29
Sep

All Finnished

By: muttler
ah, large creepy peeing boy. how i'll miss you.

ah, large creepy peeing boy. how i’ll miss you.

Ha, see what I did there in the title?

Anyway, this is probably my last post from these travels. In about 8 hours I will be on a plane heading homeward (via Hong Kong… better make sure I have my yellow umbrella handy) so I can’t imagine much else exciting will happen here in Finland in that time.

I spent my last free day relaxing and packing. The only plan was to meet my colleague Lauri in the city for dinner, apparently at an old school traditional Finnish restaurant, so late arvo I hopped a bus and made my way in. I had a little time to casually wander, and the city seemed a little more lively than usual for a Sunday. Not sure why. Again, it was a nice day, so people were out and about. I couldn’t resist snapping a last picture of the harbour, complete with giant urinating boy again.

i wonder what country influenced this?

i wonder what country influenced this?

I also snapped a pic of the Uspenski Cathedral as I wandered by. It was clear to see the Russian heritage in it just from the outside.

It was time for dinner so met Lauri at Restaurant Savotta. On entering it was clearly designed to be old school, being very much log cabin influenced. Browsing the menu I knew I would be in for a treat. I had some advice from Lauri as to what to order that I would be unlikely to get anywhere else. Having already sampled quite a bit of local food, we went for the elaborate shared starters, and I went the Vendace for my main.

mmm... random finnish food

mmm… random finnish food

The starter was amazing. It was a sample of about 10 different things that we shared. In amongst it were local delights including cranberry soaked salmon, a white fish I can’t recall which, reindeer in a few forms, wild mushrooms, goats cheese, and other delicious things that I should have written down. My favourite was the reindeer salami and the mushrooms. Superb! Apologies for the crappy iPhone 4 picture.

tasty vendace

tasty vendace

That was tasty as was the local beer that washed it down. Then it was on to the main. Vendace is a small whitefish found in lakes in Northern Europe. I had actually had a small sample at the market in Helsinki not long after I arrived, but this was a big plate full of the little guys. They were crumbed and deep fried and were nice and tasty. I needed the cucumber (and something) dressing to dilute the fried taste a bit, but I love eating a fish where you aren’t worried about bones… you just pop those suckers in whole. They were good, but by the end I think I had had my fill since it was a big pile.

With that and a glass of wine, I was super full so dessert wasn’t happening. Lauri gave me a going away present, a cool book on Finland, which was a lovely gesture. It has been a great experience to be working alongside other researchers internationally for such a long period of time. Hopefully it is not too long before I bump into them all again (cross your fingers, maybe at a conference next year!).

Now to head home. You may get a final update depending on my adventures in Hong Kong on the way home!

28
Sep

Exploring Medieval Finland

By: muttler
sunny days in turku

sunny days in turku

Sadly, this is a report from my last few days in Finland. It will be great to head home after being away for so long, but who knows when I will be back to Finland again?

My Saturday started a little differently to normal. Watching AFL! The local Eurosport TV channel showed the game live, so my day started lounging about the apartment, enjoying the footy. Well, not so much enjoying. I didn’t care who won, but I would have liked a close game. Instead, what I watched was (sadly) one of the most amazing team performances I think I have ever seen. For a game against who I thought was the best team of the year, Hawthorn just did a clinical demolition job. A begrudging well done to the Hawks.

As the game wound up, I wandered to the bus stop for a day out and about. Not Helsinki, but the old capital of Finland. I was bound for the medieval city of Turku in the south west. About an hour and half on the bus later, and I was in a new city.

Turku proved to be quite a nice city to wander, on yet another sunny (but pretty chilly) Finnish day. In the last week the weather had started to stay in single digits, but the sun was out, so it was still great to be out in it. Turku is based mostly around the Aura river, where it is located right at the mouth of. The river then flows through the city, with the main hub being the cafes all along.

turku cathedral

turku cathedral

On the way to the city centre, I passed the Turku Cathedral. It was quite a nice one actually, being pretty statuesque but not overwhelming, and was quite nice inside as well, being a nice mix of old religious motif but still quite modest.

under the dome

under the dome

One of the domes was really nicely painted, and there were some nice paintings about.

dramatic pipes

dramatic pipes

The most imposing element was the dramatic organ at the back of the cathedral. They were some serious pipes that would be pretty cool to hear.

wandering along the river

wandering along the river

I then ventured back outside and began meandering along the river. It was about 4km to walk along from the cathedral to the end, and I expected to see lots of people being out and about, given the nice weather. But in fact, there seemed to be very few folk out, and even less tourists. Like I have experienced a bit over the past few weeks, it seems tourist season is well and truly over. While it was nice for it to be quiet, I imagine it would have been much more fun if it was lively.

