The Best Pizza in Helsinki

Via Tavastia

It is very easy to find good pizza in Helsinki. Putte’s is the classic. Daddy Greens is my favorite after homemade pizza. There are numerous other small places peppered around town that serve perfectly acceptable pizza. Then there is Via Tribunali.

Via Tribunali became famous after their first location opened in the more touristy section of Helsinki. The reason I am writing this post, however, is their new location at Sörnäinen. The pizza, wine and service are great, but there is something that does not quite make sense.

Hämeentie, on which Via Tribunali is located, is under major renovations. The specific stretch of road is known as “Kurvi”. It has a reputation of being a rough part of town. It is normal to see less fortunate and heavily intoxicated Helsinkians go about their business around Kurvi. There are a number of dive bars. While there have always been a few brave gourmands around Kurvi, it is not the place for a fancy restaurant. At least not one as loud as Via Tribunali’s new place.

It is only a pizza place, a good one, but it is difficult to adjust to the fact that Kurvi is now undergoing gentrification. It was inevitable, I suppose. Kallio has long since been established as a hip part of town and the label is being dragged down to Vallila as well. Kurvi has resisted the trend by being tough and mean. Until now.

There is certainly room for another restaurant at Kurvi. I will not lament the loss of Kurvi’s essence or the spread of gentrification. If you want to go to a dive bar or a cheap pizza place in Helsinki, they are easy to find. But it is surreal to watch Kurvi’s scruffy characters looking in at you looking out at Via Tribunali. It puts gentrification on a plate and serves it to you with a nice syrah. It all makes sense, but it does not seem quite right.

Then again, perhaps that uncomfortable contrast is what Kurvi is all about.

Kumpula Botanical Garden

Kumpula Botanical Garden

The Kumpula Botanical Garden is one of Helsinki’s best kept secrets. The premises seem smaller from the outside than they actually are. Once inside, you will find that its collections include domestic species and exotic plants from around the world. There is a nice little café on the grounds. A manor house has stood on the site since before the city was founded. The current one – a stylish building worth a visit for its architecture alone – houses a geological collection that includes rocks and meteorites placed in formidable custom shelves. Walking around the garden in the middle of summer, you have to wonder why it is not teeming with visitors.

We visited only once this summer, but there is still some time for another visit. For next summer, I am seriously considering a season ticket. It is one of those locations in Helsinki that would merit daily visits, if you had the time. Green spaces and gardens are said to be good for your overall health, so you should probably make time to stroll among its trees and bushes transported to Finland from places like Japan and North America. In another world, doctors might even prescribe tickets for stressed out city workers.

There are many parks in Helsinki. You can find serious woodlands not far from town. Still, there is something mesmerizing about this particular garden. The Kumpula Botanical Garden opened in 2009, but it seems like it has been there for much longer. The location and architecture make you think it has been there for centuries. The manor house and some of the trees are fairly old, but that is not the point. The garden induces in idle flaneurs a state of mind where time becomes a present, tangible thing. Somehow, you are simultaneously transported out of time in strange mind-bending ways that are hard to describe. I suppose the effect is what the Romantic poets called the Sublime. A ticket is a small investment for such bliss.

Tallinn Is Not Helsinki

Tallinn, Helsinki’s cool cousin

I know this blog is about Helsinki, but it would be silly not to mention Tallinn. It’s a Helsinki thing.

Several ferries crisscross between the two cities. Some are more luxurious than others, but even the scruffier ones have food, drinks and entertainment. If you need a break from your fellow passengers, you can reserve a cabin.

We visit Tallinn often enough and have a few regular stops. My last trip was slightly different, because I went by myself. What follows is a mix of the places we frequent and a trip report. There are of course many more shops, galleries, museums and restaurants to visit in Tallinn than are listed here. We all have our favorites.

Gowri is a new stop for us in Tallinn. All shirtmakers have something flashy on display to attract customers and show off their goods. The British shops are muted – the really posh ones are the most understated. Italian shops have a familiar Italian flair to them, of course. Finns are minimalists. Gowri’s shop is shiny, extravagant and fun. Naturally, they also cater to more conservative tastes.

Muhu Leib is not a shop, but a rye bread. We pick up a loaf every time we visit Tallinn. For some reason, we tend to get it from their shop near the train station. I don’t think you can buy it in Helsinki, which is very strange – let me know if it is sold here. Why no one is importing it by the truckload is a mystery.

Sigari Maja is a tobacconist and cigar lounge next to the main square. I normally visit them to pick up a few cigars, because it is a nice shop. Their lounge is a wood-paneled, leather-upholstered oasis of peace and relaxation. If you like, you can also get a drink with your cigar. I had an amontillado, because I was on my way to lunch.

Rataskaevu 16 is our usual stop for a late lunch or dinner. I have had amazing and not-so-amazing meals there, but never a bad one. The last couple of times I ordered their elk for nostalgic reasons. The wine list is well-edited and the service excellent. If you have a table next to the front door, you may observe an endless stream of potential customers being turned away. Make a reservation!

Pudel is a bar in Telliskivi, the hip part of town. Finns joke that you can actually see more Finns than locals there. I did not go this time, but we have previously bumped into Finnish friends there, so there is some truth to the jokes. When in Tallinn, we often stop at Pudel for a beer. There is usually something interesting on tap and an art exhibition nearby.

