Saturday, December 31, 2011

In sickness and in health

Cold, flu, temperature, fever, sickness, illness... I'm not sure about all the nuances of the seasonal flu in English, but it all comes down to running nose, sore throat, coughing, sneezing and cold. People tend to say that germs, viruses and bacterial don't survive in a freezing cold weather - which means that a wet winter like this is ideal for catching a cold. I don't know about that, but currently I'm having my first flu in three years (and the past two winters have been extremely snowy and cold).

Being ill is miserable, but it's even more miserable in unfamiliar environment. I hope these are useful:

Apteekki - pharmacy. You can find pharmacies in almost all shopping centers, but you might need some with extended opening hours: There's a 24h pharmacy in Töölö, Mannerheimintie 96, and another one in Helsinki city center that serves from 7 am to midnight.

View Pharmacies in a larger map

Särkylääke - painkillers. The most common painkillers sold in Finland are based either on ibuprofen (such as Burana and Ibumax) or paracetamol (such as Panadol and Paracetamol-Ratiopharm). You don't need a recipe for these medicine, but they may not sell you more than one box of each at a time.

Mustaherukkamehu, mustaviinimarjamehu - black currant juice. Mix it with hot water. Black currant is rich in vitamin C and it's the only juice that actually tastes when you're palate is gone with the flu.

Health care. All who live permanently in Finland are entitled to primary health care and hospital services, regardless of the nationality, additional insurances, etc. Based on your home address you belong into certain health care region, and you should visit the nearest health station, unless it's an emergency (seasonal flu is not an emergency). Check out more information on the website of your city - at least Helsinki and Espoo have quite ok info in English too.

Hätänumero - emergency number. That's 112, no need for region codes. If you only need consultation (and not an ambulance) there's a 24/7 phone service for health advice: 09 10023. This number is valid in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kirkkonummi, Kauniainen, and Kerava, and they serve you in Finnish, English and Swedish.

Despite the coughing and sneezing: Happy New Year!

P.S. I'm shocked about the English web pages of Yliopiston Apteekki. All they have in English is "year 2010 in brief". Who's interested in 2010 in brief when you're looking for relief to your pain? How about having opening hours and contact information in English instead? I had to send them some feedback, let's see if they reply.


Edited on Jan 4th 2012: The director of e-services and marketing at Yliopiston Apteekki replied to my feedback. She thanked for the idea of translating the opening hours and contact info into English, as they see tourists and immigrants as important customer group. Let's see when they actually get the pages translated.

Friday, December 30, 2011

(B)lock the doors and close the blinds

The great holiday sale is everywhere. I'm not usually a friend of sale nor shopping but in the past days I have probably spent saved by sale shopping more than I would have earned at the same time by working.

Nonetheless, one can consider shopping trips also as real estate field study. I've faced one questionable jewel of HVAC design in almost all the shopping centers I've visited in the past sale shopping days: blocked sliding doors.


Why do shopping centers block the sliding doors of their main entrance? No, it's not a maintenance break, it's because they don't want the chilly air to blow in. Then why on earth do most of the shopping centers in Finland have such a door system that allows the chilly wind to blow in? Tell me about it. Chilly weather simply cannot come as a surprise in a place like Helsinki!

In professional terms I'm a bit disappointed with Kamppi shopping center. Kamppi is rather modern shopping center, it did win several awards in the building and construction industry - and yet they couldn't come up with any smarter HVAC solution than blocking the sliding doors whenever the temperature drops below +3 C. New innovations needed here, please.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The catcher in the rye

Now this is getting serious. Let's talk about making rye bread. No yeast, no wheat, just 100% real thing.


First of all, you need a starter: A piece of old rye bread dough, about 1,5 dl. Either dried or frozen, drying works better. Crumble the dried dough into 1 liter of warm water and mix with 5 dl of rye flour.

Let the dough rest in a bowl for 1 to 3 days (I usually let it stay over two nights) in room temperature. Cover the bowl with a cloth and mix it every now and then. The dough should foam. It looks disgusting and smells a bit funky, but that's how it's suppose be like at this point.

