January 30, 2006

Flight mania

I've been planning my exchange year in Ecuador for a long time now, and now the day has finally come. In the huge mansion I live in, everyone is completely ignoring me and my attempts to get them up to take me to the airport. I start packing frantically but the minute I leave the suitcase to get something I come back and the suitcase is empty again. This goes on for a long time until I decide I'll just not take anything with me and make my own way to the airport, leaving everyone behind to wonder. I realise that my plane has left hours ago but am confident I will be rebooked on the next flight.
At the airport, it's total chaos and I ask myself since when is Helsinki-Vantaa situated on an artificial island. I check-in and receive my boarding passes, but to my shock I realise my final destination is marked as TRS - Buenos Aires!!! Suddenly I'm being ushered into the plane despite my calm but increasingly irritated explanations that there has been some mistake.

I'm often plagued with dreams where I'm trying to get something done, and very often it is packing. I run around the house getting my stuff, but there's always something missing, and then stuff gets lost, after which I realise I should have left 24 hours ago, and then I can't find my suitcase anymore, etc etc etc. By the way, for the very observant ones: Of course TRS is not the airport code of Buenos Aires but Trieste, Italy. I checked it out to see whether it ringed any bells and brought up some freak coincidence, but, sadly, I've never even been to Italy, let alone Trieste.

Moving on from last night's dreams to other matters: last weekend was the first weekend in seven weeks I spent completely at home. And I have to say that the effect on today (Monday) was astounding! I wouldn't have thought Mondays can be so much fun after one has spent a completely free Sunday at home (well, I did go out to vote but the weather was perfect).

Quiz: Where am I landing in this picture?
Walking back home on Sunday at two in the morning, I actually snatched a newspaper for myself from the unattended delivery cart standing in the middle of the sidewalk. I battled with my conscience whether or not to do this, but as the evening had already been so freaky, I thought it wouldn't matter. I also spent time collecting flight boarding pass stubs from cupboards, bags and albums at my parents' place . I now have in my possession over 50% of all boarding passes I have ever used in my life. Here are some of my favourites:
1. Aeroflot flight 517 from Moscow to Damascus, 20.2.1986. Less than two years old, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but nowadays flying to Damascus on Aeroflot just isn't an option for me anymore. The boarding pass still reads "Aeroflot - soviet airlines" and has been stamped at Sheremetvo airport.
2. Air France flight 209 from Paris to Quito, 13.12.1991. The boarding pass is in good condition and reads JURIS/DANI 7YRS
3. Lufthansa flight 50 from Frankfurt to Nürnberg, 27.5.1998. The shortest flight I have ever been on (25 minutes) and very memorable to me because it was one of the first trips I made with Pauli, who has accompanied me on an enormous number of flights since and paid me a visit yesterday before rushing back to the army.
4. Delta flight 1701 from Atlanta to Las Vegas, 14.10.1998. On the CM tour to the States in 1998, we flew altogether on 10 domestic flights (and two international ones: from and to Helsinki) and I am proud of having preserved the boarding passes of every single one. Atlanta-Las Vegas was one of the longest flights and probably stands out because I can remember exactly what my 14-year-old self saw and felt as we landed in this crazy city in the middle of the desert I had only ever seen in movies or heard about. Also the 15-minute run-and-dash to buy a Planet Hollywood t-shirt before we were shipped, drooling faces glued to the bus windows, to remote Utah, is hard to forget.
5. Transaero flight 103 from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 22.9.2003. This probably doesn't need any explanations.
6. American Airlines flight 967 from Miami to Quito, 12.12.2005. Three flights down and one to go before being back with the family after eight years, this is definitely a boarding pass to respect!

January 26, 2006

Mozart and more Riga

That's right, tomorrow is Mozart's 250th birthday. While Austrians are celebrating with Mozart chocolates, Mozart yogurt and even Mozart sausages, I prefer to honour Mozart by listening to his music rather than tucking into my Mozart corn flakes. That's why right now, I'm listening to a perfect recording of Cosi fan tutte. For many people, Mozart's music is the most perfect music composed, and this is probably affected by the incredible stories about this genius of a Wunderkind. The myths seem to get spiced up every now and then - when we start hearing stories about Mozart drumming the rhythm of Eine kleine Nachtmusik in his mother's womb, that'll be a clear sign (for me at least) to stop believing everything we hear.

