Friday, June 9, 2017

Making the Most of Summertime 2017

I've posted about Pihlajasaari before, but we decided to make a return trip last weekend to take advantage of a bit of warmer weather. If you look at the map you'll see there is an East and West Rowan Island. Last time we visited the bigger western island, but this time we turned left off the ferry and headed to the smaller island with the lagoon for a different experience. 

The cafe Ravintola Pihlajasaari was nice enough to put a sign at the ferry dock that it was closed to the public due to a booking, probably to do with a graduation party as it was graduation weekend, so we ate at Cafe Carusel which was super busy due to the above, but you can see the ferry from the outside seats so it's a good spot to wait. I'm pretty sure the the ice cream kiosks on the western island don't open until after Juhannus, so maybe take water and a snack.

While the western island is mostly wooded hills with the big beach the eastern island doesn't have the sandy beach, but has rock pools which the kids loved and lots of rocks for climbing. 

Be warned there is a naturalist beach on the eastern island which we bumbled into. The naturists were most understanding and started to cover themselves as soon as they hear our mob approach, but it's best not to just randomly climb over fences, even if they're not marked. 

Pihlajasaari is a good family island because of the sandy beaches and nice paths for walking. There are picnic and bbq spots, saunas on both islands though I'm not sure how you book or can use the saunas. 

The weekend before we returned to Villa Elfvik to share the place with some friends. We've been tons of times and it is always a new experience. We walked all around the nature trail this time from the house and got lucky with the weather again. 

The weather has been a bit changable since, so it's great that we've been able to do something fun with the nicer weather.
Enjoy it while you can. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Medieval Fun in Pakila

A nearby neighbourhood Pakila celebrated its 600 year annivesary this last weekend with a Medieval Fair. It was the first weekend of proper summer weather so it was perfectly timed to spend the day out on the Pakila school pitches, watching knights battle, wizards wander about and eating lots of yummy food. 

The kids (Foo only stayed for a bit as he had a birthday party nearby to attend) really enjoyed themselves though Mouse was gutted that we didn't find the sword making area until after they were out of supplies. I'm actually grateful, but don't tell him that. They did get to make crowns though.

Much of the organisation was done by volunteers, including the Lions Club and the school associations, and it was really well done. There were a few craft stalls, things like bees' wax candle rolling for the kids, archery exhibition (which we missed), musicians, magicians. Three hours just flew by. 

The knights battling was interesting, but not easy to see behind the big barriers. And the microphone seemed to only work on the other part of the football pitch so we couldn't hear the commentary, even if we could have understood it. They were really getting into it though, even with the heat and all the heavy equipment. 

The kids had a chance to joust a bit themselves and to ride hobby horses around a course. 

They were fascinated by the 'wild boar'. Mouse has been reading the Asterix comics lately, so tore into a plateful without a blink, just like Obelix. 

The event was considered such a success that they're considering holding another in 3 years. We'll be there if they do. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Takatalvi and Curling

Easter was last weekend and while the snow has melted, it was still really chilly to be looking for eggs first thing in the morning. The Easter Bunny hid them a bit early the night before so the boiled eggs were frozen. My egg salad breakfast had to wait while they defrosted and some were inedible due to a change in texture. But the kids had fun and found tons. 

The cold snaps and snow flurries we will continue to get right into May is called takatalvi - a return to winter. Sad that they even need a term for it, but I'm taking advantage of to add a quick mention of another winter-ish activity I recently joined.

Curling. A Scottish sport in Finland. Invented to be played on frozen lochs, it is perfectly suited to Finland. I'm lucky to have a curling hall local to me, but I didn't even realise until the British Women's Association (BWA) organised a taster lesson this week with the Oulunkylän Curlinghalli. Sorry the site is in Finnish, but you can do a 2 hour lesson for up to 10 people for €170. I'm guessing the hall is open all year long, but I can't find anything on the website to confirm. If you look at the Facebook page, it also looks like they have a teen group.

I didn't know what to expect or what to wear, so I'll warn anyone considering trying this, the hall is cold. Wear thick soled comfortable shoes and warm layers. You spend a lot of time standing on the ice not moving much, so you will feel the cold. 

That said, it was fun. I wasn't particularly good. My first attempt at pushing the stone, I fell flat on my stomach, but my technique improved. We had a instructor who taught us the basics and the rules and then showed us how to play a game and then left us to it. 

