Sinikka's snippets

Finland and travelling, a woman's life, cultures, languages, photography plus family recipes


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Countryside charm

I’m originally a country girl, and living in Finland, it’s hardly possible to be a totally urban creature. Especially in summer, cottage life attracts most Finns at some point. We don’t have a cottage of our own but have had the great privilege and pleasure to be invited to celebrate Midsummer at our dear friends’ cottage for ten years already. In the last few years, part of our 3-day celebration has been to visit a quirky café/shop in a small nearby village.

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We usually drive there on Midsummer Day, just to see what’s going on, and how many people are there. Regular village folk usually come on foot or by bike but also random drivers-by stop to check what’s going on. In addition, quite a few summer cottage residents from the surrounding area are keen to have a break in their cottage routines, just like us. It’s a refreshingly eclectic mix, with the odd village fool who has perhaps had a few Midsummer drinks too many. People of all ages, from babies to grannies and granddads, which is otherwise too rare in modern Finland. The atmosphere reminds me of my childhood family gatherings at my grandparents’ place, convivial and relaxed. It’s as though everybody knows each other, and even strangers talk to each other, which we reserved Finns rarely do.

The owner of the place, Ms Sanna Juupaluoma, I’ve heard, is a school teacher, who, like me, has the long summer holiday to invest in this wonderful summertime endeavour. It is a family business with her siblings, and was started after Ms Juupaluoma returned to her home village after years abroad and was sad to see the village shop closed and deserted. The siblings bought the place, and a summer kiosk was set in it. This was 13 summers ago. Since then the business has become more and more popular, and these days it is not only a thriving café but also a shop selling local farm produce (potatoes, vegetables, bread, even meat) and other basic groceries plus a village information office displaying brochures and leaflets for visitors, for example.

Ms Juupaluoma is almost always there in person, serving customers in a happy and friendly manner, always chatty. This picture is from 2015.

The good-humoured banter between the owners and customers, and also among customers is a trademark. If you sit there for a while, you can hear the latest local gossip and news, spiced with plenty of humour and laughter. While being thus entertained, you can enjoy a large variety of home-baked pastries, both savoury and sweet, ice-cream and sweets, tea and coffee, of course, soft drinks and also bottled beers, and as it’s summer and you’re in Finland, lots of ice-cream is on offer, too, naturally.

Enter through the lace-curtained front door, and it really feels like a 1960s village store.

An eternal kid at heart, I always go for a scoop of ice-cream.

The decor of the place is very bohemian, with all sorts of second-hand furniture, and it seems constantly accumulating knick-knacks in every corner. Very attractive in its quirkiness, (possibly too messy for some!). A storeroom in the yard has been converted into an open ” living room”, with a collection of odd, old chairs and sofas. The arrangement of the furniture changes from year to year. There is even a bookshelf, with the books actually meant to be read. You can even borrow them as from a library! What especially pleases my eye, are the colourful, traditional summer flowers in pots all over the place.

Hubby enjoying his beer in the “living room”

The first time we visited in 2o13, we were curious about the British double-decker bus and red telephone box there. We learned that the owner had acquired them as she was keen on British culture, after spending years abroad.

They have since disappeared, and been replaced by annually changing ethnic food providers in the yard. One year there was a Thai kitchen, this year a mobile pizza hut. The pizzas were a real success as we had never seen such a crowd there on Midsummer Day. But unfortunately for us, we came just a little too late to taste the freshly baked pizzas – all sold out.

If you are ever driving anywhere near this place in summer, it’s well worth making a detour for a quick visit.

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It is open every day from 10-18, during the three summer months. They also have their own Facebook page, for information on special events. I’ve also read that it is a geo-cache site, and popular with Finnish motorcyclist as a welcome alternative to petrol station chain restaurants. Not only is this place one-of-a-kind curiosity to see, but also the whole village is postcard pretty, and full of old Finnish romantic countryside feel!


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Morning magic

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This just had to be by picture for the weekly photo challenge of ‘morning’! Not my typical morning, definitely the once-in-a-lifetime type.