oh dear... a floating aussie bar

oh dear… a floating aussie bar

I wonder if this place gets a lot of action on a weekend? But seriously? Aussie bars everywhere, even in Turku?! Maybe I should have been watching the footy here this morning.

just floating along

just floating along

There were a number of nice bridges along the way. I was quite enamoured with the flotilla of large ducks. Very cool. As you can probably expect, I also sniffed out a local record store where I picked myself up a cool silver coloured Wilco 7″ that I didn’t have. Wilco in Turku. Of course.

the sun is bright in turku

the sun is bright in turku

As I made my way along, there were lots of statues and art works along the path. Some freaky, some a bit more normal. I liked these two dudes, the one on the right who clearly had troubles with the sun in his eyes.

sunny days

sunny days

I was then getting close to the end of the river (or start depending on how you look at it). This nice flower greeted me as I arrived and added to the sunny disposition of the day. Seemed like a good place to stop at a cafe for a rest.

turku castle

turku castle

From there I made my way to Turku Castle. It was built over quite a period of time, starting in the 1200’s, and had a fair amount of history inside the walls. Over that time it was Swedish, Russian, and finally Finnish (and bouncing between them over those years too).

turku castle resident

turku castle resident

The castle interior was split into a number of sections. The main two were the primary keep, where outside of some important restoration, it was left fairly much intact. It was actually pretty cool to wander through. Not like many of the more impressive castles around Europe, but it was a well preserved and displayed castle museum. I even found this feathered little guy just hanging out. He just seemed to stay standing there strangely.

castle tapestry

castle tapestry

The second part was the Renaissance Bailey, and it was much more of a different vibe. it was much more like a museum, with the focus on displays and preserving what rooms would have looked like over the centuries. It was quite nice to have two quite different experiences within the same castle complex. The rooms ranged from large banquet halls with tapestries, to smaller sitting rooms, still decked out in the furniture they would have had.

two museums in one

two museums in one

The castle soaked up a good couple of hours, and alas, I didn’t really have that much time in Turku, so it was time to wander back toward the bus station. On the way I visited the other main museum, the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova museum. This was quite an odd one. The Ars Nova museum building was commenced only 20 years ago, intending to be an art gallery. But during building works, they discovered some preserved remains of the old city that used to exist in Turku. So what began as one museum, became two.

walking amongst the old city

walking amongst the old city

The Aboa Vetus is a museum dedicated to showing parts of the uncovered underground city. While it is a lot of crumbled walls and brick, it is still fascinating. You descend down into a main room where you walk amongst the remains and have a number of exhibits detailing life during that time. Pretty cool for a museum that they didn’t know would exist only 20 years ago.

ancient arcade

ancient arcade

I was a bit confused that they had arcade machines back in the 1200’s, but who knew hey?

The Ars Nova gallery is more of a traditional art space. One section is dedicated to changing exhibitions, while the other space seemed to have some more permanent works. The current exhibition was the work of a contemporary art couple, being mainly found objects. Not my cup of tea really.

a dali little mermaid

a dali little mermaid

The other space however had a good collection of Spanish artists, including some Picasso and Dali which is always nice. Lesser known works, but still cool. I really liked the Dali lithographs of work designed to accompany some Hans Christian Andersen. I hadn’t seen those before so that was a score.

a big blue rock

a big blue rock

The one real oddity was this nice big blue rock. Yep, it’s a rock. Apparently an artist exhibited at the gallery in the past, which was comprised lots of rocks painted in the classic Yves Klein blue. This one was donated to the gallery and left in this bathroom, so there it stays. Hhhmmm.

farewell turku

farewell turku

Alas, my time had fast disappeared and it was back to the bus station. I got one last selfie with the Turku Cathedral, and with that jumped on a bus and whisked back to Espoo and my waiting apartment (and my packing).

28
Sep

Last Week at Aalto

By: muttler
ah, how i will miss you finnish tv

ah, how i will miss you finnish tv

Believe it or not, my month at Aalto was coming to an end, with my last week in the office. My week at work was another productive one. I made some good headway into data analysis and writing with Paivi and we are getting a good project steaming along, which is a good outcome to be leaving with.

Another great link up here at Aalto has been chatting with Perttu Hämäläinen, a professor in Computer Games. He is a fairly recent addition to Aalto, but in just a couple of years he has really set up both a great teaching and research community here. I got to chat a lot about teaching philosophy for games students, and also see his research.

about to play some computer games

about to play some computer games

What you see here is a very cool set up. Yep, it’s a trampoline. Using Kinect and other sensor technology, he and his team have built up a fun physical environment, with a trampoline and rock climbing wall being the centre. The sensors are then used to monitor participants and insert them into a virtual game world.

virtual trampolining

virtual trampolining

The trampoline was a fun one that I had a go of. You need to jump up platforms that get increasingly difficult. The aim is to teach key movements and see if it helps. Me, I just found it super fun and exhausting! Perttu also linked me up with another researcher, so plenty of good things coming from the trip! I will be super busy when I get back making sure it all continues.

