Friday, March 30, 2012

A visitor from home!

It's so much fun to be able to share our experience in Finland with someone from home. Rob's brother Mike (a SERIOUS world traveler who travels 4 months out of the year and has lived in Brazil, Tunisia, and Qatar to name just a few of the places he's been) came for a short visit on his way to visit friends in Italy and Denmark.

mike at church

We had a blast sharing some of our favorite places in Helsinki and exploring a few new places as well.

rock church 2

And certainly, 4 days just isn't enough to see all of Helsinki, or enough time to share with family.

Upsenki Cathedral 2

Helsinki Cathedral

We stopped at the Kauppahalli for fish soup one day. The Kauppahalli is the long building right behind the water in this photo. It's a marketplace where you can get fish, produce, bread, sweets, reindeer products, souveneirs and my favorite fish SOUP!


So far, fish soup is my favorite Finnish food. It's loaded with salmon chunks, tiny shrimp and mussles. It's super fresh and they serve it with a side of fresh crusty bread with olive oil dipping sauce.

This photo isn't mine, because I was too busy slurping soup to snap a shot, but it looks pretty close to the soup I love.

The kids were really sad to see Uncle Mike leave--especially Lily. It gets pretty lonely during the day in these here parts!

on big rock 2

rock church

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Local architecture

Compared to the rest of Europe, Helsinki is a fairly "young" city.  I knew this before we came here, so I wasn't expecting to see the same kind of really  old architecture you might see in Germany, France or Spain.

We do; however, have many beautiful examples of Jugend (Art Nouveau) architecture in our neighborhood.
As I understand, most of these buildings were constructed from 1890 - 1910.

row houses

"A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, Jugend style was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment." (from Wikipedia)

pink house

"In Finland the style evolved and was influenced by a piece of literature called the "Kalevala" and this off-shoot of Jugend became known as "national romanticism". Some say that this style was particularly popular in Finland because it created a diversion from the bleak landscapes."  (from

house on the hill

Disclaimer: I am NOT an architectural historian. I took photos of buildings that I thought were beautiful--they may or may not be Jugend style.

pink corner

arched entry


ochre tower

view of the sea

red building

I don't think this staircase is necessarily Jugend style architecture, but I thought it was pretty...

spiral staircase 2

Having a little fun on our "art walk..."

joey statue

We also live very close to many embassies. Our apartment looks out on the Irish and Italian embassies. This is the Italian Embassy...

Italian Embassy

My favorite house in Helsinki:

yellow house front

As I was taking this photo, Joey was doing a little bit of peeping through the fence--there was an old lady sweeping behind there. I'm surprised she didn't lecture him as I have had a few lectures from little old Finnish women since arriving here!

yellow fence

Local school...


And lest you think we LIVE in one of these charming Jugend style buildings, here is OUR apartment building.  We live in the first floor apartment with the bay window.

our apt

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It cost what?

Helsinki is expensive.

Like really, really, crazy expensive.

Last night, as a special treat for the kids (okay, who am I kidding, it was a treat for us too!), we went to Pizza Hut.

We ordered two medium pizzas (1 cheese, 1 veggie), an order of bread sticks (half price for "happy hour") and a pitcher of soda. The bill came to $71.50. This does not include tip as one does not typically tip in Finland--just for extraordinary or outstanding service.

Yeah, that's what I said "It cost what?"

Eating out is prohibitively expensive for our family of 5. We have found a Chinese Restaurant in our neighborhood where we can get dinner for about $40 (and have leftovers!). But other than that, we don't eat out too much.

For example, a hamburger, fries and a drink (this was our lunch at the ski hill recently) is about 9 Euros ($12) per person.

A latte at a local coffee shop might cost you about 3.50 Euros ($4.50). Not too different from Starbucks at home, but here, the size is quite small.

A box of American cake and canned frosting would run you about $12 - $15. I never used those at home, but since my baking efforts have not been too successful here, I may have to shell out the dough if we ever need a cake for a special event.

Beer at a restaurant or bar is about $8 for a pint. If you buy a can at the grocery store, you'll shell out about $4.50 (the cans are a wee bit bigger than at home). My beer-loving husband has seriously cut down his pale ale consumption. Good thing we celebrated his birthday before we left Chicago with a good old fashioned beer tasting party.

A cab ride for 8 blocks recently cost us $13. So we don't take a cab...AT ALL--unless we are late for a party ; )

We take the bus, or the tram, wherever we need to go. A tram ride only costs us $1.75 per ride and Lily goes free. Sam and Joey ride at reduced rates. A ride on the bus will set us back $2.40. And women with a stroller get to go free! So, if I take a trip downtown a round trip ride is $5.00. If I go out two times in one day, I can spend almost $10! (If you have an i.d. number, you can ride even cheaper.)

