Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Hyvaa Joulua kaikille

Thought I'd leave the last post of the year on a note of goodwill to all, so from my wife and I

best wishes to all

Monday, 21 December 2009

the bread board

Finland is most clearly not Australia.

One of the clear differences here is that the air is really dry (even though Finns will tell you it isn't).

This encourages some mighty distasteful habits from my perspective. One such habit is the "cunning top draw hidden bread board"


It just pulls out like an ordinary slim draw and allows you to cut your bread and simply push it back in when you've finished.

This does however seem to lead to many a bread board containing the debris of bread from days or weeks ...


lucky its so cold here there is no cockroaches and dry here as to not sprout fungi

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Caminito: best Jäätelö in Finland

Kouvola has an incredible secret (not the railway station), it is home to the best hand made ice cream in Finland. Ice Cream or as its known locally Jäätelö

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you ...


closing time

Kouvola is a bleak and grey Finnish town, perhaps this comes across a little in the image above, but just behind the glass windows of the store front resides an interior of colour and flavour which is a breath of fresh air in the bleak greyness of Kouvola. While Kouvola would be an ideal town for a director like David Lynch to re-shoot a bleak surreal movie such as Eraserhead, it is not the sort of place where you'd expect to find rich colours and great tasting ice cream ... but as it happens Kouvola is home to the best ice cream shop in Finland.

Certainly this shop belongs more to a place such as Helsinki, Tampere or Turku.

caminitoIceCreamAs soon as you walk in the door you're greeted by an assortment of excellent ice creams of the like you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Finland.

As well as taking advantage of local flavors (such as Metsamarijat) you can find exotic and delicious flavours from Mango and Banana through to the (just tried it today) Jasmine flavour.

Yes, Jasmine, just as in the Chinese tea.

Its just great.

Naturally Sergio serves coffee (both Finnish style and Espresso), hot chocolate a selection of Teas and even some home baked breads and pastries (for the genuinely hungry).

Everything is made on site by the owner Sergio (who is not a Finn, but from Argentina). So the interior is decorated in the colours of his home town, with some brightly coloured oil paintings of the region adorning the walls.


Downstairs he has his ice cream making factory as well as more tables for patrons and even a playground for the kids.

downstairs at Caminito in Kouvola

Naturally even the reserved and stoic Finns enjoy hanging out here during the long summer days, and despite not selling beer or other booze here seems to attract quite a turnout.

Lets face it, its nice to be able to take the kids somewhere away from the typical beer selling Kahvilla (and the people you find there) isn't it...

As you may have noticed on this blog, I don't do advertising; so this isn't an ad. In fact its quite unlikey that anyone reading this blog will even be in Finland, I just thought that it was quite "hauska" to find such a Jewel in this place.

Either way I love it and I hope it continues to do well.

See ya there!

frost on the lake

Normally its snowing enough to make Skis the best bet for lake transport here in the east of Finland, but sometimes its just icy ... so with this in mind this year we thought we'd buy some "Nordic skates" (here they're called retkiluistimet).

These attach to the bottom of regular boots or in some models require you to use particular ski boot bindings. We bought a set that attach to regular boots because we often like to ski and hike in places. Ski boots aren't really good walking boots ...

They work best on plain ice, normally in Finland by the time the lakes are frozen but covered with snow, making it impossible to Skate.

This year we've had a long warm period in November with the temperature only dropping below 0°C in December.

We've had funny weather this year (by my experience anyway) with clear cloudless skies and -10 or -20°C all week, so we expected the lakes to be frozen and ice free.

So, armed with our new toys we set off for a local lake to try them.

We didn't expect to find that the lake was covered in what at first glance was snow, but we discovered to be frost.

It was quite simply the most stunning display of frost ice crystal growth I've ever seen.

We struggled with the skating a bit then gave up as it was too hard ... should have bought the skis.

As you can see above the ice was growing up in 3 dimensional sheets which looked like small ice plants all over the ground, with small leaves in all directions. This is how it looks close up

a beautiful "ice cover" of plant like ice structures.

Walking on them you could hear the smashing of the ice (as it was still -17°C), I felt like a kid breaking beautiful crystal in a shop with every step.

We dumped the skates in the bushes and set off on foot to explore and walk around a little.

