August 29, 2006

Groovy airports

As a contrast to the slightly more meditative post below, here is a list of some IATA airport codes just dying to get on my *boast* ever-growing list of airports visited. These are some tags I would probably be very reluctant to rip off my suitcase!

overview of Grand Rapids airport, Michigan (GRR)

HUG - Huehuetenango, Guatemala

IPC - Easter Island, Chile

KKK - Kalakaket, Alaska, United States

MMM- Middlemount, Australia

PKC - Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskyi (you might have guessed)

SDA - Baghdad, Iraq (the code stands for S. Hussein - history lives on in airport codes, as can be seen in St Petersburg: LED)

SEX - Sembach, Germany

WHY - Whyalla, Australia (why indeed)

Introducing the airport of the tiny Pacific island nation Nauru = INA

A picture I'm proud of

Taken at Sulkava last weekend, this picture more or less captures the atmosphere in the forest just after a raging thunderstorm passed us.

Less than four weeks to go before moving, and feelings are very mixed. The closer the day comes, the more often I have to ask myself why I am going. The answers, of course, are just as obvious as they have been for months, but still it feels as though the mind is playing tricks and it sometimes takes me a while to even remember I won't be here anymore in a month. When people ask when I'm leaving, it sometimes takes a while to remember what they are talking about.

Living each day without a routine and taking care of practical stuff whenever I remember it is, in a way, tiring. Of course it's great to not have a fixed schedule, but the deceptive thing about it is that at a time it feels like I don't know what to do with myself, and at times I'd rather not think about the pile of stuff to take care of - insurance, apartment matters, new passport, renew driver's licence, to name just a few.

This might sound absurd, but as much as I am excited about flying to Austria on the 25.9., I have to say that I already can't wait for the day I'll come back!

August 18, 2006

Things aren't always what they seem

Sometimes, I like to go to the boat pier on Töölönlahti to lie down and watch the sky. It feels nice to be in the middle of one of the world's capital cities and still be completely alone. So this is what I did today.

The stars were lighting up in the sky and I was watching them, when suddenly one of them seemed to be moving. First I thought I was imagining, but the longer I looked at the star I realised I had to follow it with my eyes and it passed one of the other stars. It was way too high up to be an airplane, and anyway it didn't leave a trail in the sky so I got really confused and looked around to see if anyone else was watching. I thought it might be a comet very far away, but that seemed far-fetched.

Suddenly the star got bigger and started swaying back and forth. Then it got a shape - a speck of pollen from a flower. It came next to me and fell into the water.

*picture from the internet.

August 12, 2006

Days 9-11: Northern Ireland

From Bushmills, we visited the Giant's Causeway just 3km away. Advertised as one of the strangest natural rock formations in the world and hyped up by the touristic visitor centre, we got the picture it's one of the most important places to see in Ireland. And it certainly was impressive! However, even more breathtaking than the causeway were the furious waves pounding the rocky coast. The wind almost blew our heads off!

The north coast of Ireland, pounded by waves.
Leaving the best (and also most expensive) hostel of the trip behind us, we took the bus back to Coleraine, where we were very surprised to hear that a train to Belfast would be cheaper than a bus. Making use of the transfer slot to walk around the town (although it was also inviting to just stay at the station without having to lug our stuff around), we visited a church and some stores.

Last-minute deals to get out of Coleraine.
Belfast was a very nice city and a big place (this impression might have been due to the fact we arrived there after a week and a half in the countryside). We stayed two nights there and that gave us enough time to see the most important things, including a long walk to the suburbs of West Belfast, famous for their political murals and the "peace wall" - dividing the protestant and catholic communities, it has stood there longer than the Berlin wall.

Surprisingly, the murals also depicted current conflicts all over the world.
Belfast also had the best water fountains I have ever seen - we sat watching them for about half an hour, admiring the way the gushes of water were designed to dance in unison (one of the gushes was out of order and didn't know the dance) and chace each other at amazing speed. There were interesting modern artworks at the River Lagan, while the City Hall must be one of the most beautiful in the world.

A Belfast street corner.
At the Linen House hostel, we took the cheapest accommodation option which was a 22-bed dorm, reminding Mikko very much of his army times. We had some trouble falling asleep with all the people snoring and banging the door and turning the lights on in the middle of the night. The second night was a little easier. Once again, it was pasta-and-olives o'clock for lunch and dinner. Like this, we could afford our last drinks in Ireland - and what better place to enjoy them than the oldest and most famous pub in Belfast, the Crown Liquor Saloon!

