Best Sledding Places in Helsinki

6B0D9E34-6602-48A9-BD0B-9DB86C11C0BBOne of the most fun things to do in winter is to go sledding! We helsinkias do sledding a lot – with kids, teenagers and with friends. During last seven days I have tried two different sledding hills in down town Helsinki and can recommend both for you.

First one is in Punavuori district, in the end of Bulevardi in the Park Sinebrychoff. The same place is one of my favourite places around the year – I have written the place before. In Park Sinebrychoff there is simply a great sledding hill, you can go very fast but it is also suitable for kids. Also surroundings are very nice with many old buildings. Here you see families as well as groups of friends having winter fun. There is also a small restaurant ”South Park” where you can have brunch, dinner or just some hot chocolate to warm up as well as art museum (yellow building in picture below). So you can actually spend a perfect winter day in the park eating, sledding and enjoying art!

 

 

Another great place for sledding is Park Alppipuisto near Pasila railway station. There sledding hill is not as wide as in Park Sinebrychoff but if you are not afraid you can enjoy sledding from very high and steep hill. I think Alppipuisto has more ”natural” feeling and you can enjoy winter scenery there in addition to sledding.

 

 

I as well as other Finns have sled at home.  However, if you are just visiting Helsinki, you have to buy or borrow a sled. For buying I recommend visiting XXL sport store in Kluuvi (in Aleksanterinkatu). I guess hotels don’t have sleds to borrow but if you are staying in AirBnb you host could borrow you one if you ask. You can also always go to Park Sinebrychoff and ask to borrow sled from someone (more people there, that is why it is best place borrowing one).

Anna

ps. yesterday was pretty cold so hot chocolate was very much needed after some sledding

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Walking on Ice in Helsinki

E0AFC870-CCB1-4A30-B5BF-91C7E4284EEDOne of the best ways to enjoy Helsinki during sunny winter days is walking on ice. So – if you are in Helsinki and sea has frozen you should definately do that! You don’t anything special expect normal winter clothing. Don’t worry, it is totally safe as long as you see other people doing the same and you follow routes many others have walked before you.

Today I walked late afternoon from work to home and walked on ice of Töölönlahti. Enjoying sun, snow and beautiful scenery I took these pictures. I also decided to walk tomorrow to work if sun shines – surely it is the best way to start your day.

Most common places for Helsinkians to walk on ice is Töölönlahti (go to Finlandia-talo and you will find the place) and in front of Kaivopuisto. In latter case you can also walk from island to island.

Enjoy,

Anna

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Crayfishing

Crawfish, crayfish, crawdad, Astacus Astacus — whatever you call it, rapu is a true Northern delicacy. Crayfish and crayfishing are steeped in tradition — while fishing, while cooking, and most definitely, while eating.

Crayfishing… wait, what?

We’ll get to the fishing bit later, but let’s talk about the feast itself. Typically, at least six crayfish per person starts the evening, followed by e.g. steaks, salmon or something more traditional, like Jansson’s Temptation. If you’ve got more than 10 crayfish per person to go around, they become the main course.

IMG_5759.JPGCrayfish are consumed slowly, and always in company. The cooked crayfish are allowed to cool in their broth for a few hours or more, and are served cold. We usually use only salt, a bit of sugar, and dill to season the broth (but you can also add porter in the mix.) This way, the delicate taste is preserved.

Each crayfish is like a miniature lobster, and is treated with respect. First the savoury broth is sucked out of the shell, the tail and claws are opened with special crayfish knives to get to the tasty meat, which typically is piled on buttered toaster bread,  sprinkled with freshly cut dill — and savoured.

The first tail is toasted with Vodka, or Aquavit (or whatever rocks your boat) and traditional songs are sung to further the merry proceedings. After the first tail, just keep on opening, sucking out the broth, assembling more claws & tails on your toaster bread…. and enjoying the company, the songs, and of course the booze, beer & wine.

 

Crayfishing 

The season starts yearly at noon on 21 July, and crayfishing is subject to licensing. Crayfish used to have a minimum length requirement of 10 cm (4 in) nose-to-tail, but not anymore. However, anything below 8 cm (3.5 in) should really just be released back immediately. With luck, you’ll meet them a few years later.

To catch crayfish, most use passive traps, although some prefer active crayfishing. As for the traps, there are quite a few models, but the two seen here are the most popular models.

