Islands on Helsinki archipelago: Isosaari

Suomenlinna Fortress must be one of the most well known islands on Helsinki archipelago. However, during the past couple of years some of the islands that used to belong to Finnish Army have been opened to the public. Anna wrote about Lonna last year and this summer we got yet another interesting island to visit when Isosaari island was opened.

Isosaari island situated about 4 kilometers from Helsinki center and it takes about 30-40 minutes to get there on a boat. The boat costs 15 € and it leaves from Helsinki Market Square (or Kauppatori) next to Suomenlinna fortress ferries. During the summer (until 14 August) you can get there from Tuesday to Sunday and until 3 September during the weekend on Saturdays and Sundays. Mondays are reserved for golfers so if you are into the game I recommend trying out the peculiar 9 hole golf course that’s built on Isosaari.

Like I mentioned, Isosaari (or Mjölö in Swedish) used to be a military island and some of my friends have actually served their military service (or at least some part of it) on the island. There are still marks of that era such as an old shooting range and barracks. The old Officer’s Club has been re-opened serving light snacks, hamburgers, fish soup and beverages for visitors.

isosaari_restaurant

On a warm day you can also bring your own picnic basket or spend the day on the beach swimming. or even spend the night in your own tent on the camping area. There’s also a couple of saunas you can rent out for a larger group or just enjoy the public sauna that’s warm from 10 AM to 6 PM every day (during summer season). Just be prepared that it’s a public sauna for both men and women.

However, my favorite thing about this island is the beautiful nature and tranquility on the island. Even though it’s situated quite close to Helsinki mainland, the island is very quiet and peaceful. I think Isosaari is worth the day-trip: a bit of nature during the day and then heading back to the center for a nice glass of wine at Kauppatori at Allas Sea Pool for example.

-Marjo

Picking wild berries and mushrooms around Helsinki area

One of my favourite things in August is probably harvest season. Lots of fresh veggies in stores, local fruits (mostly apples) and of course wild berries and mushrooms. My parents just got back from Lapland and brought back a buckets and buckets full of cloudberries (called hilla or lakka in Finnish) which they had picked from swamp – and I absolutely love them!

Since we have this cool thing called everyman’s rights in Finland,  you’ve got the right to enjoy outdoor pursuits regardless of who owns or occupies an area anywhere in Finland. This means that you are allowed to gather wild berries and mushrooms from the forest free of charge and you do not need the landowner’s permission for it. However, there are still rules that apply so I’d recommend reading them before going to the forest for the first time. For example Environment.fi has them written down quite simply on their website.

Cloudberries are mostly found from Lapland (even though I have heard someone found them from Southern Finland, too), but blueberries grow everywhere in Finland and you can also find wild raspberries and sea buckthorns around Helsinki area. A bit later in the autumn (around September) you can pick lingonberries as well.

Berries are quite easy to recognize but with mushrooms I’d be more careful and only gather the ones you know for sure. I usually stick with chanterelles, funnel chanterelles, ceps and different sorts of boletes. Best way to get to know them is to go to the forest with someone who already knows how to recognize them.

Usually the season starts already in July when blueberries are ripe. However, this year has been a bit exceptional since the summer has been somewhat cold. Most of my friends usually go picking berries and mushrooms to their summer house but one option is to take the bus to Nuuksio national park (Eero wrote about camping in Nuuksio two summers ago, too). It will take a bit of time to get there on public transfer but it’s still doable. I would also recommend trying out Porkkalanniemi in Kirkkonummi to which I would recommend renting a car) or even taking a walk to Helsinki central park.

 

Helsinki City Bikes and new bike stations in 2017

Helsinki_City_Bikes_Hietalahti

After a long wait we finally got ourselves a new city bike system a year ago in May! Helsinki used to have an old city bike system  but it was closed in 2010 due to constant vandalism. In other words, the bikes got lost and broken all the time since there was no system to track down who actually was using the bike and where. Similar to shopping charts, you could just borrow the bikes from the bicycle stand with some coins.

Fortunately a year ago, the new and much improved Helsinki City Bike system started and a lot had changed in 6-7 years. The bikes were no longer green – greens seems to be reserved for trams in Helsinki public transport. Today the bikes are yellow and much stronger with little baskets in the front. The height of the saddle is easily adjustable and the bikes have automatic lights, too.

I used the city bikes the entire season last year (from May to the end of October) and last year I cycled about 90 kilometers. That’s not a huge amount of kilometers but considering that I was away for the entire July and all of my trips have been less than 30 minutes long (most of them under 1 kilometer, too) I think the bikes are my favorite and most used public transport method for the summer They served me extremely well in the city center where using other means of public transportation isn’t convenient. Biking saved up a bit of time and got me to work in less than 10 minutes – a walk that would normally take me about 15 minutes (but in the morning every minute matters…). For longer rides I still used my own bike but all my adhoc trips seemd to be all done by city bikes.