Yesterday, we left the hostel just after six in the morning and took the bus straight to Dublin airport, using the very last of our money. Ireland was more expensive than we were expecting, but every cent/penny was worth it. Here are some tips for going to Ireland, based on recently acquired experience!

-Think of how much you are prepared to spend, then double the sum and you'll have your minimum travel budget.

-Call ahead to book a bed - the hostels are all full in the summer!

-As we were told and found out ourselves, Ireland is one of the best countries in Europe for hitchhiking. Read previous post for helpful hints on catching a ride!

-Don't underestimate Northern Ireland! The scenery is just as breathtaking and Belfast makes for a pleasant surprise with its shopping streets and interesting (also tragic) history.

- If planning on visiting the Aran Islands, try Inisheer, the smallest one. There's not as much to see as on the other islands, but it's probably even more special because of relatively little tourism.

- Take warm clothes - Ireland can be cold even in August.

Inisheer Island, one of the highlights of our trip.

August 08, 2006

Days 7-8: buses in the water

We're getting to a point in the trip where we're exhausted all the time. Although we went to sleep really early yesterday, we wouldn't mind going to sleep now already and it's only seven o'clock. It took us all day and three buses to arrive at Bushmills from Donegal. And the fact that it hasn't stopped raining isn't very uplifting either.

Still, travelling is great! One could just get used to this life - planning the days as we go, looking up hostels and bus schedules and calling ahead to book (I don't want to see my phone bill..) and just going where your nose takes you. Of course it's still nice to go home on Friday. Tomorrow we'll explore the Giant's Causeway, which is one of the most important natural attractions in the United Kingdom (that's right, we're in another country now) before going to Belfast for a day and a half.

Yesterday was a bank holiday, so getting around was tricky. First of all, we slept late (the previous evening was spent exploring Donegal's nightlife with our four roommates from the hostel - we hope to meet them again tomorrow in Belfast). We wanted to go to see Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe about an hour's drive from Donegal town, but since there were very few buses (and it has to be said we're now on a very tight budget - don't even think about Ireland on a shoestring budget) we hitchhiked. It took us four separate rides to get there. Sometimes we got a lift easily and sometimes we had to wait over half an hour.

It was fun, actually, once we got the hang of it. As a friendly mother who gave us a lift told us, there's far more to it than just standing at the edge of the road and lifting your thumb. We perfected the art by determined and vigorous eye contact with the drivers, frantic waving AND a sign we made ourselves saying where we were going!

Today, we stopped for two hours at Londonderry/Derry, but it was raining so much we only made a tour of the mall. The next stop was made at Coleraine, boasting a very shabby bus station and a stuttering ticket officer (poor thing). From Coleraine, it was just a ten minute drive here to Bushmills. Let it be said at this point that Ireland can also lay claims to the biggest idiot of a bus driver in the world - don't worry, you'll hear the details.

We've been using the kitchens at the hostel to cook dinner and store food from the supermarket. Today we had pasta with tuna and olives. This hostel is the best one until now because the rooms have CUPBOARDS!! How nice to finally have a place other than the cramped backpack to put my clothes. Also, we have our own shower. I'll now go to wake Mikko up and we'll think of what to do tonight.

August 06, 2006

Highs & Lows: Days 3-6

The trip has gone very well until now, in spite of the weather which hasn't been very kind. Highlights until now include..

- The picture-perfect village of Doolin on the Atlantic coast, population 200.

- The rocky shore outside Doolin.

- People! The friendliest bus driver in the world on bus from Limerick to Doolin and the friendliest boat captain who gave us a lift after we walked ages in the fog (see lowlights)

- Atmospheric Inisheer island, the smallest of the Aran islands. You'd think it's one of the sleepiest places in the world until the pub fills up!

- One of the most powerful voices I have ever heard: A local woman singing folk songs in Inisheer through the night.

- The five-minute flight on the smallest airplane ever from Inisheer back to the mainland. We were actually seated according to our weight and had a chat with the captain after touchdown.

And many more to follow!

Note! Lowlights are always an essential ingredient in any trip. It's fun to laugh at them afterwards, so here they are:

- Horrible fish and chips and "chicken salad" (two black pieces of chicken wings) in Limerick. Hold on to your stomachs!

- The crazy cost of food (not to mention drinks).

