Monday, 26 December 2011

Jyväskylä: Lights for the loved ones

This year there's hardly any snow on the ground at Jyväskylä, Central Finland on Xmas Eve. It means that the cemeteries won't look as amazing as last year when there was plenty of snow and the temperature was so cold that I wore my traditional felt boots - the warmest pair of boots I have - for the day's walk.

There are not too many other walkers about. After all, this is the time of the year when Finns are tucked safely at their homes and relax strictly with family, at least usually. When the clock strikes 12 noon on Xmas Eve, and Turku declares Xmas Peace, it means the start of an almost total holiday for 2 days. Today it is easier to greet the few strangers that also happen to be out walking at this hour. Hyvää joulua (Merry Xmas)!
After 4 kilometres, I reach my destination. Most people seem to have come to Lahjaharju cemetery before me. The cemetery is alight with hundreds, no, probably thousands of candles with which we remember those who have passed away.  It is always a touching site, the lights for the loved ones. There is a constant flow of people coming and going, the sound of lighting matches, candles being lowered on the ground. As of old, some men take their hats off.
For those whose loved ones are not buried at this cemetery, there is a granite memorial at which you can light your candle and stop for a moment. I light my own candles, one by one. This is a time to remember. 
I leave the Lahjaharju cemetery to continue my journey to another one right in the city centre. The usually busy Lohikoskentie road is almost quiet which means a much more pleasant walk. On the way I pass Taulumäki Church where a sermon, one of many at Xmas time, is being held. No stopping for me; my mission tonight is only for the cemeteries.
At the Old Cemetery, off Puistokatu street at city centre, there are many memorials. The one at the right side of the main entrance, close to the chapel, commemorates the ones left behind at Carelia in World War II. Many people with roots in the parts of Carelia that was lost to Russia in the war have lighted their candles here, remembering also their lost homes on the other side of the Eastern border.
A field of lights in the night greets me here as well. Besides the numerous graves at which candles burn, there is a similar memorial as at Lahjaharju cemetery, for those whose loved one is not buried right here.
The war graves are at the other end of the Old Cemetery, with a memorial in the middle. Today, the memorial is guarded by four soldiers in arms, in honour of the ones who gave their lives for Finland in WW2. At 6 p.m., there is a change of guards, and to my pleasant surprise the replacements do not seem to be carrying guns. Peace!
I leave the cemetery that is now even more peaceful. Outside its gates, at Jyväskylä city centre, far fewer people seem to be about so it looks almost deserted. Not quite though; Old Bricks pub has just opened its doors for those who need to warm up or would like to have some company, or maybe just be in a place where there are other people. The simple Xmas decoration, a big star shines bright above Kauppakatu street and its compass symbol. Let there be Peace on Earth.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Hanko: peace on the beach