Helsinki public transport has pretty good instructions on how to register and use the bikes on their site but here they are in a nutshell:

 

Register: Choose the most convenient time for usage: 1 day (5 €), 1 week (10 €) or the entire season (25 €) which ends on 31 October. For the registration you need your credit card details.

Collect: After registration you will receive a cyclist ID and a pin code that you need for collecting the bike. All the bike stands are marked in Helsinki public transport’s map. There are also other services such as Kaupunkifillarit.fi that use open source data to show the availability of the bikes on each bike station.

Ride and Return: First 30 minutes is for free and after that you need to pay extra for each beginning 30 minutes. 5 hours is the maximum time you’re allowed to use a bike at a time (after that you’ll get a 80 € fine) so I would recommend returning the bike every now and then and picking up a new one if you want to save up some money.

Since the city bikes have been a huge success last summer, City of Helsinki decided to expand the bike network  much further from the city center, all the way to Lauttasaari, Etelä-Haaga and Käpylä. Starting from May 2 until October 31, there will be 140 bike stations and 1400 bikes available this summer, which sounds good to me!

 

 

 

Trip to Helsinki Bothanic Garden in Kaisaniemi

 

It seems to take quite a long time for spring to arrive to Helsinki this year  – even though the sun is shining, the temperature seems to be just a few degrees above zero. But since it was Easter just this week and to me Easter is a definite sign of spring, we decided to get a kick start for the season and visit Kaisaniemi Bothanic Garden.

The Bothanic Garden is a part of Finnish museum of natural history, Luomus of which I wrote about some time ago when thinking about what to do with kids on a rainy afternoon in Helsinki. Bothanic Garden is situated in Kaisaniemi so it’s a short walk or two tram stops from central railway station. Like most museums, it’s closed on Mondays but exceptionally they kept their doors open for Easter also on Monday. Tickets for adults cost 9 € for evergreen glasshouses but if you are a proud owner of a Museum Card you can access the garden for free. However, outside gardens are free to everyone all year round.

I haven’t really visited that many bothanic gardens outside of Helsinki so I can’t really compare much to other gardens – and to most people the plants in the garden are probably very common outside of Finland. However, I think it’s an excellent way for a quick getaway from a cold winter’s day and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about exotic plants. Some of them are also very popular houseplants in Finland (for example snake plants and saintpaulias).

One of the bothanic gardens attractions is their Waterlily Room’s  Santa Cruz waterlily which, according to the museum, has survived the bombings of World War II. They don’t usually survive our dark winter so the new plants rise again after March.

During the summer this is a nice area just to walk around the outside gardens or have a cup of coffee at next door cafe Viola. At least I added this to my to do -list for next summer!

-Marjo

Breakfast in Helsinki – Cargo coffee and vegetarian food

cargo_helsinki_vegan_breakfast_pancakes

For the past year I’ve walked by Cargo coffee every week but haven’t had the chance or a perfect time to actually visit the café. It’s been on our to-do list for a while but sometimes things that are too close (only a couple of blocks from our home) get forgotten. Today, however, we decided to actually do something about it and went for a Saturday morning breakfast at Cargo.

Cargo Coffee is situated just between Kamppi and Ruoholahti at Ruoholahdenranta. It’s built from sea containers and has a bit of an industrial look and feel from the outside combined with Scandinavian design inside. Tram no 9 stops right in front of the café (stop called Länsilinkki) but you will get quite close by also with tram no 6 or tram no 8. You could also continue a late breakfast at Cargo by walking next door to Clarion Hotel’s Sky Room for a drink or two to enjoy the view (opens at 3 PM on Saturdays).

cargo_coffee_helsinki-2

It came as a nice surprise that Cargo only serves vegetarian breakfast and food and there’s also vegan options on the menu. I decided to have a breakfast plate with yogurt, homemade granola and berry compote, hummus, salad avocado, bread and cheese, served with juice and coffee. The rest of the crew choose some vegan pancakes and hot chocolate and a parmigiano omelette. All were very happy with their choices. The omelette was excellent. And the pancakes with fruits &  got a convincing two thumbs up from a junior carnivore.

The breakfast is served from 7.30 to 11 on weekdays and from 10 to 3 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week Cargo also serves vegetarian lunch and in the evenings there’s a separate dinner menu. The open terrace upstairs draws quite a crowd in the summer afternoons and evenings. They do serve wine, after all.