This was in June this year, just before Midsummer. We spent a few days at my brother’s summer cottage by lake Saimaa in eastern Finland. It was the ‘nightless night’ time in Finland. Something (most likely an irritating mosquito!) woke me up at 4am, and unable to fall back asleep, I decided to take a walk outside. How lucky I did! The sun was rising from behind the trees on the opposite side of the lake, reflecting gorgeously on the mirror-like, calm surface of the water. It was peaceful and calm. Only some fish making plopping noises, while jumping up from the lake, and a few peeps of birds.

I stayed on the wooden jetty for some time taking in all this natural beauty. I would have wanted to stay longer if it wasn’t for the annoying mosquitos disturbing me, and whining in my ears all the time. What a zen moment, though and an indelible picture in my mind from this summer!


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Ferries across the Baltic Sea

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We are lucky to live on the south-western coast of Finland, in the ex-capital city of Turku, with bi-daily ferry connections across the Baltic Sea to Stockholm, Sweden. Indeed, a popular get-away for many Finns is just to go on a cruise to Stockholm and back on one of the huge ferries. And when I say ferry, I’m not talking about anything like, for example, the ones crossing the English Channel. These are more like floating hotels, with many restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops, even whole spas these days! And, of course, they don’t only take passengers across but also their cars, and huge transport lorries, too.

There are two competing ferry companies: the red Viking Line boats, and the originally white Silja Line boats, although latterly Silja Line has started painting all kinds of patterns of different colours on theirs. Traditionally, Silja Line used to be the slightly dearer, more sophisticated folks’, if you like, option while the ordinary folk travelled on Viking. At some point, though, Viking considerably revamped their restaurant menus, and has recently added new, ultra-modern ships on some routes, making the old distinction gradually disappear.

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For me, the absolutely best part of this voyage is looking at the views. Flying is fast but you’d only get a short, distant glimpse of this unique archipelago. It’s amazing how these giant ships can meander their way along the narrow passageways between all the thousands of islands. Naturally, the scenery really dazzles you on beautiful, sunny summer days but sometimes a cruise in arctic winter weather, with a frozen sea, can be quite dramatic, too.

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Sunrise and sunset from the ferry deck in January 2016

Sunrise and sunset from the ferry deck in January 2016

You can either take the morning or evening ferry, the one-way voyage taking around 12 hours. Both ways the ferry stops half way at Mariehamn, on the Åland islands, to let passengers and cars in and out. If you only have limited time in Finland, you could try a one-day “picnic cruise”, meaning you leave Turku in the morning, change ferries in Mariehamn, and return back to Turku by the evening. If you are on a full cruise, you travel all the way to Stockholm but don’t get out at all , just wait for the ferry to start the return in just over an hour. Then you’ll get to experience both night and day at sea. Another option is to spend a day in Stockholm, arrive in the morning and leave on another ferry at 8pm in the evening. This will leave you a nice 13 hours to explore the charming Swedish capital. Viking Line docks close enough to city Centre in Södermalm for you to walk to town. The Silja Line terminal is further away, and you’ll need a bus or the underground to get downtown.

Stockholm's Old Town in the early morning light

Stockholm’s Old Town in the early morning light

When it comes to cabin choice, I would definitely recommend one with a window. Since the Estonia catastrophe in the 90s, I’ve been too scared to sleep in the windowless cabins below the car decks even though they would be much cheaper! The cabins are small but practical, accommodate a maximum of 4 people in bunk beds, have their own bathroom, some also a TV. They are for sleeping in, and storing your luggage during the crossing. You wouldn’t want to spend much time in them, unless you had bad luck with the weather, and chose to just relax in peace and quiet with a good book or the view through the cabin window.

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Otherwise you ‘d probably be showing your moves on one of the dance floors, belting it out at the karaoke bar, having a sumptuous buffet meal or a special à la carte creation, checking the best bargains in the shops, or just admiring the views while sipping an exotic cocktail.

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I know many Finns who wouldn’t be seen dead on one of these ferries as they think they are totally untrendy and not classy enough. I wouldn’t snub them, though. How else would you get to enjoy the constantly changing panoramas, one more beautiful than the other, and decent food, for less than 200 euros for two people? An easy weekend mini-break, right at our doorstep!

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All is quiet on the opposite bank

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Summer is cottage season in Finland, and we are lucky to have friends and family whose cottages we can visit since we don’t have one of our own. The best Finnish cottages are close to some body of water, big or small it doesn’t matter.

