Wanderlust Au Naturel

Elina Wanderlust Cover

 

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a young girl who goes travelling alone, oftentimes in Asia, and reports back home with Instagram photos of majestic mountaintops and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The captions include inspirational quotes and ooze strong, universal love for everything and everyone. The phenomenon of exceptional desire to explore is known by the term wanderlust, and this trend of discovering faraway lands and curious cultures has been strikingly visible in the western world for years. Sure, the urge to unearth what is new is a natural part of being human – the fact that in recent decades we have grown to know this trend of travelling is not telling us anything fresh about us people per se. We have wanted to see and conquer since ancient times, I daresay – but moving on from all the clichés, in this article, I am going to explore wanderlust itself.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

The biggest and most straightforward reason as to why travelling has become more and more popular during the age of airplanes, and beyond, is simply economic growth. The development from such small salaries that they only cover every-day necessities to plumper wallets and affordable plane tickets may have had its ups and downs along the way of hundreds of years. However, spending on amusement has been self-evident for decades now, mostly in the western  countries, to be exact.

Thus, we can easily argue that travelling has become mundane years ago, partly because of monetary reasons. Contrarily, backpacking in foreign forests and admiring our earth from thousands of metres above is not every-day life for each young high school graduate, who form the majority of wanderlust campaigners. Take me, for example. I grew up in a small town, or to tell the truth, some country roads’ worth outside of a very small town. My quotidian view was a tall pine forest, a couple of birds flying about the backyard, and a silent lake. It took a car ride to even step out of the land owned by my family and relatives. I lived there for some 15 years, and the same year I graduated from the local high school, I was off to southern Europe, alone. Having spent a year volunteering and travelling around France and a little bit of Italy, having met and said goodbye to people from all around the world, having sensed something very different from the pine of the past, I now claim to understand wanderlust.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Discovering doesn’t always have to be cheesy and Instagram-captioned, it can also be silent and slow. Leaving family and Finland was hardly an easy step to take for the 19-year-old small town girl that I was, and during the first six months I didn’t encounter many #nofilter worth moments. It was mostly feeling helpless, homesick, lonely and tired from the constant combat with French and the French. I had a hard time learning how to do la bise and master the lengthy politeness poetry that was needed to act natural amongst the natives. It shocked a Northern newbie how every shop closed their doors at 7 pm, well before what would still be wonted working time in Scandinavia, the empire of efficiency. I struggled with being forced to take two hours for la sieste at lunch and then working late, while my inner self of the thousand lakes was crying for a faster pace.

This is a part of exploring a new culture that doesn’t always get exactly highlighted, but it still is a crucial part of the process. It is impossible to understand a different culture without trying to get accustomed to it, making mistakes and learning from them, and eventually, reaching that point where you feel comfortable within your brand-new home. For me, the process of fitting in peaked at around 7 months of living on French soil, and when it was the time to leave again, I had become so much of a stranger to my Nordic roots that I had to adjust again. When I, the grand, grown globetrotter, dragged my overweight valise again across the humble Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my family made sure to comment on my eccentric intonation and use of unnatural idioms in Finnish. Meanwhile, I had to gather all my strength to remember how Finns greet each other and, on my way back to life pre-wanders, to bury the idea of dropping by a boulangerie to purchase some Sunday croissants. Only after having been back in Finland for some three months, I felt at home again.

My French discoveries may not have always been Instagram worthy, but the sense of wanderlust I had been secretly growing inside of me for all my teenage years finally got satisfied.  I have come to learn to adjust; I have seen whole new types of trees, houses, manners, work ethics, coffee makers and dinner times; I have conquered a curious culture by adapting to it and learning from it – just for me. I travelled alone, and even though I made unforgettable friends along the way, it was still I who took the steps forward, who waited for the bus that was four hours late to go on a holiday on the coast by myself, who learnt which wine to order with a goat cheese salad in a Bordeaux restaurant, who found a way to an unseen place, who looked at it, and who remembered how to get back.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Above all: the grass still smelled the same, the sky still looked the familiar shade of blue, the every-day life still felt as ordinary as ever. Only the details were switched around just a little, so that I had to either adjust them or myself. I commenced what became the most difficult journey that I have ever taken, but it also taught me the most about life that I could have ever learnt in one year. And now, I’m happy at home, though as a little changed version of myself.

So, as certainly as is wanderlust a fundamental part of human nature, it doesn’t always equal what you see nowadays on glorious photos in social media. It takes a lot of effort to really explore, and most often than not, you will actually end up exploring yourself instead of a park, a city, or a mountain. One thing’s for sure: if you ever meet this magical motivation to go and see, the one that is known as wanderlust, you should listen to it. Instead of a foreign land, you might learn to conquer yourself. Now, if that is not a healthy hunger – wanting to grow as a person through learning to understand what is different – then what is?