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Traditional Finnish pastries: Runeberg torte

runeberg-torte-1Today we celebrate Runeberg day, commemorating the birth of our national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg (born 5 Feb, 1804). He’s the guy behind the lyrics of the Finnish National Anthem — Maamme or Vårt Land (Our Land) — and poems like Farmer Paavo (Saarijärven Paavo), which can be considered as an ode to Finnish Sisu, and the epic Tales of Ensign Stål.

So Runeberg is actually quite an important character in shaping the Finnish mentality. However, to me, his biggest claim to fame is his wife, the novelist & journalist Fredrika Runeberg, the woman behind the Traditional Finnish pastry called Runeberg torte (Runebergin torttu in Finnish). Fredrika made the torte famous even though she didn’t actually invent the recipe.

Runeberg torte is a cylinder shaped sweet pastry made from almonds, flour, bread or gingerbread crumbs, arrack or rum. On top of this juicy torte is a raspberry jam topping with a white sugar ring. You can bake them yourself, but during January and February you can buy them from practically any grocery store or cafe – so pay attention if you’re visiting Helsinki in January!

If I had my way, we would have Runeberg tortes available all year round. Unfortunately that’s not the case and anyway maybe it is better to have something to look forward also after Christmas :).

New Moomin Café in Helsinki Kruununhaka

As many of you know (and some might not – yet), Finland is not only the home country for Santa Claus but also The Moomins. Created by a Swedish-speaking Finnish author Tove Janson in 1940’s, free-spirited Moomins have been one of my favorite cartoon characters when growing up. These days Moomins are still a part of my every day life as I usually drink my morning cup of coffee from a Moomins mug. I would debate it would be very hard to find a Finnish home without at least one Moomins mug in their kitchen cupboards!

These days Moomin characters can be found from all sorts of products and places such as curtains, towels, jewelry, toys and clothes. Thers’s also a Moominword for little children situated at west coast of Finland. Last month we got ourselves the first Moomin Café called Mumin Kaffe in Helsinki and we went to check it out one freezing January afternoon.

The new Moomin Café is situated in Kruununhaka, not very far from Helsinki Cathedral, the big white church in city center. They advertise themselves as a child friendly café but in no means I would call it a café only for children and their parents. There’s a nice play corner in the café where kids can play or read books but otherwise the café is very scandinavian looking (not full of stuffed animals or children’s tunes or something similar). Actually, I think during our visit other customers included some moms with their kids, some couples and group of friends. Worth the visit if you’re walking by!

Muumin Kaffe is located at Liisankatu 21 and there should be new cafés opening at least at Stockmann and at Töölö, Mechelininkatu 3 (not very far from Hietaniemi beach of which Anna wrote about some time ago).

-Marjo

Best Pokémon GO stops in Helsinki

Ok, I’m not an expert in Pokémon GO, I have to admit it, but for the past month I’ve been playing it every now and then and I think I’ve gotten a hang of it – kinda. Last week I learnt how to evolve Pokemons and this week I tried out a gym for the first time (lost both fights, though). My first Pikachu hatched yesterday and yesterday and today I got to level 11.

I was mostly away from Helsinki in July when the game was released in Finland and for the past 1,5 weeks I’ve had the chance to try it out in my home town as well and decided to make a short list of the best places to play Pokémon GO in Helsinki. This is my top 3 list – for now.

  1. Vanha Kirkkopuisto (also known as Ruttopuisto)

Situated between Bulevardi and Lönnrotinkatu this small park next to the oldest church in Helsinki has become one of the most popular spots for Pokémon GO players. There are 8 Pokéstops in the park and there seems to be lures on all the time. There are no gyms, however, which means you need to walk a bit further for that.

Today I grabbed a burrito from Cholo  and had lunch at the park bench and got myself at least Jigglypuff, Paras, Spearow, Zubat, Clefairy, 2x Rattata, Drowzee, Pidgeotto, Machop, Bellsprout, Gastly and Horsea. I also got my first Jynx from this park last week. So far the park has been quite full with younger schoolchildren. Let’s see will the popularity continue when schools start this week.

2. Kaivopiha’s steps

Similar to Vanha Kirkkopuisto, this spot is situated in the very center of Helsinki and it has quite a many Pokéstops in the area. Unlike many others, I haven’t actually sat down to the stairs to play but I have taken a couple of extra steps to walk through this spot just to gather a couple of more Pokémons.

3. Kaivopuisto park

Mattolaituri_in_Kaivopuisto

A very nice park for picnic and an afternoon walk by the seaside – and therefore also for Pokémon hunting. If you get tired of walking in the park and would rather have a nice glass of wine, Mattolaituri is just next to the park by the seaside. And if you get tired of Pokémon GO you might as well walk all the way to Löyly  which Anna wrote about some time ago or to Hernesaaren Ranta – which unfortunately aren’t the best spots for Pokémon GO yet but otherwise worthwhile a visit.

