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:


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.



Nude Finnish Girls

Happy New Year! For Helsinki it has meant low temperatures and lots of snow, which means more light, good moods and fun ways to commute.


Sharing a sled

WordPress sent me some stats on Hey Helsinki’s year in review – here’s a quick look at some of my most popular posts in 2015:

#1 – Helsinki Underground


This surprised me but as someone said, ‘When you arrive in a city the first thing you want to know is how to get around.” I hope this post has been useful  – & that people found reassurance in the fact that it would be very difficult to get lost on the subway in Helsinki.

#2 – How to make the best korvapuustit


This post went nuts thanks to my sister-in-law Ilona and her baking tips on how to make three Finnish sweets with one dough.

#3 – 101 Reasons to visit Helsinki


Linnanmaäki Amusement Park

This post grew from a project at work where I was looking through all my photos from the previous year.  I could have come up with more reasons but, like dalmatians, 101 is a pretty good start.

#4 – Finland’s oldest public pool, swimsuits optional

Yrjoönkatu uimihalli Photo credit: Cafe Yrjo

I can see on my stats page the search terms entered into google that lead people to Hey Helsinki. Time and again the most common thing people are looking for is ‘nude Finnish girls’ which seems to then lead them to this post where I went skinny dipping in Finland’s oldest public pool. Popular with the general public it was also a hit in the German nudist community.

#5 – How to dress a child for Finnish winter


With temperatures as low as -26 celcius lately (-15 F), this post has resurfaced as people search for help with one of life’s major challenges. As we are outside everyday, it’s essential to dress properly which means multiple layers and accessories, such as neck warmers (imagine a turtle-neck sweater but with no sleeves or torso) as kids don’t generally wear scarves. As someone at work said recently, ‘Every time you dress a child for Finnish winter, a little part of you dies’.

And where do you come from?

Well Finns or people in Finland overwhelmingly make up the largest group of readers. I guess people who’ve moved here are looking for tips and for the locals, well we all like to know what others might think of us. Thanks also to friends and family at home in NZ & Australia for following along.

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I’m going to take a little break from writing this blog as we prepare to make our first trip home in nearly two years. I’ll be in Asia for work and then have a month in New Zealand. I can’t wait! You can follow along on Facebook or Instagram for updates.

I’m also working with Laura Iisalo of Creating Helsinki on a book about the people who make Helsinki the city it is.  It features tips from locals on their favourite places & things to do, with recipes you can try at home of Nordic classics made with a contemporary twist.

It will be released by Cozy Publishing in May 2016 & I’ll keep you posted about the launch. In the meantime, thanks so much for reading and for all your comments over the last year.


Me signing our publishing contract. Photo: Laura Iisalo

And for those who accidentally got here while searching for ‘nude Finnish girls’, here’s a picture of me in my underwear today.


I told you it was cold!




Until the reindeer pees…

A friend at work has lent me a book that compares English and Finnish proverbs. While the meanings are similar I love the way the Finnish versions all have a local twist, usually associated with the seasons, the earth or Finnish wildlife.

For example, where I’d say: ‘straight from the frying pan and into the fire’, a Finn might say ‘Kun menee sutta pakoon, tulee karhu vastaan’ ( When you flee from a wolf, you run into a bear).


Similarly, the months of the year in Finnish are also tied to life.

Here are the 12 months of the year in Finnish and their meanings as far as I can tell. When forming the name of the month, you add kuu (moon), for example tammikuu is January.

1. Tammi – oak, or heart in some dialects. Sometimes attributed as being named for the ‘heart of winter’

2. Helmi – pearl. Possibly named for the sun shining on droplets of ice, giving a pearl like effect.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3. Maalis – maa means earth or ground. Some theories say this is the month when the earth is again visible as the snow melts away.

