A Walk on the Wild Side

A train and bus ride takes you a world away from the hustle and bustle of Helsinki city where you can experience Finnish nature, virtually and physically. Haltia Nature Centre transports you within its environmentally friendly wooden walls to the treasures of Finland’s natural wonders. Everything is well done and attention to detail is stunning.

Nou hätä – no panic but the real caption says, “If anyone asks, you haven’t seen me.”

Look up, look down, look around you as you go through a winter wonderland where a bear is feeding on the meat of a ‘fallen’ reindeer, where you can listen to the sounds of nightlife in the forest and experience the rush of rapids and see what goes on underneath the water’s surface. The panorama display keeps on changing, revealing all 5 seasons from polar night to summer. Enter the giant Duck’s Egg and see Osmo Rauhala’s installation of white swans playing chess on a randomly-changing board. Pat the snoring, sleeping bear in its den and look through the bird hold to see who the next visitor might be.

‘Now this sucks’ – part of an hilarious exhibition at Haltia.

It makes you hungry for the real thing which is easy to find since the Nuuksio National Park is right there surrounding you. Lake Pitkäjärvi is large and when the water is open, you can rent a canoe from Solvalla Sports Centre to see the forest from a different angle. The reception staff at Haltia will be happy to help you book one. Cycling, sauna, swimming and feeding reindeer at the Nuuksio Reindeer Park, are all options whether you’re there for a day or overnight. But it’s hiking that’s really the thing to slow you down, get you meditating and communing with nature. The slow pace brings peace and calm within this cathedral of birch trees with moss-covered primary rock and its here where you’ll listen to that inner voice that brings rest and a healthy mind. Stumbling upon a barbecue is not uncommon and wood is usually in plentiful supply. Take your own sausage and dry matches with you.

Osmo Rauhala’s swans playing chess
Cosy up to baby bear in his den

This paradise is easily reachable from downtown Helsinki: https://aikataulut.reittiopas.fi/linjat/en/b245.html

Haltia Nature Centre is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9.30 – 5 pm: https://www.haltia.com/en/

A comprehensive guide to facilities and activities at Nuuksio National Park: https://www.nuuksioresort.fi/en/


Class with a touch of casual – Emo Restaurant, Helsinki, Finland

Wooden tables, serviettes like dishcloths hanging on the side, cutlery in a wooden box all add to the informal atmosphere. But don’t be fooled. This joint might not strike you as ‘fine dining’ but dining fine you will, believe me!

Tomato soup with truffle foam

With a choice of non-alcoholic beverages like fresh apple juice or spicy tomato to get those salivary glands going is just the ticket for lunchtime. The tomato soup starter brims with richness and elegance is thrown in with the truffle foam on the side while crunch is provided by the croutons. Every mouthful is a treat and if the croutons aren’t enough, there’s plenty of home made bread with butter on the side. Haddock is my choice of the 3 main courses only because it brings back memories of breakfast in South Africa when I was child and when it was always smoked. This one comes with potato mousse, a poached egg and lots of capers to give it a good kick of acidity. It’s all so soft and creamy but get your teeth into the crispy onion and the salsify slices on top and you know the chef, Ilkka Lääveri knows what he’s doing. Combine this relatively light lunch with a cold, crisp Brut Nature cava by Castell del Remei and you wish you could linger longer. My dining partner chooses the pork with gem lettuce and a heap of caramelized-to-a-crisp onions to make for a slightly heavier meal. There’s also a vegetarian option. Of course the menu changes and whatever’s fresh, seasonal and local when possible, is served up every week.

Creamy haddock and almond potato mousse

Lunch for 2 courses sets you back €25, 3 courses €29 and 4 at €34. Dinner comes in set meals or as à la carte and is a little more expensive as is the practice in Finland. That laid-back mood is just a ruse, there’s serious food and wine coming your way at Emo.


Emo Restaurant

Curves, Folds Shades and Sandals

An exhibition of the oil paintings of Caesar van Everdingen (1616/1617 – 1678)

Place: Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Time: 16 February – 14 May 2017

Mythology, portraits, history and hunting, the stuff of Caesar van Everdingen’s masterpieces and so much more. Overshadowed by his contemporaries such as Rembrandt, he has been rediscovered and takes his rightful place as a grand master of Dutch classicism. With the help of the exhibition’s curator from the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, van Everdingen’s hometown, Christi Klinkert, we delve into the detail.

Christi Klinkiert, curator from Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar

“The Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat you will all agree is wearing a white shirt. Come closer and you see within the folds of this garment that colours emerge. Grey, pink, peach was used to turn it into a 3-dimensional garment. Her hat is made of coloured cloth wound around a wicker frame casting a half shadow over her eyes giving her a seductive look reminiscent of a gypsy. In fact, the hat itself was associated with that same culture. It’s okay to say that this painting is just lovely to look at. She is the epitomy of summer.”

Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat

“Now look at this portrait, also of a girl, part of three that are on loan from the Rijk’s Museum. Quite a contrast, warming her hands over a brazier, is wearing expensive clothes and everything about her demeanour and surroundings spells winter. Then there’s this lady, completing the trilogy, dressed in black wearing a hat which would normally have been worn by a greengrocer at a market stall. The black cloth on the smalt pigment which has faded from blue to greyish teal, suggests the season of autumn.”

We stand in front of a provocative scene: a huge canvas with a nude couple, the male obviously trying to seduce the female. Without looking at the title, is it a male? The secret is out – it’s Jupiter disguised as Diana and Callisto who looks apprehensively at her suitor, not knowing quite what to make of him. The cherubs in the top left hold a mask and Jupiter’s eagle spreads its wings wide in the shadows on the right hand side. In fact, what we’re observing is nothing other than a rape scene since the story goes that he gets his way with her. In the conservative times of van Everdingen, such a painting could have been construed as immoral but since the subjects hail from classical times, it becomes a story and he’s able to tell it without repercussions.

Jupiter and Callisto

The exhibition takes us through various portraits of people from the bourgeoisie, those that could afford to pay for the commissions or then the city of Alkmaar, immortalizing their city leaders and encouraging worthy values such as education. The detail with which every brush stroke is executed is extraordinary. The sandals are of such elegant design that they could even be Italian. The satins in contrast with wool, cotton and linen come alive in such a way that you want to reach out and touch it to feel its texture. The colours are rich and bold on whimsical backgrounds that give us hints but are not that important.

The Sinebrychoff Museum has always had a penchant for Dutch art with this exhibition being one of their great achievements. A string of events such as croquis nude drawing and guided tours of course will enhance the experience of having such mastery in our midst.


Caesar van Everdingen

Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar


Be Calm and Surround Yourself with Beauty

Fiskars, Arabia, Iittala, are all intrinsically part of Finnish design and deeply embedded in the homes of just about every Finn I have ever come across. It would be a challenge to find a Finnish household without at least an Aalto vase or an Arabia mug in the kitchen cupboard. Traditional, yes, but the Iittala and Arabia Design Centre steps right up to the plate of the 21st Century when it comes to new ideas.

The museum where timeless shapes and forms are housed

First and foremost, this is a workspace and it’s here where you’ll find the artists behind the fantastical shapes and forms that are good enough to carry the honoured names of Arabia or Iitala. The museum area hosts wood-framed glass display cabinets with the pieces designed by the likes of Rut Bryk, Michael Schilkin and Kaj Franck, some of which have never been exhibited before. On the strong shoulders of these stalwarts, comes the next phase of this space called the Design Lab where you can currently see the glass works of Harri Koskinen whose objects in and of themselves are unique in their imperfections, the time of day and amount of light creating distortions and reflections that fool around with your vision. The stunning work of Ville Andersson called Clouds, consists of drawings of nature, so delicate and somewhat unfinished in order to invite the viewer to use their imagination to complete the picture. This area will house contemporary design exhibitions as well as workshops, events, brunches, and whatever else this innovative team comes up with.

Iittala 20161113 Iittala & Arabia design centre, Helsinki
Harri Koskinen’s glass works

Peek through the glass wall and you’ll see another section devoted to works in progress where you might catch a potter throwing a piece of clay onto a wheel or shaping an unfinished jug into a work of art. The Arabia Art Department Society members have their studios there and guided tours give you the chance to talk to them and pick their highly skilled brains.

Works in progress

The second floor is devoted to serious shopping but not without a pause for a cup of free coffee to be enjoyed on one of the luxurious sofas or armchairs where dreaming is free and deciding on what to buy, is made easy.

The shop - be calm and surround yourself with beauty
The shop – be calm and surround yourself with beauty

The Iitala and Arabia Design Centre is open from Tuesdays till Sundays. Their website http://www.designcentrehelsinki.com will keep you up to date on events.


Back to Karelia – Caj Bremer’s photography exhibition

In a stunning garden on the shore of the Baltic Sea, lies the Gallen Kallela Museum, home of the intrepid traveller and artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Called Tarvaspää, it was designed by the artist himself who used it as a studio and residence. Today it is open to the public and houses exhibitions.

Tarvaspää - Akseli Gallen-Kallela's home and studio
Tarvaspää – Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s home and studio

Caj Bremer looks pretty good at the age of 87. His subjects, however, are not all as well turned out as he is but rather speak of years of toil and hardship not without happy times and humour thrown into the mix. The exhibition at the museum is entitled Back to Karelia and consists of black and white photographs of people who hail from the eastern part of Finland. Every picture tells a story and the humanity with which he captures the person makes them come alive in a unique way.