Brought Up In Between Cultures

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15902907_1348378955226205_2118574387_oYou know how everyone has that one defining experience or key quality in themselves that they use to break the ice or start conversations? For me, it is the fact that I lived abroad when I was a kid – hence it is only appropriate that this is the topic of my first BTSB article. My childhood consisted of being practically mute in second grade because I was thrown in a school not knowing a word of English, me and my siblings drove an ATV around our house because that’s just what kids did, and we conscientiously carried baby frogs from a swimming pool back to the pond where they came from. I’ve said the words “no, Finland doesn’t have polar bears” about a dozen hundred times and friends’ birthday parties were actually massive barbeques. We took a car to a school located 300 metres away and our burglar alarm went off almost weekly. I’m a third culture kid, nice to meet you.

A third culture kid is someone who has been raised wholly or partially in a culture which is not that of their parents. My family lived in South Africa for three years and in Canada for a year when I was in primary school. In retrospect, I guess four years doesn’t seem like that long of a time, but to this day, I feel like those years have impacted me the most. Moving from country to country, I always saw my family as a special little case among others. I didn’t overanalyse anything then (as I do today), but I acknowledged the unusualness of our situation. We were aliens in an unfamiliar world – we weren’t them, but we very much tried to be. Being Finnish abroad was sometimes just plain cool: we could speak our secret language in public places and we proudly educated our peers on Finnish traditions in school projects (“we invented saunas and Father Christmas resides in Rovaniemi”). Nevertheless, over everything hung the same sense of dislocation – the knowledge that we were different.

A brilliant description of this is as follows: “a third culture kid builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any”, as described by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds. If this wasn’t the truest thing ever. Growing up, I never felt like I had the right to call myself South African, even less so Canadian. I was Finnish, but I didn’t even know the culture or country, not really. Summer vacations spent at our grandparents’ summer cottage in Finland didn’t give that accurate of an image of our home country. In some sense, I lived in the “bubble” of my family all the time. And as it is, I lived day to day with the knowledge that any moment my parents could sit us down and tell us we were leaving again. Yes, this kind of uncertainness may sound terribly tragic. But in all honesty, it wasn’t. I just kind of rolled with it, and it was ok.

I’m not going to get too psychological in this article, but I definitely think that living abroad as a child changes you. Personally, I would be way different, had I lived all my childhood in one place. I’ve grown a sort of tough skin and learnt to handle things very independently. After all, I was thrown in the deep end in almost everything I did, from learning a language and the ways of a country I had barely heard of before moving there. The fact that I had to constantly leave behind friends may have something to do with it too. The oldest friends I have are my siblings, the golden human beings who hung on there with me all those years. Now, I did have friends in every school I went, but as harsh as it sounds, I was subconsciously always prepared to leave them and take off again with the knowledge that chances were, I would never see them again. Yup, that does sound harsh. It probably wasn’t the healthiest habit, but I think it made things easier. Facebook friends forever though, right?

Despite everything, I loved being a nomad. By default, children experience everything more vividly and strongly, and not only that, I got to live outside of predetermined frames. I didn’t necessarily belong, but I knew I could try my limits fearlessly, whilst dissecting a culture through the eyes of a child, and developing a love towards curiosity. I love how I’ve experienced unusual things: I was once bitten by a meerkat, we’ve had monkeys steal food from our kitchen, and our school had actual houses (I was in “Pegasus”), which was just about the coolest thing ever.

I took long for me to internalize the fact that after moving to Finland, we weren’t moving again. However, since then, Helsinki has become my home and I can finally say with some confidence that I have a culture. The familiar senses of longing after change and new scenery, chronic wanderlust et cetera, they still exist. Quite recently I had to make the choice of where I wanted to study. My older sister and brother both went to universities abroad, which they probably have our third culture kid genes to thank for, and it was an intriguing option for me too. I liked the thought of a new beginning in a whole new country.

However, beyond all of this I came to understand how important it had become for me to have someplace to return. A safety net, something to come back to if all else fails. Family nearby and a human-sized city that I’ve learned to love. Starting my studies at the University of Helsinki was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. I think that it all boils down to the fact that I have something here that I want to hold on to. I don’t know if it’s the renowned roots everyone’s talking about, the simple fact that I am Finnish or something else altogether, but for now, I just want to stay. Know this place, know who I am in it, and feel so comfortable with myself here that I can always return home.

I don’t really have any ground-breaking epiphany or insightful remark to conclude this article. I feel like I just needed to think about this out loud. After all, it is something that defines me. One thing I am sure of however, is that I am eternally grateful for my culturally ambiguous roots, a childhood that I can look back at and feel proud of. Because this little “suitcase baby” conquered the world at the age of seven, ready to take on anything.

 

 

Noodle soup and friendly mangos

ForHanna'sArticle

Vietnam, June 2015

Arriving to the airport of Hồ Chí Minh City, I sat down on a plastic chair to gather my bearings and to take a moment to get used to the heat. Feeling a bit nervous and uncertain of what to do next, I suddenly got a phone call from an unknown number. A cousin of a half-Vietnamese friend of mine had agreed to show me around the city and I answered the call, expecting it to be from him. A young man’s voice greeted me and I replied, still thinking this was the cousin speaking until the voice started demanding repeatedly:

“When are you coming to my hotel?” I realised that the almost angry-sounding voice belonged to a friend of my friend’s family whose hotel I had been arranged to stay at. I tried to tell the man that I was still at the airport and wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get to the hotel. The man ended the call, telling me to wait, and then started calling back, constantly asking what time I’d arrive to the hotel. Beginning to grow more annoyed than confused, I kept on telling I wasn’t sure until the phone calls ended.

