Sinikka's snippets

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


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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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Dancing with the daffodils

It was purely by chance that I came across this weekly photo challenge idea, and decided on the spot this would be right up my street. Firstly, my blog has been a little dormant of late, and I want to bring it alive again. Secondly, I’m a keen photographer, observing my surroundings through the camera lens. And best of all, I happened to have exactly the right photo and inspiration behind it at hand. So here is my take on the photo, inspired by a poem, verse, song lyric or story.

Being an English teacher, I love the language, and enjoy the work of many authors writing in English, past and present, British or American. Poetry is not always my cup of tea but certain poems have stuck with me ever since my uni years, where an elderly, white-haired and -bearded, English professor passionately guided us mundane and down-to-earth Finns into the secrets of English verse.

The photo I’ve chosen is one that I take, from different angles, every year at this time. My hometown of Turku, on the south-western coast of Finland, by the Baltic Sea, has a lovely tradition of decorating the pedestrian bridge across the river, leading to the City Theatre, with thousands of daffodils just before Easter. For me, this a special day, and I always rush to the riverside to snap some pictures. After the long winter, this is one of the first signs of spring. And lucky for me, yellow happens to be one of my favourite colours, so happy and bright. Who would not smile, and take a few dancing steps, when seeing this sudden splash of brilliant colour after months of nothing but grey, black and white? This year we were super lucky to even have a clear, sunny day to welcome the flower display. I found the dazzling bokeh of sunlight, reflected on the water, added to the joyful feeling and spirit. Many people stopped on the bridge to stand and stare, some taken by surprise at the unexpected sight, others, like me, coming there on purpose.IMG_8847And here is the inspirational poem, in memory of late Professor Doherty. The riverside daffodils bring it to mind every year. In particular the last two lines resonate with me: And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

– William Wordsworth

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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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Want some cake in Turku, Finland?

Gaggui (Humalistonkatu 15, www.gaggui.com)

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Many of my female friends had been praising this new café for some time but it was reading the story behind it that finally got me to give it a try. Two identical twins, one a biologist, the other one an artist, joined forces to create this café, and change their careers at the same time. A brave move but apparently successful! It all started as one of the sisters wanted to create the perfect cake for her wedding. After lots of experiments, she had accumulated an interesting collection of different recipes, which the two of them then sold on one of the so-called “Restaurant days”. The cakes of these two sisters turned out to be so popular that they then ventured into business together.

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What I really like about this small café is that it’s really a local Turku place through and through. Their coffee is rosted locally, and a small tea shop up the road provides their teas. What’s more, they use our local dialect in all their signs. Even the name of the place “Gaggui” is a Turku variation of ‘kakkuja’ (‘cakes’). And cakes are definitely the speciality here, one more decadent than the other! Needless to say, all the cakes are their own original recipes and creations. How does “heaven on örth” (‘heaven on earth’ written in Finnish phonetics) sound to you? I can assure you, the cake really lives up to its name!

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This café is small and intimate, basically just one room. The decor is quirky, with nice little touches of originality, even in the restroom. If you visit around midday on a weekday, the place tends to be full of groups of mothers with their kids, and even dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for inclusion, and everybody’s right to go out to socialise. But if you are not accustomed to the Scandinavian lifestyle of public breastfeeding, and toddlers running around screaming, maybe you’d want to choose a time later in the afternoon or early evening to enjoy your coffee and cakes.

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Pop-up “Restaurant Day” in November

November 15, a grey and windy Saturday morning. The temperature here in southern Finland barely above zero celsius, but no sight of snow or ice, thank goodness! The beginning of another pop-up restaurant experience in my town, and around the world. Following the online map, with venues popping up all through the week, I finally found 20+ to choose from, noticeably fewer, though, than on the lovely late summer day in August, which I blogged about earlier. Not surprising, given the season and weather, but enough, however, to plan an interesting tour. According to the event Facebook page, there were still all together 1698 pop-up places opened in 35 countries, which is quite an achievement!

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Our rather colourless riverside scenery in November

Two major differences to our previous experience: this time, we drove around in our car, at times parking and walking from place to place. Still got some fresh air and exercise although, I must say, I did miss my bike, but the distances along our planned route just were too long, unfortunately. Secondly, most of the November events took place indoors, which nicely added an extra interest in actually being invited into people’s homes. Very un-Finnish and brave! Compared to the open-air garden events in August, the indoor cafés and restaurants were far more intimate, and sparked even more impromptu conversations and interaction between the strangers whose paths crossed by chance, around coffee and dinner tables for fleeting moments . Great for us private, and often sullen, Finns! And what a way, for anyone, to “seize the day”, and make each unexpected encounter count.

I and hubby started by the riverside, at ‘Curry in a Hurry’. A simple canopy-covered place, offering 3 different curries with naan bread. Just the right hot treat, temperature and spice-wise, on a nippy winter day! Turned out that the friendly and welcoming curry chefs were also a mixed Finnish-British couple, just like us, so we felt right at home.

