Thursday, July 26

bullshit of the day (week/month/year?):

"For your comfort & security regular ticket checks will be undertaken"

spotted on a Connex train. So, how exactly did Connex's increased money-grabbing efficiency improve my comfort or security? Are drunks, vandals, obnoxious people & potential muggers incapable of buying tickets?
posted @ 5:21 PM -

Tuesday, July 24

It may sound absurd, but had I known about this page yesterday it would have saved me hours of aggravation today.
posted @ 2:17 PM -
keeping this short because I have no time, but I just wanted to keep this diary alive

Isle of Wight was excellent, in spite of the odd rain interruption (serves us right for living in this stupid country really....). I learned lots and feel good from it.

I would write more about it, and finish writing about my travel abroad, but I have had a truly appalling day, and I have several hours' work left to do. I need a break from my monitor just now....
posted @ 11:29 AM -

Friday, July 13

there are some technical problems with this diary at the moment, so you may only be able to read this entry in the archive part, not the current bit, even though it is the latest entry. Not my fault!

posted @ 5:34 PM -
off to the Isle of Wight tomorrow (later today to be strict about it). Still have to write my XML Schemas handout before I go, which is why I haven't been spewing verbiage here. Sorry about those last few words. It's been a long day.

Still not happy to be here, in a place that I ordinarily love. I guess the workload is part of it, but it's also a fair price to pay for being able to go and travel lots. Someone I met in Estonia asked me if I travel much, to which the answer was "no". We then started talking about all the cool things I've been able to go and do over the last year or so, and I started to realise quite how ridiculous it was of me to say I don't travel much. I just don't think of things like this coming trip as 'travel'.

Hopefully the coming week will cheer me up. The plan is basically to spend 6 days intensively training with the kung fu club, and 6 nights not doing anything very intensively at all. Last year it left me feeling great; no reason why it shouldn't again this time.

Perhaps when I get back I will feel less like shooting seagulls, drivers, train ticket inspectors etc. etc. etc.
posted @ 5:29 PM -

Wednesday, July 11

back in Blighty now and not very happy to be so. I'll write about my last few days of holiday later - I have a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who has donated to Mencap on my account so far - I came home to a large stack of mail, about half of which was sponsorship, which at least was one nice thing to find here.
posted @ 4:01 PM -

Monday, July 9

travelling alone has certainly worked out well. I got back to the hostel after writing my diary the other day and pretty much instantly I was chatted up by a very sweet Québecois. She's only just left, so I have actually hardly spent any time alone since parting ways with my friends. I'm a bit concerned I may have got myself into something more serious than intended though - in 36 hours she went from talking about how good it is to meet people travelling and then move on with no strings attached to talking about coming to England to see me. This is either very good or very bad - I can't make up my mind which as yet....

Yesterday we went to Tartu for a day of wandering around, which was odd because as far as I can tell we had a pretty unrepresentative impression of the place. Among other things it is Estonia's main university town, so I would assume that normally it is a fairly buzzing place, but on a Sunday in the holidays it was eerily dead. I guess all the students are either back home or partying in Pärnu (which seemed to be busier than Tallinn on Friday night in spite of having a tenth of the population, so I think there is a mass migration that way). It's a very pretty town, pleasant to wander around even when there is nothing happening. It's built on a river, which has a little green space to walk along either bank, and there's a big park on a hill (which was once a fortress but has very little remaining). Where Tallinn is crowded and a bit lacking in greenery, this city has so many trees that looking out from the top of the hill you hardly see buildings. Here and there a roof peers out from between the trees, giving the impression that the city is in hiding.