When it comes to a warm welcome, you can't blame the POSH backpackers hostel for a lack of imagination.

I'm very happy people are taking a celebration like this seriously. The BBC, for example, is definitely going all over Mozart - check their radio programme for more details. I just completed a ten-step quiz in which I had to listen to clips of music and decide which ones were composed by Mozart. I got full points!!! Well, let's admit that the quiz was on the easy side - I had some doubts over Haydn's surprise symphony but Für Elise was something of a give-away, as was Bach's air on a G string (a WHAT??). And I'm sure the cultural programme planned for 2006 in Austria is quite mouth-watering. But I'm not that sure I'd like to be stuck in Mozart's birthplace, sandwiched between groups of Japanese tourists frantically shooting with their cameras, without having any idea where they are.

Room with a view?

I think the best way of describing the music is the word perfect. When listening to a concert with music from different composers (like I did today), something just clicks in your head at some point and there is no doubt this is Mozart. It just empties your mind. A recent BBC poll revealed the five favourite pieces of music by Mozart: the clarinet concerto ranked first (that I understand), followed by the Requiem and Ave verum corpus (this I find clichéd and can't quite agree. For me, the requiem is certainly not one of my favourite works and Ave Verum Corpus is a three-minute crowd-pleaser which I find downright boring). These were followed by the 21st piano concerto and The Marriage of Figaro, which definitely deserves its fifth place as Mozart's operas are my favourite genre in his music.

Latvian monkeys are trained to give a "high five" when they're happy life.

January 25, 2006


After yesterday's excitement concerning the launch of the Hong Count (now strategically placed on the sidebar for more practical viewing), life is pretty much back to normal. I suppose most readers were just too stunned by the counter to write a single comment! Martin at least got one comment, and ladies and gentlemen, he deserves the praise. Those dazzling milliseconds make him, in my opinion, the biggest genius on earth (after Bach). Take a bow!

But before I turn this blog into a forum of flattering friendships, let's turn to something else - like last weekend's escapade to Riga. Equipped with shawls, heavy winter coats, the notorious gran-daddies, boots, woolen socks and sweaters, we got a touch of what was to come already walking the short stretch from Tampere railway station to the bus stop near Keskustori. After a few steps, you can't feel your fingertips anymore, then your cheeks turn into stone, after which your legs feel like icicles and breathing becomes difficult. This pretty much summarises our weekend in Latvia!

Pinpointing Ryanair's favourite colour isn't too hard.

But don't get me wrong - even though walking more than five minutes outside was out of the question, we saw a lot of the city (and its cafes). A special touch to the trip was added by our excursion to Jurmala, a half hour train ride from Riga central train station. There, we met a friend with whom we saw the sea, the wooden mansions which obviously used to be much better taken care of in Soviet times, and ended up eating Armenian! (The second pork chop was a little too much).

The skyline of Old Riga.

Some things I learned in Riga:
1. It's bigger than Helsinki! I really did not know this.
2. There is no service culture. Waiters and shopkeepers treat you like they can't wait to get rid of you and you get some scary stares from the cashiers, too. Don't speak Latvian? Your problem!
3. The prices may seem low from the Finnish perspective, but viewed from the locals' point of view they quickly seem criminal.
4. Latvia was also occupied by Germany. (Okay, this wasn't such a big surprise, but I didn't realise the extent of the occupation - hundreds of thousands of people mysteriously "vanishing" from their homes in one night etc). This I found out in the very informative and excellent Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, a black ugly building (with no heating) in the middle of the Old Town.

We were lucky in the hostel - only two of the windows let the icy air in.

Here's a quote from Lonely Planet's online quickguide to Latvia:
Latvia is the small, flat and largely boggy meat in the sandwich between its Baltic neighbours. It packs a lot in though: start with Rīga, its vibrant coastal capital, and move on to photogenic castles, music festivals and scenic river valleys.

