22 June 2013

May/june meandering in helsinki

here it was. our beautiful spring in helsinki...

-arabian street festival (arabian katufestivaali). this was a block party of sorts in my favorite neighborhood. the neighborhood is also home to an art university so the festival had a nice vibe. there was street graffitti, music, dancing, recycling, flea marketing and balloon animals.

-market square (on the water). this is right in the heart of downtown, the main market for souvenirs and fish. weve breezed through it on the way to other things, but recently i actually went around the tents to look in earnest. its decent. we had deep fried vendace fish (from lapland) at one stand, these are fish so little you can eat the whole fish. X ate a dozen or so, very proud of her. then we bought a print of a whimsical reindeer with a mushroom from a local artist. its also a good meeting place and starting point for many nice city walks.

(fish brains. nom nom.)

-pihlajamäki blues festival. this was on a hilltop park in our neighborhood. there was music of course, food tents, activities for kids, a playground, and seating. we had a nice time. i think it happens every year during "helsinki week".

-helsinki day (june 12). lots going on but it was rainy. i chose a puppet show and a playground concert (though we didnt make it to the concert because it was during a downpour). the puppet show was pretty lame i must say. i can only hope everything else scheduled on helsinki day went better than our puppet show. better luck next year.

-national museum of finland (kansallismuseo). the top floor is a kids hands-on area. very neat. the functioning model assembly line was fun, and X and i weaved an inch of rug on the loom. we looked around at a few other things and still didnt get to it all. unfortunately we didnt get to any of the adult rooms, but there was a cool map exhibit going on.

(moving assembly line for sorting letters and shapes)

-linnanmäki. this is an amusement park in the center of city. the entry is free and there are several free rides for younger kids, proceeds from tickets go to charity. no joke. this place has some fun rides and decent food stands and clean bathrooms. its a great place to come with kids.

(Xs favorite ride. the balloon carousel. weve been on the thing more times than i can count)

-tokoinrannan leikkipuisto (playground in kallio/hakaniemi). this one is right on the water (with fencing surrounding), there is some shade and a nice space for running, picnicing, climbing, and playing.

*as a side note. our house seems to be in the path of hot air balloons that are landing at the small malmi airport nearby. several evenings in the early summer we watched these beauties skim right over our roof and descend through the trees.

(this descent past our window was at about 8.30/9 at night)

-arkadia international bookshop. a used bookshop with a larger childrens section than ive seen in a while. there is also a "gallery" room, a "warehouse" room (you can dig around in boxes of books), and a "chapel" room in the back (a nice quiet corner with some drinks set-up and offered for free, some reading blankets and a cozy place to read). they also have musical performances, lectures, workshops, and readings here. this may be an adult hangout place for me at some point.

-central park (the part near käpylä). this is a huge, wooded park that starts just to the north of the city center and goes for miles. we only walked a small forested portion of one of the sections. it seemed super popular with bikers and exercisers, perhaps not so much for strollers or picnicers.

-pikkukosken uimaranta (beach). pretty close to us on the vantaa river, this is a sandy beach with a large grassy lawn leading up to it with walking trails on both sides of the river and a pedestrian bridge. there is a kids playground and a cliff on one side of the beach with a platform for what looked like diving into the water. basically it was a really nice surprise nestled in a quiet neighborhood near us.

-kaivopuisto. a large park at the southern tip of helsinki, its rocky and borders the sea. there is a cafe, playgrounds, picnic areas and statues galore and is in a very fancy part of town but feels private (although maybe not so on the weekends) and quiet and its lovely for sure.

(sea monster at the kaivopuisto playground)

-sibelius park. the monument area of the park is touristy as hell. the sibelius monument is very impressive, but just not much fun to share with piles of people. the surrounding park is nice though, soothing birch trees and a pretty waterfront including the regatta cafe.

-viikki arboretum. from the viikki campus area we walk on an open farmland trail into wooded beauty. it smells great and there are all kinds of trails for all kinds of activities. we wandered around and found an observation tower that had picnic benches and the coolest, most magical area of canopied climbing trees for kids. i can only imagine the hours of imaginative play kids could have in there.

(X is at the bottom of this climbing tree)

-gardenia. a private greenhouse/botanical garden in viikki. it was 6€ for X and i to go. they had two rooms of plants, some koi ponds and another fish tank and some turtles as well as the plants and flowers. you could even bring the cafe food into the greenhouse and enjoy. id say you could spend maximum an hour there, but it was a nice enough place and we got to walk a bit of the nice paths on the viikki campus of the university on the way home.