I took in a couple of deep breaths and decided that I was starting to feel more self-confident and so picked up my backpack and took a bus to the city. Driving through the busy streets, I marvelled at the crowds of people and the insane traffic. It was like nothing I had experienced in Europe or the States and I found it all very exciting and was eager to get to explore the city. Grinning to myself, I sat back to enjoy the bumpy ride and the blissful A/C of the bus.

Everything was going smoothly. Until I missed my stop.

Trying to get off of the bus was a bit tricky. By this I mean that I seriously had no idea how to do it and so ended up sitting there, feeling like an idiot, and just waiting for another passenger to get off. At last this happened and I found myself in the opposite direction of my hotel. Lucky for me, it takes a lot before I start panicking and so, just a little nervous, I got myself a taxi to take me to the hotel.

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As the taxi pulled over, a new cause for extreme confusion presented itself. I was figuring out how to pay the driver with the strange Vietnamese notes when an elderly couple suddenly ran towards the car and I, a bit startled, wondered why these people were in such a hurry to get a taxi. To my further confusion, they opened the door and paid the driver.

“Hanna?” the man then asked and I felt great relief when I realised that the couple was there to show me to the hotel. I followed them through a narrow, dirty alley which made me wonder what kind of a hotel I was actually being taken to. To my pleasant surprise, however, the place we arrived to was very clean and charming.

Another pleasant surprise was to find the owner greeting me from behind the front desk with a big smile and happily welcoming me to his hotel. The anger I thought I had heard on the phone had apparently been misinterpreted. The young man handed a key to the old woman who led me upstairs with a ceaseless chatter in Vietnamese.

After we had reached my room, the old man joined us and the couple sat down, staring and smiling at me in complete silence. Okay then. Getting more and more confused as moments passed by, I asked myself who these people were and why did they stay in the room. After a minute or two of this, the man pulled out his smartphone and showed me a video chat on Skype. The video presented me my friend’s mother from Finland who then told me that the man was her brother and the woman his wife. Well, that explained some stuff.

The warm welcome helped me forget the jetlag and exhaustion of the trip from Finland to Vietnam. After the old couple left, I started unpacking and, feeling refreshed and curious to see this unfamiliar city, I left the hotel to go for a walk. As I emerged from the little alleyway, I had the choice of turning either left or right. Just a two-minute walk would take me to a large street from where I could easily walk to the city centre. I turn right. The wrong direction, of course.

After being completely lost for quite some time, I eventually found my way to the park I had originally intended to go to and I gave myself an imaginary high five. There I remembered how tired I actually was and sat down on a park bench. Soon a Vietnamese boy walked up to me and shyly asked if I wouldn’t mind speaking with him to help him practise English. Delighted, I started a conversation and answered the boy’s questions about myself and Finland while other people started stopping by to listen.

I had been told beforehand that this happened very often between tourists and the young Vietnamese, but I still wasn’t prepared for the crowd of twelve youngsters gathering around me. Each new arrival asked me the same questions about myself and I answered them while questioning them about Vietnam in turn. Without noticing it, I had sat at that same park bench for almost three hours.

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It was getting late and by the time almost everyone had left, I decided it was time for me to go as well. The second I rose, however, first drops of rain started falling. I saw locals running to a shelter and joined them. I thought it was a bit of an overreaction maybe, thinking that the drizzle was nothing, but soon it started truly pouring down. I knew I had signed up for the rainstorms when travelling to Vietnam during the rainy season….. but still.

After a while, I decided that I really had to get back to the hotel. And so I braved the rain and started jogging through the streets, every now and then stopping underneath canopies. While standing under one, I saw a very grumpy street-seller who had some plastic rain coats in her booth. I walked to her and pointed at a rain coat. The old lady wasn’t happy just opening the plastic bag for me and slapped my hand away when I tried to take the coat and dressed me in it herself. I gave her a bright smile which she returned after a while.

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Thus protected from the rain, I continued my journey. The walk from the street-seller to the hotel took only ten minutes. Or it would have. Walk straight ahead and turn left, you can’t get lost, I had told myself. Sometimes I undermine my lack of sense of direction.

Eventually, about forty minutes later, I was back at the hotel, dripping wet, tired, and happy.

I travel. A lot. And to the worry of many people close to me (sorry mum, sorry dad!), I usually travel alone. One of the biggest advantages of travelling on your own is that you meet new people more easily. And the important part of this is that when travelling, it’s not the sights you see that you remember, it’s the people you meet. Seeing Central Park and Times Square in NYC was great, but what I remember the best is how I got confused with the trains on my way to the JFK airport and saw an American couple with luggage, looking just as lost as I was, and I briskly marched up to them and asked if we could be lost together. I ended up spending the next two hours with this couple, telling them stories of my journeys around Europe and the US and in return listened to them tell of their life in the countryside.