If you don't eat out, groceries are only a bit more expensive than at home:

a loaf of bread (smaller than at home) costs $2.00
a pound of ground beef--$5.30 (not bad!)
1 individual sized yogurt--$1
1.5 liters (less than 1/2 gallon) of milk costs $1.80
10 eggs are $2.15 and
a kilo of bananas (about 6) is around $2.15

Fruit is often on sale and not too expensive. We buy and eat A LOT of fruit.

However, a small carton of Ben and Jerry's ice cream is almost NEVER on sale and will set you back $8.

I thought, being in Finland and all, we'd find salmon for a steal! I haven't even bought any yet, because it is so outrageously expensive! I think it will get cheaper in the summer. Anyway, I'd prefer to eat my salmon all cooked and prepared for me in the big bowl of fish soup you can get at the market for just 8 Euros ($11).

We do live right in the heart of the city, so of course things are slightly more expensive here.

For example, Rob recently had a haircut and paid $32.50! Hah! He doesn't even have any hair! I, by the way, am scared to have my hair cut. I have yet to see any Finns with curly, frizzy hair!

We live in a one bedroom apartment (750 square feet) and we pay $2,000/month rent. That's A LOT more than our mortgage at home!

I'm not complaining, really I'm not (we'll maybe just a bit). We knew that Finland was expensive before we came here.

But, without getting too political and opinionated here, there is something to be said for paying more when things are made in your own country, employing your own people (I rarely see any "made in China" tags.)

And the prices you pay help to knit together this security net for the people of Finland and in our experience, they are grateful for that security net. Education is free--even university, kids get a free, hot and healthy lunch at school, new moms and dads have excellent benefits (in fact, there are so many benefits for new mom/dads/babies that it deserves its own post), and excellent health care.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My goodness the girl can read!

Library Day is like Christmas around here (that's why I feel it deserves capital letters).

stack o books

We went to the library often back home in Chicago, but my kids never devoured library books at home like they devour them here. On Library Day, there is no bickering--just reading! LOVE IT!

sam reads

At home, I think books are just SO accessible to my kids, that they take them for granted. We have (LOTS OF) books in every room at home; we can buy them inexpensively at Target; we get gift cards to Barnes and Noble; we visit the library; we get books from school....

Here, we have virtually no books (we each brought only 5 books in our carry on bags) and no easy way to purchase them. (Although we just tried out for the first time--we'll see if we have to pay a hefty charge when we receive them.)

Luckily, our local library has a small section of childrens' books in English! We go OFTEN. The boys LOVE the Tintin books. The movie came out around Christmas time at home. Did you know the books have been around for years?

tin tin inside

On our first visit to the library, I took Lily while the boys were at school. Most of the books are from the UK so there are many new characters, new authors and new spellings/new words (i.e. practise, candy floss, mum).

barry trotter

Imagine my surprise when I heard Lily reading a book I KNOW she has never seen or heard before. I felt both guilty and proud at the same time. How did I not KNOW she was reading? (The following video was taken at a later time.)

Granted, when I found out she could read, I downloaded a bunch of Dr. Suess books onto our iPad for her to practice with and she has read this multiple times at this point, but still...she was reading like this (bigger words, words with double vowels, etc.) that day at the library.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I know it sounds crazy but...

...I'm not ready for winter to be over yet!

Isn't that just the craziest thing you've ever heard?

I feel like there is so much more to experience in Finland in winter. We didn't get to take a dog sled ride. We haven't gone show shoeing. We'd love to get back to the tubing place. Joey wants to ski more. Lily wants to skate more. (Sam? Well summer can't come fast enough for Sam!)

Lily skates 2

(This is Lily on probably our last day of skating on groomed ice. The rink at the railway station closes this weekend :( ).

I'm not ready for quiet walks in the snow to be over...

walk in woods

bridge in winter

I'll miss our excursions to the best sledding hill...

Climbing to a good hill

Lots of Finns have told me that winter is definitely NOT over. And I get that. Really I do. After all, I'm from Chicago. We can get major snowstorms that dump a foot of snow on us in March.


But you can't deny that April is just around the corner and soon it's time to say goodbye to winter in Finland.


Saturday, March 10, 2012


No posts for almost a week!

I've had a really bad couple of days...I was crabby and as a result, so were the kids. I didn't feel like taking many photos or posting about all of those little Finnish things that make life here different from life in the US.

