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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Seurasaari

No, that's not a new stage in my 3-word Finnish vocabulary.  It's the name of this great open-air museum about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Towers.  Several people had recommended that I go there, and since the weather was absolutely perfect yesterday, Ted and I wandered off.

Let me warn you now: many, many pictures!  In fact, I'm going to keep the ones here fairly small, but if you want to see bigger ones, just double-click on them.

In any case, to get to Seurasaari you can walk or take a tram or a bus.  I figured I'd take one of the trams about halfway there, then wander through the burbs as a way of getting to know more about Helsinki.  So Ted and I meandered about 3 blocks down the road to a different tram stop than the one I usually take--getting to trams is just so hard in Helsinki! :-)  -- and waited a whole 5 minutes for tram 4.  Here's two views from the stop, one looking back towards downtown and the other looking out to the burbs:


It was really nice being on a tram that wasn't packed.  In fact, the only people sharing our area were a family with two little kids who were just fascinated by Ted.  After I got him lying down, I managed to communicate that it was okay to pet him.  I wish I'd been able to get a picture of two kids, kneeling on the tram floor, petting Ted for about 10 minutes!

Once we got about 2/3s of the way to Seurasaari, we hopped off.  It didn't seem like much to look at, but, what a surprise, as soon as we got a bit off the main road, we ran into more parks.  Just as good is that we ran into some beautiful, single-family homes.  I realize that wooden houses are traditional here, but I know that I've owned a house too long when I kept thinking about the maintenance costs and hassle of taking care of the small one on the left.  Still, I could be forced.  (Anna, if you're reading this, are some of those houses there the old mokki that are now so posh?)


I later found out that one of the houses I walked past yesterday was the President's, which fits my impression that Seurasaari is now in a pretty nice neighborhood.  I kind of thought so, but that's a story for closer to the end of the blog.

In any case, we eventually meandered our way through this lovely neighborhood and alongside the shoreline to the island itself.  Sorry, I forgot to mention that Seurasaari is the name of an island, and the park/museum also called Seurasaari was set up ca. 1900 as a way of preserving old Finnish buildings and providing people from urban Helsinki with a way to keep in touch with their rural roots.  It's a classic 19th-century nationalist move but fun nonetheless.  What this Finnish professor convinced the government and other patrons to do was to relocate a bunch of old Finnish buildings that would've been destroyed anyway to an island where folks from Helsinki already went for weekend "days in the country."  There they could wander around, picnic, swim on the beaches, and generally enjoy themselves while now strolling through their cultural heritage.  To find out more about Seurasaari, click here.  (And, yes, I love that the Finnish National Board of Antiquities abbreviates as NBA; it would seem to make sense, but that's if you're thinking in English.)  That's the island to the right as I look down the inlet back towards downtown.


 After walking across a lovely, old-style bridge



(This picture was taken as I was walking across the bridge.)

we were faced with our first challenge of the day: go directly to the buildings part of the open-air museum (some of which Ted couldn't enter) or go on the walk around the island called the President's jogging trail.  (It gets its name from a past president of Finland who used to go jogging there.)  I decided to make a day of it, so off "jogging" we went.  Actually the biggest challenge was not to treat the walk as a "project," but once I got into the habit of stopping every 50-100 meters just to take some deep breaths, close my eyes, and enjoy, I could just feel any sense of "project" flowing away.

The walking path really was lovely, a real get-away from any sense of "city," and for most of it you could look through the trees and shrubs into inlets of the Gulf of Finland.


Although there were other people around, it wasn't outrageously crowded either, which made the whole thing quite nice.  I mean, Ted had a brief play with a 5-month-old Golden and I watched him and this very elderly Finnish lady have apparently a nice conversation--after which she sincerely and forcefully assured me that she hoped to see us again--but if I wanted to dodge people I could.

Once we got about halfway down the west side of the island we started running into buildings.  I'm probably getting this out of order, but the first I remember was the old harbor master's house.  Back in the 19th century the boats from Helsinki would dock here, people could wait on the ground floor if it started raining, and the family could live upstairs.  One of the things I thought was really cool was the carving on some of the wood, especially the boards crossing in front of the house at the roofline.  (Is it bad that I'm pleased that I no longer know the technical term for those?!)


Just past here, I managed to avoid the temptation to hit the restaurant and cafe (in the distance in this photo)


and keep clambering over the granite.  (I'm still wrapping my mind over how HUGE granite blocks just pop up in the middle of nowhere here in Helsinki!)

I figured Ted and I could have a lunch break at one of the "scenic" points at the far southern end of the island, which were well marked on the big maps posted about every 1/10th of a mile.  Unfortunately the paths OUT to the scenic points weren't so well marked, and while I have every confidence the points are quite scenic, after watching Ted go up to his hocks in mud a couple of times, I opted for the paths of discretion.