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Warmed by the nice and tasty curry, we then walked to a 1920s block of flats up the road, and entered the enchanting ambience of “The Yellow Salon Café”. This was a family endeavour, put together for the third time already by a father, keen on antiques and design, an enthusiastically baking mother and a daughter enjoying the customer service. The whole front room had been totally reorganised for the day, with a lot of effort and care to create just the right atmosphere for a Christmassy coffee break, down to the finest detail. I was especially impressed with the oldie-worldie outfits of the two ladies, not to mention all the scrumptious pies, cakes and goodies, which literally melted in your mouth. I would definitely go again, and can recommend this venue, both for culinary and aesthetic enjoyment. I’m still wondering, though, about the elegant and enigmatic young lady, quietly having chocolate cake while reading Molière in the corner. Just one of those intriguing stories of this great day!

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We finally ended our tour with another Christmassy experience. A summer hut in a garden, aptly named “Café Charm” for the day, with a view of a small, local lake. On offer was our traditional Christmas delicacy: rice porridge, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar on top. Here, too, Christmas carols were played in the background, and flickering candles added to the warm feeling in the darkening afternoon. I can understand people wanting to tap into the Christmas theme as there is no Restaurant Day closer to the holidays, but for me, maybe it was a little early for all the jingle bells, santa figures and decorating gingerbread cookies, lovely ideas and activities as they were. Next this café, there was also a quirky little boutique, boasting the world’s smallest cinema (in a toilet!) showing a 1920s documentary about the area, in the times when the adjacent broadcloth factory was still working. So, not only food and meeting people but learning about local history at the same time!

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The above mentioned “cinema” on the left

Hats off to all the hard-working and creative volunteers for organising this great day for the rest of us! Looking forward to the next edition on February 15, 2015!


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A great Finnish food carnival

Restaurantday1 Are you keen on cooking or baking? So much so that you would even like to sell some of your culinary creations to others? But, obtaining the required licences and going through all the red tape has prevented you so far, plus the fact that you really couldn’t imagine this as your full-time career. Or would you just like to have a fun, novel experience sharing food with people for one day? Well, wait no longer – there is a way: THE POP-UP RESTAURANT DAY. In the words of the inventors, this is what it is:

Restaurant Day is a worldwide food carnival when anyone can set up a restaurant, café or a bar for a day. It can happen anywhere: at your home, at the office, on a street corner, in your garden or inner courtyard, at a park, or on the beach – only your imagination is the limit.

For your pop-up restaurant, café or food stall, you won’t need to apply for any permits, nor do you need to let the taxman know what you’ve earned, for as long as you only charge enough to cover your costs. The first ever “Restaurant Day” was organised in Finland in May 2011, and since then the concept has spread to over 50 countries worldwide. Quite an achievement! If you got interested, here is one of the three men behind the concept, Timo Santala, explaining to you in English what it’s all about. It’s well worth sparing 17 minutes to watch the video as it’s is full of heart-warming and funny stories about interaction, participation, open cities, active citizenship and, above all, the creative madness of people who are given the freedom and trust to organise something extraordinary for a day.

I couldn’t agree with Timo more when he asks:

Is there a better way of meeting new people, experiencing a country as a tourist or integrating to a new place as an immigrant than around a shared dinner table?

Yet, it still amazes me that this phenomenon was actually invented and given the green light in Finland, the promised land of rules and regulations! In fact, the inventors have revealed that it was exactly their frustration with all the Finnish restrictions for setting up restaurants that gave them this idea. What adds to my amazement is that, in general, we Finns are quite private people. Many of us are not particularly keen to open our homes to strangers even though we often do invite friends over for dinner or coffee. What’s more, we very much tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, and shy away from socialising with people we don’t know. I believe this is partly due to our culture of politeness, according to which it is good manners to basically leave people alone, and not bother them with unnecessary small talk. This cultural background makes the concept of the Restaurant Day, where you suddenly expose yourself to dealing with strangers, often in your own home, even more incredible. Maybe it is a positive sign of people longing for a change, and a new sense of community spirit in these highly individualised times. This great day takes place four times a year – in February, May, August and November. Obviously, here in the north, our seasons affect the organisation a lot, with May and August being much easier and more convenient for outdoor venues. I and hubby had a wonderful day last August, cycling around all Sunday to a few places we had picked from the list beforehand. Even the weather couldn’t have been better that day! Our picks then were a Polish-Finnish couple’s pierogi restaurant in their yard, raw cakes by the riverside, a garden do with several main courses and desserts, and with live music, too (in fact, two well-known Finnish musicians, which was an interesting bonus) and another garden café with traditional Finnish coffee and cakes. Not only was the food highly affordable and interesting to sample, but the tour also introduced us to lovely, new neighbourhoods of our hometown that we had never been to before, not to mention the healthy exercise and fresh air and meeting and talking with lots of people. There’s hardly a better way to spend an autumn Sunday!

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My “red lightning transport” for the day

Restaurantday2Restaurantday3Restaurantday3Restaurantday4 If you have never heard of this idea, why not jump on the bandwagon in your village / town? You can find all the information you need on this webpage (and in several languages, too). I can’t wait for the next experience on November 15. I’m even toying with the idea of having my own little café in May next year. Let’s see what happens!