Our friends’ cottage is by a tiny lake, almost like a pond. My favourite spot there is on the wooden jetty, looking across the water to the opposite side. The jetties are popular places for just sitting on, to listen to the sounds of nature – or often the almost complete silence around you. They are also used for easy swimming access as the bottoms of many Finnish lakes tend to be murky and muddy, and not so pleasant to step on.

Whenever the people from the cottage opposite have their sauna and swimming moment, you’d politely leave the jetty to respect their privacy and peace. For these pictures, nobody was around on the other side, so I felt comfortable snapping away. It’s lovely to observe the light and colours change during a summer’s day. Above a morning view, underneath the warm evening light. Only a cuckoo could be heard in the distance in the evening. Morning and evening – other opposites, sort of.

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Weekly photo challenge – OPPOSITES.

 


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Do the math

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A factory chimney with random numbers, glowing in the dark. Or maybe they are not random at all. Connect the dots, and you will be amazed. Unless you already know this sequence, you may be able to start working the sequence – 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5 and so on. Each number is the sum of the two previous numbers in the sequence. Logical, and could be continued infinitely.

These illuminated numbers, however, are a neon light art piece by Italian artist Mario Merzi, which he placed on the chimney of Turku Energy, the energy company of my hometown in Finland in 1994. Since then, these red numbers have been a landmark along the riverside.

The work of art is called: Fibonacci Sequence 1-55. Mr Merzi was fascinated by mathematics all through his career, so it’s no wonder that he chose his fellow Italian mathematician’s sequence for this piece.

Fibonacci, in turn, was a genius 13th-century mathematician. The Fibonacci numbers are not in the least random but form the basis of many natural phenomena, such as the spirals of shells or the way sunflower seeds grow. This sequence has also been called the western definition of beauty, since the “golden ratio”, widely used in art for centuries, comes straight from the ratio of these numbers. Fascinating how math is not just numbers and calculating mechanical equations but relates to everything around us! I wonder how much this “other stuff” is touched on in today’s math lessons? I’ve only learned all this long after leaving school.

Weekly photo challenge – NUMBERS.


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A night in a lighthouse

The sun came up over the sea and shadows and colours began to appear. The island began to take shape and draw in its claws. Everything began to shine, and the chalk-white gulls circled over the point. … But right across the island lay the shadow of the lighthouse like a broad dark ribbon stretching down to the beach where the boat was.

That was an extract from the Finnish children’s book Moominpappa at sea by our beloved author Tove Jansson. It’s a wonderfully emotional story of the Moomin family starting a new life in a lighthouse on a remote island.

In recent years, visiting lighthouses around our coastline has become widely popular. We are lucky to have quite a few that are open to the public, some even with accommodation facilities. It is already three years since I and hubby spent one night at Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse on the western coast of Finland, off the lovely little town of Rauma.

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The lighthouse is easy to reach from the Poroholma camping site in Rauma from where comfortable water buses transport visitors to some of the islands and islets off the coast daily in the summer months. A return ticket only costs around €30 per person for the 1-hour-long crossing. In good weather, the best place to sit is on the sunny upper deck, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the sea, and watching the lighthouse getting closer and closer in the horizon.

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Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse was constructed in 1952, and in its time had as many as 12 pilots working on the islet. Coast guard operations have since been discontinued, and today the whole islet is only for tourism. There are 13 rooms in the actual tower, a restaurant downstairs, a summer café and a souvenir shop, as well as sauna facilities, so no need to bring your own provisions unless you want to. One night in a double room costs around €130.

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In the good Finnish way, it is all perfunctory – simple and rustic but with nice little marine touches in the decor. For example, our room was called ‘Sarastus‘ (meaning ‘first light of dawn‘ in English). The restaurant serves an archipelago style menu, with various fish dishes, of course. I’d recommend sleeping with the room window open, to be soothingly lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves and the sea wind. Another thing worth experiencing is getting up at night to look at the lighthouse light go round in the darkness. Well, this depends on which part of summer you visit. In June, with the almost “nightless night”, it would probably be less spectacular. We went in August when the nights are already getting dark, and thoroughly enjoyed the strangely eerie sight of the rotating light.

