… and the weather is…

I was reading our daily paper earlier in the week and came across some interesting numbers. For the month of June, 2013 there were … wait for it… 78,000 lightning strikes in Finland. Yes, that is correct seventy-eight thousand. That’s an awful lot of electricity.

Lightning 2013
Lightning 2013

The next interesting statistic to grab my attention was the fact that we had 17 official ‘hot’ days! You may well ask what constitutes a hot day in Finland – any day where the temperature exceeds 25 degrees centigrade. Helsinki itself only had 9 such days. Check out the little snapshot I snipped from a site called Accu Weather.com. Double click the picture to read in detail.

June weather stats
June weather stats

Taste of Helsinki 2013…

…is coming sooner than you think!

I missed the inaugural Taste last year. Bad timing and bad organisation. Not this year. We have tickets and I’ve been scouring the menu trying to create my ultimate night out. I think dessert will be ‘SALT-CARAMEL CAKE with pine fudge and rhubarb’ from Juuri, and starter is looking more and more like ‘ORGANIC BEEF CARPACCIO, beetroot aioli and juicy salad’ from Bistro O mat. Main course is causing me all sorts of difficulties – there are 12 really great options and while I can’t try them all, I think I should make a decision before I get there 🙂

So, what is Taste of Helsinki? I hear you ask. As per their own site it’s a gourmet food and beverage festival, a boutique picnic, a journey! Where else can you sample the best of Finnish Food and be entertained at the same time? Here is a really good guide to the Taste which as well as being informative, is also really easy to read!

As I type this, the clock is ticking. Only 1 day, 12 hours, 39 minutes and a few seconds to go! Actually for me it will be a little more as we will be heading to the dinner session on Thursday night. Either way, as I mentioned, it’s just around the corner!

The clock is still ticking

Now, if you are wondering why I insist on abbreviating the title to the Taste, well that stems from attending what is now called The Taste Festival in my home city of Hobart, Tasmania. It’s been running for 24 years already and is known just as the Taste. Old habits really do die hard.

In the meantime, I’ll be reporting back after I’ve enjoyed my own Taste of Helsinki!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be on the water and visiting one of Helsinki’s pearls: Kaunissaari (Beauty or Beautiful Island). It’s a very interesting island, almost in the open sea, one side covered with thick forest and the opposite side featuring wind-swept rocks. Although it’s not a big island, 2 km long and about 800 metres wide, it takes a good couple of hours to walk around and savour the nature. I took the camera along with the intent to capture any pattern that caught my eye: some are man-made, some courtesy of mother nature. Unfortunately the battery was empty before my walk was finished, so I had to fall back on plan B, my phone!

Pine-cone Starfish
Pine-cone Starfish

I didn’t get very far before sight this was on the ground in front of me. The longer I looked at it, the more convinced I was that it was starfish that had been pulled apart.

As we made our way along the path it was very quiet. The ‘summer’ season has just started and there weren’t so many people on the island. The guest harbour was emptying as everyone started heading back to their home port.

Birch Forest
Birch Forest

There is something very haunting about a birch forest that has no leaves. Although it won’t be long and this forest will have its green cover on.


The forest floor close to the path was covered with this lovely valkovuokko (wood anemone) and when I stooped over taking this particular picture a couple passing by made a comment joking that I should hurry as there weren’t many around 🙂

 The island has plenty of facilities for day visitors and campers alike. There’s a dog park, saunas to rent, a very cute little cafe, oversized board games and a meandering nature path. Before we got to the nature path there was something we had to take care of though! Coffee and pulla, the staples of Finnish social life.

Nautical Theme
Nautical Theme

Nothing says nautical quite like red, blue and sails. This was inside the cafe looking back to the large sheltering umbrella’s on the terrace. While I was fluffing around with the camera a customer came in to charge his phone. That’s one thing to remember, there’s no electricity service. Strictly candles, grills and generators.

Oversized Chess Pieces
Over-sized Chess Pieces

Remember the over-sized board games? You weren’t sure exactly what I meant were you? If chess is not your thing also on offer are darts, volley ball and the age-old favourite of chilling in a hammock with a good book!

Wood Stack Art
Wood Stack Art

There is an art to stacking wood. It takes an extra special talent to make your wood-stack look like… an Angry Bird perhaps!

Weathered wood
Weathered wood

If you are interested to visit Kaunissaari, you can catch a ferry from Vuosaari. The journey takes approximately one hour each way. Alternatively, if you have access to a boat of your own, head to the sheltered guest harbour at the end of the island.

I’ll leave you with this detail of a cabin up close.

By the way, please let me know what you think of the pictures all the way down the left and the text on the right. I thought I’d try something new and now it feels like it doesn’t quite work. I might just have to come back and do some editing later.

So if you want to see other entries from this week’s challenge, head over to here and follow the ping-backs!

Here’s to 2013!

I’d like to wish a Happy New Year to all of my visitors, past and present!

2012 was Helsinki’s 200th birthday, and it was the year that Helsinki was the World Design Capital. For me personally, it was the year I met Tom from Yobot, only to mourn his loss a few short months later. I’m happy to say that Tom’s family are continuing the business and I’m glad to have been able to play a small part in this resurrection.

