A Pilgrimage to the Angry Birds Store

by Eli Hodapp

Today was my free day in Helsinki, and I was hoping to start it off by not waking up before the sun came up, but you can probably guess how that turned out. Going back to sleep, predictably, didn’t work too well so I caught up on email, took a walk, and took advantage of the hotel breakfast. I’m really going to miss just being able to saunter on downstairs and enjoy fresh-baked bread, fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh-cut fruit salad, and all the other awesome stuff they have here every day.

The weather today is absolutely atrocious, which sort of killed a lot of the plans I had. Helsinki is a fairly small city, so you can walk almost anywhere, if you’re willing to put up with the weather. All day today we’ve had this horrible just-barely-above-freezing rain with intense winds that always seem to just blow the rain straight in your face regardless of which direction you’re walking. I had intended on just making the 3km walk to the Angry Birds store, stopping anywhere that looked interesting. However, I didn’t get much more than two blocks away from the hotel before I decided to turn back and have them call a cab. I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to bad weather, but this is just something else. My coat isn’t particularly waterproof, either.

It turned out that taking a taxi was a much better option, as there not only wasn’t really anything I saw that I wanted to stop at, but quite a bit of the way there was under heavy construction without any kind of sidewalks. People were just walking in the road, which seemed pretty crazy given the weather and relative visibility from how dark it is outside at all times.

The Angry Birds store is set up inside of this absolutely massive electronics-centric shopping mall, I guess would be the best way to describe it. It’s a gigantic three-level building which even was home to its own food court featuring Subway, among other things. Angry Birds branding was absolutely everywhere, and the actual Angry Birds section of the mall was not only incredibly elaborate, but was about the perfect example of merchandising taken to the absolute extreme. They had t-shirts, plush birds (and pigs), bags of all kinds, notebooks, socks, ties, books, and so much more. It was nuts. Imagine a product that could hold some kind of Angry Birds branding, and they had it.

The prices of everything seemed obnoxiously high, but I figured what the hell, how often do you go to the official Angry Birds store in Helsinki? I ended up buying a black Angry Birds tie and a stuffed pig which came to about €50,00. The tie itself is actually really cool. It’s black with very subtle Angry Birds imagery that you can see when you look at it from the right angle. Now I just need a shirt and an event to wear it to. If nothing else, it’ll be perfect for our party at GDC.

I explored the rest of the contents of the shopping center, which didn’t turn out to be very interesting. They had almost everything you’d see at a Best Buy back home, along with a lot of crazy Nokia products and accessories. There also was a section that sold Weber grills, which seemed out-of-place. The best part was checking out the kitchen appliances, as I really like the mega-compact dishwashers, ovens, and washing machines that are commonplace here. It sort of makes me have some really tiny studio that’s designed really intelligently using these kind of things, but they’d probably be very hard to come by back in the USA.

When I finally left I had a moment of panic as I realized that even though I had the number to call the taxi service to come pick me up, I hadn’t the slightest clue how to explain to them where I was. The streets here are incredibly confusing, and my attempts to pronounce the names of anything here is laughable at best. I spent all of about five seconds trying to figure out what to do when a taxi literally drove right in front of me. It couldn’t have worked out better.

From there, I headed to the grocery store near my hotel. I always get such a kick out of foreign groceries, as it’s always so cool to see what sort of prepackaged local cuisine is popular in different areas. They had a massive selection of cheese, various types of cured meats, and tons and tons of different kinds of glögi- Finland’s spin on mulled wine. Produce in most European grocery stores I’ve been to is sort of lackluster compared to the USA, and this was no different, with one exception: The most massive honeycrisp apples I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

So I picked up some edam, an apple the size of a large grapefruit, some olives, the glögi recommended to me by someone else who was also buying some, and three packets of glögi spice mix to attempt to make it at home. It turned out to be a pretty fantastic lunch in my hotel room as I listen to the rain pound against my windows. I debated saving the seeds out of this freakishly large Apple, in attempt to smuggle them back into the USA, but that didn’t seem like a very good idea.

It feels like I’ve been in Finland for a very long time now, likely in part because of how much I’ve done here. I haven’t had a day yet where I wasn’t up at 5:00 AM, and out and about until around 10:00 PM. It’s pretty hardcore. I’m excited to return to the comforts and familiarity of home, but at the same time, I’ve really grown to like it here. No matter where I am in Europe, it always feels almost magical as ancient cobblestones provide the sidewalk borders of buildings that are all older than the entirety of the United States. The architecture of Finland is particularly cool, as its history includes flip-flopping between both Swedish and Russian control, so both influences are prevalent. Everything back home is just too new.

I had a meeting while I was here in the ironically named “New Factory.” If I closed my eyes and imagined the exact work space I’d want to be in, it’d be this. It’s an incredibly perfect example of a Russian industrial factory building originally built in the early 1800’s. The door to get in the place feels like you’re entering a pre-World War bunker, and the dimly lit stairway inside had every detail you’d ever want out of a old industrial building. Peeling paint, old pipes everywhere, steel stairs and railings with quite literally hundreds of years of wear with rust polished away by an unimaginable amount of people’s hands, and a distinct metallic smell. Perfect. The offices themselves inside of this building have been completely rehabilitated, and the juxtaposition of this stairwell and the high-tech freshly painted and smartly designed offices is just insane. It’s like jumping hundreds of years in time as soon as you cross the threshold.

I seriously love it. Absolutely love it. I’m not sure I could handle Finland in the long term though, because how dark it is here is seriously draining. The brightest it ever gets at high noon is about the same light level as you’d think of dusk in the United States. I guess it sort of makes sense why Finland has such a high suicide rate, I imagine not seeing the sun for so long could get remarkably depressing.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do this evening. I had planned on checking out Stockmann, which is this massive department store, but I don’t know what I’d get there. There’s a Karaoke bar about a block away that seems too crazy to not check out, also my morbid American curiosity sort of wants to try the regional food that McDonalds seems to serve here. They apparently have some sort of rye hamburger? I don’t even know what that is.

I just wish it’d stop raining, or at least switch to snow, which would be infinitely more pleasant than freezing rain.