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What’s there to do then? Not that much. It’s a quiet place for appreciating the natural environment on one of the outermost islets before the open sea towards Sweden. It’s very sparse, with not a lot growing there. I must say I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this for long. Hats off to the tough, persistent folk who still do! Winters especially must be an ordeal, let alone getting through storms. There must be regular strong winds, judging by the small conifers all bent in one direction – good reminder of the forces of nature.

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There is one plant, however, that seems to thrive in the archipelago: the sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). During our visit, the thorny shrubs were heavy with their orange berries, which have many health benefits. They are used to make juice or jam, rich in vitamin C, in particular. The oil extracted from the seeds is also said to efficiently lower cholesterol levels. Quite a super berry, in fact!

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Once you get tired of soaking in the surrounding views, or admiring the wider panorama from your high-up room window, you can hike around the whole islet. It is quite a challenge on slippery rocks and boulders, without any proper paths, but well worth the effort in the end. During birds’ nesting times you need to be extra careful, though, as the future bird parents tend to defend their eggs and young rather aggressively. We saw quite a lot of seagulls and Canada geese, and even managed catch a brief glimpse of a sea eagle in the evening sky (no luck with a picture of it, unfortunately!). If you are adventurous enough, you can, of course, go swimming. Hubby ventured for a dip between the rocks, I chickened out. Bracing and exhilarating, according to him. I wouldn’t be so sure!

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What surprised me, however, was how quickly the restless, urban mind starts to calm down, and you get the idea of the whole experience: spending some down time in the lap of Mother Nature, in absolute, respectful awe. Your senses wake up, and you start noticing the tiny, miraculous details around you – how centuries, after centuries of waves, winds and all kinds of weather have shaped the environment. It’s as though suddenly time stands still, and there you are, an insignificantly small human being in the midst of natural history.

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During this lighthouse visit, I realised what great inspiration artists can find in such an environment, and why, for example, author Tove Jansson must have loved spending long periods of time in the Finnish archipelago. Sit or stand on the rocks to watch the day become night, the changing light transform all the colours and the scenery around you, eternity and infinity right there in front of your eyes! Breathtakingly beautiful! And then, in the morning, it all starts over again.

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He came to the edge of the water and stood watching the breakers. There was the sea – his sea – going past, wave after wave, foaming recklessly, raging furiously, but, somehow, tranquil at the same time. All Moominpappa’s thoughts and speculations vanished. He felt completely alive from the tips of his ears to the tip of his tail. This was a moment to live to the full.

When he turned to look at the island – his island –  he saw a beam of light shining on the sea, moving out towards the horizon and then coming back towards the shore in long, even waves.

The lighthouse was working.

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For those interested but unable to visit, why not check their live webcam.


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Painted faces

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I haven’t been very much into portraits or people photography in general. I’m more at home roaming the woods, snapping pictures of nature. That’s why, this week’s photo challenge – Face – has been slightly troublesome for me.

In the end, I chose this photo from an annual Hanami festival, organised in a park full of cherry trees in Helsinki last weekend. As last year, I tried to capture some of the Japan-inspired costumes and characters around the park. Surprisingly many young Finns are great fans of Japanese anime, and enjoy dressing up as their favourite characters. This ‘geisha’ caught my eye from afar, but on closer look, turned out to be possibly a ‘taikomochi’, a male geisha. Some online searching revealed that the original ‘geisha’-style entertainers, back in the 13th century, were, in fact, all male. The ‘taikomochi’ have since become rarer and rarer, and today, there are only very few left in Japan, the field having become almost exclusively female.

I have always been fascinated by the Japanese culture, finding it inscrutably irresistible. For example, Japanese facial expressions are impossible for me to interpret as their real feelings seem to be hidden underneath a mask, dictated by cultural norms and unspoken rules. Even more mysterious, are the striking, white-painted faces of the geishas. Here is another picture, taken during our family trip to Japan in 2004 – a geisha spotted in a Kyoto night, white face shining in the darkness.

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The Swedes just do it better

Summer holiday is a good time to check out all the new (and old favourite) cafés in town. Lunch restaurant Hus Lindman has opened a café on the other side of the street.