Oh, and the picture at the top? While I typically watch either BBC World News or Eurosport (where they have been playing T20 and AFL this week!) I do like to channel surf and find oddball Finnish shows. In this one I truly have NO IDEA what is happening 🙂

21
Sep

Football, Munch and Some Strange Kids

By: muttler
say hi to my new friend

say hi to my new friend

Welcome to week 3 here in Finland!

It has been another productive week researching. I have made some good headway into some projects and in particular my work with my colleagues here at Aalto is coming together. So all in all I’m being super productive!

Anyway, you’re not interested in work. What have I been up to?

When I arrived I looked into the local football schedule to see if getting to see some Finnish Premier League was an option. As it turned out I had a couple of options actually… the try and see the main Helsinki team (who are the dominant force in Finnish football), or to support my temporary home, and see Espoo’s team, FC Honka. As it turned out, I had a chance to see Honka at the local stadium mid-week, so I was now an official FC Honka supporter.

As it turns out FC Honka (honka being Finnish for “pine) are struggling this year and trying to avoid relegation, so I felt good going to support them. I wasn’t sure exactly how the football support would be here, although I expected a good crowd given it is the main sport here. When I got to the “stadium” (see how it is in quote marks now), I was a little surprised. What I found was a local football pitch with a couple of small stands, to hold a few thousand people. I felt I was back seeing the Morwell Falcons!

finnish warm up

finnish warm up

I arrived about 20 minutes before the game and all was quiet. I got to watch my newly adopted team go through their warm up. Seems they have some interesting warm up exercises here.

the fc honka massive

the fc honka massive

I was worried it was going to be a tiny crowd, but by kick off one stand was pretty full, while the other (to be fair looking directly into the sun) had a smattering of people. It also housed the FC Honka die hard supporters (all 50 of them) and they were in fine voice throughout the whole game. They were super passionate which was great. it also seemed as though football songs transcend global barriers, as although I couldn’t understand them, the tunes were very familiar.

honka about to put the ball in the back of the net

honka about to put the ball in the back of the net

So how was the quality of the game? It was so-so. I think most A-League teams would do pretty well against both teams (Honka were up against another mid-table team in MYPA). Well except for Sydney FC he he he. I guess it also explained why the Helsinki team is the one making it into the Champions League pretty much every year.

victors!

victors!

But it was an entertaining game nonetheless. In a must-win game, Honka got the job done, coming out 2-0 victors. The result didn’t seem in doubt at all after the first 5 minutes, with Honka controlling the game. Really they should have gone home winning by a couple more goals. But it got them off the bottom. I was very happy to have done my part 🙂

The rest of the week was pretty quiet. With no James to keep me entertained on the weekend, my work colleagues stepped up which was nice.

Saturday was another day in Helsinki, but this time I was meeting up with my main research colleague Paivi, who was going to take me to the modern art museum and for some lunch. I was up fairly early, so rather than bus it in to the city I decided to walk the lazy 9km in. What?!? Well, 9km is not that far, and much of the walk was quite nice, hopping across islands to get to the city centre. In fact the walk took no time at all and it felt great to stretch the legs out.

I met Paivi and we visited the Amos Anderson museum, which is the main modern art gallery in Helsinki. Paivi knew of an interesting exhibition at the gallery, work by Finnish artist Tommi Toija that seemed pretty interesting.

creepy!

creepy!

When we went in, his work looked instantly familiar… he was the artist behind the huge peeing boy at the main harbour. It looked familiar because the exhibition consisted mainly of dozens of smaller statues of figures much in the same vein as the one on the harbour. But even creepier if that was possible.

not looking too impressed

not looking too impressed

But I gotta say they were fascinating. We could walk amongst them and get nice and close. Most looked either sad or scared as they congregated in the exhibition space. It was fun to examine them all, finding the ones that stood out because of some funny look on their face.

this guy had a bit of a bird problem

this guy had a bit of a bird problem

There was also another room of smaller figures that were displayed on their own pedestals. Most were too small to be part of the larger group, and only one seemed to have a bit more going on, one clearly inspired by Hitchcock.

We also explored the rest of the museum, which was actually quite a good collection. It was predominantly the private collection of Amos Anderson, who asked that his house (that we were in) be turned into a museum on his passing. The top floor were rooms left as they originally were, including a chapel with some odd religious art and a mini pipe organ. Sadly pictures weren’t allowed in the rest of the gallery.

