12 June: Helsinki Day

Thus the ancient Wainamoinen

In his copper-banded vessel,

Left his tribe in Kalevala,

Sailing o'er the rolling billows,

Sailing through the azure vapors,

Sailing through the dusk of evening,

Sailing to the fiery sunset,

To the higher-landed regions,

To the lower verge of heaven.

From ‘The Kalevala’ compiled by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884)

It’s ‘Helsinki Day’ today. The city will be awash with parties and fun events, all dedicated to the celebration of one of the most civilized places in which to live. 

Helsinki is one of my favourite cities; I think the quality of life in Helsinki is second to none – even in winter. I went there in June 2001 with my Mum and after we had done the main obligatory sites in the morning, I went off alone in the afternoon to do a bit of exploring. Not surprisingly my main area of interest when I’m in a new city is to check out firstly the food shops and secondly the kitchen equipment emporia. I had a whale of a time in Helsinki.

Helsinki is a city built around the sea and waterfronts are everywhere. Old ladies in headscarves sit behind stalls near the ferry port selling knitted stockings and bunches of lily of the valley. On sunny days people drink incredibly strong coffee in pavement cafes and sit on seats and steps watching the world go by.  In the winter, the pavements have under-pavement heating! The city has a flavour of Russia and a flavour of Sweden but actually, it is its own unique self.

One of the major sites visitors head for is the Temppeliaukio Church, which is built into the bedrock  and mostly underground - it's a beautiful space hewn out of the heart of the city. Here's a picture.

If the Temppeliaukio Church is the spiritual heart of the city, national pride focusses on other 'must see' site - the Sibelius Memorial. It's amazing, a stave of music translated into steel, controversial when first erected, it's now a much loved memorial to Finland's national composer.

In the centre of the city is 'Stockmann' – the Harrods of Helsinki.  I headed straight for the food hall in the basement. Suddenly I felt I was on the set of ‘Alien'. All around the walls were tall glass-fronted freezer cabinets. In every cabinet were transparent plastic balloons filled with water and frozen - and in every balloon – a sea creature. Crayfish, crabs, lobster – crustacea of every sort and size in cryogenic pods waiting to be released.  It was rather spooky. Less spooky were the fantastic selection of liqueurs made from cloudberries and lingonberries and whortleberries – the sweet tastes of the fleeting Finnish summer.

I wandered round the store wondering where the music was coming from and finally on the top floor I found it – a small orchestra was playing in the café and around the little dance floor, people were dancing – on a week day afternoon! Finns sure know how to have fun.

In the Finnish Design Centre a little way down the street, I blew a big chunk of my holiday spending money on a stainless steel Hackmann saucepan. Since then, it has made hundreds of risottos, soups and sauces. Last year I dropped it and disastrously the rivets that held the handle sheared right off. I was distraught. I wondered if I could have it repaired or if I could buy a new one, so I emailed Hackmann. They asked me to send a photo of the pan and the broken handle, which I did and three weeks later – a new pan arrived! Despite the fact it was over ten years old, Hackmann cared enough to send me a replacement. So there you are - fantastic service and my faith in Finland confirmed.

So what to cook? I managed to get some white asparagus this week, so let’s have that with a few tasty prawns and a big spoonful of chopped dill stirred through some softly whipped crème fraiche. 

No recipe, because this is assembly not cooking. Close your eyes and imagine you are in a seaside cafe in Helsinki listening to the 'rolling billows' of Wainamoinen lapping on the rocks below.


Thus the wise and worthy singer

Sings not all his garnered wisdom;

Better leave unsung some sayings

Than to sing them out of season.

From the Epilogue to ‘The Kalevala’ (ibid)

 *(Which means 'Cheers" - it is a very funny language)


Toffeeapple said...

What a lovely post. I have been to Finland several times, landing in Helsinki and the travelling on to Turku where my friend live. It is a beautiful country and I hope to return there soon.

What a marvellous gesture over your saucepan!

Danilo Correia said...

If you want to visit Helsinki then feat and festivals are the best time to visit it.Traveling is just to drink,eat and roam.So get going to Helsinki."Flow Festival",is well known from Helsinkiwhich is held in the month of August.