Vibrant is probably one of the favourite words of Lonely Planet authors, and why not. But BOGGY MEAT IN THE SANDWICH? Ouch!!

Only the beach towels are missing.

January 24, 2006


This is a joint entry. Visit sMARTİNtellectual for an equal experience.

Dear readers!

Martin and Dani are proud to introduce the stupendous, magnanimous, mind-boggling, one-and-only Hong Count (all rights reserved)! You're probably asking yourself: Just how crazy are they? Well, good question.

These pictures, taken last summer in Hama, Syria, give you a taste of what is to come when we depart to Hong Kong on the 19th of May to visit Sanna, equipped with the freshest edition of the Lonely Planet guide and a mind for adventure.

To participate in our anticipation, you can check here every hour if you like, to see the milliseconds literally wooshing by on your screen (Dani thought this was a bit exaggerated, but stylish nevertheless).

And just in case you're wondering: All figures will reach zero at the very moment when Finnair flight 67 loses touch with the tarmac of Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

January 18, 2006


Helsingin Sanomat warns of a freezy week on its way, but the -15 or so degrees quickly look like children's play compared to the -30 degrees forecast for Riga next weekend (Source: BBC Weather, which I've found reliable until now). So anyone heading there, like we are tomorrow - pack those mittens! And for that matter, just about anything warm you can find - suddenly my bag seems too small. Taking out my ancient gran-daddies from the closet reminds me of traumatising mornings at school when I used to walk at seven thirty carrying a ridiculous stick through windy weather and darkness, the ice gnawing at my bones, to an ice rink to play.... ice hockey. This is something I used to hate more than anything, and it's a relief nobody is expecting me to dash my way into glory on ice in -30 degrees this time. For a picture of these long underpants, certainly one of the most perplexingly stunning garments which probably files under "Never display in public", see below!

Yesterday, my iPod didn't start, and I tried resetting it like it tells me in the instructions. When this didn't work, I took it to the Apple service centre and, after realising that it really did not reset, they took it in and told me they'd call me when they knew what the problem was. As it happened, they called me almost right away and I went to pick it up today, but before I could put it in my pocket and go on my way, the different assistants working there told me they would charge me a service fee of 25 euro, to which my reaction was something like that time I wrote about when I found goat's cheese four weeks old in my full kitchen garbage.

Of course I told them my warranty was still valid, but they explained that their standard fee for resetting an iPod was 25 euro, to which I replied that that's exactly what I tried to do myself but it didn't work and that they should have told me I would be charged such an outrageous sum BEFORE allowing them to even touch it. What started as what I thought was a misunderstanding quickly turned into a battle of the minds, and I consider myself having earned a small victory, because I calmly announced that I would not be taking the iPod with me in that case, and that I wanted to talk to the assistant I had brought the machine to yesterday and ask him why he didn't say anything about 25 euro. I'm going there again tomorrow morning to speak with that person, and if I have to pay I have to pay, but seeing the faces of the assistants as they were trying to figure out whether I was a total lunatic or not was almost worth it. You'll probably hear about the outcome first here at D'sH.

Some of you might have noticed (if you're not one of the many people who I was eager to tell straight away) that I installed a counter in my blog, so now I can keep track of how many people come here every day. Obviously we are talking mainly about friends and relatives, but today, someone from the Netherlands and someone from Switzerland visited this site. Welcome!

I'm urging everyone to check out Sanna's blog, deliciously titled "Ars Vivendi ad lib. in HK" (can someone tell me what it means?) - you'll find the link in my sidebar. She's barely been a day in Hong Kong and has already managed to see quite a lot, and you can read all about it in her blog, from trying to find breakfast in the busy downtown streets to the top lessons she has learned until now on her "trip" (including how to handle a room-key in hotels). Even non-German speakers should take a go, because the blog is entirely in English.

When I return from Riga or, who knows, maybe even before, you can read all about our adventures, from livin' the good life in downtown Tampere (translates into hanging out at Tampere railway station before the Ryanair bus picks us up) to battling Latvian blizzards in the Old Town. Now it's back to my wardrobe. I hope those were the only gran-daddies in there....

