Wednesday, February 29, 2012


One of the most popular tourist attractions in Finland is the sea fortress Suomenlinna. (It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site.) Suomenlinna was built on islands off the coast of Helsinki (actually not far from our favorite sledding park) in 1748. This was what Sam most looked forward to visiting upon our arrival here in Helsinki. (It's all about the guns and cannons for him!)


Since it was ski break last week, we decided to check out the sea fortress in the winter--later we'll go back and experience it without all of the snow!

I think my favorite part of the whole trip was the ferry ride over.


The ferry moved through the crushed ice "road" created by ice breakers and made an awesome crunching noise as we moved along.

ferry road

fort 5

fort 3

When I visit a place like this, I can't help but think about how difficult it would have been to build a place like this hundreds of years ago before cranes and trucks and other modern tools. It's really quite amazing.

clock tower

pink tower


The church on Suomenlinna is the only church that doubles as a lighthouse!


safety ring

I'm looking forward to our sprintime trip to Suomenlinna so I can see what I'm walking on!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


We have been so lucky that Rob's advisor at the university is young, energetic and speaks excellent English! Heidi has been our "in-country" guide since we arrived, helping us to navigate Finnish culture, customs and traditions.

Since it was ski week last week, Heidi came to our house to make pulla with the kids! Pulla is a traditional cardamom-flavored bun and you can get it almost everywhere--the grocery store, the bakery, cafes, restaurants....

finished pulla

The kids hated pulla at first. It looks like a cinnamon roll, but it's not frosted and it isn't quite as sweet as the American cinnamon roll. I think their tastebuds were expecting one thing and what they got was something completely different so they decided they didn't like it. However, I knew that if they helped Heidi make pulla, they would love it. And you know what? I was right!

heidi mixes pulla

After Heidi made the dough (a basic yeast dough with the addition of quite a bit of roughly ground cardamom), the kids got to work the dough.

sam kneads dough

joey kneads

lily rolls dough

Then, Heidi added (generous) amounts of butter...

add butter


add cinnamon

and sugar!

add sugar

Then it's time to roll all of those goodies inside the dough

roll the dough

These are Lily's pulla. I like this photo because you can see how coarsely ground the cardamom is.

cardamon flecks

After cutting the rolled up log, an egg wash and some coarse sugar sprinkles (it looks like pretzel salt, but it's actually coarse sugar that doesn't melt), they are oven-ready.

raw pulla

And let me tell you, the smell in our apartment was heavenly for two days!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again....

This little gal

lily skates

has learned to skate while here in Finland.

This thing has helped


But she still falls down,

Lily gets up 2

and gets right back up again!

Lily gets up 3

She cried yesterday for the ice rink (we didn't go). 

silly lily

At the top of my "to do" list for when we return to Chicago?

Ice skating lessons!

Monday, February 20, 2012

This church rocks!

Unfortunately, we'll never find out if it really rocks!

We went to Helsinki's famous rock church (Temppeliaukio) today for church services in English. We had heard they had great music and great acoustics there and we were ready for a joyful service. Unfortunately, when we got there, they said the services had been moved to another location, so we just stayed put and soaked up the ambience of one of Helsinki's most visited landmarks.

balcony view

view back



organ pipes

While most of the church is hewn out of, well, rock of course, the round, domed ceiling is made of over 20 km of copper strips.

copper ceiling

The walls beg to be touched.

rock juts


We arrived on quite a snowy day, so all we could see from the outside was mounds of snow. But this is what it looks like from the outside when there isn't any snow. (Today, I'm feeling like we will NEVER see grass here!)


(Last photo from

Friday, February 17, 2012

This is how Finns prepare for tests

kids see parade 2


truck 5

I'm not joking even a little bit.

truck 4

And, there's more.

There's candy involved. They are throwing candy from those trucks.

truck 6

How much fun is this?
I got candy 2

This is Penkkarit, a tradition for third year (12th grade, final year) students in Finland.

truck 3

Yesterday was the last day of school for third year students. For the next month, they will prepare for final exams.

Joey see parade

Nobody warned us about this day...we literally walked into the midst of the celebration taking place when we decided not to wait for the bus that was stuck in the traffic jam caused by truck after truck after truck of screaming, cheering, chanting, candy-throwing teenagers.

parade line up 2

Of course, I have no idea what they were chanting, but what I learned at home after experiencing "Fourth of July Part II" (Sam's description), is that they are chanting slogans that either make fun of, or show pride in their school.

parade line up

I noticed that all of the signs have the letters A B I in them. I can only assume that these letters refer to the actual test called "Abitur."  (Update:  see reader comment below which explains what ABI stands for.)

kids see parade

Plus, a reference to LMFAO never hurt anybody.

I'm not sure who was happier...the students in the trucks...

guy in truck

Or the children on the streets below running after candy!

I got candy

candy haul