Thursday, November 9, 2017

Porvoo Surprise

A follow up from my last post.

After all my stress and futile searching, we ended up having a fun weekend anyway. Saturday morning I checked out the Facebook group Lastentapahtumat Helsinki where locals post information about children's events in Finnish. There is usually someone asking every weekend what's there is to do and people always come up with a few suggestions: many in Finnish like children's theatre shows, ect. but if your kids are like mine, they probably speak better Finnish than you and they will love something like that. 

I was lucky to find a recommendation for a kids' Halloween kurpitsajuhla / pumpkin party at the toy museum at  WeeGeeTalo. I've written a previous post about the museums at WeeGee here. Our guest managed to fill some of the time by wandering around the four other museums, getting a break from the face painting, wand making and other general chaos of the kids' activities. 

Sunday we went to Porvoo. Our previous experiences of Porvoo left us wondering if this was a good choice. It's a lovely city, at least the Old Town where we've visited, but it seemed there wasn't a lot for kids to do and the weather was quite horrid with sleet so we didn't want to be wandering outside much. It's great if you like boutiques, but the kids are bulls in china shops when it comes to antiques and crafty shops and they get bored so quickly. Shopping was not something any of the adults were interested in either.

Disappointments: the Pieni Sukklaatehdas (Little Chocolate Factory) was closed on Sunday and you have to book in advance for the tour. The Lelu Museum  (Toy Museum) was also closed for the autumn/winter. The kids were quite keen on both so something to save for the summer. 

By the time we got ourselves to Porvoo we were very hungry. We didn't know what would be open, but we stumbled across a restaurant across from the Cathedral, just recently opened called Vanhan Porvoon Glassiko. They didn't have a menu posted, but they said it was a brunch so we thought we'd give it a try. I imagined a buffet brunch similar to what we've often found in Helsinki which usually has something my kids will eat, but we were blown away by Glassiko's Swedish-style brunch. 

They brought platter after platter, course after course to the table - starting with homemade bread, croissants and jam, then fruit salad and Greek yogurt with museli, then the best Eggs Benedictine (bacon and spinach) I've had in Finland, then Swedish-style cold salads with smoked salmon, pork terrine, potato salad and bread and cheese. And just when we were totally stuffed they offered apple crumble and ice cream. We didn't realise there would be so much food, so I probably shouldn't also have eaten one of the kids' serving of eggs, but I don't regret it. 

Even though it was obviously a sophisticated, proper grown-up restaurant they made our mob of children feel very welcome. Some of the food was just too strange for my picky kids, so they brought extras of the things they would eat, croissants, watermelon, a bowl of bacon, honey for the bread. We even had our own little section so the kids had a bit of space to be themselves without bothering other people. 

The meal wasn't rushed. The staff were lovely, understanding and patient and even the owner/chef came out to see us (though I didn't know at the time that's who it was), Michelin-starred chef Samuli Wirgentius. Vanhan Porvoon Glassiko doesn't have a website that I can find yet, but here's the Facebook page

Apple Crumble and Tea.
The brunch cost 28 euros per adult and the kids cost a sliding scale with our four-year-old only 1 euro. There was so much gorgeous food, it was totally worth it, especially as a treat. I'm sure we will be back with other visitors, a perfect reason to get out of the capital. 

It was still cold and sleeting out when we finished our extended lunch so we had to find something to keep the kids entertained. We bought tickets for the three Porvoo Museums around Vanhan Raatihuonetori, Holm House, The Porvoo Museum and The Old Town Hall. To visit all 3 museums it cost 8 euros for adults and the kids were free. 

Some of the kids ran through them all rather quickly, but Holm House and the Old Town Hall had a few old toys that entertained them, including manual typewriters which they loved. This gave the grown-ups some time to actually look at the exhibitions. They weren't terribly exciting, but they do give you some interesting info about Finland and the local area, covering many different time periods. We maybe spent about a half hour in each museum. It got us out of the sleet, but I don't think I'd go back now that we've done them. 

I'm looking forward to Porvoo in summer, but back to a Helsinki autumn/winter and a bit of flooding from a burst pipe. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Autumnal Tourist Problems in Finland

We have a friend who comes to visit us every six months or so for a long weekend. Trying to be good hosts, we like to show him around a bit; the local sights, a bit of Finnish culture. 

As he's been here so often we've done most of the obvious Helsinki activities: Suomenlinna, Seurasaari, the city centre, most of the museums and kid-friendly places. We've even gone beyond Helsinki into Nuuksio Forest and to Hämeenlinna. I'm always on the look-out for new ideas, out-of-the-box things to do. For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to organise activities for the last weekend in October, his next visit. 

We're a bit picky, I admit, because we are 7 people between 4 years and middle-age. We have varying interests, physical needs and dietary preferences, so finding things that suit us all is a hard enough challenge. It doesn't help that we're not particularly sporty with some health issues to consider.