Vietnam introduced me to quite some characters that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

To start off, here’s a quick impression I got of the Vietnamese as soon as I got there: friendly and loud with no sense of personal space. From the perspective of a tourist, the type characters of the Vietnamese include for example angry bus drivers yelling at the traffic, young people with endless questions that often get much more personal than any Finn would feel proper to ask, and old motorbike taxi drivers in basically every street corner, smoking cigarettes and shouting after you to ask if you need a ride. The Vietnamese seem to be divided into two very distinct groups: the quiet and shy and the very loud, the latter being the large majority. Both groups are very friendly and I have mostly good memories of the people I met. Obviously there were also those with the haha-stupid-tourist attitude which unfortunately also sticks to your mind, but good memories do outweigh the bad.

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I mentioned the lack of personal space that characterises Vietnamese people. Finnish personal space is roughly the size of Canada, but during the trip I had to learn to accept the women I was talking with putting their arms around my shoulders or holding my hand. The most memorable personal-space-what-is-that moment came from a girl selling clothes at an indoor market. While haggling, she held my shoulders and kept on repeating “don’t worry, be happy!” and when at last I agreed to buy a pair of trousers, she friendly patted my ass and then gave it a quick squeeze for good measure. No, I don’t think that’s exactly typical for Vietnamese people, but gives you a fair idea of what I had to get used to.

Language barrier wasn’t a huge problem when making friends. I very fondly remember the middle-aged lady who sat next to me on a long bus drive with whom I communicated mostly by waving hands and using the little Vietnamese I had learned. I’d show her pictures of my friends and family on my phone, pointing at the people and explaining my relationships to them with words like “em” (a younger sibling), “má” (mother), and “bạn” (a friend). The lady fed me mangos and candy during the four-hour journey and towards the end of the drive held my hand tightly, stroking it with her thumb.

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A short list of other interesting people I won’t forget: the soft-spoken cousin of my friend who drove me around Hồ Chí Minh City on his motorbike; one of the loud bus drivers who woke us up at 6am after a night-long journey by suddenly blasting out Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance at max volume; the girl and boy whom I managed to persuade to join me in a restaurant, promising to treat the meal, but who cheated by paying for all of us while I was in the restroom; an old shop-keeper and his wide smile as I tried speaking a bit of Vietnamese with him. These people and many, many others.

Of course it’s not only the people you’ve met that you remember. My picture folders are filled with photos of the cities of Vietnam, the mountains I visited, and the beaches I strolled in. I’m a city person and love to spend my vacations just walking around, looking at people passing by. This gave me a bit of a limited view of Vietnam, however, which I regret a little. But I did get to experience some of the Vietnamese nature in the mountains of the city of Đà Lạt which I’m very happy about. The beautiful scenery surrounding the mid-sized city combined nicely my love for cities and the pleasure of seeing mountains and visiting waterfalls, both of which really appeal to me considering you don’t really see those in Finland.

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While being able to revisit the sights by going through my photographs, memories of Vietnamese food bring a tear in my eye as I try to imagine the amazing tastes in my mouth. Vegetarian version of the famous phở soup is something I particularly like to recall. Being a hopeless cook myself, I doubt I’ll ever be able to recreate the dish myself although I’m determined to try as soon as I gather enough courage to. Hot spices, fruits I had never tasted before, the strong coffee, and overly sweet desserts are also something that I love to remember. The food alone seems like a reason good enough for me to dream about travelling back to the country.

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All in all, the crazy traffic, crowds of people, the interesting language, all the times I got utterly lost, the stares following after me that I had to get used to, the rainstorms I learned to predict like locals, all the noises and smells, and the culture so different from what I’m used to all hold a very dear place in my heart. I most definitely intend on going back.

Istanbul: at the Heart of the Ottoman Empire

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Istanbul is the city for lovers of culture, beautiful architecture, ottoman art, and gorgeous nature, and I wanted to share the summery fabulosity that I encountered on this, my second, visit to the largest city in Turkey. The city boasts both vivacious nightlife and peaceful religious sites that take your breath away with their beauty.

Blue Mosque Topkapi

Any visit to Istanbul is not worth it without a look into the famous sights of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia that face each other in the Sultanahmet. At the mosque you can marvel at the architecture and golden details of the artwork on the walls.

Another must-see location is the Topkapi palace, the luxurious former home of the Ottoman sultans, that will transport you to the ancient days of the Ottoman Empire and easily takes up at least three or four hours of your vacation with its four courtyards, several smaller buildings, and a harem residence.

Topkapi's grounds

Stray cats and Bosporus sceneryFor once it’s nice to see a country that really takes care of the stray cats: every restaurant owner seemed to have a whole pack of cats that they would caringly feed. Just pay attention that you get fed too because sometimes the dinner would mysteriously take over an hour to find its way to your table.

Rumelin and a fishing village

A breezy cruise on the Bosphorus really brightens up the trip. A cheap cruise with the locals is naturally preferable to the ones offered by money-grubbing travel companies. A day cruise will take you all the way to the confluence of the strait and the Black Sea and you’ll even have a chance to climb a mountain to charming Yoros castle ruins during a lunch stop at a little village of Anadolu Kavagi that has the best fish in town.