It's not a strenuous sport, but you feel that postion the next morning. My thighs are still aching 2 days later. I have bad knees but they weren't bothered.

Practicing our sweeping.

In two hours we managed to learn the game and play 4 sets (I'm not sure of the terminology). My team won 3-1 and I even scored one of those points by clinging on to the edge of the blue circle while everyone else got knocked out. 

Our group enjoyed it so much there's talk of doing it again. If you're local to Helsinki, it's worth looking into the BWA. They organise monthly coffee get-togethers and other social and cultural acitivites like curling, museum visits, trips to other towns. It's a great way to meet new people and get to know Finland a bit better. There is no longer any requirement to be British, so all women are welcome. 

Come and join us. Happy Spring!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pottery Daze without the Glaze - NiiloVilla Studio

Occasionally I manage to get a bit of grown-up time to try something new and I like to share my discoveries. This weekend was a treat as I visited NiiloVilla Studio Ceramics in Espoo and learned how to hand-build a pottery bowl. Again it was my knitting group that hooked me up with this activity, certain members are a wealth of information and I thank them. 

The studio is run by Suzanne and while she usually runs workshops for hand-building in clay for children around the city, she has recently branched out to working with adults and to making bowls. This workshop was specifically for yarn bowls, but not all of us went this route as the process is the same other large bowls. It doesn't use a pottery wheel though NilloVilla does run workshops to learn this technique as well. 

The workshop included Suzanne, myself and 3 other women in a nice cozy space where we could spread out our work but were still close enough to chat and get to know each other. Suzanne taught us how to roll clay snakes to make the body of the bowl, smooth them out and then how to create a foot or, in one case, feet to support our bowls. And then we were given free rein to decorate the outside of our bowl. 


I decided to not make a yarn bowl as I tend to crochet out and about rather than at home, so I wanted to just make a regular bowl. I first considered using leaves to imprint the outer surface, but my leaves didn't have prominent enough veins so I ended up using a cookie cutter to make tiny leaves to grace the upper lip of the bowl and then stamped lines from one of my poems about falling leaves onto the sides. 

We then took a break to pick our glazes. It was really quite difficult to narrow it down as there are so many cool colours and effects I'd love to try. An excuse to come again, I guess. The pots need to be fired before the glaze is added so Suzanne will order in our glazes and we will return in about a month to finish our pots. Then they'll be fired again. It's not a quick process, but it's so much fun to see something you've created evolve from a lump of clay. I'll add more photos from the glazing and of the completed bowls.

Here are the other participant's pieces. It's amazing how everyone went their own direction. The first is a yarn bowl, with the cut-out for the yarn.

Elaborate or simple, they're all amazing and show how individual you can be with the same idea.

Now for the important details. The workshop cost 64€ and the glazes cost about 10€, depending on what you decide on. The workshops are run in English and last around 4 hours for the hand-building and then another 2 at a later date for the glazing. Check the website as other workshop costs will vary.

As I was so engrossed in my work I forgot to take photos until my pot was finished, so all photos are the property of Suzanne and NiiloVilla with the exception of the next one. 

Here's my pot, I added a layer of coloured clay, slip, to help bring out the lettering. It's not perfect, but I'm really excited how well it turned out.

I've also signed the older kids up for a summer workshop with Suzanne where they'll be learning to make a pirate's treasure chest and gold coins. 

Check out the website for future workshops. Definitely a fun way to challenge yourself creatively. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Our Snow House - Lumitalo or Quinzee

I said in my last post that the kids really loved the snow forts or houses that they had seen built around the city this winter and that I'd like to try to build one some day. A big wet snowfall during the winter holiday - hiihtoloma - gave us a chance to try it out. 

I used a quinzee as our ideal, rather than the snow block-type igloo the Chief originally had in mind. Here's a good guide to how to build one. He still made some snow blocks to support and widen the enterance. 

We started with a big pile of snow. Not the 7 to 8 foot they suggested, but dragging all that snow across the yard was exhausting, so we made a child-sized castle. I made the pile and continued to drag snow over during the day and supervised Pudding when she wanted to come inside. 

Mouse and the Chief were in charge of the digging out, but all the kids helped. 

The day was lovely, but the snow was really wet so everyone was soaked by the end. It took about 4 hours in total to build.

Mouse wanted to sleep in it, but with no door it wasn't really wind tight. I think the Finns pour water on them afterward to harden them, but we had a good freeze that night so it is tough enough for the kids to crawl on even a week later. They have made a back door now as well. 

