Helsinki: People Make the City now available worldwide


I’m really pleased to let you know that you can now buy our book online from Papercut in Sweden – and the good news is they offer worldwide shipping.

It’s an exciting day for us to finally be able to promote the book far beyond Finland’s shores & make it accessible for those who live overseas.

Have a great weekend everyone! x

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How to chill during winter

I asked Siri recently what the temperature was and got this reply:


Which made it clear to me that Siri is not Finnish because -10 / 14F and sunny is a perfect winter’s day in Helsinki.

What we’ve had lately though is -21 /-5.8F with a wind chill of -28 /-18.4F, making life difficult as we still have errands to run and as we don’t have car it’s all done on foot.

So when Markus Watkins emailed me this week to tell me about his photos of people doing summer-time activities during winter, it really resonated with me.


Rowing Nowhere by Markus Watkins


Perhaps it’s the futility of rowing on a frozen lake or searching for summer berries in the snow, but I really like the way he’s thrown the two together because no matter the weather we are outside everyday.


Sno Berries are Found by Markus Watkins


After living in Finland for three years, Markus understands this well.  The 16-year old photographer was born to a British father and Finnish mother and moved to Finland in 2014.

It was while visiting his family’s summer cottage in Asikkala, 130km north of Helsinki, that he found the inspiration for his latest project, The Impossible Contrast.

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Markus Watkins

“After the weather being grey and gloomy for several days, it changed and suddenly got incredibly cold, and the sun came out!  I needed to make the most of it. Since I was at my summer cottage I thought that it would be very interesting to mix my favourite summer activities and contrast them with the winter. The impossible contrast,” he says.


Ice Cream by Markus Watkins

Currently in high school, Markus is teaching himself about photography and developing his skills as he goes. “I think it is much better to learn this way because you learn the self motivation to keep coming up with ideas and keep developing your own style. I love sharing my images with the world, it gives me a good feeling!”


Break the Ice by Markus Watkins

He also gets a good feeling from visiting Asikkala, a place his family has been returning to ever since he was a kid.


The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway by Markus Watkins

My summer cottage is my favourite place in the world. Every time I come it has a different vibe or feeling, which makes it amazing for photography.”


Better Luck Next Time by Markus Watkins

As well as his photography, Markus’ sense of humour is also on show in the titles he’s chosen for his photos and I particularly like this comment he makes on his website: ‘Fingers and toes were harmed in the making of this series.’


A Chilling Tale by Markus Watkins

Check out more of Markus’ work at:


Kalle Freese’s spirit animal

We used to love having brunch at Freese cafe – home to some of Helsinki’s best coffee, made by Finnish Barista Champion, Kalle Freese.


Freese cafe – December 2014

Kalle first fell in love with coffee while living in New Zealand and sadly for us, his cafe closed a while ago due to his other commitments – but we found his legacy last weekend when we visited summer cafe Kahvila Siili.


Siili means hedgehog in Finnish and the cafe is found in the lovely suburb of Puu-Käpylä, just 20 mins from central Helsinki.


Puu means wood or wooden and the area is unique for its colourful houses, which were built in the 1920s.


Red ochre features heavily in the local scheme as it does in many traditional Finnish neighbourhoods.


We even saw a cat on a lead, not an unusual sight in Helsinki, enjoying the sun outside.


It was a lovely walk that was made even better once we arrived at our destination.


The brunch menu, we found, was the same as Kalle Freese’s – delicious crunchy granola with creamy yoghurt, served with seasonal fruit, fresh apple juice and your choice of tea or coffee.


It also includes tasty avocado on toast and an egg, cooked to 63 degrees celsius and served with thinly sliced fennel.


There’s also a great selection of freshly baked treats for those looking to have dessert.


And to top it all off on our way home we came across the cafe’s very own namesake! Not Freese but siili! – a gorgeous neighbourhood hedgehog.


Kahvila Siili – open only in summer



I love you – & inanimate objects

While Finnish people do feel emotions, they don’t tend to express them as often as we do in New Zealand or other parts of the world.


Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen

In fact, my Finnish friend told me she finds it over the top when foreigners express their love for inanimate objects like coffee, or a town they have only visited once.

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Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen

So, I’ve already told you that I love Kiasma and I’m sorry, but I’m going to say it again.


Miko and I visited Helsinki’s museum of contemporary art on a cool and wet summers day recently and really enjoyed (loved?) the interactive exhibitions.

