It’s Saturday morning and our daughters (5 and 7 years old) are with their grand-parents. They’ve had a disco ‘sleep-over’. OK, so what shall we do; roll over and go back to sleep? Oh, no! So, what then? I need coffee. Emma does too but really wants a fresh cinnamon bun with it (we live in Finland and are usually very abstemious). There are none at home, cycling to the local shop to pick some up seems a little lame when, unusually for a Saturday morning, we’re home alone and could do something far more exotic. Hmmm, but what?
That’s it then, we’re decided. Bike bags are packed (sun caps, thermos coffee, sunscreen, a fleece just in case, a pic-nic blanket too), and we head out. Down the road, through the incredible road works going on around Aalto University (amazing rapid tramline being built!), and soon over our first bridge across the sea to an island. Beautiful houses, embassies, a modern art museum I’ve never been to (must go there after the bug business is over), Nordic gym bunnies are out jogging in their Summer gear. Over another bridge and we’re onto the next island – oh so residential, thank goodness we didn’t move to that house we saw here, even if it is by the sea.
Onto the Helsinki mainland, green, shaded burstingly beautiful park, cycle path winding gently undulating, achingly early Summer. Look, there are those beautiful Russian-style villas with the cafés! Oh, OK, perhaps not, they have private events this morning…. At last, the wonderful waterside café ‘Regatta’, fresh cinnamon buns and coffee – at last! Rowing eights with enthusiastic end of school year teenagers, sea-kayaks, expectant gulls, gentle breeze, bountiful bliss.
So far, so good, but it’s about to get better. We sometimes feel the urban built environment near where we live is just a little too white-coloured, concrete, glass and metal. It’s wonderfully convenient, new etc. etc. but somehow just, well, a little ‘hard’, ‘harsh’? So, here’s the deal, we’re cycling between the historic Helsinki cemetery and the sea, in and out of curious little bays, soon to reach the fly-over bridge that usually takes us home fast by car, past the big industrial stuff that marks the start of Helsinki’s ‘West Way’ highway…but oh, what’s this?
Big, beautiful red-brick, square-ish, with old metal fixtures and fittings beautifully retained, New York-style fire escape stairs down the outside (if memory serves me correctly). What’s this, at the base, can it be for real? Wow, a ‘bo-bo’ arts centre, nature centre, organic / vegan everything café and a pop-up restaurant too! No blinding white / metal / glass etc. here! Oh no, these wannabe micro-travellers have stumbled across well preserved 19th Century Northern England red-brick small-scale factory building crossed with Brooklyn bo-bo or is it DUMBO (down under Manhattan Bridge overpass)? All at once, do I feel hypocritical, insincere, guilty, for making those spoilt connections? Humph. Wake-up call coffee anyone? We’ll just have to come back tomorrow with children and grand-parents. After all, perhaps it’s more like my old favourite, Seurat’s Bathers at Agnières anyway!