20 March 2014

End of winter 2014 - City summary

'end of winter' (according to the calendar. today is the vernal [spring] equinox). i'll just do these new-experiences-in-the-city updates once a season i think. and im adding a 'weather' summary section, not to bore people to death or register early for geriatric benefits, but to be able to remind myself of the changes and weather conditions from year to year so that i can stay motivated if it seems like the grey will never go away.

in early january, it decided to go from grey, wet, and warm to changing overnight to sunny, (sometimes) snowy, and frigid. it snapped and held strong for over two weeks straight. im not sure when it broke but we left for florida in the frigid temperatures and came back to at-freezing mush weather. it then decided to return to the previous grey poop of a winter. did halifax follow us here? was there some kind of weather exchange program? both halifax and the north-eastern US had unusually cold and snowy winters. so weird. silver lining: i need to remember that daylight hours get noticeably more plentiful starting as early as the middle of february.

(our only two real fun-outside-in-the-snowy-winter days)

-kaisaniemi botanical gardens. we just did the indoor green houses on the grounds of the outdoor gardens. there is a fee for adults, but its a rather large and varied collection so its worth it, for those interested. the palm room and waterlily rooms were especially lovely. when we went in late february almost nothing was in bloom, but it was still nice to see leaves and green in the middle of winter.

(waterlily room)

-etelä haaga library. this one is on the west side of the city, but we managed to visit it because we were early to a birthday party nearby. its a nice library near a school and fun playground in a quiet part of town, the childrens section was a cozy and inviting place and there was a small but decent english section.

-pacifico brunch. a good price (15 euros per person) and lots of food choices (mexican inspired or traditional finnish food). the restaurant (which doubles as a bar/club at night) is spacious and accepts reservations but its definitely a hipster, young person in-the-know kind of place and i wasnt totally enamoured of the food. i still like our 'dylan' restaurant better. but it was nice to try this with friends for daves birthday.

(couch cuddles at pacifico)

-chicos. this place is a wanna-be generic american fare restaurant. the puddles of mayo and weird black (cola bbq?) sauce on my cajun burger were not inspiring however. the fries, while tasty, were not in any shape (canoes?) ive ever seen in america and Xs meatballs were swimming in the typical thousand island dressing/sauce they use on just about everything meat related here. its not a terrible place, just nowhere i would choose to eat, unless we were caught hungry and this was the only thing nearby.

finn notables:
-the few days when we actually got snow, you could see all the kids flow out of their homes at the same time. it was like someone pushed a button and all the natives, attuned to this signal, immediately obeyed and came out to frolic and play and FINALLY enjoy themselves at the same moment.

-while signing my work contract, i learned that finland actually has three health system choices: the general (free) public health service, the private health insurance sector, and, every employer is required to provide occupational health service (this can be organized by the employer if they are large enough, or contracted to private health insurance).

-in looking for new housing (our current landlord is finishing school in england this spring/summer and will be moving back into this place with his wife) we found out that the city of helsinki owns many apartments in various neighborhoods. these are need-based apartments, i guess youd call them, but anyone can apply for them. the list is long of course but if you are chosen to get one of these apartments the rents are lower than your neighbors (though not in a drastic way) and you are able to stay in these leases indefinitely. we have gotten on this list. however, in talking to some neighbors to see if they knew anyone who was moving out soon we got a lucky break. in the building behind ours, on the first floor, a slightly larger apartment (81 m2) is becoming available at exactly the right time. it is owned by a nice finnish family with three boys who will be moving away to their familys farm this summer. we are going to move in. X will get to stay at her daycare, we will get a bit more space and still have access to all the same stores, playgrounds, and friends as we did before. while its not a move to our favorite neighborhoods (vanhakaupunki or arabia), this is a great second choice because it means an easier transition for X and the apartments here are better priced. perhaps one day, when we both have steady jobs, we will get to move to our number one choice area.

a few more notes on finnish cuisine: so, they typically sell their ice cream in these rectangle boxes that need to be unfolded basically completely flat each time you want to get in them. they arent like the buckets with a lid sold in the US. and its amusing to see how ice cream is served at finnish functions. instead of an ice cream scoop, finns open up these ice cream boxes and cut slices for serving.

(opening the box; opened box)

also, weve been trying our hand at making more of the traditional finnish foods. i like the desserts, because they arent as sugary as north american sweets, but the savory dishes can sometimes be a bit bland. however, ive really come to love the reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. the salmon potato soup is a great cold weather comfort dish. and also, their cabbage/meat/rice casserole is surprisingly simple but tasty, with lingonberry sauce as well of course.

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