Day Trips from Helsinki – Mustion Linna

Mustion Linna
Mustion Linna is a great day-trip from Helsinki
Taking advantage of the nice days and the new car, we headed west of Helsinki for a trip down the King’s Road to Mustion Linna. This eighteenth-century manor house brings together neo-classical and rococo architecture in what is the largest wooden house in Finland. Although we opted out of the one-hour tour of the manor house due to antsy children, we enjoyed a really spectacular lunch at Slottskrogen, featuring lots of locally produced and traditionally prepared goodies. The children particularly enjoyed their menus, which were children’s books with menus pasted into the front. We spent about two hours wandering around the lovely grounds before driving just over an hour back to central Helsinki. Definitely worth the visit!

Pirate Beach, and Other Foibles of the Expat Life

a photo of the beach
This is Helsinki, but it's not real life...
When I went to live in France as a student in 1996, I had the choice of living on the International floor in the dorms, living with a host family, or living in an apartment with French students. At a time when I was particularly interested in asserting my independence, but still keen to immerse myself in French culture, I chose to live in an apartment. It was an amazing experience, not just because my roommates were quirky, artsy types who did things like going about their business in the apartment communicating only by pantomime or bundling me off to a French improvisational theater where they performed (best thing that ever happened to my abilities with the French language!), but because I was absolutely thrown into French life with only sporadic emails or even more infrequent phone calls to root me to my home and family back in the United States.

I expected an easier transition when we went to England in 2001, in part because my favorite partner-in-crime was in tow, in part because of the lack of language barrier. For a variety of reasons, September 11 and a much longer stay among them, it was much more difficult than my time in France. It was almost like the hint of familiarity brought the differences into sharper focus.

I have to admit that I had very little idea what to expect when moving to Finland with the children. Read more

A Meatless Monday home-run!

a photograph of Finnish chanterelles (suomenlainen kantarelli)
Finnish chanterelles (suomenlainen kantarelli) for sale at the market by our house

Despite having added meat back into our diet a few years ago after more than a decade as vegetarians, we still eat meatless meals several times per week. It’s not really a conscious decision, just something that naturally happens when I plan the menu. Still, with the abundance of amazing local poultry & fish available here in Helsinki, I’ve been feeling like my best meals, at least recently, have included meat. That’s why I was so excited to hit one out of the park this past week, and on Meatless Monday no less!

Chanterelles are in season here in Finland, and by that, I mean the market stalls are bursting with these tasty orange mushrooms, and people are out combing the woods for them at every opportunity. So I bought a kilo the other day, and just threw them in to just about everything I was making from vegetable side-dishes to pizza. But I wanted to do something to really showcase them as a main course, and this Chanterelle Tart did the trick. Read more

When the Comforts of Home Run Out

photo of a 40 foot shipping container
This 40' container bound for Helsinki contained all of our wordly possessions...
The kids and I arrived in Finland nine months ago almost to the day. Nine and a half months ago, then, we packed everything we owned into a 40′ shipping container and sent it off on a long journey via train, boat, and truck to our new home in Helsinki. We had decluttered enough of our crap possessions to know that we’d have some extra room in the shipping container, so we had the luxury of stocking up a bit on comforts from home that would either be hard-to-find or expensive in our new locale.

Now that some of those Costco-sized bulk purchases have begun to run out, I find myself reflecting on that shipment, on the things we chose to bring, and on what I’ll soon be doing without. Read more

On the road again…

a photograph of our new car
How's that for a parallel-parking job, eh?

When we moved to Finland last fall, we made a conscious decision to live in city-center and rely on public transport. This seemed reasonable for several reasons: Gabriel’s school is just a few kilometers away, we live right by a tram stop, and we were heading into icy winter driving conditions. I congratulated myself for making such an environmentally-sound decision, got my bus pass, and was off! And I was happy that I never had to search for scarce parking around the school each morning, or on our street each evening. I didn’t envy the folks who were digging their cars out of the record snow we had this winter. I was glad, even, when it was the taxi-driver, and not myself, who was sliding around icy corners.

But as the cold months wore on, to be followed by a rainy/blustery spring, I started to realize a few things. First, I totally missed out on some great cross-country skiing expeditions in Espoo (the city across the bay from Helsinki where Matt works and where many of the expats in our community live). Likewise, the kids missed out on some play dates because while it’s easy to get around Helsinki using public transport, it is less easy to get around Espoo or to get between Helsinki & Espoo. Last-minute trips were more difficult on the weekends because there were train schedules to consider. And did I mention how much schlepping groceries in -25C temperatures sucks? Read more

Experiencing the Midnight Sun

Six months ago, in the depths of my first Finnish winter, I wrote about my experiences with Light Therapy and  Seasonal Affective Disorder. At the time, with the sun barely rising above the horizon mid-day, I couldn’t imagine the same landscape with the reverse effect. Today, with the days charging toward 19 hours of daylight, I see how people survive the long dark: they dream of June. Read more

First Impressions of Finland

A photo of our coat collection here in Finland
You'd think we moved to a cold country or something. All those coats for 4 people???
Yesterday, the kids & I arrived in Finland for good. A one-way ticket is always a little bit of a scary thing, but it didn’t really hit me until I checked in at the airport and the guy asked me when we were returning. I told him we weren’t, then proceeded to freak out a bit. I mean, what were we thinking moving to a country where we don’t speak the language, a country that I know next-to-nothing about in terms of culture, history or tradition, a country where it is dark for so much of the winter (it’s 3:50pm here and almost completely dark).

As with most things, my sense of adventure won out over the doubts and I got on the plane. I’m not yet qualified to make any grand pronouncements on Helsinki, yet, but here are a few of my first impressions: Read more