#24: Get familiar with Finnish birdlife and nature… and overlook Helsinki!

Active, All year, Birdwatching, Nature, Sea

I must had been passing that castle-like building by the side of Helsinki-Turku highway for ages before I discovered it was Galen-Kallela museum, aka Tarvaspää. I have posted about the museum on my other blog and it is well worth a visit, but this time I thought we could explore the area – Ruukinranta – better.

And it was really surprising! The ambience was not unlike Westend, that is, private rich houses and villas close to the shore, but much more picturesque. More wood, more soul, more ornamet, more age and taller trees. The downsides of the area are bad collective traffic connections and the omnipresent humming noise from the nearby highway. I’m sure the locals loved to find out that the highway would be built there….

We started the walk at the port, close to Villa Åkerblom, a popular event venue dressed up as a humble wooden villa. Then we walked (lie! Ee did not, we drove, but it is totally walkable) to Villa Elfvik. It is, in fact, a nature education centre with a cosy café, several children- and wheelchair-friendly nature trails, a bird-watching tower and… nature diversity. It was remarkably awesome! Seriously, a lovely Espoo surprise. As much for not being a birdwatching fan or a nature education freak, this was a low-threshold (literally) spot to enjoy an evening walk. We’re coming back on bikes, so expect more pictures within the next weeks – and this time we will make sure that the venue is actually open. #cake

So, this is the main venue, Villa Elfvik…

MIU_5887

… with a lovely garden gazebo…

MIU_5907MIU_5916

… here starts the birdwatching trail…

MIU_5889

… there is Helsinki behind the reeds, I swear….

MIU_5892MIU_5897

… and remains of an old pier…

MIU_5909

… overlooking Otaniemi – and Helsinki.

MIU_5911

Contact information: A bit tricky, the best is to get there on bikes or by car. Alternatively, buses 106, 106K, 212, 213N, 510, 550 will take you to stop Laajalahdenristi – beware, it is in Espoo. Munkkiniemi, for more info see the website or my map.

#19: Hike around the isle of Vallisaari.

Active, Autumn, fortress, Helsinki, History, island, Outdoors, Parks, Sea, Spring, Summer, Walk

Did you enjoy Suomenlinna? Of course you did! Only a short boat (!) trip from the Kauppatori will take you to the place where history meets urban leisure time. The fortress is really interesting, the hobbit houses supercute and the time spent with your friends picknicking on the beach unforgettable.

Now, if you enjoyed yourself but would like to visit something more edgy, mysterious and considerably less touristy, I would recommend the isle of Vallisaari.

Looks good, huh! Today I will even present you with a nutshell history of the island, facts are impertinently copied from http://www.nationalparks.fi/en/vallisaari/history 😉

Since the 15th century the island has served as a sea fortress and a utility island for the neighbouring Suomenlinna. The cattle grazed in Vallisaari, firewood was also brought from here and some fortification structures served as storage.

In the 18th century, Vallisaari also became a pilot base – and now a little quotation from the official website: “The pilots and other inhabitants of the island were a headache for law enforcement. Distilling of alcohol and a tavern on the island caused the people to forget work on occasion. The inhabitants were also suspected of smuggling and serving illegal alcohol”. – Ha! I told you, Suomenlinna experience with a twist 😉 The last pilots left the island as late as in the early 1920s.

Under the Russian rule the fortification of Vallisaari (or Aleksanterinsaari at that time) was at its peak, the batteries you will see when you visit the island are from this period, such as the Alexander Battery (how original) with casemates and thick sand embankments. In the years preceding WWI, the batteries in Vallisaari were modernised with concrete constructions (the “bunker” like buildings you will see, especially around Kuninkaansaari), and a gunpowder magazine was built in the middle of the island.

The history of the two islands as a military area continued after Finland became independent in 1917; the islands served as weaponry storage until quite recently. In Vallisaari, ordnance, torpedoes, and mines were loaded and maintained; weather observations were made; and gas masks were repaired. In Kuninkaansaari, a coastguard station was in operation. During WWII, a German-made air surveillance radar was placed on the island.

MIU_3138MIU_3142MIU_3151MIU_3152MIU_3160MIU_3164MIU_3167MIU_3214

And now a little history fact which is present in Finns’ historical memory today. Of course it has to involve and accident: “A destructive explosives accident occurred in Kuolemanlaakso (‘Valley of Death’) in Vallisaari on 9 July 1937. Thousands of kilos of explosives were flung across Vallisaari and all the way to Suomenlinna”, 8 people lost their lives in the explosion. The reason for the explosion is unknown…

The Valley of Death is by the way accessible by a semi-official path nowadays, the atmosphere is… deadly? You don’t want to spend too much time there, especially not in autumn.