-lammassaari. an island in the nature area of vanhakaupunki/viikki. you walk on a small boardwalk among tall reeds/grasses to a wooded area where some people actually have tiny cottages (mökki). on the island, there is a nice observation deck looking north. its so amazing that this is just minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city.

(the secluded boardwalk out to the island on the horizon)

-töölö bay (töölönlahti). right in the middle of the city is this small spot of water surrounded by walking/biking trails. there are mini "beaches" and playgrounds and benches and multiple ways people of all ages can be outside and enjoy themselves. we walked around its western edge from finlandia hall up to linnanmäki. while it was crowded, it was a nice city walk.

(picnic overlooking töölönlahti with linnanmäki in the distance, our destination after lunch)

-finlayson outlet. some of their stuff is fun and "my style" and some of it is too feminine. it would be good to check out from time to time for fresh textiles.

-pentik outlet. another finnish design place but this is much more soft and feminine than i care for. i like less flowers and beachy tones and more simple and stripes.

-restaurant day. this is an organized event that happens on the same day a few times a year in several countries/cities. pop-up restaurants serving any kind of food show up everywhere and anywhere. we bought cookies at one stand and burgers from some hipster kids. it was decent food. i got a regular hamburger and dave got a halloumi-strawberry burger but said there was too much bread to other ratio. i would like to sample more on restaurant days in the future, but it feels like something that would been easier to do without a kid.

-queen sheba. an ethiopian restaurant. i thought the injera (spongy bread) was quite sour and the rest of the food was just kind of ho hum. it didnt hold up compared to the memory of ethiopian in ann arbor and ypsilanti.

finn notables:
-banking is so internet-heavy here that when you do find a need to go in to the bank in-person you instantly feel out of place. you find the place is populated with only the very old, homeless, mentally ill, and the foreigners who cant be trusted with a on-line bank account yet (we are/were included in this group). you need to be banking for 3+ months before you can get an on-line account, at least at nordea. and its wacky how secure that on-line space is. we're talking several layers of codes, one layer of which is a code that you find, as directed, on a certain place on a card you are issued. this card has about 70 single-use codes, when you are low on codes you are issued a new code card.

-finns strive for efficiency and sticking to something until its done, yet they know when to take a break (there is no postal service or library book delivery on saturday, most people take all of july off of work, and they often take long weekends where appropriate). it can be done and i like to see it, hopefully it will seep into our veins soon too.

-i mistakenly got a tax form (pre-filled out) for 2012 sent to me from the finnish tax system. i called them and the lady was able to easily inform me, in english, that i received the form because the system said i had arrived in finland jan 3, 2012. i discussed with her why this was incorrect, that we arrived in 2013. what should i do? she gave me simple instructions and without being defensive about it, said it was their mistake, so please correct them on the form, send it back in, and leave a phone number in case they need to clarify with me further. i asked if there was anywhere else i need to go to change my data and she told me to visit the registrars office, and that it was just a slip of the finger mistake and it should be easy to fix because daves information is correct. i suppose ive been told procedures are easy by government offices before and things turned out to definitely NOT be, but i just believe them here. it was no big deal, there wasnt any petty blaming of this office or that office or "well we dont use the same system as them..." it was clear and simple. this made me happy.

-neighborhood "spring cleaning day". this was an organized event on our street. tools were propped against our garbage sheds and whoever was around grabbed whatever tool they wanted and did what they could to clear out old leaves, weeds, etc and i even saw a man splitting wood to load up the communal BBQ pit area. im certain all of our neighbors arent friends and dont know each other super well, but they worked and grilled and ate together that day. i think we'll try to join in next spring.

-city-wide spring cleaning day. different from the cleaning day noted above. this one was more aimed at putting items you dont want on the curb and having people wander by and take it or trade it or buy it for cheap (aka city yard sale). this tells you two important things about finns. they are focused on being clean, and they LOVE flea markets. end of message.

-the evening light has been gaining momentum since april. it was rough on my body to adjust, and i still havent, but its easier than before. as i predicted on our trip to iceland, its just so weird to have so much daylight. i mean in may it was down to what i would call "real" darkness from only midnight-3a, and june meant almost no hours of total black darkness. blah.

