#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…

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… with a lovely garden gazebo…

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… here starts the birdwatching trail…

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

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… and remains of an old pier…

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… overlooking Otaniemi – and Helsinki.

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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.

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#23: Salute the white duck of Töölönlahti

All year, Animals, Birdwatching, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks

Oh heavens, it has been over 6 months since I updated this blog! I have take a break from, well, life and now when the spring is here again I seem to have certain things under control again. And, more importantly, I have more ideas for Helsinki places for you, dear readers! So please do stay tuned.

The goal is to post at least once a week – yep, that means one new exciting thing to do in Helsinki every week!

And today we start with a certain fella from the Töölönlahti bay. Now when the weather in Helsinki has somehow become bearable* I suggest to take a stroll/jog around Töölönlahti some time – although you have probably done it already, it is hard to miss that park between the railway station and the opera house. It is frequented by locals and tourists alike, there have been some random activities taking place as well in the past, such as SUPing, floating sauna, festivals and happenings, etc. – and it is the place to observe some of the People (or creatures) of Helsinki: the bin-drummer, the leggings&beer guy, the Kekkonen-fountain-dipper, the somehow senior marathon runner, the roller blader… – if you are local, I’m sure you at least roughly know who I’m talking about;) Recently, however, there has been a new sight in Töölönlahi.

I have been admiring him for a long time – and the I found out that he had already become a celebrity. Sometimes I should act faster 😉 the talk is, as you probably can guess, about the white albino duck, aka “valkonen”** . He does stand out quite a bit!

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He is so sweet. So positive. So different. And! He has found himself a girlfriend, so in a few weeks or so, go out and explore the ultimate gorgeousness.

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Sorry about the picture quality – it was zoomed with a phone camera.

And where exactly to find him? Well, he is – obviously – mobile, but in accordance with my empirical research I identified the most probable place to find him. Check out our ultimate map and look for #23!

Public transport: walk from the Opera, Kallio, Central railway station; the closest tram stop (4, 7B, 10, 10B) would be Hesperian puisto.

*) it is actually snowing right now. Enough said.

**) NOT to be confused with valkoinen (note spelling; “white” in Finnish)

#22: Stalk the Aalto family in Munkkiniemi

All year, Alvar Aalto, Architecture, Helsinki, Uncategorized

Aalto’s house located in peaceful Munkkiniemi is definitely worth a visit. For me, Munkkiniemi had until yesterday been a place somewhere a bit further away, close to the hospital district – but it is, in fact, really fancy, not unlike for example the areas of Kulosaari or Lehtisaari. A lot of lavish villas from various periods and built in different architecture styles, full-grown trees, proximity of the sea and a sea promenade, well, when I win the lottery I might like to consider living there!

One of my future neighbour houses would be Alvar Aalto’s home (and office for some time) located at Riihitie 20, facing former cadet school, and is really pretty, even in early Finnish winter.

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I did not have the right lens to take pictures of the garden which constitutes an important part of the house. It was quite humble, but as the plot is located on a slope overlooking a football plan it feels really spacious and airy.

 

There is a little catch, and that would be that the house visit is not for free (except for the exterior, obviously), and Museokortti will not give you any discount this time. This house and the nearby Studio Aalto are managed by Aalto foundation, private management has its perks and downsides. The house is in mint condition, but there is a certain (affordable) price to pay for this;)

The interior is planned in a really rational and functional way, yet thanks to the use of natural materials (fabric, wood, reed mats, etc.) and traditional Nordic (and Japanese) elements it feels really homey and cosy. Maybe even too cosy this cold November afternoon due to the small number of lamps. The round roof openings letting natural light helped a bit, but the overall impression was Wow, it is dark in here, how can one sit comfortably in the sofa and read?

I’m a big fan of Aalto’s furniture and lamps, but I have my comments on the latter: they are beautiful, yet not very functional. I’m sorry. I understand that a part of the design was to conceal the source of light, and in this respect he succeeded, but maybe too much has been concealed..?