4. Huhti – a time when trees were cut and burnt so as to add nutrition to the soil (in English this is called ‘swidden’, something I’d never heard of before)


5. Touko – crop, a time to plant crops for the next harvest

6. Kesä – kesä means summer and June is considered the first month of summer in Finland


7. Heinä – hay, make it while the sun shines!


8. Elo – elo means life and elonkorjuu is the Finnish word for harvest

9. Syys – autumn is syksy in Finnish and September is considered the beginning of autumn in Finland


10.Loka – dirt or mud, probably due to the slush on the ground as the first snow falls


11. Marras – death, a time when the plants and trees begin to die as the days get increasingly shorter.IMG_5273

12. Joulu – an old festival gradually replaced by Christmas and now associated with the Christian festival. Joulupukki (now meaning Santa Claus) actually means ‘yule goat’ and comes from the story in Norse mythology of Wōden and Thor embarking on their Wild Hunt on a flying wagon pulled by goats.



We learnt another Finnish saying recently. As reindeer cannot pee and run at the same time, one way to measure distance was the length a reindeer could travel before having to stop to relieve itself (max distance estimated to be 7.5km). Known as poronkusema I’m not sure we have an English equivalent, but you never known when it may come in handy.


Drink dispenser at a recent Christmas party

Hyvää Joulua! Merry Christmas! x



Let them eat porridge

Growing up in NZ, porridge seemed a very Scottish breakfast to me, thanks especially to a young boy on TV telling us we were making it all wrong.

So I was surprised to hear how popular porridge is in Finland and that it is considered a traditional dish.

Made with oats or barley it’s not unusual for people to visit cafes daily to get their porridge fix, often served with a spoonful of jam.

Apparently you can also buy it at some gas stations and of course, from the porridge truck.


Elovena seems to be an iconic brand, with a range of flavours available at stores.


At Christmas it’s traditional to eat rice porridge, cooked with milk for a long time over a low heat. Similar to the coin in the British Christmas pudding, the person who finds the single almond in their porridge is considered the lucky winner.


Today we visited Seurasaari to walk the Christmas path and knew from last year to take along a bowl to be served some Christmas porridge. My friend’s mother told me that as rice is imported it was considered very exotic years ago and so this dish was traditionally eaten only by the rich.


Although popular in NZ, I’m not sure we quite match the Finns in our love of porridge – although this bizarre news story suggests some of us may know of the place it holds in their hearts.

New Zealander feeds Finnish hostages porridge


Santa for Hire

Christmas is coming and there are a few new traditions for us as we celebrate in the northern hemisphere.



For one, the day is celebrated on the 24th December in Finland, which in New Zealand is traditionally a day of last minute shopping as we prepare to open presents and feast on the 25th.

Finnish Christmas fare

Finnish Christmas fare

Another difference here is that Joulupukki (Santa) is expected to appear in every home, to deliver presents himself.

Miko & Joulupukki last year

Miko & Joulupukki last year

In NZ, we put the presents under the tree and leave out a plate of cookies, a carrot (for the reindeer) and a glass of milk or beer for Santa. In the morning we wake to find – Oh! Santa must have been (entering via the chimney) as the cookies are gone, the beer bottle’s empty and there are a few more pressies either under the tree or in our Christmas stockings.

Christmas 2014 in Lappeenranta

Christmas 2014 in Lappeenranta

The fact that Santa himself comes to call in Finland is really nice, but it can create a problem for anyone with a quick-witted child who notices that Santa arrives just as Dad seems to leave….and what about families where there is no suitable male to take on the role?

Christmas elves serving porridge at Seurasaari 2014

Christmas elves serving porridge at Seurasaari 2014

Well, that’s why many people hire a Santa, a big business in Helsinki with websites dedicated to it. Here you can find men who upload photos and a brief description of their experience.

NZ Santa (Source: Reasons to Believe )

Santa in New Zealand (Source: Reasons to Believe )

The best are those who advertise themselves as  ‘sober’, ‘non-smoking’ and often ‘well-masked.’

Although a job is a job after all. A friend of ours who doesn’t celebrate Christmas told us he instead goes to his local pub where all the Santas end their rounds for an after work drink.