I have had more luck with events - today is the start of a folk festival in Tallinn - but I'll write about that later because I don't want to miss the rest of the days' performances.
posted @ 4:28 AM -

Saturday, July 7

before I write about Pärnu, I ought to mention a couple of things I left out yesterday about Tallinn. The first is an obvious tourist attraction - we went to the Russian Orthodox Cathedral at the centre of Toompea (the hill that the old fortifications are on). The Cathedral itself was beautiful, which is pretty much to be expected, but what made this special was that there was a service on going. When I realised that it was a funeral I started to feel guilty & intrusive, but putting such concerns aside for the moment it was a very moving sensory experience (were it a modern thing it would be advertising as multi-media....) Even before walking in the sweet smell of the incense was noticeable, and inside it was almost overpowering, and the choir were the closest I can imagine to the sound of angels. The actual style of Orthodox singing is quite different from Western European churches, and I actually like it far better.

The second was one of the more surprising things we saw in the guide book, that we simply had to visit because it seemed so absurd. It's called the Depeche Mode Baari, and you guessed it - it's a bar devoted to Depeche Mode. I was utterly skeptical before going on, because it did just sound like it was going to be teenage-obsessive and irritating, but I had to concede it's actually a really good place. The thing is that the proprietor (who is hugely obsessive, and also very friendly) hasn't just taken a cellar and thrown Depeche Mode posters all over it (anyway there is a stray Duran Duran poster violating the Depeche Mode purity of the place), but he actually took the trouble to create somewhere that would be a good bar anyway. It has a very cosy feel to it, somewhere between a student living room and a bar. I still wouldn't reccommend it to anyone who doesn't like Depeche Mode though - only one band's records ever get played there....

Anyway, back to Pärnu. I did really throw myself in at the deep end with this travelling alone thing, by going somewhere for the night with no intention of sleeping, but it worked out pretty well. Initially the evening was not looking promising at all - no-one seemed to speak any English at the tourist places (which is understandable because it's a hugely popular resort with Estonians but there were virtually no foreign tourists), and I started to feel increasingly conspicuously foreign. I decided to ignore this and go for a walk around anyway, and quickly started to like the place. It actually seems like a much more pleasant place to live than Tallinn, but it must be dead outside the summer holidays because it's population is 50,000, and the way it was heaving on a Friday night there must have been at least that many visitors (Estonia is a small enough country that lots of people come down for a day and drive home) on top of the population.

The town seems to consist of at least as much park as buildings, and most of it (or at least the nightlife & sightseeing parts) is between a river and the sea. The real focus of the town in the day & early evening is the beach, which I managed to get to just as the sun was setting. Last night's was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. This was partly down to the location - the beach is a long expanse of sand that just barely rises above sea level, sloping so gradually that there is a 20 yard wide strip of sea before the depth exceeds an inch or two, with some very small sand dunes (the biggest ones were about as tall as I am) and a reed marsh behind it. Pärnu is in a horseshoe-shaped bay, so looking out the sea is framed by land on both sides, but the land is low as to barely be noticeable. The effect of all this is that as the light fades the distinction between land, sea and sky becomes less and less clear, something brought out even more by the complete absence of wind, which made the sea literally glassy. The sun disappeared behind a cloud before setting, but there were some other clouds at just the right angle to glow fiery red, and reflect on the sea for a while. Once this stopped, it became almost dark (Pärnu is the furthest south I've been since leaving home, and the almost-black sky was quite a surprise to me because I'm already taking white nights for granted), and the only thing that stayed distinct was a man-made structure. For no apparent reason there is a long stone jetty where the river meets the sea. I walked down this at dusk, and it started to feel like it was the only thing that existed. Almost perfectly at midnight, the moon rose, at the opposite horizon from where the sun had set. The moon was also intensely red, and it was as though the sun had immediately bounced back, just in completely the wrong place....

After watching this for some time I went to the allegedly jazz club, which had nothing to do with jazz, but was a great night anyway. One room had live bands in it - I saw two fairly experimental things that kept teetering between genuinely interesting and interesting in the "I want to say it's rubbish but I'm trying to be tactful" way. Much more fun was the other, which played a hugely eclectic mix of western & Estonian music, throwing in any style whenever the DJ felt like it. I'm not sure it really worked musically, but the crowd was really up for it and just kept bouncing around the room creating the kind of atmosphere it was impossible not to get sucked into. I didn't make any friends there, but I also didn't feel like I was alone because it just didn't matter. If clubs were always like that I'd actually go more often.

