When I first arrived here, my eternal optimism ruled my determinism to not allow the weather or seasons to affect my upbeat nature. That was a long time ago.
I have often wondered about Finns that leave their mother country behind for warmer climes during that time of year when not even Santa Claus can lure them back. Doesn’t one get used to the darkness and cold? Surely after spending most of one’s life in a place like this, one should have found coping mechanisms to alleviate the onset of gloom? Since snow seems to be more of a rarity than typical precipitation in Helsinki these days, the shadowy skies reveal dusk most of the day and night time shamelessly descends at around 3 pm. There is no light and whatever the Bible says about people loving darkness instead of light, taken out of context but anyway, it just ain’t true. We stumble along and try to find our way through these long, dark days and if we can afford it, we leave for Spain or Portugal where it’s all a lot jollier and friendlier and lighter and warmer than organised, well-run Finland can offer us. We live here because we work here and there’s no denying the fact that this angle of life is well taken care of in this egalitarian society. But it’s still ultimately the weather that has the upper hand and makes us dream of sunnier skies and smiles on the faces of the people walking by.
No wonder the bars are full and no one’s laughing.
Violetta Teetor is a freelance journalist in Helsinki and President of the European Journalists Network, the Finnish section of the Association of European Journalists.
Now there are no excuses! It’s easy, simple and quick. Everything you need to know for your new life in Finland.
Under one roof
The bureaucrats have come up with a brand new idea which is brilliant. If you’ve just moved to this country and you’re totally confused as to jobs, registering, taxes, pensions, whatever the case may be, just pop over to the Magistrate’s Office at Albertinkatu 25 where you’ll find International House Helsinki. All the services you need to make a smooth transition into society, are here, under one roof.
No more stuffy government office
The staff are friendly and seem like polyglots with the number of languages they speak. The atmosphere is fun, colourful and so simply laid out that even a monkey can find its way around the procedure. Services that are covered include:
Multilingual information and counselling
Advisory and counselling for employers
Registration, personal identity code and change of address
Tax card/number and tax info
Social security and benefits
General info about TE (employment)
Registering as a job seeker
Pension insurance and A1 certificate from abroad
Employee rights advice
Where to learn Finnish
Use the app to make an appointment and find out what documents you will need to bring along. Go to App Store and look for Service Advisor App.
Moving at the best of times is a stressful operation and moving from one country to another can test your limits. With help like this, you are assured of the fact that everything is in order and that you’re doing the right thing. Relocating to Finland’s a breeze, if you can stand the weather.
The shiny signs show the way to the various sections that this exhibition has been divided into at the Design Museum in Helsinki. Every part points to design in some form or another, not the type of design that one might imagine in the shape of a beautiful object, or a clever tool, but rather ideas and innovations that have influenced our lives in a way that sets us free, that makes our lives easier. While this utopian ideal is admirable, it did and does not always turn out the way the designer intended it to and can enslave as much as liberate the user. Whichever way you look at it, it arouses our curiosity and spurs us on to usage and experimentation.
Go Where You Want dominates the thinking of every over-50 year old male on the brink of fearful decline, with a high-barred Harley Davidson, the speedy, outdoor, La-Z-Boy object of potency. The chopper expresses so much more than a form of transport encompassing the freedom of the surfing culture, in spite of the difficulty of carrying a surfboard while driving one. Going where you want is about motorcycles, but it’s also about lying on the sofa and cruising the world with Google Maps, or finding roads with GPS systems leading you to hideaways to far-flung spots that would have remain hidden or at least, been hard to find in days gone by.
See What You Want plunges us into a world of psychedelics and fantasy. Make-believe is the essence of some of the ordinary objects on display including LSD blotting paper, tiny tabs with decorative pictures, used to administer small quantities of potent trips to Strawberry Fields and other pop-song destinations. It transports you to alternative realities, California’s favourite place, and guides the brush strokes of Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin in sweeps of colour that brighten up the brightest of days. Disney World and Hollywood had their origins in Los Angeles, sparking our imagination in movies as well as video games, the earliest forms of which can be seen and sniggered at compared with today’s sleeker versions, no doubt to be smirked at by later generations.
Say What You Want rebels against the hackneyed memes of the establishment that triggers thoughts, shocks a little and often amuses a lot. The poster of Boston & Boston: Equal Opportunity Designers has a black man dressed up in Ku Klux Klan garb defying the onlooker in a threatening stance. Free speech exceeds all boundaries in the work of Sheila de Bretteville’s centrefold in the feminist Everywoman newspaper with the single word ‘cunt’ spread across it. Wired magazine first published in 1993, stares you in the face with a cacophony of typefaces set on the background of wild, acid-trip-like scenes while giving us the opportunity to make sense of the crazy speed at which technology is overtaking our lives.
