Scandinavia House, on Park Avenue near Grand Central, is one of my favorite under-the-radar places in New York City. It’s almost always quiet, never busy, has a great (but pricey) Nordic café named Smörgås Chef; and shows excellent films and free art exhibitions.
Finnish-born, Amsterdam-based graphic artist Kustaa Saksi creates abstract, dream-like, and fantastical illustrations that, as well as gracing gallery walls across the world, have been featured in campaigns for brands such as Nike, Lacoste, and Issey Miyake. His work has appeared in the pages of the New York Times and even on the stamps of the Finnish Post.
As nights start to draw in and the winter air begins to chill, my thoughts always turn east to the Nordic countries. There’s just something about thinking about those cool, crisp countries that comforts me in long winter nights. I pick up my (guiltily) beloved Nordic crime novels, hunt for episodes of The Killing and The Bridge online, watch Aki Kaurismäki movies, listen to the glacial music of Rubik, Husky Rescue and Sigur Ros, remember my many visits and plan many more.
I met up with a woman from Helsinki last week for an article forthcoming for (614) Magazine and now I am dreaming of Finnish forests and remembering the last summer I spent in Helsinki.
Walking along the craggy shoreline of Suomenlinna, an 18th-century fortress island, made me feel far removed from the city — actually only a 15-minute ferry ride away.
The island is peaceful; almost silent outside of ferry arrival times.
Arriving at Market Square from the Suomenlinna ferry, you can choose from dozens of food vendors. The Old Market Hall, which dates from 1914, is best known for its fresh produce — it’s where the city’s chefs shop.
Töölö Bay is circled by a jogging/walking track and rowboats usually dot the bay.
The beautiful old villas overlooking the water are still inhabited. The terrace of Blue Villa Cafe has views across the Bay, as well as Finlandia House, National Opera House and Kiasma art museum.
The contemporary art museum, Kiasma features striking architectural design and programming.
Cutting-edge architectural and design is, of course, at the heart of Helsinki.
Everyday objects are designed to within an inch of their lives — including bicycles. The almost painfully hip fixed gear Jopo bicycle is the most stylish, and practical, vehicle for getting around the city.
Independent record stores thrive in Helsinki, especially in the Punavuori district.
Bars, clubs, music venues and cafes are rooted in Punavuori. One of my favourites was a combination of all four: Belly on Uudenmaankatu (which I fear may now be closed). They did a cheap buffet during the day and live music in the evenings.
While I was in Tallinn the advertising campaign for the national shipping company featured a disturbing clown dressed in a red fitted jump suit and a slogan that read Sirkusen Taikaa, which translates as “Circus Magic.”
I travelled from Tallinn to Helsinki on the MS Baltic Princess and a circus it most certainly seemed. Magical? Not so much.
The journey began happily enough; plenty of room to wander; food, drink and gifts massively overpriced but available; lovely views of Tallinn harbour and the city’s rooftops as we pulled away. But then everyone started drinking.
I had made a concerted effort in Riga and Tallinn to avoid the hoards of stags (bachelor parties) that congregated (and, some might say, ruined) the centre of both cities; dressed in matching shirts, belligerent and drunk. For me, it was even more pressing to distance myself from these people because they were my people: the British.
I had thought that only the British were guilty, but I made the crossing on a Monday morning and, judging by the PVC leggings, metal shirts and wild hairstyles sported by my fellow passengers, I was joined by the Finnish stragglers from a long, drunken weekend in Tallinn.
The mass export of alcohol was astounding. People were carrying crates and pushing carts full of it; beer mostly, but whisky, vodka and various fruity “long drinks” too. I understand that alcohol is a lot cheaper in Tallinn than in Helsinki but, gosh, is the price difference really substantial enough to warrant a production that rivals Prohibition-era bootlegging?
At first it was amusing watching everyone card their slabs of booze on board, but as containers were cracked and bottles and cans began to pile up on deck, I had an ominous feeling. Prescient, I realised after I walked into the ‘Entertainment Lounge’ and was groped by a drunk. Of course I shouted and kicked up a fuss, but then retreated to a couch in reception shared with a group of quiet elderly ladies. Besides a brief interaction with a man dressed as one of those hideous clowns, I was left alone to enjoy the rest of the trip.