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.

sarjakuva matti finnish nightmares.jpg

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. 



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. 


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.




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

Secrets of the summer cottage

Helsinki empties over June and July as Finns escape the city and head to their summer cottages. While we could rent one ourselves, we were really pleased last weekend to spend time with Finnish friends at theirs and get an inside look at this part of Finnish life.

Photo: Heikki Puomilla

Early morning at Hirvijärvi      Photo: Heikki Puomila

About an hour out of Helsinki, we joined Heikki and Anu and their young daughter on the shores of Hirvijärvi (Moose Lake). Heikki has been holidaying here since he was a child as his grandfather built a house in the same spot.


Although the house has been rebuilt and modern features such as electricity and running water added, the composting toilet is still outside. While I did scare myself with the thought of bears during a midnight visit, it was a huge relief not to have to check for large Australian spiders.

Composting loo

Composting loo

Part of the joy of the weekend was the chance to experience Finnish life outside of the city. After lunch we met with the local community committee, many of whom have been holidaying for generations around the shores of the same lake.


We were warmly greeted and joined in a game where we tossed 2 euro coins at bottles of wine, with the one landing closest being the winner. In spite of my focus and good technique, I was narrowly beaten by a 12-year old boy.


On returning to our cottage, the men and kids went fishing off the jetty, catching three small fish with bait made from flour and water.



Heikki also showed Miko how they identify local butterflies, something his family have an avid and professional interest in.


After a dinner of hamburgers grilled on the fire, we cooked pancakes down by the outside sauna.



We each had a turn at flipping the pancakes, which were delicious and served with jam.


After dinner, it was time for a huge bonfire, a tradition lit to mark the end of summer and the end of the cottage season. Heikki also let off a few fireworks he had leftover from the year before.


As the sun dropped low in the sky the most incredible full moon rose to take its place. People lit candles out on their jetties as a way to farewell summer, with a small house on an island soon surrounded by flickering lights.


After the children went to bed, Heikki, Jonathan and I hit the sauna, which is heated by a wood-burning fireplace inside.


Heikki made a couple of vihta (bunches of birch leaves) and taught us how to beat ourselves and each other with them to really get the blood flowing (we have been doing it far too softly and slowly apparently).


Each time we got too hot we headed outside to the lake, where we swam by the light of the full moon. At one point there were also huge fireworks going off overhead.


I really can’t describe just how incredible it was to be swimming at midnight in a lake lit by candles and the moon, with fireworks bursting into bloom above us. While we all know we have another long winter ahead of us, instead of being a sad occasion it was the perfect way to say goodbye to summer.

To follow: Day Two at the summer cottage, where we head onto the lake and into the forest, finding evidence of moose and something to rival Australian spiders..

Lost & Found

Visitors to Helsinki often comment on how well everything works. The trains run on time, the movies start when they say they will and it is very rare to see anyone cross the street before the green man appears, even when there are no cars.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the displaying of lost property. It seems there’s an unofficial understanding that if you find something of little value you drape it somewhere it will be easily found should the owner come back.


As the weather warms up the lost property du jour seems to be gloves. They are everywhere. Strategically placed on bushes, fences and elegantly draped over power boxes.


Which is not surprising really as Helsinki recently came first in an experiment to find the world’s most honest city. Eleven out of 12 ‘dropped’ wallets were returned to the owner with everything inside.


While every city has street crime I haven’t noticed it here. While Sydney is a great city, working in cafes there I witnessed bag snatching, wallet snatching, phone snatching, kids breaking into cars and people trying to steal the tip jar.

We even had one guy who would come in and stuff whole pieces of cake in his mouth and run off without paying. All part of living in a vibrant city of 4.5 million people where there’s a gap between those who have and those who have not.


So to me these Finnish displays of lost property seem like an indication of the overall honesty of the city’s population. True, no one wants one glove but I’ve also seen hats, shoes and sunglasses strategically arranged that have been left behind.


To be honest, Jonny’s Ray Bans disappeared after being left in a Helsinki changing room but he recently had a friend request on Facebook from a cafe worker here that he didn’t know. She was asking him to return to collect the credit card he’d left last time he bought a coffee.

Helsinki Tops World’s Most Honest Cities 

Helsinki Metro Runs on Honesty

Beware of falling ice

Now that we’ve learnt how to walk on ice without dying, it’s important that we also know how to walk under it too. Because with the big thaws happening its the ice hanging from overhead buildings you’ve got to watch out for.



The first time a big load of snow was dumped down next to me I actually thought someone was throwing snow at us. But it’s all about timing and mine that day was bad.


Watch out for snow & ice falling off the roof (& people dancing in mid-air)

With your head down checking where your feet go, it’s a precarious job looking for falling ice. Luckily the City of Helsinki takes precautions for us by blocking off sections of the street.

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But what are we to do? Wait until spring to use these parts of the pavement?


No, silly. Send young men up there to scrape it off and throw it into the streets below.

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I know there must be rigorous health and safety methods going on but I swear this guy was just held up by his mate holding a rope around his waist.



However they do it, the ice has mostly gone in Helsinki and today was feeling quite tropical with a high of 10°. Unless we have takatalvi that is (literally: taka: back or rear & talvi: winter, which means wintery conditions in spring).


In which case you may find the sign pictured above waiting for you as you slide to the bottom of the stairs on your taka – Ei talvikunnossapitoa – not maintained in winter.

An amazing discovery in the Finnish forest

I went on an island adventure the other day. Well, I walked to Lauttasaari, an island about 3km from the city centre and connected by a wide bridge.  The sea looked amazing as I crossed over, the mild temperatures evident in the partially frozen water.



Home to just over 20,000 residents and the Finnish Sauna Society, Lauttasaari is about 4km square in size. I walked around one side and back along the coast relishing the rarely shining sun.