A welcoming sign, German fountain and a fish market

Istanbul is one of those cities that only gets more beautiful by night: all the sights (and even some fountains) are lit up with different colored lights and many of the restaurants have inviting lanterns hanging from the ceiling in the terrace areas.

If you’re in the mood for fresh fish, you can head to the fish market that is easily spotted due to the massive amounts of birds circling above it. You might even see a stork lounging about.The Grand Bazaar

If fish is not your thing, you can find an assortment of local candies like Turkish delights or spices at any of the bazaars, like The Grand Bazaar or the Spice Market (also called the Egyptian Bazaar). Remember to haggle (even though the prices are quite cheap as it is) and you’ll most likely end up with so many souvenirs you’ll end up paying extra fees for luggage on your flight home.

Istanbul is a wonderful and affordable holiday location that has a completely exotic feel while still being fairly close to Finland. Just beware of taxi scams on your trip!

Doodling Thoughts at the Airport

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I sat in a poorly air-conditioned airport waiting-lounge. Well, to say “poorly” was to give praise where it wasn’t due, seeing as the air-conditioning was in fact nonexistent. Truthfully to even call it a lounge would be extremely gracious. Lounges are large, well-lit spaces where one sits on a chic black leather couch, sips on complementary champagne and waits to be practically carried onto the aircraft. Oh no, this lounge was nothing but a small room with a low ceiling and rows of tiny peephole windows that colored the world a depressing shade of brown. So, to rephrase, I sat in a small, hot room that was quickly filling up with fellow Finnish holidaymakers. It didn’t take long for the space to resemble a life-sized sardine can. As people crammed in with over-sized hand luggage, sunhats that could conveniently serve as umbrellas for a family of four and other important holiday gear, I pondered whether severe collective claustrophobia was to be our fate. It just so happened that my departure to Marseille coincided with that one odd day in a Finnish summer when the temperature makes a heroic climb past the 25-degree mark and the whole country is in a state of frenzy. Partly to distract myself from the physical discomfort and partly to find the person most likely to crack first, I started peering around the room full of strangers.

With one hand a mother was soothing her crying baby, vigorously rocking him back and forth while passing a piece of gum to her ambitious toddler with the other. Her limbs moved quickly and her eyes even quicker as she cared for two very active and visibly agitated children. I watched in amused amazement as she managed to catch the toddler right before he tripped over a gigantic suitcase whilst wiping the baby’s nose. Her adventurous children were out to give her a hard time, but little did they know she was always one thought ahead of them, making mothering an art form.

Beside her an elderly woman in a long tie dyed dress and faded leather sandals, sat sketching something in her notebook. She wore her abundant silvery gray hair in a long braid. She looked like a lady with a suitcase full of stories and had I been braver I would have asked her to share one or two. She must have been an adventurer, a vagabond, in her youth; the spark in her eyes gave it away.

A few seats behind her, four boys, barely past their teenage years, sat boisterously laughing and slapping each other on the back for no apparent reason. Their boyish confidence and nonchalance was a poor disguise for their nervousness. Muffled fits of panicked giggles were a clear sight they were about to board a plane for the first time in their lives.

My eyes wandered from one face to the next as I played my favorite game: “If this group of people survived the apocalypse, who’d I continue the human race with?” After a quick scan around the room I concluded that none of the over 40-year old, balding family men tickled my fancy, hence I would have to find other ways to contribute to the survival of the human race in a post-apocalyptic world. (The tribe medicine woman and the tribe troubadour sounded equally fascinating but with a brain at the boiling point, I never was able to make up my mind.)

A few sour faces and unsatisfied grumbles caught my attention, but considering the circumstances my fellow Finns and I were handling this trying situation quite heroically. No one seemed to be at the brink of a breakdown, even though we are vigorous protectors of our private space and notoriously a nation of excellent complainers. Give us a subject and we will poke around it until we find something dissatisfactory about it. Yet here I was–to my surprise–witnessing a large group of Finns in a small, hot room (that wasn’t a sauna) and hearing hardly a single complaint. I felt a sense of pride in witnessing that national stereotypes can on occasion be proven wrong.

The loudspeakers broke their silence, informing the now clearly agitated crowd that boarding was about to start. As soon as the sound waves hit ears and brains processed them into meaningful words, reason left the room and temporary insanity took dominion. With catlike reflexes the crowd grabbed their oversized bags and hats, their crying infants and passive teens, and shoved for the gate. Somehow the request to “make a line” was loosely translated to “ huddle up, push, shove, bite if you have to, but get on that plane because it will leave without you.”

I lost sight of Supermom and her children, but judging by her prior demonstration, I trusted she would carry her babes gracefully, without struggle, through the once civilized crowd of Finns. Not daring to enter the ocean of potentially smelly armpits, heavy suitcases and pointy heels, I decided to wait on the outskirts of insanity. Numerous trips in Turkish buses during rush hour had taught me to avoid crowds whenever I could. The airline’s decision to leave without me was a risk I was willing to take. I noticed that the hippie lady had chosen to take the same risk. She’d probably been at Woodstock and had her share of smelly armpit exposure. At least that’s the feeling I got from amused expression in her eyes and the little half smile she gave me as we stood at a safe distance from the madness. Unsurprisingly even the very last person was greeted with a polite smile and a cheerful “bonjour” as they entered the aircraft.

