"This blog is not necessarily for lovers of art, it includes a variety of topics and whatever. I'm a painter who likes to know what's really going on in the world today. So you might find anything from Shamrocks to Salmiakki mentioned here on my blog. There will of course be some boring, factual and informational posts, but I'll keep them to a minimum, I promise!

And I might get a bit nostalgic now and then.

So you have been warned!"

- Alan Hogan

Monday, March 14, 2011

Green Day in Helsinki!

On this coming Thursday, March 17th, a few people including myself will be wearing green and celebrating this year's St. Patrick's Day in Finland. Since moving to Finland I have noticed how well the Finnish people are able to enjoy this annual Irish holiday. I could almost say it comes natural! 
Having spent a few winters here in Finland, I can understand why so many Finns embrace this event with such joy and enthusiasm. The winters here are long, dark and extremely cold. And when this kind of weather drags on past February, there comes with it a lot of irritation, frustration and a growing urge to see the snow melt quickly. The more the sun appears, the stronger the feel of Spring! And while this may be the first celebration of the Spring season for many people, the Finnish people can get more value from it than most of us. It's time to forget about the cold and say goodbye to the snow (even if it's still hanging around!), - it's time to party!

This year I am planning my Paddy's Day schedule in Helsinki this year, where I hope to knock back a few pints of Guinness and maybe one or two whiskeys. I haven't decided where to go this year, but I reckon I'll find some craic somewhere! 

There's several places where you can drown the shamrock (if you can find a shamrock!!) in Helsinki this year. Top of the list has to be Molly Malone's pub where you will find 'A Hell of a Band' and also Finn McCool playing a tribute to the Dubliners singer Luke Kelly.

Not too far away from Molly Malone's bar in Helsinki you will find Brègain playing at O'Malley's Irish bar. 
I wish I had a little more information on what other bars have planned, but here are a few links to some bars which may be celebrating this Thursday
Parnells Irish Bar, Hämeentie 35, 00500 Helsinki
The Dubliner. Helsinki
The Castle, Turku
Parnell's bars in Finland

And finally, if I upset any fans of the band Green Day by my deceptive title please accept my apologies!
Especially for you, here's Green Day on December 15th, 1991 singing an old song in a pub I used to visit frequently back in Dublin. It was an afternoon gig (4-6pm), hence such a quiet 'crowd'. This tiny venue with a capacity of about 40 people was called 'The Attic', and could be found upstairs at a pub called 'The White Horse Inn'. 

...and just one more thing for those of you good people who read this far down the page.....

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Blog of Two Cities!

Some of you reading this blog will probably know little about Finland, just as I did once upon a time. Most of what I knew usually involved snow, Santa Claus and film locations for old spy movies. Add to that names such as Mannerheim, Sibelius, Viren, Hyypiä, Räikkönen, Litmanen, Häkkinen, Grönholm, Lordi and that was about it for me. 
Ten years later including three years living here and the story has changed. I now know more about Finland, a lot more. 

Visitors to Finland will most likely arrive at Helsinki airport and continue on to the capital.  Helsinki’s a great place to start, full of all the amenities and attractions a modern city should have. There’s certainly no shortage of things to do and see. However, I would recommend seeing it in the summer months, as the winter cold might get a little uncomfortable if you’re not prepared, especially down by the harbour. I still get the chills thinking about all that ice on the harbour. Indeed, summer would be my preference in any case. In fact you might find yourself as surprised as I was on my first summer visit to Helsinki. It was a lot warmer than I expected, and there was so much colour in the city from a variety of trees, flowers and even the buildings. It can often have a sort of Parisian feel to it in a certain districts.

Helsinki Esplanade in the summer.

However, if you do have more than just a long weekend, I can recommend looking beyond Helsinki.
Yes, there’s a lot more to see in Finland, and unfortunately this blog post isn’t big enough to tell you everything. I’d love to tell you all about the nice nature spots I’ve seen and my encounters with deer, elks and snakes, but that’ll have to wait for another blog. 

Instead, I will tell you about another city in Finland which I discovered since moving here. It’s the oldest city in Finland and it lies about 150 km west of Helsinki. The city is called Turku and it is also known as Åbo to it’s Swedish-speaking inhabitants. However, I prefer to call it Turku, even though I have learned to speak Swedish. I’m not being biased or disrespectful towards any one language, it’s just that I find Turku is easier to remember and easier to say. And hey, if my hometown in Ireland sounded better in Irish I’d use it all the time, but for now it will always be ‘Dublin’. 

Anyway, here's a little video I made from some photos I took while visiting Turku. I hope it gives you a mild impression of the city.