PS. And yes, there are still loads of these monkey pictures.

January 17, 2006


It's possible that, although things here are kicking to a start again, my subconscious is still clinging to Ecuador. For example, although jetlag should be long gone, I'm finding myself wide awake at two in the morning, reading a thriller which was spell-binding until I just stumbled upon one of the most ridiculous plot twists ever, going through my calendar and enjoying all the blank spaces (especially Fridays and Wednesdays look pretty loose for now), or immersed in sudoku.

I'm also listening to songs we heard with my cousins on countless road trips through the packed streets of downtown Quito, out to the beautiful countryside or, best of all, into the jungles of the Oriente. I'm sure the trip back to Quito from the jungle is something which will stick in everybody's mind for a long time, and one of my personal highlights from the entire trip remains the incredible night sky under which we stopped to change a flat tire in the middle of the night in the freezing Andes.
Another highlight is our last night in Ecuador and the last drive we made with my cousins and sister, during which everything in the world seemed just perfect and we listened and sang along to the song I'm listening to right now.

Winter is finally here - this is what it should be like! Snow hitting you from every direction and winds hitting in your face. While probably all the city was cursing today's blizzards, I actually enjoyed them because snow is part of winter and you can't have a winter with grey, wet streets.
Two weeks ago on Friday I was in Quito, last Friday I was in Stockholm and next Friday I'll be in Riga, but although people might thing that I live for getting out of Helsinki, they are completely wrong. It's just that returning home is usually fun and there is so much to see in the world everyone should get a head start.

Piece of the day would probably the St Matthew Passion of Bach, which Dominante sightread yesterday for the first time (at least in six years). I have yet to come across a piece of music where crying can be heard in the notes as vividly as in the first and, especially, last chorus.

January 15, 2006

Punta Chame, Panama

From American Airlines flight 932 Quito-Miami...

From Google Earth :)

January 14, 2006

Glued to the tv....

A relaxing moment.

January 11, 2006

Remembering Tena and other thoughts of the day

About an eight hour drive east from Quito lies the mighty capital city of the Napo Province, Tena (population 20 000). To reach it, you have to find the unpaved highway down from the Andes at Baeza, or arrive from Baños de Agua Santa on a highway which makes for an even bumpier ride. In Ecuador, you only stop to wonder whether you took a wrong turn when the road leads straight into someone's backyard! When you arrive to the road carousel with the huge statue of a naked Indian in the middle, you've found it.

Where we stayed in the jungle was very close to Tena, and so we ended up eating out there some times, because the closer village of Archidona offered nothing except an interestingly painted church and a drunkard taking the longest pee I have ever witnessed infront of it. Once again, it was Lonely Planet to the rescue with its catchy descriptions of the places to eat. Interested in how such a town in the middle of nowhere looked, I took a little walk around and some pictures of signs which you can see in this entry.

What I remember best about Tena, which, by the way, sounds like it could very well be the name of a city in Finland, is the main pedestrian bridge which you could actually feel bouncing beneath your feet as you crossed the river, shops selling everything from chewing gum to spare parts of lamps (these shops hardly exist anymore in the cities - they are essential for the survival of the population and store absolutely anything you need) and this ice cream vendor, who was probably running for the title of sexiest man in the jungle.

The colour on our cheeks (and Mirela's hair)is, by the way, from a sort of fruit you pop open to reveal the liquidy dye it carries inside. It would make a nice and exotic alternative to the lipstick high school students here love painting all over the other students' faces on Valentine's day!

I was experimenting with the Family History demo again today when I came across some 14th cousin 58 times remove or other called Florance Valentine, and realised she was born on the 14th of February! In a way it surprised me that Valentine's day already existed in the 19th century, but when I looked it up on the internet I found out the history of this celebration of "love and fertility" dates back to ancient times. It's scary to imagine what would happen now if it would only have been a celebration of fertility back then.