The Estonian music played was fairly cheesy, but it was basically ideal for a night like that. Cheesy with one exception - one thing came on that was so utterly haunting I had to ask the DJ what it was. Unfortunately it turns out it was a remix he made himself and has no spare copies of, based on a 70s disco record. It didn't sound like that at all - the closest point of reference I can come up with is Orbital's last single. What was also nice to hear was that Estonian records generally raised a big cheer from the crowd, so foreign music seems not to be displacing home-grown talent.

The DJ and one of the bands were the easiest people to talk to, I guess at least partly because there was an obvious way to start a conversation without looking like a nutter. Apart from that, Estonians who I plucked up the courage to speak to were pretty friendly, and the younger generation do tend to speak English well (those who finished school during the Soviet era generally don't, because they were forced to learn Russian and no other foreign language). Ironically the only person I completely failed to make conversation with was a Brit. Early in the night, when I was still convinced that no Estonians could speak English, I heard an English accent and thought I'd try to make conversation. Normally I would assume that 2 travellers would have obvious things to talk about, but this man was simply too British - every question was answered in one or two words, until I gave up, having decided that clearly he wasn't remotely open to the idea of talking to strangers.

The club had lots of windows, facing the sunrise (which started at about 1, and the sun was well airborne by chucking-out time, eliminating the need for ugly-lights), and once it did shut down I just wandered back to the beach and slept for a while. This seems like a very romantic idea, but it's actually an immensely stupid thing to do. Sandy beaches are no more comfortable than stone floors, plus you just get sand in all your clothes. Quite why this didn't occur to me earlier is beyond me....

In the morning I was approached by a Swedish nutter (who has offered me the spare room in his house for when I get to Stockholm, but I've already thrown away his number because he really was unhinged). He was the kind of obviously harmless nutter who was amusing for a while, but had absolutely no concept of what makes a story interesting. After I had heard the third version of his Mexican friend (originally Brian Wilson, who he claimed was the Rolling Stones' guitarist, but then he had also introduced himself to me with 2 different names within about 10 minutes....) slaughtering goats I decided to leave him. When subtle hints failed I tried being downright rude, but he still didn't get the message, so I decided to do a runner. A very slow runner because I hadn't slept much and my feet ached, but he was even slower. As if the slow motion chase in an unfamiliar town wasn't surreal enough, a church's bells started chiming. Only they didn't chime like ordinary church bells; there were 3 bells, which seemed to have been intended to form a major chord, but were slightly out of tune (how do you tune a church bell? answers on a postcard please). This discord was rung at a very fast tempo for several minutes, and sounded distressingly like the music in a Hamer Horror film when the beast is chasing the victim. Add all this to the fact that lack of sleep makes me melodramatic and emotional at the best of times....

All this finished in time for me to get to that classical recital. It's a long time since I've actually been to an orchestral performance, and I had forgotten quite how much of the warmth and intensity of the sound is lost by even the best recordings. Add this to fact that there was a phenomenally talented cello soloist (who is also Estonian, doesn't look a day older than 14, and was received like a superstar by the crowd), and there were the makings of an hour of incredible music.

I never thought that when travelling I would look to go to a club or a classical recital (both seem like things I can do at home, even though in practice I never do), let alone both. It was also a series of coincidences that took me to Pärnu, but I'm really glad all this has happened. It took me off the usual foreign tourist trail, not in an "I'm really tough & adventurous" way, but in a way that let me see what 2 completely different groups of Estonians do for entertainment. It's amazing how easy it is to travel and not see how the locals live, even when (as here) it's not that radically different from home. Somehow this has made me realise that I had been approaching Estonia with a deeply patronising attitude, based on preconceptions and on one city where the foreign tourist trade is very separate from normal life. I have a lot more respect for the place as somewhere that has a good life of its own, interesting local culture and talent, and intense pride in these things, as well as a much stronger awareness that 6 days is simply not long enough to understand a place that is at all different from home.
posted @ 9:50 AM -

Friday, July 6

Estonia is also beautiful, though the contrast with Finland is striking in many ways. Before I make any attempt to sum this up meaningfully, I will go back a few days and pick up where I had left off.

