Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Summer House: Ten Days and Still Nostalgic

It has already been ten days since I returned to Paris but I am still nostalgic about Finland and the summer house. It feels that everyone I know is having the most amazing time by lake or sea, enjoying the heat wave and temperatures hovering around 30C, and I am “just in Paris”. It has upset me to receive text messages from my father saying that our lake (that is big and deep!) measures 27C. That is the usual temperature of the Mediterranean and not a lake half way between Helsinki and Lapland…!

So, now that you are convinced that weather-wise Finland is the new Côte d’Azur, you must be wondering what it is that makes me so nostalgic. Well, this is the list upon which I have been pondering. The accent will be on the summer house because this is where I spend my time when in Finland in summer.

When you get lucky with weather, this is what a Finnish lake looks like. Lovely, isn't it?

When you get lucky with weather, this is what a Finnish lake looks like. Lovely, isn’t it?

1. The most peaceful place on the planet

A Finnish summer house is probably the most calm and peaceful place on this planet if we ignore the poles, some Pacific islands and Greenland of course. The life revolves around breakfast, checking fishing nets, swimming, reading magazines, wood cutting, lunch, siesta, raking leaves, wood cutting (again), heating the sauna, preparing dinner, checking the nets (again), sauna, swimming and dinner. The daily life follows a routine, but a fun routine that calms even the most agitated urban dweller (like a Parisian!). In my book, the summer house is comparable to yoga retreats.

Life is sweet. My husband and my mother reading design magazines by our private beach.

Life is sweet. My husband and my mother reading design magazines on our private beach.

My father catching our daily staple.  Only us, the boat, the nets and some seagulls waiting to see if there is anything for them.

My father catching our daily staple (fish, you guessed right).
Only us, the boat, the nets and some seagulls waiting to see if there is anything for them.

2. Privacy

Summer houses, in most cases, come with a private beach. Our beach is relatively small, but it is ours. In addition to us, only birds use it sometimes.

We have some neighbors to the left side but to the right there are only willows. But even in more populated areas of Finland there never are too many people –after all there are only 18 inhabitants per square kilometer in Finland (for example, the UK has 265!).

A big lake just for you. Not many people around.

A big lake just for you. Not many people around.

Sometimes if we want even more privacy, we take the boat and visit one of the many islands of the lake to play Robinson Crusoe!

Island hopping. No parking fees, no traffic jam. In fact, nobody Still, nobody else around!

Island hopping. No parking fee, no traffic jam. In fact, nobody else around!

3. The nature

If you get tired of the lake, there is always forest nearby. We have some behind the summer house.

My mother says that there is nothing as beautiful as the Finnish forest, especially after rain, and I sort of have to agree with her. It is a different kind of beauty, the beauty I grew up with, so it is only natural I find it comforting… But who wouldn’t feel rejuvenated after watching these eighty-year old trees?

Some eighty-year old trees against the perfectly blue sky.

Some eighty-year old trees against the perfectly blue and white sky.

4. The weather

My French husband thinks we the Finns are obsessed with the weather, but I guess it is normal considering that there are pretty extreme and unpredictable weather conditions in Finland… For example, when my husband arrived at the summer house last summer the weather changed from semi-tropical 27C to miserable 8C….. Enough to put a Parisian in a bad mood!

This summer we were particularly lucky. The temperature in the shadow was consistently around 25C and sometimes a bit more. The lake measured 22C during my stay, which is a lot. We were very lucky and I would have liked to enjoy more of that wonderful weather. Since my departure it has gotten even hotter, and if I remember correctly this summer’s record in Finland has been 32.5C. That is a lot for such a northern country!

Repeating myself, I know, but when the sun shines this strongly at 9 o'clock in the evening, it is miraculous.

Repeating myself, I know, but when the sun shines this strongly at 9 o’clock in the evening, it is miraculous.

