I’ll bold print the main points in case anyone is wanting to just skim over in a few minutes...I’m aware of how busy lives can be but when my mind drifts to memories related to family history etc. I try to get it down so our grandchildren can read it one day – if they want to that is! I’m typing this in our sunny courtyard in Canberra in between packing for our trip.

HELSINKI – FINLAND

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 named Finland in the top 10 countries to visit in 2017. Nothing has changed and it’s a wonderful place to visit whether you love skiing (particularly cross country), swimming in the lakes, eating fresh/delicious food etc. or all + more of the above. They sum up Finland with these words:

Fought over by Russia and Sweden for 800 years, Finland finally gained independence in 1917. The Finns celebrated their centenary with gusto, with events planned in every region. Expect everything from al fresco concerts and communal culinary experiences to sauna evenings and vintage travel poster exhibitions…With the country playing host to the World Figure Skating Championships and the Nordic World Ski Championships this year, there’s never been a better time to discover Finland’s proudly unique culture and landscapes.”

2017 Lonely Planet…love their annual/small “Best in Travel” guides!

OFF THE TRACK WITH MEMORIES OF HOME😉:

Canberra (our home town for last 40+ years) was also named by Lonely Planet this year (2018) as one of the Top Ten Cities in the World...once we stop travelling overseas so much I’ll start writing about all the places in Australia we love.

The 3 places that have a special place in my heart would be Sydney (where I was born/lived for 19 years/visit often); Canberra (where we mostly worked and brought up our family); the NSW Sth Coast particularly Mollymook Beach (photos below) where we often holidayed when our sons were little + we purchased/renovated a holiday house when we retired in 2010.

The purchase was made weeks before my 1st major spinal surgery (which I was terrified about as the 1969 surgery when I was 13 was so horrible)…Tony lifted my spirits (sort of!) by joking and saying “you need to survive/thrive after this as I have that bloody house to do up!”.

Here are a few pics from Mollymook (South Coast):

Mollymook Beach looking North
Australian Native – Banksia named after Joseph Banks, Botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook

One of our regular stops for a light lunch in Nelligen-Rd from CBR to Sth Coast

Our coast “backyard”…more like a courtyard. A before and after photo is below. The first in early September 2010 a couple of months after my spinal surgery and I’ve smiling again. It sure was a roller coaster ride with managing the pain…just when I thought I had the right balance of meds, the pain seemed to come back and hit me.

Learning to breath and control emotions is important too and wish someone had recommended seeing a Pain Psychologist before this 1st surgery. I learned so much from Randolph Sparks (he also lectures at ANU) over and last two years and during the 2nd & 3rd surgeries in August 2017, I usually (not always) felt more in control with mindfulness techniques etc. and I was also more aware of what pain meds I needed and how to gradually come off them. I understand how it could be so hard for young people as it’s common to go through a period of insomnia + anxiety in 1st weeks (sometimes months) after coming off strong pain medication. Now more about good times…

Before the pergola etc was upgraded
New pergola…early this Yr we replaced lattice as well + landscaped this part of garden

So 8 years on and that old little house “with good bones” I told Tony when talking him into buying it!…has now been renovated inside and out (with a huge amount of work by our sons as well) and the garden has also been regenerated as it was neglected and overgrown.

There was a lovely story I hear about the original owners who built it (maybe 40+ years ago?)…we think the older couple retired from Sydney (Mollymook is equidistant from Canberra and Sydney) and built it. The design was very forward thinking – for example, the large sliding doors facing North and looking out to the original Eucalypt forest.

Many features about the garden also showed imagination and creativity, in a time when many houses in so many places were just like boxes, dumped in middle of bare suburban blocks of land. Our first house in Kaleen, Canberra was a bit like that although Tony and I worked hard on the garden (see photos below). Well more like Tony working v hard as even then my back bothered me a lot at times…I did work out the garden design and choose the plants – something I still love doing at the coast.

Once our older son was born in 1983 the front courtyard and verandah were very pleasant places for supervised play (as in Canberra there are often no front fences separating private property from the road. It’s a quiet loop street but with light traffic the backyard (which had a pergola, sandpit and some play equipment) gave our 2 sons plenty of space to run around + there were cycle paths and playgrounds nearby.

Canberra was a lovely place to raise children (still is) and it’s a shame more immigrants flock to our crowded cities when there are many smaller Australian cities with more capacity to grow in a family/lifestyle friendly way.

This photo 30 March 1979…photo below was 1st stage 1st February 1979
Hard labour on weekends!…work and p/t Uni studies mid week – 1/2/79

Completed courtyard garden Aug 1987…snow like this is now rare

Back to our travels to Finland:

View from Fortress on island near Helsinki

I’ve been procrastinating over packing for our next trip…leaving Sunday 19/8 while Tony is v organised – as usual! I do love him for it in many ways as he’s also been super busy on volunteer committee’s including a solar energy research committee. He’s looking at options to present to an Executive Committee (on which he’s also a volunteer member) related to future solar solutions at a fairly large apartment complex.

