1. New York
This was my sixth visit to New York, but the first time when I got there by bus. I guess it will still take me a while to get used to the fact that NYC is only 4 hours and less than $30 away! I started my mini-break by catching LIRR to Long Island to visit an old friend in “natural habitat”, Great River. It was so much fun to see where she grew up, and meet her parents, and her adorable 5-year-old daughter of course. Long Island highlights included walking on the windy Robert Moses beach, a clam fiesta at the Cull House, and enjoying a picture perfect fall day in the pretty Old Westbury Gardens.
After Long Island, Manhattan felt like a whole new world: All of a sudden the tranquil suburban scenery was replaced by high-rises and herds of yellow cabs. Although I am the biggest fan of silent, remote places, like Lapland, there is something captivating in the buzz, diversity, and ‘live and let live’ mentality of NYC. I wonder if I will ever get enough of it, as so far the city has surprised me positively time after time.
The original inspiration for this New York trip was the NYC marathon. Spectating the race in Bronx was good fun, and so was catching up with a group of Finnish runners. My former coach even brought me a Finnish triathlon magazine – and Fazer chocolates! Beyond those chocolates, NYC gourmet experiences included a Turkish feast at Ali Baba close to the Grand Central, Japanese comfort food at Supercore in Williamsburg, arepas and salpicón at Empanada Mama in Hell’s Kitchen, and the most amazing Japanese dinner at Iroha, a hidden gem in a basement unexpectedly only steps away from Times Square.
In addition to all the nice reunions with friends during the weekend, this was also my first business trip to NYC: Visiting the IFRC Delegation to the United Nations gave me a whole new perspective to the international activities and policy work of the Red Cross. At the American Red Cross Greater New York office I got invaluable input to my daily work at the National Headquarters by interviewing front-line fundraisers.
Check out additional New York photos on Flickr.
2. Museums, Yoga, and Ice Skating
DC is famous for museums. As the weather started to get a little colder and grayer in November, I finally made it to a couple of them. The Arthur M. Sackler gallery got the honor to be my first “Smithsonian” with their Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibition. The exhibition about the history of yoga was pretty interesting with some fine pieces of art, but the smash hit was joining an Iyengar yoga practice at the museum. I had wanted to try out this form of yoga that emphasizes alignment of body parts in the performance of postures for a long time, and this was definitely a memorable way to do it. You can read more about the exhibition and the yoga workshops on the Washington Post and the Washingtonian.
The day continued by a sumptuous vegan brunch at Todd Gray’s Muse, the café of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The food was truly lovely: Red curry cous cous risotto with coconut milk, kabocha squash, and crispy tofu. Truffled macaroni and “cheese” with wild mushrooms, garlic, and parsley. Granola-crusted whole wheat French toast with quince & golden raisin compote. And all kinds of sweets and treats, even baklava.
After all that eating, ice skating is not the first thing one would have in mind, but believe it or not, that is what I found myself doing just a moment later – inside the Corcoran! It turned out that there is currently a synthetic, black rink in the museum’s rotunda as a part of sculptor Mia Feuer’s solo exhibition about the global oil industry. When gliding happily around the rink, I was thinking how the freezing hours on skates during school years were finally paying off. You can read more also about this exhibition both on the Washington Post and the Washingtonian.
3. Finns and Finnish Americans
I often get the feeling that Finns living in the US and Americans of Finnish descent are in many ways more Finnish than Finns back home. Empirical evidence from a sauna event organized by Finlandia Foundation National Capital Chapter, FFNCC at the Embassy of Finland seems to support my theory: For example, would anyone eat carrot casserole in Finland in November? (And yes, there is indeed a sauna at the Embassy of Finland. Actually there is a sauna at each and every Finnish embassy! You can learn more about our best diplomatic weapon in articles by Vice and BBC.)
I just loved listening to sauna discussions about Finnishness. At some point I realized I was the only Finn from Finland in the sauna. When the others realized that, too, I became the ultimate authority and specialist in anything and everything related to Finland in their eyes. I was asked to affirm that Finnish soldiers won battles in the second world war because they went to sauna, and that the Finnish word for a helicopter is two lines long. One of the ladies also spoke about her grandparents’ memories of “living by a river opposite to Russia”. The first two statements were easy to comment, but the third one puzzled me. I could not think of where the border between Finland and Russia would follow a river. Only much later I realized that the lady probably referred to Rajajoki which is not part of the current border but indeed served as a natural border between Russia and Finland in 1812–1940…
On the following day, I met more Finns, Finnish Americans, and Finnophiles at the Finnish Christmas Bazaar organized by Finn Spark, Inc. (Kipinä-Kerho) in Bethesda. There many ladies even wore Finnish national costumes. Another sign that Finns outside Finland are super Finnish! I was very impressed when I learnt that the bazaar attracts more than 1,500 people and has been organized for over five decades. The most popular sales articles were Finnish rye bread by Nordic Breads and Karelian pasties. Naturally I was hoarding those, too, like any real Finn – but I paid for them with a check, now isn’t that American? After the “breadline”, it was time to take a break in the bazaar café and enjoy a salmon sandwich, and ‘joulutorttu‘, a pin-wheel shaped Christmas prune tart, with ‘glögi‘, the Finnish version of mulled wine. Before heading home, I still found one more treasure: a bottle of Nordic style dark syrup, a key ingredient for Finnish gingerbread.