Yrjö Kallio cooling off in the porch of the sauna
Yrjö Kallio cooling off in the porch of the sauna
Village dog listening to a sung performance
Village dog listening to a sung performance

This exhibition could not have been better placed. In this atmospheric setting, the history of each scene fits seamlessly into the story that exudes from the walls of this castle-like structure. Followed by a coffee and cake in the wooden house nearby, it makes for an unusually pleasant outing. From 10 September – 15 January 2017.

The picture with the most atmosphere from the visit to Valaam
The picture with the most atmosphere from the visit to Valaam

Layer Upon Layers – the art of Lionel Smit

When you first set eyes on a Lionel Smit painting, besides the huge expanse of colour and subject, it’s as if you’re seeing a hologram or a 3-D image imposed on a background or foreground, for that matter, of landscape, seascape and the heavens above. It invites you to probe and with that comes intrigue. Why women? What women?


Faces of Identity is the title of Smit’s exhibition at the serenely beautiful Didrichsen Museum of Art on the shores of the Baltic Sea. The artist and the Didrichsen family got to know each other through Jenny Didrichsen who lived in South Africa while working for an NGO and met Lionel through a mutual friend. He invited her to his studio in the Strand, near Cape Town, an encounter that set the process of an exhibition in Helsinki in motion. Two years later, the works have now found their way to their temporary resting spot in this home converted into an art museum and the pristine gardens that surround it.

DSC05330There’s even a pool and for no other reason but because it’s there, there really should be a floating sculpture. This one depicts a woman’s head with shafts of wood protruding from it. The totem pole of women’s heads nearby, rise from the ground as a symbol of diversity in identity, each with its own expression but still forming part of the whole.

DSC05325Inside, the vast canvases are splashed, sprinkled, blotched and finely delineated with colour, oils in blues and golds dominating. The sculptures are whole or fragmented like modern day artefacts all depicting the heads of Cape Malay women. His remark to that,

“For no other reason but because I find women prettier than men.”

“The Cape Malay is the archetypal hybrid of identity. They stem from so many different cultures, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”


These layered, elegant portrayals of the female sex speak of the depth of the complexity of sociological culture not only in South Africa but also of women in general. In fact, it is a statement that encompasses all of humankind, every person and encounter and an invitation to look a little deeper to discover the golden gem behind the first impression.


Lionel Smit’s Faces of Identity exhibition will be at the Didrichsen Museum of Art from 10 September 2016 until 29 January 2017.

Passion, Play and a Girl with a Gun

Niki De Saint Phalle – Kunsthalle, Helsinki 20 August – 20 November 2016.

It’s impossible to tell what your child is going to grow up to be. The process of bodily creation is over and the newborn is set free in a world largely made up of their parents’ circumstances. When Niki de Saint Phalle was born in 1930, the world didn’t know what had hit it. She was going to make a splash and a big one at that.


Les Trois Graces - fat, flourishing and flaunting the rules!
Les Trois Graces – fat, flourishing and flaunting the rules!

Art became her therapy, creativity, her life force. As she put it, “If I didn’t have art, I would have to be pregnant all the time because I can’t live without creating something.” At a time when the bourgeois female was expected to be, putting it crudely, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, she was out there sculpting voluptuous females, both black and white, in colourful bathing costumes, dancing away to their hearts’ content. She called them ‘nanas’, a derogatory word corresponding to ‘broad’, or in Émile Zola’s eponymous novel, ‘whore’. Her rebellion against the slim female figure, a throw back to her time when she herself was working as a fashion model, was blatant. At a time when Black was hardly beautiful, she was not ashamed to colour her figures dark or couple them with white men as in her Le Palais. And then the guns and the shooting. Not the archetypal feminine activity one would associate with the women of the day, she excelled at it and became the first performance artist, shooting her works to bits with precision and planning and skill, allowing the paint to explode at exactly the point where she wanted it to happen. The process was as much art as the finished work.


Piercing deep into the heart of tradition and the status quo.
Piercing deep into the heart of tradition and the status quo.
Le Palais, the utopian dream as expressed by Niki De Saint Phalle
Le Palais, the utopian dream as expressed by Niki De Saint Phalle

In other words, don’t be fooled by the vibrant colours, the naivety and playfulness you encounter when looking at her pieces. She is dead serious about joie de vivre and wants everyone, including children, to exclaim with delight when they see her sculptures or explore her Tarot Garden in Tuscany. Her message is clear, art for all and all for art.

Diana's Dream - a gun, a swastika and monsters emanate from the woman on her back.
Diana’s Dream – a gun, a swastika and monsters emanate from the woman on her back.
Sex symbol of the 60's, the pain that is Marilyn.
Sex symbol of the 60’s, the pain that is Marilyn.

