Tuesday, 2 July 2019

HELSINKI: cool confident casual & FUN

Helsinki, as seen from the air above Eki's home (Lauttasaari suburb).

What's not to love about HELSINKI. The center is small enough to be walkable. It's chockablock with museums, restaurants (my fave - Strindberg's, with a great view of Esplanaden - the 19C boulevard that is a perfect place for a summer picnic), book stores, home-grown designer boutiques, nightspots, first-rate, music - from high-end to boom boom, boom. All that and a knock-out location by the sea. Trams, buses, the metro, and trains criss-cross the city and go to outlying towns. It’s safe and almost everyone speaks English. A good reason for Putin and Trump to chose Helsinki for their one-day love-in. That meeting cost the Finnish government a million or more. But clueless foreigners no longer ask, what country is Finland in?  Savvy tourists discovered Helsinki a long time ago. Today hordes are rolling in.  Okay, it's not perfect - the prices might give you a shock.  When I told Eki I paid 12 euros for a  medium-size glass of wine, he said  I was hanging out in the wrong places. He'll know some 'in' spots that won’t bust the budget.

The Shark says she’s become a de facto tourist guide. Every time she’s in the center tourists ask her for directions. The trams and buses keep changing their routes and sometimes she’s stumped. But if they ask her what to see she tells them the new Helsinki City Library - OODI (ALA Architects) and AMOS REX museum (JKMM Architects), the city’s two Must-Visit places. Both have got raves from the locals and internationally. OODI is the city's 'living room'. A space where you can make yourself at home:  choose a book, read a newspaper, create music, make something on a 3D printer, eat, drink, see an archive movie. And I think take a sauna. AMOS REX, is underground in the 1930s art deco Lasi Palatsi (renovated to mint-condition). It was an instant smash hit. The light shines down into the exposition spaces through giant circular skylights. Its first show was Japanese Anime.  Psychedelic art covered the walls, the floors, and the ceilings. It made some viewers dizzy. But they stood in long lines to get vertigo.

The country is known for inventing crazy, off-beat stuff:  the air guitar and wife-throwing contests were born here. But its architecture is more famous. Helsinki is full of designer buildings (see LMP’s 10 Finnish Architects), in three styles: Empire (early 19th C ), National Romantic (late 19th C – early 20th C), Modern (mid-20th C). Architects come from around the world. ALVAR AALTO  had a dream that one day Mannerheimintie would become a cultural avenue. I wish he were around today. Starting about a mile north of the center is the opera house. Heading  South, Finlandia Hall (Alvar Aalto), the National Museum, the City Museum, the new concert hall, Kiasma (modern art museum),  OODI, Amos Oz. And not far away, Atheneum, HAM, the  Design and Architecture museums. A rich dish for any city, but Helsinki is a relatively small city with a pop. of approx. 550,000.

I FORGOT! The COVERED MARKETS:  HAKANIEMI and KAUPPATORI - salmon soup, a glass of cold white wine on a jam-packed Saturday morning, are the best sites of  ALL.  You could make a salmon soup tour of the city. Almost every place that serves food has its own version. Ask the shark for directions.

Sources: the Shark, Eki, personal experience

Littlemargie blog is on vacation in July

August:  Are you masturbating your  CELLPHONE: the CURE

PS: ANDREW YANG, the US presidential candidate we wrote about last week got slammed in the first Democratic debate - he came in dead last. But he has enough donors (over 135,000) and enough money to get a slot in the next round. The Yang Gang hopes he comes out slugging, otherwise he’s toast.

Contact: maggy@magfell.pp.fi

Note: The main tourist attractions are pretty well covered here. But nevertheless, i will add to the selection.

Especially for families with kids, LINNANMĂ„KI amusement park and KORKEASAARI zoo could be worth a visit. Oh, as well as the SUOMENLINNA sea fortress, a beautiful place where one can easily spend the whole day strolling the islands, visiting the ancient fortress walls, cafes and restaurants. The ferry leaves from the Market Square (KAUPPATORI). As Helsinki is often called the white daughter of the Baltic sea, seeing it from a boat is a nice bonus to a trip. In addition to the ferries to Suomenlinna and other visit-worthy islands, there are also round-trip sight-seeing boats that leave from the Market Square.

As far as prices go, everything is expensive in the city downtown, especially in the tourist areas. But just walk a few hundred meters to pretty much any direction, and you will find places with much more sensible pricing. For those who feel adventurous, the public transport is pretty excellent, and you can travel a rather large area in Helsinki and Espoo with the same AB region ticket, which is valid in buses, trams and the subway (metro). More than half of the households in Helsinki get by without a car, mine included.

PS: By the way, all of the above applies to Helsinki in the summer. It's lovely. The light nights are wonderful - even though we do not get midnight sun here, it's pretty close. But in the winter, Helsinki is a dark, cold, wet and miserable place without too many signs of life. Sure, the museums etc. are open, but a day out downtown still definitely isn't my idea of winter fun. Rather, we Finns tend to just hibernate over the dark season and wait for the light and warmth to return ;-)