I was v busy on a similar committee (related to my love of gardens) but most of my work has been passed onto others at this stage…thanks to Tony for his help in that arena too as I was running out of puff due to my recent health issues. I often feel like a very lucky woman…wasn’t like that when in hospital for 3 weeks last year of course but like everyone knows “it can always be worse”! I’m super pleased that things are looking up and mostly looking forward to this trip but a little nervous as well with a couple of niggly health issues which I hope don’t flare up while we’re travelling.

Oh well, I’ve done all I can to prevent that and now I need to focus on what could go right – as it usually does when travelling. This was evident from our trip in 2013 which we also started in Scandinavia – that time Helsinki (this time we’ll be flying from Canberra-Singapore (direct) then onto Stockholm, Denmark 🇩🇰 (added that for kids…will bold print for children too😊

Helsinki – a wonderful day trip on the public ferry to the Island Fortress (Suomenlinna):

This island fortress (a short public ferry trip from the city) was founded in 1748. There are excellent walking paths and lookouts all around the island and it’s worth planning to have at least half a day there – perhaps longer if the weather is beautiful like this…

Suomenlinna is a UNESCO site and has a fascinating history. In 2011 we took brochures/maps from the Tourist Info Centre in the city. I’m sure there would now be resources explaining self guided walks etc. now online. Reminds me to re-read some of the history of Scandinavia before we head to Sweden and Norway soon.

The views on our way to and from the historic fortress (Suomenlinna) were beautiful too:

We had the most wonderful day at this island and we highly recommend a visit, especially if you enjoy history like we do. If it’s a lovely day it’s worth packing a picnic although there is a small cafe/restaurant (maybe a few now?). We just had morning tea at this cafe and sat at the outdoor tables. There are a few original buildings on the island where military staff lived…more of those may have been restored now for various uses?

The drawbridge was interesting at the fortress

The fresh food and handmade craft markets along the harbour front in Helsinki (photos below). Sometimes we bought some foods from this market for a v light evening meal (our hotel room had a small table) as the breakfasts at GLO Hotel, where we stayed, were beautiful/huge.

Helsinki harbourfront markets

Finnish Food:

Seafood and fresh produce is often on the menu of course in all restaurants. We went out a few times and enjoyed the food even though some people told us before we left that their cuisine is “boring”.

I greatly dislike “boring” word!…it can make adults sound so juvenile I think – probably because it was a word I occasionally heard, during my teaching career, from insolent pre-teen with attitude! Fortunately I didn’t encounter too many like that.

In Helsinki, we liked the simplicity of the food and attractive style in most places we visited. Here are a few photos showing some of the foods plus I’ll note a Scandinavian inspired recipe or two at the end of this post.

According to visitfinland.com Reindeer is very healthy!…Tony tried it once while in Helsinki (photo below). I had a salmon dish that night which was even more delicious (I thought!…Tony only likes salmon like Asians do it eg. In Japan) although he did like some of the almost raw salmon served in the Scandinavian open sandwich style.

PORONKÄRISTYS – Photo above

Reindeer are found in Finland’s northern province of Lapland and their meat is one of the healthiest foods you can put on your plate according to recent studies. It is high in B-12, omega-3, omega-6 and lean. And it is delicious!

Served with mashed potatoes, this dish is eaten throughout the country, in all seasons.

Over the next couple of days in Helsinki we hired self guided audio tours of the city…here are some photos from that day:

The photo above in Helsinki was taken from the tram in an area where there’s a mix of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture...like other parts of the world, a huge influence in the early 1930s. The interior design and decor of some of the cafes also reflected that era.

We love the simplicity of Art Deco and reminded us of some of the first public buildings and hotels around our Capital City, Canberra, ACT (Australian Capital Territory). Canberra is a relatively young city…established in 1920s as a centre of Government of course, although now it has changed a lot with an international airport etc. As I finalise the post I’m sitting at the airport waiting for our flight to Singapore – this new International section of the airport has all the latest technology and the general departure lounge areas is more like a private lounge set up with tables and chairs + lounges. Very different to rows and rows of seats that you see in most airports.

Note the bird on the head of statue in each of these photos!

We bought some takeaway coffee/morning t and found a very pleasant spot near the above memorial statue to relax/reenergise before we explored the very grand buildings which provided many steps to climb! I did very well as I’d had a spinal surgery (30 screws from mid to lower back + fusion) in late July the year before (2010).

My specialist was pleased and impressed but unfortunately the thoracic spine began to give me grief a few years later. However, after more surgeries (amazing medical science last yr with almost a replacement vertebrae mid back) I’m ready for more physical challenges once again 🧗‍♀️!!…well not quite…will leave more strenuous hikes/climbs to sons and granddaughters😉

A friend called this my “Rocky photo”…I wish!

In the afternoon we headed to the famous newish church which has won Architectural and acoustic awards (photos below) – I’ll look up the name etc. of this church later as it was quite amazing (built into the rock face) and often used for various concerts – not just religious congregations.