Here are some thoughts I had during this day: First of all, I really can't stand the look of long nails. If well taken care of, they can look fine on women, but on men I can only tolerate it if you're a guitarist (I'm glad I thought of that ;). Second of all, I remember pondering the essence of motion sickness. I used to always feel sick in cars and buses when I was small, but now that I'm older I have no difficulty reading in cars. I understand there are such bad cases of motion sickness that a flying somewhere can be torture for somebody. This must be really awful, but does it really mean there has to be a sick bag in every seat pocket in every airplane? I just can't imagine being sick in an airplane, even though I just sat through eight hours of heavy winds over the Atlantic.

I also found entertainment in the price list of Globetel, an international call operator I used today for making two phone calls abroad. If people nowadays wonder at how flight prices don't make sense anymore, they should check how much they are paying for international phone calls. Did you know that calling New Zealand on Globetel costs exactly the same as calling Slovakia, which is a member of the European Union, and that a phone call to neighbouring Tallinn is more expensive than calling Hawaii? The most expensive places to call from Finland are the Cook Islands! The cheapest flight I found on the internet from Helsinki to Rarotonga International Airport cost over 4000 euro and involved stops in London, Los Angeles and Tahiti (the flight from Los Angeles to Tahiti alone takes 9 hours). Suddenly Quito seems right next door!

Of course this got me searching the web for more, and I came upon the official website (www.cook-islands.com), where I found some very interesting information and statistics, including the schedule of the bus which circles the main island in less than an hour.

I just spent over an hour writing an entry and lost all of it when Blogger experienced "a problem". However, I am not prepared to leave without a fight and am almost sure I'll be able to reconstruct my newest post - I owe it to you and to myself. So here we go.

I was saying that I'm still not sure this template is exactly what I was looking for when I decided to refresh my blog a bit. It's a little too spotty for my taste, but then again there were so many layouts to choose from I suppose it's all the same! I added some new stuff in the sidebar, in case you didn't notice. I will keep doing this as time passes, so keep checking.

My first online purchase in 2006 on Amazon was made today amid pomp and glamour and I am now waiting for my Family Historian software to arrive so I can start updating the family tree with all the information I retreived last year. Omi's mouth-watering family trunk contained significant documents I hadn't examined before and also her neighbour, my granduncle, has a piece of paper I've been wanting to get my hands on for a long while. With this paper, it's going to be significantly easier to trace the lineage of my great-grandmother, whose surname was Bauer. Try researching that surname in a city as big as Vienna. I downloaded the demo of the newest Historian, and until now I'm convinced it's way better than the Family Tree Maker program I have been using until now, of which the version I have probably dates back to the times of my great-great-greatgrandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Killer from Siegen, Germany (see picture).

I spent altogether 28 nights on the trip, of which one was spent at the Holiday Inn JFK in New York, one on flight AA62 from Miami to Paris (a flight so bumpy it made the roads of the remote Ecuadorian jungle pale in comparison), two at my uncle's house, three at the Hosteria Isla de los Monos (Island of the monkeys - again, see picture) in Archidona, Eastern Ecuador, one at the country house of my aunt's family in Guayllabamba, and the rest at my grandmother's. I'm realising an alarming tendency to make lists and statistics like this of trips. Of course, I need look no further than one generation up to see where that came from, but let's hope I won't end up documenting my visits to the bathroom (until now, this hasn't happened in our family).

A friend asked me today whether my trip made me think of the world as being very small or very big, and I thought it was an interesting question. In a way, it's true the world has become really small because we have stuff to make it look like that. We have telephones and, more recently, intenet call programs like Skype, which make a distance of 20 000 kilometres vanish just like that, we have airplanes which fly so fast we can't grasp it (at least I can't), and we have the most fantastic computer program yet, Google Earth, which allows us to virtually visit any corner of the planet free of charge. But, anyway, I prefer to think that the world is really big. I mean, it's hopefully still the same size as thousands of years ago, and you just have to think about the time it took people to get places before.

Less than a hundred years ago, travelling to Quito from Europe was no picnic. My great-grandparents arrived on horseback from the port city of Guayaquil, built their sausage factory, and got on with life just like that, in a country which, back then, certainly wasn't easy to live in as a European. The factory still exists (see picture - the slogan means "The good things of life never change" and I don't know where that came from, it certainly isn't a family philosophy for all I know) and plays a central role in the history of our family in Ecuador. My father and uncle were practically raised in it.