My previous pride in Finns had been dampened, but I resolved to thinking that there was a limit to the amount of heat and lack of personal space a Finn could handle and that the announcement had been like an oasis in the wilderness to all who heard it.

With the engines running and flight attendants making final checks, I assessed the damages of the boarding process. No severed ears, black eyes or blood gushing noses in sight, only the excited faces of vacationers already dreaming of fine wines and delicious cheeses they were soon to enjoy. I sat in a well air-conditioned aircraft, right next to a window that didn’t color the world brown and concluded that it was the little things in life that brought immense satisfaction and that we Finns were strange but wonderful creatures.

© Inka Vappula

 

Welcome to Helsinki!

Whether you’re new in town or have lived here for your whole life, we hope that these tips about Helsinki will make your autumn eventful and fun! As someone who has lived here most of my life, I can see why some people complain about Helsinki being dull in the autumn and filled with boring grey buildings and chain shops and cafés. But if you can get past that, you can see all the pretty green areas metamorphosing into shades of yellow and red, free creative happenings, places that serve delicious innovative or traditional food, the amazingly beautiful harsh grey sea and so much more. So, get your new pink and green and blue calendar and mark these dates and places to go!

Helsinki Comics Festival

Being the biggest comics festival in Northern Europe, Helsinki Comics Festival offers art venues, workshops, lectures, interviews with great people and most important of all, comics from all around the globe! This year’s themes are North American comics and children’s comics. Remember to check out the Pienlehtitaivas (Small Press Heaven) where anyone can sell their self-published comics for student-friendly prices! No entry fees. (also, check out a piece of last year’s festival and the comic artist Benoît Sokal by yours truly!)

Friday the 6th of September: 14 pm to 8 pm
Saturday the 7th of September: 11 am to 8 pm
Sunday the 8th of September: 11 am to 6 pm

The Night of the Cats at Korkeasaari Zoo

The big cats of Korkeasaari are very awake when the night falls, one year this editor was lucky enough to witness a tiger jumping towards a small kid… Don’t worry, there was a glass between them. The Night of the Cats can be super busy and crowded, but the atmosphere is great and the cats are, well, great. Also, there will be music and some popular Finnish bands are going to perform, such as Von Hertzen Brothers and Redrama.

6th of September: 4pm to 12pm
13th of September: 4pm to 12pm

Helsinki Baltic Herring Fair

If you’re not a herring fan, get some semi-sweet black bread (eat it with butter or freeze and save it to the Christmas table) from the boats and enjoy a plate of fried vendaces and enjoy the atmosphere of Kauppatori. If you’re a herring fan, you know what to do. No entry fee.

6-12 October:
Sun-Fri 7am-7pm
Sat 7am-3pm

Helsinki Book Fair

Helsinki Messukeskus in Pasila will be filled with old and new books, comics, talks and what not. With the same ticket, you can entry the Wine, Food and Good Living -exhibition as well, which is usually filled with free delicious samples and good places to eat lunch. The tickets cost 10 € for students.

Thursday 24 Oct 10am – 6pm
Friday 25 Oct 10am – 8pm
Saturday 26 Oct 10am – 6pm
Sunday 27 Oct 10am – 6pm

Carnival of Light at Linnanmäki amusement park

Although the tickets for the rides cost, admission to the park area is free of charge. The Linnanmäki park, filled with lights and sounds, is truly a magical place for a romantic date (make sure to follow up with a glass of wine in Kallio) or just a fun place to hang out with your pals. Remember to pack your sweater with you, it might get cold.

October 12-20th.

Hakaniemi Market Place

The actual outdoor market place will close soonish, but if you’re quick, you might just get a chance to enjoy coffee, porridge and buns in one of the market tents. The indoor food hall is also a great place to visit, you can find fresh fish, spices, Turkish specialties, organic vegetables etc. and one of the best restaurants in Helsinki, Soppakeittiö! If you’re into seafood at all, you have to try the bouillabaisse, and of course the herb oil with the bread.

Stand-up and Comedy in English

In addition to Ismo Leikola and André Wickström, Comedy Finland promotes gigs for comedians around the globe. Finnish-speakers, check out the Helsinki Comedy Festival.

Green Hearts

Take some coffee to-go and enjoy Helsinki’s parks! The Green Hearts project provides you with maps to walk around Helsinki’s pretty parks and green areas.

Also, remember to check out Happy Tours Helsinki’s free Helsinki walking and biking tours!

Good Coffee places and restaurants around the Helsinki Uni Campus:

- Espresso Edge, cute colorful place with good sandwiches and grumpy service.

- La Torrefazione, delicious ciabattas, smoothies and best cappuccinos in Helsinki! Also check out Fratello Torrefazione, less intimate but still awesome coffee place in Kluuvi from the same company.

- Qulma, wonderful breakfast (sweet mint pesto!), good coffee and tea, good soup lunch.