FIKA café (Piispankatu 14) www.fika.fi (website still under construction!)

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‘Fika’ is a very important concept in Sweden. You can’t even translate the word into other languages. It means having convivial quality time with others over a cup of coffee and some delicious sweet cakes or buns, or possibly sandwiches. For Swedes ‘fika’ is an essential part of socialising and enjoying the good things in life together, and I guess it’s the same for Finland’s Swedish-speaking population.

The new FIKA café is an excellent place to get acquainted with this Swedish tradition. The cute little yellow house in the historical “Bishop’s street” right behind the Cathedral serves excellent coffee and tea with a wide variety of goods, all baked and prepared on the premises. A lot of attention is paid to quality and taste, and there is always something new and tempting on offer. In June you could get a refreshing cold summer drink mixed with home-made rhubarb juice and Rooibos tea. It was heavenly! And if you felt adventurous, you could even have some vodka in it.

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What I especially appreciate is having old traditional Finnish recipes on offer, such as the simple and delicious Brita summer cake I devoured there today. Any type of special coffees are served but I usually go for the very good value presso coffee and cake offer. You get 2 definitely fresh cups of coffee out of the small glass presso pot.

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It is quite a luxury to get proper brewed tea instead of the eternal tea bags here in Finland. I just love Fika’s little tea pots. Another recommendation – the warm hummus open sandwiches are to die for! I am still to try their soup and salad lunches one day.

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The café is sparsely furnished, and coloured in calm and muted tones in typical Scandinavian style, all crisp and clean. The outside tables are popular on nice days. What is it that makes coffee and tea taste even better outdoors? You are always welcomed with a smile, and service is excellent and super friendly. Without a doubt Fika is my number one café this summer. Definitely worth a visit!

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Coffee by the sea

Anyone visiting Turku, the old capital of Finland, in summer should spend some time on Ruissalo island, our recreational hiking, swimming, nature admiring oasis. Whether by bus (line 8 from the market square in the centre of town), car, cycling or walking, it’s always a delight but especially so on warm, sunny summer days.

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Quite a few cafés can be found in various locations, and the latest addition this summer is:

Villa Kuuva (Kuuvantie 198, Turku, Finland)

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Ruissalo island is famous for its wooden “lace villas”, so-called for their special latticed balconies and windows. These villas were built in the 19th century to serve as summer houses for wealthy merchant families. Most of them have changed owners many times, and in recent years, some have been converted into B&B’s or cafés.

Villa Kuuva is wonderfully located right by the sea, with a luscious garden all around it. I can imagine it being lovely any time of the year. There are apple trees, which must be gorgeous in spring, while lots of summer flowers bring colour and an enticing scent in July. Come autumn, and I’m sure the various deciduous trees will bring a different, vibrant colouring. What a place for all the seasons!

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And indeed, I read that the owners are planning to have seasonal events around the year, including live fires and Christmas trees for the end of the year festivities.  At the moment, the café is open during the summer season, later on in the year possibly only at weekends. But it is also available for private functions any time.

You should definitely go and experience the unique ambience of this bright yellow villa. Sitting inside is quite intimate, as if you were a guest in a friend’s house. The decor and all the little knick-knacks make it homely and cosy. A lot of the things are sea-related as you would expect in an island summer house.

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Not to mention the views! Take in the intensely green summer scenery through the veranda windows, or go and have your coffee outside and breathe the fresh sea air, while different motor vessels and sailing boats glide past on the glittering waves of the Baltic Sea. Archipelago summer couldn’t feel much better!

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Where Villa Kuuva comes short, in my opinion, is the rather unadventurous menu. The salads, quiches and wraps are very ordinary – something I would easily prepare at home. Not even any of the cakes or cookies stood out, unfortunately. Mind you, it’s early days, and I’m hoping they will come up with new, unusual ideas in the kitchen! For the time being, though, I’m happy to pay the 2€ for a cup of coffee just for the privilege of being a guest in this lovely place.