A couple of hours zipped by, so it was time for a coffee and cake. We went to a nearby cafe where I had my first great coffee in a while. Given the Finns drink so much coffee, finding a great one had proven a bit difficult. But I got to savour a pretty decent latte.

It was then time to bit adieu to Paivi, and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and exploring some shops, even finding a good record store. I decided not to walk back the apartment, rather jumped on the bus and enjoying a quiet night.

Sunday I was graciously invited to my colleagues Lauri and Kertu’s house to join them for dinner, so I had the day to chill and relax. Rather than stay in the apartment all day, I decide to head to the Edvard Munch exhibition at the nearby Didrichsen Art Museum.

catching up with a visiting norwegian

catching up with a visiting norwegian

The Didrichsen is a private gallery, normally filled with the private collection of Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen, however it has been closed for the past few months, and has reopened with a small exhibition dedicated to Edvard Munch.

Called “The Dance of Life” it was comprised of works from a number of galleries, including the Munch Museum in Oslo. After getting through some VERY strict security, I got to explore the work.

It was a very modest exhibition, made up of less known works. The centre piece was a large work entitled The Dance of Life, of which I had seen another version, either in Oslo or at the Munch exhibition that the NGV held in Melbourne a few years ago. Most importantly, they also had a version of one of my favourite Munch paintings (if not my favourite) controversially titled “Vampire”. Apparently he did 4 version of this, and this is at least the 2nd, if not the 3rd, different version I have now seen. It is quite a haunting work, and I say controversially titled Vampire, as Munch himself apparently titled it “Love and Pain” which is exactly what I see when I look at it, not a vampire at all. But to each their own.

a print of the one everyone knows

a print of the one everyone knows

With upstairs consisting of about 25 paintings, downstairs was mostly lithographs and other prints. They seemed to be less worried about people taking photos downstairs so I snuck a couple, one of the obligatory Scream, and another of a print of another of my favourite Munch paintings, “Madonna”.

madonna

madonna

In no time I was through the exhibition. Small, but worth a visit on a cloudy Sunday morning.

the creepiest thing in this whole creepy blog post

the creepiest thing in this whole creepy blog post

There was little else to see in the gallery. There was a cool/dodgy, “morph your face into the Scream” type installation that only seemed to half work. But just in case you ever wondered, I guess this is what I would look like. Freaky huh?

The rest of Sunday proved quiet, with a bit more walking and relaxing, until it was time to visit Lauri and Kertu. As I expected, they were amazing hosts, treating me with a delicious dinner. It was nice to spend the Sunday evening, chilling out with them and enjoying the great Finnish hospitality.

Now, time for bed and my last week in Finland…

16
Sep

Beery Good Times in Estonia

By: muttler
greetings from tallinn!

greetings from tallinn!

All Australians, whenever they go to Europe, lament at the ease of which our counterparts can freely visit new and different countries. We always think “man, if I lived here, I could just go anywhere for the weekend!”. The beauty about Helsinki, is there is somewhere cool you can easily visit just for the day, no airports required.

all aboard!

all aboard!

For our Sunday, I had planned to visit another country for the day with James. Tallinn in Estonia is just a 2 hour ferry ride away, so why not jump aboard and check another country off the list! That wasn’t the only reason to go however, by all accounts Tallinn was quite a cool city with a gorgeous old town. So with our tickets already acquired yesterday, we jumped on an early bus, back into Helsinki, to hop aboard our Eckeroline ferry to Tallinn.

yeah, it was pretty cold

yeah, it was pretty cold

The ferry was actually fairly quiet. I had heard stories of them being chock full of Finns ready to booze it up, however the way over seemed to be mostly families heading for a day out in Tallinn. It was too early to booze it up anyway, being only 9am, so we just found a comfy seat and relaxed on our way over, with a little bit of exploring of the boat to fill in time.

At about 11am we arrived in Tallinn, and made the short walk from the ferry terminal to the old town. On the way through the terminal, we had our passports out, ready to enter a new country. But even though we were advised we would need them, we simply walked through, not bothered by anyone, as we formally entered Estonia. Ah, to freely travel about Europe!

not a real hot air balloon...

not a real hot air balloon…

As we arrived on the ferry we thought we could see a hot air balloon rising above Tallinn. When we arrived on shore, it seemed it was more of a tourist ride… a hot air balloon type thing that just went up and down. It did seem pretty cool though.

heading into old town

heading into old town

In no time at all we were entering the gates of the Tallinn old town. It was quite a nice contract to go from city streets, to cobbled old roads with no traffic. I got the sense it was going to be quite cool to explore.

the start of MANY old buildings

the start of MANY old buildings

At this entrance, we were greeted by an old building that had now been transformed into the Estonian Maritime Museum. While the maritime part was not that big a drawcard, for the sake of 5 euro we thought we would head in to have a look and be able to see across the old town from the roof.

old school deep sea diving

old school deep sea diving

The museum was OK. It was packed full of random maritime things, however most details were in a few languages EXCLUDING English. So while we could look, we couldn’t follow everything. We could work out though that this guy was cool and a good photo op.