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2013 will bring! For those of you looking forward to the summer, we know that the Tall Ships will be visiting Helsinki in July this year. Winter has its attractions though, and the very first event coming our way is Lux Helsinki. I’ve missed this event in previous years (this is the fifth time the event has been run) and plan on visiting as many of these installations as possible.

The first Restaurant Day of the year (Ravintola Päivä) will be held on February 17th and while I’ll be out-of-town for this winter foodie festival, I’ll certainly be around for the next one, scheduled for May 2013. This wonderfully unique event first originated in Helsinki in 2011, and has spread around the world. Amsterdam to Zürich, Denmark to Japan and a dozen places in between, there is almost sure to be a Restaurant Day coming to a location close to you!

There is an outdoor art exhibition held in Kivinokka every summer year. It’s a very special and unique exhibition that uses the environment as the stage. The event has been organised every year since 2003, so this year being the 10th anniversary I’m hoping there is something extra special on offer. Either way, I’ll be visiting and writing about Kivinokka in the coming months. Here is a little taste of what you can expect from the 2011 exhibition.

Sisu Exhibition
(Kivinokka 2011)

Looking forward to sharing Helsinki with you in 2013!

What does Finland mean to you?

To my valued followers, I’d like to explain my absence. Over summer I enrolled in a short course at the Helsinki Summer School, which in turn inspired me to continue my studies. Subsequently I’ve enrolled in studies that will assist me in my long-term goals. Short term it means that I’m a little strapped for time to write all the blogs that I’d like to. My aim is to get back to two posts per week by the end of October.

Now I’d like to ask your help with a little research project I need to run for one of our travel courses. In a nutshell: what does Finland mean to you as a destination?

Feel free to comment below. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. I’m interested in how you see my adopted home as a destination, whether it’s for a day, a week, a month!

Please mention if you have visited Finland previously and it would be especially helpful if you could briefly note how your ‘visit experience’ rated against your expectations. I’m quite keen to hear your opinion of Finland.

In the mean time while your gather your thoughts, here are some random shots I took in and around Finland this summer.

Is it a car? No! Bicycle rack in downtown Helsinki…
Summer delights from Åland
Cinema tickets, island style!
Night of the Cats: Action at the zoo (after dark!)
Bird on a stone!
Summer flags
Åland sunset

Helsinki’s Tall Spots # 1

An alternative title might be how high can you go? Helsinki’s skyline is quite low and characterised by a distinct lack of dominating high-rise buildings. This doesn’t mean that there is a lack of high places or look-outs that you can visit and enjoy a view of the city and surrounding environs.

This past weekend (August 26th, 2012) we were able to visit the lighthouse Söderskär, situated in the Porvoo archipelago in the Gulf of Finland (60° 6′ 33.6″ N, 25° 24′ 36″ E). Technically this is not part of Helsinki. However as you are able to reach the island and the lighthouse by ferry * from Helsinki, I’m invoking author privilege to include the experience for you also!


Söderskär is also a participating lighthouse in the lighthouse tourism group that has been set up to promote the lighthouses of Southern Finland and Estonia. Earlier in the summer we visited Utö, where we first heard about the lighthouse passport. Unfortunately, we didn’t take up on the offer to start collecting stamps. If we had, then this weekend we could have collected stamp # 2.

We were arriving under our own steam from the east, and even from a distance, the lighthouse is quite majestic.

Söderskär from afar

As always, the weather is key factor in the enjoyment or otherwise of outdoor activities. This particular day was warm, sunny and with a mild sea-breeze in the afternoon. We were not alone in taking advantage of the weather to visit. There were many boats moored around the small inlets and attached to the jetty. The island is off-limits to visitors for much of the spring and early summer due to bird nesting season. We arrived mid afternoon at the same time as the water police. They were on a ‘tour’ of archipelago harbours making sure that everybody was behaving themselves 🙂

Söderskär Prices

As with any visitor harbour, there is a price list of services. In 2012 an overnight stay will cost 12 € per boat, while a guided trip up the lighthouse is 14 €. You can also climb without the guide (and miss the story) for 10 € per person **

The lighthouse is situated on Majakkasaari (Lighthouse Island), while the mooring spots are situated on Luotsisaari (Pilot Island). That means that in order to reach the lighthouse you must first cross the (swinging) bridge:
Swinging Bridge at Söderskär

There was only capacity for three persons at a time, and walking over was not too uncomfortable, a little bit of bounce. I imagine that any more than three would create a large amount of swing!

It was a little bit disorganised at the base of the lighthouse. There were no real instructions about where or how to pay, also whether cards were welcome or not. In the end we paid at the base and then continued forward. We passed some groups along the way, fortunately when we climbing up there were only a few people heading back down.

