Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tap tap

Traveling makes you to pay attention to the basics. Say tap water. Sure the tap water is drinkable in many countries, but in Finland the water really tastes good. Evian and Voss  are left far behind. It's just madness that some Finnish restaurants serve bottled water as the still option - I've started to ask specifically for tap water if I spot water bottles on other tables.

I spent the past week in Germany, and their tap water wasn't bad either. However, they drink huge amounts of bottled water anyway. A pregnant colleague of mine had to negotiate for quite some time in a restaurant to get a glass of tap water to drink - because the still bottled water tasted so bad to her and she couldn't go with the bubbles. The magic words that made the waiter to understand her were "you know, the water that you use for washing dishes, I want a glass of that, bitte".

But even though the tap water is excellent in Finland, there's one thing that we're clearly missing: public places to fill in your water bottle. That kind of springs or fountains simply don't exist here.

Friday, April 27, 2012


First of May, vappu is the celebration of students and labor. I had no real experiences about celebrating vappu until I started my studies in Otaniemi - and since then vappu has been my favorite celebration.

The essential ingredients of Wappu are:
  • Spring weather (it doesn't have to be sunny, in one of the best Wappus ever it was raining horizontally)
  • Sparkling wine
  • Friends
  • Vappu-magazine: Julkku (even years) or Äpy (odd years)
  • Some snacks
  • Cheerful mindset

Then what do you do on vappu? Well, washing and hatting of Havis Amanda (Manta) statue on May Day eve is one thing. Most of the people start wearing their student caps during the hatting of Manta at six o'clock, but teekkarit, current and graduated technology students wait until midnight with their caps.

May Day is the actual celebration day. In the morning crowd of 20 000+ head for Kaivopuisto for picnic, while the Swedish speaking prefer Kaisaniemi park. In the afternoon some might take vappu lunch at a restaurant.

Hauskaa Wappua!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Signs of spring

On this weekend the nature has truly woken up.

Pajunkissat, willow's cats, are almost over-aged.

Branches on sunny spots have already small, green hiirenkorvat, mouse's ears.

And leskenlehdet, widow's magazines. Ok, it doesn't translate to widow's magazine, it's coltsfoot, tussilago farfara.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I thought they were mammals...

If you believe the newspapers, half of the Finns are on low-carb diet. Around Christmas the shops run out of butter, around Easter the egg shelves were empty. The lack of eggs seem to continue, at least in the grocery store close to my work they had placed a note which said "limited egg offering due to production problems". I guess the chickens had gotten into strike, because the only eggs on the shelf were Moomin eggs.

I hope they were happy Moomins, not the ones living in small cages. At least they are organic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kristina från Duvemåla

Yesterday I went to see musical called Kristina från Duvemåla (Kristina from Duvemåla) in the recently renovated Swedish Theater.

The story is based on Swedish epic about immigrants who moved from Sweden to America in the late 19th century. The musical is written by the ABBA guys Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus - but the music was not exactly Waterloo or Dancing Queen type of songs. But I liked the it. However, it wasn't the compositions or the story that made the musical good; the key was the leading actress Maria Ylipää and her beautiful, beautiful voice. She didn't sound like a traditional "singing actress", and she wasn't "acting singer" either (although her role was mostly to sing, not to act), but her voice was simply clear, flawless and beautiful.

Unfortunately you can't use words "flawless" or "beautiful" to describe her wig. It was a clear wig, a clumsy one. She had to be transformed into a blond, as Swedes do, but the wig was horrible. Another negative side of the musical was the duration: it lasted for 4 hours. I know it's difficult to be compact, and therefore I respect it so highly - but I'm sure they could have squeezed it into 3 hours.

All in all, great music, smart stage design and jolly good actors. If you want to go and see a musical in Finland, I recommend you to take the Swedish option. Last year I went to see Les Miserables in Turku Swedish Theater, and that was excellent too - better than the Finnish version in the Helsinki City Theater some years ago.

Some advice if you go and check Kristina:
  • The musical is sold out for many months on, but it's definitely worth asking for cancellation tickets if you're ready for short notice.
  • If you're booking tickets right now and considering the balcony seats, book your seats on the left balcony. The actors are spending quite a lot of time at the right side of the stage, so you'll have better view on the left.
  • Wear a light jacket. They have a weird, small, semi-unattended wardrobe, so you might want to take your jacket with you into hall.
  • The break is 30 minutes, in case you want to optimize the toilet business. After 20 minutes of the break the queue in the ladies room was gone.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Iron Sky

I went to see Iron Sky, the new Finnish movie.

It was funny, I did laugh many times. It sure was visual. The jokes about USA and Germany were ruthless enough. But something was still missing. I'm not sure if I had expected even more humor or different kind of humor, or maybe the acting wasn't quite there...

