My Helsinki: Ice hockey player Ossi Väänänen
Ossi Väänänen is a Finnish professional ice hockey defenseman and the captain of team Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He has also played many seasons in the NHL as well as Finnish and Swedish national leagues. He has won gold, silver and bronze in the hockey World Championships, and earned bronze in the Winter Olympics in 2014.
Where in Helsinki do you live? How would you describe your neighbourhood?
I live in Espoo nowadays, but I’ve lived in Helsinki for a long time. I enjoyed living there a lot because everything was always just a stone’s throw away and the city is very beautiful in any case. I made my home in Katajanokka for about ten years and could see the city developing up close. Services improved, the restaurant scene evolved and things like cycling started receiving greater consideration. Helsinki is, by the way, a great city to cycle in.
You used to play in the NHL and lived abroad for many years. How would you compare Helsinki to the other cities you have lived in?
If you compare it with, say, a city from the west coast of North America, you’ll notice that they don’t have city centres in the same sense as does a traditional city like Helsinki. You can find pretty much everything in the centre of Helsinki: offices, shops, restaurants and other services. When I played for Stockholm’s Djurgården I noticed that the Swedish capital was very like Helsinki in this respect.
What did you miss the most about Helsinki when living abroad?
I missed my family and friends the most, of course, because there’s no place like home. And Helsinki really is a beautiful city, especially in summertime. It bears comparison to any other city in the world, and it bears it well.
You have played in Belarus and now you’re with Jokerit, which competes in the KHL – what’s your opinion on Russia?
All in all, Russia is a very diverse country. It has some really fantastic places, but also some parts that are less pleasant. The variety is truly extensive. For us (Jokerit), the game, of course, comes before anything else, so we have little time for sightseeing. We’ve really only gotten to scratch the surface of Russia.
When you receive guests from abroad, what Helsinki attraction do you introduce them to or do you take them somewhere?
Let’s assume that the weather’s nice and it is at least spring or autumn. We’d hop on our bikes and head to, for example, the Market Square, which is absolutely a Helsinki classic. You get a better feel for a city on a bike that you do sitting in, for example, a car or bus. We could admire the handsome Jugendstil architecture of south Helsinki and then pop into Hotel Katajanokka‘s eatery Linnankellari for a meal. The hotel building used to be a prison, but its cells have now been converted into comfortable hotel rooms.
Helsinki is, by the way, a great city to cycle in.
I’m no sauna fanatic myself, but it is undeniably an integral part of Finnish culture, so dropping over to the facilities of the Finnish Sauna Society in Lauttasaari could well be a memorable experience. You have to be accompanied by a member or be a member yourself to gain access, though. Dinner would be served in Farang, one of my favourite spots.