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… and some abstract artwork by Aalto:

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About a 10 minute walk from Aalto’s house, at Tiilimäki 20, you will find the Studio Aalto. Alvar Aalto ran the office from 1955 until his death in 1976. After that, the office continued under the leadership of Elissa Aalto until 1994 and today it houses the Alvar Aalto Foundation, the Alvar Aalto Academy and the Alvar Aalto Museum Architectural Heritage. And it was closed yesterday, so I only managed to take a few peaks of the exterior:

And about 38 seconds away from Aalto Foundation House you will find those kind of views:miu_4352

That white patch in the top section of the picture is THE SUN. Very welcome that day.

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Come and visit some day. Really. Take a walk around Tiilimäki and the sea promenade, the atmosphere is so noble and peaceful.

I promise I will prepare a longer guide to Munkkiniemi one day, I just wanted to let you know that Aalto’s house is worth the visit, despite its non-central location.

Contact information: Tram 4 to last stop at Munkkiniemi, for more info see the website.

#21: Take a deep breath in a mental hospital from 1841.

All year, Coffee/Tea, Culture, Darkness, Helsinki, History, Housing, Indoors, Parks, Spooky, Walk

Within a stone’s throw from the heart of Helsinki (by which I’m referring to Kamppi, sadly) you can find Helsinki’s asylum. A rather unique place, and recently an exceptionally busy one.

Lapinlahden mielisairaala (Lapinlahti mental hospital) is located next to the Hietaniemi cemetery, about 800m from Kamppi and 500m from Ruoholahti.

When I first visited the area in 2014 I was thrilled. The area stood abandoned and frequented by occasional dogwalkers, bike commuters and the misfortunate and looked like this:

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And squirrels popping from the nearby chestnut trees. It read on multiple signs that I’m currently entering hospital and daycare premises, but there were no signs of life around. Just imagine, an abandoned mental hospital, you simply cannot resist and have to walk around. Stare. Absorb the atmosphere. Look out for ironbars in the window. Imagine what kind of people have been kept here – and what for.

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And then, in the section facing the sea, you will see this:

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And your heartbeat speeds up. Nowadays, though, the views are not half that bad. The back yard has been cleared of walls and fences and looks like an ordinary park:

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Only several meters of anti-climbing tall fence reveals what once was going on in there. Actually for a long time, the hospital closed only around 2006 and was moved to Töölö (to a rather ugly  building, yet closer to the central hospital I guess). The same old story I’m afraid: costs, some minor water damage and mildew, etc.

So – what happened after the closure? Nothing at first. Only about three years ago Lapinlahden lähde and Pro Lapinlahti associations (or movements?) were put together with the goal to revive the once-so important site, and with the help of many a volunteer and with some strings pulled the site is back to life. It serves as a social and cultural centre promoting mental wellbeing, as place of business of many organisations dealing with mental health issues, a part of it rooms an art gallery, a café with a little handicraft shop, oh and one wing is hired to various businesses. Also, there is a public sauna (for 7€ per head) almost every day and many cultural, educational and social activities (most of them free of charge) all year round.

The hospital was built around the Lapinlahden lähde, the well of Lapinlahti (hence the name of the above-mentioned associations), with exceptionally clear and high quality fresh water. In the old days the water was used among others by the famous Hartwall factory or by many of Helsinki’s pharmacies.

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Today a patch of land speckled with urban gardens is situated between the well and the cemetery and is apparently very popular among young families living in central Helsinki. Renting queues are long. The garden area served mostly for therapeutic purposes about a century ago

The building itself is, well, so typical for mid 19th century: white, symmetric site, clean lines and a lot of (planted) greenery – sounds like a neat place for an asylum. Just off the sea and overlooking busy Länsiväylä, close enough to the city, but far enough as well. Far enough not to disturb the possible nearby inhabitants.

We actually joined a guided tour with Green cap tours on Saturday in order to learn more about the history of the site and explore the inside without getting strange looks. And in this respect it succeeded and I can recommend doing the same to anyone who would like to know more about the place, its famous visitors and/or interested in the history of treatment of ill mental health. It was not as fancy as exploring an abandoned hospital, and to be fair the guide lacked some spark and confidence and did not share his sense of humour with us that much, but it was informative.