Everything I've researched or that people have suggested outside of Helsinki have been closed or stopped by the end of September: restaurants, museums, activities, tourist attractions. 

It's too early for the snowy winter activities and I'm sure even those are limited if you're not into skiing and sledging. It's wet and cold, slushy and sleety in late autumn/early winter (I'm not sure when winter starts), not ideal for walking around outside. 

You can't find a restaurant open in Fiskars that serves more than soup and pullaa, Hvitträsk Museum is closed, Raasepori Castle is closed, the steam boat to Porvoo is closed (though that one I understand as the weather gets colder, but an autumn trip up the coast must be beautiful this time of year). Museums are closed everywhere. And if you want to do anything on a Sunday it's even more difficult.

As someone said on a Facebook board I was asking for suggestions on "They wonder on the one hand why there's no tourism and then you see tourists wondering why nothing is ever open." 

But this is about more than just tourists, even here in Helsinki the locals are desperate for new things to do. Any event from a pumpkin festival, the October school holiday dinosaur event at the Natural History Museum right up to the Easter weekend event at a local farm is absolutely mobbed. Parents especially are always looking for places to take their kids, restaurants that are open at weekends that cater to families. Cafes are ok, but their menus are limited for picky eaters (we have a few) and we really love a nice warm meal on an autumn afternoon rather than a rye bread sandwich. People outside of the capital must find it even more frustrating that they can't pop down to a local restaurant after a morning's walk in the woods or visit a craft centre after September. 

Finland is beautiful in the summer and there are many ways to enjoy her, but there is a huge gap in the market for things to do outside of that tiny, tiny window. After all the lovely suggestions I have received from my queries on Facebook I have a long list of things we can do with and without our friend from June onwards into summer, but my list for this trip is very thin indeed and often includes long drives between activities and places to eat. 

Suggestions in the comments section are always welcome. Preferably no more than an hour outside of the capital and child-friendly to boot. 

Enjoy these bright autumn days, they're too few and far between. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Challenging Myself

I'm not very fit. I have middle-aged joints that were never very strong to begin with that now ache inexplicably too often. I'm not keen on fitness. I'm scared of heights.

So why did I agree to going to a climbing wall with some friends this week? Because they asked. Many years ago I went to a community centre in Glasgow to attend a writing group I had heard about. For some reason it wasn't running that day, but the lady who informed me said there was also an ethnic dance group meeting up at the same time if I was interested in joining, no experience necessary, it was just for a laugh. I'm sure my face contorted in fear as I said no and left.

I then spent the rest of my evening kicking myself. What was I scared of? That I would look the fool or that I might have to talk to people? Probably. I wasn't long after having my second child and my self-confidence was lower than low. In the preceding years of nappies and breast-feeding I had forgotten how to do things for myself without the kids.

I knew that person was in there somewhere. The woman who just packed up her life and moved to Norway, then Scotland, then Greece. Not with fear and trepidation, not without panic and tears, but I did it. I would have survived a dance class. If I didn't enjoy it, fine, there was no expectation of my return, but I had to be brave enough to take the risk.

So after that day I set myself the goal to say yes to offers that challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. Shortly afterwards I ended up in Finland. Offers for big adventure like that don't come often, so I content myself with smaller daily challenges.

And this week was climbing walls that towered too high over me at the Kilpeily Areena. Even just looking up made me queasy. Sitting in the waiting area for the others to arrive I could feel my blood pressure race.

We put on our horribly uncomfortable climbing harnesses and tight climbing shoes that were included in our €16 entrance price and were soon ready. We were given a quick explanation of how the automatic belaying cables worked and we were left to it, Finnish self-reliance here we come. To be honest, opening the clips were the most complicated part of the whole procedure, technically. The hall was quite busy as there seemed to be a school visit, so it was a bit difficult to concentrate when you were nervous, but it mostly cleared out shortly afterwards.

This is not me. This was one of the easier walls.

More advanced.

Physically it wasn't that difficult, like climbing up a ladder. On the simpler climbs you don't need necessarily to be able to pull your own body weight up by your fingers. Though it was quite scary trying to figure out my footing as I had to keep looking down.

For me, the hardest part was coming back down, letting go of the wall and allowing the cable to take my weight to lower me down. It shook me so much, I spent most of my time just getting comfortable doing that, rather than worrying how high I was able to climb. Even in my highest climb I don't think I got much over 3 meters, but I was really proud that by the end I had managed that and could come down without panicking. There's no pressure to go any further than you dare. My friends managed to climb all the way to the top, several times.

I'm not sure I liked it and would be willing to go again, but I'm glad I gave it a go even though I was really nervous.

