Browsing Tag



Helslinky Update

Moi! I am back from Helsinki having unlocked the secrets of the sauna. First, the saunas are, mercifully, segregated by gender. Second, the sauna is optional. In fact, the two other Finnish women attending my meeting suggested we just drink a beer while the men roasted themselves, which we did while watching the sunset over the sea. They promised next time I return we’ll drive up to Lapland for the weekend where they’ll take me to a wood burning—this electric stuff is a sorry substitute for the real thing.

I did a little better at creating an authentic experience when it came to food, although things did not get off to a very promising start. For my first meal I tried to sample cabbage rolls—which sounded suitably traditional—but the office canteen had run out. This left me with something called the American pork sandwich, which turned out to be a pork stir-fry in a bun served with coleslaw and pickles and not as bad as it sounds. Things got better over dinner at the Finnish Restaurant (a name that says it all about the forthright style of Finns), a rustic wood paneled grotto in downtown Helsinki with a menu full of elk and reindeer and schnapps. I started out with an unadventurous Finnish goats cheese salad, but my colleague did share a piece of bear salami from his Finnish take on a charcuterie plate. This was followed by pike perch and beetroot rosti, the first of much beetroot over the trip, washed down by lingonberry schnapps. My Finnish colleagues promise to take me to Zetor, otherwise known as the Tractor Bar, for more schnapps and traditional food next time I visit. I looked at Zetor’s menu on their website and found the following example of Finnish sensibility, as good a reason to return to Finland as a wood burning sauna in Lapland:

Zetor presents: Gone with the broth
(G) EUR 9.50 / EUR 14.90

The movie of the night is the romantic
Gone with the Broth. The events
of this Poscar-winning movie take
place in a bowl where the budding
love of potatoes and onions is tragically
transmuted by a rainbow trout
that cuts in. The blend wouldn’t be
perfect without the mysterious white
wine that creates more of a mix-up.
Directed by Creamy Soup.



It’s official: summer is over and Christmas will be here in what will feel like three days from now. I know this neither because rust and gold are already sneaking into the Cotwolds foliage (they are) nor because my black turtleneck sweater is in regular wardrobe rotation (it is), but because today I made my first Christmas present purchases. I spent a ludicrous sum on two exquisite, leather-bound notebooks at the Smythson of Bond Street outlet in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, the kind of impulse purchase I can only justify as a gift even when it is VAT-free. The shop assistant spent so much time tying navy blue, grosgrain bows on the various layers of packaging (which no doubt account for a considerable portion of the ludicrous sum) that I almost missed my flight to Helsinki.

It may have been I was subconsciously trying to miss the flight. When the business trip was first suggested a couple weeks ago, I was excited having never been to Finland. Then an Outlook invitation showed up in my inbox requesting my presence for a sauna following the meeting. There are few things I can think of that I would like to do less than see my mostly male work colleagues in a state of semi-undress, a sentiment I am sure they reciprocate. The prospect has been lingering in my psyche like a bad smell for the past week, surfacing occasionally with ill-timed arrivals of mental images of my sweaty, beet-faced co-workers sporting only a thin, white towel.

And should I steel myself and adopt the when in Rome attitude, just what exactly is the etiquette for a sauna? Bathing suit, towel only, is it really mixed gender à la the Ally McBeal bathrooms? As I ponder the smorgasbord of opportunities to embarrass myself, I suddenly feel like a very, very uptight American. The only way through this is going to be with humor, and I resolve to adopt that most admirable characteristic of my fellow Brits: the ability to take the piss out of oneself.