Visiting Helsinki Zoo in winter

We visited Helsinki Zoo, situated on Korkesaari island, in late October this year. A visit to the Zoo is a nice stroll around the island for a couple of hours. It is smaller than I expected but animals are always funny and there is a good variety of cat family species.

There is small restaurant in Finnish-style house called “Goats” (Pukki) where you can have a bite of cookies and drink a cup of strong Finnish coffee. We were with the baby, so it was good to have a warm place to change her nappies and let her sit in the baby chair in the café. The rest of refreshments kiosks and cafes are closed in winter.

The only annoying thing in winter time is the fact that you have to walk around 500 m from the parking lot to the ticket office and then, across the channel, via bridge. With winds and rain and snow, you are about to lose the desire to visit Korkesaari cats. But in summer time, there is boat sailing from Market square to the zoo so you can avoid the long walk.

Another personal thing, which made us run away from lions’ cage was the slaughtered deer, fed to lions. We still do not understand why zookeepers have to give the whole body, not just meat, to these wild cats. Frankly speaking, the sight was disgusting.

Overall impression, however, was positive and the best thing about Helsinki zoo is that it is open every day even when museums (Mondays) and shops (Sundays) are closed.

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National Museum of Finland, Helsinki

I have been to Helsinki a lot of times but this time there was one addition to my travel necessaries – my 7 months old daughter. Therefore I could not roam around the autumn city all day long since my baby needed being fed from time to time. I also could not stay in Ekberg café sipping coffee all day long since my baby wanted me moving all the time. I found the decision – we went to visit a museum.

This time it was the National Museum of Finland. We actually liked it. It is that kind of historic museum that each Nordic (or small) country has. That kind that encompasses all historic artifacts the country has – from bones of prehistoric people through to jewelry and armory of Vikings, sculptures from Baroque churches and porcelain from houses of noble families. The museum is big enough to give you a clear picture of what Finland is, but it is at the same time compact enough not to bore you with all the exhibits.

The museum has temporary exhibition on the ground floor where there is also a museum café with pretty outside yard. At the time of our visit, it was the exhibition on icons from Karelia along with personal belongings of soldiers from the second world war (which was curiously named “Continuation War”).

If you are not a museum lover, it is worth visiting at least the main hall of the museum. It contains colorful frescos by Gallen-Kallela on Kalevala themes and the museum building itself is quite impressive.

Overall, we enjoyed our visit and found that museums are quite efficient way of spending Sunday afternoons in the country where everything else is closed on Sundays. In museums, they even let shops work on Sundays…

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I have been to Helsinki a lot of times but this time there was one addition to my travel necessaries – my 7 months old daughter. Therefore I could not roam around the autumn city all day long since my baby needed being fed from time to time. I also could not stay in Ekberg café sipping coffee all day long since my baby wanted me moving all the time. I found the decision – we went to visit a museum.

This time it was the National Museum of Finland. We actually liked it. It is that kind of historic museum that each Nordic (or small) country has. That kind that encompasses all historic artifacts the country has – from bones of prehistoric people through to jewelry and armory of Vikings, sculptures from Baroque churches and porcelain from houses of noble families. The museum is big enough to give you a clear picture of what Finland is, but it is at the same time compact enough not to bore you with all the exhibits.

The museum has temporary exhibition on the ground floor where there is also a museum café with pretty outside yard. At the time of our visit, it was the exhibition on icons from Karelia along with personal belongings of soldiers from the second world war (which was curiously named “Continuation War”).

If you are not a museum lover, it is worth visiting at least the main hall of the museum. It contains colorful frescos by Gallen-Kallela on Kalevala themes and the museum building itself is quite impressive.

Overall, we enjoyed our visit and found that museums are quite efficient way of spending Sunday afternoons in the country where everything else is closed on Sundays. In museums, they even let shops work on Sundays…

Kynsilaukka restaurant in Helsinki

We happened to find a nice restaurant in Helsinki – Kynsilaukka. We stumbled upon it during lunch time, but I believe that if lunch food was very good, then a la carte should good as well.

Kynsilaukka is translated from Finnish as “garlic” . Hence the whole culinary idea of the restaurant – to add garlic in all the dishes (including coffee). However, I need to admit that they do it in such a subtle way that no traces of garlic can be found neither in the aroma of dish, nor in the breath of those eating it.

