Am (almost) final installment about my travels around Finland. After my time in Helsinki and at the Haihatus art residency I featured in my earlier posts, I spent the last part of my trip in Tampere, Finland’s second largest city around 100 miles north of Helsinki, visiting a Finnish artist I’d met called Leena
Despite only meeting her once at the art residency, Leena kindly offered me a place to stay with her partner and two blonde tots in a leafy suburb of Tampere, and I found myself with amazingly warm, generous, creative and like minded tour guides for a couple of days.
Upon my arrival, I was given ‘arctic circle mushroom tea’ which apparently was just a health tonic and wasn’t going to make me see elves. I loved some of the vintage Finnish ceramics on offer and enjoyed the relaxed bohemian feel to their airy apartment, with impossibly good design everywhere I looked.
I was treated to hearty porridge breakfasts with frozen berries added in – common place in Finland with it’s abundance of foraging and fruits.
We took walks in the nearby woods with her little ones and her arctic hunter dog (who at one point dragged me through bushes Frank Spencer style as it tried to hunt a squirrel)
During my time there, Leena showed me a fascinating neighbourhood on the periphery of Tampere called Pispala. I’d actually heard about Pispala back in 2007 when I spent time in Vilnius, Lithuania (picking up treats like this book cover on the way) meeting a Finnish artist Sami who was from the area and told me what a special place it was, full of artists and creative people so I was very intrigued to see this Scandinavian artsy shangri-la.
Featuring colourful wooden houses around a lake, and steep stairwells between the streets, it reminded me of somewhere like San Franscisco, and the undeniably relaxed and bohemian atmosphere added to this.
Street art, colourful houses, waves lapping on the shore and a horizontally relaxed atmosphere, it reminded me a little of other hippy enclaves like Christiana in Copenhagen or Uzupis in Vilnius, Lithuania. With factory and construction workers originally living there when Tampere became industrialised, the area is now home to a number of Finnish artists and celebrities.
Leena took me down to the shores of the lake and also showed me the community allotments, where she also had a patch
She also showed me an amazing place called ‘Kurpitsalo’ (‘Pumpkin House’) a community gardening project that celebrates the cycle of the year with traditional pagan festivals, music and runs the various allotments.
Leena took me to their cafe which used freshly grown produce to create blueberry tarts, cakes, pies and all kinds of delicious snacks.
Once inside, I adored the simple and traditional Scandinavian cottage style
Fresh herbs and flowers were being prepared next to views of the lake
There were all sorts of cute sculptures outside that were perfect for kids to play on as you tucked into your tart
Finland being small, it turned out Leena already new Sami, the artist I had met in Lithuania. He now runs community arts projects and an arts residency in the neighbourhood and was still based there so we decided to pop in. His residency building was an eclectic mix of handpainted signs, shelters and sculptures
Sami told me he also now had a raft on the lake which he used for arts projects with older people, and we had a little tour of it and marvelled at some of the handmade sculptures, benches and features
It was great to find such a creative enclave that was clearly affordable for artists and provided opportunities for innovative projects to blossom and for collaborative community projects to flourish. It did make me want to move in and get a job sorting bluberries at the Pumpkin House asap.
My time in Tampere ended with a trip to my first sauna with Leena and her artist friend Marti. Thankfully it was a mixed affair so people wore swimwear! Finns tend to use saunas regularly to socialise and there is a saying there that most important decisions made by politicians are forged in saunas together!
It’s normal to go alone or with a friend to socialise, and people often drink beer afterwards. After feeling like my throat was roasting and with the bench too hot to sit on, I bailed after a few minutes but luckily there was a lake to take a dip in afterwards, as well as a sausage stand!
I felt so privileged to have spent a few days in the company of locals who had showed me so much about Finnish culture and who I felt positive would be the kind of people I’d spend time with at home – I loved their frugal, simple and creative lifestyle.
With a couple of days left in Finland, my final stop was Porvoo, a super pretty tourist heaven of a town full of wooden houses and cobbled streets, an hour east of Helsinki and near where Tove Jannsson had her summer house on a tiny island Klovharu where she created many of her moomin creations.
I had been told that Japanese love Finland and seeing the river in Porvoo with these oriental style houses, I couldn’t stop thinking of Kyoto
I spent a glorious day exploring the impeccably kept backstreets, filled with pink and green houses, picket fences and the occasional cute creature
I also loved these quirky knitted aliens I found in a charity shop and felt the world of curious creatures was never too far away
Travelling back to Helsinki, I gazed at Scandinavian pink skies and a train rushing in the other direction into the night and realised I felt so at home in Finland, with it’s forests, epic landscapes, curious folklore and dry Finn sense of humour, in a way that I’d never experienced anywhere else.
Pispala is just 10 minutes from the centre of Tampere and served by the 8, 20, 50 and 71 bus
Porvoo is under an hour from Helsinki by bus and costs 10-15 Euro