Anyway, worth seeing, definitely!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Staycation in Helsinki

During my holiday I've been mostly wandering around Helsinki like a tourist.

View from Tähtitorninmäki (observatorium hill?) to Kallio church along Unioninkatu. The church is 2,5 km away.

"On siis kevät..." - scene of a song.

Had coffee at the market place.

Looked through gateways into quadrangles.

Went to see my favorite statue, the Mouse at the National Archive. The statue is only 12 cm tall.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Soup kitchen

If you think there are no intimate restaurants in Finland, you haven't visited Soppakeittiö, Soup kitchen at Hakaniemi market hall: people (also Finns, not just Japanese tourists) are sharing tables with strangers!

They usually have three soups per day on the menu.

They bake their own bread, and they serve delicious herb oil for dipping the bread.

Boullabaisse (behind) is their classic, and on the menu almost every day. Portions are of good size, delicious and decent price, too. Locals, tourists, hipsters, hobos, IT specialists, politicians, young people, retired - all sitting next to each other, maybe even sharing the table and bread bowl with each other.

Hakaniemi market hall

The loveliest place to buy food in Helsinki is Hakaniemi market hall. At the ground floor you can find meat, sausages, fish, bread, pastries, chocolate, olives, spices, vegetables, candies, you name it. On the second floor there are for example Marimekko (they usually have some outlet stuff too), yarn, buttons, cards, bead work, etc.

And by the way, the Hakaniemi market square, right next to the hall is the most genuine market place in Helsinki. No reindeer t-shirsts and other tourist crap, as they do at Kauppatori market place in the city center. And Hakaniemi is just one metro stop away from Kauppatori.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Our squeaky cheese

This is something that Finnish restaurants serve as dessert. Not all Finnish restaurants but those which brand themselves as Finnish restaurants and where the waitresses are forced to wear folk costumes.

You need leipäjuusto, Finnish squeaky cheese. About 200 grams for three persons. Cut it into pieces and set nicely on an oven-proof bowl.

Crumble some brown sugar, fariinisokeri, and cinnamon on top of cheese and to the bottom of the bowl. Add some cream, kuohukerma. Put it into 200 C oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve with cloudberries.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Counting the holiday

Speaking of holiday, the Finnish way of calculating the annual holiday is really cryptic. The following example tries to explain how things go - but the system varies depending on whether you work for private company or state institution, and depending on the contract you're under.

First of all you have to earn your holiday before you can have them. In most of the cases you earn 2 holidays per month until you've worked in the same company and contract for one full "theoretic holiday year". After that you start earning 2,5 holidays per month. This theoretic holiday year is not a calendar year, but it lasts from April to March. So if you've started working in a company let's say from the beginning of November last year, you have earned 2*5=10 holidays, which you can keep during the summer holiday season (usually between May and September, in some places from June to September).

Let's clarify one term: by holiday we mean days when (according the law) you don't need to work, but you get full salary, and actually, you'll also get an extra bonus on top of the salary for each holiday - that's called holiday bonus.

Ok. Then comes the tricky part. If you have earned 10 holidays, it doesn't mean that you can be out of office for two full weeks - you need to count the Saturdays too, even though they are not normal working days. As an example, you could start your holiday on Monday. Until the end of the week you have spent 6 holidays (5 working days + extra Saturday), and you have 4 holidays left. So you should get back to office on the next week's Friday, that's when you've spent your 10 holidays. Luckily many employers may consider either giving some non-payed holidays, an option to balance with the flexible hours, or an option to swap your holiday bonus into holiday (i.e. then you don't take the bonus as money) - but this is something you definitely need to check from your employer, the practices vary a lot.

As said, this is a cryptic system and it varies depending on the contract, so you should definitely check and confirm your company's practices for example with your HR.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Egg jokes

    Advanced egg jokes: Pääsiäispatukka (Easter bar) and Isännän muna (egg that belongs to the man of the house).

There is one thing in the Finnish Easter traditions that you don't need to adopt: the egg jokes. Eggs have their place in the Easter traditions, but the whole thing boils down to the double meaning of Finnish word muna, egg: muna translates to egg, but it also refers to male equipment. And that's where the jokes emerge. One of the most common egg joke is to wish for munarikasta pääsiäistä, egg-rich Easter, especially for ladies. Or to warn "don't have too much egg, because it can make your belly to rise for several reasons".

