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.



Open water swimming in Helsinki

Summer’s pretty much ended here in Finland as the weather’s cooling down and nights are falling earlier after the summery white nights. It might not seem like a good time for summing up the beach scene hereabouts, but here I go anyway. Why? Because for an autumn-lover like me this is just about the best time of the year to hit the beaches.

This happens to be a subject I’ve got a huge experience to draw on after decades of open water swimming in every possible occasion. Rare is the day when I leave the house without my swimming trunks and a thin hammam towel so suitable for ex-tempore moments of bathing bliss. Actually it’s more than beaches I’m talking about, much more, as swimming in Helsinki is bound to happen not only from beaches but from rocks and whatnot. (Pools are totally excluded here, although there are fine ones in Helsinki well worth a post of their own, by someone else, as I myself am not much of a pool-type. Hate to feel that chemically purified water, or the thought of it…)

One of the plentiful good swimming spots in Suomenlinna. Photo. Eero Ehanti

Helsinki is a true waterfront city with plenty of designated beaches but also kilometers of open seaside ready for the more adventurous swimmer. Surely, this being the Northern hemisphere and the Baltic Sea, it’s not whitesand beaches by turquoise waters, but more like yellowish gravel on somewhat murky greenish water, which is not even real seawater but brackish water. Definitely no palmtrees. Instead we have lots of pines and spruces and other rich vegetation adorning the shores and providing the shelter for those in search of solitude.

Starting with the official beaches, the best known is the Hietaranta beach, or Hietsu, about which Anna already wrote about in this blog, a long stretch of yellow sand with good facilities, beach volley and occasional parties or other events. It tends to get quite crowded in hot summer days, but that’s what many a beach goes longs for; crowds and games, kind of societal bathing. As everywhere in Finland, the water’s bound to be on the cooler side even in high summer times, hindering effectively swimming urges of many people. Definitely not mine, though. I prefer colder waters because of the extreme refreshing effect one gets afterwards. Anyway Hietsu is a wonderful place for swimming, perhaps some Frisbee or beach volley and definitely a pique nique with friends. We go there from very early spring to very late autumn, and I advise to do the same, as the place very nicely changes within the seasons. Beautiful place indeed!


Hietaranta beach. Photo: Eero Ehanti

Another old favorite of mine is the beach in Mustikkamaa, just next to the Helsinki zoo, where there’s an open beach area but also more serene small dots of sandy beach sheltered by trees and bushes. It’s a nice bicycle trip from the center, or a bus ride if that’s more to your liking. Take the bus 16 bound for the zoo and get off one stop before the terminus. Good running paths around there as well, and an adventurous climbing park, which together with the zoo very nearby makes this beach a very good option for families.

Another very family-friendly beach is to be found in the beautiful squirrel-filled Seurasaari island, which is known, very deservedly, for the open air-museum with old Finnish folk buildings gathered there from all over the country. The houses are well worth a visit, or several visits, as there’s truly a lot to see and do in that gem of a museum and one of the prides of the National Museum of Finland. The beach is a small one but nicely located in a sheltered place. The Sporty swimmer swims around the island, but if you do so, remember to have a colorful float with you to avoid the risk of getting run over by one of the many boats cruising thereabouts! And if you’re into nudism, there’s a fenced beach area for that with separate sections for men and women.

One of the more urban beaches is to be found in Eiranrata, near to Kaivopuisto. This is a newish setting, a quite nice one, but crowded as well in the sense that there’ll always be people walking by, because it happens to be along a very popular running and strolling route. If you’re looking for more private experience and happen to be thereabouts, you should take the very short boat trip Uunisaari island just a stonethrow away from Kaivopuisto park. (In wintertime there’s a bridge.) A place of natural beauty, it has a nice restaurant and saunas for rent as well as lots of lone sheltered places for those looking for privacy. Lots of birds, too, which is nice for the most part except for the breeding season, when the protective birds might turn your solitude to something more uncomfortable. Still within the Eira/Kaivopuisto area, another option is to take the slightly longer boat trip to Pihlajasaari island, another place of amazing natural beauty. Nudism area there as well. There’s a restaurant and camping possibility, too.


