The first cow parsley of the spring, spotted in my secret place in Jericho.
For a long time, I thought that the spring is not coming at all – but it did, it did! My favourite spring place is Magdalen College park; the sunny banks of the Fellows’ Garden are a sea of flowers in March/April. I have developed an allergy for daffodils and cannot buy them for my flat anymore, but I do love seeing the vast stretches of them in the spring, and feel a bit sad when they wilt away in April.
This is the last week of Easter holidays – usually the most unremarkable holiday of the year for me. This time I decided to up my game and visit friends in Helsinki. I have rarely spent more than couple of days there, and not for many years, and was interested to see how perceptions change. After London has been my big city for nearly a decade, Helsinki seems small, quiet, almost parochial. Great architecture, lots of coffee shops and bakeries, wide streets, continental feel. I was surprised by the lack of ticket barriers in the tube or in the tram, startled to see men sitting outside drinking vodka from plastic bottles in the morning, surprised by how often I’d pass local celebrities just walking down the street. It was a lovely place, but not necessarily one where I’d love to live.
Coming from the blossoming England, I was surprised to find out that despite global warming, in March the bay is still frozen.
The old, public sauna in Kallio was always going to be the highlight of my trip. I suspect the fittings are original, and the atmosphere was certainly nostalgic. If there was a place like this here, I’d go every week, and not even care that it cost €12.
Another staple of every and any visit to Finland – fika, or coffee and pulla. The British are great bakers, but they don’t do pulla.
Near Johanneksen Kirkko (St John’s, below) I found a used books’ shop that was the properest thing I have ever seen. Books stacked everywhere, an authentic smell of slightly acidic paper, lots of rare things for not much money. This magazine cover is one of my all time favourite illustrations – I have used it for cards and glued it in every art journal I have ever had. I was beyond excited to pick an original copy of the magazine it was painted for.
The murals by Akseli Gallen-Kallela in the National Museum – a small, but exquisitely curated and displayed collection in a rather nice, Jugend/gothic romantic building.
With my friend.
Some of Helsinki’s architecture really is exquisite. These turn of the century buildings don’t just have great detail, but they have presence.
The compulsory shot of the sea.
Before I went to Helsinki, I got around to unpacking the bag of yarn I had bought at Christmas, and found this pair of mittens. These are Norwegian, and the pattern imitates the northern lights. I have had these literally always – I must have been given them as a very small child (thought they are adult size), even though I have no memory of receiving them. My mother deemed them too precious to be worn, and so they are still in immaculate condition. I look at them and wonder if I should wear them now, or continue to keep them for posterity, as a souvenir from my childhood. I have few toys left, and somehow the most memorable object for me anyway are the knickknacks that I wasn’t suppose to touch as a child.
I came back, and the spring had come.
More debris from the summer. I took these pictures in a toy museum in Suomenlinna island, off the coast of Helsinki. The museum is tiny, tucked away in a quiet corner of the island off the main tourist tracks. I imagine in the autumn after the tourists are gone and weather is cold and sad, it is a wonderful place.
Coffee on the terrace.
The light in the museum is appalling for photography, and all the toys are in tightly filled glass cabinets, often with no direct light, so lots of the photos I took that day turned out to be out of focus, underexposed or full of reflections in inconvenient places – the cabinet surfaces were full of tiny hand prints.
The collection is very valuable – original Steiff bears, “first edition” Barbies, Moomin figures made by Tove Janson… I’m always fascinated by how scary old toys are. The dolls in the museum look like two armies of zombies and vampires gazing each other viciously through their barriers of glass – dead-eyed, grey-faced, red-lipped, their necks distorted.
Poor Bambi, he looks terrified.
This bear mama has made the wise decision to hide with her cub.
What is this? WHAT IS THIS? Answers on a postcard.
This guy escaped from the film Freaks.
Vampire Shirley. That is one evil-looking doll.
Even the Moomins look a bit sinister. I guess living across the room from that Shirley Temple doll does that to one…
This little guy I cannot fault. He is just cute.
The Suomenlinna Toy Museum is open for one weekend towards the end of October, for most of December, and then again April. It’s a little bit expensive, but well worth it, if you have got couple of hours to spend to take it all in properly.
Better late than never. I finally got around to going through the summer photos, which brought both few moments of happiness and few moments of crushing disappointment. Whole set of photos taken in a fishing port in Haukipudas, northern Finland, were overexposed beyond salvation – the day was in turns cloudy and sunny and rainy, and my settings just didn’t keep up.
Small fishing boats – the main fleet was out on the sea.
For the first time in a very long time I visited Helsinki. Ten years ago it was a big city. After years of regularly going to London it’s small, idyllic, pretty and parochial. But it has a good drive – lots of culture, especially indie and alternative, and the city is just small enough to have the kind of creative atmosphere bigger cities sometimes lack. And it is by the sea. Oh the sea! Eight years in the most landlocked place of this island has made me ache for the sea. For the rocky shores of southern Finland, for the marshes and reeds of northern Finland, and for the gentle waters of the Baltic. The water is not as salty as “proper” seawater, so it is dark brown in colour, and the contrast with the blue skies brilliant.
Sveaborg off the coast of Helsinki. This place has the feel of all Chekhov’s plays rolled together, of time standing still on the empty courtyards and in the windswept houses. This used to be military base, and the houses are like barracks. Same architects who built St. Petersburg built Helsinki too, and it’s for me impossible to think of one without thinking the other.
The Military Academy church has a lighthouse in its bell tower.
The walls are looking at you.
Laundry drying on wooden rails.