Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dangerous species

In the early days Finland has drawn a rather long straw in terms of fauna. We only have one poisonous snake, the worst spider bites are only itchy, no scorpios, the mosquitos are not armed with malaria nor dengue fever.

Tick Bite
Image by KitAy, Flickr/CC

In the past week I read a column where the writer stated that bear is the most dangerous animal in the Finnish nature. In my opinion the most frightening animal in the Finnish wilderness is a tick, punkki. Ticks may carry and infect lyme disease or tick-borne encephalitis, both of the diseases may cause bad neurological disorder. The best way to protect yourself against ticks is to wear long sleeves and trousers when walking in the nature. After your berry picking exploration you should check through your body in case black 1,5 mm spider-like creatures attached to your skin. Punkkipihdit are handy when detaching tick. If there's a red circle on your skin around the area of tick bite, go and get a prescription for antibiotics.

Image by Natalie Lucier, Flickr/CC

The second place of the most dangerous animals goes to elk, in my opinion. Not that it would attack human in the forest, but because of its size and traffic behavior. 500 kilos of meat hitting your windshield is not a nice surprise on the road. Usually motorways are not the problem, but all the other 450 000 kilometers of roads. As cousins of elks, the deers behave in a similar way, jumping cross the road, but since they're smaller they're not that destructive. Up north the reindeers are something to watch out too - but they're usually so lazy that they just lie down on the road and refuse to move.

But all in all, the rest of the fauna is mostly harmless. Perhaps annoying, like those flying little bastards such as mosquitos, biting horseflies, deerflies - and seagulls. But harmless. And let's face it: if you can see a bear in the wilderness, you're lucky.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mannerheim, the epic movie man

The past week Finns have been arguing what kind of movie adaption is ok when talking about C.G.E. Mannerheim, the marshal of Finland.

So who is this Mannerheim guy anyway? He was the leader of the Finnish army in the second world war. Tiny Finland fought against the great red army of Russia - technically Finland lost the war, but that's a minor detail, since Finland was able to maintain its formal independence, unlike Estonia, for example.

So Mannerheim is seen as a national hero in Finland. He has been voted as the greatest Finn of all times. If one could become a saint in Finland, he'd be the most sacred of them all. The following examples tell something about his position in our culture:

In the end of 1990's the construction site of Kiasma (the museum of contemporary art) took place right next to Mannerheim statue. The wall/fence of the construction site was pink - quite suitable for museum of contemporary art. But. The wall closest to Mannerheim statue had to be painted grey - since pink wasn't honorable enough for his statue.

Finnish movie director Renny Harlin (you may remember him directing Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) and producer Markus Selin have been planning a massive movie production about Mannerheim. The planned movie has been showing off pre-marketing actions in a way that has never seen before in Finland. Too bad that the guys run out of money on the way, and the plans were first put on hold and eventually dumped. So no epic movie about Mannerheim, at least not from Harlin&Selin.

Couple of years back there was a puppet animation about Mannerheim, which of course caused a fuss. As a background, there are rumors about Mannerheim's sexual orientation, and in the animation there's an unconventional love scene. Which caused a storm in a tea kettle. And nobody didn't seem to notice that the animation itself was simply poor, it doesn't deserve even a half-a-star-rating.

And now, in 2012, there's been huge fuss about (yet another) Mannerheim movie: The Finnish broadcasting company has produced a short film about Mannerheim. The movie is made in Kenya and the role of Mannerheim is played by a Kenyan. And that's too much for most. Well, eventually it turned out that the film was a side product of a reality show, not a real movie. I wonder what kind of a fuss is on when the reality airs.

What next? There are still lots of genres left to be tried out...

     (C) Erik

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What to do on weekend

Next weekend is filled with events - either very affordable events or totally free of charge. All of these have been advertised in English, so I'm quite confident that they work for non-Finnish-speaking too:

1. Restaurant day

On Sunday anyone can open a pop-up restaurant. The concept is expanding outside Finland too! Check out the restaurant closest to you on the map.

2. Helsinki Design Open

Image: Rauno Träskelin

Pop-up concept store / exhibition / café about Finnish design at Iron house, right opposite to Stockmann at city center. Open only until Saturday (9 AM to 2 PM). Quality pieces, beautiful architecture.

3. Robot workshop

Build your own robot at Kaapelitehdas. Instructions and material are on the house. Workshop is running on Sunday from 11 AM to 3 PM.

So many things to do, so little time...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tasting Savonlinna

Savonlinna is one of those beautiful summer cities in Finland (i.e. it's dead for 10 months of the year).  The annual opera festival in July creates some nice buzz in the city even though you'd not be that much of a fan of opera. 

The beautiful castle Olavinlinna is the landmark of the city. For those who appreciate useless trivia: the first water closet in Finland is in Olavinlinna, those bumps on the towers. Structure-wise they are closets, there's a seat with a hole (a seat made of rock, I've heard in winter time there was a slave warming up the seat sitting there butt naked), and if you look into the hole, you can see water, the lake, where all the products eventually dripped and dropped.

