Monday, 20 May 2013

Weekend in Helsinki with Brandon

Hello Readers,
I didn't think I would get this post in before Greece but decided to squeeze it in while everything was still fresh in my mind.  Plus my Greece planning is completed so I had all day to finish it.  Enjoy.

This last weekend I had the pleasure of re-visiting one of my Homelands, this time with my buddy Brandon who is in London on a work assignment.  My regular readers will remember that we (family we" stopped in Helsinki on our first vacation in England.  (Here is a link to that trip.)  Since Brandon and I are both "nice Finnish boys" as my Finnish grandmother always used to say and we are halfway there already we scheduled a quick weekend to check out Helsinki.  The weekend was great, a nice change going on a Schetzel or Peters vacation for a change.  A little strange not having the family there but we had a relaxing time and really enjoyed the nonexistent rain which the weather sites were promising.  No matter where we go one thing is constant, the weather forecasters are as often off base as they are on base.

I took the train in Friday and we met at Heathrow for the direct evening flight to Helsinki.  It was a late flight and by the time we navigated out of the airport to the bus stations it was well past 11 o'clock.  The plan was to take the Finnair airport shuttle bus to near our hotel but we ended up buying tickets for the city bus by mistake.  We probably should just bought the shuttle tickets and ate the other ones but didn't which meant we stopped about ten times on the way to the train station.  So we finally make it to the city center train station which wasn't according to my plan.  I found out on the ride that the Finnair bus travels WEST around a couple of small lakes north of Helsinki while the city bus travels EAST around the lakes.  Yup, we are on the west side of the lakes so the plan of getting off the bus near the hotel was a total fail.  Fortunately Brandon was able to GPS track us on his phone so armed with his phone tracking and my poor map we started walking towards our hotel.  After a few minutes we saw the trams which triggered my memory of the family using the trams so we went to the closest tram stop and waited.  (By coincidence I stayed at the same Crowne Plaza on both trips so I recognized the tram number.)  Our tram shows up and we make it to the hotel.  By the time we checked in and made it to the room it was almost one AM so we watched Predator with Finnish subtitles for a bit then went to bed.  A couple of quick notes - one awesome part of Helsinki was city wide free Wi-Fi which we ended up using often.  Gotta love that.  Also, I won't go into a lot of detail on the sites since I posted about Helsinki already and we saw a lot of sites on this trip that  I saw on our family trip.

Our Saturday plan was basic and loose.  Lots of walking around the city with stops to see some local attractions I mapped into the itinerary.  I won't cover all of our walking path as a lot of it was covered on my first trip and a lot of it was just walking down similar looking streets.  I will pick out some of the highlights however.

Dana Johnson Pic - The Tango breakfast.  We opted out of the 23 Euro hotel breakfast so reception told us about Tin Tin Tango around the corner.  The food tasted really good but even better was bottomless coffee.  Gotta love the Finlanders!  This was 9 Euro and change in case you were curious.
Our first stop was at Temppeliaukion Kirkko (Rock Church) which is a church carved out of a huge rock.  We actually saw quite a lot of rocky hills walking around Helsinki which I found a little strange since the greater Helsinki is basically floating on the sea.  The Rock Church was built in 1969 and was carved out of a huge chunk of granite (you can read about the church here).  This is one of my favorite churches on our trips and it was as amazing as I remembered it. 

Looking at one of the exterior walls.  They used the rocks they removed to form the walls.

One of the interior walls.

The rock and copper dome combination still reminds me of the U.P.

Altar close up.

Cool baptismal font.

Looking from the altar towards the entrance.

The church is on the left where all of the people are congregated.  The rock which it is carved out of stretches all the way to the right.  A magnificent idea and church.

The Forum on our meandering path.  The Forum is a mall but we didn't check it out.  The store names plastered on the walls NASCAR style were typically of the buildings here.

The Helsingin Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Cathedral) overlooking the Tsar Alexander II monument and Senate Square.  The Cathedral was built between 1830 - 1852 and it's architect was C.L. Engel.  For a quick history reminder, Finland was part of either Sweden or Russia for much of its history until after WWI when a weakened Russia couldn't stop their revolution for independence.

Overlooking Senate Square (Wiki link) from Cathedral steps.

The main altar and baptismal font inside the cathedral.

Looking towards one of the transepts, this was as plain as I remembered it although not as large as I remembered it.

The pulpit on left, baptismal font in middle, and altar on right.

The side entrance, Senate Square is to the right.
Kansalliskirjasto Nationalbiblioteket (The National Library of Finland), another Engel building.

The interior.  All of the shelves were bare so we asked why.  The building is under renovation so all of the books have been removed until the renovation is complete.  Very odd walking through a library full of empty shelves. 

Brandon at the top.

The Russian Orthodox Church of the Trinity, a tiny church that was closed for a service so we couldn't look inside.

Interesting sidewalks here.  Large blocks were the main walking path while bricks (as shown) or rocks filled in the rest of the side walk.  They did have some solid concrete sidewalks as well.

Around the backside of the cathedral.  Lots of large square buildings in Helsinki.

Some interesting buildings as we walk through Old Town.

A random building.

We walked past the harbors as well.

The Uspensky Orthodox Cathedral (Wiki link) was open to look inside but no pictures because of a baptism.

From the Uspensky Cathedral looking towards the Helsinki Cathedral and central Helsinki.

The Kauppatori (Market Square) on the left, the Presidential Palace on the right.

