, shredded coconut, muesli and sprinkles. Too many to choose from! I like my yoghurt plain or with fruit. My teen son and husband both prefer theirs with lollies and fresh fruit.

Bulk orders aren’t easily available as the machine has limited capacity. If you are looking for something a little different, you can’t go past the puck! A frozen yoghurt sandwich, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The cookie is not too thick, and I can confirm that they taste as good as they look:

Yobot Puck: ready to eat!

The menu also includes berry smoothies and the teenager has sampled this twice already! Although space is limited, Tom would like to open up the basement area for small private parties. Recently we arrived just after an acoustic set by Satin Circus and hopefully as soon as the appropriate permit is secured, a terrace area will open up on street level.

Pricing follows the KISS principle: Keep it simple silly! It really is very simple, you only pay for the quantity that you take. That also means that if you take a lot you pay a lot! Still, it works. Tom estimates that 95% take at least one topping and if you’d rather have your yoghurt plain there is a separate price for yoghurt with no topping.

T-Shirt on Yobot blue wall

There are also caps and t-shirts for sale. The shade of blue on the back wall is very inviting and highlights the white of the t-shirt very nicely. The ‘bot’ is featured on one wall, larger than life!

In parting, I asked Tom if he had any advice for visitors to Helsinki in summer and then winter. Summer visitors are recommended to visit Pihjalasaari and enjoy the seal life **, while winter visitors should brave the elements and take a walk over the iced up sea near Kaivopuisto ***.

Important facts: Yobot is situated in Töölö, at Runeberginkatu 54 A. Opening hours and current events are updated on their Facebook fan page.

* Speaking from personal experience, never underestimate the power of your fans!

** Seal life entails laying on the warm rocks, soaking up the sun and then rolling into the cool sea. Climb back to the rocks, bask and repeat!

*** Walking on the frozen sea is an amazing experience, especially when the ice moves, groans and creaks. Be careful though, thin ice claims the lives of some Finns every year.

Helsinki Päivä / Helsinki Day

12 Jun

Today, June 12th, is Helsinki Day! Helsinki’s birthday. One of those very special days that the City hosts; when there are events galore to choose from. Many are free of charge and there is always something for everyone!

I will post about Helsinki Day in more detail later. For now I would like to share the two special things that have happened so far today. Firstly my son and I took the metro to the other end of the line to Ruoholahti. We took a short ride to the beginning of the recently completed Baana, a railway track converted to mixed cycling and walking path. We were well in time for the opening ceremony. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t hear anything that the City officials were saying. The atmosphere was lively and there were plenty of good-looking bikes to check out.

We had positioned ourselves close to where the cycling police were straddling the path with the ceremonial ribbon. After the official snip, there were some pieces cut for the officials and then anyone else who wanted their own piece of ribbon could use the official scissors and cut themselves a piece. This was one opportunity not to be missed! Now, I have my very own piece of Helsinki Day ribbon.

20120612-160605.jpg

A sliver of the actual ribbon!

The second really wonderful thing is the little slip of paper the postman dropped in the mail box this morning. I had a quick trip to the post office to collect: my blog business cards!

All this for a blog! (This is just not any old blog :)!)

Happy Birthday Helsinki!

PS: Shameless plug time here: follow me on Twitter © or Foursquare ©. I’m a huge fan of Foursquare, I still need some more driving lessons for Twitter, and Heather’s Helsinki will eventually appear on Facebook too. Stay tuned!

Bus, Ferry, Train or Tram?

7 Jun

Which one to use to get where you are going? It depends! For instance if I want to be somewhere in a hurry I’ll take the metro. Now, it is not the world’s most extensive network as you can see. However, it will deliver me to the city centre from Herttoniemi in about 15 minutes. In winter the only concession for the weather is that the doors don’t open automatically after the temperature drops below -10 degrees celsius from memory. (I’ve had no luck verifying that fact.)

From a commuting point of view, many of the cities buses terminate at a metro station or they stop close by. Yesterday I took the 14B from the harbour area that delivered me to Meilahti Hospital on the other side of the city. The bus had filled well before we reached Kamppi metro station, where the bulk of the passengers hopped off. We continued towards the hospital past ‘the rock church‘ and close by one of my new favourite shops – it’s a café (or is it a yoghurt bar?) that sells frozen yoghurt and I’m looking forward to writing about him in the very near future.

Helsinki buses parked outside National Theatre
(Image courtesy http://it.wikipedia.org)

My bus-pass tipped to the floor of the 14B and luckily I noticed before the bus had continued back towards the harbour. A fellow passenger had handed it to the driver and he returned it to me no questions asked! Bus-pass in hand I continued to Tukholmankatu (Stockholm’s street). This road is extremely busy and as a major arterial road to the western part of Helsinki. Naturally there are plenty of buses. Most head to the centre, there are a few lines that head to the east. The number 58 is an old favourite. Sometime it is quicker and easier to take the bus, especially when heading west. On of the good things about the 58 is that it stops at Pasila. Here it’s possible to catch a local, national or international train. Pasila is quite high compared to the rest of Helsinki, so here the radio and television stations are headquartered. Here too, is a rabbit warren of government and office buildings.

The 58 terminated at Itäkeskus. Metro, bus station and also the shopping centre, now officially known by its colloquial name Itis. Along with the new ‘old’ name has come a major renovation project. Shops are shutting, moving, reopening. It’s very hectic there at the moment. I should have checked before I went. The place I was planning on visiting is closed for renovation and will reopen at the of next week.

Metro train at Kulosaari metro station
(Image courtesy http://fi.wikipedia.org)

Metro and a short bus trip had me home again in 20 minutes.

Yesterday’s travels didn’t involve trams or ferries. Don’t despair I will be featuring them in the near future. I read this morning that Helsinki city has new trams on order (unfortunately it appears they won’t be on the tracks until 2014) and they are on display from this weekend.

Public transport case – highly reflective

The all important card. To borrow from a certain credit card supplier ‘don’t leave home without it’

I’ll leave you with an interesting bus fact: the Helsinki bus route numbers indicate the postcode of the area the buses travel to or from!