April 29, 2006


Yesterday, I went to cut my hair at a barber's just around the corner. The owner is a slightly eccentric woman who tends to hover above my hair - very much reminding me of an unusually large insect when she does so - before cutting to the chase. It's always a funny feeling to get up from a barber's chair and find huge amounts of one's hair lying about the floor, ready to be swept away and thrown into the rubbish. It makes one feel so... renewable, in a way. Whatever, but I've decided to visit the same barber from now on because she remembers me and because I seem to always meet interesting people there (yesterday, for example, her previous customer, who seemed to me like a grumpy old woman, suddenly stared at me and simply said "aren't you a pretty boy") - not to mention the price, which is cheaper than other places nearby.

What else have I done: I was at a party yesterday which had a very mysterious quality about it since I was kept almost completely in the dark about the proceedings before I went there. It was in the middle of nowhere and started out just fine, then started bordering on the verge of the bizarre, and just as it was getting boring I got a ride home. No more ritual-invested dinner parties with half-unknown people who tell endless stories about people I've never heard about - at least for some time, please :)

You know - who needs to go out and meet people anywhere when there's the internet. People from all over the world have suddenly started contacting me through Skype. It all started when 32-year old Zaid from Yemen started having a - to put it mildly - flirtatious chat conversation with me. Apparently I'm the love of his life - or at least I was until he found out I'm not female; this was about 20 minutes into the conversation. It's okay, these things happen, I told him, and we agreed to stay friends. I'm afraid he changed his mind, however - last time I checked, he listed his place of residence as Mexico. Maybe he thought he could hide from me better that way. In addition, I just got an interesting phone call from a certain Robis Jega - all the hysterical twittering and giggling made me guess I was being connected somewhere to the Far East, but I couldn't have guessed more wrong - my new friend is from Lithuania. This chat session didn't last as long and was not nearly as romantic as the one with Zaid, however - it ended with Robis giving me the middle finger. The people you meet...

I'm not yet 100% sure what I'm supposed to do with my bonsai tree. I mean, one is supposed to cut it every now and then, right? But what if I don't want to? Is this bad in any other way than harming ancient Japanese spirits? I quite like the way a new little branch seems to spring up all the time, and it just feels cruel to snip it away like some piece of rubbish. If I keep always cutting the tree so it keeps its shape, how is it supposed to grow? I've decided to stick to watering and give the scissors a rest. I'm anyway probably doing the cutting wrong - one should find a suitably young but not frail place to snip, while keeping a good look at the cuticles of the leaves as well as the direction the scissors are pointing once the cut is made - north and south-southwest work best because that's where the mother of all bonsai trees is planted - - this is just too much for my very basic horticultural skills.
On the plus side, I think the tree has already outlived my previous one, which seemed to shrivel up and turn into an ugly brown stump before I even managed to get the water.

With the Hong Count already past its twenties, I need to think of something to replace it once the day arrives. I wonder whether Martin programmed it to start counting backwards? I mean, that wouldn't be so bad - to see exactly how many days and seconds have elapsed SINCE the trip started. Technically not a countdown, though.

I want to figure out how Nana can change the size of her text in her emails - it looks very impressive and frankly I'm uneasy because I don't know how to do it. Talking about crazy grandmothers, an email titled "Shit" arrived today from Ecuador. So beautiful and simple - that's how I like my correspondence subjects. That also brings me to what else is in the air besides spring - its scary what all this wind lifts from the ground almost bang into one's face - thank goodness for glasses. It probably won't get any better with the most chaotic weekend in the Finnish calendar hitting us tomorrow.

April 20, 2006

Now I've seen it all

Lonely Planet's newest guide to Finland has more pages than the guides to:
Saudi Arabia

However, it has less pages than the guides to:
Hong Kong (...)
New York City

And the strangest thing: It's being released next week and is already "temporarily out of stock". Europe's next travel hotspot indeed!

April 18, 2006

Short thoughts

Just how many dogs live in this house? It seems I'm meeting new ones in the elevator all the time! That might just explain why it feels like someone is always barking.

I bought a package of my favourite chocolate cookies today and when I opened it, what I got was chocolate cookie crumble instead of the usual nine clean cookies. Of course the shop was already closed so I decided to open the package anyway instead of going there tomorrow to change it.

After visiting two choir concerts last weekend, I am convinced that no matter how clean and "professional" the singing, if the singers look bored, the public is bored. That's a sad fact but one which choirs everywhere should start taking notice of.

Tristan da Cunha

Forget Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskyi. I've now found out about what is officially the most isolated settlement in the world - an island called Tristan da Cunha in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean!

I first read about Tristan on Lonely Planet's website - every now and then they publish photo stories related to travelling and this one just blew my mind! Around 270 people live on this island which is almost 3000 kilometres away from the nearest settlement, and even that's an island as well (St. Helena). The only way to reach it is by a supply ship from Cape Town, which means spending a week in cramped quarters. The settlement is called Edinburg of the Seven Seas and it seems that when the settlers first saw electricity and cars in the 60's when they were forced to evacuate to Great Britain because the volcano erupted, they begged to be taken back to their beautiful island and never wanted to see the "civilised world" again!

