We had fun – where were you?

Our annual summer party was held in the courtyard of Pengerkatu 23 on Wednesday 16 August 2017. Despite the coolish weather, the barbecue was hot and the rain stayed away for the entire event. Zaman arrived with pizzas to add to our mountain of chicken and halloumi burgers and Marjo kindly supplied us with berry pies for dessert. A big thank you to them and to all who attended. Here are some pics from Zaman.



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Serbian Embassy Welcomes Finnish Journalists

by Violetta Teetor

The Serbian Ambassador Saša Obradović and his lovely wife Javorka gave a group of Finnish journalists a warm welcome at the Embassy and residence in Kulosaari. Serbian snacks and wine were plentiful and we all agreed that their hospitality was above and beyond.

Serbian Ambassador Saša Obradović and his wife Javorka came to Helsinki from Rotterdam last November (Credit: Adrián Soto)

This says a lot about the Serbian people whom according to Finns that had been there and addressed us, are wonderfully welcoming and friendly. In addition to this plus factor, standards are high, Wi-Fi works and prices are inexpensive. Even women travelling alone can feel safe and tensions only rise when a political agenda is at stake.

Serbian snacks served by friendly Embassy staff (Credit: Adrián Soto)

We were told about top class events such as EXIT in Novi Sad, an internationally known rave for young people, lasting four nights in July. Uniquely Serbian is GUČA, a world famous trumpet festival held in the city of Čačak, where the trumpet is played in the strangest way with sounds emerging that even the best of the best can hardly believe.

There are mountains, rivers and forests with plenty of outdoor activities for adventure holidays. Spas of international quality cater to the health and wellness market while nightlife in Belgrade is ranked amongst the best in Europe.

After being watered and fed yet again, we left with dreams of a trip to this emerging Balkan country standing in line for EU membership.

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Tourism – Treat or Threat?

by Violetta Teetor

The travel industry is growing at an unprecedented pace with numbers increasing from 1,2 billion to 1,8 billion in the very near future. It also accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP, provides 1/10 jobs and is responsible for a massive carbon footprint due to airline travel. To encourage people to travel less is hardly an alternative since it is a valuable resource in developing countries some of which would be deprived of much-needed income if it were radically reduced. Besides, we expand our knowledge of the world, become more tolerant of other cultures, enrich our lives by experiencing new destinations first hand and escape the ignorance bubble of thinking that all we need to know about the world is on our doorstep. But this industry is in dire need of decoupling from abusing resources.

Drinking clean water from a stream in Croatia

 

Choosing to sail by ship to our country of choice, is simply not an option due to time restrictions. The suggestion is not that we should all start travelling by boat but what if this is so, holidays could be extended to become ‘staycations’ in stead of just ‘vacations’. Here’s how:

  • Companies should get involved in work programmes whereby they transfer their employees to foreign places together with their families, to work and live there for periods of 6 months or more. The enrichment such an experience would bring to the table is immeasurable.
  • Visas should be lengthened beyond the current 3 month maximum.
  • Sabbaticals should be a requirement

 

And while we’re thinking of how we could gain from all this, what about the residence in these highly sought after spots that we so eagerly invade? Some villages, cities and countries, some with tiny populations, get overrun with tourists during high season. Resources are overwhelmed with all the demands made on them and it becomes all too easy for the traveller to complain causing angry rebuttals from locals who are then branded as ‘unfriendly’.

 

If you’re a visitor in a foreign country, that is exactly what you are, no more. We may dream of ‘staycations’ but if  our holiday extends for a short week or maybe two, we should all be painstakingly aware of how we conduct ourselves.

Request:

No change of towels during your one week stay

No change of sheets

Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and make your own bed, or not!

Where the bottle deposit is

 

Added to this:

Take your own trash home with you especially in places where recycling is minimal

Use containers for toiletries and cosmetics that can be reused over and over again

Eat and drink locally produced products

Eat less meat

Travel by land if possible using bicycles and public transport rather than renting a car

Travel light and carry your own water bottles

Treat your hosts with respect even in the face of frustration

 

Look into the projects that Future Camp is involved with and join their community of believers by checking out their Living Lab Hotel and their Zero Waste Hotel to reduce your carbon footprint and expand your mind in stead.

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EJN goes Tallinn Ho!

by John Pagni

Viking Line organised a day trip for a group of fourteen on the last day of May. Unfortunately, while Christa Blomqvist, VL’s Communications Manager Finland, organized a great trip for the group, she and colleague Jaakko Ahti, Tallinn-Helsinki Route Manager, were unable to participate on the outward journey, but did meet everyone for the return trip and gave presentations.