And from toilet to table: there are certain food that you just have to try if you visit. Please find the top tips below, in priority order:

1. Lörtsy - a flat pastry cooked in oil. It can be savory (filled with meat and rice) or sweet (filled with apple, sugar on top). The one and only place to eat Lörtsy is at the market place, in one of the coffee booths.

2. Muikku - vendace that are rolled in rye flours and fried in butter. If you quickly have a portion of muikku at the market place, you can eat them with your fingers. But if you have something on the side, then you'll need fork and knife. Restaurant Seurahuone right next to market place, at top floor, is the place to go for Muikku. And by the way, when taking a photo, we don't say "cheese", we say "muikku".

3. The sandwich of the house at restaurant Majakka. Heavy stuff, doesn't leave you hungry.

4. Ice cream at Lippakioski. Huge ice creams, at half of the price you pay here in Helsinki. You can find Lippakioski if you start walking along the shore from market place to Olavinlinna castle.

5. Rommipulla - rum bun. A cinnamon roll filled with rum-flavored cream. Perfect combo. You can buy these at the market place. I don't now remember which of the market stalls it is, but keep your eyes open.

The only challenge with all this delicious stuff is time: you can't eat all of them during one day - so staying over night is a must.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Fiskars Ruukki

Today I visited the Fiskars Ruukki for the first time. It's one of the attractions that has been on my to-visit-list for long time, but finally I managed to take the time and get there. The trigger for visiting Fiskars this week was the flower exhibition that my sister participated. She had two pieces on the show, this one being themed in a futuristic way for the Paper House of Fiskars - she had made the frame for the flowers from 800 paper circles! Unfortunately my camera run out of battery, so I didn't get a picture from the other piece. But I'm a very proud big sister.

Detail of the flower setup made by my sister

River being calm

The story about flower exhibition actually explained already what Fiskars Ruukki is all about today: art and handicraft surrounded with beautiful nature. Many artists have residence in the village, and there are shops selling handicrafts. Unlike in many tourist attractions, the food in Fiskars is good too. We had a delicious lunch at Restaurant Kuparipaja (Copper workshop) by the river, and coffee at Petris Chocolate Room. Petris Chocolate Room is something I can warmly recommend: beautiful handmade pralines with perfect chocolate and smart flavor combinations. My absolute favorite was the black currant praline. Petris's artisan chocolate is available in Helsinki too, the shop at Museokatu 11, Töölö is open on weekdays, and they'll have a chocolate bar at Helsinki Design Open event in couple of weeks.

Petris Chocolate Room

Delicious pralines: black currant, lime-coconut and pistachio

Fiskars Ruukki used to be an iron mill, it was founded in the 17th century by the river. All kinds of iron tools were made there - so that's the home of the orange Fiskars scissors too. The beautiful old industrial buildings have been nicely renovated and many of them serve nowadays as shops or exhibition rooms. One of my favorite details in the industrial buildings were the dark bricks in some of the houses: they were made of the blast furnace slag - recycling the industrial waste of the mill. The wooden houses were built for the workers of the mill, and some of them are still in residential use.

Black bricks

Residential buildings

Another residence. The lady of the house at the door (too bad there are no other bees in the pic to give the scale)

Nice experience. I recommend visiting Fiskars for anyone who's staying in Finland for a bit longer, and for the locals as well.

The trees in Fiskars were amazing

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Smoke on the water

One of the finest invention in the Finnish building history is the chimney. It may not be a Finnish invention but sure has had huge effect on the residents of Finland: I remember reading somewhere that the amount of eye infections and blindness were dropped enormously after the chimney started to gain popularity in the houses and the smoke from the ovens was led outside the house. Despite the total extinction of savupirtti, smoke houses, there is one historical remaining still left from the pre-chimney-era: savusauna, smoke sauna - a sauna with stove but without chimney.

Warming up savusauna is a whole day operation, it takes hours. Why? Because you need to keep the door open during the heating process - of course most of the heat runs away from the door. Smoke on the water, that's what you get when you're warming up a savusauna by the lake. But you must not close the door to speed up the heating, or else you'll just end up burning the whole sauna down or killing yourself with carbon monoxide. Something like 4 to 5 hours is enough to warm up the pile of stones on the stove and also the walls and ceiling.

You need to wait until the flames have burnt out from the very last piece of fire wood - only then you can hop in. But it's all worth the effort and waiting: the heat in the savusauna is unbelievably smooth. The smell can be a bit intrusive first and it takes a while until your eyes get used to the darkness and the remaining smoke - but the löyly, heat is like velvet, you cannot achieve it in any other type of sauna. The heat is mild and firm at the same time. You can actually stay much longer in savusauna, compared to the normal sauna. Just relax and lean back.

After bathing in savusauna you'll clearly notice that you have relaxed. And that you've leant back.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Blueberry fields forever

Picking blueberries is the activity now. Everybody's in the blueberry, even the New York Times reporter. Yoga is so last season; you'll get stretching and meditation in the blueberry woods too.