You can see the photo feature of Lonely Planet here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/journeys/photo_feature/tristan_da_cunha/

April 09, 2006

Quick update

I added two new blogs to the sidebar. Finland for thought is about an American living in Finland and is an interesting place to read about Finnish life and culture and, especially, how foreigners see it. Baghdad Burning is kept by an Iraqi young woman living in Baghdad, and is in parts a truly gripping account of life in Iraq today. I hope you find the blogs worthwhile!

The beginning week will bring for me a beginning year as well. Tomorrow, Martin and I will go to pick up our passports from the Chinese embassy. I'm afraid the visit last Wednesday wasn't as ethnically gripping as I would have wished - no rippling brook running through a bamboo garden, no flute music playing from the radio and no noodles served at the counter. All we got was two activists holding a silent demonstration against the Chinese government's latest cruel acts and an office worker whose English was, to say the least, cryptic. Next to him, a woman was silently arranging a huge bunch of passports and putting them into boxes. We had to inform where in China we are going even though we don't know yet - apparently we will anyway not be "obligated" to visit that exact place even though it'll be typed in the visa.

April 04, 2006


The world is full of questions! Here are some I asked myself today.

Finnish cucumbers in the stores have been very thin last days. What's to blame? The persistent winter weather? Genetically manipulated crops? Global warming?

Why do mothers let their children run around shrieking and chasing each other all over the school cafeteria? And at my lunch hour?

I was going to make the 20.36 tram from Ruoholahti home, but just as I was getting out of the bus at 20.35, the tram left infront of my nose. Which time was wrong? The digital clock in the bus, my mobile phone's time, or the tram-driver's?

Just how many times have I been speaking with a certain friend on the phone in the tram when my battery unexpectedly finishes exactly at the stop of the national museum?

How is it possible my new "Super absorbent and durable Sponge cloth" for the kitchen can absorb up to ten times its own weight?

How do I explain that B flat major only has two flats although I see three flats on the blackboard when I draw the scale, and, good point, WHY can't we just draw the barlines counting from the first note, even if it's an upbeat?

Exactly how much did Richard Strauss know about the harp? Or did he just always use a harpist with three legs and five hands?

Tomorrow: A visit to the Chinese embassy will provide an interesting new entry in my series about multicultural Helsinki (see previous entry for more)

April 03, 2006

Multicultural Helsinki

Those searching for some authentic Russian culture in Helsinki need look no further than the office of Russia's airline Aeroflot, situated smack-bang near the busiest tram station.

I went there in the morning out of curiosity. The window has some long outdated posters of Russia and the interior isn't much more exciting. There were two Russian ladies working at the office. One of them was serving an eccentric-looking man who was asking about flights to Havana via Moscow, so I went to the other one (plump, middle-aged, with a surprisingly fancy cell phone) and, just for fun, asked about flights to Kamchatka. First I had to explain to her that Aeroflot flies to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski (she looked sceptical) and gave her some imaginary dates next August. Apparently, I made her day when she realised that yes, really, there are flights from Moscow every day!

While she was typing away, trying to find me a cheap fare from Helsinki, I asked to take a look at the timetable book, which, I then realised, was only valid for spring 2005. Nearby the other agent was calmly trying to explain that Aeroflot operated to Cuba only three times a week. Suddenly the cell phone of my agent started ringing and she silenced it with a quick move. Much to my surprise, I was told that the cheapest seats for next August to Kamchatka from Moscow were all sold out - and we tried about five consecutive days! Maybe it's not as remote as I thought!

Then a loud Russian man marched in and greeted the ladies with a familiar air. I was just starting to wonder who the intruder was when he walked behind the counter and sat down with them. The few words I grasped from their conversation in Russian were "antibiotics" and "vodka".
Anyway, I left the office with a nice print-out with the flights I requested (most of it in Russian) and the knowledge that Kamchatka could be only 670€ away - and that fare includes a stopover in Moscow and flexible dates according to seats on the plane. Stepping out into the rainy and crowded Mannerheimintie seemed like a real culture shock.

April 02, 2006

Recommendable Books

At long last, an entry about literature. Here are some of the best books I read last year (2005):

Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003)
This book took me a jet-lagged night and the following day to read. I only had to almost stop reading when the main character jumped on the underground tracks to rescue his pet, but otherwise time just flew with this story. Recommendable to everyone of any age.

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
This book is for everyone who thinks 19th century literature is a huge yawn. Involving ghosts, poisonings, well-kept secrets and a haunting mansion, it had me gripped and I would gladly read it again one day, if there weren't so many other things to read!

Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex (2002)
An absolutely fantastic novel about a subject that might seem off-putting at first, Middlesex is one of those rare books which keeps getting better page by page. If you haven't read it yet, you don't know what you're missing!

Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Murakami has very quickly become one of my very favourite writers with his way of suffusing every moment of his stories with a deliciously supernatural quality, his masterful knowledge of jazz and classical music and his way of turning everyday characters into some sort of heroes. The Wind-up bird chronicle is a wonderful puzzle of different stories, some way in the past and some perhaps in the future, and you close the book hungry for more.

Supplement to remote cities to visit list

Sadly, none of the three remote cities on my must see-list are high-resolution covered by Google Earth, but still I got some fantastic pictures:

April 01, 2006

Helsinki in...

(Lonely Planet is this month going to release their newest edition of the Finland guide, and I got so impatient waiting to read it I decided to compile something similar of my own. The things to do in this entry apply only for the summer! A winter version will follow later)

... one day
Head straight for the harbour, a great place for people-watching and a very pleasant place to walk around. Spend some time at the market, either buying fresh seafood and vegetables or browsing through the kitch souvenirs on sale for tourists. Walk along Helsinki's oldest street (Sofiankatu) to Senaatintori (Senate's Square). Get yourself photographed infront of the statue of Alexander the Second with the cathedral in the background. Take in the elegant buildings around (among them Helsinki's prestigious University), then walk right into the city's main commercial district. Aleksanterinkatu is where you'll find the same stores as in the rest of Scandinavia and Esplanadi is for high-brow shoppers. Check out Stockmann, Helsinki's version of Harrod's, as well as the best and biggest bookshop in Scandinavia, Akateeminen Kirjakauppa.
In the afternoon, choose either Kiasma for some quirky contemporary art or Ateneum for a good look at Finnish paintings from the last century and spend some time exploring these museums before ending your day with a drink at the huge open-air bar along Mikonkatu, from where you can watch people running to catch their train at the railway station and be frowned upon by the statue of Aleksis Kivi, Finland's national writer.

... two days
On your second day, take the ferry to the fortress island of Suomenlinna. Make the obligatory tour of the most important touristic sites (there is a tourist information centre) and then head further off towards the southern tip of the island. Choose your perfect spot for a picnic but don't pack anything that could easily fly away because it can get very windy.
Back at the harbour, visit the Uspenski Cathedral, which is the biggest Orthodox church in western Europe. Explore the neighbouring area of Katajanokka, one of the oldest in Helsinki. Have dinner at the Nepalese restaurant “Mount Everest” and then take the tram back downtown, just in time for a Sibelius concert at the Finlandia house.

... three days

Start your third day in the workers' residential district of Hakaniemi, three tram stops from the railway station. Take a look inside the food hall, probably the most exciting in Helsinki, and then head west. After crossing the railway tracks on the suspension bridge, you'll find yourself at Töölönlahti, which technically is part of the sea but looks more like a lake in the middle of the city. Walk around it, stopping at the northern end to admire the view of Helsinki's skyline. If you're in luck, it'll be Sunday and families with little children will be feeding the ducks, people will sweep past you in their jogging suits and you'll see Finnish couples having a romantic moment, sitting on a remote bench. Pause to gaze at the modern opera house and have a look at what's on (try not to look too shocked at the prices). If the open-air cafe is open, having an ice cream is a must.
From Töölönlahti, go to visit the Rock Church (Temppeliaukion kirkko) and get lost a hundred times on your way in Töölö's labyrinth streets. If maps aren't your thing, just ask any passer-by for directions, he'll probably have heard the question many times before!

... four days
Have a late breakfast in Cafe TinTin Tango and then walk to the weird Sibelius Monument (try to ignore the ugly hospital buildings on your way), from where you can either catch a bus to visit the open-air museum at Seurasaari Island or make your way to the brand-new Kamppi shopping centre downtown. Shop till you drop (visit the Marimekko store for unique gifts to bring back home) and then spend a whopping 10 euro on a movie in Tennispalatsi, Scandinavia's biggest cinema centre. Spend the evening enjoying “Scandinavia's most exciting nightlife” (quote from Lonely Planet: Scandinavian Europe)

... five days
Visit the Hietalahti flea market and try to leave without your hands full of stuff. Walk past the docks where the world's biggest cruise ships are always being built and head towards the southern shore of the Helsinki peninsula for a nice seaside promenade. Lunch at Café Ursula – except if you're tight on your budget, in which case you'll just have to skip lunch. Walk around Eira, Helsinki's most expensive place to live in, and drool at the villa-style apartment buildings. Visit the Kaivopuisto park and climb Tähtitorninmäki, timing your visit with the sunset for wonderful views of the harbour and Helsinki's outlying island. If it's midsummer and the sun doesn't set until three in the morning, climb the hill anyway.

...six days
Time for an excursion. Choose either the old town of Porvoo, about an hour east from Helsinki by car and a delight for lovers of old buildings made out of wood, or Nuuksio national park, just outside Helsinki and easily accessible by public transport and well suited for both serious hikers and less serious hikers. In the evening, go and see an ice hockey match in Hartwall Areena.

...seven days
If you have a whole week, you can still visit the Linnanmäki amusement park, some more museums (The National museum, the museums in Tennispalatsi etc) or make a day trip by ship to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.