101. The Best Beard in Finland

Scandinavians and facial hair… an entire topic in itself for someone from New Zealand. I must say, I do enjoy how when boys have facial hair in this part of the world, it is a whole lot more styled and well kept than kiwi boys. Even the ones going for the ‘Thor’ look (long blonde hair + long blonde beard) seem to look far more styled.

I also really enjoy that no-one is doing that stupid ‘ironic moustache’ thing. It’s no longer different and ironic when everyone is doing it so I don’t really understand how it became a trend at all. I mean, the gave Stanley Tucci a moustache like that in “The Lovely Bones” for a reason. In case my implication isn’t clear, its because he played a rapist. It really is beyoned my why any boy would want to look like a peadophile, but hey, it seems to be on the way out, thank God.

Of all the nicely trimmed stubble, or manly-yet-still-stylish (important in a country where people look a lot younger than they really are) beards, or the Finnish guys with hilariously comical beards the absolute hands down winner has to be this guy, spotted in Helsinki:

92. Learn about old Finnish films

My final museum stop on the way out of Helsinki was the Helsinki City Museum. I didn’t know what to expect, I merely popped in on the way out. Sadly much of it was suffering from water damage, but the parts that were open were really good. The museum was full of displays from old hollywood style films, with dresses worn by actors, old makeup sets, photos and plot summaries. It was really interesting and some of the films were definitely added to my too-see watch.

For example, there was one that was made to promote Helsinki in the lead up to the olympics, which featured a love triangle between the glass-topped bus driver, the beautiful tour guide and a local cabbie, complete with musical numbers. There were many other charming films showcased, which makes me want to track them down and become a Finnish Film-buff! (Which reminds me, there is a Kath and Kim movie coming out, complete with Sharon who dressed as a “film buff” for a costume party by going nude. Can’t wait for that movie!

91. Natural History Museum of Helsinki

Believe it or not I had been feeling a little museum-ed out by the time I got to this one and I debated whether or not to pay for yet another Natural History Museum (particularly after the let down in Stockholm), but the building was really pretty and I was all swept up in the magical anticipation of learning new things!

There was a great deal of variety moving through the various exhibits, many of which weaved through small rooms, up and down stairs, on a constant adventure from pre-history to where I learned of Finland’s Russian ownership and influence, as discovered by my architectural observations. One of the most striking pieces of artwork (in my opinion) was a painting depicting Finland trying to protect herself against the fierce, predatory eagle that was Russia, attempting to change Finland’s laws.

One of the newer (and I believe temporary) exhibits featured a collection of dollhouses throughout time. These dollhouses were original models of houses (and their furnishings) of various times, but the more recent ones were specially made dollhouses, where a range of different people from the homeless, 18 year olds who recently left home to children, had been asked to depict their dream homes. When I read this, I was expecting some kind of political statement or interesting conclusion whereby the homeless people were saying their dream home was just a roof over their heads. However, they all seemed to conform to dollhouse-y stereotypes and look pretty similar. It was quite difficult to pick differences between most of them. With the assumptions I had initially made it became obvious to me that a good dose of adventure away from NZ’s PC culture is probably just what the doctor ordered.

As I reached the exhibit on objects more specific to Finnish culture, I was fascinated by the many beautiful spinning needle creations on display. As it turned out they were decorative only, and men commonly crafted them to give as gifts to their fiancee. When I read that I thought to myself how I would react if given a decorated household appliance that reaffirmed my place in the home as a pre-wedding gift. I mean, if my fiancee gave me a hand painted Miele vacuum cleaner I honestly wouldn’t know what to say. The effort is sweet and they are really good vacuum cleaners, but any man with half a brain knows giving a woman an appliance as a significant gift is a sure-fire way to get a kick in the balls so hard they’ll never have to worry about discussing family planning.

On that reversion back to aforementioned PC thoughts and feminist debates, I will end with a picture of the most fabulous ‘grandfather’ clock I have ever seen.

And as an added bonus, a few more photos.

