Diversity in city life, sustainability and nature [Helsinki, 29.05.-07.06.2019]

When I heard the World Circular Economy Conference would be hosted in Helsinki this year I set my eyes on doing a combined trip to get my first time Finland in a good mix. Luckily it also turned out just right with my upcoming full-time project in Hamburg and so this would be the last longer (than a weekend) trip for the next 6 months.

How I planned it to be?
29.-30.05. Exploring Helsinki with Bridget
30.05.-01.06. 2 nights and 2 days in Nuuksio National Park
02.-07.06. Helsinki together & World Circular Economy Forum

First of all: As much as I love to stay in hostels I think I can’t handle the cheaper ones anymore. You can never be safe from snoring. But somehow the cheaper hostels also attract the “not so aware of other people” – I don’t want to assume “not caring about other people” – folks who make phone calls at midnight in dorms, sleep in front of their bright shining laptops, want to keep the room lights on til after 11pm and so on. And if you don’t have a nice more private (curtains?) and stable bunkbed then the night will be very short and interrupted from high blood pressure and snoring anger. Btw if you ever wondered why snoring makes you so angry this is an interesting blog about it.

Anyways where was I? Ah, beautiful Finland! Here is the 1second video summary – for more details, links and photos read below:

[vimeo 341645275 w=640 h=360]

Diversity in Finland – city life, nature and sustainability from Leon Bucher on Vimeo.

Part 1: Helsinki

For a while it was undecided if Bridget could join me for the first 5 days due to a running project but eventually we made our way to Helsinki. 

That’s why our first challenge was to find a good co-working space for her to set up laptop and graphic tablet. So, my recommendation is if you are looking just for the basics the University of Helsinki has a couple of Think Tank Company spots in Helsinki where you can work for free during the normal day hours. So after a delicious vegan lunch at Kippo (–> The Trudeau was amazing) we set off to the city center based Helsinki Think Company to get some hours of work done.

“Can’t take your call long, I’m in Helsinki”

“Helsinki had a local vegan renaissance” as Bridget read out loud to me when we talked about evening choices and recommended a stylish places called yes yes yes. “Afterwards we can grab a beer at Bier-Bier.” I wonder who came up with these names. Do Finns like repetition?

The Yes Yes Yes definitely got our approval. Delicious as crazy.

Thursday was – surprise! – a public holiday and so we adjusted our plans with the priority to 1) Get a good breakfast, 2) Let Bridget finish all her work in progress 3) Set off to Nuuksio in the mid afternoon with all groceries needed for two days almost off the grid.

Because breakfast places on a holiday are not too easy to find, our vegan exploration navigated us to OHMYGOODNESS.fi which was close to the ‘no curtains, no awareness, no sleep’ hostel and gave us a good treatment.

So, what should I do with about 2 1/2 hours before I had to get our supplies and meet Bridget for our train connection. ‘Why not going bouldering in an old engine shed?’ I decided after some research. And after struggling with the typical ‘new situation fright’ – you know, where you wander around suddenly insecure if you should put yourself into this new situation and your brain is telling you what will go wrong, how you will fail or be laughed at – I distracted my thoughts and just went in to have great two hours in a boulder gym basically for myself and three others.

A little hangry I grabbed good combinable, not to cook and stays fresh without fridge food – and some beers – at the supermarket. And off we were with train and bus towards our Nuuksio camping and hostel.

Part 2: Nuuksio National Park

Nuuksio is a rather young national park which is perfect to reach from Helsinki via public transport even if it’s just for a day. Luckily we decided for a two night stay and therefore headed to the west of the park which was rather remote and absolutely beautiful compared to the more touristy, sneakers wearing crowd in the east.

We stayed at Nuuksio Camping & Hostel in a small cabin which is basically the backyard of Kai – with biological compost toilet, outdoor shower and outdoor kitchen. Originally we wanted to have one of his tipi tents but seeing the cabin there was no way back.

The nights were still very cold so warming up in the Finnish hut at a fire – and sadly no marshmallows or stick bread (if you don’t know it: delicious) – before caterpillaring into the super warm sleeping bags after our night guitar and fire sessions was a great way to recharge.

For our all day hike on Friday Kai gave us basically two rules: 1) Take a gps and good maps to get off the main routes and towards his favorite lake. “No one goes there.” And 2), if we wanted to jump into on of the many lakes, figure out how to get out before getting in. “Because you don’t want to pull yourself out through grass and mud and nothing to stand on. “Believe me, I had to learn this by trial and error as well.” 

And good GPS maps were definitely required if you don’t follow the marked official hiking paths. I can recommend Komoot for these kind of civilization close wilderness. Normally I use it for navigation by bike but with hiking it does a pretty amazing job as well. 

“Stay on Saturday! Saturday Sauna is free.” 

Part 3: Helsinki and conference days

Returning to Helsinki we had some more spots to explore. First, the rocks.