The itinerary was relatively uncomplicated: the large catamaran HSC Express – branded Viking FSTR for its summer charter – to the Estonian capital, and the Viking XPRS fast ferry for the return voyage. As the outward leg started at 0800, this required an early rise to get to the Viking Terminal in Katajanokka for 0715 as check-in for all departures finishes 20 minutes before departure and boarding 10 minutes later.

Viking FSTR
Photo credit: Adrián Soto

For those who were punctual, the unexpected but wonderful sight of the Danish Royal yacht Dannebrog being escorted into Helsinki’s South Harbour by the Finnish Naval vessel Pori could be photographed. The yacht was carrying Queen Margrethe for the Nordic Heads of State meeting in Helsinki. Latecomers missed this opportunity.The weather was inclement, with grey angry-looking clouds overhead threatening to make the crossing unpleasant. But as the group was in the Club Lounge astern, the breakfast offering with sparkling wine was soon lifting any gloom the weather may have induced.

On arrival in Tallinn at 0945, participants split into those wanting to see Kumu art museum and the Lennu Sadam maritime museum. The former is the main Estonian art museum showing traditional paintings from the 18th Century until World War two. There was a temporary exhibition showing various sculptures under the title “Be Fragile! Be Brave!” by local artist Anu Põder and others depicting the mental and physical states of daily life in female world.

Kumu completely contrasts with the Estonian Maritime Museum at Lennu Sadam which focuses on the harsh reality of life at sea – including seaplanes, which is what the building used to house and whence its name derives. Now it has various maritime artefacts from throughout the ages from an original Viking longboat to the restored Estonian Navy submarine Lembit along with other marine displays under, on and above the surface.

The “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.” exhibition simply, but effectively, demonstrates how much time and effort is put into saving lives of those in distress in water – many of those involved being volunteers. One poignant exhibit was one of the lifeboats off the sunken ferry Estonia. Whatever choice was made, it was under the same cloud with a sprinkling of rain now and again though the wind remained constant and chilly.

One of the plus sides of both museums – and Tallinn generally – is there is a café on the spot which serves hot or cold drinks – or food if required. After the museum, it was another cold, wet walk through the Kalasadam neigbourhood to the newly-refurbished and recently opened Baltijaama Turg. The former market now consists of stalls still with shops, cafés, restaurants and a supermarket on three levels. The Kalasadam group met in one of the restaurants for a cold, amber refreshment.

Thence to F-hoone at Telliskivi a short saunter away for lunch. It was packed as usual with lunchtime clients, but the table had been booked in advance. The Kumu group awaited the maritime museum band and lunch was taken. One of our esteemed participants picked up his scarf left behind on a recent evening there. After dining, people went their own way until 1700, when all had to be aboard Viking XPRS for the presentations.

Surprisingly and unlike the morning departure, everyone was there in time to be greeted in a conference room by a radiant Christa and smiling Jaakko. Mr A’s presentation was informative, so much so he had many questions to answer, which meant the group was late going to the ship’s Wine & Dine à la carte restaurant for a 3-course dinner. A range of numbers and information nuggets on the Helsinki-Tallinn route both in general and specifically were revealed. For example, market shares.

Before this, there was the small matter of Viking Line’s new cruise ferry to be built in China, which Christa talked about with a husky voice. Though appealing, it was caused by a sore throat and not her naturally attractive soprano. As the dinner bell was calling, her vocal chords were not overworked.

Each course was introduced before it arrived with the entrée being accompanied by a flute of champagne and consisting of archipelago lamb carpaccio, beetroot purée and lemon mayonnaise with dark bread. The main dish was whitefish fried in butter  with asparagus and chive butter sauce, plus a choice of red or white wine. Dessert, for some the pièce de résistance, was a freshly-made chocolate fondant and berry salad sauce with dessert wine.

Chocolate Fondant for dessert

The conversation suitably ebbed and flowed and although cabins had been arranged, nobody used them for more than an outsized luggage locker. Time seems to fly by on such occasions and it seemed that in no time at all the ship was approaching Helsinki. Somehow, Christa had brought the sun to Tallinn from Helsinki as the Finnish capital was bathed in rays – though the wind retained its edge.

The EJN – and those from the Finnish Travel Writers Guild (Kilta) who were invited along – would like to pass on their thanks to Viking Line and Christa Blomqvist in particular for a really nice trip and getting to experience the two ships first hand as well as insight into Viking Line.    