-may has about a trillion public holidays in it, including mothers day. of note, stores are closed on mothers day. something i would not have even thought might occur. now we know for next year...

-finnish tv is weird. it doesnt seem to have regular, predictable programming. there are only a few channels but you can find things like macgyver, cooking challenge shows, business reality shows, Friends re-runs, and kids stuff in approximately equal proportion in the evenings. its like they buy packages of episodes/seasons of a tv show and just show it whenever they feel like it.

-kids are so free to play here (and i love that), and i rarely see it directed or corrected by an adult. they stand on tire swings, climb up slides, and do other things on the playgrounds that i see parents in other countries frowning upon or punishing for. of course opinions and customs vary around the world, im no stranger to that, but the differences are particularly interesting to me as it pertains to child play.

-i want to be a kid in finland. outside our window most evenings is a drag race of kids on bikes and other kids climbing and swinging and digging and playing. our "street" is really more like a driveway that is for pedestrians and motor vehicles alike. its so easy to be outside with X at our place, we walk outside and she can wander wherever she wants even while im not watching her. safety is the key to child freedom i suppose, and i love that we have so much of it here.

 -finns put headphones on their kids at music festivals to protect their ears

*another sidenote, midsummers eve (june 21 this year) is apparently the most celebrated public holiday (may/labor day must be a close second) around here but we didnt really do anything or really get a full understanding of the essence of the holiday this year because we were packing for our huge trip to north america. maybe next year. (as for may/labor day, we were gone to germany. so, sadly that celebration will have to wait until next year too).

(midsummer picnic. we visited dave up at his work and brought food for a short family time outside)

A 6-month dave work update

youve all been on the edge of your seat to see some cold, hard facts about what dave has been up to at work since we arrived. i know it. okay, maybe only mary ann has been interested. and so, this post is for you...

scientific papers in progress: 2 (from his dalhousie post-doc work), 2 (from other work done at dalhousie), 1 (from his PhD work)

grants applied for: 2 (for his personal research/lab), 2 (collaborative research)

grant money, if awarded: 150K euro + computing time on special clusters (personal research)

courses assigned to teach: 2 (first half of fall semester 2013, second half of winter semester 2014)

conferences/meetings: 1 (oulu, in march)

committees on: 3 (search/hiring committee, "eco" [evolving continents] research community, joint geophysics program)

other notables: hosted student (janice, from dal) for 2 weeks in march, did work with PhD advisor in germany (in april), took an intensive 3 week finnish course (4 full mornings a week) in june

* he is still settling in at work of course. he got most of the things he requested in terms of lab/office set-up, and his department has been very supportive. though his colleagues are friendly people, it just takes a bit of time to adjust to a different countrys workplace behaviors and mindsets, so he is still figuring out how to successfully and smoothly navigate various situations. *

** coming up for him in the next 6 months will be: creating two new courses, from scratch. getting the above mentioned papers published. applying for more grants. a couple more meetings/conferences (germany, california). recruiting students to work for/with him. **

07 June 2013

Wish for our first visitors...granted!

we had visitors. of the unexpected, blast-from-the-blast variety. so fun!

good old facebook. if it wasnt providing me with these occasional awesome coincidences, im certain i wouldnt think so highly of it. but anyway, a childhood friend who grew up down the street from me, and whom i basically havent seen since high school graduation, discovered, via facebook, that we live in helsinki. she, her family, and her in-laws were all going to be coming to finland (for various amounts of time, some were doing a cruise) and she wanted to find a time to meet-up with us. so fun.

kim and her husband live in brooklyn, NY and are lawyers. they were on their last "big hurrah" vacation before their first baby comes in october. she was in helsinki for 5 days, and we caught up with them this friday afternoon. the day was iffy for rain but the city was green and gorgeous, its so pretty and so different every time i turn around, im glad they got to see it like this. we met at the marimekko flagship store and shopped and replayed the last 14 years of our lives while X roamed the store.

traveling with them was kims brother-in-law and wife and their 2.5 year old son. they were interesting friendly people who i was happy to pass a couple hours in helsinki with. it also turns out they have some finnish-american friends who just relocated to finland with their two younger kids (2.5 and 4 i think) and they are looking for american friends. could be a relationship with potential. :)

anyway, it was so nice to see kim and meet the new people in her life. she bonded very easily with X (she was always ready to be a mom) and we even picked out some treats together at cafe ekberg before saying goodbye. upon leaving them, X immediately said "kim is nice!"