Make What You Want brings to life the start-up culture of Silicon Valley where a DIY project, conceived in a garage, can whip through the globe and turn into a multi-billion dollar industry within a terrifyingly short period of time. Presenting the Apple 1 computer, a boxy, grey object with no aesthetic appeal. With a keyboard and a television set, we suddenly became masters of communication, writing and publishing, marketing gurus of our own personal brands, super-efficient robots accomplishing tasks that would have seemed impossible only a few years back.
Join Who You Want started with communes, a cess pools of sexual freedom and drug-taking, or so my mother used to think. Motorcycle gangs, the Gay-In held at Griffith Park in San Franciso, the Merry Pranksters spreading the gospel of LSD with author Ken Kesey and research pioneer Timothy Leary across America, offered a smorgasbord of choices for people on the fringes and wanna-bes alike.
Togetherness and community are words bandied about in acceptable current narratives and social media is the way we do it while real experiences of engaging with your buddies and others happen at festivals as in Burning Man or massive events like the Olympic Games. Symbols, posters and objects of design display these trending ideologies.
California is an exhibition that takes you through a journey of fairly ordinary objects that you look at and think so what? Some are even ugly and distasteful. But there is a ‘but’ coming up – you can’t help but marvel at the innovation of it all, the meander down memory lane for those of us who remember, the ultimate pleasure in knowing that daily living has become a whole lot easier if not simpler and that we can relish the unstoppability of what’s to come.
The dark blue waters of the Baltic are brightened up by the red and white of Viking Line’s many crossings to Tallinn and Stockholm this summer. To liven up their regular timetable, they’ve gone as far as renting a catamaran which will be in operation until the end of October 2017. Besides FSTR or ‘Faster’, the aptly named aforementioned vessel, two of their other cruisers viz. the Mariella and Gabriella will also be called on to ply the heavy traffic between Helsinki and Tallinn together with their regular ship XPRS.
While there’s plenty of competition out there, Viking Line has always tried to stay ahead of the game with their friendly service, good food and cheap prices. The FSTR catamaran gets you from Helsinki to Tallinn in an hour and 45 minutes and is big enough to carry 835 passengers and 120 cars making it operational in all kinds of weather. The focus is on seating with airline-type loungers for everyone. The bar and cafeteria on board make sure that no one goes hungry or thirsty and for an extra fee, a hot breakfast or supper with beer and wine are available in the Club Lounge where the standard of service and products are of exceptional quality.
Viking XPRS is a little bigger with a 2500 passenger capacity taking a little longer. The two and a half hours on board can be spent singing karaoke, dancing to a live band, dining in one of the many restaurants, shopping at reduced prices or watching your kids play in the designated area. The Bistro Buffet is the most popular choice since the selection is vast and even pernickety eaters can find something they like here. Beer and wine are on tap. But for something a little more upmarket, Wine & Dine has white linen on the tables and service with lots of smiles is effortless. A 3-course meal sets you back around €38. Get into celebratory mood with a glass of Charles Heidsieck champagne at €8, a steal anywhere on the planet.
Some hours in Tallinn can be combined with the Viking Line ticket and there are all kinds of options for all ages to keep the group happy. The Old Town always presents a photo opportunity with its architecture and colourful buildings. The Seaplane Harbour is a mecca for anyone interested in boats and sea craft, a real hands-on place where the most reluctant of museum-goer will dive into the activities. The Tele Tower is a futuristic experience with a 3-D movie to start your journey before your snappy elevator ride to the top floor where the view literally takes your breath away looking out over the city and down through the ‘hole’ in the floor. Kumu Art Museum is housed in a spectacular modern building with art treasures covering the period from the beginning of the 18thC until the end of World War II. Temporary exhibitions showcase Estonian and international artists and the performance schedule is choc-a-bloc. Besides, the walk through the immaculate Kadriorg Park to get there is a treat all on its own and there are many other museums to visit on the way.
If time is not at a premium, staying overnight in Tallinn is reasonably priced especially when you book it with your Viking Line crossing. Budget to luxury are all within a price range that won’t bring tears to your eyes.
Here are the links to Viking Line’s timetables and ways you can spend your day in Tallinn:
As modest as the Finns may be, selfies have caught on here too, dating all the way back to the 19th Century. The exhibition Me: Self-Portraits Through Time is a collection of 160 works by 102 artists from Finland ranging through the Finnish Golden Age to noteworthy contemporary ones.
In the early days they were called self-portraits and perhaps the focus was slightly different from today’s aren’t-I-stunning approach. ‘The eyes are the window of the soul’ is an expression we’re all familiar with, but what if you’re too shy or simply don’t want to reveal it to the onlooker, but you still want to be immortalised? Is it about immortality or just vanity?
