Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Helsinki: Miracle Garden

I step off the train at Helsinki Railway Station and start walking towards the station building. It is close to noon and the station seems fairly quiet. Another calming effect is waiting for me at the end of the platform: there is a temporary garden! The large flowerbeds, or actually something larger than that (for there are even young apple trees about to bloom), welcome me to Helsinki, celebrating the summer that is just about to begin.
The Miracle Garden (Ihmepuutarha) has turned this normally rather dull area into a lovely sight. Among the different plants and flowers, there are also totem-like statues which are the wooden cousins of the large stone figures in front of the main railway station building (designed by architect Eliel Saarinen). The stone figures have been used a lot in the railway company VR's advertising over the past few years.

I think I spot another local celebrity hiding in the belly of the wooden totem: Bubi the Eagle Owl which became the unofficial mascot of the Finnish national football team in 2007. He flew a couple of times over the football field during a match and brought good luck to the team, thus earning the nickname Huuhkajat (Eagle Owls) to the football team!

Another nice detail in the Miracle Garden are the Miracle Watering Pots which are hanging in the air...
... and taking care of watering of the beautiful plants, without a pause. I'm almost hoping for another visit to Helsinki before Miracle Garden disappears from the railway station in mid-June.

Congratulations to VR which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year (the first rail service began between Helsinki and Hämeenlinna in 1872), and thank you for sharing the flowers with us passengers! This is a beautiful way of celebrating also World Design Capital Helsinki 2012. My step is lighter already.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Adieu, Camille and Paul

A friend who is visiting Jyväskylä tells me that there is a new art gallery on Kauppakatu street, displaying works by two French artists. I'm so glad I check the next day what she was talking about because the gallery is there for a weekend only - and Sunday May 18 is the very last day you can visit it. It means another walk on the same day then... To visit Äkkigalleria 15, a pop-up or nomadic art gallery that comes and goes in Jyväskylä whenever there is an interesting project and a good space available for a short while.
The artists are Camille Girard and Paul Brunet, or Camille+Paul, or C+P, who have just spent three weeks in Jyväskylä at an artists's residence, all the time getting familiar with their surroundings, picking up vibes, moments and even little objects to create works of art. This exhibition features the results. Right in front of the window there is a scene from which the artists seem to have just stepped out:  a brush, watercolours, a glass of water, Finnish author Arto Paasilinna's novel The Year of the Hare (Jäniksen vuosi, in French Le lièvre de Vatanen)
but there's also a Camille+Paul version of the cover of the French paperback! This is the first piece of work I look at - and when I continue, I can only say that no photograph can can do justice to C+P's work, their great drawings or paintings.
On the wall there are some series of works that make you smile, and with a closer look you can recognize what they are made of. Oh no, my favourite is already sold!
If you go back to the window sill, you can see what where the inspiration to the (smiling) faces came from - besides coming from Jyväskylä. And yes, one of them dates back to the first of May.
Some of the artwork is easily recognizable in Jyväskylä - for example the picture of the mural painting by Jaakko Valo that is literally on the other side of the wall of the art gallery! The colours in Camille and Paul version of it are however a lot brighter than those of the original today.

There is something very captivating in Camille and Paul's work. You simply can't pass them by very quickly, you want to take a close look. I don't always feel like that in an art exhibition. The Canadian-born artist and curator of the exhibition, Anna Ruth, sits patiently on a stool in the corner while I proceed slowly from one picture to another.
Right next to the guest book, there is a small booklet that looks like a sketchbook. Most of the pages of the sketchbook are white but there are some drawings... Like this delicately drawn tree which Camille & Paul have dated dimanche 29 avril 2012, a few Sundays back. I sincerely hope their time in Jyväskylä gave them something deep and memorable... The visitors to this exhibition got a new look at Jyväskylä through the details caught by the artists! Thank you, Camille and Paul.

Äkkigalleria 15, the pop-up gallery is now gone. You never know where or when it will appear next time...

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jyväskylä: Breakfast Club

The dawn is breaking after an eventful day of culture festival Yläkaupungin Yö which celebrates its 20th anniversary.  Although the name of the festival refers to night time (literally, Uptown Night), the festival is not totally over yet. I descend from the main university campus of Seminaarinmäki, also the main venue of the festival, down to Ruusupuisto park. It is time for breakfast!
The breakfast is served at Alvar Aalto Museum at 5-9 am on this Sunday morning. The rays of the sun do not quite reach the patio but there are already some people having a bite to eat. And it is only some minutes after six. Come on! Haven't you slept at all?
Café Alvar is extremely busy, and you can tell quite a few of the customers have come in straight from clubbing. I join the end of the meandering queue and get prepared for a long wait; there are no vacant tables and so many people ahead of me.
However, I don't mind waiting because this is also the Aamukasteklubi (Morning Dew Club) which combines a hearty breakfast with live music! La Sega del Canto keeps us entertained between 6-7 am with their fabulous performances that include, among others, My heart will go on from the Titanic, as well as Jailhouse Rock. With the Elvis moves by the guitarist.