After 1 to 3 days, add 1 table spoon of salt and mix 7,5 to 10 dl of rye flours into the starter. There's no need to knead the dough, just make sure that the flours are mixed properly. Cover the bowl and let it rise for 2 to 6 hours in a warm place.

Roll the dough into several smaller breads or a couple of bigger ones (I prefer small ones for maximizing the portion of delicious crust). The dough is very sticky, so don't get mingy with rye flours. Take 1,5 dl of dough aside, pat it flat and let it dry - that's your starter for the next round.

Let them rise on a covered baking tray for 1 to 2 hours. Bake the small rolls in 250 degrees celcius for 12 to 15 minutes, bigger ones take 30-45 minutes in 190 degrees. The breads are done when they sound hollow. Wrap the warm breads into a cloth and let them cool down.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grey's anatomy

Sometimes grey weather is the most depressing thing you know, but the shades of grey can be quite beautiful too.

I took these photos by lake Saimaa on Christmas Eve. It was snowing like hell (or maybe not, I've understood the temperature in hell is a bit too high for snow), but since it was the first real snow storm of the year, it actually felt really good.

I'm not surprised that in the early days pagans worshipped the nature instead of person-like god.

I'm pretty sure the sky is higher here than in city.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Akseli Gallen-Kallela

This is an opportunity served on a silver plate: Art exhibition by Akseli Gallen-Kallela is open until January 15th at the second floor of Tennispalatsi, right next to Kamppi bus station. They have free entrance from Dec 27th to 31st - so this is your chance to get to know the Finnish artist. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday at 11 AM - 7 PM, but e.g. on New Year's Eve they close at 3 PM.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela was the hottest artist in Finland in the late 19th - early 20th century, and he had a significant role in building the Finnish cultural identity. His most famous pieces are large oil paintings, but he also made frescos, posters and more symbolic experiments.

Then a sightseeing tip for the spring: Gallen-Kallela's studio is located in Espoo, right next to Leppävaara. The house is amazing, there's a café on the yard and the view is beautiful. It's really worth visiting (at least the garden, if you don't care for the paintings that much) for example on May, when the nature around the place starts to bloom.

Näytä Gallen-Kallela studio suuremmalla kartalla

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the Nth day of Christmas

Christmas is the holiday saturated with traditions. I bet that many of the christmas traditions on these latitudes are quite common, even though everybody have the one and only right and unique way of practicing the traditions.

For me the christmas starts on December 23rd. That's the day when I travel to my christmas destination, and that's the day when the last minute panic sneaks in - this year was no exception: I was knitting against time, but I managed to finish the last pair of mittens during the 3-hour train journey.

In Finland the Christmas Eve is the big day. In the morning the christmas tree enters the building. The youngest ones are responsible for decorating the tree. At 12 o'clock the "Christmas peace" is declared in Turku, and after that we'll have lunch. In my family lunch is the big meal, thanks to my practical mom: some years ago she got fed up with being starved the whole day and eating too much on the Christmas Eve supper, so for the sake of digestion we have the heavy meal already on daytime.

The afternoon crawls slowly by taking naps, drinking coffee and walking in the snow (yes, we actually had a white christmas, wohoo!). When the sun sets you can truly start expecting the Santa. Well, this year we had to call and cancel the Santa, because my nephews were really ill, but luckily the elf was kind enough to note us by ringing the doorbell when he left the presents to the door. After opening the presents the evening continues with sauna, rice porridge and mulled wine, glögi. Sometimes between blue cheese and ginger cookies my brother sneaks out to take care of Santa business for couple of relatives living in the neighborhood.

The Christmas Day, December 25th has no special agenda - just mellow atmosphere, reading the books that Santa brought, eating the same food for the second time, picking the best pralines from the chocolate box.

On the second Christmas Day, Boxing Day, it's time to get reactivated. We may have sauna as a first thing in the morning (that's quite heavy even for a Finn), go visit friends and relatives, eat the same food for the third time and in the evening it's time to go out dancing, Tapanintanssit.