A quiet December day at Hanko on the southern coast of Finland. Strolling down Appelgrenintie road, I need to slow down continuously, to have a closer look at the lovely wooden villas of which many date back to the second half of the 19th century. Villa Thalatta, Villa d'Angleterre, the hotel Villa Maija... They were all there when Hanko was at the peak of its popularity as a spa resort already in the turn of the 20th century, when the wealthy tourists were enjoying spa treatments, busy social life and the lovely beach of the small town. Luckily, most of the old villas are carefully restored, even if some of them are used only during the busy summer months. 
For me the charm of Hanko lies in the more quiet months. The Hanko Casino (1879) with its twin towers stares boldly at the sea, no matter the weather, but rests during the winter. Welcome back next summer... The building's name has nothing to do with gambling; it has only served the visitors as a restaurant and a ball room. The original Hanko Spa building was right next door, but it didn't survive the time when Soviet troops occupied the Hanko Peninsula during World War II and had to be torn down after Finland got Hanko back.
When I look at the sandy beach in front of the Hanko Casino, it's almost as if it wasn't December at all. At the same time, about a year ago, the beach was frozen solid and it was white everywhere, and I left my footprints on the snow.
You could almost think that the ancient cannon guarding the shore has done something to cheer up the day, like fired a friendly shot of light into the sky. On a day like this, I am thankful for any extra rays of sunlight.
I take the narrow path that starts from the eastern shore of Itälahti bay. The path is called Love's Path and it will lead me round the Puistovuori hill. Mind you, lovers; don't count on walking hand in hand all the way because it is at times a very narrow trail. Of course, that means that you can join hands again many times.
A loving couple, G&J, has passed this way, leaving a decorated slate behind them on the ground among the fallen pine needles. I step on the wet rocks and follow the trail to a ledge next to the sea, to see a pothole. Glad they've placed a rail around it, and that it's not below zero;  the rocks are only wet, not icy, so I feel quite safe walking here. A bit further, there are some remains from World War II: derelict bunkers facing the sea. I stop to admire the view to the horizon and breath the fresh air.
Love's Path winds its way forward, across the rocks and through the forest, with the sea on my right. A wooden bridge crosses a dry ravine and I spot a bit of writing on the handrail. Clearly written by teenagers... . Jag elskar Dig! (I luv You!)
Stone steps take me down from the windy Puistovuori hill. On my left, the steep moss-covered rock creates an illusion of a wall that continues forever.  The path turns into a lane and I spot tiny holiday homes on the trees. Alright, birdhouses, but there are so many of them in small area that it seems like this is a holiday village for the birds... In such a great location, close to the beach...
The weather is not a great delight today, if you are a friend of sunshine, but I still continue along the Långsanda beach towards the other end of Kolaviken Bay. It might rain, it might not; we'll see.
The pedestrian path on the shore may seem endless, but even so, you won't be bored. On the right you can spot small and large villas from Hanko's spa era, and on the left there is the sea which is never dull to watch. A huge cargo ship has just left Hanko harbour to cross the Baltic Sea, and the sky is ever-changing.
Finally, I reach my destination: Neljän Tuulen Tupa (The House of the Four Winds) which is true to its name. I bet it's almost always windy here. The café first opened in 1904, and in 1927-33 it was owned by Carl Gustaf Mannerheim who was then a Hanko resident. Not perhaps such a famous person then, but Mannerheim became Finland's 6th President in 1944-1946. In the summer time, there is a café, but of course it is closed off-season. There are still some remains of the summer: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are still very much alive although it is December!
I wonder if the round granite table rested on the rocks already when Mannerheim was running the café. A great choice however, because plastic chairs would not survive in these winds. It is as if the waves were splashing against the rocks more fiercely.. Time to turn back towards Hanko centre. 
I've hardly started my journey back when it starts. The hail storm, that is. Suddenly the scenery changes to white, and the hail beats against my face. Better tighen the hood.  The couple walking in front of me chooses to take shelter below some large trees but I tread on. It can't last too long.
It's as if someone had taken a large bag of pearl sugar and sprinkled it on the beach. On this stretch of land, you can stop to have a look at things large and very small...
The hail storm is over in a couple of minutes, and the wind begins to die as well. The sun comes up for a second and sheds some light on the waves. The Långsanda Beach is coated with hail sugar and looks almost surreal. I spend a moment looking at the Baltic Sea. It is very hard to imagine what this beach is like in the summer, filled with people, warmth, different sounds of life... At this moment the beach is all mine, and I can only hear what Nature wants me to hear.

When I return to Hanko centre, the light is already starting to fade, although it is only early afternoon. I take a peek at the yard of an old building. Even though there is no snow, you can tell there is Xmas in the air.

Walking on the Bulevardi street, I get some uninvited company from above. This time it is not hail but rain... Alright, perhaps it is time to step inside for a change. How about a cup of tea and some freshly baked bread in an old villa? Yes, please. My destination is clear: Alan's Café at Villa Orrman. And I'm not in a rush to leave...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Turku: shades and shapes

Without snow, Turku is no city of light at this time of the year. Just like the rest of the country... However, the city doesn't give up. When darkness falls, you will see buildings illuminated, as well as fairy lights and Christmas trees that make their statement against the winter weariness.

Turku Cathedral - the oldest part of which dates to 13th century - stands tall. So tall, that it makes the big Xmas tree in front of its stone steps look almost tiny.

Right next to the medieval cathedral there is a lightweight construction that shines through the darkness like a huge lantern.

The Honeycomb (in Finnish: Hunajakenno) is one of the two Cots of Darkness, designed by Reino Koivula as part of the 876 Shades of Darkness project in which works of art that have been lighting up the darkness during Turku's year as European Capital of Culture. The construction is temporary and it is on display only until the end of 2011. On the opposite shore of river Aurajoki you can get a glimpse of the other cot Kokka, or Bow, that resembles half a boat sunken on the ground. It is possible to enter the cots as well but only in the late afternoon.