We also found out a bit about a local fish called Sprat (a herring like fish) that is apparently seasoned and tinned here in Tallinn (or so we could work out). They even had someone making small bits of bread and sprat for folks to try. And it was pretty tasty!

rooftop views

rooftop views

We made our way to the rooftop cafe. It was a bit early for a beer, so we just soaked up the views for a bit before moving on.

cool old buildings

cool old buildings

There really wasn’t a plan of any description. We were armed with a map of the city, but elected to wander. It seemed all roads led to the main town square. On our way we got to see a bunch of cool buildings in the old town. It certainly was quite a different way to spend the day than Helsinki. It seemed there was a cool building or church around every corner.

finding the town square

finding the town square

The town square was surrounded by cafes and bars like old town squares around the world. And they were all the more touristy (and expensive) of the ones that we passed on our travels. But it is all relative, with expensive on the town square still being much cheaper than anything in Helsinki. So we found one where we could grab a drink and bite to eat and chill for a bit.

mmm... russian dumplings

mmm… russian dumplings

This was a Russian restaurant, with an all Russian menu. We just went for some dumplings and beer to tide us over for the moment. We were just content to have a brew in our hand and soak up this new city.

the grand budapest!

the grand budapest!

Given we only had the day, we started wandering again. On the outskirts of the old town, we came across a government building. And if it didn’t remind me of the Grand Budapest Hotel! The pink colour and even the styling made it immediately come to mind. I didn’t see M. Gustav or Zero anywhere though.

cool russian church

cool russian church

Across from it was cool Russian style church. It was easily the most interesting one we saw all day, with the inside being quite ornate and decorated. Sadly no photos allowed sorry folks!

just near the finish line

just near the finish line

The rest of the day was continued wandering about town. It seemed it was the day of the Tallinn marathon as we encountered lots of runners and the crowded finish line. If only we knew we could have busted out a lazy half marathon or something! Well, probably not. But at least we have the convenient excuse of not knowing about it. Bummer!

home of the delicious ox sausages... mmm...

home of the delicious ox sausages… mmm…

Back at the main square we noticed the main town hall building actually housed a small restaurant. It seemed it specialised in cheap, local meals, with the 2 euro elk soup sign grabbing our attention. How could we resist! I opted to go a pint of their local brew (in a ceramic mug of course) and some ox sausages and pickles. And boy were the sausages tasty! Super delicious and made us sad we didn’t find the place earlier so we could try everything on the limited, but tasty looking, menu.

how could we not have a drink here!

how could we not have a drink here!

With some more sustenance, we kept walking and by late afternoon felt we had explored a lot of what Tallinn had to offer (which was a lot of charm). In our slow meandering back to the ferry terminal, we passed an intriguing looking bar, the Hell Hunt. With a name like that we had to visit!

james-o give is the thumbs up

james-o give is the thumbs up

What we found was a pretty cool place with their own brew on tap. In the end we tried four of their own beers, which were all pretty tasty. I could get used to this place!

With the beer in our belly, and a ferry to catch, we made out way back to the ferry. The trip home was much more as expected… full of Finns coming back with slabs and slabs of beer. in fact it seemed that most had a similar mode of carriage, with a small fold up trolley carrying their many slabs of booze. I have had no idea what the alcohol limit was, but it seemed like it was a lot. I counted one guy with 10 slabs of beer (let along whatever spirits he had in his bag).

The arrival back in Helsinki was just like Tallinn… no passport control. So it was quickly through and on a bus back to the apartment. A long day but an awesome one of exploring new countries… and their beers 🙂

16
Sep

James-o!

By: muttler
cool graves on suomenlinna

cool graves on suomenlinna

Hi everyone! Since this was an action-packed weekend, I will cover it in two posts unlike last week.

So as you may have worked out from one of my previous posts and the title, I welcomed a visitor to keep me company for a few days. James-o! Yep, James from back home was on the tail end of a Scandinavian holiday, and luckily for me decided to swing by Helsinki for a few days. Excitement!

He arrived late on Friday night, and so we really only did a bit of sitting around, catching up, before calling it a night. We had a bit planned for the weekend, so decided to hit the hay around the 1am mark.