IMG_5331Happy Together by Choi Jeong Hwa runs until September and features colourful, tactile pieces for adults and kids to enjoy.



The works of Brazilian artist Ernesto Noa are so big you are encouraged to move inside them and to lie down in his giant crocheted hammocks.


There’s also a room of scents, held in beautiful earthen jars. We had fun guessing and recoiling as we sniffed our way down the row.


We spent a couple of hours looking around, which is quite good for my four-year old companion, before descending to the cafe on level one.


I had my usual favourite, the Moroccan haloumi salad, but not before gushing to the waitress, ‘I love this salad. I think about it all the time when I’m not here.’


To which she returned a small polite smile and no doubt wondered at my over the top confession of feelings for these inanimate objects.


I was gifted a Museum Card a while back and recommend it for anyone interested in visiting museums. Pay 59€ once and receive free entry to 200 museums in Finland for one year. 



Back in time to Turku

Last weekend we made our first visit to Turku, Finland’s original capital and home to the Turku Castle.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Overlooking the Aura River, building is believed to have begun on the site as early as 1280 AD.


While the original buildings have been added to and renovated over the years, progress has been interrupted at times by fire and the effects of war.


It wasn’t long after we arrived that I decided that this is my favourite castle of those I have seen inside.


Obviously modern luxuries have been added, but its also the only castle I have ever felt I would actually like to live in.


I especially loved the white walls, wide wooden floor boards and countless window nooks.


It wouldn’t be a proper castle though without dungeons and dark corners, such as this one where we found eery beekeepers casting shadows.


There’s a chapel in the castle, with medieval religious icons, carved from wood, on display.


Some were missing arms, a result of having them cut off during the conflicts that occurred at the time of the Reformation.

IMG_5064Adjoining the main building is the Children’s Castle, where in the Knights Hall, there are costumes to try on, including robes, armour and helmets.


There’s ornate robes, armour and chain mail for the adults too, so no one misses out.


We struck it lucky on our visit, which happened to coincide with a Medieval Fair and included a marketplace in the castle square.



Stall holders were dressed in traditional clothes with many demonstrating their chosen craft on site.


Outside, there was a temporary camp set up, for sword-fighting men in heavy armour and those providing talented displays of horsemanship.



Miko’s favourite show was the jousting as we joined the crowd of spectators cheering loudly under the hot afternoon sun.



After hours of watching and exploring, it was time to say goodbye as headed off for dinner.


The next day on the train for Helsinki, we played snap with Miko’s favourite deck of cards. More than a year old, they were perfect for the occasion, helping us continue the theme all the way home.




Turku Castle


Kiitos Eatos

I received an email from Eatos Mexican Diner recently asking us to dine as guests, which we were happy to accept. There’s always a risk with these collaborations however and I’ve either said no before or after we’ve tried something as I haven’t wanted to promote it.


But this was a risk I’m glad we took as the meal was good from start to finish. Jonathan began with a Mango Daikiri made from rum, fresh lime juice, fresh mango juice and sugar syrup, while I had a Paloma, made from tequila, fresh lime juice and grapefruit soda.


For starters our waitress recommended the Queso Fundido – corn chips served with melted cheese, pico de gallo (a house-made salsa) and guacamole. Meat eaters can choose chorizo instead of mushrooms to go with the cheese.

IMG_4242Miko and I shared Langostinos en Aguachile, a beautiful dish made from lime and chilli marinated prawns with cucumber and onions. It had a bit of a kick to it, but not enough to keep my four-year-old dining partner away for too long, darn it.


For our mains we ordered three dishes and a couple of sides. Miko and I shared Pescadilla – corn tortillas with cod, chipotle and coleslaw. Each layer of ingredients was individually seasoned, bringing a depth of flavour that doesn’t require loads of Tabasco (something I usually douse my food with at Mexican restaurants).IMG_4246

Jonathan had the Espincea y Feta Quesadilla (feta & spinach) which was super tasty and the Tostadas de Tinga de Berenjena (deep fried corn tortilla with aubergine filling).


For a mainly vegetarian meal it was really nice to not find ourselves limited to just beans, beans, beans.


Another thing I especially liked was the way the bar has been decorated. There are three large murals done by Mexican artist Yordi Lara-Ochoa with not a sombrero or striped tablecloth in sight. This creates a sort of ‘Mexican for grown ups’ feeling, not found at other cheap and cheerful counterparts.