Leaving Helsinki turned out to be slightly more hassle than we expected - we just missed one ferry, and then expected to catch the next from that particular line, only to realise it had been cancelled. Somehow this was extra shocking because of the generally high levels of efficiency and reliability we had been encountering all week in Finland.... Dunc & I ran off to another line's terminal, who clearly had a Tallinn boat on their departures board, but the booking person insisted they didn't do any Tallinn crossings. People are strange sometimes.

Eventually we all hauled our luggage off to another terminal (there are at least 5 lines doing this journey), and wound up on a hydrofoil, which I got really childishly excited about, but was not a particularly cool experience. Still, it got us there quickly & cheaply. We were beginning to get worried about how things were about to become far more complicated than they had been in Finland, but although our next experience made us more concerned it did turn out to be a misplaced fear [apologies for the appalling sentence structure there, but I can't be bothered to edit myself]. In Tallinn, the lady at the tourist office spoke virtually no English, and told us that there is no longer a night train or an express (5-6hrs) service to Riga, only a 14 hour one changing at Valka and leaving Tallinn early in the morning. I made Duncan ask her the same things in Russian because I wasn't convinced about my attempt at communicating with her, but he got the same answer. In a very roundabout way this has stopped me from going to Riga, but apart from that it hasn't mattered much, and fortunately since then things have become more straightforward.

We tried phoning ahead from Helsinki to book accommodation, but gave up after a few places were full and others seemed to be wrong numbers. In Tallinn we picked up an In Your Pocket Guide (incidentally these are small guides to individual cities, which are far more useful & up-to-date than the big guidebooks - worth remembering for the next time I go somewhere that has one about it) and we thought we'd try phoning places from that which were not in the Lonely Planet, because they would be less booked up. First place we phoned had a room, and it was most entertaining. We were greeted by an elderly lady who spoke no English and very little Russian, so Dunc interpreted with some difficulty. Once the proprietor arrived she became shocked that one of the rooms we had been given was a double as opposed to a twin ("you can't have a double - you are two boys" - like anyone was bothered) and insisted on moving us just as we had started to flop onto beds &, chairs. This was pretty much typical of her attitude while we were there. She was clearly just trying to be a good host, but her ideas of the correct way to do things was so fixed, and involved so much over-attention that it was more than a little stifling. Sort of like a stereotypical Jewish mother, but much more extreme, and she did get concerned when we didn't eat enough breakfast this morning.... For some reason Mark became ultra-cynical and critical of everything for a while, and she was his main target. Somehow the fact that he found her so irritating when the rest of us were just mildly annoyed made her antics become highly amusing (sorry Mark!).

Tallinn is a most interesting place. It has all the elements of a top tourist destination in its own right, plus the contrast with Helsinki is very striking. The touristy part of town is a mediæval walled city which is totally enchanting, and surprisingly well preserved considering the number of times this area changed hands during WW2, and the fact that it was Soviet for most of the time since. It is also totally unreal, in the sense that once we went out of there to the modern city it became glaringly obvious that real Tallinners just don't go there unless they happen to work in the tourist trade. The modern city offers one sort of contrast, in that it has many shiny new large buildings that provide a very tangible sign that Estonia's economy is going somewhere, and seem almost to be symbols of optimism. It's also a very small area, and as soon as one walks past it the signs are very clear that most people haven't really been touched by this wealth (yet? - I think there's some reason to be optimistic). Most of Tallinn's suburbia seems to consist of bland concrete Soviet blocks (nowhere near as brutal and horrible as the ones I remember seeing in East Berlin, and Dunc says it really isn't a very Sovietised place) intermingled with wooden houses that are actually quite pretty but seriously dilapidated. It's a world apart from Helsinki, but at the same time not actually the miserable place I expected. I know it's the best off off the Baltic states (in terms of wealth, employment, housing and so on), but more than the conditions the people seem generally fairly smiley. Definitely less cheerful than Helsinki, or so we though until last night, but I'll explain that below.