And we walked along those long corridors.

And visited the (overly staged 😦 ) room of Aleksis Kivi, probably the most famous patient in the hospital’s history.

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And the gallery, aka the former apartment of the senior psychiatrist.

And were sorry that the place does not give you the chills as it used to a couple of years ago but glad at the same time that the building is serving a good purpose again.

More info: www.lapinlahdenlahde.fi, the address is Lapinlahdentie 1, 00180 Helsinki. Can be reached by tram no. 8, stop 8: Marian sairaala (Maria’s hospital, a nearby hospital again closed for business. This only happened a year or two ago, I have actually made it twice to there before it closed… a pity, it was conveniently central and had much more soul than those modern monstrous buildings in Meilahti).

#18: Share in a Scandinavian way at Rikhardinkadun kirjasto (Rikhardinkatu library)

All year, Helsinki, Indoors, Libraries, Uncategorized

What would Finland be without public libraries, cosy social, cultural and communication hubs scattered all over the country?

Helsinki can of course boast with some of the oldest libraries in Finland. It is located at Rikhardinkatu 3; it is a building from 1880s originally designed by Theodor Höijer , afterwards it was further extended in the 1920s and the interior in the form and looks we know nowadays was renovated in the 1980s. It used to be the main library of Helsinki until 1986 – which is quite surprising because it is not that huge – and because Finland has such a strong tradition of libraries!

Unlike in other countries (among others the paperback/Kindle powers – I’m looking at you, UK), it is no shame for middle and upper-middle class to use library for (obviously) borrowing books, music and video data free of charge, printing and copying things, using fax machines (lol), shredding documents… and for 3D printing, repairing your clothes, organising cultural events and similar. I know, right, cheap 3D printing should so much be available to everyone, just like using quality sewing machines for quick repairs or smaller projects or workshops. Recycling and sharing so typical for the Scandinavians in another form.

Now, Rikhardinkatu library is beautiful. Humble on the outside, just off Las Ramblas of Helsinki (Esplanaadinpuisto), and so cosy. I had never been before (“my” library is the one at Elielinaukio (Kirjasto 10): conveniently located just outside the train station, so if you would like a warm spot with WiFi without the obligation of buying bad coffee for when waiting for your train connection, Kirjasto 10 should be considered an option), visited it extempore for the first time on Friday – and thought I should explore public libraries more in my blog, and Rikhardinkatu library seemes like a great place to start. Some of them surely deserve attention…

 

#17: Learn to cope with death at the Pet cemetery (Eläinten hautausmaa)

All year, Cemetery, Darkness, Helsinki, Spooky, Uncategorized, Walk

This is a spot which I would recommend not only to cemetery enthusiasts – it is situated in the heart of Central Park (a 10 sq km stripe of park area stretching from Töölönlahti Bay to the border of Helsinki and Vantaa), therefore visiting it can be connected with a refreshing walk and wild herb picking. It is not too well know to the locals, so again you will be the smart pants in the gang…

… and most importantly, it is a place taking an unusual and incredibly human stance on the topics of death and mourning.

Pet cemeteries in general are often considered childish products of emotionally immature mind. For me they are the most sincere and personal tangible representations of mourning in Western culture.

When a beloved pet (a valid member of the family) passes away, the bereaved are not tied by any kind of social or religious conventions – with an exception of the fact that they chose to bury the pets in a cemetery and not just anywhere. The tombs come all kinds of shapes, materials and sizes, and most of them are somehow home-made. What you would not dare to do in “normal” cemeteries you are much free’er to do here; it’s exactly the personal touch what makes this space so moving. I’d say this is a great starting point when you want to teach your kids (and yourself, to be honest) about death. How natural it is. How the being who passed away continues living in our hearts, in us, how its presence on Earth shaped us…

Graves are generally very well decorated with a lot of effort: freshly cut flowers, little flowerpots and vases, candles, but unlike human graves you will find pets’ “personal” belongings. Toys. Collars. Balls.

And dogs have their heroes too!

Last note of this post: see you soon, Ideal Idol? Please don’t haunt my dreams.

