October 24, 2006

Another dream post

Here are some international (and not so international) aviation routes I dream of flying some day!

Lufthansa flies three times a week to Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, probably one of the most mysterious and isolated capital cities in the world, from Frankfurt. On the 7h flight, the Airbus 330-200 makes a stop in Baku, Azerbaijan – also not exactly one of the top most touristic destinations.

Ashgabat airport's terminal seen from space.
Aeroflot’s daily flight from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is one I am determined to get on my flight log some day. After nine hours, you emerge from the (hopefully still intact) airplane still in the same country where you departed from , and in one of the most beautiful and exciting natural environments in the world.

A Pulkovo Airlines Ilyushin IL-86 parked at PKC. Note how the airport is also used as a main thoroughfare for bikers!

Austrian Airlines gets a heap of sympathy points from me – they may be on the brink of a financial catastrophe, but they can be proud of their list of destinations in the Middle East. This includes Tehran, an airport probably all western governments are now urging to avoid. There has never been a better time to visit Iran.

Perhaps one of the more realistic items on this list, Spanish national carrier Iberia’s 12h trip to Quito certainly seems the most tempting way of reaching Ecuador from Europe. First of all, it doesn’t make downright aggravating stopovers in the Caribbean or Guayaquil, which is further from Europe than Quito (take a bow, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines), and second of all its touchdown in daytime means the passenger can fully appreciate perhaps the most stunning backdrop for a landing anywhere in the world. It’s a shame a new airport is being built outside the city centre (then again, ducking whenever passenger jets fly by could make you think twice before hitting the streets).

Quito's airport is in the middle of town.
Feel free to comment and maybe even add some of your own dream flights!

October 23, 2006

Music for a wayfarer

The parkland surrounding Schloss Eggenberg, yesterday 22.10. Note the warm weather.

I can't say I'm very home-sick yet, but often it's a piece of music which makes me feel like I'm in a different galaxy millions of light-years away from Finland. At sentimental times like this, I find it therapeutic to listen to more of these "tear-wrenching" pieces - sooner or later they bring me back to this planet! Here is a sample of the pieces I mean:

Jean Sibelius: 1st symphony - particularly 2nd movement Andante
Once again, Sibelius is from FINLAND – not Denmark, Iceland, Norway or even Russia. And this haunting movement sounds like something out of a dream of the best country in the world. (For all my readers abroad – don’t take me too seriously). The last movement is preferably listened to at full blast. It’s time the neighbours got to know some decent music anyway.

Ultra Bra: Helsinki-Vantaa
First of all, it’s a song about the most welcoming airport in the world. Second of all, it can’t help but dispel those veils of home-sickness! And last but not least, the story is told in that funny self-irony so characteristic of Finnish people (subjective interpretation), it reminds me that HEL has been where it is now for 54 years and it’s not going anywhere!

Johannes Brahms: An die Heimat
An odd bird in this list in that Brahms was NOT Finnish, this pretty short piece for four voices (choir or solo quartet? The debate rages on!) with piano accompaniment (not one of Brahms’ most imaginative ones, by the way), “An die Heimat” is nevertheless a strong item in the list of any home-sick person’s music library.

Vocal group Rajaton: Iltavirsi
Rajaton is not one of my favourite a cappella groups, but this beautiful piece taken from their album of sacred music “Sanat” is spooky enough to give me the creeps. The melody, a simple short evening hymn, is enough to bring memories from years gone by flooding back, and Rajaton’s arrangement manages to portray childlike naïveté with a somber, even claustrophobic, undertone.

Toivo Kuula: Siell’ on kauan jo kukkineet omenapuut
Instructions for listening to this:
Think of the people and the things you miss most at home.
Stop everything you are doing.
Press play.

October 20, 2006

Introducing Graz (a subjective point of view)

I have no idea how this post will be welcomed, but I decided to post some pictures from my temporary hometown. For people who don't enjoy pictures (unphotogenic is probably the word), there are some light-spirited anecdotes in the end of this post. Enjoy!

KUG's (Kunstuniversität Graz) main building is just a ten-minute walk from the Hauptplatz. There is a cafeteria but it's nothing to write home about, so I usually go to the cafeteria of the catholic students' union. Every table carries the food for all the students sitting at it, which means that the food is passed around until it finishes. When I'm feeling less sociable, a good choice is the main university cafeteria (although last time all I got was a piece of burnt pizza).

The Stadtpark is situated between the centre and our side of town, which means I walk through it almost every day. Today, the ambiance was very Brahms: Fünf Gesängiän.

Gutshaus Kranz (or Kunsthaus Graz or "friendly alien") seen from the Schlossberg. Yesterday, I went to see the exhibition of contemporary art on display. The only nice thing I can say is that the views on the old town were great.