I walk to the other side of the river, or as the locals in their own dialect say, tois puol jokke, a saying which has its origins in the time when Turku's old city centre was right here, next to the ancient cathedral. Those days, by crossing the Aurajoki river you stepped out of the city centre.
Strolling down Läntinen Rantakatu street next to the river, I catch a glimpse of strange lights from the city library's back yard. Behind Miina Äkkijyrkkä's huge metal cow there are moving images reflected on the wall above. 
Dark Creatures, animations by local artists, are dancing on the wall. What a great open air movie theatre, be it a silent one! This work of art is also part of the 876 Shades of Darkness project.
The next day I climb back on the top of the Turku Art Museum on the top of the hill, past the Xmas tree that is decorated with tens or hundreds of reflectors and handmade decorations which have survived the hard-blowing wind.

Alright, which door to use to enter the impressive stone building? The left door handle, straight and somewhat dull without its knit graffiti serving as a woollen overcoat is warm to the touch.

However, this door is locked...

Let's try the other door on the right. Be brave! It won't bite! Careful, just take a strong hold of the bronze (and not too gentle looking) panther, grab the fierce creature by the tummy and pull the door open!

What a door handle. Welcome to Turku Art Museum...

The museum is well worth a visit in itself, but also to see the Swedish artist Carl Larsson's excellent exhibition Dreams of Harmony that shows where the ideal of an artistic Swedish home originates. What a couple Carl and his wife Karin made; without her Carl Larsson would not be best known for the beautiful watercolours that romanticize their home and lifestyle. The second floor now displays Crème de la crème, masterpieces from the museum's own collection, as well as contemporary art.
When I descend from the museum back towards the market place and the river, there is a little surprise on the right, in front of the jugend style stone building: a statue of Lenin. There aren't too many such statues in Finland on display... This one was a gift from the city of Leningrad some decades back and has managed to stay there as a reminder of, well, something. Let's look at something prettier. For example at the lovely double doors only few more steps down. A pity the door is locked so I can't see the stained glass from the inside.
Outdoors, you can spot smaller artworks on the corner buildings of the city center: Kortteligalleria project has brought the ancient names of the city blocks here also as imagery. The map beneath the artwork depicts the area where these beauties can be found - all within a short walking distance, surrounding the market place. Next to the market place you can see for example Pyöriäinen (Dolphin) (above; Jenni Tuominen) and Mehiläispesä (Beehive).
On Brahenkatu street I meet a lonely shoe. Poor thing, not nailed to the ground but still getting nowhere... Come to think of it, I'm not going anywhere, just walking about. But at least I'm moving.

Checking out the street corners and the artworks, I meet a Falcon and Sirius (left). No idea where the architect Carl Ludvig Engel got the ideas for the names, but it's nice to think that there's more names to the area than just the street names.

Great that urban artist Meiju Niskala and the team of artists came up with this, to add a bit of history with a modern twist on the streets!

At Lönnrotinpuisto park, next to Aurajoki river, the cot Kokka (by Simo Helenius) is not illuminated during the daytime, and its door is closed as well because it is not two o'clock yet. This should be seen a bit later, when it is again dark. Otherwise, I wouldn't mind seeing the sun for a change.
I cross the river to enter the old city centre and Vanha Suurtori, the Old Market Square, and its Xmas market. This is where the Declaration of Christmas Peace is pronounced at 12 o'clock noon on Xmas Eve, from the balcony of Brinkkala House above. Since Christmas Peace isn't there just yet, the area is now reserved for Xmas shopping, with local producers presenting their goodies, especially handicrafts. Even Santa Claus has joined the band playing Xmas carols for the slowly moving crowd.
I enter the yard behind the old buildings and stop for a snack. Joulupuuro, Xmas pudding (made of rice, cooked slowly) is irresistible, and I am not the only one indulging in it. Definitely cinnamon on top, yes please! This will keep me walking... And for dessert a local sausage with Xmas spices from another stall... Just like last year. This is becoming a tradition.
I come here for culture walks. Thanks Turku 2011, a great culture year!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Turku: BOXed street art

