Tag Archives: design & decoration

Photos of eastern Ukraine: part 1

As you know, my blog is not about politics. However, these ongoing events in eastern Ukraine have stopped me many times, bringing some vivid memories from the times I visited that region for work. The region is very different from the rest of Ukraine: very industrial and very Soviet. Some say Russian. Polluted and grey. My visits took place after the Orange revolution and before the global economic meltdown, during the period of optimism. I met some wonderful and fascinating people, drank a fair share of vodka in meetings, and appreciated the chance to get to know the region. But I always felt that there was something very “wild east” over there.

Today I went through some old photos and I decided to publish some of them.

I suggest you take this blog post as a photo reportage and as an opportunity to look into the life of a region that has become a battlefield between the East and the West, and who knows what else. As an opportunity to time travel and revisit the period when Lenin was well alive and celebrated. As an opportunity to put a picture to the news you read every day.

Statues like this are not rare in eastern Ukraine.

Statues like this are not rare in eastern Ukraine.

During the winter months the region is cold and grey. This was once the heart of the Soviet Union's industrial production.

During the winter months the region is cold and grey. Once upon a time it was the heart of the Soviet Union’s industrial production.

Enormous factories often employed entire towns.  Something that still happens in China I guess?

Enormous factories often employed entire towns. Something that still happens in China I guess?

A ghost factory somewhere between Donetsk and Luhansk.

A ghost factory somewhere between Donetsk and Luhansk.

Can happiness exist when there is so little color?

Can happiness exist when there is so little color?

Soviet wall frescoes remind us of an other era.

Soviet wall frescoes remind us of an other era.

Any thoughts you would like to share?

 

A chapel of design

This summer I discovered something in Helsinki that I found absolutely fantastic and incredible: a very simplistic, curved-shaped chapel made of wood in the heart of the Finnish capital. Let me present you, the Kamppi Chapel of Silence! One of the world’s most stylish chapels:

Would you have guessed that this is a chapel?

Would you have guessed that this is a chapel?

The Chapel was completed in 2012, the year when Helsinki was World Design Capital 2012. This urban and spiritual project was designed by K2S Architects Ltd, who describe the project like this “This small wooden chapel introduces a place for silence and peace in the lively commercial centre of Helsinki. The chapel space is located in a sculptural wooden volume. The interior is warm and enclosed from the surrounding urban life. Indirect toplight enlightens the wooden chapel interior.”

My first impression was very powerful. I loved the outside design. Even if the Chapel somehow looks like nothing and could-be-anything at the same time, it is very elegant. It is one of a kind. I loved how the sun rays touched the wood (wood that was glazed with wax by using nanotechnology, says the brochure of the Chapel).

The wood used in the chapel has been glazed with wax. Nanotechnology was used in this method, but do not ask me in what way.

The wood used in the chapel has been glazed with wax. Nanotechnology was used in this method, but do not ask me in what way.

I was sort of nervous to walk in. Would the inside match the beauty of the outside?

Judging by these photos, I am sure you will agree with me that it did. It was at the same time imposing and down to earth. Quiet and present. Difficult to describe.

If you haven't found the type of church you feel comfortable in, try the Kamppi chapel in Helsinki, Finland.

If you haven’t yet found the type of church you feel comfortable in, try the Kamppi Chapel in Helsinki, Finland.

During the time of my visit there were numerous tourists from France, Russia and Japan, but I could also witness young children popping in, alone, on their way from the sports to home. In some ways I felt happy that a religious place managed to attract the younger generation. Even if they didn’t come in for spiritual reasons (but what do I know, maybe they did!), they came in, stayed quiet, looked around, observed, took photos and left. It seemed like they appreciated the place and the feeling in it, and to me this represents the most powerful “recognition of success” the architects could ever receive!

The Kamppi Chapel attracts many kinds of visitors: photographers, architects, tourists, but also curious locals.

The Kamppi Chapel attracts many kinds of visitors: photographers, architects, tourists, but also curious locals.

Even if you may have very little time in Helsinki, make sure you visit this chapel only 5 minutes away from the railway station by walking. It is open from Monday to Friday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. and from Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To be found on Facebook here: Kampin kappeli.

For more information:

K2S Architects: http://www.k2s.fi/
ArchDaily article: and http://www.archdaily.com/252040/kamppi-chapel-k2s-architects/
..and lastly, a photograph of the Q&A I took in the Chapel:

This Q&A may answer your additional questions!

This Q&A may answer your additional questions!

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)

 

Airport Meets Art and Design

If your most recent flight to Mumbai landed prior to January 2014, then probably all you remember is an old airport with long queues and lack of world-class facilities. But if your latest trip took place later, then you know that Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport‘s newest terminal (T2) is a beautiful oasis of art and design. Mumbai Airport Terminal 2Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Chicago-based architects also behind Burj Khalifa, Dubai), Terminal 2 is a true mix of Indian heritage and modernity. We had a chance to spend some time in this terminal just before catching our Emirates A380 flight to Dubai, and highly appreciated our brief visit. The terminal was spacious, white, clean and full of light, and I loved the pillars. In addition, the terminal is home to the world’s largest public art program! Including images of Bollywood stars, of course.Mumbai Airport, Terminal 2What I absolutely loved was the carpet that according to its manufacturer, Brintons from the UK, is inspired by the peacock, India’s national bird. Such lovely colors, such beautiful designs. Walking on this carpet made our departure from India a bit less sad.Brintons carpet in Mumbai, terminal 2From the practical point of view it was –well– very practical! There was no waiting and trolleys were available everywhere. Time between entering the terminal and reaching the departure gate was about 20 minutes. Wow.