Work h-UMA-nely

Gone is the rut called ‘work’, the slog and drudgery called ‘labour’. UMA puts a whole new slant of style on this mundane time guzzler.

UMA is on the 3rd floor of the Academic Bookstore (Photo: Technopolis Internal Image Bank)
UMA is on the 3rd floor of the Academic Bookstore (Photo: Technopolis)

Appropriately located on the 3rd floor of the Alvar Aalto designed Academic Bookstore, slap bang in downtown Helsinki, there’s a wide gallery that wraps around an atrium. Tuck yourself into a high, wing-backed chair, plug in your laptop and off you go. UMA makes it as simple as that. The space couldn’t make it easier for visiting business people to drop in for an hour, a day or longer to get their phone calls made from the private booths, or arrange a meeting with a potential customer in a state-of-the-art room or just catch up on their emails in these luxurious premises. Freelancers that need to get away from home to get their writing done, can heave a sigh of relief. These surroundings are accessible for whomever and from wherever you are.

A workplace with style (Photo: Technopolis Internal Image Bank)
A workplace with style (Photo: Technopolis)

UMA offers you a choice of membership. With Access you can slide into any open workstation. With Focus you and your 2 work mates can book a place in advance as long as you come separately. Private gives you privacy i.e. a workroom of your very own for a total of 20 hours per month. And for those casual visitors mentioned above, as little as €20 per day will get you prepared for clinching that deal. All prices exclude VAT of 24%.

Kick back with a coffee (Photo: Technopolis Internal Image Bank)
Kick back with a coffee (Photo: Technopolis)

To kick off your day and keep you going, there’s a great cup of free java from Nespresso that comes in all popular shapes and sizes. When the day is long and your back is breaking, the small gym could be your lifesaver.

This place is all about people and giving them the opportunity to be the best that they can be which can only really be achieved if they’re feeling comfortable and have all the technology they need to make it happen. It’s work and it’s simply wonderful.

For more info:



+358 46 712 0000

Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall – This sauna complex caters for it all

The few drops of rain falling from Helsinki’s heaven couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered for the roof wetting of the appropriately named Löyly (sauna steam), the sauna on the shores of this Nordic city. Neither did it penetrate the roof of the steel/concrete/wooden construction aimed to blend into the Baltic coastline.

Aerial view of the site © Tietoa Visualisointi Oy
Aerial view of the site © Tietoa Visualisointi Oy

The ‘organic space ship’ (see New Sauna for Helsinki), is emerging bit by bit with the help of construction company Jussit Oy with Jukka Klang at the helm as Project Manager and Markku Mäkilä as Site Manager.

Soon, soon, this structure will be complete
Soon, soon, this structure will be complete – photo from Avanto Arkkitehdit Oy

I spoke to the intrepid architects, Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara from Avanto Architects who are passionate about this building. They have to be. They’ve been involved in it from the very beginning, a process that started 5 years ago, has undergone 3 ownership changes as well as some site shifting and design manipulation.

“Antero Vartia (MP/actor/restaurateur) and Jasper Pääkönen (actor and passionate salmon protector) are the third set of clients we’ve been dealing with. It has taken some real sweat and struggle to get this off the ground and to this stage of the game.”

“What challenges have you had to face?”

“First and foremost the weather. It’s always a problem here in Finland and being so close to the sea poses even more obstacles. The framework has to be made out of steel and concrete to withstand storms and other adverse conditions like ice. When the sea freezes over it pushes and shoves everything in its way.”

terrace view
Photo from Avanto Arkkitehdit Oy

“And the wood? Would it be affected?”

“Finland has a long history of building wooden structures next to the Baltic and hence, besides perhaps changing colour, it shouldn’t harm it. We’ve used Nextimber, wood glued and heat treated, then pressed to make it more dense, more like teak.”

“What kind of wood have you used?”

“On the outside pine, inside a kind of birch waste wood, like plywood, thin but creating a lovely veneer. It’s a really ecological way of using timber.”

One of the saunas - photo from Avanto Arkkitehdit Oy
One of the saunas – photo from Avanto Arkkitehdit Oy

“Completion date?”

“According to the operators, Royal Restaurants, end of May. And the construction company is giving its thumbs up to it, so hopefully. We’ll be proud when it’s finally done after so many years of planning and negotiating.”

The sauna will house electric, wooden and smoke saunas, a huge restaurant and terrace and a place to go for a dip in the Baltic. These will be open every day from 1 to 10 pm.

Royal Restaurants will manage the entire building and the menu will include everything Finnish and fishy (homage to Jasper) with the ubiquitous hamburger thrown in for good measure. It’s not a dining place, more a relaxation joint with partying reserved for Fridays and Saturdays.


Avanto Arkkitehdit Oy