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Contact: Metsäläntie 9 (about). Bus stop Haaga Metsäläntie.

#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.

#15: Climb the highest point of Helsinki

All year, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

The highest point in Helsinki lies in staggering 91m above sea level: on top of Malminkartanonhuippu hill located in Malminkartano (yes.). Adjacent to one of Vantaa’s rougher neighbourhoods, Myyrmäki. Well you know, rough in Finnish sense, which for anyone at least partly cosmopolitan means quirky yet laughably safe.

Malminkartanonhuippu is not a common hill (that would be geologically quite interesting in fact). It is an artificial hill. It was “created” over about 20 years in 1970-90s. It was built from rubbish – electric waste, tyres, etc. – and put together with help of dirt and sand and a lot of will power. I was just waiting for the moment when the Earth would shake a bit and a three-eyed fish would appear above the dirt/ice surface…

… nah, the hill is (apparently) pretty green and decent. Situated in a park (well, a common maybe), it is a popular spot for cross-country runners and other sport freaks (I mean enthusiasts), dog-walkers, families – and to my ardour for adult hobby sleighers! Yay!

There are several possible ways to reach the hill; as I came from Myyrmäki (where I was to check out the new museum) I chose to take the stairs. The stairs with 10cm thick layer of ice on them.

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Fortunately the boxing classes have payed off and I sort of pulled my weigh up the hill. If you are visiting in winter, I cannot recommend decent winter boots (or shoe spike) enough.

The weather was not as bad as it looks in the pictures (it did not rain or snow and there were a few rays of light), but a wool coat, slim jeans and boots with thin slippery sole were bad. I could hardly move anywhere, and I could not walk/slide down the hill either, it was simply too icy – and I did not have my pink bob-sleigh with me.

In summer I would recommend bringing packed lunch with you. And/or try to run up the stairs, apparently there is an annual race in that very discipline. And/or bring your MTB with you.

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And some February views? Not as impressive as from the Olympic Stadium tower, one is simply too far away from the centre, but truly Finnish: flat, forested land with occasional water tower or a housing project/shopping mall.

Address: Naapuripellontie, 00410 Malminkartano.

Bus 39N, 49, 51 (Neulastie); Marminkartano and Myyrmäki train stations are both a 15-20 min walk away.

#14: Explore the isle of sheep (Lammassaari)

All year, Birdwatching, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Sea, Walk

I know what you are thinking – yet another Isle of Something, get a life, how can this get interesting. Well it does, because islands in and around Helsinki (aka Helsinki archipelago) constitute such an inseparable part of the genius loci. If you liked Suomenlinna (everybody does), chances are you will like the islands I’m writing about – and you can be sure that the experience delight will rise as the number of tourists drops.

Most of the islands are only accessible during the summer season when the ferry service operates (unless you have your own boat – good one, I know). That’s the case with Pihlajasaari for example. Some islands are however accessible via bridges and man-made earthwork, such as Matosaari I wrote about some time ago.

Today we will move slightly toward the north, to the area of Vanhakaupunki (Old Town). This area should be on a list of anyone visiting Helsinki for longer than a few days or hours – and that does not only apply to nature freaks! Having said that, do not get deceived by the name. Indeed is this place of historical importance, apparently that’s where the core of Helsinki was before Helsinki the way we know it came into being:) yet don’t expect a number of monuments, museums and what-else-not touristy things. Tourists usually stop at the Arabia factory (see below) – and actually even most Helsinki residents have no clue where or what Old Helsinki is, my guess is they think it is some kind of a pub.

Take tram number 6 or 8 toward Arabian ranta, get off at Arabiankatu – and pay a visit to the Arabia factory (and museum and a well-equipped factory shop selling Arabia, Iittala, Fiskars and Finlayson goods). By now you must surely have come across with the moomin mugs or other items you will find in each and every Finnish household.

