Exquisite September, Beguiling Birgitta

If you are in Helsinki, you should be outside right now. The weather is painfully beautiful. The temperature perfect, the light mellow and golden. The days are at a humane length. It is a Goldilocks moment before the bears of winter return.

This month is also the last call for Cafe Birgitta, which will purportedly close for the winter at the end of September. The terrace looks out over one of my favorite swimming spots, but the inside is equally beautiful. Really, they could be serving anything, the setting is so perfect, and the fact they are actually offering interesting, well-presented food (towering burgers, chia seed parfaits, tempeh salads) explains the growing crowds that encompass everyone from what look to be exquisitely dressed business people to joggers in disreputable footwear who appear to have been seduced into taking a respite from their seaside rambles.

But it is the placement and construction of this summer cafe that is most wonderful; it creates a little sanctuary in a spot on the border of an old industrial area with one of the best and most open views of the water available in Helsinki. The building itself was constructed with oiled timber, reminiscent of old piers and lights inside are made from old fashioned glass buoys. A beach shack with a wood stove in modern Scandinavian design: just enough protection and warmth to shield from approaching autumn. The spot inspired this lament for the end of summer:

A low fire lips its iron cage
August hails the end of summer
Sun bounces back from shining waves
The Earth is flush from lengthened days
The city turns towards winter.

Rushing autumn now bundles limbs
once warmed by fleeting summer.
Shaking sand, bodies rise again
and fold themselves in shells
of wood and metal.

Footnote: Just noticed that in the picture above of pastries and korvapuusti (those delicious chewy not gooey cinnamon rolls spiked with cardamom) the words Honolulu and Valhalla are juxtaposed in a single frame. This seems a rare event… Yet, there is a strange consonant resonance between the two place names, pointing to something fantastical!

Nils Dardel at Moderna Museet

Head Hunters by Nils Dardel

This gallery contains 8 photos.

Another great thing about Helsinki is that it is possible to walk from here to Stockholm, by simply hopping on one of the ridiculous ferries that run daily between the two cities. I went to have a look at two exhibitions at Moderna Museet. The first that caught my eye… Click to continue reading

Uncovering local brews

At first, I didn’t realize there was any interesting beer in Helsinki. Then some appeared, expensively , when visiting Juuri or Valimo on Suomenlinna.

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter's), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Pils (Souomenlinna Painimo), Mufloni Aamupala Stout (Beer Hunter’s), Nokkospils (Ruokapuoti lumo)

Maybe it is just my obsession with nokka (nettles), but I thought that one was particularly wonderful. An interesting alternative to a green smoothie. These all came from the K-Market that is near the entrance to the underground in Kamppi, at reasonable prices.

Hot as Helsinki

Helsinki is actually hot. Hotter than it looks.
People crowding Eiran Ranta Helsinki

Escape the heat:

  1. Jump into the sea. Repeat as necessary. Unless you are in Espoo and there is toxic algae bloom because the Baltic is massively polluted.
  2. Visit Cafe Kokko on the north side of Katajanokka and enjoy a breeze over the water and some shade.

Green Smoothie Cafe Kokko

Kanavaranta North SIde with Wooden Sailboats Helsinki

Cafe Kokko Sign

Get thee to Forum Box!

This is the last weekend for a fun show at gallery Forum Box in Hietalahti!!! It features two artists, but the show is cohesive, playful and beautiful. Read more about it here.

 mobile sculpture of birds made of recycled materials-- Purhonen and Korhonen

Jesus sculpture made of cardboard-- Purhonen and Korhonen

Sculpture made of metal lids-- Purhonen and Korhonen

The artists are Kalle Turakka Purhonen ja Mauri Korhonen. I have been twice!. And while you are in Hietalahti, not only is there the water and the lovely market hall, tomorrow there is a special brunch at the boat cafe Nikolai II, featuring fresh produce from the gardens of Siippoo. I am excited by what they are doing with that boat– local organic when they can + live music. Let’s enjoy the ephemera of summer while we can.

Helsinki Art Lending

Here is something that should spread like a virus: the art lending cooperative of Helsinki, Taidelainaamo. It is sooo good.

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A monthly fee with no deposit grants access to a large catalog of local artists. The monthly fee goes towards the purchase price of the art, so if someone loves something, they can simply keep it for a year or two and it is theirs. But it also opens the door to fickle, promiscuous relationships with pieces, trying things on, changing with the seasons! I love it.