While I was at the Kilpeily Areena I checked out the upstairs children's area which has a bouldering section and smaller walls, with and without cables. Bouldering is literally big fake boulders with climbing grips all over them so you can practice climbing at weird angles. My friend's daughters come climbing with their nursery (yes, 3 and 4 year olds do this) and love it, so I can see a visit in the future for my kids. Maybe with their dad.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

'Tis the Season for Mushrooms

Autumn has hit us hard with its rain and cooler weather. The Finns love to head to the forest to pick berries and forage for edible plants, but this time of year is definitely all about the mushrooms. 

The British Women's Association organised a mushroom hunting workshop for its members through Helsinki Wildfoods, a brilliant organisation which sells Finnish natural foods like birch sugar and berries, offers workshops on foraging and cooking wild produce and gives advice about respecting, but making the most of Finnish natural foods. 

We headed into to the National Forest near Luikki, Espoo on a clear and cool morning with our very own biologist, Anna. Good thing too because the car park was jammed with Finns who also wanted to take advantage of the recent hard rains to find the newest crops of mushrooms. 

Anna started by showing us examples of the main groups of mushrooms we'd probably see that day, including milk caps, boletes and chanterelles, explaining their characteristics and whether they were edible. There are over 2000 species of mushrooms in Finland and about 200 are edible, 25 are toxic and 5 are deadly. A lot of the others they're just not sure about.

Russula mushrooms most of which were at the end of their season, too big and bug eaten to really eat. 

A dried chaga mushroom, we wouldn't have been allowed to pick these if we found one without the land owner's permission, but we got to try some medicinal chaga tea later on.

Off we set into the woods which seemed to have been picked bare by the Finns. You'd see mushrooms tossed to the side as they decided they were the wrong type or not in good enough condition to eat but as we moved further into the trees we began to find more and more mushrooms. You really have to adjust your sight to find them, not all of them are exposed and obvious like this. 

Tiny kanterelli (chanterelles) and trumpet chanterelles like to hide down in the moss between rocks, so it took us a while to see them without Anna's help. 

At the beginning I seemed to be adept at finding the toxic and deadly mushrooms. I found 2 of the 5 deadly ones, including this Destroying Angel. It's best not to pick any white mushrooms in Finland just in case you get this monster. 

And I can't stress enough how important it is to go out with someone who knows Finnish mushrooms the first time or two. Many Finnish mushrooms that look like edible ones from other countries can be highly toxic, so best to take a seasoned hunter with you until you learn the edible ones. After 2 hours I could only pick the trumpet chanterelles without fear. So many mushrooms from the same groups look very similar and it can sometimes be only the colour of the gills (the underneath part of the umbrella) that is the difference between an enjoyable dinner and a stomach pump. 

Anna was amazingly helpful and full of facts but we still found some mushrooms she had to double check on, including this one.

Some of my trumpet chanterelles and lingon berries. 

Can you spot my two friends here? I only saw the top one until I went to edit my photos. 

Here's my haul at the end of 2 hours. Gypsy mushroom, sheep polypore, kanterelli, lingon and wild blueberries and a few other mushrooms I can't remember the names of. Anna checked our mushrooms before we left just to make sure they were all edible. I had to duck out before I learned how to prepare and store these, but she did tell much which ones I could eat without boiling or other preparation. She also emailed us a basic guide to help us later one.  

We had tea and snacks next to one of the lakes in Luikki. Our guide told us there's a nice hike that goes around 6 or so lakes in the area which is about 8km, but this one was a handy 500m from the car-park with a little picnic area. Lovely. 

That night there was mushroom risotto for one. No one in my family likes mushrooms, their loss. 

I would definitely recommend Helsinki Wildfoods' workshop and would like to go on one of the other workshops later on. 

Thanks to Anna and Helsinki Wildfoods and the BWA for organising all this. A perfectly Finnish autumn day.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Three Country Summer

After having no overseas holiday last summer, this year we've taken two. I feel a bit spoiled. It was amazing to experience 3 different countries' summer offerings. 

Gotland, Sweden.

We found fossils everywhere.

Jungfrun, Lickershamn

Midsommar, Visby

The Island Games were being held in Gotland while we were there. We didn't go to any of the events, but did play Spot the Island Team. Here's St Helena's team joining in with the dancing round the Maypole. 

The Pancake Tree, Pannkakstrådet adventure playground. Where I had to cook our pancakes and toasties over an open fire and the kids climbed everything.

It's a beautiful island and we only really explored the north. Hopefully we'll get a chance to go back. 

Then back to Finland to the fun familiar. Haltiala Farm

Mellsten Beach, Haukilahti, Espoo.

I finally found a new strawberry farm to pick at after our disastorous attempt a few years ago. Marjatila Juhmo, Vantaa. Lots of space and friendly, helpful staff. Small kiosk with cakes and coffee. 

Then off for 2 weeks in Ireland, just outside of Dublin. 

Seaside amusements.


Hope you had a great summer like we did, wherever you ended up!

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