28 February 2013

February doings in helsinki

i guess we got out and found a fair amount of things this month. i like the city, i really do.

kid-friendly stuff:
-libraries (itäkeskus, töölö, pasila, kallio, vallila): these are better libraries than the first few we visited. they had larger kid spaces and better choices in the (still small) english sections. the pasila library is the largest multilingual library in the city system (i think). when we went, the childrens librarian was dressed as a doctor at a book hospital station. she picked out a "sick" english book for X and helped her cut tape, fix torn pages, stamp the book, clean the outside, and then we got to take it home, for keeps. the kallio library was in a neat old building with the childrens section on the top floor, there were even two music booths for the kids to explore. overall, the book selection is still unimpressive for me, but the children section spaces are at least quite nice in most of the libraries weve been to.

(kallio music booth in kid section)

-tram museum. its free. they are celebrating 100 years of trams in helsinki. the museum has 3 trams you can climb on and explore, and 3 you can just look at. there is even an old fashioned tram ticket puncher.

-zoo (korkeasaari). its located on an island off of the city to the east. we did the zoo in the winter because they were having an ice sculpture exhibit on the grounds. we also enjoyed a buffet lunch on our visit (for real, the food was decent and healthy). we got to see mongooses, monkeys, poisonous frogs, lions, tigers, snow leopards, bison, and reindeer. as we were leaving it started majorly snowing. i would say it wasnt a super successful/impressive trip, but i think it would be lovely in the summer.

-indoor swimming pool. a new friend and her daughter (anna and ella, respectively) took us to a pool near daves work (mäkelänrinteen uintikeskus). great activity.

notes: nudity in the locker room is expected, you stick out like a sore thumb if you do not partake (remember as a kid living in fear of the old naked ladies at the YMCA who would shower and then take their time getting dressed...yeah that, only people of all ages. but actually, its a great equalizer, and frankly [not that i was staring] its a great reminder that only 0.001% of the human population have model figures/bodies). you are expected to shower before entering the pool (bathing suit on is okay). ive heard a few people say that swim diapers are not required for kids. im not exactly sure about the full explanation on this but i think its mostly aimed at disposable diapers. weve always used a cloth swim diaper, so thats what i will continue doing.

the pools are saltwater, not chlorinated (not ocean salt water levels, just salted so that it keeps germs from growing)! it was wonderful to not reek of chemicals afterward and to not have to breathe all that stuff in. there were 3 different kinds of warm pools where we went. one was definitely a baby/toddler pool. mid-shin deep and there was a mini, mini water slide, so cute and fun for X. the second pool was for toddlers and younger kids learning to get comfortable in the water, not over chest deep for adults with a graded sloped floor. the third pool was like a very large therapeutic pool (water jets and powerful waterfalls), kids were welcome. all this and the experience cost 6€.

*additional note: in the city center there is a historic indoor pool that hosts adults-only nude swimming. men and women on separate days. im actually interested to swim here. anyone who ends up visiting, if youre up for it...im game to visit this place.

-leikkipuisto activities. so, i mentioned last time about the leikkipuistos (open daycares) and that once a week they have a "family cafe" (the cheap breakfast day). well, on those mornings they very often (at least at the leikkipuistos weve been to) have other services going on too. sometimes moms can get haircuts, kids can get seated photos taken (for a low price), people bring adult/child clothing to sell, people sell tupperware, there is free crafting sessions for the kids, etc. its quite impressive and a nice convenience. i wish i had known about the haircut day, that would have been ideal.

-sea life aquarium. apparently this place is a chain that does aquariums in other countries, so for that it loses a few points, but their displays and layout is very nice. happily, you do get what you pay for. X had a blast. she went through the whole place 3 times (its laid out in a circle). of course you are funneled through the gift shop and cafeteria and kiddie rides at the end, but you could spend a whole day here. glad we checked it out!


-kumpula gardens. on the way to the pool, anna took us through the kumpula gardens area. of course it was winter and hard to see where all the greenery would be, but there were lots of trees, and well chosen paths and lots of potential space for restorative, calming beauty in the warmer months. im honing in on this and surrounding areas for the next place we live.

(duck pond in the garden area)

-kallio neighborhood. the whole area is up on a hill (kallio translates to "the rock") and is the hippie/vegan/artist area. the center of the neighborhood has a cool church and the side streets all go in weird directions due to the rocky/hilly area. i guess this doesnt exactly belong in the "nature" section, but it did seem peaceful and like it would be quite green in the warmer months. id like to explore it again.