- Café Esplanad and Café Succès serve the biggest cinnamon rolls in Helsinki. The service is often rude, but the settings are historical and pretty.

- Freese Coffee Co., Be hip and follow the building and launching of a new coffee house in Helsinki.

- Manga Café, for all of you who enjoy Japanese comics with your green tea!

- Zen Sushi Kruununhaka, talking about Japanese food, the elderly Japanese gentleman makes the best sushis nearby. The younger sushi chefs are ok too.

- West Lake Tea House, skip the sushis here, this place serves wonderful and authentic Chinese food. Try even the weird-sounding ones; my personal favorites have been scrambled eggs with tomato and rice with ketchup.

- Restaurant Sunn, looking for a fancier bistro for a date or just wanna go and enjoy good restaurant food in a historical building overlooking the Helsinki University Main Building and Tuomiokirkko? This is your place. Ask for a table near a window. Make a reservation.

- Restaurant Kolme Kruunua, little kitch, little fifties, but still delicious basic restaurant food. Try some traditional Helsinki portions – such as mashed potatoes and fried herrings or Pyttipannu aka Spydäri in Helsinki slang (fried potatoes, sausages or some sort of meat. Often served with a fried egg on top).

- Kaisla, a cozy beer house where this awesome hip&cool group of BTSB editors often meet.

Other cool places to check out:

- Ryhmäteatteri, one of the most popular theater companies in Helsinki. If you can’t get a ticket in advance, you can go in time to the venue and ask for pre-reserved tickets that nobody claimed. If however this fails, not to worry; Kallio is filled with beer places where you can discuss your already existing knowledge about the art of theater. The pieces are unfortunately only in Finnish.

- Best places to spend your money on vinyls: Black and White Music and Levykauppa Äx/ Record Shop X

- Makuuni Kruununhaka (open 12pm to 10pm every day, Unioninkatu 39) offers a good selection of candy and movies and is located conveniently next to Metsätalo.

- Pilailupuoti, need some props for Halloween? Pilis in Kaisaniemi is the place to go.

- Comics Center, shop, art exhibitions, café and comic drawing courses!

- Ursa Astronomical Association offers public shows and knowledge about sun, stars and cool stuff alike. The entry fee is 3 euros for adults.

BTSB wants to welcome you to Helsinki! Hopefully these tips help you enjoy our beautiful capital! But let’s not stop here! What’s your best Helsinki tip? Comment below!

 

Travel Drinks

This month, the BTSB staff has put together another travel section to shed light on the exciting drinking culture outside of Helsinki (*le gasp*). From Barcelona to Karjaa, from Slàinte to Hölkynkölkyn, we bring you our best bar recommendations!

Hootananny, Inverness, United Kingdom

Hootananny is widely advertised by locals to be the best live music pub in Inverness and many hostels recommend it to tourists. Having said this, I was genuinely surprised to find the place packed with not just tourists coming to Inverness on their way to or from the Highlands, but locals as well. The pub has two floors to accommodate the huge flow of customers. Upstairs is usually used as a concert venue and the downstairs has live Scottish music every day. The pricing is not too bad for a pub with such a reputation. They also have ceilidh nights, when anyone can join in and show off their moves in the Scottish country dancing department. So if you ever happen to find yourself in Inverness in need of a drink or two with some live music, I recommend trying Hootananny. Saturdays can be quite full, but I trust it to be less crowded during the week and earlier in the evening.

Manchester Bar, Barcelona, Spain

You know the feeling when you’re sitting in a bar, having an OK time, but the music they’re playing keeps bugging you and eventually the evening’s ruined? Now imagine the opposite: an evening that was supposed to be somewhat quiet turns into madcap partying because the DJ is a mindPod reader! The menu of bar Manchester, written on the door, includes such delicacies as Joy Division and Happy Mondays (both of which are actually from Manchester), and indie music on the whole, especially British indie, is well represented here. Three o’clock in the morning comes always too soon in this Brit-indie Mecca! Additional tip: Mojitos are awesome here, but stay away from the Caipirinhas, they’re deadly!

The Dome, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

One restaurant/bar you don’t want to miss in the city of Edinburgh is the Dome. Especially the absolutely fantastic Christmas decorations are worth seeing. Don’t let the sophisticated atmosphere drive you away, the bartenders are nice and helpful and especially their mojitos are excellent (although a little pricey)!