The best of all is however Rawhide. The saw player is a true master! The only problem is that while the duo has been playing, the customers before me have filled their plates from the breakfast buffet so much that we latecomers don't get the full choice - the café wasn't prepared for such a huge, hungry crowd! However, we get our breakfasts at a reduced price and I wouldn't be able to eat more anyway.
The puppet-led Heikki Heikkinen Trio is still playing when I decide to continue my walk to enjoy the lovely morning. The back yard of the house at Alvar Aallon katu 2 can't usually be seen from behind the fence and the trees, but now that the leaves do not yet cover the view, it is possible to see the shingles in the middle - rare on the wall of a Finnish house.
I continue along Keljonkatu street where there are a couple of older houses and some of them are still at least partly heated by wood. Just look at this neat pile of firewood in the open shed!
A bit further, at Korkeakoskentie road, the Korkeakoski stream flows energetically towards Lake Jyväsjärvi from beneath the railroad tracks.
Wood anemones, a sure sign of spring in Southern Finland, do not usually grow wild in this part of Central Finland so I'm not sure if these white wonders are wild ones or whether they have escaped to the woods from a garden nearby.
The early morning makes me walk slower than usual. I find a fellow slow walker finding its way across the asphalt walkway. Good timing, because at this hour he might actually get there without being ridden over by a cyclist or stepped on by a jogger.
At the end of Lake Jyväsjärvi, where the stream from Korkeakoski finally ends up, the writing on the wall demands: Tell us your story. To whom should I tell it to? To the rocks, the water, the road, the world? I get no answer. 
Slowly, I find my way back to Alvar Aalto Museum and its Breakfast Club. There is a new duo playing: the accordionists Duo Anitta...
 ...& Jouko Kääriäinen whose music creates a totally different atmosphere to Café Alvar. I realize the mood is very French, despite the fact that next the musicians play a beautiful Russian Birch waltz. I wonder when it is possible to have breakfast like this in Jyväskylä again! 
The sun is much higher when I leave the Aalto Museum and walk across the campus on which there is hardly a trace of the busy festival day and night. There are only few other walkers about, and again I see empty benches. Where is everybody? It is such a beautiful day, especially after the great breakfast and music to start it with. Thanks to Yläkaupungin Yö!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Tampere: A brief spring stroll

By chance, I happen to stroll behind the Tampere Cathedral where there are quite a few lovely houses that can take you back to earlier times. Some street names in the area are related to the town's industrial history, especially to that of textiles.When I last walked here it was winter time and I didn't notice these pretty wooden gates that cleverly hide the garbage cans.
The residents of the yellow house at Sukkavartaankatu 7 seem to pay attention to details. The square holes in the stone foundation are not covered by boring grey covers but they happily announce the number of the house, making each of them a work of art.
The next stylish wooden building on the same street, Pirkonhovi, seems to be in Jugend style. Something in it makes me think about a church but this is not a church. Through the upstairs windows I can discern some hand looms. Even if the textile industry is now history in this area, there are still skilled hands at work, perhaps weaving rugs or something more complicated...
The area where I am walking is called Juhannuskylä (Midsummer Village) and if you take a stroll at slow pace, there are lots of details to look at. On the next street, I stop at the white house to examine the blue-grey ornaments by the doorway and then stretch out my hand to feel the white wall. I was so sure the facade was made of wood but it isn't; it is made of white painted steel. How strange!
Further down, walking towards Satakunnankatu, I pass the Tampere Cathedral, a great example of Finnish national romantic architecture (Lars Sonck, 1902-07), made of grey granite.
I cross the Tammerkoski rapids to Finlayson area but decide to start heading back to where I came from. After crossing the Satakunnankatu street I discover a relief on the wall, squeezed between the yellows stickers of the laundry on the corner. The building, Tekstiilitalo (Textile House) was built here in 1958, replacing the old wooden building where one of Finland's former presidents, Juho Kusti Paasikivi spent his childhood years in 1870-75.
At the Frenckell Square it is already spring, with the few trees by the side of the square in full bloom. The pink colour of the flowers matches the red brick architecture of the area - the former Finlayson cotton mill as well as the Frenckell building which originally housed a paper mill, right here in the city centre.
Behind the Frenckell building, there is a pedestrian bridge that will take me back across Tammerkoski rapids. This is no ordinary bridge but it serves also as a place for Love Locks (Lemmenlukko). I am convinced that the number of love locks left here has grown astronomically since I first saw them!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Imatra: from Spa to Rethink flowers