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Hanami – adoration of cherry blossoms

My first encounter with cherry blossoms was back in the mid-90s in Washington DC of all places. I was working as a Fulbright exchange teacher in Virginia for a year, only 30 minutes by metro from the capital. There are some 1,700 cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, donated as a sign of friendship by the mayor of Tokyo in the early 20th century. They offer a spectacular display of beauty in spring. I remember going there several times, to admire the first small pinkish blooms, through to the peak time and all the way to the end of the fragile petals falling on the ground, white as if it was snowing. At the weekend, we also saw a lot of Asian, and other people enjoying picnics under the blooming trees.

Ever since then, cherry blossoms have held a special place in my memory and heart. They are an annual reminder of the fleeting nature of life. So breathtakingly beautiful, but so short-lived at the same time! Recently, I have been more than pleased to see that some cherry trees have been planted along the riverside, and elsewhere, here in my hometown of Turku in Finland. This spring I have been cycling around with my camera to capture some of this floral splendour. It’s good for your soul to just sit or stand underneath a canopy of blooming trees, taking in the subtle colours of the petals, which quiver helplessly in the slightest breeze. So fragile that you feel as if you need to protect the tiny blossoms with your hands.

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One Sunday, I happened to be cycling along the river, and came across some cherry trees that I had never even noticed before. The blossoms were already coming to the end of their time, and had turned gorgeously white. They made me think of a full, lacy wedding dress – what a lovely thought!

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My project for next year is to start early enough, probably towards the end of April, and go round all the different trees I now know of, and enjoy the whole, swift blooming cycle. Unfortunately, our town doesn’t enlighten us of the different species of cherries they have planted. So, finding that out will be part of this project, too. ‘Mindfulness’ is one of the new fads here, and I feel enjoying the nature around us is the best form of mindfulness you can engage in – and it’s all free!

HANAMI FESTIVAL IN HELSINKI

I was lucky to notice an ad for a cherry blossom festival in Helsinki somewhere in my social media feed. It falling on a weekday religious holiday, made me convince hubby that we needed to go. It was actually the 8th time this festival was organised in the suburb of Roihuvuori in Helsinki, where over 200 cherry trees have been planted along a hill in a park. It was interesting to find out on a website that just as in Washington DC, these trees, too, are thanks to donations, this time by Japanese nationals residing here in Finland.

According to Wikipedia, HANAMI, or “flower viewing” means:

the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, flowers (“hana”) in this case almost always referring to those of the cherry (“sakura”) or, less frequently, plum (“ume”) trees

It was a windy day, and a bit on the cool side. We even had a hail storm pour over us in the afternoon! But the weather didn’t prevent thousands of people from having a good time underneath the trees. Arriving by train, after a two-hour journey, we were there early, and managed to see the trees better than later on when all the participants were milling around and setting up their picnic spots.

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I was especially pleased to see people of all ages taking part in the festival. Too often the Finnish custom is to separate the generations, each to their own specific activities. Lots of young families came with their babies, toddlers and pre-teens, many of whom wore creative fancy dresses for the occasion.

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The cosplay and anime crowd were there, too, with the most elaborate costumes. It was all quite delightfully unexpected for us but, of course, so much part of Japanese culture. Made me remember our trip to Japan, and a visit to Harajuku district in Tokyo where imaginative teens gathered to show off their sometimes quite outrageous fashions and styles.

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Initially, I had a very stereotypical expectation of the festival: a sophisticated, serene, almost solemn occasion, with possibly some faint, traditional Japanese music in the background, and people staring at the blossoming trees in quiet awe and adoration. Couldn’t have been more wrong! Little did I know, that people would bring boom boxes and other music devices, and play really loud rock and pop. What’s more, there were also music and Japanese martial arts performances on a stage, which added to the noise. Well, why not! Everybody to their own, and possibly this is the way ‘hanami’ is celebrated in Japan.

Definitely an occasion to mark in our diaries for next year. It was refreshingly different for Finland. Firstly, so crowded, and such a diverse and colourful group as well, with happy faces all around. Secondly, the joyful activity all through the day, Japanese food being cooked and sold in stalls, all the fascinating shows and performances. Thirdly, meeting friends for a chat and picnic on the lawn. And last but not least, the feeling of wonder, magic and fairy tale,  thanks to wonderful creatures such as this spring butterfly, for example.

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The message of the cherry blossoms for me was ‘carpe diem’. Seize the day, and ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ as it’s all too soon over.

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