- Walking 7 kilometres in thick fog from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher. It's one of the most breathtaking sights in Ireland - but we didn't see anything. However, this eventually turned into a highlight! (see above)

- Getting lost in the treacherous Burren area, getting torn by the thorns and having to jump over a fence to a local farm to find our way back before reading signs that said "Beware of the Bull".*

- Looking for an internet cafe in rainy Galway, where we are now. Our bus further north leaves in an hour, so bye everybody!

Love to everyone back home! :)

Dani & Mikko

*Okay, I spiced this one up a bit :) But there WAS a sign!

August 02, 2006

Day 2: Dublin in 11 hours

Dublin might be busier and more of a metropolis than Helsinki, but the buses sure take longer to arrive than at home. We waited well over half an hour today for the service to downtown, where the first thing we did was head straight for the Chester Beatty Library, a fascinating museum containing the collection of a millionare who travelled the world collecting rare manuscripts and works of art. Examining the wonderful medieval books from Christian, Islamic and Buddhist cultures, it wasn't hard to see what makes books so special.

We boycotted the Christ Church Cathedral because it cost 2,50€ to enter, but didn't blink twice at the 20€ bill at trendy "Tante Zoe's" where we had lunch. The jambalaya there sure beats the heck out of its Deutsche Schule counterpart. The afternoon was spent watching an Australian movie we didn't understand at the Irish Film Institute, and after that it was time for the obligatory pub-hopping.

From touristy Temple Bar, we proceeded to a very classy-looking drinking place called Cafe en Seine. After that, a spot of salsa at SamSara. Before that, my fake Kipling rucksack, bought at the fake shoppers' paradise in Zhuhai, China three months ago, went apart at the zippers, so I just managed to rush into a department store before it closed to get a new rucksack. The "Kipling" is currently stuffed inside a public litter bin.

Tomorrow, we're off to the west coast. The bus to Limerick, Ireland's third city (excluding Belfast which is not part of the Republic), leaves at 13:30. From there we'll change to the regional service which will take us to the coast at the town of Doolin. Posting might become patchy due to uncertain internet availability. There's laughter coming from the hall where the others are watching a Mister Bean episode - till later!

August 01, 2006

Day 1: Avoiding Guinness in Dublin

Yesterday's flight on Finnair's Airbus319 (registered OH-LVG) was quick and comfortable. We are staying in the outskirts of Dublin with a friendly and homey family, and yesterday we were so tired after the trip that we only made a short walk around the neighbourhood before crashing into our luxurious beds.

Night falls on Dublin's southern suburbs
Today, however, we rumbled into town on doubledecker bus 11 (what a friendly driver! It makes the Helsinki drivers look like sociopaths) and started our "Dublin in two days - day one" itinerary with St Stephen's Green, a place I remember well from my last visit four years ago and a nice spot for a picnic. After that, Grafton street for some window shopping. Of course visiting Trinity College, in particular the very impressive library, was inevitable. Why is it always prohibited to take pictures in these places! It makes me so irritated - see below.

The impressive library at Trinity College
Lunch was at a funky place called Gruel (recommended by Lonely Planet - I know I sound pathetic but sometimes the easiest thing is to just look in the guidebook for advice which everyone else is following as well), dinner in not-so-funky Burger King (Mikko's first Whopper meal!). Of course we had a pint (or two) with a nice Italian couple in the Temple Bar pub district, and I now have a new mission for tomorrow - see title. How ironic I sleep under a poster advertising this ghastly drink.

Make up your own ending!
I had forgotten that the city's largest tourist office is a converted church - how's that for kitch. However, I didn't forget that in Dublin, there are shops selling "genuine Irish gifts" everywhere, and the thought of how all the money people spend on all this rubbish (Guinness underwear, anyone?) could be spent is better not contemplated. But now I'm being my cynical self and not praising this place enough - it's a nice laid-back city with a quirky character, the people are friendly and just like in the movies, and there's also a sense of history, especially in the area around the park, with its beautiful old grand houses with their fantastic coloured doors!

I spent some time just now reading and replying to emails and reading the news, which is harder every day. I also read my uncle's blog, which doens't exactly inspire one to burst into joyous singing, either. How easy it is for the rest of the world to turn a blind eye to human catastrophes like this or be brainwashed to think any massacre of innocent children is self-defence. Oh and by the way, how about the contanimation of the Meditteranean? And now I'm quoting my aunt, who says the sea is probably a terrorist as well.