#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!

IMG_1993

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.

Untitled.jpg

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)

Advertisements

#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:

Lapinlahden_sairaalan_portti.jpg(source: Wikipedia.org)

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.

dsc_4163

dsc_4159

dsc_4157

dsc_4152

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

dsc_4171dsc_4161

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:

miu_4186

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.

miu_4161miu_4155img_0582

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.

img_0591img_0593

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).

#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.

#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.

DSC_1336

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.

DSC_1321

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

DSC_0946

… 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

#7: Go for a cup of tea in the City Winter Garden

All year, Architecture, Coffee/Tea, Helsinki, Indoors, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

A stone’s throw from the city centre and just off the Olympic Stadium, this is a paradise for those who are seeking a refuge from cold weather or who just took a walk around Töölönlahti (and/or for those who need to spend a penny;) and would like to, well, sit down and relax.

Helsingin Talvipuutarha(Picture: Yle)

The winter garden (19th century)  is a piece of art itself with its ornamented iron&glass construction, shining bright form a mile away yet in juxtaposition to the 1950s architecture. Around the actual winter garden, or this “social greenhouse”, you will find a little rose garden. What is inside the building is hardly surprising: cacti, succulents, koi carps and a little fountain. But it is the whole experience that counts.

Yes, I know you’ve been to greenhouses or tropical gardens or whatever you dress it like before, but this one is so lovely. Partly because it is so lovely and random – all those (sub)tropic plants, all located in the city centre in Finland, I mean, you surely see all the contrasts (I do recommend visiting the winter garden in winter for the extra intense experience!)? Maybe because it is always so unbelievably peaceful, although you will find local families here as well as Russian tourists. Maybe because I’m just being sentimental and I like the Eiffel-like architecture of the late 19th century. Maybe because this is one of those few public places I can actually read a book at without getting disturbed. Maybe because that omnipresent yet very silent white noise combined with the sweet jingle of the indoor fountain make me happy. Maybe because I don’t feel press to read or to work when I’m there but it comes naturally.

There is usually a little café open in the left wing: I cannot recommend the coffee (same goes for 95% of all cups of coffee in Finland), but the tea should be relatively safe. The right wing is dedicated to cacti and contemporary art/local artist exhibitions – I’ve seen two, I did not like them, I thought they were really weird and really not fitting the location, but hey.

DSC_7512

DSC_7540

DSC_7518

DSC_7515

DSC_7536

DSC_7532

DSC_7528

DSC_7524

DSC_7523

Address: Hammarskjöldintie 1; number 8 tram stop “Kaupunginpuutarha”

More information incl. opening hours: click here  (the link is too long and too annoying to copy). In general the garden is open to public every afternoon.

If you are a real botanics enthusiast, try to get in touch with one of the guides who will give you a tour and will be able to tell you more about the plant species!

#6: Do a picnic at Meilahti arboretum and rosarium

All year, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

What, where? In simple terms – enjoy a packed lunch (optional) at a nice park in Meilahti. With roses. And cliffs. And a great dogpark.

The park covers over three hectares and presents over 140 varieties of trees and shrubs, which for those of you who have been living in Finland for a while must sound at least a bit exciting – the birch&spruce dominance gets challenged finally! DSC_8926

… some luxury October colours:DSC_8928 DSC_8931

DSC_8942

DSC_8946 DSC_8952

The rosarium, featuring errr… many… kinds of shrub roses, is a Helsinki take on Queen Mary’s Gardens in London. The scale would correspond as well, the whole park is quite small actually, yet really cosy. I cannot recommend it enough for a nice after-work walk or a picnic. The best time to visit would be mid June to mid August so that you can enjoy the roses in full bloom and full scent, but as you can see from the pictures, the park is indeed worth a visit all year round.

I have been there twice in the past months, and each time the park was to my liking nearly empty…
DSC_8933 DSC_8936 DSC_8939One of many picnic spots in the park:
DSC_8940

More information: http://www.vihreatsylit.fi/en/?p=927

Address: Meilahdentie 4; tram and bus stop Meilahdentie

#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.

IMG_20150829_185216

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

#3: Take lovely portrait pictures at Alppiruusupuisto – the rhododendron park

Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Spring, Summer, Walk

I know it is totally unfair to post this in October. I just wanted to remind you that this greyness will cease soon, that there are days to come when you can enjoy the bright colours of autumn, and eventually, after the dreaded long winter, some true colours of summer.

This is the first post in the Parks category, and it is a really good one. Alppiruusupuisto in Haaga is a true gem when it comes to parks in Helsinki. Smartly hidden behind random kerrostalot, in June (I repeat: visit this place in May-June, maybe early July in order to catch the bushes in the bloom. There are indeed several nearly-all-year-round parks in Helsinki, but this one is NOT one of them) this park transforms in probably the most photogenic place in Helsinki, I mean, you can’t possibly take a bad picture in here. So if you are planning to get hitched, graduate or you want your boy/girlfriend to finally take that decent portrait of you (it is completely foolproof, you CANNOT take a bad picture in here), bring your photographer here. You will (both) love it.

DSC_0805 DSC_0812DSC_0810

… told you! Perfect location for that FB picture.DSC_0706 copy

The wooden path leading through the park adds to the location’s uniqueness. You feel like in a botanical garden. Minus the entrance fees.

This park makes a great bike trip destination but it is also reachable by public transport (Huopalahti train station, or Thalian aukio and Eliel Saarisen tie bus stops), abundant free parking is available. The place is not that easy to find from the bus stops so please do your research beforehand!

** NEW! Check out the map with ALL Helsinki100 spots! **

More info: http://www.vihreatsylit.fi/en/?p=930