On December 27th the life turns back into the normal tracks. The christmas food is done for the year, only the bad liqueur pralines are left in the chocolate box and you'll start figuring out how to get rid of the yummy chocolate on your waist. Bye bye christmas, see you next year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


The insurance system in Finland is quite different to US, and the insurance portfolio doesn't play that significant role for example when you're negotiating employment contract. I won't start comparing the two systems in details, but check out two very practical and affordable insurances:

Heijastin - reflector. That's your life insurance. The driver sitting behind the Audi wheel cannot see you crossing the road by foot unless you wear a reflector.  

Kumisaappaat - rubber boots. Your health insurance. Keeping your feet dry helps you to keep the flu away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas is on!

Today is the shortest day of the year: 5 hours and 48 minutes of daylight. Tomorrow is going to be equally short, but from Friday on the days are getting couple of minutes longer and lighter every day. Which means that the worst is over!

Today is also the "name day" of Tuomas (Finnish version of Thomas), and that's the day when the Christmas time begins. Christmas time will last until Nuutti's day, January 13th. Nuutti (Finnish version of Knut) is a goat, or a man dressed as a goat, and he's wandering around scaring the kids.

Hyvä Tuomas joulun tuopi, paha Nuutti pois sen viepi. Good Thomas brings the Christmas, evil Knut takes it away.

According to Finnish Wikipedia, Nuutti the goat was also called as jouluämmä, Christmas bitch. Well, I've never heard of Christmas bitches before, but that doesn't sound bad at all. Maybe I'll start celebrating the official Christmas bitch day on January the 13th.

Hyvää joulua! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Something concrete

Yesterday I met a nice Dutch lady (meeting a nice Dutch isn't the news, I think I've met only nice Dutch people). She was the mom of the family where my friend was staying during her exchange student year. I ended up talking about concrete with the Dutch exchange mom. Precast concrete, to be more precise. And why did we have this concrete conversation? Well, because considering the size of the population and the size of the construction market, both Finland and Netherlands are world's top countries in using precast concrete elements. At least that's what they taught us in the university, and my experiences at work are supporting the claim.

A nice precast concrete building in the Netherlands 

I don't know for sure what's Holland's excuse to use that much of precast elements in the construction, but at least in Finland the top three reasons have been the unfavorable weather, high labor costs and migration from countryside to cities in the 60's.

In the beginning of the 60's the population of the capital area was a bit above 500 000, and by the end of 60's it was nearly 700 000. I may be exaggerating a bit, but still, the population increased by one third during a decade! So they needed to build. A lot. Fast. In the construction boom of the late 60's and early 70's some of the concrete block houses were designed to last for 30 years only. They were not designed to go through the putkiremontti, they were not designed to go through the facade renovation - which makes the renovation really expensive today, and even after the renovation end result may not fulfill the requirements of the 21st century.

So, what shall we do with Merihaka? Any concrete suggestions?

Näytä Concrete block houses suuremmalla kartalla

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas food

I've survived the Sodexho Christmas menu 2011, and soon I can stab my knife and fork into real Christmas feast. Christmas food is something you really anxiously wait for, and eventually you'll eat more than enough, and don't want to have any of that until the next Christmas.


My perfect Christmas menu would include

- Graavilohi (salmon matured with salt)
- Mushroom salad
- Rosolli (beetroot-herring salad)
- Karjalanpaisti (Karelian stew, made out of beef or venison and pork)
- Macaroni-egg-casserole
- Carrot casserole
- Venison
- Carrots, potatoes, peas
- Rye bread and butter
- Cranberries

That's about it, I'm happy with that. Of course I'm happy to have more dishes than those on the list, but anything in addition is kind of extra. Many Finns have a lot more fish on their Christmas menu, but somehow I prefer fish more in summer time. Also, venison is maybe not that traditional as a Christmas roast, but as a daughter of a moose hunter I'm a bit spoiled in this matter.