I hoped that a scheduled conference to Tampere, a town of about 120,000, 2 hours northwest of Helsinki, would turn around my mood. Truth is, poor little Tampere got the brunt of our bad moods.  But I'm sure that's not what we will remember in the long run. 

We took a swanky train to our destination. 

The train ride was smooth and characteristically quiet (well, our car wasn't so quiet after we arrived).   In fact, there is a special little insulated phone booth for using your cell phone! 

greek orth church 2

Tampere is a former industrial town (textiles) that has been lovingly repurposed into an artsy, ingternational small city. I was really looking forward to visiting the "Manchester of Finland" because in my last professional position, I worked for an organization that tried to find new purposes for a similar community back in Chicago.

Sadly, the kids were not too keen on visiting museums on city planning and the transformation from textile town to artsy town, so I didn't get to see those, but as we visited a couple of museums and restaurants, I can confidently say that Tampere did a terrific job of rehabbing some of its old industrial buildings. 

A river runs through Tampere and apparently, in the summers, it is quite a beautiful site for boat tours. Perhaps we will return to enjoy it during the warmer months...

kids by river

The kids and I visited the Spy Museum and the Moomin Museum (that was a big hit) and they have now devoured another volume of Moomin's adventures. 

As we walked around the river ice slicks  paths, we stumbled upon a bridge and a waterfall. The kids had lots of fun throwing ice chunks into the river and watching them float away.

I, on the other hand, had lots of fun photographing the bridge...

locks on bridge

Despite some research, I couldn't find the origin of the tradition of "love locks." They can be found in many European cities (Paris, Rome and Cologne to name a few). In fact, just a few weeks ago, I was visiting one of my favorite blogs (Design Mom) and I actually thought about planning a trip to Cologne Germany JUST to see (and photograph) the love locks!

green lock

It's a pretty romantic notion, isn't it? Each lock is inscribed with the initials of the couple and a date.

red lock

I hope to scout out a Chicago location upon our return.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tubing at Talma

Tubing at Talma Ski Hill.





While we tubed, Joey got to ski.


(We just brought the little camera, so no great ski shots of Joey).

You don't even have to climb up a hill after sliding down. You can take the "magic carpet" which pulls you and your tube up the hill!

magic carpet

lily rob magic carpet

merry go round

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Helsinki is Melting

A few weeks ago, my sister commented on one of my blog posts:  "I've never seen so much snow in my life!" she said.

At the time, I really didn't think there was that much snow on the ground. Helsinki does a great job of clearing away the snow on a daliy basis. But then I went sledding and skiing and walking in the woods and I realized, there is a lot of snow on the ground!

And now, it's melting. I love that I can actually see most sidewalks now. Here, sidewalks are not shoveled bare, rather, they are shoveled a bit (leaving a layer of flattened snow) and then covered with small pebbles for traction. No salt. My suede boots don't have one salt mark and they aren't all hard and crusty after they dry. Bobcats, dump trucks and other vehicles are always out on the streets clearing away the snow. I'm guessing they take their loads to the sea and dump the snow there?

With the melting snow comes the danger of snow sliding off steep roofs onto pedestrians below. In fact, Lily and I narrowly escaped a snow deluge just a few days ago. But again, Helsinki does a great job of clearing snow--even off of the tops of buildings.

On a regular basis, you see men in cherry pickers working with more men on the roofs of city buildings clearing the snow.

cherry picker 1

It works a bit like this. A guy in a neon yellow vest on the ground--across the street generally (so he can see the guy on the roof)-- uses a whistle to let the guy up top know when he can push snow to the ground below. I think one tweet means stop and two means "all clear!"


(Whistle guy is in yellow to the back right of the photo.)  This is also MY way of knowing when to cross the street or look up for falling snow!

The guy on top pushes snow off the roof and it crashes to the ground with a thunderous boom! From down below, it looks scary as heck to be the guy on top--walking to the edge of a slippery rooftop while shoveling snow. I noticed most of the guys are tethered, but have also seen some who don't seem to be tethered.

close up cherry picker

guy on roof

When this is going on, the sidewalks below are blocked off by horses or warning tape. Our usual walk to school which is a straight shot sometimes takes a few minutes longer as we cross the street several times to avoid the snow clearing efforts of men above.

sidewalk blocks

Oh, they also tow your car away if it's in the zone they are working on and as far as I can tell, there are no signs to tell you when this work will be going on. I think they tow it away and then tow it back when they are done.

car towed

It's 8 C today (quite warm). I imagine the meltdown will continue. I hope it doesn't go too fast--we still have more winter sports to try and more wintery scenes to explore!