31 December 2013

End of the year in the city

end of the year. due to weather, lack of enthusiasm, and just the inevitable slowing down of exploring new things that comes after living somewhere for a while, we didnt do as many first-time things this month.

but we did get to experience the phases of fall turning to winter this year, in two parts...

phase I (november-ish): it felt like there was a week or two of real mourning of the earlier, warmer fall weather (i think too the people really mourn the loss of light, though i havent been as dragged down by that. i find the summer light is hard to deal with too and therefore find spring and fall to be a good balance for me). this time had its own changes like any other of course and it was interesting to see them come. many call this the "tv watching month" and i can see that. the people are normally so active, that if they want to give themselves a month to veg and boo hoo about their lost summer, then so be it. this year, november didnt get me down as much as i was expecting.

phase II: but, by the second week of december i was really wondering where the snow was. where were the winter temperatures? all our friends back in north america were posting their snow porn pictures and we had nothing, or rather, nothing but wind. this is when the grey and the low light started getting me down, the above freezing temperatures meant everything fell as rain and there was nothing to play in outside. we got very stir crazy, but eventually found our way to make do with all the playing inside, though i dont welcome those times. all told this dark grey, wet, warmish, perpetual nothingness went on for over two months. thankfully this is very unusual and i hope not to have this season repeated again for a while.

-kiasma. the citys contemporary art museum. for several months, to celebrate 15 years, they have their greatest hits on display. the museum is in a nicely designed building that was easy to maneuver with a stroller. while the art wasnt geared toward children, it certainly was child friendly. there were enough things that would be intriguing for a child and even one really fun piece that you could interact with. we had wanted to go to another museum that day, but this was a nice surprise. the cafe was good too and the gift shop was fun.

(interacting with the art)

-st thomas' christmas market. this is set up each year on senate square and is a traditional european christmas market. it sells basically only traditional finnish goods and food, but there really wasnt anything i felt i needed to buy. its a nice place to walk through and perhaps buy a small treat and warm drink from though. they even had pony rides.

-satu sopanen. she is a famous kids musical performer in finland, and she knows how to play to the crowd. a finnish mom friend invited us to her music show at one of the citys theaters. the set was great, as were the costumes. satu has great energy and that magic mix of traits you need to really hit it off with kids. i thought it was great for kids of any language, and i even had fun myself. X normally doesnt go crazy about new situations, but she right away got into this music show and we had a great time. we have since gotten her CDs from the library.

-flamingo spa water park. this place is rather expensive but has lots of pools and family fun with food options all contained in one spot. the showering and locker rooms were convenient and X had a blast. its certainly a fun thing to do a couple times per winter.

-dylan. a cafeteria-style place in arabia with a great spread and good tasting food. the place is efficient and busy with reasonable prices. i hear they are well-known for their brunch too. they even have a kids area. the place is a wonderful find, and has become our go-to restaurant. so comforting to finally have one of those.

-kakku & leipä keisari. a bakery with breads, pastries, and cakes. theres nothing gluten-free for me, but the sweet roll (pulla) and cake slice X chose looked wonderful. dave thought the cake was too sweet but the pulla was delicious. its nice to have a winning bakery not too far away.

-bambu. a grill place that has asian and mexican choices. its quick food but fresh and tasty and served in a nice setting. it was right around the corner from my finnish course, so that was a big win.

-classic pizza. a thin crust pizza place inside stockmann with gluten-free crust. oh it was such a heavenly treat. im very happy to have the option of pizza again every once in a while.

-ruohonjuuri. an organic food specialty store. its got a few useful staples, but mostly its not going to become a regular hangout of mine.

-hesburger. this was our lunch choice while at the flamingo spa water park. its finlands version of mcdonalds. as fast food goes, i was pleased. they have reasonable portion sizes with no pushing to super size and they had a dedicated gluten-free burger that gets made on a special part of the grill with special tools so they minimize contamination. i wont be a regular customer, but its nice to know there is a fast food option in a pinch.

-fishing on the vantaa river in vanhakaupuginlahti area. late october and november seem to be the times of year for fishing with big nets on one side of the dam, and fly fishing on the other side. on the weekends we watched several fish being caught in nets in only a 30 minute time span.

 (men with their nets; the fish they were catching...they would bang them on the heads to kill them and slit their gills. blah. X didnt mind watching it though)

-christmas lights in downtown shopping district and christmas display windows of stockmann. i thought these would mostly come after the christmas parade in late november, but we spotted at least a few lights up in early november. i didnt mind because its not blindingly christmas and is actually mood lifting for the early darkness. a big draw was the store display window at stockmann. i suppose compared to US or certainly NYC department store windows this wouldnt have been to impressive, but it was fun for families to gather around and wonder.

-christmas market in the old student union building. a lovely craft market in the city center in a fancy old building. its definitely the place to buy unique things for gifts.

finn notables:
-starting sometime in late fall, a law goes into effect that says everyone must wear reflectors on their outer gear (due to the amount of darkness and pedestrians). this is a non-ticketed offense.

-there is a finnish saying "if vodka, wood tar, and sauna cant cure it, it must be fatal". the winters are so dry here that ive been using a wood tar shampoo (relax, it works just like regular shampoo) as it acts as a natural dandruff cure. the thing is, my showers and hair then smell like smoked bacon. its honestly not too bad, and you wouldnt notice unless you were sniffing my hair.

-this went around the finland facebook groups im on, and i think its pretty cute...this is 'old finnish people in hats'.

-i cannot tell you how many small backpacks emblazoned with the patch from the company "fjällräven" i have seen. its enough to make me think they hand them out at birth or send them to all citizens for christmas. but this is a swedish company, so that cant be. it looks like the bags are about 60€ so how can they be that ubiquitous? it remains a mystery.

-i have not seen as much dyed hair on women here as in US, and when i do see dyed hair its very likely to be older women and appears to be more of the from-a-box variety. or if i see younger dyed hair, its usually purple or blue or bright red. 'regular' highlights and fancy hair like in the US just isnt seen as much.

-frustrated by the lack of snow. at least once we got to winter solstice i could remind myself that the days will be getting lighter and lighter, even if we never get any damn snow. this prolonged, crappy start to winter almost makes me afraid that i can catch depression, like its an airborne disease. the amount of people who have it here makes me nervous. i feel scared, like the more years we live here the more likely i will "catch" it. i honestly didnt have a problem with the darkness or the weather until i realized that snow wasnt coming any time soon. i realize too that when we arrived to deep beautiful snow last year that it was an unusual treat, i just didnt think we'd have a winter like this right after a winter like that. ah, i guess thats what the finnish sisu is all about. gotta be strong and patient.

-NYE celebrations. note: people, everyone, shoot off fireworks for about 6+ hours straight on new years eve. our building was surrounded by the sounds and sights of fireworks, all night. it was kinda nice to not have to leave your home to celebrate.

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