Monday, November 24, 2014


Well. I can say this with a steely level of surety: Finland is the most terrifying country I've visited.

Like most things, pictorials tell it best, so I'll litter this post with enough photos to slow your internet speeds down considerably, (still loading? Are they?), however please note that there is a recurring theme that pops up within the slew of photos below. And it isn't intentional.**

Going to Finland on a weekend break is an extremely strange thing to do. Most people travel to Helsinki for business (massive telecom centre etc etc), or they go to Lapland up near the Arctic circle to see the northern lights and/or go dog sledding.

Finland is evidently a very flat country, and Helsinki itself was apparently created as a port for a Swedish king back in the viking ages. He had his little post that he could stop off in on the way to Russia, and somehow, it remains very much like as was intended. It's a bit of an outpost, and is Swede-like in nature: clean, somewhat featureless and fucking freezing.

As I've said before, I like visiting places nobody else likes to go to. I also like bleak, 'featureless' places, because therein lies the adventure. When you have to look for the cool stuff, because it isn't blatantly obvious. This is why I had a love affair with Johannesburg when I first moved there. I had to find the pretty. Once I had found it, (and one man's ugly is another man's pretty - I think Ponte City, for example, is a sensational structure), I went down the rabbit warren of love. Cape Town, it's all glaringly aesthetic, you don't need to work to find stuff there; it's all pretty two dimensional.
Some of the most special places entail you having to dig a little deeper.

Anyway. Finland is probably the least well known of Scandinavian countries, and for fairly good reason. It certainly doesn't shine as brightly as Denmark or Sweden, but Helsinki did remind me a lot of Oslo (minus the exorbitant expense. It's expensive, but nothing is as expensive as Norway.)

My baby is a trooper. He is a traveller like his mama. Sebastian caught a cough on the way there, and yet still managed to smile and happily be bundled in five layers of clothing to go out.

This church, carved out of rock, is one of the main tourist attractions.

 Luckily, it did get better.
Helsinki Cathedral. See what I mean? It's not especially outstanding, it is kind of vanilla, but honestly it's not just Nokia handsets and blonde people.
We put on all the clothes we owned and walked downtown to the design quarter. This was apparently where is all happens. Someone once told me Helsinki is the New Berlin - they were wrong - don't listen to everything backpackers tell you - but this part of town was where things got interesting.
My little urchin was so dressed up, he couldn't really move.

We went to the Design Museum, as I imagined that if this place is anything like it's other Nordic siblings, it should have some beautiful shit inside.

It did, but it was creepy. (Even better.)

To get into the Design Museum with a baby buggy meant we had to go through the back of some basement porthole, where a lady wearing her granny's curtains (looked much better than it sounds) let us in, through a secret passageway.

When we arose to exhibition level, the first thing we saw was this:
 Plaster dolls, wedged in boxes, bound up with tape.

And scissors in plywood. Just standard Finland, I have come to realise.

Turns out it isn't just a nation of horror film design and creepiness. They have designed some almost sunny-looking things too, and some stuff is globally classic. (Including the orange-handled scissors. They made those.)

 I love the high chair. Finnish people made the bubble chair. See?
 Stopping for a coffee.
 The Finnish are into their ceramics too. It happened to be a ceramic exhibition, but all sorts of stuff came out of the woodwork.

 Like these creepy little soldier boys.
 And awesome retro 70s murals.
 And creepy masks, because they love a scary mask, as we've already seen at our hotel.
 And anime-type Japanesey viking sculptures.
 And viking aliens.
Back in the outside world, the shops in the area were festooned with beautiful Nordic Christmas decorations and design pieces. Nothing beats real Christmas decorations. The festive season is fraught with plastic tat; but here it's all wool and beads and silver and fur.
 The building below reminded me of communism and it got me all nostalgic for places like Poland, east Germany, Czech Republic, Estonia.
This place could've been communistic, but it wasn't. Those clever vikings managed to avoid most colossal twentieth century hazards.

 Yeah, I don't know what that means either.

 There are areas of the city that are fiercely eccentric; you just have to find them.
 ...And try not to spend your mortgage on cool designery things for the house.

"When I was 8 months old, my parents took me to Finland. What for, I'll never really know."

* Not really. Just Finland.
** See? Completely terrifying.

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