In close vicinity you will find Kumpula, a lovely area with a botanical garden, wooden district not unlike Käpylä and an outdoor swimming pool. I hope you won’t mind if I write about all of these places a bit later on this year..? Unless someone is eager to see pictures of a pool full of slush. Another couple of hundred metres along Hämeentie take left to Vanhakaupungintie, you will find Kellonmäki hill there with some spectacular landmarks, such as an obelisk to the remembrance of founding of the city of Helsinki. Return to Hämeentie, now cross the road and enjoy a short walk around the bay towards the Museum of Technology (ummm… looks like a big water pump really). Enjoy the little “waterfall”, turn right onto the Viikintie, walk for a little bit, take another right to Katariina Saksilaisen katu and keep walking until you reach the end of civilisation and arrive at a car park slash field. This won’t take long, believe me :)… and Bob’s your uncle, we are close to Lammassaari, all you have to do is keep crossing the field toward Lammassaari…

… this fieldy foresty area, in fact, is the Viiki natural reserve, a popular destination for bird-spotters and families with small children (not THAT kind of popular, more like behaving curious kids popular). The wooden path leads you across the area – you will most definitely come across a few bird-spotting towers (look out for Lintutorni).

The views from these are stunning, but what stuns you even more is the peace. You can hear the humming city, yes, but it does not bother you. Overlooking the marshlands, the water, the greenery makes you smile inside (and outside, unless it’s raining).

And one of those magical paths leads you across the marshlands (or meadows? It is hard to say in winter) to the Lammassaari.

An island accessible on a wooden path from the Viiki side and by boat from the half facing Herttoniemi. A popular recreational area guessing by the number of cabins. Superpeaceful during the winter. Probably even more magical during the summer.

Interestingly enough, some of the largest buildings on Lammassaari (wooden Leppola house and Pohjolan pirtti from 1904-05) are owned and managed by this abstinence society, Kottio ry, promoting active and culturally rich lifestyle. I understand that the nature surroundings contribute to the ethos of the organisation – but the number of cabins and Finnish style grilling (involving cheap sausages, avocado and LOTS of beer and “cider”) probably not so much. The dominant of the island is definitely the Pohjolan pirtti

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… owned by the above-mentioned, a restaurant and event venue. Naturally this was deserted in February, and there is currently no mention of summer events, opening times, etc., but I believe that I will revisit again.

Information: http://www.koitto.net/

Accessible on foot: park your car on Joukontie, take the bus (57, 68, 71, 71V, 74, 74N, 506) to Viikinranta – or if you have a lot of energy in your legs I can recommend taking the tram and

#13: Visit the mystical Island of Worms (Matosaari)

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, History, Sea, Spooky

This island just off Jollas (just after Lauttasaari) – or a peninsula, as it has been connected to the mainland sometime in late 19th century – has one heavily loaded karma. Atmosphere. Genius loci. Tiny in size and not attracting crowds of tourists, green, quiet and unwelcoming (compare to for example Kivinokka or relatively nearby Korkeasaari).

On the way to the island… 

When Finland was still a part of Russian empire, the island served as a part of the coastal fortification, during the Crimean War (1853-1856) a fort was raised there to protect the Grand Duchy from attackers. After the island has become a peninsula it was sold for civilian use. First land owner, K.H. Lindh built a lovely villa on the island – the house is still standing nowadays and is owned and used by by Helsingin meripelastus (Helsinki Lifeboat Association). In the 1920s, a certain Uno Björklund built another fancy villa on the island. Garden architect Paul Olsson was appointed to re-design the house’s surroundings in 1928; in his plans he included the remains of the fort as well as natural stone walls. The plan, however, was never carried out since in 1963 the villa was destroyed in fire, all what is left nowadays includes piles of stones and beams in the middle of island overgrown with grass and lichen. It gives shivers.

Walking around the island among the ruins.

Some views from the island. Note Hamina island in the third picture serving as military training facility.

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Location: 00850 Helsinki. If you are travelling by car I recommend parking next to Jollas Institute (Jollasvägen 89) and continue on foot. Alternatively, take bus number 85 from Herttoniemi (direction Jollas) to Kellaripellonpolku and walk from there.

More information (in Finnish): http://www.kysy.fi/kysymys/mista-voisin-saada-tietoa-laajasalon-matosaaren-historiastaneuvosta