The plan for Saturday, after a slow morning, was to introduce James to Helsinki and for us to explore some places I hadn’t been to. So late morning we jumped on the bus and made our way into the city centre. Our first stop was to pick up some tickets we needed for the next day (you can read about that in the next entry), and then meander through the city toward the main harbour.

dubious buskers

dubious buskers

We stopped by Stockmann to pick up some goodies for lunch and made our way to the harbour to the ferry terminal for our main destination. On our way we saw two fairly dodgy looking street performers. Darth Vader in particular was looking quite sad and portly, and they weren’t doing much but standing there as everyone ignored them. Time to get a better act guys!

welcome to suomenlinna

welcome to suomenlinna

So James and I arrived at the Market Square ferry terminal. Our destination was Suomenlinna, a group of four islands about 15 minutes from the main ferry terminal. These islands are known as the fortress islands, for the obvious reason that in the 1700’s a series of fortresses were built, supposedly to protect Helsinki from a potential Russian invasion. Well, they were right about one thing… the Russian’s did come in the early 1800’s, but the fortress didn’t really do much to stop it happening. So they then became part of the Russian empire.

entering the fortress

entering the fortress

Suomenlinna is now a Unesco World Heritage site, with many of the buildings still in tact and the islands dotted with canons. After about 15 minutes on the ferry, making our way past many of the small islands that surround Helsinki, we arrived at the main island. It was all then about wandering about, seeing the remaining fortress buildings and walls, and popping into the myriad cafes and shops (about 800 people live on the islands). So we wandered through the pink archway and started exploring.

a different kind of viking longboat

a different kind of viking longboat

It was quite lovely to wander, with many people out and about enjoying yet another amazing Helsinki day. We came across a cool memorial, complete with Nordic helmet and longboat.

riding the cannon

riding the cannon

As mentioned, the island is dotted with lots of cannons on the site, of all shapes and sizes. This one I couldn’t resist having some fun with.

maybe they were pointing the wrong way last time

maybe they were pointing the wrong way last time

It was great to wander, as the coast was glorious. It was kinda funny to see all the canons pointing out to a sea they clearly couldn’t defend.

climbing the fortress walls

climbing the fortress walls

There was also much of the fortress wall still surrounding the islands too. We were free to explore and clamber much of it, which was a bit surprising for a Unesco site. But it seemed that it was ll still in really good nick, so clearly they weren’t too worried about any damage.

more princely than kingly

more princely than kingly

At the opposite end from the main ferry terminal was the King’s Gate, a fairly modest entrance to the fortress furthest from Helsinki. There was also a small ferry terminal there, although not being summer, it wasn’t in use. Seems that outside of summer most of Helsinki slows down, even the tourist parts.

cheers!

cheers!

On our way back to the ferry, we couldn’t resist a beer. It was nice to sit in the sun (albeit a touch chilly) and enjoy a couple of Saku’s, which I assumed would be the first of many over the weekend.

senate square

senate square

So it was getting toward the end of the afternoon by the time we made our way back to the city centre. When we arrived we explored Helsinki some more, visiting Senate Square, home of the Government Palace, a pretty impressive building.

alexander ii just hanging out

alexander ii just hanging out

Standing out front was Emperor Alexander II. On this afternoon he seemed to be attracting more pigeons than tourists.

crazy lego!

crazy lego!

Helsinki, as I think I’ve mentioned, is the design capital of a very design-oriented area of the world. While we made our way back to the bus station, we came across an exhibition of sorts in a random shop. How did we notice it? Well, one of art pieces was a couple of very elaborate automated Lego creations. When you see some crazy lego in a window of course you have to go in and look!

thankfully i didn't encounter any nervous bears

thankfully i didn’t encounter any nervous bears

In the shopping centre that housed the exhibition, it seemed they have a bathroom clientele that was not just male and female, but bear as well. bears that really struggle to hold it in by the looks of it.

scrabble with finnish letters is dang hard!

scrabble with finnish letters is dang hard!

Rather than head straight back to my apartment, we decided to find a pub to enjoy another Finnish beer. We found one that had a nice array of board games, so decided to get a bit of Scrabble action. Neither of us noticed until we started that we may be up for a slightly different game, with the letters being tailored to the Finnish language. Made sense! That didn’t stop us, as we made our own rules and tried to play. The array of letters made it quite difficult to buts out great words, but we had a successful game nonetheless.

the victor!

the victor!

James was the quite convincing winner, however with a day of wandering in the glorious Scandinavian sun, with some Finnish beers under my belt, I was too worried. In fact, I was feeling pretty great.

