#20: Try what urban exploring feels like at Villa Mehu in Veklahti, Kirkkonummi.

Architecture, Autumn, Culture, Nature, Outdoors, Spring, Summer, Walk

Villa Mehu is not exactly n Helsinki, yet it is within the third zone of the capital region: you will have to travel to Veklahti in Kirkkonummi, but it should not take more than hour from Kamppi. And I think it is not so bad – you will be experiencing a very unique atmosphere, somewhere between the statue park in Parikkala, some kind of a trending urbex location and a hoarder’s den. Oh and it is all placed in a typical Finnish forest with blueberries, mushrooms, elk flies and all that, so I would recommend reserving the whole afternoon for this trip.

Villa Mehu was home of dancer Elis Sinistö (1921-2004)(check the link, it is really well made and written!) for almost 50 years before his death in 2004. The Villa area consist of the main house, several saunas, a number of huts, a bee tower, bee hives, dug and decorated holes, a pond (where Sinistö’s ashes are) covered with water lilies and numerous constructions of unknown purpose. Or maybe there was no purpose at all, who knows.

 

MIU_3253MIU_3291MIU_3261MIU_3343He built it mostly of waste material he found lying around, you will find a lot of plastic, toys, machine parts, recycled wood planks, metal and wooden parts of furniture as well as Sinistö’s clothes, books, artwork and magazines. Since Sinistö passed away 12 years ago the place has been uninhabited and has been slowly deteriorating.

Despite the place being deserted, most constructions are still in surprisingly good condition. In fact, the most interesting and fascinating is the way the nature is taking over the man-made structures and materials. Oh and there are no signs of deliberate vandalism, which I think is wonderful.

The question we asked ourselves was what will happen with the place, what should happen with the place, what would Sinistö himself wished to happen with his home. Shall we keep it open to everyone and just watch the man-made constructions lose the fight with the elements? One day the houses and towers will collapse, but is that a part of the project? Experience the temporality of our deeds?

 

 

 

Contact information: Humaljärventie 54, 02400 Kirkkonummi. Nearest bus stop is Veklahti, for connections from Helsinki check Reittiopas. The journey from Kammpi Espoo terminal should take about an hour (not that bad at all!), but be prepared that you have to change buses. The journey by car from central Helsinki takes only about 30 minutes.

After you have arrived at the number 46 at Humaljärventie, continue for another 40m down the hill and turn left – shabby signposts will lead you to the path. Follow the path for about 50m and you will come to the main gate. Cannot be missed.

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#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.

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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.

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“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:

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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…

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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.

#5: Take a walk in Hietaniemi Cemetery (particurally recommended for October 31st)

All year, Autumn, Cemetery, Darkness, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Spooky, Walk

Meh, of course you could see this one coming on the All Saints Day. It is a bit of a cheat, too, I’m sorry, because as you know cemeteries are indeed exciting all over the world.

The Hietaniemi Cemetery is the cemetery of choice in Finland if you are famous and/or rich. It is located very close to the centre (about 10-15 min walk from Kamppi), on the seashore and just off the Hietaniemi Sand Beach. It is calm, park-like, full of tall beautiful trees and squirrels (including Esko, the sweetest of all) – a perfect place for reading books, eating your packed lunch (I have no shame), contemplating and watching sunsets! It is the place of rest of Tove Jansson, Alvar Aalto and many other internationally famous people and even more nationally famous people – all those presidents, opera singers, etc.

Before you set off for a walk download this map of famous graves. Not many people know about it, but it makes life and searching for that Edelfelt grave much easier. And bring some nuts for Helsinkis cheekiest squirrels!

IMG_20151031_203536Tove Jansson’s grave.

IMG_20151031_190957All Saints’ Day – aka how the atmosphere cannot be captured.

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Esko the squirrel…IMG_20150829_185432-1… and a little bit of the cemetery in early autumn. Behind Esko.