I’m not going to write too much about the lighthouse itself, although I will give you a few links in order for you to find out something that YOU are interested in. I’d much rather give you a few hints than force feed you lots of information that is irrelevant to you. The lighthouse page has some information in English, the accommodation page tells about the suite available inside the lighthouse for overnight stays. I’m quite sure that it’s not possible this year (the season will be ending September 19th, 2012), perhaps we could organise ourselves to stay one night next year. Lighthouse Tourism also has some information and I found some very nice information about the current usage of island from the Forestry administration pages.

Söderskär: Up close and personal

My picture does not do it justice. There is something has very wonderful about old buildings (150 years young this year!), especially those that are built-in places where they are exposed to the extremes of nature.

The interior of the lighthouse is also used as a gallery space, and this summer there were works by Saara Kiuru, Paavo Halonen and Salla Savolainen. I really liked Halonen’s pieces, especially these swans (page 9 of the pdf). Of course it goes without saying that the view from the top is extraordinary. The light mechanism is still in place and glass is so beautiful:

Söderskär light

I was so busy walking around taking in the view, admiring the light and watching some young lads test aerodynamics of their paper planes that I forgot to look up. Rest assured the boys actually collected their flying machines afterwards, even taking a small runabout to collect the ones that made it into the sea! When I did look up, this was what I saw:

Söderskär ‘Lions’

Lions! With very long tongues for taking the water away. Touches like this will always bring a smile to my face. We descended back to ground level and into one of the main building where we discovered the lighthouse shop, complete with the ability to pay by card. Lesson of the day: ask! The shop had some very nice memorabilia, and if I wasn’t so keen on reducing the amount of things I bring home I could have been very tempted by the mugs, key-chains, pins and a very nice book. There was also an outdoor café selling tea, coffee and some very yummy looking pancakes. On way or another, we will definitely return, the only question remaining: this year or next?

* Ferry companies that offer trips to Söderskär in 2012 are:

Marival II (from Vuosaari) 40 € per adult (includes ferry trip & guided tour), 20 € for children (7-15)

Royal Line (from the marketplace) 49 € per adult (includes ferry trip & guided tour), 25 € for children (7-16); buffet lunch available for purchase onboard.

IHA Lines (from the marketplace) Cruises to Söderskär appear to be reserved for groups rather than individuals.

** This is what happened to us because we didn’t realise that card payment was possible inside the lighthouse keepers building. Our cash didn’t stretch so far… Definitely next time we take a guided tour too!

Helsinki’s Hidden Treasures # 2

Helsinki has many islands in the immediate surroundings. Some are large, connected to the mainland by bridge or causeway, well populated and completely serviced with shops, schools and all regular city conveniences. Others are large enough to accommodate a single-room cottage and not much more. Still others belong to the military, and although no longer used for defensive purposes are yet to opened to the public and are still relatively undeveloped.

Some of the larger islands play host to summer restaurants. These establishments cater to all tastes, from 5-star gourmet to family ‘pub-style’ meals and everything in between. Ravintola Palma de Pyy falls into the latter category.

The restaurant is situated on the small island of Pyysaari, situated off the larger island of Laajasalo, in the east of Helsinki. Pyysaari is also home to the Helsingin Työväen Pursiseura (Helsinki’s Workers Sailing Club). Pyysaari can be reached by car; bus 88 from Herttoniemi metro station; following the bike path to Laajasalo, or even by boat and mooring on their guest pier.

You know you’ve arrived at your destination:

Pyysaari HTPS

The menu, drinks and opening hours are posted on the other side of the gate for easy reference:

Pyysaari Menu & Hours

It’s a very picturesque spot:

Pyysaari Gate (shut the gate on the way out!)

The bridge onto the island doubles as a pier for member’s sailing boats:

Pyysaari Pier

Man’s best friend is well provided for:

Pyysaari Dog Parking

The menu is nothing fancy, and hasn’t changed as long as I’ve been eating here:

What’s on the menu today? Pyysaari food list

All the dishes are Finnish specialities. Salads, steaks and open sandwiches. Today I ordered Oopperaleipä, while my companions took Sillivoileipä and Lehtipihvi (Opera Open Sandwich, Herring Open Sandwich and Minute Steak). While we waited for our dinner to arrive there was time to take in the view and open a nicely chilled beer:

Pyysaari Refreshments and the view beyond

The judges box and flag pole. The seagull perched on the arm was there for the length of our dinner. The housing area to the right on the other side of the bay is where the author lives! If we lean out of our balcony and look left we are looking straight towards Pyysaari.

Pyysaari & The View!

Our food came to the table in a reasonable time:

Clockwise from top left: Minute Steak, Opera Sandwich, Herring Sandwich, Clubhouse exterior

As desserts are low priority for us we settled for coffee and hot chocolate to end the meal. Like some summer restaurants, service is of the “self-service” kind from the inside bar:

Pyysaari Bar

Some hints: opening hours are weather dependent. If the weather is not good and not many people are about, then they will close early. There is seating both inside and on the terrace. On warm summer days the demand is much greater than capacity and you could be in for a quite a wait if you want to sit on the terrace. The restaurant is open from May Day until the end of September.

On a parting note, a useful souvenir:

Pyysaari ‘Palma de Pyy’ matches