Source: – Santa Service website

November Reign

I read recently that Finland has five seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and November.  While it’s true this month is dark and wet, here are a few reasons it’s not all bad…

Warm weekend breakfasts at our favourite cafe


Galleria Keidas

Practising the art of Christmas ginger biscuits


Taking the shot before Miko steals the dough…

Discovering ‘new’ bars that are old favourites of friends


Just a spritz of alcohol behind the ears….@Strindberg

Buying Norwegian salmon cooked over hot coals outside work



Enjoying wine tasting and dinner on a wet Thursday night



Photo: Angela Lee

Still getting around without full winter gear


Anticipating the best parts of a good Finnish winter


Natural History Museum

Remembering that Santa will soon be on his way (on a bicycle powered by oars)


Talivisirkus (Winter Circus)

The chance to wear my favourite boots to work


Having to use Miko’s umbrella when I can’t find mine


Seasonal office attire

New winter socks

New winter socks

Finding out my bank thinks I’m a dame

Bathroom door at my bank

My bank’s bathroom door

….and waking up to a ground cover like sugar on cornflakes.

First snow of the season

First snow of the season


A very Finnish birthday

Miko turned four recently and I felt a bit stuck when planning his party. At home it’s early summer and we would usually celebrate at home and on our lawn. Parties are often held in the morning or over lunch, whereas here they often start at 4pm.


In Finland it’s late autumn and while this one has been amazing, it can be cold and wet. Our apartment doesn’t really have space for a group of excited children so it was great when a friend suggested we hold a joint party for Miko and her son, who was turning four around the same time.


She suggested we hire a clubhouse at a playground, which was an excellent solution. During the week the City of Helsinki holds activities for parents and children in them and on the weekend they are available for hire. They come with a kitchen, bathroom, toys, tables and chairs.

We went in an hour early to set up, using Star Wars decorations bought online.


Light sabers & cupcake holders transported these blueberry pies to another galaxy.


As well as chips and popcorn there was also some healthy food in disguise.



We played Pass the Parcel and when it came time to open presents one of the children had a great idea. The kids sat in a circle around a bottle, holding the present they had brought . The bottle was spun and the person it pointed to then gave their present to the boy they had brought it for.


The guests then had a chance to make their own cookies. We rolled out ginger pastry and each child cut out shapes that we baked before decorating them with icing and sprinkles.


The idea was that they would take their cookies home, but they proved irresistible and were eaten on the spot.


Then it was time for cake, which was made locally and was gluten and lactose-free. It was delicious and had layers of chocolate (possibly held together by sugar).


To end we played the fishing game, which is popular at Finnish parties. Children line up and hold a fishing line over a blanket that is suspended up high. When they pull the line up it comes back with a party bag attached to take home.


It turned out to be a beautiful autumn day and we stayed for another two hours, the kids running off the sugar at the playground and park. We got home around 7pm with one very happy boy and were eating cake for days.


May the fours be with you!


Doesn’t like wet feet ( A guide to growing indoor plants in Finland)

People often tell me they can’t keep plants alive, but it’s really not too hard. Like children and pets they do need a bit of attention now and then to keep them healthy and sustained but seriously, anyone can do it.


When moving to a new climate it does take a bit of learning about what plants do best and it helps to know a few basic steps on how to care for them. Here’s my beginners guide to keeping your apartment looking green in Finland.


Look for Clues

In homes and offices, as well as in plant shops, you’ll start to notice the same kinds of plants over and over again. This is a good way to ascertain what grows well here and also the time of year it becomes available.


This plant is really common here in Finland and is growing well in a bedroom with only two small windows. As winter approaches you’ll need to find plants that survive well with very little light so take clues from those you see doing well around you.

Move it, move it

This plant has been hanging near a window in our bedroom, up against the glass.


He was sagging and drooping like limp wet washing until I moved him last week, just around the corner and out of direct sunlight. He immediately sprung to attention like some crazy guy looking for a party and so here he will stay. Take hints from your plants and if they’re not happy, try moving them. Mix up things like direct sun, shade, window positions and shelter.


