In One Month, I will go to HEL and Back

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Helsingin Luonnontieteellinen museo (The Helsinki Natural History Museum).
This museum is affiliated with the University of Helsinki
and is located in an old Russian gymnasium.

Image: Wikipedia [larger view].

As the title says, one month from today, I will be on an eight-and-a-half hour flight from NYC to Helsinki, Finland! I will be there for eight days and I am very excited! Even though I am of Finnish ancestry, I know exactly nothing about Finland, so I am asking you, the experts, about what I should plan to see and do while I am there.

So far, this is what I've been planning to see;

The Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki), founded in the city of Turku in 1640 (relocated to Helsinki in 1829), it is the largest and oldest university in Finland. It reminds me very much of the University of Washington, where I earned my degrees, because it is of similar size, with a similar number of graduate students, and is also a research-oriented university. I am especially interested to see the facilities on the Viikki Campus, which focuses on biosciences, veterinary medicine and pharmacy, although I am also very interested to see the Meilahti Campus, which is home to the medical school.

Helsingin Luonnontieteellinen museo, (The Natural History Museum), which was just re-opened in May 2008 after three years of renovations. This museum is affiliated with the University of Helsinki and is located in an old Russian gymnasium. Of course, my special interest is to see the fossil and bird collections here, behind the scenes, if possible.

The Korkeasaari Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world, which is home to roughly 200 animal species and more than 1000 plant species. I am always excited to visit zoos, especailly the bird exhibits, as well as seeing (and photographing several other unusual animal species that I am especially fond of, such as the astonishing Okapi, a childhood favorite. But so far, I have not learned which species this zoo holds).

Sealife Helsinki, an aquarium that opened in 2001, it has 28 permanent tanks, containing a total of 350,000 liters of water. One of their special features is a 250 cubic meter ocean tank, through which forms a 10 meter long tunnel. Again, I am not sure which species the aquarium holds.

I think I will also bring my binoculars, so I will be able to go out birding on several mornings for a variety of bird species in either Helsinki's Tringa ry or Central Park? Reading about spring migration makes me want to return in May so I can witness (and photograph!) the flight of fifty thousand rosefinches, Carpodacus erythrinus, in a single day.

That's all I've figured out so far, but I am also interested to see art museums as well as Finnish architecture, so any suggestions are welcomed. And of course, I will be sharing everything with you in a series of photoessays.

Hrm. Already, I am asking myself why I am not staying longer?? Oh yeah, my parrots would get very angry with me!


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What's the occasion for flying to Finland? Sounds like it will be fun for whatever reason you go.

I'm lucky if I can get out of Flushing ;) Even the NYC 1,000,000th comment party was a big trip for me.

Need to know:
Hyvä päivä = formal "Good Day" (HOO-veh Pay-e-veh)
Hyvä huomenta = good morning (HOO-veh hoo-o-mentah)
Hyvä nakemiin = good night (as in going to sleep) (HOO-vah nahk-e-mean)
Hei = informal hello (heh-ee)
Ei = no (eh-ee)
Kyllä/Joo = yes (KOO-lleh/Yo)
Kiitos = thanks (key-toes)
Kiitoskia paljon = (key-toes-kia pahl-yohn)
Minä on... = I am... (meenah ohn...)

Be sure to go see Suomenlinna in Helsinki harbor (it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, old island fortress). Do NOT be shy about taking a real sauna, it is really worth it. And if your host offers you viihta, use them (viihta are bundles of fresh birch twigs that one lightly abrades their skin with while in the sauna for greater sweating and cleaning). If you can, the Saaristomeri (Archipelago Sea) at the southwestern corner of Finland (Hanko is more or less the gateway town) ought to be well worth your time since so many of the islands have such radically different environments (I've not been there, but would like to go). It should be noted that Finns in general don't really bother with small talk like Americans do and are comfortable with silence. Swear words in Finnish are considered very powerful (avoid "perkele", "paska", "pillu", "kirpu", and "vittu").

Have fun at my alma mater! (Although - november in Helsinki - yikes... :) I can try to dig up some contacts at the museum or university if you like, but Bob O'Hara is probably more up to speed than me.

But so far, I have not learned which species this zoo holds).