MIU_3200

“In addition to the functions of the Finnish Defence Force, a residential area with a distinctive identity of its own emerged in Vallisaari, with its residents being principally civilians employed by the state of Finland. The island was at its liveliest in the 1950s, when more than 300 people lived there – a school, a shop, and a youth club were active in Vallisaari, in addition to a choir, a drama club, and a troop of scouts. Although Vallisaari is located close to Helsinki city centre, the islanders led a rural life. People tended their vegetable gardens on the island, in addition to which a whole range of grazing animals was found: rabbits, sheep, horses, and pigs. The last inhabitants left the island in 1996.”

Since then, the islands have slumbered, remaining almost in a perfect natural state. In 2013, Metsähallitus started a project to prepare the opening of the islands to visitors before it opened to public only in spring 2016 – that already is a great promise for those who like to enjoy unspoiled nature with a “record-breaking range of species”. And indeed, you will experience the number and unique mix of plants so typical for Finnish archipelago – within 20 minutes boat ride from the heart of Helsinki. And as for the fauna – bats apparently love Vallisaari and abundant in here. Badgers and whateverbirds can also be spotted here. We were not that lucky, we did see the ‘flying lynx’ (horned owl) though, sitting undisturbed on the corner of Aleksanterinbatteri:

MIU_3197

Now, here is the catch: due to islands’ military history the visitors are obliged to stay on official paths, digging is strictly prohibited, dogs have to be kept on leash at all times – and entry to certain areas is forbidden,violators can (will) be prosecuted. Swimming in ponds and on most of the beaches is also prohibited due to the amounts of scrap iron in which swimmers can get caught – plus all the military surprises. Some really exciting looking cliffs have been eroded (and eroding), and you don’t want to take the chance 😦 it is just a matter of time before the island becomes completely tourist friendly.

I understand the security risks, and no thanks I don’t feel like stepping on a landmine, but imho this cultivation process will take a lot of islands’ charm away. I feel so tempted to borrow a metal detector and help Metsähallitus with clearing up the beaches, lakes, forests…

MIU_3104MIU_3129MIU_3148MIU_3157MIU_3187MIU_3122

Yet another quotation from the official website which summaries how I felt about the islands: a paradise for children. Made me shed a tear of nostalgia – how many places like that (minus the explosives though!) are there in Finland, where kids can actually experience adventure?

“For children, Vallisaari was a secret world where small islanders experienced numerous adventures, sometimes without the knowledge of the adults. Children threw stones at windows, searched for the mouth of a tunnel that, according to rumours, led to Suomenlinna, and dug up explosives, even though this was strictly forbidden then and is now.”

 

Sob. But please do adhere to the rules…

Contact information: Vallisaari is located between the Suomenlinna and Santahamina islands. Here you can find all the useful transport information and a map.

#16: Take a dip at Kumpula outdoor swimming pool.

Active, All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Housing, Olympics, Outdoors, Walk

With the first signs of spring I believe it is apt to write about the unique outdoor swimming pool in Kumpula. Yay!

The swimming pool was actually built for the Olympics (together with the Swimming stadium), and it has recently been renovated maintaining the original 1950s outfit and feel. It is much cosier than the Swimming stadium (just off the main Olympics stadium), further away from the city centre, less known to tourists (as well as locals) and located in somehow more picturesque neighbourhood.

Kumpula, in fact, is yet another Helsinki’s wooden district pearl, and a home to a number of wealthy/educated individuals as well as artists (ha!). If I had to choose between Kaivopuisto and living in a wooden house with soul, oh I would not hesitate a second.

It is lovely. It lies relatively close to the centre, not too far from the busy E75 highway. It is quite smartly insulated from all the hustle and bustle by woods, and when you get there it feels as if you entered another world, or at least went back 100 years. Cosy shops, colourful wood, children playing everywhere. It feels so social – open common yards, people knowing each other, well, an idyllic neighbourhood really.

As I read on a blog on visithelsinki.fi, some of the houses were built for people displaced under the World War 2 – I think I should find out more about these people and their fates! In the 1990s, however, these houses had stood empty for some time. A group of social activists saved the day – they took over the houses and established a social housing organisation.

In the vicinity of the swimming pool lies the Kumpula botanical garden – about which I will write when there is actually something blooming 😉 or come and see it for yourself before me!

Contact details: Allastie 1. Bus stop Kumpula (buses 52, 55, 56, 506). The outdoor swimming pool opens around May every year. For opening times check out the website.