I think next time we'll not build it so close to the path as I can imagine the icy, slushy mess we're going to have when it melts. I'd also try to make it larger so we can have a shot in it. For our first attempt I'm pretty impressed. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Free or Cheap Winter Activities

Winter lasts a long time in Finland and I've discovered you can't hide inside forever, even in the roughest, darkest, coldest parts. But we're hopefully past that now and into the brighter more enjoyable bits of winter. Here's a few things you can do with your family that don't cost much - especially if you can stay out of cafes which we can't. It's laskiaspulla and runebergintorttu season, after all.

Today we went to one of our favourite parks in Helsinki - Kaivopuisto. Near the city centre, it's integral to life in Helsinki: hundreds of families gather there for the big picnic at May Day and even on less eventful days it's full of people just enjoying being by the sea and using the various play parks, restaurants, ice cream stands and ferries to nearby islands. 

I knew in winter they have good sledging hills and there are horse and sleigh rides at the weekends at least, but we decided instead of going to our usual Cafe Ursula at the hilly end to stop at Cafe Carousel which is on the harbour, so we were able to experience a new part of a Helsinki winter.

The water is now frozen over and safe to walk in some places, so the it appears that city dwellers take to the ice. There were about a dozen wind sock-type kites tied onto buoys on the ice and you could walk around them and even get in one. 

There were also families out with their own kites, sledges and ice skates on the ice, but mostly they were just walking about taking in the sunshine. It was a novelty to my kids, we could have spent ages just playing on the ice. We walked from Cafe Carousel over the ice to the island of Uunisari. They put up a bridge in winter, but we could walk/slide over the ice the entire way. It's accessible by a 3 minute ferry in the summer. We didn't stop at the restaurant, sauna or try ice swimming but these are all available.  The jacuzzi was covered over, so not in use today at least. Sounds like a great way to spend a winter afternoon. 

We then walked over the bridge back to the park for more playing. It was a great day, the weather was perfect, around zero though a bit colder with the sea wind, but it's the return of the sun that makes all the difference in getting through the end of winter here.

Another wee gem I discovered recently is Cafe Regatta, a tiny cafe just off the Sibellius Park. Inside it's quirky and cozy, the food was good. A nice place to warm up.

They also had the fire lit outside so you could cook your makkara (sausages) and cuddle up for a chat. Worth the cost of a cup of coffee and sausage.

Another thing we discovered is a lumilinna (snow castle) near our nursery. When there is a lot of snow some locals pile it all up, dig out and shape a castle and then water it down so it freezes over and lasts until the weather properly warms up. The kids absolutely loved it, but I haven't seen many so you have to be in the know to find them. I would maybe consider making one ourselves next year if we get enough snow that I can pile up. (See our attempt at this here.) This one is conveniently near a carpark and I'm sure the residents have access to a snow plough to help build one properly. We've seen some massive ones about the town.

And if the weather is like recently: snowing, melting, freezing, snowing, freezing, you're bound to find an ice slide on any good hill, polished to perfection. A step up from regular sledging, you just shoot down with your body. This one is in our nursery playground and all the kids are allowed to go on it. The only rule is one at a time. The kids take bumps of course, but it's a learning experience. It's only taken me 6+ years to get over the fear of them knocking themselves out. Mouse's school has a massive one that goes down next to a huge flight of stairs. They're not allowed to use it during school hours, unless the teacher decides to make it part of the gym lesson??!! 

The city also has well-maintained ski tracks in forested areas. Some sites like Paloheinä have a hut where they rent out skis, poles and boots (around 22) if you don't have your own. They also do lessons and I managed to do a one hour beginners' one in English for 15 which is a bargin in Finland. Now when I flail around on the tracks, I know what I should be doing, but can I heck get my body to do it.

The snow isn't always good for building snowmen, but when it's really cold you can make ice bricks out of milk cartons which are just as fun. I've seen organised events where they ask you to bring along bricks so you can build an ice castle. I unfortunately haven't seen any this year, probably as it hasn't been consistently cold enough, but keep an eye out. We add food colouring to ours, you can also empty out the excess water when just the outside is frozen and make lanterns for candles. Or just hollow out a space behind them in a snow pile.

Random ice skating ponds can be found if you look about. Schools often turn their football pitches over to ice and they are free to access, though I would leave it to out of school hours as they tend to use them for gym as well. 

So find some way to get out and enjoy winter, it will be hanging around for a bit yet, I'm afraid.
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