Nowadays Turku is probably best known for constructing some of the largest cruiseliners in the world. Coming from a part of Europe that also produced large ships at one stage long ago, it’s great to get the chance to see these giants of the sea this time around. I can almost imagine what the shipyards of Belfast must have been like in their day. It's sad to see what happened to the industry back then. I believe however that they have finally found a new use for the Titanic's old yard. I recently found out it is now used as a facility for culture and film. In fact I found out from a documentary while watching a dvd movie that it has the largest indoor film-set in the world. The film I watched was a fantasy adventure made here called ‘City of Ember’. It’s good to see some enterprise, employment and rejuvenation being brought to this old part of Belfast.

Now you'll have to excuse me for rambling, I tend to get sidetracked in my typing sometimes. More often I forget my initial subject completely. I suppose I'm not getting any younger, and anyway I’m no Charlie Brown,... or is it Dan? ....I don't know anymore!!  
Anyway, getting back to Finland before I really do forget where I was, let me say a few more words about the city of Turku.  
Last summer during the month of July I was lucky enough to be presented with a voucher from some Finnish friends to a luxury spa hotel in the small town of Naantali near the city of Turku. This gave me the chance to spend some time in this part of Finland. Naantali is a nice place were the Moomins live, and you can read about it in a previous blog I posted by clicking the word Naantali here or at the end of this blog. Normally I would only go to Turku to take a ferry to Sweden or whatever, so I never got to a chance to see much of the area. The first thing I noticed about Turku was the larger number of public bars compared to Helsinki. Being Irish I’m probably more qualified than most to notice these differences. Maybe I’m wrong maybe I’m right, but there just seemed to be more bars in Turku!  I get the feeling that this is perhaps due to its big population of students. Then again, Helsinki has an even bigger population of students, so I don’t know why there aren’t more bars in Helsinki. I should check the facts and statistics out before writing any of this really, but hell, it's only my small observations that are at stake here! Or maybe I'm just conjuring up a subliminal message aimed at certain readers to make more bars! :)

I felt a more relaxed atmosphere as I walked about Turku. Was it because of the lazy river Aura running through it? Or was it the lack of traffic congestion I always see in Helsinki, I really don't know!  It put me in mind of two cities in Ireland, Cork and Dublin. The city of Cork can feel more relaxing than the capital city Dublin, which also has a lot of traffic congestion like Helsinki.
As in Ireland and perhaps in Finland, it’s a well-known fact that where there are students, there are bars! It's a social thing for many students. One such bar I discovered in Turku was an old converted schoolhouse called ‘Koulu’ (Finnish word for School). This is a big old building containing different sized rooms all full with school paraphernalia from bygone years. The bar serves a nice selection of beers and ales, some of which I believe are made here in their microbrewery. I was very tempted by the décor to stay and enjoy my pint indoors, but the warm sunshine outside got the better of me. And with the added bonus of a small bar in their beer-garden how could I resist!

Beer garden at 'Koulu' Pub, Turku.

Like a lot of European countries, Finland also has a few Irish-themed bars, most of them being in the major towns and cities. And Turku is no exception. Usually I prefer to go to a Finnish bar and meet the locals, but a lot of Finns seem to like their Irish bars and tend to party harder than any of us Irish, hence I usually end up in an Irish bar by the end of the night whether I like it or not!  
After spending my day walking around Turku, and popping into one or two Finnish bars and restaurants, I happily ended up in The Castle Irish bar. It was an average Irish-themed bar inside, with a good crowd of people, most of whom seemed Finnish, all having great fun, or as we Irish say "having a bit of craic!". In fact I didn't meet one Irish person there. The bar staff seemed to be mainly English I think, so they were friendly enough :) ... And they served a nice pint of Guinness!  
It's a shame it was so expensive though, I could have drank a lot more. There were a few good singers performing in the bar that evening. Two Finnish guys singing covers of their favorite songs. A good night's entertainment!

During my evening in the Castle bar I had the honour of bumping into a local guy called 'Tumppi' (see photo above). I remembered him from a video I found on YouTube last year. He made a very informative tourist video for the city of Turku featuring himself and his dry brand of humour. 
You can watch his little video clip here,

While the Christmas lights are truly packed away now in Turku, people are still persevering with the cold Finnish winter and there's a desire to see the snow disappear at some stage. Christmas is a busy time in most places, and Turku is no exception. In fact, Turku is traditionally known as the Christmas town here in Finland, so I imagine some extra attention is required every year. And those busy people responsible for organising it down at Turku City Hall can't put their feet up just yet, because another party of sorts has just begun.
Indeed, Turku happens to be sharing the title of European Capital of Culture 2011 with Talinn this year. This title brings with it many roles for the city in promoting itself as a true centre for the arts and culture in Europe. A host of activities and exhibitions are planned throughout the year involving many local artists and public events from the city of Turku. The schedule has already started recently with the official opening ceremony. In case you may have missed it, here it is, all 35 minutes of it!!
......So stick the kettle on and grab some biscuits!!

Here's that link I promised for the blog on my visit to Naantali.

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- Alan 


Check out this Finnish band from Turku called Magenta Skycode, they're pretty good. 

The Art Garage, Finland

The Art Garage, Finland
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