(playing on the bean bags outside marimekko while waiting for kim to finishing shopping. i totally forgot to get a pic of kim. bad, bad.)

02 June 2013

Sink your tallinns into estonia

went to europe again this weekend (did i forget to mention in the germany posts that finns say they are "going to europe" when they visit anything south of the nordic countries? lol. so cute). this time we went to nearby estonia.

tallinn is the largest and capital city of estonia (less than half a million people live there). i guess its also the oldest capital city in northern europe. it used to be called "reval" until 1917 though. it was indeed a part of the USSR, and parts of the city have that very drab, cement vibe. but, apparently estonia is presently a bit of a techie country, its most famous for being the home of "skype". i think that everyone we encountered knew english (we found a few words in estonian were the same in finnish though), so our visit was easy in that way, and just a short 1.5 hour ferry ride made this a place im sure we will (happily) return to.

(map of estonia; map of tallinn, the yellow roads form a ring around old town on the left and you can see the harbor/port at the top right, we stayed in a place off to the middle right of the map)

in the morning, we (pretty easily) got on the linda line ferry from helsinkis city center, by the market square. it was a fast boat ride and the drop-off location in tallinn was great, but...what an ugly port tallinn has (at least for the linda line ferries). following the line of other slightly confused passengers, we eventually came to a main road and X was greeted with the happy sight of some of the citys trams as we walked across the tracks right in to the old town.

almost right away we came to a gateway on the side of a street with the sign of a restaurant i had read was supposed to be good. i walked up the steps and peeked around the corner to check out the prospects of eating at this place (leib). thumbs up, lets go in. at the top of the steps there was a pathway through a shady, flowery, calm, gorgeous courtyard to the restaurant eating areas. some of the ancient high walls of the city hemmed the courtyard in and we were seated on the upper terrace of the outdoor seating (after having help stowing our rolling luggage and stroller away). it was sublime, except for the american business man and some estonian colleagues seated near us. the estonian guys were fine, it was the american that really got me. he was wearing leather tasselled shoes, baggy jeans, and a logo sweatshirt(?). during their meal he asked about such faux pas topics as: politics, religion, and the health of the men he was eating with, as well as the weather, the mens families, santa claus, and talking (bragging is more like it) about some multi-million dollar development projects he was a part of in china (i assume this was to impress them), and, ending my time at the table, asked them if they read architectural digest (it appeared these guys were all in the contractor/builder business). his estonian business associates were very polite and diplomatic with their answers but were clearly of a classier caliber than this american guy.

 (entrance to the restaurant from the street; dave listening to X at our lovely terrace table)

after the tasty meal (oh was i too focused on the twit next to us to talk about the food? it was simple but tasty [X even gobbled all her sausages], id eat here again next visit), we walked to our airbnb apartment in the kadriorg neighborhood. we misjudged the map, and it turned into a long walk (maybe 30-40 minutes), thankfully though we missed out on the rain that began to fall just as we got inside, and the thunder and serious lightning (we enjoyed it from inside though). during the lighter moments of the storm, i went to get snacks at the very nearby grocery (selver) store and then laid down because my head was pounding and i was fatigued (oh, was i sick during this vacation, yes, yes i was). later, dave took X to an awesome nearby playground and they came back before the next wave of rain. in the downpour, i went out for dinner supplies, no worries though because i discovered the local candy company, kalev, on this grocery visit, and the delightful estonian treat called kohuke (a little bar of sweet cheese curd, in a million different flavors, that is covered in chocolate).

 (X is actually smiling here, ready to eat all of her sausages; a pretty fountain on our walk from the restaurant to the apartment)

due to the heat wave of late (80+ F and bright sun), the apartment was hot (no AC of course) and bright too early, so we all got crap sleep and were up early. we did breakfast in the apartment and walked in to old town. it happened to be that "tallinn old town days" was going on, pretty neat. the surrounding parks had tents with vendors set-up and in the old town itself various performances were going on. but, our first stop in old town was the estonian handicraft shop called "eesti esindus tallinnas", very nice and fairly inexpensive handicrafts from local artisans that spoke of an old school, traditional culture (felt items, real animal furs, wood carved kitchen tools, leather bound notebooks, etc). we settled on just getting some jams. then we wandered the old town streets with lots of medieval themed stores and restaurants. i must say that the medieval atmosphere they are going for is well done and isnt cheesy.

while wandering, we heard what seemed like live music and followed it to the main square of old town (raekoja plats) where a stage was set up to perform the ballet opera carmina burana. it was so neat. X was mesmerized and encouraged us stay until the end. afterward we walked out of old town and went to the top of the solaris centre for lunch at kohvik komeet. it was not crowded, so we chose a seat along the glass window wall and looked out at the opera house and the tops of old town. very nice. we ordered the lamb patty and weiner schnitzel. X once again devoured the meat (estonian meat seems to be a favorite of hers) and we all had a nice meal. the location was great and so were the prices.