As bait, most use either fish from the same lake or river or slices of beef or pork.An insider tip is to use bratwurst or frankfurters (like we do). A split crayfish will work extremely well, but it’s about as expensive as it gets. In the olden days, apparently village cats started to disappear towards the end of July…

IMG_2607The traps are set at a depth of around 2-3 meters and left overnight.

The next day, traps are checked, small crayfish are immediately released back, the bait is replaced and the traps are again lowered to the bottom of your lake, the riverbed or the seaside.

That’s about all you need. If and when you find a good spot, just put the traps back for the next night in the exact same location. Crayfish are competitive, so if you had the luck of setting your trap near a crayfish’s hiding place, and got a good catch, a new crayfish will take over that spot almost immediately. Crayfish favor a rocky bottom with plenty of places to hide in.

 

Sidenote: Finland and crayfish — success to bust to minor success
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100 years ago Finland was Europe’s biggest exporter of crayfish, with a yearly catch over 10 times that of today. Finnish crayfish was widely recognized as a true treat. That, of course, was before the crayfish plague wiped out most of the crustacean population. And the introduction of the nearly as delicious American Signal Crayfish didn’t help either (as they carried the disease, quite possibly being the original vector). Stern measures have been taken to limit the spread of the disease, and the native crayfish population has been rising slowly the last decades. The best way to stop the spread is to never move your traps from one body of water to another. And if you absolutely must do it, you need to kill the plague spores — which happens by keeping the traps for 12 hours in a fully heated sauna (or by letting winter take care of business).

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.

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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.

 

Best park for picnic in Helsinki, part I

My favorite park for picnic in Helsinki is Park Sinebrychoff (also known as Park Koff, in Finnish Koffin puisto). Maybe it is my favorite since I live near by – however for sure it is very popular park for picnic or just sitting and enjoying summer among locals. Location is great, near to see in the end of Bulevardi, so easy to walk there but also tram 6 passes by. Also city bike station is very close by. Exact address for park is Sinebrychoffinkatu. Park is quite big so you can always find a spot for you and your picnic blanket. Need something to bite? Then head for big grocery store S-Market near by (I wrote about this grocery store before). You can also find restaurant South Park in the park if you aren’t up for picnic and want to have a proper table instead.

For art lovers I recommend Sinebrychoff Art Museum which is in the park (the address is Bulevardi 40) and seen above picture (yellowish old building).

There is great playground for kids nearby – just walk the hill up and continue maybe 300 meters and you see the playground (ask somebody if you don’t find it).

And then – sometimes it starts to rain just when you are enjoying your day at park. That happened me last Thursday. When I realized rain is definitely coming I collected all my stuff and run to Hietalahti Markethall (Hietalahden halli). There is this great historical feeling of markethalls – you can feel there have been selling and buying for many, many years before you have been born. You can buy lunch, best milkshakes in town as well as meet, vegetables and souvenirs. Markethall is not open in the evenings (except Saturday and Sunday, opening hours below) – it is more place for lunch and ice-cream. So great place I recommend you to pay a visit there even not raining! In front of Hietalahti Markethall there is great flea market to wonder around – recommend that as well!

Anna

opening hours Hietalahden Halli aukioloajat

Midsummer in Helsinki – what to do?

 

Today 23.6.2017 we have midsummer celebration here in Finland. This midsummer celebration is called Juhannus in Finnish. It will last all weekend and target is to enjoy summer and sun shining through the night. Since I am supposed to tell you what locals do during Juhannus I do it right in the beginning: almost all locals (I would say more than 70 % of Helsinkians but this is just wild guess) will travel out of Helsinki. We Finns believe right place to celebrate Juhannus is in summer cottage. Helsinki will be very empty and very different from normal during this weekend. So, this time I will tell you what tourists can do during Juhannus if in Helsinki. These things are of course also things what those few Helsinkians might do if in Helsinki during Juhannus weekend. And then – I am also traveling outside Helsinki this afternoon but I did some running first in the morning. There in Kauppatori (the big market square just opposite the President Castle) I saw former Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen. So after all, some very essential Helsinkians are spending their Juhannus here!

