It’s hard to tell the story of our move to Helsinki without some sadness and grief. Any change this major is bound to bring some of that along for the ride. However, as the sun returns to Finland and the flowers begin to sprout, I am inclined to focus on what I love about this place instead of dwelling on the things I could do without. So here are some things I love about living in Finland.
There are lots of trees up in the mountains in Colorado, but down where we live, the trees are limited by water needs to riparian areas. It’s nice to be here, where trees grow everywhere. The forest is not quite the same as the ones I grew up with in Indian, but it’s dense and cool, and there’s quite a variety of different trees, not just boxelders, aspens, and evergreens. I like it.
In Colorado, we spend a lot of time in the mountains (notice the plural form). We look at the mountains each day when we drive home from town. We watch the mountains for our weather, and just for the sheer beauty of the Colorado skyline. We have a mountain in Helsinki. In fact, we live close enough to it that our street is called Mountain Man Street (Vuorimiehenkatu). This is the mountain. Yes, it’s about three stories high. The only time it feels like a mountain to me is when I have to walk over it to get home from the grocery store carrying 300 pounds of groceries.
When we toured the bicycle storage options at our flat back in October, Matt & I joked to each other that it looked like a bomb shelter. Our wonderful relocation assistant informed us that that was exactly what it was. I guess if you lived a few hours’ train ride from Russia during the Cold War, you built bomb shelters all over the place. This one is the bomb shelter for a very posh building right on the park by our house. I wonder what they store in there, and if we could have a tour of bomb shelters like the tour of chicken coops we used to do each year in Lyons.
Most Finnish children grew up with Muumis instead of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m both jealous and determined that my children (and my nieces!) will know Tove Johansson’s charming tales of Moomintroll and his adventures as they grow up. A cross between a troll and a hippo, a moomin is a philosopher at heart and seems down-right Hobbit-like in habit if not in appearance. Yes, I’m obsessed.
Houses with Names
Since long before I registered what has now become our perfect house-name, Chez Artz, I dreamed of having a house with a name instead of an address. There seem to be plenty of these types of places in every European city I’ve ever visited, and Helsinki is no exception. This one, Villa Ulrika, is right around the corner from us. I doubt I’ll ever get to live in Chez Artz, but I would settle for one with someone else’s name.
The Tram System
Above-ground trains are fun. Yes, they sometimes get hit by taxis. Yes, they sometimes get blocked by people who don’t know how to parallel park next to a snowbank on Helsinki’s narrow streets, but there’s nothing that beats watching the city slip by from the relative warmth & comfort of one of Helsinki’s trams. For your convenience, you can also read the news and watch the weather forecast from one of the LCD panels on the tram. Bonus!
A few weeks ago, when mysterious concrete urns of forced daffodils started appearing all over Helsinki, I was annoyed that we lived in a place that, in the absence of a real spring, simply imported one from Holland. Now that it’s actually warmed up, I’m pleased to announce that there is a real spring in Helsinki and that it involves loads and loads of bulbs. They’re planted everywhere, and they’re layered nicely, meaning that I can expect a show for at least the next month. Did I mention that I love wood hyacinth and have them planted all over at home in Colorado? Seeing them here provides a warm memory of home.
K-City Market is the big grocery store by Gabriel’s school. It’s more like a department store plus grocery store, but nowhere near as high-end as Stockmann (which I also love dearly!). At K-City Market, you can get all of your groceries, buy rubber boots, art supplies, and yarn, and yes, you can also buy a scooter for 1000 Euros if you’re so inclined!
I mentioned in my post on Easter in Finland that there’s a special bun, pictured above, for Easter. I’m finding that there is, in fact, a special sweet pastry for just about every holiday in Finland. When it comes to expressing cultural events through food, I’m all in. These holiday-specific pastries show up a week or so before the special day and disappear the day after the holiday. You can either buy them prepackaged from one of the major manufacturers (Fazer being the most popular and largest), or from one of many local bakers who sell them at the market or from their bakeries.
This photo actually captures two things I love about Helsinki. The first is the beautiful pastel buildings with their white trim, which remind me of Wedgwood and add some color to an otherwise gray winter landscape here in Helsinki. The second is the orange tents of the Vanha Kauppatori or Old Outdoor Market. It and it’s corresponding market hall, Vanha Kauppahalle, are a few blocks up the street from our house. Here, we can buy fruits & veggies, cheeses, meats, fish, and premade goods like hummus, sushi rolls, and bread/baked goods. Although the winter pickings are definitely more slim than what’s on offer during the season, it’s a great thing to have right in the neighborhood. It makes up a bit for missing the Boulder Farmer’s Market this season!
Although this picture is from Paris and not Helsinki, it does really capture one of the biggest things I love about being here. It’s not just being in Europe again, with all that has to offer in terms of culture, amazing (and amazingly close-by) vacation destinations, and learning opportunities. It’s also being able, for the first time since my 9 months of maternity leave after Lily was born, to stay home with the kids. I won’t pretend that it’s been a flawless transition, but I’ve been off work now for almost ten months and with each day that goes by, I become more and more sure that returning to a desk job is not in the plan for me.