On those more sensible, or at least not as muddy, paths, I eventually came to a crossroads where you could head directly to the main museum complex, go to the restaurant, or keep walking along the shoreline and see some of the museum buildings.  I gratefully sank down at a picnic bench, and after a few minutes watching a group of Italians who seemed as lost as we were (despite the frequent signs!), Ted settled down, too.


Then I got one of the biggest laughs of the day, given the Finnish rep for technological expertise and delays I've had getting a cellphone established.  Right at the far end of the open-air museum was this.


I don't quite get the bottom, unless it's now intended as a kid's play area, but it did crack me up having an old telephone booth as part of the open-air museum.

Since I couldn't quite follow the maps, I guessed at the path that would keep us closest to the water and still let me see some of the museum, even with Ted.  It turns out I hit the jackpot.  Right around a corner on the path I ran into whole farm complex made out of old wooden buildings from the 19th and 18th centuries.



 One of the great things about Seurasaari for us non-Finnish speakers is that the information boards for the buildings are often trilingual with English as the third language (as opposed to the ones that tell the rules for the park; those are only in Finnish and Swedish.  Viva anarchic English speakers!)  Here's one of the ones for this farm complex


 The people who set up the museum were really quite clever, too.  Aside from the nice commentary and chose of buildings, they knew how to attract an audience.  There were some complexes that you had to pay to get into while others, like the one above, where you only had to pay if you actually wanted to enter the buildings.  They also set it up so that around almost every corner in the museum section there was some interesting building to see. 


From my perspective, I just kept imagining people living in some of the buildings I saw--not all, granted, because about half of them were just storehouses--and was amazed at the skill shown in carpentry and joinery.

One of my favorite buildings, and certainly marketed by the museum as the high point of their building collection, was the church dating from, if I'm not mistaken, 1675.


It was a lovely, simple building.  I especially liked the red paint, which I understand is a very traditional color.  We also here finally got to see some of the red squirrels of Finland.





Given the menagerie that lives in my SC backyard and the huge horse chestnut trees in "my" park, I've been astonished to see so few squirrels here; then when I did see one, they made me smile: they're about 2/3s the size of the big gray squirrels and have rust-colored fur, huge bat ears, and a long black tail.  Quite cute actually but not nearly as bold as the ones I'm used to, even out in the protected island.  I learned later from one of my fellow residents at the Towers that actually red squirrels are somewhat more delicate than the big grays, which are an artificially introduced species (and a delicacy enjoyed by some members of the Slow Food Movement in the UK), and in some EU countries red squirrels have to be protected.  Protected squirrels--amazing.

Squirrels and buildings were not the only red things we saw on the island, but this one is definitely odder.



Yep, that's a mushroom--a real one, not a Photoshopped one.  I have NEVER seen anything like this in nature!  I mean, I've heard that mushrooming was a big deal in Finland and mushrooms have a special place in Finnish cuisine, but I can't decide if I'd be tempted or appalled to be served something like that.  Maybe that's why no one's harvested it yet.

By this stage Ted and I were starting to drag, so when we got to the bridge again, we sat on one of the benches and shared an apple and our last bottle of water.  (When traveling with Ted, you always bring LOTS of water!)  After watching some kayakers come from Töölö to Seurasaari, I figured it was time for me to recreate their trip but on land. (Can you imagine Ted in a kayak?  Frightening.)





Slowly but surely we slogged our way around the bay; you know you're tired when you walk right in front of the president's house and the only thing that goes through your mind is, "I wonder who the big-wig is with the manicured flower beds."  (It seems to me that most Finnish planting is a little more wild/natural, which I actually prefer.)  In some parts, particularly near the beginning, the look was much more rustic, however.


5 hours later, Ted and I staggered up to the Towers; neither of us are used to real, long walks--normally we go for an hour or two.  I made the mistake of sitting down in one of my wooden chairs to download these photos, which meant that getting up was like unfolding a pretzel.  Ted had the right approach.


Yes, within less than 5 minutes, he was asleep on the floor only cracking his eyes when I turned on the camera and moving when he woke himself up storing!

My dog had the right idea.

Unfortunately today was spent catching up on all the stuff I didn't do yesterday because I was at Seurasaari, but I did find the time to buy tickets to "The Nutcracker" for December 22.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you were just kidding about the mushroom - it being the second most poisonous there is, I recommend you don't eat it or let Ted even to sniff it! A bite can be lethal. (Curiously, those squirrels you saw can eat it - they must have steel livers!)

    And no, those are not mökkis - I don't recognize those specific houses, but they look like villas built for upper-class retreat late 1800's-early 1900's. (I wish our mökki would be like that!) Mökki is only a small wooden cabin used by present-day people for vacationing on the countryside.

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