Despite the fact that everything worked smoothly, many shops were still closed. For example, I could not buy English-language books because I could not find a book shop (I certainly hope there will be one!). Regarding the restaurant facilities, we did not use any, but I hear that all big names, “usual suspects”, are or will be there. Personally I hope that I will still be able to eat a good old onion rava masala dosa, and that whoever is responsible on distributing the licences loves Indian food as much as I do. Viva dosas, idlies and upma!!

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: http://www.som.com/projects/chhatrapati_shivaji_international_airport__terminal_2

Brintons: http://www.brintons.net/apac/en/project-wall/chhatrapati-shivaji-international-airport-t2-mumbai-india/

The Midsummer Weekend in Finland

Midsummer in Finland, miss you! Midsummer in FinlandThis is the weekend when Finland shuts down. As early as Thursday afternoon people started migrating to summer houses by the lake or the sea, and they will stay there until Sunday. Activities include sauna, swimming, outdoor games, fishing, water sports and barbecue. It is the weekend when the sun never seems to set. Midnight sun, Midsummer in FinlandThe Midsummer holiday (Juhannus in Finnish) is full of symbolism and magic. Some villages prepare a hug bonfire, kokko, which usually burns by the water. In addition, there are other traditions and rituals that include running around naked, looking deep into water, collecting flowers and placing them under the pillow and observing the direction of the bonfire smoke, to mention a few, and all these rituals are for the purpose of finding a decent husband and getting a hint of who he may be. Indeed, Midsummer is originally a pagan celebration. Midsummer, FinlandI have not been able to join Midsummer celebrations in Finland for a long time and it is a pity. It really is one of the happiest celebrations in Finland (even if every year someone gets too dunk and drowns…). Now that I am thinking about it, I realize I am more nostalgic about Juhannus than I am about Christmas! And to be very honest, uploading these photos (taken at the summer house) made me cry a bit. To me this is the most beautiful place in the world.

Happy Midsummer everyone!! Hyvää juhannusta!!

PS For those interested in understanding what life at the summer house looks like, see these previous posts:

Finland, Land of the Midnight Sun
Summer holidays in Finland
Sauna Time
A typical Finnish meal after sauna
Fishing at midnight
Our beautiful lake has turned into a monster!
What does Finnish barbeque look like?
Finnish fish tajine (part 2)
Very easy tartiflette
The Wind in the Willows (kaislikossa suhisee)
A must-try at the Finnish summer house!

Lastly, if you like these posts, why not to follow Pearlspotting on Facebook, too? Or by Twitter, @Miia_Niskanen.

Mustard Obsession

I bought some really delicious mustard to accompany our Christmas meal last December, and ever since then I have been returning to La Grande Epicerie de Paris to buy some more.

La Grande Epicerie de Paris in the 7th arrondissement is my favorite high-end food store in Paris and maybe in the world. Whatever they sell, it is always the best of the best. Moreover, the packaging is so beautiful that graphic designers shop there not only for food but for ideas, too (and this was confirmed to me by a designer friend). In fact, La Grande Epicerie de Paris is like a dream to me: a dream of being able to buy all the groceries there, or even better, winning unlimited groceries for life!

But, let’s stay focused and talk about mustard!

This week I returned for my usual monthly stock up and came home with three mustard jars. I have tasted Boletus-Mushroom mustard before (I absolutely love it), and in addition I got two new flavors: Curry & Curcuma mustard and Truffle & Black Pepper mustard. Look at these beauties!mustard, Savor & sensI am sure I will be returning very soon to buy more –after all I have over a dozen flavors to taste, and to be precise, 16!! Exciting. There is nothing better than a Sunday poulet rôti (roast chicken), mashed potatoes and Savor&sens organic mustard…

La Grande Epicerie de Paris: http://www.lagrandeepicerie.com/en.html

Savor&sens mustards: http://www.savoretsens.com/index.php/savor-sens-bio-c-96_85

Other delicious discoveries to be purchased at La Grande Epicerie de Paris: 

Neemrana Fort-Palace: Architectural Pearl

If you recall the India travel series I wrote earlier this year, you may remember that  is one of my favorite hotels in the world. If I renewed my wedding vows, I would probably do it at the Neemrana Fort-Palace hotel. Right in the middle of history, charm, elegance and Rajasthani hospitality!

During my last trip to India in April this year I had a chance to return to Neemrana Fort-Palace for one night. It was a wonderful visit and we were pleased to realize that in spite of the extension works (there are now two swimming pools and 65 rooms) the hotel still feels very intimate. Just look at these labyrinths, verandas, patios and towers all over the property!Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceAt the time of our stay the hotel was occupied mainly by Indian families (most foreigners stop visiting Rajasthan by April as it gets too hot) so we had the upper pool to ourselves. In fact the original pool (at the lower level) can accommodate children, whereas the newer, upper pool, is reserved for adults. Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceOnce the sun started to set, we descended to the lower levels of the hotel complex. The view toward the valley was spectacular, and with a little bit of imagination we could have imagined a camel (or elephant?) caravan travelling in the horizon.Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceBefore heading to our lovely, comfortable beds in our Aman Vilas room we enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner with Indian Sula wine (red). It was my parents’ last night in India and I don’t think their stay could have ended in a more royal way.

Neemrana Fort-Palace, hope to see you soon again!

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Should you want to read more about the Neemrana Fort-Palace history, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/history and http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/philosophy

For a virtual visit of wonderfully decorated rooms, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/rooms

Lastly, for a memorable stay, reservations are made here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/contact-us