90. Finnish Architecture

As I wandered around Helsinki I found the architecture really interesting. I couldn’t help making the comparison between Stockholm and Helsinki. There were many similarities, particularly in the basic styles of the buildings, but the details were really different. To me, Helsinki felt like Stockholm’s younger brother who quit his job as a successful financier to run off to the summer house with his Eastern European wife and become a struggling writer.

I reached that conclusion, based on the fact that Helsinki is a much younger city, with a huge art-deco influence which gives it a really laid back, beach-y kind of feel, especially being a port town. There is also a huge eastern european influence, which I later learned was due to the fact that Finland has been tossed between Sweden and Russia like a ping-pong ball. Add to that the feeling of old money – a lot of the older buildings are very grand, but overall there is a feeling like the city is a little more run down, like over the years less and less has been spent on its upkeep. The sun constantly being in a 4:30pm position also helped impart the relaxed vibe on the place.

When I was roaming around the Design District I came across the Museum of Finnish Architecture. After the great success that was the design museum, and the fact there were so many interesting and diverse buildings that I had been observing and admiring around town, I had high hopes for the Architecture museum. Sadly, the changing exhibits were all closed and there was really only a timeline of how the archtecture had evolved over the years on the top floor to look at. It didn’t fully disappoint, with a lot of interesting facts about the styles, the socio-economic influences on them and other such happenings that lead to their creation. One such interesting fact was that the details on each of the old (more Swedish) style buildings are meant to represent what went on inside each one. To me they all looked like variations on the same floral theme, so I guess people at the time must have known what they meant. Call it early branding, I guess. When the main exhibitions are open it is probably a more interesting museum to go see, but at least it was only 3 euro. I would definitely recommend just walking round and seeing the buildings yourself instead though. Perhaps a google search if you are that interested.

Here’s a few snaps from what I saw around Helsinki

89. Where Santa Goes To Lunch

On the edge of Sibelius park lies Cafe Regatta – quite possible the most novel cafe I have ever been in, if not in the world. And I’m fairly certain it is where Santa goes to lunch. The cafe itself is a tiny little shack, that is actually over the waters edge, chock full of all things finnish and christmassy and generally exciting.

As it is such a small wee cafe, there is a huge outdoor part. With a fire to sit around, a little picket fence, eclectic painted, wooden, mismatched chairs and extremely snowy surroundings, it was just the most amazing and unique atmosphere. I just couldn’t get enough of it! Lovely food and coffee too at pretty decent prices. It has an extra magical quality to it, looking far to small to possibly house a cafe from the outside, like it is some kind of Harry Potter cafe.

I was pretty excited that I was one step closer in my quest to find Santa, but I must have just missed him. Best get a little closer to the North Pole next time.

88. The Tram Museum

On the walk between Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium and Sibelius Park, I saw a strange looking building with huge doors. Just as I was standing there pondering what could be going on inside, a tram came rolling along, and the huge doors slowly swung open. It was the tram depot! A huge grin spread across my face as the Thomas The Tank Engine Theme was all of a sudden in my head. With a musical skip in my step and plenty of nostalgia (I’m beginning to think I’ll never grow up) I carried on towards the park.

A few hundred metres down the road I noticed a sign that had the words ‘free’ and ‘gallery.’ Having had great success in galleries in the Design District I thought I’d check it out. Turns out it was actually a Tram Museum. I couldn’t help but laugh as I recalled a most hilarious (but only retrospectively) moment in Geoghegan family history. My father is probably responsible for my love of museums. He seems to not be able to get enough of them either. Being an engineer, the day we drove past the Train Museum on a family road trip, he couldn’t resist stopping to check it out. I think it was somewhere near the Waiuru Army base, and we were halfway through a ten hour road trip from Coromandel to Wellington on a stinking hot day. The absolute last thing anyone wanted to do was extend the trip for an extra hour, let alone inside a building that not only wasn’t air conditioned, but had a multitude of steam engines going at full boar. It was like being in a sauna with a jet engine.

So we have this hilarious photo of the most disappointed, angry, unimpressed facials, as we sat outside roasting whilst waiting for Dad to stop oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over train engines at the most boring and uncomfortable museum ever. I believe he still gets reminded every time anyone else in the family wants to go somewhere he doesn’t “Remember the train museum? We’re going to that art gallery.” “You’re taking us shoe shopping to make up for that time you took us to the train museum.”

