Campfire coffee in the wilderness
Tom Selänniemi has a vision that he says he has been ‘preaching about for ages’. According to the Director of Haltia the Finnish Nature Centre, the city of Helsinki should brand itself as the ‘Nature Capital of the World’. All the prerequisites are in place.
Tom invites us on an imaginary tour, starting from the heart of Helsinki, the Market Square.
”Let us draw a circle with a 40 km radius. It starts at Porkkalanniemi, passes through Nuuksio into the woods at Petikko, then on to Sipoonkorpi, and ends in the archipelago. Our circle encompasses two national parks and an important nature reserve. No other capital city in the world has that,” says Tom.
He was once given feedback by an American tourist, who, before coming to Helsinki, had visited Stockholm, Tallinn and St Petersburg and had been on tours of the cities. In Helsinki, he had been taken to the Nuuksio National Park and served campfire coffee.
”He said he would never forget that coffee, it was such a unique experience. Helsinki made a strong impression on him, while the other cities had just been okay.”
Easy to breath
Many international tourists are amazed at how close the wilderness is to Helsinki city centre. And at the diversity of Nature in Finland.
”For example, the Chinese are often astonished by the purity of air in Nuuksio and how easy it is to breath there.”
In Tom’s opinion, Nature is the number one tourism asset in the Helsinki metropolitan area, but it is by no means the only one. There is so much you can do in one day in Helsinki.
”Our cultural life is first class – we have the diverse life and excellent restaurants in Kallio and Punavuori. But show me another capital city where you can wake up in a hotel in the morning, see an interesting exhibition after breakfast, go wild mushroom picking in Nuuksio or Sipoonkorpi, and still get back into the city in time for dinner in a restaurant and an evening at the opera, theatre or a club.”
Waking up the locals
Our international guests are amazed by our Nature, but Tom says the residents of Helsinki also need a wake-up call.
”This green circle is home to 1.5 million people. The annual number of visitors to Nuuksio is 330,000. And with many people visiting the area more than once, a large portion of local residents are left out.”
The bar should not be set too high.
”You do not need to be Bear Grylls. You can start easy: come and visit Haltia, go for a short hike of maybe two kilometres and come back for lunch at Haltia. For the more adventurous, Nuuksio is large enough for a three-night trek.”
Every year, 10,000 children attend Haltia’s Nature School for a day. The school is aimed at children in lower secondary school.
”Children are given environmental education in pre-school and the lower grades, but then it stops. More and more children in Helsinki originally come from another country. For them, a visit to Nuuksio may be the first time in a forest and in Nature. It is impossible to understand Finnish culture without an understanding of our relationship with Nature.”
What attracts Tom to Helsinki, in addition to the surrounding Nature, is the ease of living. He has previously worked and lived in cities around the world.
”After those experiences, I can say that traffic jams in Helsinki are a joke in comparison, really. On a larger scale, we Helsinki residents are not ordinary, we are exceptional,” Tom says, smiling.
As well as traffic, Tom is happy with the basic services.
”As a father of two children, I can say that basic issues such as education and health care are really well organised here. I also enjoy the lively cultural scene of Helsinki.”
Text and picture: Heta Ängeslevä
Tom Selänniemi nominated Inna-Pirjetta Lahti as a future maker of Helsinki.