The best thing is jars with marinated garlic, mix of garlic with parsley and garlic butter which is being brought to your table as soon as you eat it. You can not imagine how marvelous this butter goes with warm bread…

The restaurant is located in a very interesting setting – in the corner of Uudenmaankatu, filled with small designer shops, and Fredrikinkatu, right across the street from Helsinki mosque. Sitting at the table at Kynsilaukka, you stare at muslim crescent… :)

I had potato soup, trout with potatoes and apple tart for my lunch. Everything was perfect and cost 13 euro. Next time I’m in Helsinki, I will surely to visit Kynsilaukka once again…

Ateneum and Kiasma in Helsinki

I have recently visited two major art museums in Finland – namely, Ateneum and Kiasma.

Ateneum is more of the national gallery of Finland with the art of Finnish painters from mid 19th to mid 20th centuries whereas Kiasma is the museum of contemporary art.

I have to confess that I like the traditional, old school art which in my view ended after impressionists (with rare exceptions). Therefore my impression of these museums will be quite critical.

Although housed in a large neoclassical building of four floors, Ateneum‘s collection occupies only one floor. Other are devoted to public lectures, temporary exhibitions, cafe and museum shop. The only floor with the collection opens up in a very optimistic way with Van Gogh and  a few small Rodins, but then it is all about Finnish artists. Most of them painted around the theme of Death and therefore their works are very hard to view for a long time. The slow contemplation of the Ateneum‘s basic collection will not take up more than 30 minutes of your time.

Kiasma is purely contemporary art museum. More contemporary than art, though. The only thing I liked about this 6-story museum is the building itself which resembles Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Another positive thing about Kiasma is a nice little shop with literature on design in Finnish and English on the ground floor.

I believe that entrance cost of 8 and 7 euros to Ateneum and Kiasma is not really worth the collections they have. But if you are by chance in Helsinki on the first Wednesday of each month, it is justified to visit these art points for free from 5 to 8 pm.

Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki

On the last day of the year 2008 I happened to visit Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki. Although the museum is quite small – the whole collection is housed on the first floor of the building – for me it seemed the best art museum in Helsinki (keep in mind that I visited Ateneum and Kiasma the day before).

The Sinebrychoff collection consists of the interiors of the Sinebrychoff family house and paintings of the second-tier (mostly) European artists. However, the collection has two Cranachs, one Rembrandt, one Hals, one Watteau and one Reynolds which makes the visit worthy.

The area around the museum is very pleasant. On one side there is a park with the imitation of the water tower, on the other – Hietalahti antique market hall. One small block away is the sea.

I recommend going to Sinebrychoff house while you’re in Helsinki – it’s only half an hour and you’re full of serene tranquility.

Aino Restaurant in Helsinki

We visited Helsinki for New Year Eve this year and wanted to spend the last 2008 year evening in the restaurant with Finnish cuisine.

After thorough search in the web and particularly on Eat.fi (comprehensive list of almost all Helsinki food joints), we chose Ravintola Aino due to three reasons.

Aino is located on Pohjoisesplanadi which made it easier for us to go to the Senate Square after the dinner to celebrate the New Year. Aino serves Finnish food and is not as expensive as, for example, widely advertised Savotta and Saaga restaurants.

A piece of advice for visitors to Aino – do not let the maitre-d’hotel to offer you a table anywhere else than in the main hall with the windows on Esplanadi. We were seated in the cellar with no wall decorations and tables set in such proximity to each other that we knew everything our neighbors were eating.

Aino has a very small menu – we knew this beforehand. But it turned out that they did not have some dishes that evening which made our choice very easy. The same held true for the wine list which lacked some wines it featured and the draft beer was only Karhu (the rest were served in bottles).

I ended up with the Baltic herring with mashed potatoes. The herring was good, but the potatoes lacked the taste. My husband ordered salmon with apple-crayfish salad and goose breast with potato rosti. Rosti was oversalted and the goose was hard to bite.

Since the service was very slow we decided to order the dessert in some other place and left after the main courses.

My advice: do not choose this restaurant since the quality-price ratio is not reasonable.