It is possible to browse through works in person in their space below the library on Rikhardinkatu. There are more works available for order online from their truly amazing website. Sometimes when I need relief from life, I like to go search through art works sorted by medium, size, colour, maker. There are other art lending institutions and businesses in Finland, but this one is my favourite. Enjoy.

Almost Helsinki: Hidden Hanasaari

Hanasaari, Hanaholmen in Swedish, is a beautiful little island with a conference center in between Espoo and Helsinki. It is the kind of place that you probably won’t visit unless you are, for example, a Finnish proctologist with a seminar to attend there. This is unfortunate, because it is a hidden treasure of architectural interest.

The conference center is the Swedish-Finnish Cultural Center. Contrary to popular believe, it is not a Finnish Swedish speaking center, but rather the fruit of co-operation between the countries of Finland and Sweden. There are lots of books about the Swedish royal family in the foyer… But more importantly, there is an interesting art collection. It is a beautiful place.

Sculpture at Hanaholmen

Sculpture at Hanaholmen

But one of the most lovely things I noticed was unintentional:

Colorful cycles at Hanaholmen

Colorful cycles at Hanaholmen

A rainbow of bicycles!

Helsinki Vetus: Meri Makasiini

A straight-up classic fish restaurant with a great water-side location. A definite marina feel, with some view of big cruise ships and working cranes. At the end of Bulevardi. Our party was very happy and the service was great. They have shaded outside seating.

They were having an asparagus week:

Asparagus plate

That is most definitely a Hollandaise sauce.

The Crabber’s Salad. Good, with crayfish and shrimp:

Crabber's Salad

A pike steak dish:

Pike

A salmon dish, reported to be better than most:

Salmon

Lovers of water, ships, working ports and good seafood will love this old-school place. I was impressed by their decent wine list and local brews, like cider from the Suomenlinna Brewery. So, while some people are scared-off by the sign, which you can’t miss:

2014.5MeriMakasiiniSign

This is classic Helsinki– and a place that does what it does extremely well.

Helsinki Nova: The Exhibitionists

I have a new crush: The Exhibitionists Cafe in Töölö. An international, french influenced place with used books, very peaceful. Free wifi. Small, though, and they are also a little shop with some nicely designed paper items, coffee supplies and used books.

Last week I went there for the first time to recover after a visit to the hospital, during which an otherwise very nice nurse dug around in my arm for a vein unsuccessfully for a while before giving up and switching arms, as I tried to make her feel better about it all, while I submited to the drilling of my second arm. At least there was symmetry in the bandages. And wonderful coffee and food to follow:

Latte at the Exhibitionists

The show stopper was the lunch. Not pictured here: a giant pile of fresh herbs (mint, thai basil and cilanto). Yum!

Salad at the Exhibitionists

It held up to a second visit as well. And I like the music they play. They have aeropress, frenchpress, kalita pour-overs, and a nice tea selection, too.

Vappu, the Finnish May Day

Two weeks ago we celbrated Vappu. It is the Finnish May Day, and Vappu Eve is the Finnish Walpurgis Night, something I remember reading about first in Goethe’s Faust. It still exists.

The official beginning of Spring, a sort of labour day and student day rolled into one, marking the half-way between the equinox and the summer solstice, it involves two days of crazyness, and wearing old hats that people get when they graduate from upper secondary school (high school).

A statue in the city centre gets a hat, too:

The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!

The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!

Yellowed hats are supposed to recall many years of successful Vappu celebrations. On Vappu Eve, there is a lot of drinking on the street, particularly sparkling wine and champagne. This is Vappu Eve perfection:

A Vappu master

A Vappu master!

The day after this revelry there is a picnic in Kaivopuisto, which was inundated with portable saunas. As per tradition, the weather was cold and rainy– but still beautiful.

Vappu sky over our picnic

Vappu sky over our picnic

After a couple of hours we retreated inside for 9 hours of relaxed revelry with friends. It was extremely fun. A tremendous amount of food was consumed.

The birds were still partying the next day:

After party for the crows

After party for the crows

When the storm cleared away, leaving this amazing sky:

Vappu storm clearing

Vappu storm clearing

Welcome Spring!