Right picture above you see something very essential of Juhannus – kokko in Finnish, bonfire in English. It is burned in the Friday evening. This kokko I took picture is situated next to Cafe Ursula. The address is Ehrenströmintie 3, that is by the see in Southern Helsinki, maybe 2 kilometers south from Railways station. Very nice walk from downtown – many parks. Kokko will be burned 9.30 pm and Cafe Ursula will be open during Juhannus weekend – so it is a great place to find some Juhannus feeling! Another great place to sense traditional Juhannus feeling is Seurasaari. There will be bonfire and old Finnish celebration traditions today from 4 pm until late night. Tickets there are 23 euros (kids under 12 years are free). Seurasaari doesn’t really have an address since it is small island. Google so you’ll see where it is. It is like 5 kilometers from downtown Helsinki. You can take bus number 24 to travel there.

Probably most “Helsinkian” thing to do in Helsinki today and tomorrow is to go to this dancing event – Juhannustanssit in Finnish. It is not disco dancing but more like fox, twist, Finnish disco and some new Finnish hits as well. My guess is (never been but sounds fun!) that there are lots of 25-50 years old downtown people who go there every year. This happening is organized by We love Helsinki -collective and it is situated in Kallio district at Kuudes linja and Kaiku (address Kaikukatu 4). Juhannustanssit is happening both Friday and Saturday from 9 pm until 4 am. Even you absolutely can’t dance I still recommend it!

And what about Saturday and Sunday? Most shops will be closed and town continues to be very empty. My recommendation is to visit Allas Sea Pool (picture below but very bad quality – in reality it looks a lot better!) which is combined restaurant and outside pool. You find there also saunas and it will be open during Juhannus. Great views of Helsinki when swimming in (warm) pool – I highly recommend that!

Anna

 

Enjoy Christmas Lights of Helsinki – Christmas in Helsinki Part II

 

As you know, Helsinki is very up in north. That means city is pretty dark during Christmas time. Snow brings some light – but we need of course also some decorations. This year we have very pretty light decorations in Park Esplanad (Esplanadin puisto in Finnish, situated between Etelä- and Pohjoisesplanadi). Above and below pictures are taken there. There is also one picture of Restaurant Kappeli which is lovely old building in Park Esplanad. After admiring Esplanad lights, I recommend to pay a visit for Kappeli and enjoy some glögi, warm drink with some Christmas spices. Anne wrote about mulled wine (meaning glögi) some weeks ago.

After Park Esplanad you have to check our official Christmas Street Aleksanterinkatu which is just a block away. By the way, for British readers it is nice to know that Senaatintori is by the Aleksanterinkatu. And this Senaatintori and lovely Tuomiokirkko (Church) you saw when watching x factor UK this year since Saara Aalto, the Finnish Finalist in show this year, visited Senaatintori in the clip filmed in Finland shown a week ago in British tv.

In the beginning of Aleksanterinkatu (exact address is Aleksanterinkatu 52, the window being in the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Keskuskatu) you can find “Christmas window” of department store Stockmann (read more about Stockmann and shopping in down town Helsinki here). This year Stockmann Christmas window is winter wonderland – a top for all kids but also absolute “must see” for everyone else.

For other Christmas activities you should read what Anne wrote some weeks ago,

Anna

 

 

 

First Snow in Helsinki

This week we have enjoyed first snow here in Helsinki. There isn’t (yet) too much snow but enough to have this great feeling of coming winter. I feel like Christmas is coming – almost singing “White Christmas”… You can’t yet go to cross-country skiing nor ice skating but those hobbies will be available in near future.

These pictures are mainly taken from Esplanadi (next to Stockmann, Esplanadi is a park between Etelä-Esplanadi and Pohjois-Esplanadi) and Ruttopuisto which I’ve written many times before. By the way, for those who are in to Pokemons, Ruttopuisto is still perfect place for Pokémon hunting and now it is snowish Pokémon hunting!

As you can see, we still have some autumn colours around – snow came some weeks before we normally have our city wearing white so autumn is still around. For those who are planning trip to Helsinki in near future I need to tell that it is possible we’ll still lose snow before Christmas. It is interesting to see what kind of winter we’ll have this time.

Last picture you can see Helsinki Cathedral from a bit different angle than often in pictures. You can also see Bank of Finland on right.

Enjoy winter and snow. And remember to wear enough clothes – it is cold out there.

Anna

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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!

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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.

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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!

Eero