There are a lot of big rocks just around the neighborhoods. Like the one big rock, surrounded by houses and close to the hostel, resting in the middle of a Helsinki neighborhood. So, after being outside and watching lakes we escaped the hostel for a bit with a beer, sitting on this warmed by the sun stone before going for our dinner. People just sit there, enjoy the sun and the wind, bring their drinks, blankets and friends. First I thought it’s getting emptier but then the next rush of people came. Young and old, hipster and alternative, diversity at its best.

Once you recognize these rocks you can see them everywhere in town. It’s beautiful.

Suomenlinna, the fortress island in the bay of Helsinki, is also a recommendation most websites and blogs give you. And I am sorry but I will tell you no different. You can take the public transport ferry there which makes it also a cheap attraction and stroll easily around the island for a couple of hours. People still live there and so you don’t have just the flows of tourists sweeping. The fortress itself is basic, the tunnels to walk through interesting and the rocks – there they are again! – along the coast perfect to sit on, watch the waters and enjoy a self-made lunch and dinner if you are not interested into one of the restaurants and cafes on the island. Their prices are by the way mostly typical for Helsinki which means not really a cheap bite but ok.

Suomenlinna? Even on a crowded or rainy day you can find a quiet, protected and private place to take a nap close to the sea.

World Circular Economy Conference

Saying goodbye to Bridget on Sunday evening and saying hello to Dina, Paul and Alex of our Circular Berlin group on Monday marked the halftime change to my trip.

Side note: If you don’t know Circular Berlin yet, here is what I do beside my ‘day job’: www.circular.berlin)

Side note 2: If you don’t know what Circular Economy is or means, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has the most comprehensive and great website about the topic. 

The idea of Paul to bring stickers showed itself as an absolute win. Between these 2000+ different people from about 70 countries around the world, wearing these stickers actually brought us to more interesting talks and connections with fascinating people that we would have dreamt of.

And so even that that the main program didn’t bring us many deep dive aha-effects the side sessions about circular cities, circular construction, circular economy in Africa, life-long learning and more and the official casual evening events were so intense that we rarely stopped talking before midnight about future ideas and collaboration.

The very late setting and early rising sun supported our lost time tracking and led to painfully short nights of sleep which were still worth it.

We can’t wait to catch up with our new connections – and then join next year’s conference in Canada!


The last chapter of my heart and mind trip to Helsinki was a 2 days meeting with CircleVET. VET meaning Vocational Education and Training. The word alone was new for me when I accompanied Dina to a group of methodology experts and business partners from different European countries: Finland, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey and Germany. All together with the mission to

  • understand business partners needs and best practices for Circular Economy trainings for professionals in Europe and
  • to craft learning labs for these in the different fields of textile, co-working and waste management.

Handling different expectations and cultural backgrounds is definitely just a side effect of these meetings. Intensive discussions and energy is needed to support with vocational trainings the path towards a sustainable and circular understanding of trades and professions. And make a change in Europe.

Heli-Maija and her colleague Maria organized a great frame for our meeting with visits to the Stadin ammattiopisto School and the Perho Culinary, Tourism and Business College. The first, to see a VET school in action with a summer school around Circular Economy to design textiles and fashion. And the second with the student driven Perho Green City Farm – a great Green Urban Farm to get students not only for culinary but also marketing and other business administrations back into contact with the resources they need and sell.

Completed with the exchange of many best practices we ended the two days with CircleVET and look forward to the next meeting in Italy.

Even the very delayed flight back to Berlin couldn’t take away our good humor while we waited at the airport and reflected on the last 5 days.

Kiitos, Helsinki.

Bonus thought: Traveling with a cabin luggage backpack

So, 10 days in Finland with 2 days in town, 2 days in a cabin and hiking and another 6 days in the city including a conference. The weather still changeable between warm days and pretty cold evenings and nights. What to pack?

Here is my choice – including what I wore on day 1 and a planned laundry on Sunday at half time:

  • 1 pair of pants (for city life)
  • 1 pair of shorts (for hiking, bouldering and sleeping)
  • 4 t-shirts (also as undershirts on colder days)
  • 3 buttoned shirts (good for hiking and conference)
  • 1 soft shell jacket (good for hiking and city)
  • 1 packable rainjacket
  • 4 pair of socks
  • 1 pair of hiking socks
  • 5 pair of underwear
  • hiking boots
  • city shoes
  • basic toiletries
  • MacBook, cords, notebooks

All of this fitted neatly into my cabin approved backpack and has been actually used.

The only mistake I definitely made packing was to assume that Helsinki would be rather chilly to mild during my stay. So wearing denim jeans on the last, four really hot days was awful. So maybe I would change to a different pair of pants in future as ‘the only pair’.

Any good travel pants recommendations?

One Comment

  1. June 4, 2020 is in the calendar! we’re only an hour away from Ottawa, so hope to have you here for a visit…possibley a short camping trip! Let us know when you have your plans!

    what an amazing trip to Helsinki! thanks for sharing!!

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