5. The amount of sunlight

Whenever I return to Finland in summer I am astonished by the amount of sunlight there is. Even when the sun sets, it stays so close to the horizon that one doesn’t know if the sun is about to rise again. It doesn’t get pitch black in Finland in summer, and well, it doesn’t really get dark at all! Finnish Lake at Midnight is quite something! I would say it is the eight natural wonder of the world.

At the summer house I go to sleep watching this view.

At the summer house I go to sleep watching this view.

I would usually go to bed around midnight (it is difficult to go to bed when the night has not arrived!) and I would be woken up three hours later by the sun’s rays… I actually never got up to take photos of the sunrises but I am sure this is the moment when the animals wake up, moose cross the fields and bears take a deep breath while turning to the other side.

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Note: There are over 500,000 summer houses in Finland so one can imagine that each one of them has a life and a personality of its own. What I described above is a personal story about my relationship with our summer house. But why not to visit Finland and create your own love story?

…and if you liked this story, why not to check Pearlspotting on Instagram and Facebook, and Miia_Niskanen on Twitter? See you soon!

Le Zerda Cafe: the number one by Le Figaro

In the quest of finding the best couscous and tajine of Paris, we visited the restaurant listed as the number one in Le Figaro‘s Best Couscous of Paris list –Le Zerda Cafe.

Le Zerda Cafe is located in a lovely pedestrian street called rue René Boulanger in one of the nicest parts of the 10th arrondissement. When we had called in advance for the reservation the terrace was full, but upon arrival we got a table outside after a five-minute wait. The street was lively, the weather was hot, and the night was perfect for people watching and exploring a new restaurant.

Open the door and enter the world of North African food.

Open the door and enter the world of North African food.

We ordered “the usual”: couscous for my husband and tajine for me. I am not a big fan of semolina (made of wheat) so tajine with meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts suits me perfectly. (Note: Le Zerda Cafe, as many other North African restaurants, is happy to serve semolina also to those ordering tajine, so do not hesitate to ask for it!)

My husband’s Couscous Zerda arrived with fabulously fine semolina, hearty vegetable stew and a mix meat plate of lamb, beef, meat balls and merguez (spicy sausage). He thought that the merguez and meat balls were a bit tasteless, but he liked very much the lamb served on a brochette and grilled lamb.

My tajine included a lamb shank with pears, almonds, dried apricots and plums.  The dish had a balanced taste (not too sweet) and I also liked the fact that there were no potatoes added (commonly served with tajines). Unfortunately the lamb shank (souris d’agneau) was not the best piece of lamb I have eaten as it was rather greasy. I kept giving pieces of my lamb to my husband who in exchange made me taste his meats.

Is there anything better than the arrival of boiling hot tajine on the table?

Is there anything better than the arrival of boiling hot tajine on the table?

To wash all this food down we drunk Algerian red wine Chateau Beni Chougrane from the Mascara region, which was a lovely choice even on a hot summer evening. As I have mentioned before, most North African reds make me very tired. My theory is that these grapes have been absorbing a lot of African sun, making them a good remedy for falling asleep –the same effect spending an entire day under the sun can have on you!

We had a lovely evening, the service was friendly and the food very good, but somehow we had been expecting more. After all, we were visiting the number one couscous restaurant of Paris (according to Le Figaro), so we had all the reasons to expect something out of ordinary! Unfortunately I guess this is a common problem: when something is so highly praised, your expectations grow out of proportion. This is why listings are bad….

This said, I am sure we will return to Le Zerda Cafe. As one of the oldest Algerian restaurants in Paris, it is a real institution and its dining hall very picturesque. To me it looked like the most perfect place to warm the bones up during the long Parisian winter!

Le Zerda Cafe: 15, rue René Boulanger 75010 Paris. Tel. 01-42002515 or 06-28476381. Metro: Strasbourg – Saint-Denis.