Other good Pokémon GO stops in Helsinki

I also found a list of other good Pokémon GO stops (unfortunately in Finnish) from which you can find new Pokémons. We have actually written about earlier in this blog, so these are excellent places not only for Pokémon hunting but for other activities, too.

Weekend getaway to Tallinn

 

Even though our summer holidays are already over we felt like continuing our vacation a bit longer and decided to travel across Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. The journey only takes about  1,5 – 3 hours, depending on which ferry you decide to go with. Linda Line is probably the fastest one (only 1h 40 min) but also at least Eckerö Line and Tallink Silja takes you there in 2-3 hours.

This time we decided to go with Tallink Silja, since the ferry leaves quite close to where we live and 2 hours of travel sounded better than 3. The tickets for two people were only 48 € (24 € per person!) – an absolute bargain and cheaper than travelling to Tampere! Prices might vary from day to day though, depending on the time and month. Also you might consider staying there for a night, too. Hotels and spas are quite modern and well situated in the center of Tallinn and reasonably priced as well.

I’ve visited Tallinn quite often so this time we didn’t really have an agenda for the day, we just spent the day walking in Old Town and light shopping which is a good way to spend an afternoon. If you have the time you might want to visit Tallinna Teletorn, Tallinn’s TV tower or Balloon Tallinn to get a god view over the city and maybe on a good weather all the way to Helsinki.

The Old Town is filled with small cafés and restaurants and some of them are quite touristic. However, some of the best restaurants in Tallinn in my opinion are situated in Old Town, so dig in a bit further from the Old Town’s Town Hall square and you’ll find some excellent choices. This time we decided to have an early dinner at Leib Resto ja Aed which serves seasonal and fresh Estonian food including local mushrooms, berries, fish, meat and vegetables. Atmosphere was quite easy-going but still stylish and service was very quick and professional. A dinner for two with aperitifs, 3 course meal, bottle of wine and beer, coffee and avec was about 160 € which I think is very affordable if compared to Helsinki’s prices.

A very nice weekend getaway even on a rainy day!

-Marjo

Uisge 2016: The best of Helsinki Whiskey Festival

Uisge 2016 whiskey festival at vanha ylioppilastalo

As Rasmus told earlier this week, Uisge Whiskey Festival was held at Vanha Ylioppilastalo (old student house) in Helsinki this weekend. I made a list of the best things at Uisge 2016 – naturally from a Finnish point of view.

The Helsinki Distilling Company

The Helsinki Distillning Company Finnish whiskey at Uisge 2016

One of the newest distilleries in Finland that I am aware of, Helsinki Distilling company participated the Uisge festival for the first time. The whiskeys are still young and they actually had a 1 year old Prelude Single Malt available for tasting. I had a taste of it and to be honest it wasn’t too bad. Let’s see where they end up in the next ten years or so.

The Helsinki Distillning Company - Helsingfors Fiskehamns akvavit and Helsinki dry gin bottles

In the mean time you might want to try their Helsinki dry gin and Helsingfors Fiskehamns Akvavit and long drinks (ready made mix of gin and juice).

Betelgeuse Design handmade Whiskey Glasses

Betelgeuse Design whiskey glass at Uisge 2016 whisky festival

At the corner of a stand stood a young man promoting quite unique whiskey glasses he had designed. Matias Lehmusjärvi, a industrial design student, told us the story how he wanted to create a handmade glass and ended up collaborating with a Finnish glass factory Nuutajärvi. His whiskey glasses are all unique and made in patches of 50 glasses after which the glass mold needs to be renewed. In other words each patch is different and since the glassblowers manufacture all glasses one by one, no glass is exactly the same.

The glasses cost about 30-40 € a piece and should be available at his online store soon at www.betelgeusedesign.com

Valamo Monastery Distillery

Well there isn’t much to say about Valamo Monastery Distillery yet (since it was established 2014), but I did find it quite interesting to notice that a monastery had also caught up to the new distillery wave here in Finland too. According to Wikipedia, The annual capacity of the Valamo distillery will be 120 000 litres, and it will be the biggest distillery in Finland in the future. I have to keep this distillery in mind in the future.

Midleton Single Cask whiskey for IWY

Midleton Single Cask whiskey for IWY

Specially selected to celebrate 10 years of Friends of Irish Whisky (IWY, Irlantilaisen Whiskin Ystävät), Midleton was one of my favourite whiskies at the whisky Festival. It is available at Alko’s whiskey selections but with a limited availability. I heard that there are about 70-80 bottles left and the price for a bottle is a bit over 200 €. Nevertheless, I do think it’s worth it and would consider buying on if I had any extra at my bank account at the moment!

-Marjo

p.s. I would also recommend trying out Teerenpeli Distelliry’s whiskies if you’re in Finland.