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The Security and Humanitarian Situation in Eastern Ukraine and the Future of the Implementation of the Minsk Agreement

by Violetta Teetor

Press conference at Arkadia Bookshop on Friday 19 May 2017

It’s May 2017, two years nine months since 5 September 2014 and the signing of the Minsk Protocol by the Russian Federation, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. The call for an immediate ceasefire has produced exactly one day of zero violations according to Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.

Oxana Chelysheva and Alexander Hug

Oxana Chelysheva and Alexander Hug

A daily litany of violence faces the citizens living in what should be a buffer zone along a contact line stretching through Donetsk and Lugansk. Heavy artillery is being used including the most indiscriminate of weapons, multiple rocket launchers.

 

“There are no saints in this conflict. Even the slightest provocation has deadly consequences sometimes with opponents as close as metres apart,” says Mr Hug. “Kinetic activity erupts and spreads like bushfire.”

 

Forbidden weapons can be found in both government and non-government controlled areas and even though they try to hide them under camouflage, they are picked up by the drones that the OSCE use to monitor the situation. These blatantly violate the agreement and cause damage to infrastructure and people’s lives.

 

Oxana Chelysheva, human rights activist and journalist calls herself a refugee in Finland. She has personally overseen bus transportation for children crossing the contact line, the red line stretching 500 kilometres unnaturally dividing two parts of the same country with five checkpoints manned by corrupt guards. She laments the fact that this struggle has not been given enough media attention and that almost three years later, no progress has been made. The situation is still the same.

 

Who are the most victimised? Full families with able-bodied fathers who can still work but have so-called ‘adult’ children between the ages of 10 and 14 are not entitled to aid. Pensioners who have lived in one village all their lives, whose mind-set was never to leave their homes, have been forced to do so under the circumstances. To collect their pensions they need to cross checkpoints facing the treachery of drunk armed soldiers demanding bribes. Children going to school have to do the same. The disabled also fall within this group. Numbering 12 000 internally displaced human beings, they have lost their homes and even if they have found work, their salaries are often delayed. Children play with shiny objects that turn out to be grenades while prohibited mines explode killing unlucky passers-by who encounter them.

 

Then there are those that are trapped in the ‘grey zone’ of abandoned villages, areas controlled by the Ukrainian government. Children again are the ones to suffer since they do not have the means to buy petrol for their school bus. When aid finally arrives, the civilians on the ground who risk their safety to help the vulnerable in need, are asked to organise delivery of it to the city council who will then distribute it. Needless to say, this is not an option since it will never reach the people it was intended for. If they refuse, they arrive home only to find some uninvited guests carrying guns.  Medical supplies come at extortionate prices, available but unaffordable to most. Lives are lost not only as casualties of war but also through sickness and lack of proper care.

 

Is there light at the end of this on-going tunnel? Thousands of Ukrainians cross the checkpoints daily. This is the reality but in the minds of the people this line does not exist. They do not accept it and cling to the hope of a better future. Authorities from government and non-government sides can stop the skirmishes in a heartbeat. In fact, they have already done so once sitting around a table in Minsk. Hostilities ceased at their command which tells us that matters are still under control. However, the tables can turn the other way too and fighting can resume as quickly as it stopped. It will take external political pressure and media to leverage the plight of thousands whose only wish is the cessation of combat so that they can resume normal living once more. It is peace and not politics that they long for.

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The Past, The Present, and Who Knows What’s Next for The EU

by Violetta Teetor

The sun beams down on Luxembourg Square where Members of the European Parliament, journalists, and visitors spill out of these halls of power to enjoy the simplicity of a warm day. This Monday follows a weekend of celebration in Rome commemorating the founding of the European Union and the signing of the Treaty of Rome sixty years ago. This same day also precedes the imminent triggering of Article 50 by the UK beginning their divorce process from the EU. Stuck in the middle of this love/hate environment, one wonders how sunny the future of this union of 28 countries will turn out to be. The Association of European Journalists in conjunction with the European Parliament Press service tried to find answers to complex questions in a seminar entitled Europe 60 years after the Rome Treaty: What does the future hold for the European Union?

AEJ seminar ‘Future of Europe’

In order to look forward, we have to look back, and it’s the view of Rebecca Haarms, MEP representing The Greens European Free Alliance, that besides the initial mandate of securing peace between neighbouring countries, a lot more has been achieved. Testament to this were the marches for a united Europe held in France and Rome. Singing from the same song sheet were the protests of the people of Minsk and Moscow expressing their distaste for corruption, hoping for more free and just societies. Haarms recognises the challenges of security, refugees, climate change and youth unemployment that lie ahead urging us to face the fact that no one country can face these on their own and that now, more than ever, we need unity and integration.