I'm getting carried away now, and although it feels like the evening is just beginning, it's 2am so maybe I should wrap it up for today. Have a good night, everybody, and an even better tomorrow.

January 09, 2006


At 16:05 on Sunday, Finnair's flight 880 from Paris touched down in Helsinki-Vantaa airport, and 30 hours after leaving Calle Gonzalo Gallo, I unlocked the door of my humble home here at Calle Vänrikki Stool. It's funny how every home seems to have a distinctive smell when you visit it, but your own home always smells "neutral" until you return to it after being away four weeks. I was surprised at how pleasantly "woody" my apartment smelled when I came in. After a while, I discovered a package of rotting goat's cheese in my kitchen garbage (I knew I had forgotten something) and a distinctly more unpleasant smell penetrated my clogged nostrils and these 35 square metres.

Some people always tell me that returning home is always a bigger cultural shock than travelling to the other side of the world, and I agree. Cultural shocks don't get much bigger than visiting the ever-reliable S-market (called Ass market by some) to find the departments have been shuffled to create a fresher look. Or suddenly realising you're bumping into friends who a while ago were almost 11 000 kilometres away. Or trying to grasp the dreamlike feeling that, 48 hours ago, you were in Quito, the capital of Ecuador and a city Finns never pronounce right (including airport workers, it seems), in the same room with your grandmother, uncle, aunt and cousins all at once!

Jetlag is defined in the OD as "the tired feeling and other physical effects experienced after a long flight, esp when there is a great difference in the local times at which the journey begins and ends". I assume that includes preparing lunch at 23:00. And seven hours of time difference isn't actually that much. I just thought of something - I mean, at the most, if someone travelled almost all around the world at once, he would experience a time difference of 23 hours, wouldn't he? But wait a minute, that's practically one hour if you look at it from the other side. Does that mean only the date changes? I mean, let's assume it actually would be possible to travel, for example, from Helsinki to Stockholm via Japan and the Americas, in less than an hour. Where would that get me? Tomorrow?

I remember being fascinated by this subject ever since I was small. It should be so simple but it can really get you if you start thinking about it too much, like I probably have. Maybe it all started when my teacher in elementary school told us that you could time-travel if you stood at the North Pole (South Pole is just as possible but he probably thought we'll have a bigger chance of reaching the North Pole) and walked around it several times - to the future if you walked counter-clockwise and to the past clockwise. I remember the first thing I thought about then was that there wouldn't be any fun in it, because you wouldn't realise you're in the future if you stood in the middle of nowhere on the North Pole; you'd have to travel to some city to see any change. Isn't time a concept invented by humans? It sure is a funny thing. I mean, who decided that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a line, cutting through the very tip of Fiji, and that on one side it's Monday and on the other side it's Sunday. You don't believe me? Check your atlas right now! And what if someone lived just where the date line is? Wouldn't that be funny? Let's say you lived on the western side and realise you just missed some once-in-a-lifetime event you absolutely had to see - couldn't you just walk over to the previous day and wait for it to happen again?

I suppose this is dumb, but the line is dumb, too. I mean, it's so unfair! Because of it, New Zealand appears twice on many world maps (on the eastern and western edges), and honestly, look at the line, it's not even straight! Suddenly it veers west to leave the Aleutian Islands back in Sunday and then plunges back east so Russia wouldn't be left out from Monday. And another thing: I get the equator, but I don't get this meridian thing which makes Greenwich so special.

I hope everyone noticed how deftly I brought myself back to the main subject of this entry, which was supposed to be my trip. As a matter of fact, it would be impossible to summarise our four weeks in Ecuador in a blog entry. It'll probably take me ages to tell about the trip here, so let's see if I even start. The chances are not too slim, because I'm going to really try harder now to update D'sH more often. In honour of that, I have freshened this blog's look a little bit, as I hope you realised. Keep posting comments, everyone, (not just Martin, who has performed a bit of magic by getting such a cool URL for his blog, check it out) and thereby encourage me to write more often.