Serenpidity, Karjaa, Finland

I haven’t been to many bars outside of Helsinki but the one place I can think of is Serendipity in Karjaa. I’ve only been there a couple of times and it’s unfortunately been quite a while since I’ve last been there but I think the fact that I can still remember it does say something. Plus, I’ve enlisted the help of a seasoned Karjaa veteran to help me with the details to make sure that I don’t accidentally misrepresent this place that so many Karjaa folks hold so dear. One of the things I remember most about Serendipity is the cozy atmosphere of the place. Close your eyes and think of an old-fashioned and serene place. What do you see? A fireplace? A wooden stove? Wooden furniture and candles for lighting? That’s Serendipity. There isn’t an electrical stove in sight nor is there a microwave so everything is made the old-fashioned way, which means some of the best and most personal hot chocolate you can get anywhere. Continuing the subject of drinks, you can get cocktails, beer from the tap, and old-fashioned tea from an incredibly long tea-list. And worry not if you’re hungry because you can also get food there and, no, you vegetarians aren’t discriminated against. The personal touches continue with the hamburger patties which are made by the staff themselves, and even the buns have been known to be home-made though I’m not certain whether this is still the case. There is electricity for ceiling lamps but, more often than not, candles are used instead. This is the mindset behind Serendipity; personal touches and a cozy atmosphere. The walls of Serendipity can also be adorned by the art of anyone willing to cough up a small fee, further increasing the personal and communal feeling of the place. I could go on about the other features of Serendipity (such as the upstairs area that can be rented for parties), but I’d like to instead leave you with my personal image of Serendipity. It’s been over a year since I last had the pleasure of being there but I do distinctly remember sitting inside on those wooden benches during a stormy summer evening, the faces of my friends illuminated by nothing but candles. It’s the kind of cozy atmosphere that is hard to find in Helsinki and the one thing most people from Karjaa miss after they move. If you ever find yourself in Karjaa, you can’t leave until you’ve visited Serendipity. And if you really want to fit in with the Karis people, refer to it as either Serendi or Pity. That’s what the cool kids do.

Travel For Food

This month, BTSB staff has put together some delicious restaurant tips from around the world for you to enjoy and places to add to your itinerary when planning your next trips!
Lo Stivale d’Oro, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
One restaurant you don’t want to miss in the beautiful city of Amsterdam is Lo Stivale d’Oro, a tiny italian restaurant located in the central area. Getting a table was difficult, but the food made it all worth it: even the bread spread was absolutely delicious and pastas were extraordinary.
The Original Mosque Kitchen, Edinburgh, UK
Edinburgh University lacking an equivalent to UniCafe students are forced to find somewhere else to eat good food for not too much. The Original Mosque Kitchen and its slightly more expensive namesake Mosque Kitchen literally around the corner both offer good basic food sure to fill even the hungriest students. The Original Mosque Kitchen is situated near the campus area and has both takeaway and sit-in options for a very affordable price. For just under £4 (about 4.3e) you get a huge portion of for example Chicken Curry and Rice. The sauce is just spicy enough and the rice on the side comes in such massive amounts that so far I have never been able to finish it all. So if you ever find yourself hungry beyond imaginable in Edinburgh and you don’t mind eating from a plastic plate, The Original Mosque Kitchen is the place to go.
Skinny Pancake, Burlington, VT, USA
Located near the shore of Lake Champlain, Skinny Pancake is one of the crown jewels in Vermont. The state is coincidentally (or not!) the home of the American pancake and reputedly of maple syrup as well. Thus, it is rather surprising that a place serving European crêpes is among its best. Skinny Pancake is cozy with people coming and going the service is nice and the prices not too bad at all. Offering sweet and salty crêpes with a myriad of fillings, the menu should cater to every taste imaginable. Plus, the coffee’s good – which you shouldn’t take for granted in the land of the free.
Sophie’n Eck, Berlin, Germany
Berlin is one of those places where people often fly for a long weekend, thinking it will suffice to get to know the city but end up running splendidly out of time. Well, that’s what happened to me at least. After four full days of storming around Museumsinsel, Kreuzberg, East Side Gallery, and whatnot, I found myself exhausted and horrified: I’m heading home tomorrow and there’s so much I haven’t done yet! In this situation there are two options: you can continue racing around the sights the whole night and get absolutely nothing out of it, or, you can make the most of your last night in this amazing city by enjoying delicious food and wine in a restaurant you’d kill to have next door at home. The place is called Sophie’n Eck, and it is absolutely charming, in the 14th century sense of the word. The assortment of scents that hit you in the face when coming through the door is magical, and one quick glace around confirms this is the right choice – most of the customers are locals and the place is almost packed on a Monday night, which is a very good sign. The place is also a pub, so the selection of beers is impressive, and there’s nothing to complain about the wine list either. For dinner my date decided on the German classic Schweinshaxe, pork shank, with Sauerkrat, naturally. I had roast beef with remoulade and herb potatoes, and both our dishes were amazing. After finishing our tasty meals it was great to just sip some wine and watch all the strangers spending their evenings in this wonderfully cosy place, at the same time digesting both the food and the experiences from the past few days, and attaining total relaxation. Then and there, I started to miss Berlin already.
Tokyo 55, Helsinki
You don’t have to travel far to sate your appetite for good food. In Töölö, there is a small and popular Japanese restaurant called Tokyo55. For sushi lovers, this is the place to go because of the sushi buffet: eat all you can four days a week. It was precisely on one of these buffet days that I ventured there. After gorging myself on sushi, the only complaint I had was that climbing up from the lower floor back to street level was a bit of an effort. So if you want to eat healthy and delicious food, this is a place worth checking out. And while you don’t have to travel very far, your taste buds will go all the way to Japan.

Compiled by Kerttu Kaikkonen

Illustrations by Johanna Ruuskanen