Photo: Eero Ehanti

I could go on, easily, with these beaches. There’s a fine long one in the eastern suburb Vuosaari, they say, but I haven’t ventured there for a long time. And so on… But at this point, dear reader, I advise you to forget about these official beaches and just dip into the sea wherever suits you. There are places people go to, like Tervasaari or Suomenlinna, where possibilities abound, or best of them all, the so called Missippi rocks. This happens to be my absolute favorite spot in the city, where I go many times a week with my swimming gear and a nice Toscanello for the very rewarding smoke afterwards accompanied with some poetry or other highly complex literature for which I otherwise don’t find the needed concentration nor solitude. A friend’s a good option as well for these moments of somewhat Zenist character. The wherabouts of these rocks? I’m not going to tell you! You’ll find out if you look hard enough, or else you’ll find your own spot for utilizing fully the nature-wonders of our lovely Northern capital. There’s still time before the waters get really cold, so go for it!


Walking paths in Helsinki, Part I

Autumn in Helsinki

Fancy a nice walk in Helsinki? There are several options for that, now I am writing one very central one. If you want to walk only few kilometres and enjoy sea and our lovely park Kaivopuisto, this is “the walk” for you.  When walking you can also see many small nearby islands, for example Suomenlinna fortress which you can see below.

Suomenlinna fortress

In many ways this walk offers many “best things” of Helsinki – sea, nature, nice parks and  smiling people. If you would like to have a cup of coffee when walking there are several options – some small kiosks as well as coffee shops Café Ursula and Café Carusel. The latters have sea view as well as good Finnish Pulla (Pulla is Finnish pastry – sometime I’ll write more of that) to enjoy with coffee. In summertime there is also a big terrace called Mattolaituri where you can enjoy sun and cold wine or beer.

Walking route in Helsinki

This time my walk started at Telakkakatu near Eiranranta Beach. After that I headed east following the coastline. After Silja Line ferry terminal I headed to Tähtitorninmäki to enjoy colourful trees and ended my walk to Esplanadi in downtown. And how was Helsinki downtown today? It was very peaceful – some tourists, some locals. I think when something as dreadful happens as this weekend in Paris, one feels very safe in our smallish peaceful Helsinki. I know Paris or for example Rome offers things Helsinki doesn’t. But then – Helsinki is so far away from terrorist attacks. Also usually there are no long queues when visiting museums and getting from one place to another is so easy since not too many people in metros and trams. So I really welcome you to see our beloved capital!


Coastline Helsinki

Beetroot soup in five minutes


Is it dog food? Or perhaps a sausage? Nope. It’s mashed root veggies in a plastic package, a sight that made me extremely happy yesterday at Stockmann Herkku, one of the largest grocery stores in Helsinki downtown – so happy that I had to write a blog post about it.

If summer is the season for fresh greens, berries, lettuce and vegetables, autumn is dedicated for warm soups and root vegetables. The problem is that I can’t be bothered to do all the pealing and boiling and mashing that’s needed for a simple root vegetable soup especially on weekdays. It takes too much time and effort from the evening.

A couple of years ago (or it could be even 10…) I found a solution that lets me skip all the time consuming parts and go directly to the soup heating part with the mashed root vegetable package. I’ve tried sweet potato and beetroot and potato mashes, but you can buy at least carrots and swede mashed too (I think these two are mostly used for Christmas casseroles). I think these pre-cooked and mashed root veggies are only available from October to December so I keep forgetting they exist – and on the other hand am positively surprised when I find them from the store.

Suvituore beetroot potato mash soup with Smetana

Yesterday I decided to buy the mashed beetroot and potato version and made a soup from the recipe I found from the package i.e.

  • beetroot and potato mash
  • vegetable stock
  • balsamic vinegar
  • beacon
  • black pepper
  • smetana (on top)

with some garlic rye chips on side. This literally took me 5 minutes to prepare, taking the photos actually took more. I was supposed to make something from kale as well but forgot it. It did end up in the photo though.  I’m not convinced it’s visually as exciting as it could be but nevertheless the soup is an ultimate fast food for weekdays! I also noticed there’s a Jerusalem artichoke mash I haven’t tried yet so I’ll probably test it the next time.