(silly faces and the view from our lunch table)

then we went in to old town again and found a cool fountain that kids were playing in and adults were wiping themselves down at (weird to see). X played in the water until she accidentally fell in and soaked herself (she didnt do it while walking around, she was just sitting and tipped over, poor kid). luckily we had enough clothes with us to remake a full outfit. to cheer her up, we went to maiasmokk cafe (the candy company mentioned earlier, kalev, operates this sweet shop and the marzipan museum next door) to pick out treats. we got a variety of macaroons, some divine tartlettes and a marzipan butterfly. so tasty.

(playing in the fountain)

and the day kept on going. we attempted to see a short performance at the nuku puppet theater but it didnt work out so we went for a walk just outside the west and south parts of the wall surrounding old town. very serene and beautiful, and being much less crowded and narrow than inside the wall was a welcome feeling. along the southern edge of old town we walked up to a hilltop cafe (called parklinn grupp i think) and relaxed with some cold beverages and enjoyed the random heavy metal music that was coming from the stage in a square down below us. after our drinks, we walked down to the square and started back home. on the way, we saw a tightrope/music act in a different park and got some fries to eat at a playground/park on our route (there is a lack of easy access to fries in finland, i find). once back at the apartment, dave ran out to the grocery store for dinner items and came back with, among other things, kali (a russian pop made from fermented rye bread, it was tasty!). we had dinner and relaxed.

(the nice, quiet, shady walk outside the old town walls; view from the square. up the hill is where the cafe was and behind me was the stage where the heavy metal band was playing)

we got up with the blazing heat again and made our way over to the playground(s) outside the miia milla manda museum in the kadriorg park. afterward, we just walked around a bit more of the park and wandered through some nearby tree-lined neighborhoods and came back to the apartment for lunch. then, we cleaned up and walked all of our stuff to the ferry terminal. thankfully we knew where it was because there was terrible signage and a bad layout for getting to the terminal from the city. anyway, we put our stuff in a locker (and peeked in at the booze store at the terminal: cannabis absinthe, 10 packs of vodka, and, generally, cheap, cheap, cheap booze) and then went back in to old town until our ferry left. i found a used book store with a childrens section, we got some kalev treats again, and i found a souvenir shop with inexpensive russian nesting dolls (matryoshka, love those toys). and then it was time to get back to the ferry. the terminal was very busy and the boat was bigger than on the way there. we certainly saw people with beer carts, toting home up to 8 cases of cheap booze. we hear that in the winter people use sleds for beer carting. the boat ride went well and we were back home in no time.

(our last walk back in to old town, from the ferry terminal)

estonia notables:
-i dont exactly know why, but the color orange was everywhere in estonia. on signs and estonian post boxes, but most notably men and women were wearing all shades of it. ive never seen so much in my life.

-parts of the city still had "that look" of the former USSR...that cement, held-back-in-time, industrial look. along with this held-back-in-time theme, was the clothing style. if youve ever wanted to relive the 90s, i think estonia would be a good first stop. it was kind of comforting actually, like going back to childhood. and i dont mean to mock them, i just think some places are super current and on-trend (NYC and paris come to mind) and some places arent (estonia and nova scotia for example).

-last comments about clothes, we noticed a lot of women (including mothers) wearing very short skirts and dresses. and there were also a lot of shiny clothes, like (faux) satin/silk outfits in the middle of the day. i felt like people were heading to a fancy performance that i didnt know about.

-there were few if any foods that were lactose-free, but we were able to manage at restaurants. happily, the food was remarkably cheap.

-i dont know if this needs to be noted, perhaps it just shows my own ignorance, but we never once felt unsafe while in tallinn. we never stumbled onto a sketchy block or felt like we had to pay closer attention to things. of course we didnt go out at night, or stray too too far from tourist-type areas but i was pleased. even in NYC we always manage to get to one area or another where we feel out of place.