Helsinki Primer

It all started, ten years ago, with a photo of a Finnish lodge surrounded by mist in a lush green forest.  Over the years, the photo turned into an obsession.  Very recently, I had the opportunity to turn the obsession into a reality – a trip to Finland.  Only, my reality was not a rustic lodge surrounded by Birch trees and Lilly of the Valley springing forth out of the verdant ground. It was a visit to Helsinki, the capital of Finland, to explore design in all its forms: physical, applied, social, urban, cultural.

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Helsinki Architecture

I think that I spent most of my time walking around looking at the top of buildings and doors.  The architectural style in Helsinki is unique, exciting and incredibly beautiful.  Helsinki’s Finnish National Romantic movement, influenced by Classicism and modernised, flourished in the early years of the 20th century. Finnish Art Nouveau, also known as Jugend, drew a great deal of inspiration and influences from the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. The best way that I can describe it is a bolder, more masculine, slightly brooding, art nouveau.

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Helsinki Shopping and Walking Tours

Helsinki = Design

The Design District around Uudenmaankatu and Iso Roobertinkatu is full of design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants and showrooms. Here you can find the most interesting names, classics, trend-setters and so much more. Visit Design Forum Finland at Erottajankatu 7 to get a map of shops and galleries.

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Helsinki Eating

To my knowledge, I have never eaten Finnish cuisine before going to Finland.  I have had my fare share of smoked fish, eaten at a Swedish restaurant, and purchased salty licorice from Ikea but never authentic Finnish food.  As such, I really did not know what to expect.

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Helsinki Day Trips

SOUMENLINNA: Suomenlinna was built during the Swedish era as a maritime fortress and a base for the Archipelago Fleet. Work on the fortress was begun in the mid-18th century. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is a magical location that you can explore with a guide or on your own.  On summer weekends, there are many little cafes or you can bring your own picnic.  The island is a popular picnic destination and you may have to wait for a long time as hundreds of people crowd the ferry terminal.  When visiting the island, don’t stick to the center.  Walk around the coast, where there are jagged rocks, little bridges, small cafes, and beautiful little areas to picnic.

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Helsinki Outings

Helsinki has it all: museums, parks, markets, libraries, shops, saunas, swimming and so much more.

MARKETS: Most outdoor markets in Helsinki are open only in summer, but the market halls are open all year round. They are great places to taste Finnish delicacies.

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Helsinki Neighborhoods

Helsinki is formally divided into a total of 54 districts, but more commonly the city is merely divided into the center and the suburbs. The southern districts are older (some would say more revered), and they contain most of the city’s main tourist attractions. Neighborhood map 

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New York City

I am daunted by the prospect of writing about New York City.  Can I really say something that has not been said before?  Do I have a new perspective from which to experience NYC?  Not really.  I only have my perspective and few favorites that I want to share with you.  Everyone has there own favorite parts of NYC – here are mine:


Tenement Museum, in particular the “Meet the Residents – Confino Tour.”  Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants.  Today, the museum tells the stories of the people who lived in the building and the surrounding neighborhood.  I took my teenage daughter and her friend to the Confino tour and they were completely engaged.  The Tenement Museum is located at 103 Orchard Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Cloisters museum and gardens, on the opposite end of the island, is the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.  It was assembled from architectural elements, both domestic and religious, that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century.  This magical and serene place is located in Fort Tryon Park.  A bit of a trek but definitely worth the journey!

Whitney Museum, always has something to challenge and engage the visitor!  Located at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th St.  Before or after, grab a meal at Via Quadronno (see below).  Closed Monday and Tuesday, open late on Friday.

The Neue Galerie is a small, intimate museum devoted to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design.  I have seen many special exhibits here, including a Van Gogh exhibit where I was able to get so close to the paintings that you could feel the wind blowing through the sunflowers.  There is a cafe in the basement where you can get scrumptious pastries.  The Galerie is located at 1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street), Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Smithsonian, Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The Museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational and curatorial programming. Currently closed for renovations.  Exhibits are at various locations throughout the City.

The High Line is a public park built on a freight rail line elevated above Manhattan’s West Side. The High Line is a great place to walk, see the City, eat ice cream and people watch.  The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.



img_0743Vegetarian Dim Sum House – all vegetarian, all yummy!  It is hard to choose a favorite but I do love the deep fried lotus bun, BBQ mock pork buns and bean curd rolls!  This tiny restaurant is located at 24 Pell St (between Doyers St & Mott St).  Don’t be put off by the lack of ambiance or unfriendly wait staff.


Via Quadronno, located on the Upper East Side at 25 East 73rd St., between Madison & 5th Ave., has divine Paninis topped with cheeses, truffles, and high quality cured meats, soups, hot dishes, cappuccinos and scrumptious homemade pastries.  I highly recommend the Tartufata, finely chopped champignons in truffle oil over Fontina cheese and the Montanara, warm Taleggio cheese over fresh steamed asparagus.  This restaurant is always packed so be prepared to wait!

img_0156Bearded Papa Sweets Cafe – Cream Puffs, ’nuff said.  These yummy treats can be found at 2167 Broadway (between 76th St & 77th St). 




Kinokuniya Bookstore is a Japanese bookstore, cafe and gift shop.  Great finds, cool gifts, and delicious Japanese snacks!  Located at 1073 Ave of the Americas, between 42nd and 40th Streets on Bryant Park.  

Classic Car Club Manhattan, located at 250 Hudson Street in Tribeca,  is full of lots of grown-up toys.  If you want to live in lala land for a bit, saunter on it and take a look!  There is also a location on the Upper East Side at 182 East 73rd St.  I will save that for my next visit.

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San Francisco

San Francisco is a city full of mini-cities.  There are so many neighborhoods and communities that you really need a full week or more to fully explore all of its gifts.  Heck, I need a full week just to explore its Chinatown, another week to meander through the Presidio, and another week to eat at all the wonderful restaurants.  In other words, my few days were not enough and a return visit is in order.

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Tokyo 1wrongturn

Hanayashiki Amusement Park

No trip is complete without a visit to the local amusement park – at least for my husband and daughter.  They go off and get turn upside-down, dropped from heights, eat sweets, and experience the other side of town while I do something “boring” like go to a historic house museum or temple garden.  Tokyo was no different except for the fact that the amusement park was like something out of Spirited Away.   Hanayashiki amusement park, originally opened as a flower park, has a history of more than 150 years. Located just a few steps from Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa district, the miniature amusement park offers a small Ferris wheel, roller coaster, carousel, a ride that is powered by you pedaling, Space Shot and great crepes.

Popularity: 20% [?]