The next day in Helsinki…

We headed to The Boulevardi” – an upmarket street we had noticed from the tram. Just for a walk around and window shopping (more shops for the super rich although I was tempted by the sales in a couple of stores). There are many interesting cafes, bakeries etc. along this street as well. We stopped for a late, light morning tea at one of them – some of the fruit buns/breads were particularly delicious and I’d like to try making them one day:

Where we stayed: GLO Hotel (photos below)

After having quite a lot to eat at our hotel (GLO…photos below) for breakfast, we tried to eat light for the rest of the day (although sometimes hard to resist foods like the fruit/nut bun in pic above!). We loved GLO hotel – a modern building/decor with plenty of shared indoor and outdoor spaces…

I sometimes long for days of real maps but only buy them if we’re staying for at least a few days.

Quite often there was dancing in the street just outside our hotel…a variety of different groups not just Hari Krishna sp?! We often saw locals including their children and maybe tourists? Joining in sometimes. I use to be an excellent dancer in my early teens (before 1st spinal surgery in 69) but I was feeling a bit shy that day😉; however, it was lovely to watch especially the children dancing in an uninhibited and joyful way.

Autumn was very beautiful in Helsinki. We usually seek out the Botanic Gardens in most cities we visit.
Anyone for a swing! Sure our sons would have given it a go!

Talking of kids…here’s a page from a children’s book I love/own which adults (including us) often find very interesting:

Each page of this book presents a snapshot of a child’s life. For example:

It was interesting to hear that many children are involved in drama and dance groups to Helsinki – note above Mattus’ interests include a “street dance group” so perhaps it’s a regular thing to see adults and children dancing in the streets like we did. I thought it was wonderful + was so relaxed and carefree.

So much for that one Canberra acquaintance telling me she was avoiding Helsinki on her travels “because it’s boring”. I suppose my negative reaction might also be due to the fact that Canberra is sometimes described by Australians living in other cities as boring and after living both here (40 years), Sydney (20 years) + part time at the Sth coast now, we know that it isn’t. In Canberra, like most places, you just need to do your research before you arrive. Fortunately that’s a lot more easy to do now than it was even back in 2011 when we were in Helsinki.

Getting there ( with a few flags kids might enjoy?)…

We travelled with Qantas from CBR-SYD (less than an hour); Sydney 🇦🇺- Bangkok, Thailand 🇹🇭(rested up there a few days in warmth); BKK – Helsinki, Finland🇫🇮 …followed by train into Russia 🇷🇺(St Petersburg 1st…approx 4 hrs from Helsinki) then Moscow 🇷🇺.

After that we flew back to Scandinavia – Copenhagen – Denmark 🇩🇰. Unfortunately, we only had a few nights in Denmark and the weather wasn’t as good while there as in Helsinki but I’ll do another post soon on that as we did get a few good photos.

We were away a couple of months and there were a few more stops including Germany 🇩🇪 and a return trip via Singapore 🇸🇬 – which I’ll write about soon as we’ll be there this time next week!

Finally a FINNISH RECIPE...passed onto me by a wonderful Australian/Finnish friend and teaching colleague (in 00s), Keiju. It’s a lovely one to make with children and I remember Keiju making similar for our school Harmony Celebrations. What we called Multicultural Day in the 90s but when a very Conservative Prime Minister, John Howard, was elected there was a backlash against anything “Multicultural”. In our view his Government pandered to the far right too much (even racists sometimes) but I won’t go into politics too much here as I’m writing to lift my spirits/inspire our kids (and interested friends) so time to get off my soap box😉 On a lighter/funny note…once when Tony was speaking at a conference in London someone in audience piped up and teased Tony by saying “you look like a young version of John Howard!” Tony wasn’t v impressed but did have a laugh!

BAKED PANCAKE WITH SMOKED SALMON:

This is a super easy recipe, very quick prep and can be ready in about 30 minutes, and is absolutely delicious. Serve as a weekend breakfast or a light dinner with a salad. Perfect brunch dish for weekend guests too.

INGREDIENTS

2 large eggs

1 1/3 cups 2% milk

1/2 cup self-rising flour (take out 1 1/2 teaspoon of the flour for baking at 6500′ altitude)???

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon light sour cream

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill

7 twists of freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup smoked salmon (or more, according to preferences)

INSTRUCTIONS

1 Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.

2 Combine the eggs, milk, flour, salt, sour cream, dill, and pepper together in a medium bowl. Whisk thoroughly.

3 Place the butter in an oven-proof skillet that measures 8½ inches across its bottom, and slide it into the preheated oven. When the butter is melted, and just beginning to bubble (about 5 minutes), remove the skillet, and carefully pour the batter over the butter. Return the skillet to the oven. Bake until cooked all the way through, and the top is lightly browned, about 20 – 25 minutes.

4 Using a sharp knife, separate the edge of the pancake from the sides of the pan. Raise the pancake using a spatula or your fingers, and place on a plate. Slice into pieces, and top with the smoked salmon.

5 Serve immediately.

by The Wimpy Vegetarian