-verkkokauppa. the biggest electronics store in europe apparently, aka male fantasy land. the place is organized into sections by eletronic company and seems very smoothly run. it was a bit of a challenge getting the printer we bought home in the winter on public transit though.

-vekarakirppis. a kids consignment store (translates to kids flea market). this is where the better used clothes and toys are, much better selection than the thrift store fida. people really seem in to "flea markets" (kirppis) here. new, full-priced stuff is just too pricey to create an entire kids wardrobe. i think we'll be stocking up on clothes for all of us back in the states, but the option of the flea markets for X stuff is nice.

-haircut. got my first one here! my lady apologized for her english, but we got along just fine. there is a place at the bottom of the hill from us that does walk-ins and is open late on mondays. sweet. it was 44€, but they dont do tipping. since i only get my haircut once every few months, this place is great.

-stockmann. i love this place, anyone who visits will be subjected to seeing basically all floors of this establishment. we recently discovered the 8th floor is filled with cafes/restos/buffet lines. the 6th floor is kids clothes and toys with a great snack area and kids bathroom. dave found a very useful mens section for clothes for work (cap horn and bodyguard brands). and their grocery store, prepared food area, deli, and speciality food items wow me again and again. since i dont really want to explore the restaurants around here (until, maybe, we get a babysitter), its great that this place has all i need and more.

(this guy plays beautiful music outside stockmann)

-alko flagship store. this is in kamppi. it is a two story liquor/alcohol store with an entire floor of wine, and their beer selection is decent. it was funny seeing a beer from warren, mi there. many of the danish beers they carried seemed excellent (according to ratebeer).

-ravintola mountain (nepalese food). they had a fish tank and were kid-friendly, but not good food really. the place was packed when we left though. i just really really miss the nepalese place in royal oak that was called "rockys". best nepalese ever.

-goodpie bakery/cafe. they had no sweet choices for X, but their bread is good. im sure an adult with time to relax would enjoy the space there.

-bar bakkari. i actually went here to meet up with a finn my mom randomly met in key west, and her roommate. they were nice, chill, "regulars" of helsinki. these are the kind of people who are good to hang out with for insider info and to get the real no-bull shit lay of the land. the bar was a smallish local-type place. i liked it. they also mentioned a place called "shakers" as being a nice cocktail bar, and a place called pacifico as being a great (and busy/popular) brunch place.

finn/finland notables:
-some people seem very helpful about getting up to let a parent and child sit together on the bus. even, swapping locations of seats so X can have a better view.

-it feels like "winter" is a moving target. the amount of light, temperature variation, snow amounts, are all noticeably changing in the short time weve been here. the outdoor activities are then dictated by those variances. and certain treats, sales, festivals and traditions are rotating through. there is always something new, changing or coming up. it makes the winter seem less stagnant and dreary. i hope it continues to feel like that.

-so far, when ive told people here that her name is X there is a painfully long pause, followed by either a change of subject or the end of the conversation. i cant tell what to make of this. i know the finns are not judgmental people, so maybe its just them asking a question without having the need to follow up with a "beautiful/pretty/unique/cool/thats different/how did you choose that name" type of judgement comment. its just been a little weird.

-there is no mail service on saturdays (as i see the u.s. is going toward). i think its fine. also, the post office has a service where you can electronically (i assume they open and scan it?) get your mail emailed to you while you are out of town.

-banking. people dont do checks around here, its not even an option. i was at an in-home "garage sale" and heard a mom offer to pay by bank transfer, later that day. this is acceptable and normal. especially the paying afterward part.

-government. it works here! every interaction has been quite pleasant. all the paperwork was done correctly and thoughtfully (our time/effort were considered) and swiftly. every delivery estimate given was accurate, or, often, the process was faster than expected. its rather hard to believe. you actually get what you pay for here.

-men. most men, out and about, are so silent and reserved they are almost non-existent. i think ive seen three handsome men since arriving, and by that i mean that they actually stood out to me...as opposed to being nearly invisible.

-newspaper/info consumption here is impressive. people read the paper front to back if they can, and the recycle bins are filled to the brim with newpapers that i have no doubt are read every day. at stores however, ive seen almost no gossip magazines though (part of their lack of judgement, desire for privacy personalities no doubt).

-im told finns have a massive obsession with creedence clearwater revival (CCR). why? i dont know.

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