For dessert our waitress recommended two dishes – Churros con chocolate and Flan de naranja y queso. Having studied for a year in Mexico she knew a lot about the menu and ingredients so we were happy to take her advice. The churros came with a beautiful chilli chocolate dipping sauce and the flan was delicious, resembling an orange cheesecake.


After dinner the owners came out to meet us and chatted for some time. Dharma and Rama met after finishing their studies before deciding to open a Mexican restaurant in Helsinki. Their commitment to fresh ingredients is really apparent and they will soon open their second restaurant in Iso-Omena.


While the restaurant was a little quiet when we were there it will only get busier when Helsinki’s new city library opens just across the way. They also have a great position for afternoon sun so I recommend stopping by while you can still get a seat.

We dined as guests of Eatos, who paid for our meals and drinks. We didn’t receive any other payment & all opinions are my own. 


Helsinki – People Make the City

As many of you know, I have been working on a side project for the past year with local photographer Laura Iisalo.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

Our book, Helsinki – People Make the City – was launched early May and is available in stores around the city.

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It’s an insiders’ guide to the city and contains interviews with local creative people, sharing insights into Helsinki and the local way of life.

Helsinki People Make the City_Kirsikka Simberg_photo by Laura Iisalo_LOW RES

Kirsikka Simberg at the Winter Gardens – Photo: Laura Iisalo

I wrote the text and Laura took all the photos. She also did a fantastic job with the concept, creating six sections we are very happy to share with you.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

My Helsinki

We interviewed six creative people about their neighbourhoods and they’ve each shared a ‘Day in the Life’ so that you too can explore each area like a local. Neighbourhoods covered are Punavuori, Kruununhaka, Töölö, Kallio, Vallila and Suomenlinna.


Dorit in Suomenlinna – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Alba and Thomas in Kallio & Vallila – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Kirsikka in Töölö – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Three lovely women have given tips on creative projects you can try at home. These include making your own wildflower bouquet, how to turn a traditional Finnish heirloom into a magnetic keep-safe and harvesting pine sap from the forest to create natural incense.


Justine harvesting pine sap – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Hennamari foraging for wild flowers – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Some of our favourite local shopkeepers share their love of what they do and what’s special about the neighbourhoods they work in.


Kaisa at Pelago Bicycles – Photo: Viola Vertimo


Linda at Ansa – Photo: Viola Vertimo

Taste Helsinki

We ate a lot of cinnamon buns to bring you the best! And some of our favourite local eateries were kind enough to share their recipes so you can replicate their contemporary takes on traditional Finnish fare. This include how to make porridge, rye bread, cinnamon buns, blini, salmon soup, meatballs with lingonberry sauce and a cocktail made with a Nordic twist.

Helsinki People Make the City_Meatballs at KuuKuu_photo by Laura Iisalo_LOW RES

Meatballs at Ravintola KuuKuu – Photo: Laura Iisalo


Photo: Viola Vertimo

Winter Cosiness

Laura and I worked hard to do all our shoots and interviews during summer while the light was good and then realised we also wanted to showcase the best parts of life in Finland during winter. The Swedes have a word for it and so do the Danes (hygge), so we chose the Finnish word kaamos as our description of winter cosiness and give tips on how to create your own warm winter nest.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

Romany and Juha from Aan Tafel created some beautiful Nordic dishes for this and their recipes are included in the book.

Black Book

Finally, we put together a list of our favourite places in the city including sauna, coffee, design and urban nature.


Photo: Viola Vertimo

The book is currently available in Helsinki in Nide Kirjakauppa, Suomalainen Kirjakauppa, Akateeminen, Moko Market and Adlibris.

Weighing 700 grams, it’s a beautiful hardcover book, but shipping overseas can be expensive and it is not yet available to those living outside Finland. If you would consider paying for postage please do let them know at Cozy Publishing, as we’d love to be able to share the beauty of Helsinki beyond Finnish shores.

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Photo: Viola Vertimo

Helsinki – People Make the City

Concept & Photos: Laura Iisalo

Words: Melanie Dower

Layout: Viola Vertimo



Release the cows!

Finland has amazing dairy products but something we have often mulled over is, “Where are all the cows?” It’s true we haven’t seen a lot of Finnish country-side but we’ve seen enough to wonder at times where they are all kept.


Well, we found out when friends invited us last weekend to join them at a unique Finnish event – the releasing to pasture of cows after a long, cold winter.