And there I found myself in a tram museum cracking up laughing! Dad would have loved checking out the old trams of Helsinki, learning about the transition from horse-drawn trams to electric ones. In amongst the old carriages there was a big huge description of how people were annoyed at ticket prices, like it was the only place in the world where people complain about public transport pricing or something. It was actually pretty interesting and had a really nice cafe, and a big stage in the middle where they were setting up for some kind of gig later on. Unlike train museums in New Zealand, I would definitely recommend the Tram Museum in Helsinki, and maybe even take my Dad there and lose him for the next four hours.

87. Helsinki’s Olympic STADIUM

Helsinki was host to the 1952 Olympic Games and it seems they are most proud of their Olympic Stadium. Given Stadium’s are all the rage in Dunedin, I thought I’d go check it out. I’m no Stadium expert, but I guess it was kind of impressive given it was made in the 1950s.

But to salvage a quite uninteresting destination, I discovered this fun fact: Since March 2007, a Eurasian Eagle-Owl has been spotted living in and around the stadium. On June 6, 2007, during a Euro 2008 qualifying match, the owl delayed play by ten minutes after perching on a goalpost.

86. Walking on a Frozen Lake

You might call this one cheating, as I already tried out the whole walk-on-water thing at Uni, but back then all I really did was stand on the edge because I didn’t want to be all wet in class.

Well, in Helsinki, I decided to step things up a notch. As I wandered out to the Olympic Stadium (seems to be a massive deal there) there was a gigantic and fairly solid looking frozen lake. Even though I saw people walking dogs across it, I wouldn’t have considered a short cut across it unless I knew the ice was really thick. However, when I saw a little old lady dragging one of those wheely shopping carts across I decided to break from my “assume nothing” travel rule and give it a crack.

You’ll be happy to know I succeeded, and made it to the middle of the lake with great excitement! It actually got old really fast though, as it was super slippery and I really missed the handy grip provided by the pavement.

Made for some cool panorama shots though!

85. Sibelius Park

Sibelius Park is named after Finish Composer Johan Sibelius. I was particularly interested by this spot as the minute I read about it I was flooded with memories of my Year 11 music class. There were only 5 of us in the class, and all of us had been learning musical instruments since we were very young, so the school curriculum was a bit of a joke. The teacher knew it too. He’d swan in halfway through class with a Latte permanently attached to his hand, have a chat, make sure we were having fun and otherwise leave us to our own devices. It was part gossip session, part having a little jam and playing the odd song and part Facebooking. Actually back then I think it was Bebo, but close enough. Suited us just fine and a month before the Dean needed internal exam results from him, our teacher he gave us our final deadline warning and we whipped out a year’s worth of internal assignments. Some of them were composing assignments and we used a computer program called Sibelius (and a frustratingly slow version at that), so the walk there was full of fond memories music ‘classes’ – i.e. scheduled social time with my friends and a bit of music on the side!

Sibelius park is famous for a large sculpture that sings magnificently in the wind, and it was a reasonable (though lovely) walk from the city centre. Unfortunately, the one time I would have appreciated some wind there wasn’t any, but it was still a nice spot to see. There was also a tonne of snow to frolic around in too!

83. The Design Capital of The World

I’m not sure how it is judged, or what entitles one to be the design capital of the world for just one year, but apparently Helsinki is it for 2012.

Aside from the advertising everywhere, including some giant pillars ensuring I knew it was the design capital, the main giveaway is Helsinki’s Design District. I highlight of the trip was definitely the Design Museum, which had some fascinating exhibits, featuring innovative products (literally) solving the world’s problems. I couldn’t help but giggle at the fact that it was very clear that the curator wanted the world to know he is NOT an artist, and that design and art a very different, with variations on the ‘function over form’ message all over the show.

Throughout the rest of the Design District there were a number of cool shops, hosting novel furniture creations, to clothes to kitchen wares. It was a really fun little area to check out, and very inspiring!