According to Jozef Weidenholzer, a Social Democrat from Austria and MEP, the EU is not over as success cannot be measured in a linear fashion. There have been many ‘setbacks, sidesteps and stalemates’ and while the single market has achieved gains, now is the time to focus on the citizens, on their satisfaction and on whether they are being fairly treated. Opportunities need to be created and digitalisation should be seen as an opportunity leading to a single digital market without roaming fees.

The EU has not always been a beacon of equality and the member states have come to the realisation that some are more equal than others. Liberalism and illiberalism exist within the framework and, while the EU strives to cover everyone under one umbrella, the West cannot try to educate its eastern neighbours. György Schöplin, Hungarian MEP for the European People’s Party, maintains that the narrative working for Western Europe does not work for Eastern Europe and the voices of the latter are weaker even though they share the same problems; those of xenophobia and populism. There will never be a conflict-free world but we need to find a compromise in which everybody gains.

Euro-skepticism has grown out of this very inequality and, while strides have been made to improve the lives of people, it has lost sight of the citizens it serves. To restore this, the European Citizens Initiative was launched in which one million EU citizens can make proposals for changes to EU policies through the European Commission. Sadly however, out of 58 proposals, not a single one has produced a change in legislation. Eduard Kukan, European People’s Party MEP, sees the need for closer communication with the person in the street and how positively influential the EU can be in their daily lives. He is optimistic about the future and proclaims the message of peace the founding fathers and mothers propagated which, he adds, is not easy or cheap. In spite of this, it has been maintained.

It was clear after World War II that ‘nationalism never brought any good’ to Europe nor beyond. Security, equal opportunity, economic growth, and the protection of minorities are goals which most of us would promulgate, including Sirpa Pietikäinen, MEP from Finland. It is a social pillar for human rights which makes Europe a haven for refugees from war torn countries.

A ‘more and better Europe’ is the proclamation from many of the speakers at this seminar, but it will take political will to come out of this ‘cronified tunnel’, the words of Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D Spain). EU bashing by the members themselves has to stop and the huge challenge ahead is the testing and the advocating of stated goals. It is simply too easy to point a finger when the troubles are often embedded in societies themselves. In the grand scheme of things, the EU is only a small part of the big world out there and sticking together is what will ultimately be our saving grace. The willingness and conviction to stand up for the principles and rules of the Treaty of Lisbon, the reform treaty of the European Union, is going to take energy, passion, and most of all, an optimistic outlook to reinvent itself.

Juan Fernando López Aguilar

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A Visit To Altia

by Violetta Teetor

It took the best part of an hour to get from Helsinki to Altia’s Rajamäki bottling and manufacturing plant but it was well worth the trek. We were greeted by the following, “You are very special”. It came from the mouth of Juha Kahima who had a broad smile, even more than usual since it was his last day of work. After 29 years as a chemist and quality controller, he could finally stop setting the alarm clock.

All dressed up and ready to enter the plant at Altia

We were given a lecture on what Altia does at this factory where they not only bottle wine from all over the world but also put it in bag-in-box. The wine arrives at the harbour in 26 000 litre plastic bags and is then transported to Rajamäki. They also produce their own liquor using Finnish barley and ground water protected by Altia who owns the land from whence it comes. The famous Koskenkorva, clear Finnish-type hooch, is made in the eponymous town where Martti Koskenkorva’s family and others first started distilling it. The land for the Altia distillery was bought from Martti but today it is bottled at this plant. Several other alcohol products are made from scratch on the premises including Scandinavia’s version of mulled wine called Blossa, a surprise to many since most people think it’s made in Sweden. They may have a point since the recipe and brand come from across the waters and the Master Blender is in the employ of Altia Sweden but in effect it’s blended and bottled at the Rajamäki plant.

Wine for bag-in-box arrive at Altia plant in 26 000 litre plastic bags

Boxed, bagged and waiting for delivery

Lunch was served at Altia’s headquarters in Ruoholahti where we were treated to a tasting of their Finland 100 Years products including champagne, white and red wine and a special version of Jaloviina, a cut brandy which has been aged in Finnish oak for six months, and cumin-flavoured Koskenkorva. We were assured of the fact that no trees were cut to manufacture the casks. On departing, we were each given a bottle of True Colours Cava, a great way to end this sunny spring day.

Altia’s Finland 100 selection

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