Estonian is an amusing language, related to Finnish but with many more comedy words for an English speaker. There is a museum in a cannon tower called Kiek-in-do-Kök, and today or tomorrow I will be climbing the Punane Torn, to give you a flavour. Beyond puerile humour, this is a fascinating place, which for most of the middle ages was a real melting pot and battle ground for different cultures (while Finland was quietly minding its own business). It's very cheap - we've been eating in fairly swanky restaurants in the heart of the tourist-trap area for �5-�10, and now that I'm on my own I've been able to find decent meals for �1-�2. Also, due largely to luck, we've had the most entertaining nights here.

Entirely by chance we managed to turn up in Tallinn the day its annual beer festival (Õlesummer) was about to start. Beer festivals back home are fun, but they get taken a bit too seriously, and I can't imagine a really huge beer fest in Britain without some fights. This one was possibly the happiest, friendliest event I've ever seen. It takes place in the Song Grounds, which are noteworthy in themselves. Every year there are Song Festivals in Estonia (if I come back here one day I'll try to make it coincide), in which thousands of Estonians gather not to watch a band, but to sing as an enormous choir. The Tallinn Song Grounds are not even the site of the national festival, and they hold about 150,000 people - it must be amazing to be there. Anyway, the beer festival is there, and there must have been 20,000 people around last night, with a ludicrous number of bar tents (not serving that many different beers - it's not really a CAMRA beardy weirdy type event), selling beer for 20 - 25 Kroon a half litre (about �1), meals for similar prices, and offering really daft entertainment. The highlight in that respect was probably the sumo ring - contestants put on Michelin Man type suits and try to knock each other over; probably doesn't sound too exciting now, but is hilarious with a little booze in your system. The thing that struck all of us most about this event though was the extremely good vibe that ran through it; described by Dunc as "like Glastonbury without the mud, politics or crusties".

My luck has stayed in - I've just turned up in Pärnu in the middle of 2 festivals - one jazz (I'll be there tonight I hope) and one classical music (there's a concert in the morning which I hope to catch), but I'm on my own now, because Dunc, Sam &, Mark have moved on to Riga, and I decided it wasn't worth the extra travelling (I have to leave this region a few days before them, so I would have spent 2 days on buses for 1 day in Riga, when instead I can have 3 days seeing other bits of Estonia). I had a brief episode of the fear this morning, because the only other time I've travelled for several days on my own was a bike expedition in England. I am enjoying it so far, but I'm still a bit worried about becoming lonely (I'm not generally very good at starting conversations with strangers - so far travelling alone seems to be overcoming that barrier, but we'll have to see) and about being somewhere for the next few days where many people speak little or no English. I've also started with the most complicated thing - my things are in a hostel room in Tallinn and I'm spending the night out in Pärnu. Should be cool - the jazz club tonight is open till 4 so I only have a few dead hours to fill, and they will be bright daylight because I'm still far north - but if I get bored and/or want to sleep I will be a bit stuck. I'm doing alright so far - one of the reasons I moved to a hostel was to meet people, and the 2 Americans who checked in at the same time as me were pretty cool. They're art students who have managed to blag a 60 day trip round Eastern Europe on their university's budget because they are meeting local artists in each place. They're now at the end of this tour, and have been to lots of places I would like to visit, often staying in artists' houses and generally meeting local people in a way that is hard to do as a traveller. Hopefully I'll get talking to someone this evening and not spend the night clubbing on my own.....