If you want to have turkey on your Christmas dinner table, you should order it well in advance, because turkey is not the thing in Finland. Stockmann (their website seems to be down at the moment when I'm writing this) or Citymarket (and they don't seem to have English web pages at all) usually have good selection and service at the meat counter, so those are the places to ask for a turkey. In Finland pork is the turkey. We call it joulukinkku, a Christmas ham, although it tastes more like turkey than real ham.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Swedish, a sweet dish?

Finland is a bilingual country, the official languages being Finnish and Swedish. About 90% of the population speaks Finnish and about 5% Swedish as their mother tongue. In most of the schools Finnish speaking kids start studying Swedish on the seventh grade. And if you're living in 100% Finnish speaking area (such as my home town Lappeenranta), you're in the worst phase of your teenage life and you're having a Swedish teacher who has the least possible amount of charisma and teaching skills... well, that's why many people feel they are forced to study Swedish.

I never felt like I was forced to study Swedish. I've always thought it's pretty natural to study other languages, at least couple of them, if your mother tongue is used by only 5 million other people. On the other hand, I must admit that nowadays it would more useful to study Russian, Chinese or Spanish rather than Swedish. But the bottom line is that learning almost any language is good for you.

In general these articles written by Ilkka Malmberg are a cliche, but the graph is quite to the point. Yellow color represents the area where Swedish can be considered more useful than Russian language, whereas in the orange area it's quite the opposite. The striped area is somewhere in between.

And you never know when you really need your second language. You may end up being married to a person from another language background. Today I'm quite happy I was awake in the Swedish class, and because of that I'm able to understand what my in-laws are speaking. My own Swedish output may not be super fluent - but a schnapps (or four) of akvavit usually helps.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another view point

I've been on guided Helsinki tour few times. To be honest, mostly the tours have been quite boring: We've been sitting in a bus or tram, the guide has explained some details about this and that - without trying to put them into any relevant context, theme or timeline.

Two classical buildings that each sightseeing tour passes by and all the guides mention, are the National Museum and Finlandia Hall - they are conveniently just opposite to each other, and the busses and trams drive in between the buildings.

Instead of spotting the National Museum and Finlandia hall on a boring sightseeing tour, take a walk around Töölönlahti, the small bay next to Finlandia hall. Have a (coffee and pulla) break at Sinisen Huvilan Kahvila (Café at the Blue Villa). Look at the other side of the bay:

The dark vertical stripe on the facade of Finlandia hall matches perfectly with the tower of the National Museum!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Housing for beginners

Taloyhtiö, housing co-op is a very common way of living in Finland. Since co-ops usually communicate only in Finnish (if at all), check out a couple of key words - in case you'll receive an info letter and don't know what it's about:

Putkiremontti, linjasaneeraus - complete renovation of plumbing, ventilation, maybe electricity and other infrastructure too. Good for the house, trouble for the folks living in the house. You usually need to move out during the project. The houses built in the 1960's, 1970's and early 1980's are now going through the putkiremontti.

Yhtiökokous - "annual general meeting". Organized usually once a year. For those who are owners in the co-op. If you own the flat together with your wife or husband and either one of you doesn't attend the AGM, make sure that the one not-attending gives a signed letter of authorization to the one who takes part.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hello, hello, hello, how low

It's the darkest time of the year. It's pathetic how low the sun is, even at noon.

I took this photo yesterday at 12.30, almost noon that is. 
But on the positive note, at least the sun was shining!

Check out the position of the sun exactly six months ago (top) and compare it with the position today (bottom). You don't need to be a solar scientist to see that it just simply doesn't rise in December.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What are they running for?

In January we'll have the first round of the presidential election. Nowadays the president doesn't really have too much of official powers - the president of Finland is nothing like the colleague in US and far from the president of France too. But due to the fact that the president exists, for example the role of the prime minister in Finland is not as big as in UK or in Germany. Jyrki-boy must be a bit annoyed.