Thank God for Justus von Liebig who invented the mirror in 1835. Without it, some of these would never have existed and while they all used it, only a few admit to the fact and show it in their pieces. But even mirrors can be too self-revealing and hence reflections come into distorted focus in the metal of blenders as in Pauliina Turakka Purhonen’s Oaig, referring to the only visible letters on the cardboard Laphroaig box in which she keeps her paintbrushes. Or could it be a groan, an utterance of loathing? Or the sculpture in wood of 84 year-old Radoslaw Gryta strangely staring out at you from the backdrop of honeycombs.
As a foreigner, I find the Finnish style rather intriguing. Seeing the exhibition as a whole, shows that most of these are realistic in the way they bare themselves to the general public. Some are perhaps flattering, some are distinctly distorted, others horrifying and abstruse. While you wonder about the character in the painting or photo or sculpture, it also brings you to a point of self-searching and your own reaction to it. The creator must have had this in mind and while they couldn’t predict the response, they could control it to an extent. This is where emotion comes into play. Seeing the irony and humour in Sampsa Sarparanta’s The White Man’s Burden, the Heidi man-girl ridiculously laughing back at you, the grotesque Last Man Standing evoking fear, the sadness, the playfulness, the sorrow – it all draws you into their world and their feelings at the time of execution. Finally, you walk out with a bag of mixed emotions to sort through and the memory of faces you never knew but will never forget.
With a view of some of Helsinki’s stunning period architecture, The Roster stands out as a trendy place to have your lunch, drink a cocktail or indulge in their version of a Sunday roast. Brainchild of Kari Aihinen, executive chef of the exclusive Savoy Restaurant, this one’s not a ‘baby Savoy’. His love of ice hockey speaks for itself in the name and he runs this kitchen as well as the more upmarket one, like he would a hockey team. The right hand knows what the left is doing and the result is a winner.
My trout on a spinach purée with lobster sauce melts in the mouth with umami, freshness and creaminess all intermingled. The salad that comes as a side looks dull since it’s just a bunch of leaves but my oh my, that truffle dressing is enough to stop you in your tracks. I feel like a red wine with all of this and the recommendation of a Pinot Meunier from the house of Friedrich Becker from the Pfalz region in Germany, is earthy, with hints of truffle and terroir that just brings this whole meal together.
All of this doesn’t come cheap but you wouldn’t expect it to. You get the feeling that every ingredient is hand-picked and that the food is prepared with the utmost care. Service is friendly, funny and full of personality. I think they like working here and if they don’t, they’re damn good actors. Go for the slapshot, fork out €40 and knock yourself out with a great plate of nosh.
You couldn’t get more downtown than this brand new hostel opening its doors at Kalevankatu 3A in Helsinki. You can literally pick up a stone and throw it through a window at Stockmann Department Store or at the plethora of bars and restaurants downstairs.
Besides its 10/10 location, a big shout out to Matilda Sankamo, the young owner, who has done a splendid job of turning this space into a tasteful playground of colour and comfort both in the living room and the dorms. The wooden framed beds, specially designed, are cosy with huge lockers underneath. Choose from a six-sleeper to a two-sleeper or a private family room for four with its own balcony toward the bustling street below. Strangely enough, the place is quiet thanks to the heavy glazing of windows required by law in Finland.
There’s no sauna, but why would you need one if there’s a nude-only swimming hall with oodles of character a hop and a skip away at Yrjönkatu around the corner? Don’t worry, designated times for men and women set your mind at ease for the more bashful among us.
Cooking is not an option but the use of the microwave, kettle and utensils are available for free use. You’ll be happy to know that breakfast, however, is included in the price of €40/bed. It also doesn’t have a liquor licence, a big plus in fact since it enables you to bring your own. According to liquor laws in this country, both options are not allowed. Besides, it’ll cost you a lot less.
Gone are the days of hostels with dodgy beds and strange characters skulking about. This one’s stunning and stylish and best of all, it comes with a big, friendly smile.
It’s found its place in the corner of downtown Helsinki, close to everything but just a step away from any noise that might disturb your beauty sleep. Hotel Fabian is small, tiny in fact by hotel standards, but its heart is big and it enfolds you with warmth and comfort from the time you step through the main entrance.
Let’s begin with the staff. If it weren’t for them, this gem would not hold its value. It would just become another impersonal encounter. The manager has a broad smile and welcoming manner and runs a tight, professional ship, the hallmark of her staff being friendly and accommodating. Sure, you’ve heard this before but it’s that extra little bit of information or help that just puts the people that work here ahead of their game transforming your stay from ordinary to extraordinary.
The hotel doesn’t have a bar so to speak, it doesn’t have a restaurant but it does have a living room with soft, enveloping sofas where you can sip a drink. This flows into the little dining room where the included breakfast is served. If you choose to eat in for other meals, an option is a Lux room with a kitchenette and table. Standard rooms are plush with modern features like metal bedside lamps on wooden stairs setting a playful tone to the surrounding elegance.
It’s rare to find a commercial home-away-from-home where you feel so at ease, where your eyes are soothed by the gentle browns and whites and where everything just falls into place, like it should do.