Anyway, I really have been here too long, so it's time to go out and discover Pärnu.
posted @ 10:17 AM -

Tuesday, July 3

[note to self: learn more adjectives in my own language - there must be more ways to say "I like this"]

Helsinki is another great place. I've now spent long enough here to actually see it as the bustling capital city I expected to find, but all the same it is far more chilled out than, say, London. Obviously this is partly to do with it being smaller (population about half a million and all the tourist sites, main shopping centres and business districts are within walking distance), but I think there is more to it than that. Central London is an unnecessarily uptight place, and it's nice to see that major cities don't have to have that.

About half an hour after I wrote my last entry we met up with Sam & Mark, which was far more straightforward than anyone had dared expect. The arrangement was simply take bus 615 from the airport and we'll be waiting for you in the big square it ends in. They were pretty concerned about the vagueness of this, but there is only one big square it could have been, it's huge, and we saw them as they came off the bus. Things have carried on in pretty much that vein since, with only a few minor hiccups.

Travelling with this group of people is working out really well. It's not often you can get 4 people together and have a strong enough bond between any pair that the splitting into any combination of pairs is good, which obviously makes organisation far easier given that we don't necessarily all want to do the same things all the time. If I do a similar trip again in the near future (unlikely, just because I have too many other plans) I will try to make it with the same lot.

As for what we did, we lost a few hours yesterday because we woke up too late, queued for ages in a tourist office for Helsinki Cards (free entry to all museums and free public transport for not all that much money up front), and then waited ages for ferries. This meant that what was meant to be our morning's activity ended up being the main thing we did all afternoon, but it was cool so no real complaints there. We went to a sea fort called Suomenlinna, which was built on some islands near Helsinki (15 minutes by ferry) to protect the area, and is worth any visitor to Helsinki seeing. On first getting off the boat it seemed a bit odd, because we just seemed to be walking through a small town, with no military link or such like. Turns out that actually about 1,000 people (civilians) do live there, and for obvious reasons the ferry goes to that end of the archipelago. Once we found out bearings we found a very well preserved 18th century fortress, together with a museum that explained a lot of its history as well as the history of the region in general, and many other things. Most of the others didn't seem very exciting, but there was a WW2 submarine that we could climb into, which was quite an eye-opener as I found myself trying to imagine actually living in that tiny space. I suppose it wasn't the worst thing that anyone had to endure during the war, but it seemed pretty horrible. Also notable at Suomenlinna are some great views across the water to Helsinki, which I guess we'll get more of on the ferry tomorrow.

In the evening we went out to Uudenmaankatu, which seems to be the happening bar part of town, and were pleasantly surprised to find stylish bars, playing good music and serving beer at no more than London prices. Obviously this isn't cheap, but considering how often we had each been warned of the ludicrous cost of living in Finland it was a relief. In general Finland has been cheaper than I expected - we've stayed for less than �15 each night, on 2 nights with breakfast included, and while choice of restaurants has been very restricted we've had delicious buffet lunches for less than a fiver the last 2 days. Recommendation for anyone - if you come to Helsinki and need cheap food go to Ravintola Perho, especially at lunchtime.

Today we did the standard urban tourist thing, taking in the Kiasma (think Tate Modern, but not as big and in a modern purpose-built building) and several other museums. The Kiasma is well worth seeing, as was a temporary exhibition on Finno-ugric peoples in Russia, and a temporary art exhibition. For my own reference, Erró was the artist who made the greatest impact on me. He produced huge satirical paintings in a pop-art/comic book style, with deeply cynical political messages and incredible detail. Nice.

Tomorrow we'll be moving on to Estonia, which is getting a bit more complicated as many of the accommodation options are full already, plus we have 3 seperate departure dates from Stockholm, which means that we will be breaking up the group somewhere in the Baltics. Looks like I will only get to see Estonia, but I kind of expected that anyway.

All in all I love Finland, and will probably come back in a few years' when I have enough time to explore more of the country (I would have liked to have gone further East in the Lakes and North to Lappland). Meanwhile I am trying hard (and failing) to imagine these places when they are covered in snow, bitingly cold and the sun only comes up for a couple of hours. If I have another holiday in the same parts of the country I should come in winter to see the contrast.