This guy is very happy in his usual window spot but I may move him in winter

Lest we Forget

My favourite kind of plants (after palms) are succulents and cacti – and you don’t need to overlook them in Finland. We don’t have the same kind of heatwaves but we do live in a cold, dry climate – much like a desert in winter.


If you think about it, cacti can withstand cold temperatures. Just don’t over water them when it’s cold and remember they don’t like wet feet (who does?) so put them in cactus soil that drains water away. With good heating and triple-glazed windows, Helsinki apartments are warm over winter so bring your cacti indoors during the colder months.


Invest in your babies

I paid 80 euro for this huge monstera, which is a good incentive for me to keep it alive.


You also need to invest your time – but I don’t mean loads of it. I take a glass of water to bed every night and hardly ever drink it, so in the morning I tip it on to a different plant each day. That’s it. A regular little drink to the one who looks like they most need it tends to keep everyone happy.

Read the signs

When you buy plants they tend to come with a plastic sign with some basic care instructions on the back. Does it like sun, shade, direct light? How often should it be watered? Sometimes that’s all you need to know to keep your plant alive.


‘Tis the season

Don’t be afraid to buy something just for winter. These heathers do really well in Finland and survive even in snow.


You can also buy small trees in pots that will survive the cold. I used to buy plants for life (mine). Now I buy them for the plant’s life, doing my best to keep them going over winter but adapting to new varieties if they don’t make it through.

Keep trying

I’ve yet to master growing something really well in these glass bulbs but will persevere because I really like them.


The trick is they need just a little water and often, because the water drips straight out. A spray bottle is a good way to wet them and my monstera loves a spray on his trunk so he gets one too on the way past.


So, there you have it. You can grow plants and you can do it well – and it has nothing to do with luck. With just a little bit of loving they’ll keep you happy and healthy all year round, just as you do for them. (Otherwise – faking it is also okay).



How to look good naked (or at least use the time trying)

While Finnish sauna culture can conjure up images of large bearded men, drinking and beating each other with bunches of birch, sauna is also a wonderful way to introduce a ritual of cleansing and quietness to the end of a busy week.

Wood-heated sauna

Wood-heated sauna

In fact, the sauna is considered the cleanest room in the house, making it the preferred place to give birth and lay out the dead in years gone by.


Most homes will have one, or at least a common one in the building that tenants can book for use each week. Accordingly, most department stores in Finland have a dedicated section where they sell a range of sauna accoutrements.


I recently discovered this included felt hats to protect your hair and ears from getting too hot and to protect colour-treated hair. (For the record, I do not wear one).


With bath tubs uncommon in Finland I’ve learnt to enjoy the ritual of sauna and take the time to use all the masks and treatments I buy and otherwise forget to use.


While I’m no expert on what real Finnish people do, here’s my sauna routine that I recommend as the Nordic winter draws near:

  • Shower first – always shower before you go into sauna to wash off dirt, make-up and any perfume
  • Sauna naked – imagine if you were doing a facial steam bath and someone added a few drops of chlorine – this is partly why swimsuits are not generally welcome (unless you’re in a mixed gender sauna or have agreed beforehand)


  • Stay until you are comfortably hot and sweaty – even if this is only ten minutes – remembering the higher you sit, the hotter you’ll get
  • Come out and shower. This is when I like to use a face scrub, followed by a face mask.
  • I might also put on a honey body mask and put coconut oil in my hair (or an expensive hair treatment I promised my hairdresser I’d use weekly and only remember the night before my next appointment).


  • Have a glass of water and return to the sauna
  • Come out and shower again. For men, this is a good time to shave as your pores will be open and your skin relaxed.
  • Repeat until done. During your final shower wash and condition your hair.
  • Drink more water, moisturise and get ready for the best sleep of your life.
  • Wake up feeling relaxed and ready for the week ahead.

Feeling very relaxed, well into Monday at least

*Results may vary but you will smell good & possibly attractive to bears.

Ten Sauna Tips for Beginners – Visit Finland