Le Figaro list: http://www.lefigaro.fr/sortir-paris/2010/11/22/03013-20101122ARTFIG00674-le-test-des-meilleurs-couscous.php

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Previous posts about eating North African food in Paris are:

L’Alcôve: finest meat of Paris (also serves couscous and tajine, but the house specialty is grilled meat –delicious!)
Algerian restaurant l’Atlantide in Paris (excellent couscous and tajine –my top choice!)
L’Homme Bleu: Berber hospitality in the center of Paris (reputable couscous and tajine restaurant but I was disappointed during my last visit)
Le Tipaza: refined Moroccan food (a good address near the Eiffel Tower)

 

Return to Paris

It has been one week since I returned from Finland to Paris –one long week of missing Finland, its gorgeous weather (that got even better after my departure!) and the summer house.

Few days ago I composed a long post about all of the above but I lost it (WordPress no longer automatically saves one’s posts?) and haven’t felt like rewriting everything again. Maybe it was for the better!?

Over the years I have learned to like Paris, and my life is here, but somehow this year the return has been quite difficult. So, in addition to getting back to the daily routine (regular exercise, healthy eating, less wine drinking) I have tried to do things that make me happy here in Paris. Long walks, spotting history in almost every corner, enjoying the abundance of ethnic kitchens, the endless number of individual book shops and cinemas, to mention a few. I have also enjoyed the fact that Paris is a Latin city. Strangers greet each other, bus drivers say hello, strangers ask where my tropical-looking tan comes from, my fruit and vegetable vendor finally dares to ask where my accent comes from, etc. I like the small talk here. This is not the South of France but getting there…

During the heat wave the sky turns pink in Paris

During the heat wave the sky turns pink in Paris.

Weather-wise it has been quite hot, the air has been heavy, and it has felt very “southern”. Somehow I think that these clouds I photographed this week have also suffered from the heat wave  –they look so heavy, full of heat and ready to explode. It has been a pleasure watching these beautiful sunsets this week and to realize how much happiness some pink clouds can bring!

How has your return been?

A Virtual Blog Tour

A Virtual Blog Tour is a project that asks each participant to compose a one-time post to be published on a specific Monday. Its purpose is to introduce different bloggers through a series of questions about the creative process and what inspires us to do what we do. The same set of questions will introduce a blogger to another blogger’s readers, as well as the wider blogging community.

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Last Monday Vasilis from Traveller’s Tree sent me an invitation to join a Virtual Blog Tour and here I am, one week later, participating (see my answers in the end of this post) and about to introduce the next participant, Sarah from

However, before moving to South Korea where Sarah lives, a few words about Vasilis. Vasilis introduces himself as “Dad bitten by the wanderlust bug. Exploring the planet with his family”. He is a Greek man born in Athens who after studying paleontology in Japan made it to the other side of the world, Finland. I don’t know much about Vasilis, but what I know is that he takes cool photos and that he has interesting comments and analysis about Finland, my country of origin. He moved to Finland around the same time when I permanently left Finland, and I admit being intrigued by his life in Finland. Or rather by his observations should I say! Life of an expat is always interesting to another expat… So, thank you Vasilis for inviting me to a Virtual Blog Tour, keep Traveller’s Tree growing and be happy in Finland!

Finnish lake somewhere in the Mäntyharju district (Photo copied from An ode to a Finnish lake at Traveller’s Tree)

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Now, let’s move to the other side of the world, South Korea, where Sarah has been writing her blog since March 2011. When I first saw this photo of her I said to myself “she looks like a kind, happy person”. And I started following her. IMG_3641-001

Similarly to Vasilis, my relationship with Sarah is purely virtual. I know very little of her, but I like reading her posts because she is another expat living abroad. She writes about food, restaurants, travels, weekend visits, her husband and friends. These photos below are from her 4th of July diving trip to the East Coast of South Korea. Beautiful shots, aren’t they!

