I’ve just returned home from a week-long trip to Helsinki, Finland, bringing back with me a gazillion tangible and intangible inspirations in the form of ideas, thoughts, scribbled notes, half-formed poems, a camera full of photographs, tickets, receipts, postcards, stamps, souvenirs, flyers and ripped pages from magazines that I will squirrel away for my scrapbook.
My lasting impression is of a sleek and cultural city flooded with light and the tinkle of trams trundling by. Wide pristine pavements end with cafes and statues while colourful gardens and parks brim with picnickers. Seagulls circle and dive at the harbour market, art, design and antique shops pepper every street and the sunsets are magical.
I loved the parallels with my home country of Scotland; the lakes and forests and stunning landscape scenery. And I loved that creatives have a permanent place to sell their wares (beautifully made handicrafts in wood, ceramics and reindeer horn; paintings, drawings, jewellery and knitted accessories), all right in the heart of the city.
Around 300 little islands make up the archipelago, and various boat trips offered a great way to see some of these and visit the nearby sea fortress, Suomenlinna. There was a tram that was a pub and pints that cost 12 euros and a pigeon that pooped on my pink suede shoes (I could write a song about that).
I had a peep into the all-year-round Christmas shop – I couldn’t resist – and although it was sweltering out (with the hottest part of the day around 5-6pm rather than noon), I bought an intarsia reindeer scarf and leg warmers, then lingered long in the Marimekko flagship store, swooning over teapots and socks and the big bean bags that they had out on the street, wondering if I could just about afford to buy a teaspoon. Do they sell teaspoons?
On my first night in Helsinki I saw two brides on the Esplanadi, then another on the last night near where I was staying. Again, it felt magical somehow to see a bride at night in another country, don’t ask me why (Vikki – this made me think of you!)
Wandering back along the Esplanadi from the harbour one day I heard a rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’. That song always sends tingles down my spine. Another day I saw people blowing bubbles and tried to take a photograph, but I find these things highly transient and fragile and somehow impossible to capture.
And then I started venturing into black and white photography, and I couldn’t stop…
My top ten word/phrase associations with Helsinki are:
- Light & dark, black & white.
- Design. Shops, products, buildings, spaces.
- Boats. The harbour. Big boats, little boats, being on water and being at sea.
- Marimekko. Of course.
- Sauna. I knew the Fins loved to ‘sowNa’ but now I am a convert too. Skin. Feels. Amazing. For the first time, in a long time.
- Clouds. Thoughts in the clouds. I couldn’t get enough of the clouds in Helsinki which were a continual inspiration.
- Art. The Tove Jansson exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum is a must-see for the paintings and self-portraits and Moomin models and the story of her life. Her biography is on my wish-list.
- Slow (living). As in taking time to do things; riding in boats, sitting in a park in the sunshine. Our apartment didn’t have an electric kettle, and at the start that felt like a pain, but then it became a lovely ritual to boil water for a cup of tea.
- Wood. Beautiful, sumptuous wood. The smell of it. The feel of it. Wooden bowls and beakers and spoons and utensils.
- Photography. I took my new camera and Helsinki became my photographic playground.