#2 Explore the Puu-Käpylä wooden housing district

All year, Architecture, Autumn, Helsinki, Outdoors, Walk

After a short while one soon realises that Finnish urban housing is – with an exception of those lucky few living in the Helsinki city centre – kind of monotonous to say the least. It’s all about kerrostaloja, concrete blocks of flats, with obligatory complemented by a grey box-like supermarket and equally angular minimalistic daycare. Some of these buildings or their respective location are more bearable than others, yet the houses themselves are rarely aesthetically pleasing and almost unequivocally they lack, well, that special something too them, something worth photographing, something you would tell your friends about. They are functional and close to some kind of a park, but that’s pretty much it.

… but there are exceptions! One of them is the district of Käpylä, more specifically the part known as Puu-Käpylä – Wooden Käpylä. Walking (or sitting in the tram) along the Pohjolankatu avenue you will experience what I personally understand under Scandinavian architecture: an array of wooden houses from the 1920s, built along the idea of the garden suburb and creating great living conditions for city workers. The very same idea lay behind the Tapiola quarter in Espoo, but if I had to choose, Puu-Käpylä has so much more character… no wonder it made in to the top of the best residential quarters in Helsinki (= in Finland)!

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I particularly recommend taking the tram 1/1A towards Pohjolanaukio, get off at Metsolantie or Käpylänaukio and walk down Pohjolankatu toward Pohjolanaukio. Look left, look right, sink in between the wooden houses now and again…

Special recommendation: take the walk in autumn. Those autumn colours fit Käpylä so well…DSC_8587

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… at Pohjolanaukio you will find Park Hotel, a hotel with a pretty decent weekday menu restaurant and famous for being the shooting location of the Hyvät herrat show. I have never heard of it but apparently ALL Finns over 20 years of age or something know this. So you’d better remember this as well.

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From Pohjolanaukio continue along the Käpylänkuja – why? Well, because you will get to Helsinki home of Karelian culture, the Karjalantalo. The inauguration of the statue of The evacuated mother took place in June 2015 and not many Helsinki citizens know about it yet, so check it out, and check out the events taking place at the house, too! (wink wink, yeah, I work there.) If you think you like Finnish food, try the week-day lunch at the Karelia restaurant for extra pork, cabbage and other food so typical for Karelia. And if you prefer food with more creativity, uhm, head back to the Park Hotel.

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While in Käpylä you can extend the walk to the Olympic village. Built in 1950s (duh), these serve a “more bearable” example of the kerrostalo architecture: simple, functionalist, with some kind of atmosphere, symmetry and lightness, well, I could live there too.

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Want more of wooden urban architecture? Check out Puu-Vallila in Helsinki, or take a short trip to Porvoo!

#1 Visit väestönsuojelumuseo (Museum of Civil Defence)

All year, Autumn, Helsinki, Indoors, Museum, Spring, Winter

At the beginning I did not want to add museums to the list ’cause I thought it was plain cheating – anybody can google “(free) museums in Helsinki” and, well, go for it. And indeed some of these museums are very good! I’d particularly recommend the City of Helsinki Museums (http://www.helsinginkaupunginmuseo.fi/en/museums/), especially the Museum of Workers’ Housing. It is awesome, located close to Kallio and the Alppila/Lenin Park.

The place I had in mind is truly special – hidden away and overlooking another gem, the Merihaka estate, run by volunteers and open only at certain Saturdays throughout autumn, winter and spring. I confess I’m not too much into the whole War and sharing this particular historical memory (which is really important to Finns. Having said that, you can probably sense that someone has “suggested” this place as suitable for the blog), for example I would never pay for the Musuem of War in Helsinki, but I fell in love with THIS place. It was so sincere, the guides share their and their families’ stories with you, the exhibits are mostly donations from ordinary people – oh and you learn a lot about home safety if you please. Abundant in pictures of pre-war and ww2-Helsinki, it helps one to connect with the city, with its history and architecture, well, trust me, it is a great place to visit. Oh and if you are lucky, you will meet the largest dog in like, the world. She belongs to one of the guides, the blond firefighter (probably called Teemu or Juha, as if there were any other male names in Finland).

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And some contact details: Siltavuorenranta 16 B, http://hvssy.fi/museo/