Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The White Swans, Crows And Architecture In Helsinki

Boy did we have some weather the past few days. Snow, gale-force winds, trees falling everywhere and our little boat tugging its ropes ready to flee. Of course our internets never work if there's any kind of weather, so I'm a little late on post mark two of Finland.

When I returned to Helsinki, Kristiina and I promptly embarked upon an epic weekend, trying to cram as many favorite things into as short a time as possible. This is another weird thing about being a tourist in your own town, the need to experience all your memories again, to make them anew, even though you remember each place perfectly.

On Friday we went with a bunch of friends to see my friend Kanerva play some music, then slept in on Saturday and went for a sunset (you know around 3.30 PM) walk to Seurasaari, an Island with a little foot bridge, that serves as a museum are with all kinds of different old-style Finnish buildings.
Things I love about Finland 1. The crows, which are bigger and grey and black, and which we call Varis. They are a clever, beautiful bird, just like their American kin that populate the forest we live in.

In the summer the island is alive with people dressed in national costumes, guides and craftsmen, but in the winter it looks quite eerie. Another thing to love about the old country, is just that, it's old, with so much history still alive in it. Of all the places I remembered perfectly, Seurasaari was definitely one to see again.
These are my two favorite houses in Seurasaari. They remind me of Babayaga's chickenlegged house. Russian fairytales were a big part of my childhood, and the ones featuring Babayaga and Vasilisa were my favorite. I even directed a play of that particular tale in 5th grade, my first production.
Wood houses from the trees
Tree life

Swan Handler
That night, after the walk we went and had thai-food (my favorite!), a giant banana split and a movie. Epic treats for an island girl. The film we saw was Mr. Nobody, of which I'm still of two minds; it was either brilliant, or complete and utter rubbish. This in itself is quite interesting, n'est pas?
On sunday we got up early to go shopping at my favorite flea market. There are two amazing flea market in Helsinki, Valtteri which is indoors and Hietaniemi, which is an outdoor summer market. I made tons of great finds I will be sharing with you guys, including yet another national costume (trying to catch up with Kristiina). I also stockpiled Marimekko, Russian scarves and other hard to find bits and bobs.
Next up was brunch, which proved to be very hard to find, but rewarding in the end. Helsinki is full of great bars and cafes. Unfortunately, it's also full hipsters who populate them.
Break fast
Is there anything nicer after a good meal, than taking a wood sauna and a swim in a 82-year old art deco swimming hall, where you hang out naked with other women and get your own little boudoir to lounge about in (they also have food and drinks)? I think not.
Pictures are scarce since its all nude, but let me tell you it's absolutely lovely.
I dare say it was the perfect weekend in Helsinki. Other high lights included spending time with friends and my god son, who's hilarious and adorable and visiting familiar places like Hakaniemi market hall where I've been shopping since I was a wee tyke.
My mom used to buy a lot of my new clothes from this upstairs Marimekko reject store. The prices on things I wanted were a mite too steep, though. I like to get my designer goods second hand, thanks. Still, it doesn't hurt to look.
MekkoCandy and fruit
Finland has the most amazing baked goods, in my humble opinion. I ate so much pulla on this trip I thought I was gonna balloon up like a whale (I didn't though, whaddya know.). My favorite kind has lingon berries and a kind of sour cream custard (fins also rock the whole milk product scene) (these are two categories of food definitely not good for people). There's also the cinnamon roll kind, the blueberry kind, the creamy kind, the kind you eat on National Sledding Day...ya know.
Kristiina and I even made our own.
Classic pulla and cinnamon rolls.

Here's a basic recipe, in case you got the urge to make some:

3 teaspoons of active yeast
2 1/2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons of cardamom (ground)
1 very soft stick of butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup sugar
7 1/2 cups of the whitest flour you can find (i.e wheat)
2 eggs (on for brushing the pulla)

bring the milk to a temperature where it steams
but you can still stick your finger in it comfortably

mix in the yeast

add the egg and stir well

mix the dry ingredients together then add
slowly to the wet (when working with yeast
always use a wooden utensil)
when it gets thick enough you need to start
kneading with your bare hands, knead until
dough comes off hand easily.
If you need more flour, by all means.

Add the butter

Leave in a warm place to rise under a clean cloth

make into little buns or cinnamon rolls
(you'll need to roll the dough out into a rectangle,
spread more butter on it, sprinkle cinnamon and sugar
on top and then roll it up from long end to the other
and cut little triangles out of the roll put extra sugar
on top and press down in the middle)
you can also make little pies out of the d
ough filled with berries or apples

let your creations rise under a cloth again

brush with egg

bake slowly (15-20 minutes) at about 350
if you have a gas oven,
or at 400 for 10 minutes if you have electric
basically until they're nice golden brown.

Eat with a nice cold glass of milks or a hot cup of coffee. Yum.


  1. RAD MILLA! What an adventure you just took me on. I LOVE your Finland! The old history for sure but the food, the scenery...ahhh the nakedness! I'm not much for baking but I am going to be ambitious and try out your recipe.Stay warm and Lot's of Love to you!

  2. Wonderful view of the good old city that is home :) I was just selling at Valtteri, since we are moving :D

  3. Those are hooded crows! We've got them here too. Since I was only familiar with their American cousins, I was really delighted by their color. Though I have to say, my favorite corvids are jackdaws and ravens :)

    But girlie, what an awesome post! I've never been to Finland but this gave me a little taste of what it might be like. I would say you're lucky to come from a place with such a rich culture and beautiful, old buildings.

  4. Aw, I think you mean Seurasaari, not Tervasaari :) (Just in case someone is about to visit Helsinki... There's a Tervasaari too, but you won't find many old buildings there...) Thanks for the pics tho. As you can probably guess, those are some of my favourite places here as well. In the summer I photographed some baby swans in Seurasaari - there's a pic in my Flickr too - and I like to think those are some of the same swans, now all grown up :)

  5. A National Sledding Day! x) It's awesome how you make these things we take for granted sound like so .. well, exotic! :D You really made me laugh girl!

    But also you made me think.. I've never thought of Finland as a country with lots of history and that people have these special kind of roots maybe.. but now I realize that wow, it actually might be so.

    It's great you've been so brave as to really leave this country of your roots. I wouldn't necessarily have the guts! (Yeah, where is that 'sisu' now!) Who knows though. :)

    I love your blog and even though I've never commented before, now I just had to! I share somewhat same ideas about going to my old hometown to visit as what you were saying in these posts about Finland/ your home town.

    I'm not able to put my thoughts into words very well right now, but just wanted to say "Wow", really. :D

  6. Ah milla what a ride of exuberance, banana splits and folktale houses and swans and wooden saunas, all together in one sweeping dreamland of a post?! Heavenly dreams for me now I'm sure, and thank you!

  7. I just had some pulla, literally just minutes ago! Yesterday I had a great viineri with kinuski and loganberries. And tomorrow, I am sure I'll eat some more. Time spent in Finland is always time spent eating pulla! :)

  8. beautiful; i esp love the cabin-y wooden homes. thanks for posting your pics.

  9. Lovely photos! A jampacked weekend, for of those vacations that leave you with a need for another vacation to recover.
    Hope you all are staying warm and fuzzy in island paradise.

  10. Clover started wearing my Russian scarf today as part of her latest Gretel costume! Haha, no really, the kid is out of control.

    What a perfect weekend, the island looks so beautiful and peaceful, and those baked goods look right up my alley!

  11. you captured your weekend beautifully milla!
    i think i'll be trying out the recipe...sounds delish!