Turku, Finland, is not yet covered in snow when I start my walk in search for some 25 electricity distribution cabinets covered with artwork. BOX is one of the numerous art projects put together in celebration of Turku's year as European capital of culture in 2011 (a title which it now shares with Tallinn, Estonia).
The artists, Kati Immonen and Minna Maija Lappalainen, have artistically attacked the electricity cabinets with their own artwork in the city centre with the help of Turku artists' association and the local energy supplier, Turun Energia. My walk's first stops are found at the corner of Puolalankatu and Yliopistonkatu street (the latter is the main pedestrian / shopping street); instead of the dull grey, cabinets are covered with photos of gorgeous green tiles, red bricks that hide a secret balcony
or fire-red autumn colours that almost cover the old window panes. Next, I take a few steps towards the market place, and turn left to Aurakatu to reach the top of the hill. There should be two electricity cabinets right next to the Turku Art Museum. 
On the left of the granite steps leading to the museum there is a dog-covered electricity cabinet. Supposedly, each of them frequent this very park. What a lovely wallpaper style and wonderful dogs! But where is the other electricity cabinet? I'm sure there were to be two? I walk round the park, nothing... And step into the museum to ask where the other art cabinet could be. The first person I meet has no clue what I'm talking about, but the ticket office guy kindly googles the BOX web page for me. Silly me! There are actually two separate electricity cabinets right next to each other, and each of them is an individual work of art... Two in one...
As a consolation, I take a little break at the museum's little café. The smell of the fresh handmade cinnamon roll is far too temptating... When I look out of the window, there's no snow, but the window pane is decorated with a traditional giant snowflake made of white paper. Mmm, should I take a sheet of paper and scissors and make some for Xmas as well?
I find the next BOX artwork when descending the Aurakatu street, right at the corner of the market square and almost next to the old Orthodox church. Don't forget to look also at the top of the electricity cabinet! University of Turku, founded in 1920, was originally right here, and gave its name to the street (yliopisto = university), but the old building - that housed hotel Phoenix before the scholars entered - was torn down in 1959.  The black and white photographs may bring back memories to the locals both in this corner, and in the next one as well
because these photographs show what Turku market square and its surroundings really looked like some decades ago. The corner of Yliopistonkatu and Kauppiaskatu street has also changed along the years, as you can see when you walk round the cabinets. 
I feel I'm getting fixated with square shapes... So when I reach the Aurajoki river, Läntinen Rantakatu street, my eyes seem to wonder wherever there are boxes or similar shapes. The above gift box isn't an electricity cabinet hanging in the air, but a beautifully non-commercially covered sign of a boutique...
...whereas next to the library, against the protesters' tent,  the square signs tell their own story. The protesters are against inequality, and declare the essence: YOU ARE GREAT / Sinä olet UPEA.
I pass some more electricity cabinets by the Aurajoki river, and take a step back towards the market square to Aurakatu street. There are three artistic electricity cabinets next to the town hall, telling a Turku story. The tall ship shape reminds us of the magnificent Suomen Joutsen (Finland's Swan) ship which is anchored on the river, and another shows the figure of the medieval Turun Linna (Turku Castle). *The fantastic wooden structure above is a pavilion called Pudelma, designed and built by architecture students in August this year.
The third BOX reveals runners, or actually a single one: Paavo Nurmi, the most famous Flying Finn, a Turku-born record-breaking track and field athlete.
I make a detour to the market square and the Swedish Theatre (Svenska Teater) along the same Aurakatu street. Here the artwork is more classical, depicting greek pillartops. Or are they actually sinking to the ground? 
Back at the Aurajoki river, I continue my search for more BOXes. Flower shapes, ornaments, details... But I wish I had a map on which the artwork was marked because before setting off, I only scribbled down a list of the streets on which they were supposed to be found.

This  becomes apparent when I try to find a BOX on the other side of the river, next to the city theatre. Perhaps I just miss it, or maybe I don't? I wonder if this grey electricity cabinet has featured some art on it at some point? Or maybe not, hard to tell. Anyway, these grey or green electricity cabinets seem more and more dull without the artwork!

BOX is attempting to make ordinary, dull objects more appealing and at the same time more noticeable. It works.

It is hard to tell how many Turku citizens have actually noticed that something along their regular walking route has changed, but I certainly hope they have, or will do that, on a very dull or beautiful day, when the sun shines from the right angle. I'm so glad these artistic electricity cabinets will remain even after the end of 2011 when Turku hands over its title as one of the two European capitals of culture.

I haven't quite managed to find all the 25 electricity cabinets but that's ok. It's time to focus on other than square shapes for a while. A beautiful round shape, perhaps? A perfect latte with a velvety taste at  Cafe Art is a great ending to a little artistic walk.