#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.

#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)

#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).

#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.

#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.