A flock of clouds covers the skies above Imatra, South Carelia, with only a glimpse of the blue sky every now and then. I leave the asphalt in front of Imatra Spa and step onto the path by the forest to look for the E10 symbol among the different trail signs (E10 = European Long Distance Trail). Oh yes, these are raindrops. But light as rain... My chosen trail winds down towards Lake Saimaa and I take a side step right to the sandy beach. Silly me, I forget to dip my fingers in the lake to test the water...
The blue flowers of common hepatica (sinivuokko in Finnish) are shivering among the brown leaves from last autumn, and most of them have their petals closed. The only rays of sunshine seem to come from the groups tiny coltsfeet (leskenlehti in Finnish). I wish it stopped raining; the path is already fairly muddy in some places. So glad I'm wearing a pair of waterproof hiking shoes.
Soon I leave the conifers behind and arrive at a grove which is just about to turn the colour of spring, with the welcome arrival of some sunlight. The two young birches are leaning towards the ground with arched backs as if they were practicing tango steps.
The delicate green seems to get brighter and brighter as the sun does its magic. The fresh leaves resemble butterflies, or birds. I can't decide. I take a deep breath. The air tastes so good now that the rain is over.
When I arrive at Mustarastaankatu street, I begin to wonder which way to go. Where are the blue trail marks hiding? I make a futile attempt to find the next trail marks in the forest and finally give in - should consult a map. Which I don't have with me because it wasn't possible to get one on a Saturday. Luckily, the answer can be found online with a cell phone and I find that E10 trail continues between the two houses along Nuijasuonkatu street. Very soon I start spotting the familiar blue paint marks again, on trees or traffic signs.
Some horses are spending the afternoon outside, but otherwise the stables seem deserted. One of the horses neighs loudly - because of me? - and runs back and forth behind the fences. Good for him, at least it makes the place more alive. Where are all the riders? A sign says that horse riding is allowed also on the footpath but I can keep it to myself.
Next, the blue trail marks lead me to Tainionkoski bridge which crosses the great Vuoksi river, that further downstream once flowed freely as Imatrankoski Rapids. Here at Tainionkoski, Vuoksi has already surrendered its energy to the hydroelectric power plant. Once there were rapids here as well.
After crossing the bridge, the E10 turns right, leading me through the forest to Neitsytniemi Manor. The manor is now open by agreement for parties and there are also some rooms available. As I pass the building, a group of people is entering the house with their flower bouquets, ready to enjoy a party beneath the chandeliers. Apparently someone is celebrating his or her birthday here today.
The following day I return to Neitsyniemi Manor's granite gateposts and continue along the long distance trail - which is funny, because I am only doing such a short stretch of it! The trail is heading towards Vuoksenniska, one of Imatra's suburbs. When the sun shines between the larches on my right, I simply have to stop and admire the colours!
Nor can avoid stopping at the birch forest that at first glance may seem almost colourless but yet it is so vibrant, with just a touch of the tender green bursting out.
The trail takes me under Vuoksenniskantie road, through the pedestrian tunnel where I don't notice anything special at first. However, when my eyes get used to the light, I discover the mural paintings, the lake landscapes with their boats. Luckily the artwork is not totally covered by graffiti.
After crossing the railroad I again start to look for the blue paint marks, but in vain. However, another look at the online map reveals that I need to look back on the left; there is no clearly marked path but you need to rely on the remains of blue paint on the birches - this is the way to go.
Once I'm on the ridge, with the railroad tracks on my left, the path is again clearly marked. The red brick tower is tall and impressive, but I'm more fascinated by the shadows of the trees that fall on the tower. A surprising work of art that will soon fade away.
The trail soon lands next to a wire-netting fence which protects the high voltage power line. Someone has managed to make a hole in the fence. Why? Who would want to go through? Not me! When I come face to face with a wild rose bush that grows right on the fence, I would however welcome a pair of strong cutters to trim the roses down. Especially because the rose bush is not even in flower yet.
A bit further, I once again start to wonder if I should walk straight or take a right turn at the large ditch. When I start to search for the trail signs, I accidentally find a lovely spring flower, mezereon (näsiä in Finnish). And yes, I should have turned right.
The trail follows a street for a while, leading me between lovely old houses (and at least one abandoned one), along Kuusirinne street. The remains of the last snow this year (I hope!) are resting on the banks of the railroad tracks.
Here E10 mostly follows jogging tracks that run through the forest. No motorbikes here, thank you. And keep your dog on a leash. The Vuoksenniska nature trail is partly on the same route but I will explore that some other time when I will hopefully have the nature trail leaflet with me.
I love to walk along the path from Vuoksenniska towards Kaukopää; it feels so soft beneath my feet. It is especially nice now that I have started to break in my brand new hiking boots that will of course require a bit of time before they have befriended my feet. The sun is shining, there is birdsong in the air - even the first cuckoo this spring!

I pass an empty, yet green football field, then arrive back close to the road for a while until the path winds back among the trees. On the right, very close by, you can see the Kolmen Ristin kirkko, or the Church of Three Crosses. The church, designed by architect Alvar Aalto, is often open for visitors.
Oh what is that smell which so thrills the nose (or rather, which doesn't)? You can't mistake sensing that the Stora Enso pulp, paper and board mills are close by. Lättälä housing area is trying to soften the blow by its stylish houses which represent functionalism. If only the round window wasn't facing that way, towards the Kaukopää mill and its parking lot!
Stora Enso's Kaukopää mill is simply huge and it commands the landscape. The company has been promoting its Rethink company philosophy recently so why shouldn't I rethink as well. The trick to minimize the massive mill is to kneel down and instead focus on the tiny yellow flowers among the grass. Voilà! The small star of Bethlehem has taken over the landscape.