There are many people who think we could simply dump the whole president thing. I don't know about that... I think it's kind of good that we have someone who can be thrown into any opening ceremony, A-list cultural event or sports game VIP stand. That way the real politicians don't need to visit each and every ceremony, and they can concentrate on taking care of the nation's business. Well, at least in theory.

Vickan ja Daniel
The president institution simply can't be as expensive as monarchy. In Sweden many would like Carl Gustav XVI to step aside and give the stage to Victoria, but it's impossible to predict when it's going to happen. In Finland you'll get rid of the president in 12 years, and the following person doesn't have to be an offspring of the previous one. 

Even though the candidates are nominated by political parties and have all been active politicians, the one who's elected to be the president will give up on the membership of the party. The president won't be involved in the topical issues of the daily politics either. Which kind of makes the idea of voting Timo Soini a bit attempting: if he was chosen to be the president, he could not participate the daily political debate and he'd need to give up the membership of the True Finns. And what would True Finns be without Timo Soini - doomed.

Well, even the official powers of the president are cut off into minimum, he's still sort of a leader what comes to values. And I don't want to see Timo Soini to lead this country into the direction of his values.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

3 x words of double consonant

At our work most of the non-Finnish speaking adopt at least three Finnish words into their everyday language:

Pulla - bun. Every Friday at afternoon coffee break we have pulla too. It's not always very orthodox pulla (pastry made out of sweet wheat dough that is expanded by using yeast), but something sweet though.


Mökki - summer cabin. Almost everybody has it, and people drive there on every summer weekend. Mökki is usually quite primitive piece of real estate in the middle of nowhere, often without electricity and without running water. That's where most people reach the zen.

Nakki - small sausage or a task. Kids prefer to grill nakkis instead of real sausage. They even cut the both ends of the nakki to make it "laugh" (the cut ends of the sausage kind of buckles when you grill it). Nakki is somewhat traditional food on New Year's Eve and on 1st of May. Nakki is also a task that you can give to someone - a delegated action to be taken.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The urban history

There are 108 cities or towns in Finland. Most of the cities are nice - in summer. According to the city marketing department, their city is the most unique place with fascinating history, clean nature, and generally, it's the ideal place to live your life and practice your business.

In reality there are three cities in Finland. Each of them have intriguing history. Right.

1) Turku
Former capital. Has always been there, excluding the times it was burnt down. Finnish language was invented in Turku, which is scary because Turku dialect sounds as if lamb was baaing in Finnish.

2) Helsinki
Current capital. Was established by a king of a neighbor country, and he had to force people to move into Helsinki.

3) Other 106 places with the legal status of town
The foundation of the town was established in the end of the last ice age, when the melting ice and snow run into rivers. 11 500 years later someone decided to build a tissue paper factory by the river and set up two concrete block houses. 45 years later someone decided to quit the paper factory and merge the town with the neighbor town.

So there are 108 cities in Finland - in summer. And nearly each of the 108 cities host some sort of a festival during the summer time. But only three of the cities are not sleeping on winter: Helsinki, Turku and Tampere. Tampere is the only town from the third category that has managed to turn into something like city.

Why Nut Island's Peace?

Finland is quite of an ok country. Finland is my home country. I've never been to passionate about my home land or being a Finn, but right now I feel I must write about it.

I'm working in an international company in Finland. I have many great colleagues and friends who have moved into Finland from another country. Many of my colleagues who live and work in other countries need to visit Finland quite often. In that context I think Finland shows quite flat image of itself. With this blog I want to do my share of unflatting the image.

Another reason for setting up this blog is the Finnish society and the politics. I'm quite uncomfortable with all the True Finns phenomenon. I'm tired of listening the one-sided politic talk about immigration, especially when we're running out of working-age people in this society. I hate to see the Finnish society snuggling down. That's not my Finland.

My third driver for this blog is to practice English.

Let's see how this blog turns out to be.


P.S. The name of the blog refers to Treaty of Nöteborg, which sort of defined the early Finnish border lines. Nut Island's Peace is a direct translation of Pähkinäsaaren rauha from Finnish to English.