Places, people and my Helsinki experience
I visit Finland 2-3 times every year to meet my family and friends. Last week, over the Easter school holidays, I took my daughter to Finland for a week and we had a truly fantastic time. Rather than flying straight to the region in Eastern Finland up North where I come from, we stopped by in Helsinki for the weekend. And what a lovely weekend it was, topped by seeing the bears in Helsinki Zoo that have just woken up from their winter sleep - and catching up with some of my favorite friends and relatives.
I lived in Helsinki for five years and I have some happy memories from that period of my life. But it was never the time of my life. Helsinki can be an unwelcoming place for a straight-out-of-high-school-girl with a strong regional accent that has just hopped out of a train from Northern Finland. Not helped by the fact that I came there to pursue a degree that perhaps was never quite the right choice of subject for me, I often felt a bit lost, bored and lonely. Surrounded by overbearing Russian-style architecture, I remember always looking for some lecture hall with the freezing, sleety winds of the Baltic Sea in my back.
To steer a way from my tendency to over-dramatize my experiences, it was not altogether that bad. Salvaged by the company of a few good friends and some lovely relatives, my Helsinki years weren't a complete disaster. Nevertheless, I moved on at the first opportunity - to the buzzing university town of Lund in Southern Sweden.
I loved Lund so much that I suppose I could have stayed there for longer, were it not for a certain Englishman that I then encountered. And so I moved further South-West the map of Europe and landed in London.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about places and people - how they sometimes seem to fit together perfectly and sometimes they just do not.
Last month I wrote about my trip to Ireland and seeing one of my closest friends who lives there. In high school, my friend and I both had a craving to travel the world and experience life outside the relatively peripheral corner of the world that we grew up in. My friend's journey has taken her via North America and Scotland to Ireland - and it made me so happy to see her living there, because it seemed to me that she had found a place that suited her really well. A place, where she was somehow in her own element, surrounded by friends, doing a job that she always dreamed of doing, living in a house that she had turned into a beautiful home together with her partner.
I got the same same feeling visiting another close friend of mine in Helsinki. Twenty years ago, she hopped out of that same train and arrived in Helsinki, but somehow her Helsinki experience has been more or less the opposite of mine. That is, from day one, she was like duck in water navigating her way through the capital. Through a glorious career in student politics, she moved on to "real" politics and in fact, ended up in a position where she led some of the top-level decision-making in Finland's capital. Now she has a family (and yes, still a highly demanding career too) although she has stepped down from politics. Very recently, she bought a beautiful, spacious family home in one of the most sought after residential areas within the capital region. Despite only moving house one month ago, my friend and her husband have already made some fantastic furniture finds - and their home is just beautiful.
I took so many pictures of this house, that I had to be a bit selective with what to include in this post. The home entailed some of the best features that one can wish for in a Finnish built house, such as high open ceilings, a huge tiled fireplace combined with chic modern bathrooms and (of course) a sauna too. I am a big fan of the inclusion of pink shades in interiors, especially in partnership with dark wood.
After our weekend in Helsinki, we continued up North to see my family. My daughter was thrilled to discover that there was still tonnes of snow left. Somehow the locals are not quite as pleased about the record-breaking levels of snow this year that are taking forever to melt. However, for skiing the conditions were ideal. I did so much snowboarding during my teenage years that I've pretty much lost all interest in actually catching a ski lift myself, but I certainly enjoyed sun-bathing (at times in my T-shirt) watching my five-year-old shooting down the slopes.
I always hate when it's time to say goodbye to my family again, but at the same time I love coming back to my home in England. I am still proud to have my Northern accent when speaking Finnish, and now that I have gradually picked up the Essex accent too, I suppose I needn't ever worry about sounding too clever in any language ;)
Perhaps that urge to keep moving never quite goes away for some people. But I always knew for myself, it was about finding my own place in the world to build a life in. I love travelling and seeing different places, but I doubt I would enjoy it as much if I didn't always have that place to come back to. That place that is just the perfect home for me.