I don't have anything against dirty jokes, in fact, I like dirty jokes. What bothers me with the egg jokes is the way people tell them. Egg jokes are usually told by people who are not exactly natural born comedians. They tell the egg jokes in such way as if they were the funniest jokes in the history of the humankind, and as if they were the first persons in the world who realized that egg has a double meaning in Finnish language. Of course those jokes are funny when you're teenager, but I'd expect a bit more from adults' jokes.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

As the saying goes: holiday

Next week is my winter holiday week. I'd appreciate if the weather didn't take it so literally. I'm not traveling anywhere,  so this is a staycation. To celebrate the staycation I thought I'd share some lazy and relaxed phrases:

Elä hättäile, istu mättäille. Don't hurry, sit on a hummock. Don't worry, sit on a hummock. 
Back to nature type of approach for reducing stress.

    This tree on my way to gym is growing partly on top of a stone. 
    To me it seems as if the tree had sat down on a stone to take a deep breath: elä hättäile, istu mättäille.

Vetää lonkkaa. To pull hip. 
This has nothing to do with pulling the leg, this is about being lazy and relaxed, to take a break.

Syljeskellä kattoon. To spit to the ceiling. 
When you really have nothing to do, you can just lay on the sofa and spit to the ceiling. But watch out, what goes up, comes down.

Levätä laakereillaan. To rest on one's bearings.
This phrase may often have a bit negative tone, it may refer to simple resting, but may also refer to wasting your potential.

Ottaa löysin rantein. To take with loose wrists.
If you take your life with loose wrists, you most likely have quite laid back attitude and you don't worry for too much.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mary had a little lamb

Easter is fun, maybe the best church related holiday there is. Easter is laid back, it does not require as much effective performance as Christmas. Easter food is better than Christmas food. It's sunny. And office worker can always count on four days off - unlike on Christmas, which can be only three days in the shortest case.

And what do we eat on Easter?

Roasted lamb
Vegetables, roasted or fresh
Setsuuri, sweet and sour fennel-flavored bread
Chocolate eggs
And whatever tastes good

The best thing with Easter menu is the flexibility. On Christmas table you need to have the certain traditional dishes, prepared in certain way, according the one and only traditional family recipe. On Easter you can have a little bit of this and little bit of that, and you can be innovative and flexible with the actual execution: one year you may have lamb in coffee sauce, another year it's lamb in herb marinade.

One thing is for sure, on Easter you have to eat at home; practically no restaurants are open, at least not on Easter Monday. Only exceptions are Rosso and couple of other places.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Open on Easter?

Shop shop shop. Now. Because shops are closed on Friday, Sunday and Monday due to the Easter holidays. Which means that there's huge rush on Thursday and Saturday, be patient.

Small stores are allowed to be open on Monday for 4 hours between 8 AM and 6 PM. The K-market at Kamppi bus station is open also on Friday, Sunday and Monday from 10 AM to 10 PM. And if you run out of food, you can always order some kebab - that's made of lamb, and lamb is traditional Easter food.

    Most of the grocery stores are closed on Friday, Sunday and Monday. 
    You have to find your food somewhere else.

University's Pharmacy at Mannerheimintie 5, Helsinki city center is open every day from 7 AM to midnight. Movies are running quite normally on Friday, Sunday and Monday at Finnkino and at Kino Tapiola.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



Let's continue with the places where the local people go. Ekberg is a popular café in Helsinki city center, Bulevardi. Ekberg is a traditional and a bit old fashioned café with table service and French style pastries - maybe that's why mature ladies like the place. Ekberg's brunch is classic, they've been serving brunch long before brunching turned into a trend. Because of the brunch, on weekends the thirty-something generation shares the stage with the grannies.

Ekberg also has a take-away bakery shop right next to the café. So far it's the only place where you can get really good baguette in Helsinki. Also potato cakes (perunaleivos - yes, they look suspicious) and Napoleon cakes are delicious.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Eastern for Easter

Another traditional Easter desserts is pasha, sweet and creamy quark delicacy with lemon and raisins. Pasha as such is bit heavy to my taste, and therefore I prefer the pulla version of pasha. This is more or less traditional pastry from the Eastern Finland, Karelia.

First you need to make a pulla dough:

6 to 8 dl wheat flour
1 bag of dry yeast
2 tsp crushed cardamom
1 dl sugar
0,5 tsp salt
3 dl milk
1 egg
100 g butter

Mix 2 dl of flour with the dry ingredients. Add milk (40 C), egg and melted butter, and mix. Add the rest of the flour and mix. Knead for couple of minutes.

Let the dough rest under a cloth for at least 30 minutes, until it has expanded to double of its original size.

Mix the pasha filling while waiting for the dough to rise:

600 g quark
200 g sour cream
2 eggs
1 - 1,5 dl sugar
peel of 1 lemon, grated
1,5 dl raisins

Spread the dough on the baking plate and pour the filling on top of it.

Keep it in 200 C oven for about 25 to 35 minutes.

Let it cool down properly before eating. That's the hardest part.