Tips to Helsinki & Espoo from a quarter-Finnish traveller!

This year on December 6th, Finland celebrates 100 years of independence, and Finland is also named as Best in travel for 2017 by Travel & Leisure. So there is good reason to visit Finland. And Helsinki is where most people start.

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My grandmother is Finnish and I am a quarter Finnish, so I have been to Finland several times.

FACTS & TIPS ⇓

→ “I have everything – also my knife.” The standing notion is that all Finns carry knives. I was going to contradict this until my 70 year old relative said the above quoted sentence on the way to a funeral!  And they do make great quality knifes. But remember it is illegal to carry a blade in public!

→ Finnish is an impossible language, since it’s part of the Uralic language family. My mom (half Finnish) understands some words, but I can only count to ten and say “Thank you”. They add vowels to everything – even Jesus is spelled Jeesus!

→ Yes, almost everyone has a sauna. My cousin live in a small apartment where there is no room for a sauna, but then the whole block have a shared one. The Finnish sauna tradition is very important, and it is a must to try a wooden sauna, whip yourself with birch leaves and then jump out in the snow or one of the 1000 lakes.

→ Note that web information is often also in Russian and text are in both Finnish, Swedish and English – very tourist friendly. But I was told, that the Finns have a difficult relationship with the Russians. There are many Russian tourists pouring money into the box, but also there is a long history of that makes them nervous of Russia. The city where my grandmother was born was Finnish then, but is now Russian! They are afraid that joining NATO will be a provocation to Russia.

→ The Fins love berries. There is berries everywhere – in the tea, the bread and in all desserts. Got to the open market at the harbour for fresh raspberries, blueberries and cranberries in the fall, and also great mushrooms.

→ There are a few top souvenirs: Moomin is the absolute top seller. The books is of course the best one. I love their dark, sinister mood. Also licorice, Finnish design as Marimekko, Ittala, and Arabica. And maybe a reindeer skin. Oh, and a knife!

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SIGHTS ⇓

Helsinki was founded in 1550 by Swedish King Gustav Vasa as Helsingfors to rival the Baltic city of Tallin and prospered on trade. It became Russian in 1809 and during World War I, it was fortified to protect Saint Petersburg.

The most important building to me and my family is the Helsinki Cathedral, since my Finnish grandmother was married here in 1949. It looks more impressive from the outside.  It was built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

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The Cathedral

As a cultural traveller, there’s nothing to be sad of here. There are many sight and museums and buildings to see in Helsinki: The Temple Church, Finlandia Hall, the train station and the Saluhal.

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MUSEUMS

In 2019, I will be going to Helsinki with my museum group, so then I can give an extensive guide, but here’s a top pick:

Kiasma- Museum of Contemporary Art

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Kiasma Museum

There are always temporary exhibitions, but all concerning the digital era. While we were there, there was Ars17, Ars Fennica award winners and a artist from Thailand Korakrit Arunanondchai. In order to get the fullest understanding of Korakit, see the interview in the beginning. One of the works of Ars17 was by a group including Shia LeBoeuf, who spent a month in a cabin only speaking to the museum’s audience.

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Korakit on Kiasma

Ateneum Art Museum

Ateneum has both a large collection and contemporary exhibitions. The museum is located in a fine old building. the collection is communicated through themes that works really well – like the Kalevala theme which included music. Kalevala is the national epic of Finland and one story  tells a about Aino – a girl that turned into a nymph to escape an old mans advances. (Seems familiar?) A great feature was a Duckburg exhibition  – at first, it seemed weird, but when you read the signs, it is quite a good input to the language of curators and the pretentiousness of museums. It was the one thing I remember the best. Now, there is also a large exhibition with the Finnish Wright brothers, whom excelled in scientific drawings of birds.

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Ateneum

The Finnish Museum of Photography is in old industrial building in a new neighbourhood along with two other museums: Theatre Museum & . At the time of our visit there was an exhibition by Sofia Okkonen, and on Abstract Photography since 1917. They had works by László Mohaly-Nagy and interesting works examing what is a photography at all.

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Finnish Museum of Photography

The Helsinki city museum was named Finland’s Museum of the Year. It is very child friendly and free and have a fine archive you can use.

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The time machine in the city museum

EAT ⇓

There are some Michelin restaurants, but we didn’t have time for an extensive menu. So we chose a simple good value-for-money named in Michelin Plate 2017 and in the White Guide called Restaurant Nokka. A little too much decor, but the reindeer main course and the French sommelier convincing us into an organic wine mad it work. It’s located at a small strip of waterfront with small cafe’s, and in summertime this is a nice spot with view of the habour. Find great restaurants on Michelin Guide or White Guide.

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On Sunday when everything was closed, so we had lunch close to the Photography Museum in an old cable factory converted into galleries and martial arts gyms; Hima & Sali is a very cheap cafeteria-style place, but the cook was Moroccan, so his harissa-lamb soup was great. We had coffee at Paulig Kulma: Kambucha, plugs for charging phone and camera and swing chairs on first floor! For lunch, I especially recommend the small eatery Wild at the Finnish design store Tre Store. The store was recommended on the local tourist site with insider tips and Helsinki just won an international award for this.

ESPOO ⇓

The reason for going to Finland was the funeral of one of my Finnish relatives. We stayed with a relative in a small city between Espoo and Helsinki.

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The house of my relative. It’s not old, but made in old wooden style.

ESPOO CHAPEL
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Espoo Chapel

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Espoo Cemetary

Usually after a funeral in Denmark, you have a wake with a lot of alcohol. Here was salmon soup with bread, cake, water and non-alcoholic home brew looking like a mixture of cola and dark, flat beer tasting sweet. I can’t remember the name which is a shame, because I couldn’t find anything on it on the web, so it must be very secret.

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Traditional salmon soup

HALTIA

Sunday after the funeral, we went on a small trip out in the Finnish nature, which Finland is really all about. A little North of Espoo, there is a great National Park Nuuksio. Just at the beginning of the park is Haltia – a nature center, that won a sustainability award in 2015 by European Museum of the Year competition. They have exhibition, cafe, shop and events.

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Haltia

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Next to Haltia is hiking trails grading from 2-17 km. Whole families was in full gear going out on Sunday trips.

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Hopefully my next post from Finland will be from Lapland or from my cousin’s island-sauna!

Have you been to Finland?

 

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