Hope you enjoyed this little winter wonder here ... today its started snowing lightly so it's all going to be buried and crushed. In places they were so densly grouped as to look like snow at first.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

hyvaa joulua tiimilleni

I always believe that you can never judge a person based on the perceptions of their culture or even their fellow man. My last six months of working in Helsinki has been such a night and day contrast to the Finns that I have met in the 2 years before this as to make me wonder if I have been in the same country. (Well in truth that gets sorted out every weekend when I am back in Kouvola).

My workmates at my as pleasant a bunch as I have worked with anywhere ever and certainly more pleasant than some I've worked with in Australia.

Its a little sad actually that my contract is coming to a close as (while not without some friction and disagreement) this bunch of Finns has been my summer in a winter land of darkness.

So, guys (if ever you read this and suspect its me) I'd like you to know that without any doubt you have lifted my spirit this year in Finland.

Hyvää Joulua!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

historical form over function

I often wonder just how dumb people can be and Kouvola (the place I live in here in Finland) gives me a prime example.

NOTE: since writing this blog I have found that it was not the fault of the Town Planner (or presumably the VR officals) that this debacle occured. it was the The National Board of Antiquities that demanded the railway station to be preserved as it was. The town archihtect was of a different opinion and stated that with modern materials it is possible to get functional solutions for the structures. Instead the blame rests with some nutcase at the National Board of Antiquities. Well fella, you should be sentenced to get your ass down here and stand at the THING every winter... till you decided to quit your job.

One of the "monuments" to the dead set ugly in Kouvola is the railway platform here.

Then one day I noticed they were starting to demolish it.


Finally I thought that they may put up a decent platform.

All during the summer I've been waiting for the (irregular) train at the Kouvola platform watching the demolition of the old platform and I thought often of photographing the demolition of this bloody ugly and bloody useless hunk of concrete.

Then, the demolition started to change ... all the roof had been destroyed and some of the pillars, but suddenly they were putting up new ones.

Oh my god, these idiots were rebuilding it! I shudder to think how many millions of Euros this debacle cost.

Not only is it an eyesore from a Stalinist Russian sort of bleak concrete architecture perspective, but its bloody impractical too.

What an immense waste of money this has been.

I'm told its due to some tossers suggesting that it needs to be kept as some sort of 'cultural heritage' .. for gods sake. Its a cultural step forward to remove it ... its not pretty nor has it ever been.

As a shelter this stupid piece of concrete provides nothing, in fact its worse than nothing.

As you can see here, there is absolutely no shelter underneath it. The pillars supporting the roof are perfectly circular, so when the cold biting winds blow in winter you can't even really shelter behind a pole. The wind just passes around it neatly.

Worse, the high wings of the roof actually channel the wind underneath, so even if there is the merest breeze elsewhere, it turns into about double that under the platform roof.

I've drawn some lines here to show the effect I'm talking about. The above image gives some illusion that shelter is afforeded by this structure, but thats only when there has been totally still weather conditions that the wetness does not penetrate all the way to the center. Normally its more like this...

The last thing you want here in winter is wind to make the cold worse, well this piece of magic architecture does just that. In Autumn its doubly worse as the increase in velocity of the air pulls in any rain, drizzle or sleet to well past the middle point ... typically here in Finland there isn't much wind .. heck people even leave candles outside without glass covers and they don't get blown out.

So this is where people wait ... for the trains (which are often late) ... warm hospitable Finland. Reminds me of waiting for the train at Tikkurila (in Helsinki) on the station for a train with no shelter at -20 with the wind blowing and the station locked up.

You know, this design might make sense in Australia where the hot sun is overhead, and the design would create some breeze ... but here the sun is never overhead, so even in summer it provides nothing.

In so many ways its a monument to the stark and unimaginative ugliness of this town.

Before I leave this I'll toss in a brief mention of the stairs down to the 'underpass' to get to the platform. They (as a result of the demolished section) now are not covered, so snow falls on them and makes them bloody dangerous.

Staff sprinkle gravel over them, but seriously it doesn't help much. Ohh ... notice that ramp for the handicapped? Its stainless steel ... don't reckon your wheel chair'd get much grip on that in winter.

HAH .. You'll never get up, but man the way down is a real adrenalin rush...

How ironic it is that Finland has won an award for being the capital of design in Europe ... where the hell do they hide it? Seriously folks, Finland may have a reputation as a wonderful nordic country, but that can only come from word of mouth of the locals (who probably compare it with Russia whom they hate or perhaps Italy?) cos after nearly 3 years here I'm not seeing it.

I've said it before, send some of the staff here to a place like Japan where they can learn organisation.