They should be on the website, if you go to 'Animals...' they have them listed by continent. One of their specialties is breeding snow leopards.

You don't want Central Park, you want this:

it's where I spend all of my free time. It's right next to the university's faculty of biosciences where the biologists live.

Also the bird observation place in Hanko you linked to is a couple of hours drive from Helsinki, though I'm sure it's good, too.

And, as Windy intimated, November in Helsinki is a very serious proposition indeed. Intensely dark, weather generally nasty. Try to think of it as exotic. Welcome!

I'm taking notes. I used to work in the building just to the left of the museum, before we got kicked out by economists. I remember headbanging in the cafeteria during the latter part of a thesis defence.

windy - one advantage of November is that you can get up to go dawn birding at a civilized time of day.

i live in Turku, so i cannot give advise on places to visit in Helsinki, but heres some pointers.
Finns go into sauna naked, remember that, if some guys ask you to come along (thought they have been known to make exceptions with foreigners). Also don't expect to see any snow in as early as November (it usually starts snowing around x-mas). You don't need to learn any Finnish, pretty much everybody can speak English in here (thought they will have a heavy accent). And lastly, don't worry, you can go ahead with swearing in Finnish if you want to (its not like you'll be able to pronounce the swear words properly anyway :P)

oh and Toaster Sunshine made a couple mistakes with the Finnish words.
"Minä on" should be "minä olen" ("hän on" = "he is", "he ovat" = "they are").
And "kirpu" doesn't mean anything, thought people might mistake it for "kirppu" witch means "flea". Toaster Sunshine probably meant to say "kyrpä" witch means something like "big manly cock" :)

Sorry about those mistakes, my knowledge of Finnish and Finnish culture has been substantially filtered down through my Finnish father who is hellbent on being as American as possible. So my grammar and sense of the power of different words is completely garbled, as is my English (e.g., I learnt the English word "jalopy" as "YAY-loo-oh-PU").

thanks for the link to viikki nature, Bessest! that looks like a great place to go birding.

and thanks also for the tutorial on the finnish language. i just received a tiny "say it in finnish" book that can fit into a pocket, so that also will help. i am still working through the introductory part where i am learning how to pronounce (sound out) words correctly. based on this, my ambition for reading the harry potter books in finnish is a little TOO ambitious, sigh!

(i'll stick with my spanish and indonesian translations -- that's enough for me these days).

I just got back from my 6th trip. It was, as always, wonderful. Don't worry about language. Nearly everyone speaks English and in downtown Helsinki, many of the signs are in English as well. There is a vibrant nightlife in Helsinki, tons to do.

If you have time, try to get out into the country, which is very beautiful. In Helsinki, be sure to see Temppeliaukio. The architecture is amazing.

Also, get out to the old fort which is quite interesting. A very interesting place, for Americans, is the Hotel Torni, notorious as the place Lee Harvey Oswald stayed the night before he travelled to the Soviet Union.

Try to see some music while you're there. Finns have one of the most vibrant music scenes in the world. What kind? Anything at all, from great orchestras to wonderful pop, rock, and jazz, to heavy metal to the max. You almost can't go wrong.

There is a traditional restaurant on Esplanadi called Aino, I believe. I'm vegetarian so I can't advise you on the reindeer dishes, but they're suppoed to be good. Anything with wild mushrooms will be terrific. There is also a fine Indian restaruant at Bulevardi 6 called Kamaskaar.

Be sure to try salmiakki, a Finnish candy. They also make it into a liquor called Salmiakkikossu. Also try the blueberry cake.

Go down to the Marketplace where there are tents set up for coffee and pastries. There was a herring festival going on the day I left.


Maybe you can see the band Lordi without their costumes.....

And if you want a ...special... restaurant there's always Zetor. (The food is actually quite good, even if you aren't crazy about tractor kitsch.)

I took a spontaneous trip to Helsinki last year and had a wonderful time wandering around. I ran into a great art show and I cannot for the life of me remember the name. If I come across it, I'll be sure to send it to you.

Other than that I'd strongly recommend a boat trip - or better yet a 2 night cruise to another city or country in the region as well (like Sweden, Estonia, etc.) They are around 300$ for 2-3 nights - a good deal cheaper than hotel in the city and adds flavor to a Scandinavian trip!