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Ever since I tasted my first bibimbap in Paris I have been fascinated about South Korea, so through  I get my weekly dose of a country I have not yet visited. I appreciate the fact that Sarah is a regular writer and that her posts are quite lengthy. I don’t mean to say that blog posts should always be long (mine certainly aren’t!) but I admire the fact that Sarah finds time and energy to create long posts and at a regular basis. We all know that writing is not always simple and it certainly doesn’t come without effort. Even if I may have some idea about her motivation, I am curious to know more about her and I am looking forward to Sarah’s answers to the questions below (where you also find my answers)! Welcome Sarah!

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1. What am I working on?

I am working on moving my mind from Finland to France. My body was transported to Paris last Saturday night but my mind is elsewhere and resisting. Our holiday in Finland was really very lovely and the summer house is one of those places where one can get lost forever; get lost in the rhythm of sauna, swimming, wood cutting and cooking (what else would one need in life?). Unfortunately I had to return to Paris but I would have liked to stay longer (tears).

In terms of my blog work, I will write more posts about the summer house and Helsinki because Helsinki is a fantastic capital to visit, ansd because our summer house is a paradise on earth (quoting a young French boy who visited it some years ago)! Some posts from last year can be found here: The Midsummer Weekend in Finland and more is to come!

Midsummer, Finland

I also want to finish my series about my first trip to India, Rajasthan, and write more about my fourth trip that took place in April this year (especially about Fabulous Ayurvedic Treatments).

I  love India and I hate when people observe this huge, diversified country purely through violence and you-know-what. I want to show that nothing in India is so black and white as it seems, and that beyond the surface that we think is brutal, dirty and primitive one can find extraordinary beauty, wisdom and sophistication.

I am also working on other personal projects but let’s limit this answer to the blog world.

2. How does my work differ from others in it’s genre?

Pearlspotting is a travel and lifestyle blog. I have traveled in more than 70 countries (and worked in many of them) and my writing is based on the accumulative experience of visiting the world and everything it contains. Happiness, joy, sadness, astonishment, beauty, cruelty, injustice, etc.

For living I write about economic development of emerging markets, and I believe this professional experience provides me with a good foundation to understand other sectors such as for example tourism.

In my blog, I do not really list typical places to visit –there are enough of those guide books. I try to guide people toward experiences and feelings; towards some kind of a fusion where travel becomes lifestyle and lifestyle becomes travel, and where travel doesn’t always need to be geographical…

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

In the beginning Pearlspotting was about a desire to create (a basic human need!) by writing and taking photos. Very soon I realized that having a blog makes me very happy. Writing about food, wine, restaurants, travel, design, architecture, religion etc. in a positive light sort of became a self therapy, and as my husband now jokes, Pearlspotting has made me fall in love with Paris again!

wedding in Paris by the Seine

So, to put it simply, living abroad is not always easy but writing a blog has made it nearly wonderful (lol).

Secondly, I also write because I want to memorize experiences I have had around the world. Sometimes it is a way of showing respect and gratitude toward people I have met during my travels. For example, The man who lived is a sad story about someone I met in Sudan and who passed away. On the happier end, I wrote a post about lovely Cretan bakery owners I met last summer. They were so kind and their products were so delicious that they had to be immortalized in Sfakian delights.

4. How does your writing creative process work?

First of all, I write about positive things. If I eat at a bad restaurant, I do not write about it. It is rare that you find negativity in my blog. You may find sadness and longing, but not a lot of criticism. Why? Because life is hard enough as it is and I want to focus on positive aspects! In the beginning this positivity aspect was not so conscious but I do now keep it in the back of my mind every time I write a new post.

I know that I should probably schedule my posts to be published at 9 in the morning but I am a night person… I often write in the evening and I often publish at night (like tonight).

I always read over what I have written, but I rarely wait until the next day. Some posts take longer than others, like for example the aforementioned story about my friend in Sudan, and Understanding Finland by Art and Helsinki by Food.