Crème de la crème is one of the few niche fragrance shops near Helsinki – I noticed there is a new one in town, but more on that later. They are located in a fairly depressing shopping center, but they are worth a visit if you like smelling things.

The New Orion

Stairway to the Midnight Sun Film Festival

Before I moved to Helsinki, I started dating a local film buff. The theater of choice for buffs at the time was Orion. The theater was founded in 1928 and is a Helsinki institution. Last year, we were reminded of how fragile it actually is despite its iconic status. The National Audiovisual Institute decided to move to a new theater and left Orion to fend for itself. There was talk about shutting it down. After vigorous and successful fundraising by distressed filmgoers, the ELKE association took over and the theater was saved. The new Orion is essentially the old Orion. Just the way we like it.

The programme is very varied and ambitious. There are art house films, strange old films, the occasional new blockbuster, events and curated film series. Helsinki has a number of small niche cinemas and we are often spoilt for choice, but Orion is the grand old dame of the city’s theaters. It obviously requires a lot of maintenance, but it is still beautiful in all its Art Deco glory. The facilities are a bit cramped, but the seats are incredibly comfortable. They don’t sell popcorn, but you can get a candy bar at the counter if you need one. In a word, it’s perfect. It’s perfect because everything in it matters to the people who regularly go there.

Not much has changed since my date and I first started going to Orion. Now we live together in Helsinki and went to see A Moment of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf just last night – the film was shown to celebrate the director’s visit to the Midnight Sun Film Festival earlier in June. The programme is the main reason we enjoy going, but the theater itself is a close second. It’s like an old, fuzzy blanket that never fails to comfort.

Minibar

Look out! It’s Minibar’s tiger!

Minibars typically bring to mind feelings of shame and regret. They seem like a good idea when you finally return to your hotel room exhausted and desperate for a nightcap, but when the awful truth is revealed the next morning at checkout, that final late night drink does not seem to warrant the exorbitant cost.

Helsinki’s Minibar at Eerikinkatu is different. Your night may end in regret for any number of reasons, but at least the drinks will be tasty: get a Gin and Tonic, Old Fashioned, Negroni or ask what the bartender has been experimenting with lately. They will be happy to tell you, but don’t expect a lecture.

It’s a tiny bar (hence the name) with only a few tables and chairs. It is not the type of bar where people park themselves for hours to pound down beers. If you have a few minutes to spare, you can stop by for an expertly made drink. Simple, quick and efficient. In a city with its share of noisy and gimmicky bars, Minibar is pleasantly uncomplicated and easy.

And they have a sweet tiger sign out front.

Welcome to Another Helsinki Blog!

Helsinki in winter

Welcome to the blog! It’s dedicated to the things we like in and about Helsinki. Everything here is completely subjective and biased: if we (the writers) like it or think it particularly pleasant, we will write about it. If we don’t like something or think it’s merely OK, we will probably not write about it. If we find something that is too strange not to mention here, we might find something to say. It’s a fairly simple concept: write about the things that make life better for people who live in or around Helsinki.

The blog is divided into four categories: food + drink, art, health and style. All the categories are understood in broad terms. Food + drink is self-explanatory. Art includes a wide variety of arts and entertainment from exhibitions to movie theaters. Health refers to various health-related activities in town from gyms to flotation tanks. Style … I’m not completely sure yet what goes under “style”, but I’m sure we will think of something.

The aim is to have at least two updates per week for the next year. The blog also has an Instagram account which will hopefully be updated more often: https://www.instagram.com/anotherhelsinkiblog/

That’s about it.

Enjoy!

Floating in Helsinki

Hop in!

I use a flotation tank on a fairly regular basis. I know it may sound strange, but hear me out – I would like to make flotation tanks more approachable and encourage everyone to give them a try.

Let’s start with why anyone would want to enclose themselves in a tank full of salt water and float in it for extended periods of time. A flotation tank experience works like a power nap after a long and stressful day. It will not eliminate the causes of your stress, but it does give you time to unwind and refocus. People who exercise a lot will find it physically soothing, because it gives your body a chance to relax completely.

Friends wise to psychedelic lore often ask me: “Did you get a buzz? Any visuals?” “No,” I tell them, “but I did have a nice, relaxing, long think about my day.” Perhaps some people can trip out on floating in the tank, but most of us need something much stronger to reach the realms of elves and wizards. I can see why people would think that, however. There is something ritualistic in getting into the tank and closing the lid knowing that you will be completely alone in a room, in a tank, stuck inside your head for the next 90 minutes. Stuff will come up. If you are not ready to spend quality time with your thoughts in silent darkness, flotation tanks are not for you.

Before you begin, you should shower and put on earplugs. Both of these are supplied by Float Kallio. They also provide a floating support ring for your head if you feel you cannot keep it above the water. The tanks may sport colored lights, but you can turn them off if you prefer darkness. You can choose to have music at the beginning and end of your session.

There are virtually no rules to floating, but I have come up with at least one very strong rule of thumb: If your face itches, don’t scratch it! The water is extremely salty and if you get it in your eyes you will not have a good time. You can rinse it off with a spray bottle (if there is one in the tank) or by taking a quick shower, but it’s better just to avoid scratching that itch. It will eventually go away.