Finlandia-talo (Finlandia Hall) is a prominent landmark in Helsinki city, Alvar Aalto’s last masterpiece, and the center of an ambitious urban plan never implemented.
2017 will see Finland celebrate its 100th birthday, and to start the year, many events were organized in Helsinki on New Year’s Eve. Among those, one looked particularly appealing: a free visit to Finlandia-talo, a congress and event venue designed by the maestro himself: Alvar Aalto, maybe the most famous Finn in history. I didn’t know that visits were organized regularly, so it seemed like a unique opportunity, and I was really happy when the woman at the desk added a line for me, even though the visitor list was supposed to be already full. I’m not going to give you a historical overview of the building; instead, I’ll show some visual details and tell some anecdotes that our friendly guide showed us.
When people think about the Finnish winter, their first thought usually is: “snow”. And then, when they get to know the country a little bit more, especially the south of it, they think: “grey”. Yes, snow but not enough to cover everything, and then it melts quickly, creating this depressing pools of slush stirred by the passage of cars and buses. Not to mention the clouds.
I totally understand this feeling: I love snow, I love to see it fall and hide the roads, and attenuate all the sounds. I love the sight of a city wrapped in a blanket of peace, and I always get distressed when temperatures rise again. When snow stops falling, I hate to see those endless, boring grey skies, and I start dreaming about sunny days. Or more snow. Usually I dream about a return of the snow.
When I went to Kontiolahti to view the Biathlon World Championship, I saw a wonderful sunset over the frozen lake, and it was a revelation: there is beauty out there, waiting for me!
Over a year ago, I was with my brother, on a trip that took us from Grenoble to Grenoble, via Helsinki and Copenhagen, and got us memories for a lifetime, when we stopped at Bomarsund. Located on the eastern shore of Åland’s main island, at first sight it’s an impressive ruin crossed by a road… yes, the road runs through the fortress, so you can’t really miss it.
Mr. Winter this year is lunatic and, to be honest, rather frustrating: one day it snows (a lot), and you start believing in the possibility to go skiing, finally… except that the day after, the temperature rises above 0°C, and everything melts. Everything? No, some parks and sidewalks resist eternally against the pervading warmth, but trees are bare again, and streets are slushy brown. It’s not fun.
Kaisa Talo is the Helsinki University Main Library. Located in the city center, inches from the Senate Square, it was opened in 2012, taking the spot of the shopping center Kaisa. The buiding houses the collection of the Faculties of Arts, Law, Theology, Behavioural and Social Sciences. It’s a relaxing place with an original architecture. Like any real library, it’s fairly silent… it looked like a pleasant place to study, and a friend of mine confirmed that.
On one side of the building, there’s this large U-shaped window, with balconies facing it from each floor, a bit like an old theater room. In the shot below, I tried to include both the street outside, with the tram tracks and the zebra crossings, and the students at the balconies, oblivious to the world rumbling outside their cage of glass and metal.
Composition was made tricky by my limited range; I wish I had a shorter focal length available for indoor shots, but for now, I do with what I have. The window let in a lot of light, so I didn’t have to use extreme settings for shutter speed and ISO, but I wish I had overexposed a bit, for I lack details in the dark areas, and bringing them up creates a lot of undesired noise (I shot in Aperture Priority mode).
18 mm on a cropped sensor – f/8.0 – 1/125s – ISO400
In Helsinki, not far from the city center, lies a park that harbors a strange monument. Sibeliuksen monumentti (Sibelius’s monument) consists of a disorderly arrangement of metallic pipes, mimicking those of an organ, resting on pillars that hold the massive sculpture above the ground.
Today, on Independence Day (Itsenäisyyspäivä), Finland celebrates its 99th birthday!
Sweden started to colonize Finland in the 12th and 13th centuries, and until the beginning of the 19th century, Swedish was the official language of the country. From this era, Finland kept Swedish as its second official language, and 5% of the population still speaks Swedish natively. Under the Swedish rule, Finns suffered from the many wars Sweden and Russia waged on their territory, and a “spirit of Finnishness” started to grow. “We are not Swedes, we do not want to become Russians, let us therefore be Finns”, Adolf Ivar Arwidsson (1791–1858) said.
This article is a collection of pictures from the last snowy days before the “heat wave”… since then, it’s rained a lot, but the memory of this lovely time is still alive and well.
My commute between home and the office goes through Keskuspuisto, the central park of Helsinki, and often in those days I did it walking, enjoying the scenery. That was a powerful relaxing tool, especially after a tense day at work.
One day I got lost, but ssshhh, don’t tell my colleagues… Continue reading
The only memory I kept from my first November in Finland, two years ago, was one of a grey sky, all day, all week. In fact, it was the gloomiest November in years, with only a few hours of sunshine… and whenever you ask a Finn which month is the worst, they reply “November”: it’s getting dark, it’s getting cold, but there isn’t snow yet, nor has the Christmas spirit kicked off. Therefore, I dreaded these first weeks in Finland. It felt like arriving in the middle of October was the worst possible option.
Oh how wrong I was!
It was still autumn. Sure, there were fewer golden leaves on the trees, and it was getting colder, but nothing announced the forthcoming storm. I was out, looking for the elusive Siberian accentor (Prunella montanella), first in Vuosaari, then in Myyrmäki. I followed tenuous paths, wandered through secret places, and ultimately found the bird. Oh it was a short sighting, and most of the time I only saw its rufous back, when it fled my approach from one bush to the other. But still, from the distance I saw this wonderful yellow face, and that made my day.
Below are some pictures from these glorious days in Helsinki, in Keskuspuisto, Vuosaari and Honkasuo. I admired the squirrels, in their grey winter coat, cautiously coming near the feeders, or the thrushes, Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) alike, feasting on rowan berries, like the Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) before them.
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)