Sometimes I just take a look at the view from our balcony, see a beautiful sunset, take a photo and publish a post with a short text (for example That Parisian view). It depends!

Parisian balcony in spring

I try to write as much as I can, sometimes every day and always at least once a week.

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Well, my answers became longer than planned but I hope you liked reading about my thoughts. It is now time to send this post out so that Sarah from can start preparing her post! Good night for now.

PS Do not forget to follow Pearlspotting on Facebook and Instagram!

Finnish Lake at Midnight

I have been away from Finland for so long that I observe many aspects of life here as an outsider. One of the things I find particularly strange is the night, or should I say the lack of it. When the sun sets around 11.30 p.m. and rises just after 3 a.m. (as is the case this week), there simply isn’t enough time for the night to get dark. The sun stays close to the horizon, providing sunlight even when the sun is set. It can be very disturbing and during my first nights here, I kept waking up around 4 a.m. thinking the morning has arrived!Finland at midnightThis is the photo I took at midnight a few evenings ago. The nights have been getting shorter and darker since the Midsummer (The Midsummer Weekend in Finland) but still, one could read a newspaper outside without a lamp! This is obviously nothing out of ordinary to the majority of the Finns, but I find this astonishing and I keep taking photos. This is what living abroad does to you!

PS If you plan to visit Finland from May to August, think of bringing eye patches for sleeping. It may save your holidays….

Easy Tzatziki Fish

The main staple at the Finnish summer house is fish. Fish, and more fish. Pike, pike perch, white fish, trout, burbot, etc. There is probably as much of variety as there are ways of fishing!

At our summer house the nets are always in the lake. Depending on the weather we catch a lot or nothing. At the moment we have five nets in the water, all together 300 meters. This is quite a lot and requires visiting the nets twice a day. However, because of the unusually hot weather the catch has not been amazing, but nonetheless enough to feed us every day.oven-baked white fishYesterday I invented a new recipe, which is as simple as it gets, and really delicious at the same time. I used white fish (siika in Finnish) but you can use any other type of fish. Here you go:

-Place a pre-salted fish fillet on the baking tray (one fillet per person)
-If the fish is fresh, no oil is needed, but if you doubt, sprinkle a little bit on each fillet
-Sprinkle either “lemon pepper” (sitruunapippuri in Finland) or alternatively black pepper and lemon juice on each fillet
-Sprinkle a table spoon of Cretan tzatziki seasoning mix on each fillet (a very think layer!)
-Bake about 15-20 minutes in 225Cwhite fish, green salad, grilled fennelTo be enjoyed with green salad and grilled vegetables. I prepared grilled fennel, which was super good, but the only limit is your imagination!!

PS Pearlspotting is finally on Instagram! I have been posting several photos every day, so do follow me there too!

Finnish Summer House, 9 o’clock in the evening

The weather has been absolutely wonderful in the western part of Finland this week. Very warm (up to 30C!) and sunny, and almost no wind. Moreover, to my delight, the lake water measured 20C upon my arrival on Monday night. This is what I call a perfect Finnish summer holiday!

The sun sets after 11 p.m. at this time of the year, which means that the evenings are long and full of light. In these photos you can see what our summer house beach looked like tonight. I know I am subjective, but isn’t this just beautiful???!! It is quite rare to see the lake so calm.Finnish summer houseWhen we heat up the ordinary, “every day” sauna, we use this beach to go swimming. On the left we have an old, wooden boat garage.

This next photo is the view to the right; the side where the traditional smoke sauna is located. There is another access to the lake over that side. This is also where the willows (and the pikes!) are. For the first time this summer we installed a table and chairs on the grass –why not to have lunch under the sun! Finnish summer houseAt the time of writing this post it is 22 p.m. and the sun is still shining… I have been busy heating up the sauna and soon I will swim in the lake (on the left).

Which side of the shore would you prefer?

PS Pearlspotting is (finally!) on Instagram and I am posting many photos per day from the summer house.