 

16
Sep

A Brief, Nutty, Interlude

By: muttler
no idea what is going on

no idea what is going on

Proper updates coming, but as I put the TV on the other day after work I came across this children’s show. Kids shows can be crazy at the best of times, but when they’re in Finnish, they can be completely nuts! Out of shot is the fact they are both wearing shorts and have very human legs.

More updates very shortly!

 

07
Sep

Week One in Finland

By: muttler
what have i just seen?!

what have i just seen?!

Hei everyone!

Sorry I haven’t posted in a bit, but as I mentioned it is back to work now, and so while I am having fun, it is fun that is probably not as exciting to read about for you all (research papers! seminars! grant applications!), so I haven’t felt compelled to share. But since a week has passed now, and I have got up to a few things, it is time to fill you in.

this is where i am!

this is where i am!

I arrived in Helsinki a bit over a week ago, just in time to meet some of my new work colleagues before the weekend. I am based at Aalto University, which is about 20 minutes outside central Helsinki, in the suburb/city of Espoo. So close enough to Helsinki central for regular visits, but just out to be amongst some lovely scenery. I was greeted by my host Lauri and colleague Paivi on my arrival to the university. Lauri spent some time at Monash a couple of years ago, and we had crossed paths a couple of times since, so it was great to see him again, as well as Paivi who I had started some work with already in Sweden, and they immediately began making me feel at home… helping me check into my apartment at the uni and taking me out for dinner. It was a nice comforting way to kick off my Finnish month.

melting heads around espoo

melting heads around espoo

That weekend was spent doing… well not much actually. Even though I was in a new country, priority was pretty much resting after the craziness of the Turkey trip, and catching up on things like laundry and email (yes, both can be chores). I thought about heading into Helsinki, but after some sleeping in and just relaxing, I decided against it. Rather I did some wandering around Espoo, to see what as nearby. It seems that Sundays are very quiet, with very little open. But I did find some shops and even the odd melting head statue in my travels.

The week was spent focusing on work. I made an effort to try and get immersed back into the work, since I felt quite a bit had drifted by. I had to get back up to speed with my myriad projects that were on the go, and work out what work emails really had to be dealt with (not many!). While the holidays were amazing, it was good to get my head back into work things. So I spent my time working out at what stage I was at in about half a dozen different research papers I am writing, as well as a couple of grants, and some data visualisation. My list of projects and things to do is quite big, and that is without any new Aalto popping up, so I thought it best to get cracking!

my local walking track

my local walking track

My evenings were all pretty low key. I spent most going for a walk after work, to see what I could find about the campus and in the surrounds. Aalto Uni is located by the sea and so there are plenty of costal walking tracks. Not costal in the beach sense, but nice walking paths through the plentiful forest. So each night I would find a different path, or even start wandering to some of the nearby islands. On my travels I found a gallery that has an Edvard Munch exhibition opening in a week. Score!

In no time at all a working week had passed, so I had the weekend to enjoy and get to exploring proper. Lauri, hearing that I was doing quite a bit of walking after work, graciously planned a Saturday walk/hike in a nearby National Park. Given the weather was doing so well for the changing season (low 20’s and plenty of sunshine) it sounded like a great idea. So with a bus, then a train, then another bus, we were soon at Nuukiso National Park.

Nuuksio National Park

Nuuksio National Park

It seems Finland is blessed with many national parks, some of which are easily accessible from the city. Speaking with Lauri there is also a national culture of spending time in these parks, since they are all free for people to visit at anytime, and to camp virtually wherever they like. As such, on such a glorious Saturday, there were many people, especially families and teens, out hiking.

beautiful lakes

beautiful lakes

We started at the end of the bus line, quite a ways into the national park, and then spent the next few hours hiking about the trails and lakes within. The trails were great, wandering through birch trees, and surrounded by lakes.

mmm... deadly

mmm… deadly

 

this guy is no good to eat either

this guy is no good to eat either

 

or this one...

or this one…

 

or this one!

or this one!

One of the popular things for many out in the park was going mushroom hunting. Hopefully they were all well trained, as many were deadly poisonous, and I certainly wouldn’t trust myself, since most the pretty ones will kill you in no time at all! I couldn’t help snapping pics of some of the mushrooms I found.

In the end we covered about 12km which I was pretty happy with! Most was easy, but there was the odd steep stretch, so I felt like I had a fair workout and certainly slept well!

Today (Sunday) I decided to explore Helsinki for the first time. It seemed from some reading that Sunday is not the best day since much is actually closed (shopping wise), but as the museums were open, I thought it was another good way to spend a sunny autumn day.

is this an ark?

is this an ark?