It was a beautiful spring day and we caught the bus to Viikki, about 30 mins from the city centre, to the University of Helsinki Research Farm.


We weren’t quite sure where to go but just followed all the other families heading to where crowds had gathered for the occasion.


And I mean crowds. By 11.00 the fence around the paddock was lined with people who were soon joined by even more people arriving by foot or bicycle.

The first thing we saw upon arrival was the large barn where the cows had spent winter.


I would have loved to go inside but only managed to get into this one – which was lovely but didn’t answer my questions about insulation.


Back at the fence-line, we had prime position as an MC on the back of a truck talked us through the names of the ‘ladies’ about to appear and their breed. Then three women from the farm sang a harmonious ballad to welcome the cows and encourage milk production.


Finally as we were about to burst with anticipation, it was all on! Like long-awaited celebrities, out popped the bovine beauties, their udders swinging in the spring sunlight.



They skipped and kicked up their heels,  ecstatic at being out on the grass.


I have to admit I whooped and clapped and loved the show, as did anyone who recognises the joy of being out in the sun after a Finnish winter.


They put on a good show, playing together and butting heads.


Afterwards we shared a picnic with our friends and the kids enjoyed seeing other animals including sheep, calves and horses. I would say the pictures speak for themselves in that it was a good day out for all.




No togs allowed

When we first moved to Finland we were invited to spend a weekend at a hotel & spa in Imatra. Reading the website before we went I was shocked to read this notice:

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“Oh no,” I said to Jonny. “I know we have to go nude in the sauna but in the pools as well??” Which led to a hilarious discussion about how we would look partaking in the following activities naked:

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I phoned my Finnish sister-in-law who explained that swimsuits are allowed (or togs as we call them in New Zealand), but swim shorts are not.

We understand that board shorts or street wear are not allowed, but swim shorts? As in shorts especially designed for swimming?

In New Zealand and Australia, the alternative – Speedos – are respected swimwear for training, sports events and lifesavers but otherwise most men will opt to wear something bigger to avoid risking ridicule from their friends.

For example, when ex-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was captured wearing Speedos (or budgie smugglers as they call them) the newspapers had a field day.

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We forgot about this ban on swimming shorts until Miko started swimming lessons recently. When he and Jonathan both turned up in swim shorts they were stopped short by the lifeguard.


Jonny’s preferred style of swim wear

Turns out even swimming shorts on a four-year old are not allowed.


Before they could proceed they each had to choose a pair of swim briefs from a communal basket and put them on before joining the class.


Jonny’s enforced style of swim wear

While I found this highly amusing Jonathan wasn’t so sure. If anything it kept his career as the accompanying parent at swim class very brief indeed.



Up, up & around!

We’re just back from an extended stay in New Zealand where we had a wonderful time with family and friends.


Leaving New Zealand


Arriving in Finland

Part of the joy of returning home to NZ is also seeing the landscape with a new appreciation. I particularly like how Auckland is home to around 48 volcanoes, all within 20km of the city centre.


Volcanic rock on Takapuna beach & its birthplace (Rangitoto) in the background

These volcanic cones provide a great vantage point to get a good view of the city, something we don’t have in natural form here in Helsinki. Our favourite places to enjoy an aerial view of the city here are from Ateljee Bar (14th floor!) and the Panorama at Linnanmäki (open April – October ).


View from the Panorama at Linnanmaäki

So it was lovely to get an email inviting us to be guests of Finnair’s SkyWheel this Easter weekend.


The SkyWheel opened in 2014 and allows visitors to overlook the city from a peak of 40m.


Based at Market Square it affords views of the harbour, Katajanokka, Uspenski Cathedral and on a clear day, the islands out towards Suomenlinna.


Jugend architecture in Katajanokka

As guests we were treated to a trip today in the VIP cabin, which comes with leather seats, a glass floor and soft music. All the cabins are heated as the wheel operates year round, but one extra advantage of the VIP one is clear windows, as the others are all blue.


Uspenski Cathedral

Being Easter there was also an egg hunt, face painting and free drinks for children, all of which Miko thoroughly enjoyed.


And just as we left the sun came out, reminding us this view will only get better as we welcome more light and clear sunny days.



We were guests of Finnair SkyWheel today and received free tickets to travel in the VIP cabin. No other payment was received and all opinions & photos are my own. We may have taken all the Easter eggs from the egg hunt though, for which I apologise on behalf of my four-year-old…..

Finnair Sky Wheel