And then the most amazing thing happened. I came across a village of mini houses, set amongst the trees.



I was stunned. Painted in different colours these tiny houses were set evenly apart and looked well-loved but as though all the residents had simply up and left.



I marvelled at how tiny they were, just a minute’s walk from the beach and it was surprising to see that some even had chimneys!




They are of course kesämökit (summer cottages), a huge part of Finnish life. Helsinki city empties over summer as nearly every Finnish family heads to theirs. Even with the long winters, on average Finns use their summer cottages 80 days of the year. 


It’s amazing to see photos of the same cottages in summer here – the difference in the landscape is incredible and you’ll even see this cottage with the same dress hanging in the window.




Apparently in the 1920s, the City of Helsinki offered poorer residents tents so they could experience summer vacations. Soon people began to ask to be allowed to build something sturdier and in 1946 an architect created a single design for the cottages, which were allowed to be 12 square metres in size. The residents own the cottage, there is no electricity, water is only turned on in summer and there are shared outdoor toilets (Source: Green Hearts).


We’ve yet to experience a holiday in a kesämökki and I can’t wait to see inside – although these tiny cottages are not typical of most summer cottages in Finland. But I’ll be sure to visit again in summer when the leaves and grass have grown back and they are once again full of life.


City Cottage – Inside a modern-day example of one of these summer cottages

Little House on the Baltic – the story of the owners

The Essentials of Cottage Life – Visit Finland

How to walk on ice without dying

It’s not actually that cold here in Helsinki. With the temperature yo-yoing around zero degrees however we have snow that melts and then refreezes – leaving a layer of ice over everything.

Around 20,000 people a month in Finland sustain injuries from slipping on ice in winter. Here are a few things I’ve learnt about surviving on icy streets:

Don’t be afraid! Go outside everyday – Helsinki is set up for it – and if you don’t you’ll end up staying inside for four months. Towers like these are set up from December and are full of tiny stones that are spread on the footpaths to help with grip.


Likewise, some of the city streets have hot water piped underneath, leaving them free of ice and snow.


Laying the pipes in summer


Ice free in winter

Ice-free in winter

Choose the path of most resistance. Walk where others walk, look for gravel to walk on and avoid shiny dark areas. If there is no gravel, choose snow over ice.


Slippery, slipperier, slipperiest

Avoid manhole covers and other metal surfaces. Always go around these ice traps.


Likewise, avoid painted surfaces, like the lines on pedestrian crossings. Once again, aim for the gravel that has been laid out for grip.


Don’t rush out the back door on your way to the rubbish room without checking the conditions first. Step outside that door at speed and you may find yourself slipping and sliding across the courtyard while squealing like a pig (true story).


Always use the handrails on stairs and if possible, send a small child ahead of you to test for slippery patches.


Stairway to hell

Leave plenty of time to get somewhere – rushing is never a good idea. I would seriously add on 50% of the time you’d normally take to walk somewhere.


If you parked your car in the street overnight, take a shovel with you the next morning. The snow ploughs that clear the streets in the night create piles of snow that might block you in.


Hidden layers of ice under snow make hills a real danger zone – but also a really fun thing to do on the weekend. If you do accidentally slide down a hill, always yell ‘yippee!’ and act like it was intentional.


And finally, grab a friend for support. Or, if you’re like me, occasionally grab a stranger. One with matching clothes is even better.


(Disclaimer: I don’t usually go around taking photos of old people from behind. It’s a new thing).

Yle News: Slip, Fall, Break a Leg – Who Pays?

Helsinki Underground

When I first used Helsinki’s subway system I felt like I was the only one swiping my travel card. Was everyone else riding for free? I didn’t want to be the only chump paying for rides so for a while I stopped swiping my travel card too. When in Rome and all that….

Kaisaniemi Metroasema

Kaisaniemi Metroasema

Turns out I’m not in Rome, I’m in Helsinki, in one of the least corrupt countries in the world. While some people may be jumping the train, many will have bought fortnightly / monthly / annual travel cards that don’t need swiping every time they get on or off. What really amazes me is the whole system is based on trust.

Walk right in...

Walk right in…

At the entrance to each Metro station you won’t find turnstiles or six-foot high gates that are opened only by a valid ticket. There are random ticket inspections however and the fine for being caught without a ticket is 80€.


People travelling with a child in a stroller up to the age of six travel for free on all HSL transport services (bus, train, metro & ferries). For those who do buy a ticket it is valid for all types of HSL transport within the city and is valid for one hour.


Unlike many European cities where you can spend hours underground getting to your destination, Helsinki is so compact the metro line currently runs in two directions only – although work is currently being undertaken to expand it.


Which makes it easy to use and also leaves you much more time to visit the city’s attractions, such as the Trevi Fountain and the colosseum Helsinki Cathedral.

Tips for using the Helsinki Metro

  • If you’re new in Helsinki don’t be afraid to try it, it basically goes in two directions so you can’ t get too lost
  • Station names are in Finnish with the Swedish name written underneath
  • Ticket machines are at the top of the escalators, before you go down to the platform
  • Travel cards can be bought & topped up at most R-Kioski (convenience stores usually found near stations)
  • All metro stations have elevators so are accessible for wheelchairs & strollers
  • Likewise, the train and platform are at the same level & there are no stairs in the trains
  • If you’re not in a hurry, don’t bother with a timetable. Trains generally arrive every 2 mins or so during peak hours
  • If you take the escalator down to the platform, stand on the right unless walking
  • Kaisaniemi station is now called Helsingin Yliopisto (Helsinki University)
  • Dogs, cats & other pets are allowed onboard and travel for free

HSL Transport info in English

Helsinki Metro

Proof of Payment System