When I got into town and out of the bus station I was greeted with this large, odd, wooden building. Turned out it was a non-denominational place of worship, designed to be a quiet refuge from the city. Nice! That was my first taste of the design culture that seems to permeate Helsinki.

the central station clock tower

the central station clock tower

On my wandering I came across the central train station. It seemed to be a grand building, but unfortunately much was behind scaffolding. The clock still towered over everything though.

ateneum gallery

ateneum gallery

The main reason for going in to Helsinki was to visit the final day of an exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, one celebrating the work of Tove Jansson. I did not know much of Tove, except that she is beloved by the whole country for the creation of her Moomin characters, my only entry point into her work. If not well known by Australians, I think a lot us would recognise her white, puffy Moomin characters from somewhere.

that's a big queue!

that’s a big queue!

On some advice, I arrived the the gallery early, but not early enough it seemed. About 15 minutes before opening I was way back in a queue of last minute exhibition goers. But the line moved reasonably quickly, and I was in the exhibition. Rather than focus just on her children’s book characters, she was also a very accomplished painter, something which, while known to Finnish people, had not been widely seen. So it seemed it was a delight for many to see this work. The exhibition was quite large and all encompassing, and was very cool to see. It was fascinating to see the juxtaposition of serious works, with political WW2 commentary, with children’s characters, and was well worth the visit.

statues in the park

statues in the park

I didn’t have any other definite plans of things to do. It was a day of exploring and getting to know Helsinki, given I have quite a few opportunities to explore. So I decided to head down toward Esplandi Park, and the surrounding shopping streets. This was quite pleasant, with the street cafes and high end stores. It had a bit of a Champs Elysees feel about it, although much less crowded and quite a bit shorter (and lacking an Arc de Triomphe and Louvre obviously).

This led me to the waterfront, where ferries to all kinds of places were docked. There I found the Kauppatori markets, filled with local handicrafts and food geared towards tourists. As a result everything was super expensive. Finland is expensive to start but the prices of the gifts were a bit prohibitive to going crazy. In the end I gave gift buying a miss for the time being, knowing I would be exploring much more over the coming month.

a big pan of reindeer

a big pan of reindeer

I did take some time out for some lunch though. Now you are all probably looking at the pic above and saying “what on earth did you eat Matt?!?!?”. It’s not that wacky actually. What you see is a collection of Reindeer meat and meatballs. As mentioned, a lot of the eating seemed geared to tourists, so reindeer was on all the menus, along with fish. I had eaten reindeer before, but when in Helsinki hey? So I had a plate of reindeer meatballs that were OK, if not spectacular.

the ferris wheel was not too impressive

the ferris wheel was not too impressive

While down on the water I found a few other things of interest. One was a small “Helsinki Eye” type ferris wheel, that I wasn’t sold on going on. Didn’t seem that big! And then there was…

this was though!

this was though!

This was a bit more interesting! A rather cheeky public art work. I think the title says it all…

a very apt title

a very apt title

I’m not sure what’s up with Europeans, but they sure like their peeing boy statues. I gotta admit though, this was pretty funny. All the kids seemed to love it.

what city am i in?

what city am i in?

By this time I was forming some initial impressions of Helsinki. It is an odd one in many respects. In some regards it is a very European city, with lots of cafes and people out enjoying the sun. But then it is also a bit sleepy. Even though it was a Sunday, I expected a bit more to be happening, but instead it was a bit quiet, with many shops outside the immediate centre closed, and the amount of people wandering not particularly huge. It did have a Melbourne feel though, with the seeming cafe culture as well as the strong focus on design and art culture. Also the amount of hipsters I saw might have added to that. As well as the very Melbourne colour scheme of the trams. Surely that can’t be a coincidence!

It was later in the afternoon by this time, and I was debating about what to do. It was a bit late to jump on a ferry to another island, so I just wandered some more and on my travels came across a movie theatre, which was just what my tired legs thought was a good find. They actually had a move I was keen to see playing in not too much time, Sin City 2, so I decided to just relax for a couple of hours and take in a film. Sadly, the film was OK if nothing great, but that was alright, as after a couple of days of a lot of exploring and walking, I was happy to chill out for a bit.

tasty pastry

tasty pastry

When that was done it was getting late in the day so time to jump on a bus back to the university. I wandered by Stockmann on my way to the bus station, which is a large department store. These stores are always good for food halls and this was no exception. not being too hungry I just got some bakery goods, one of which are these yummy Finnish pastry/pie like things, that are a rye bread with a rice filling. Mmmm…. tasty.

And with that it was on to a bus and back to the apartment, which brings me to now! Time enough to do a blog before bedtime and the working week. Probably won’t update for another week, but I am super excited for the coming weekend as I should have a visitor! Woo!