Trams 7 and 1 take me home to Merangasse from the city, but usually walking is the best option. One of the dark sides of the centre is that there are surprisingly many beggars on the streets, often in wheelchairs and amputated limbs. Yesterday, a shabbily dressed woman came to ask my colleagues and I whether we could find her a job. We live on the third floor of an old house. Our downstairs' neighbours are the Schmidt's (name changed to preserve anonymity) - a friendly and unorganised woman (encounters include the following: "Please let me use your phone!!! I've locked myself out and my husband can't hear me knocking!!") and a slightly overbearing man who came raging into our apartment one day because we had shaken the rubbish off all our carpets onto their balcony. Oops. We later accidentally dropped a white towel onto their balcony (maybe they considered it a peace offering?) after which we learned Mister Schmidt suffers from bad hearing and can't help but scream at everyone.

Moser, the biggest bookstore in Graz.
Except for random encounters on the stairs, we haven't made close contact with the upstairs neighbours yet, but plausible plans for first contact include blackmailing them with a letter which accidentally was put in our mailbox in exchange for getting the password to their wireless internet connection! Stay tuned for the latest developments.

Wishing everyone an adventurous Friday night!

October 16, 2006

Understandably skeptical

13.6.2006 Bosra, Syria

Graz made international headlines today (well at least in Steiermark) when a robber opened fire at the police very near where we live! Reporters were all over our street in the morning, and I wasn't allowed to walk to the university my usual way (a great opportunity to explore the sidestreets around Merangasse).

Other than that, life is normal here. I'll add a couple of pictures concerning our day-to-day life....

Merangasse thrown into chaos!

Wishing everyone an uplifting start of the week!

October 13, 2006

OS346/977 9.10. HEL-VIE-GRZ - the photostory

Captain Torsten Steinwender prepares for the two-hour flight to Vienna.

Riga's city centre seen from the sky. The railway station is clearly visible, as well as the huge hangars now used as the central market.

Approaching Graz Thalerhof airport in a beautiful evening light. Just in case: the visible village is NOT the commercial centre of Graz :)

I'll also add something for non-aviation fans: plans for the coming days!

-To finally take the plunge and taste sushi under the guidance of a Japanese student.
-To go and see "Carmen" at the Graz opera.
-To take tram 1 to the end of the line at Mariatrost and walk back home through the forest (I have no idea whether this is a good idea, but at least the area is painted green on the city map).
-To finally finish reading "Anna Karenina".

Wishing everyone a non-hazardous Friday evening!

October 12, 2006

The graz is always greener...

I've been putting this off for too long – my first entry from a new place. One could say, new world, but that would feel a little too overwhelming. New life? Maybe – although that isn’t quite correct, either. Perhaps it’s easier to just stick to facts.

The most obvious (and important) one is that I now live in Austria’s second largest city, Graz, population around 300,000. Here are some interesting observations I have made until now.

Graz has four univerities. The food at the main university canteen is good but more than twice the price in Helsinki. I tried local milk today for the first time. I’m not sure I want to do it again..

The trip from Graz airport to my new home takes longer than the flight from Vienna. The airport is way out, which probably explains why Ryanair has included it into its network.

Although the street my five flatmates and I live in, Merangasse, might refer to a small picturesque alleyway where our landlady bakes merangue pie for us every weekend, it is actually an important (and noisy) thoroughfare about about ten minutes east of the centre by foot. And as for our landlady, forget the pie. We anyway wouldn’t have a fridge to store it in.

Visa Electron might work perfectly in the Kurdish wilderness, but here in Austria presenting it at the cashier is like turning up smelling of dog’s droppings. I still haven’t developed an effective finance managing system.

Instead of how phone bills work in the normal world, here I have to pay in supermarkets to use my phone. It’s all like something out of an espionage film: pay the cash, receive a 14-digit code, call an obscure number and follow the orders of a husky female voice, and voilà – the phone works.

The secret is out: Graz is a treasure trove for choir singers. I have already been offered a job singing in the chorus of the Saint John’s Passion in Easter – for a salary of no less than 800 euro.

Graz may have been the cultural capital of Europe in 1999 (and they celebrated by building a modern art house in the middle of the old town – it is now lovingly called the „friendly alien“ of Graz), but yesterday a musician told me he always thought Sibelius was Danish – remark impressively delivered with a straight face.

This might not be rural Tyrol, but Austrian stereotypes still apply for Graz as well. As part of their extensive sports programme, the university is offering a course in Austrian folk dances. Lederhosen and Dirndl-skirts provided by the institute….?

Finally, as something of an appendix, I added a small but comprehensive list of distances from GRZ airport in km. Home is where the heart is (see top of list)!

Helsinki 1596
Damascus 2307
Quito 10 288

Other points of interest which are already on my checklist:
Vienna 150
Ljulbljana 120
Venice 294
Sarajevo 426
Berlin 630

Wishing everyone a smoke-free weekend!