Time to go - the others are waiting for me for dinner....
posted @ 10:26 AM -

Sunday, July 1

[map of the area I'm travelling around]

Well, 2 more days and I still love Finland. We spent Friday afternoon in Tampere, doing the tourist thing. One of the highlights was the Lenin Museum, which though it does fawn a little irritatingly over the alleged (and probably exaggerated) greatness of the man does still tell a good story well. It wasn't just about Lenin, there was a good deal of information about the time when Finland was ruled by Russia, and general background to a lot of the upheaval in Eastern Europe in the early 20th Century. Incidentally this isn't a random thing to find in Tampere; Lenin spent much of his exile from Russia here. The other highlight, surprisingly, was the "Moomin Valley" exhibition in the basement of the library. I went along mainly because Dunc was interested, but it's actually really well put together, and it does feel kind of like entering a childrens' story world. Well worth doing. We had a really good lunch at a russian restaurant opposite the library (Nikolai), which was also worth reccommending.

We took an evening train to Turku (also known by its Swedish name of Åbo). Turku was the capital of Finland when Finland was ruled by Swedes (most of its history up to the 19th century, so it has a suitably impressive castle. Modern Turku is also a lovely smallish city, with a lot of the nicest stuff along the riverfront, and 2 universities giving it the same sort of student dominated feel as Brighton. We stayed in a bed & breakfast in what I think amounted to the red light district, but this involved it having some rubbish on the streets and 2 or 3 sex shops. Considering that when I worked in Kings Cross I used to see prostitutes on the streets every day and people shooting up its really pretty genteel. I don't think Finland is actually capable of generating genuine seediness.

We spent Saturday sightseeing in Turku, for which it has much to offer, particularly a stunning cathedral (still the centre of the Finnish Church) and a place called Aboa Vetus et Ars Nova. The title is a pun on a Finnish nationalist pamphlet published here in the 18th century, but more importantly Aboa Vetus is a museum about old Åbo (hence the name) which is much more worthwhile than most "what this place used to be like" type exhibitions. It is a new building built around archæological finds, partly to preserve them, but also to display them. It also had an amazing amount of information around the stuff, bringing it to life effectively. This actually seems about par for the course for Finland; people do put a lot of thought into museums here, and it pays off. In this case the things that made it so good were multimedia terminals, which (unusually for such installations) were really well produced & written, and texts which were partly written as the story of lots of imaginary people moving to Turku at the time it started to grow (13th century). It all seemed slightly aimed at the kiddies, but contained enough information to be worth anyone reading.

As well as the planned sightseeing, we managed to turn up in Turku at the same time as a "historic rally", which consisted of lots of old rally cars doing a very short course around a few of the buildings in the centre. I've never seen a rally before, and I can see the attraction now. Even with these old cars and this short course it was quite an experience watching the way they push their cars and just hearing & smelling the whole event.

We had dinner that evening in a waterfront restaurant with a Russian jazz band. The place looked like a typical tourist trap, but was actually great. A not too pricey (ie cheap by Finnish standards) buffet served delicious fish and salads, and the band were hugely entertaining.

This morning we took the train back to Helsinki. We still haven't done many tourist things here, because we'll be meeting up with Sam & Mark in about an hour and we don't want to start doing things and thus break up the group. Instead we've had a nice relaxing afternoon, wandering around the city (which seems much more alive and more like a bustling big city than it did on Wednesday), and going for a swim. It so happens that the main swimming pool for the central city is part of the olympic complex, so in itself it is pretty big, and we got to wander past the Olympic Stadium. It seems a little upstaged by more recently built stadia (Cardiff still wins in this respect), but the whole complex is lovely. It's built in a park and the swimming pool is outdoors, so people sit on the grandstand and on the grass around to sunbathe, making it a much nicer place (especially because the people are Finns and Finns are almost universally beautiful) to spend an hour than your average UK swimming complex.

Time to go now, because I didn't come to Finland to sample its internet cafés (though what I see does please me)....
posted @ 9:27 AM -
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