Looking at the stalls in Market Square.  Lots of trinket stalls but there were also some nice leather and fur stalls.  And food stalls.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Sampling the local flavor.  A Light beer a little light on flavor.

Dana Johnson Pic - Brandon had the fresh water fish on the left (reminded him of smelt) and I had the sausage mix on the right.  We opted to eat at the market and it was pretty good. 

Walking through Esplanade Park which was full of people and food vendors.  No sun but no rain so I guess the day is a draw.  Temperature was mid 60's and a touch humid, not to bad overall.
As part of our walk around the city I sprinkled in a few craft beer houses from a Helsinki Beer Walk I found online.  Of course you need refreshments when you do a lot of walking.  I've been in England for 19+ months and Brandon has been here ~5 months so we didn't mind trying a few places that had more options then Bitter, Warm Bitter, Warm Bitter, and Cider. 

Our favorite Helsinki Beer House.

Kevin Coleman Pic - My lager on the left, his double IPA on the right.  A winning combination.

Kevin Coleman Pic - The local bear at a rooftop bar.

The view from Ateljee Bar, not a beer house but a bar/cafĂ© that overlooked the city.  You can see the cathedral in the distance and to the right is a cruise ship docked in the harbor.

Choices, choices, choices.

Oops.  The combination of Brandon's cell phone positioning and my poor internet printed map provided us with some extra exercise at times.  Here we are "enjoying" the scenery when I realized I gave Brandon the wrong address to punch into his phone.  On the plus side they say walking is good for you.

According to the walking guide I printed off this is the must visit place on the list.  Kind of funny because it wasn't that great and the bartender suggested Villi Waino (our favorite stop of the trail) as the top place to try.

Dana Johnson Pic - Snack time.  Meat - good, cheese - good, olives - good, crackers - okay.  No complaints on Helsinki so far.

Kevin Coleman Pic - They called this a long drink which tasted like hard lemonade but a tad sweeter.  A good palate cleanser. 

This place was a little strange.  We walked in and everyone pictured (and a few more) were frozen in place watching Sweden and Finland play in the hockey World Championships.  Even the bartender watched the TV and ignored us for a couple of minutes.  It kind of felt like walking into a sci-fi episode where everyone living has been frozen but the TV is still blaring away.

We also tried the SparaKOFF Beer Tram after seeing it on Anthony Bourdain's show but it was extremely disappointing.  Expensive - 9 Euro; no drinks included in the price anymore - a recent change per the bar tender; and the sights were very poor - not much to see and when I did take a picture we were wobbling on the tracks enough that I didn't get any crisp pictures.  Talk about feeling suckered.

Jeff Seppanen Pic - More hockey!  I haven't watched a game in a couple of years but did get to see part of the Finland - Sweden and US - Switzerland games. 

One more stop at our favorite beer house.  I wonder if they would consider opening a branch in Derby?

The sun lights being replaced by the city lights.  Lots of neon signs in Helsinki.
Saturday was an excellent day - fun sights, great company, and a welcoming city.  A relaxing pace with warm, dry weather.  What more can you ask of a weekend get away?  We even met a couple from Boston at dinner and chatted with them for the perfunctory couple of tourist minutes - hi, where are you from, what are you doing here, I'm from..., etc. etc.  We didn't do much Sunday as we slept in then had to go the airport to catch our flight back. 

Dana Johnson Pic - Reindeer burger at the Finland Airport.  It didn't taste gamey at all, it even was a little bland.  Consistency was a little softer than beef.
The airplane ride seemed longer returning but wasn't longer time wise so maybe time just moves slower when you are returning from a vacation.  One tube ride (slightly lengthened thanks for weekend tube works requiring everyone to get off the tube, leave the station, get on a bus, ride through slow traffic, get off the bus, and get back on the tube) and a one train ride and I'm home for the weekend.  While I was gone Kalle went to friend's house, Karl and Lori saw Star Trek, and Lori started packing some of the boxes returning home.  Not very exciting in Derby from the weekend update crew.  See everyone after Greece!

Thanks for listening,

Monday, 13 May 2013

Weekend in the Lake District

Hello Readers,
I'll start out the week with a Carol Seppanen Book Update - My vacation planning is slowing down so I've had a little extra free time lately which means I've finally made it to a Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law.  It is Brewed Awakening by Joshua Bernstein, 292 pages.  It is a comprehensive book on craft brew beer ranging from different types (Gose, Ales, Sour, Sassion, Stouts, Lagers, etc.) and the ingredients that make their flavors to what beer to drink in which season.  It also covers professional and amateur beers/brewers/stories, the evolution of craft beer, names a few million flavors to sample plus has a couple hundred more pages of educational trivia and miscellaneous craft beer facts.  The book was great and also included a fold out jacket diagram of common beer types with examples for me try.  Of course that means I have a lot more beer to try now but I'm okay with that challenge.  Lori may not be so excited but she can talk at her sister about that since she gave me all of these great ideas.  Thanks again Teresa and Brian!

The Better Halves Club met last week at Pitcher and Piano (link) in Derby.  We had a couple of cancellations and a few out of towners so it was just Laverne and I which was a smaller group than we expected but it was also a fun time talking one on one with her.  It was nice to chat back and forth as opposed to round table chatting for a change.  Laverne is the last of the original BHC once I leave and has been "nominated" to lead the club when I leave so now she'll have a little less free time.  She'll do a great job so the club is in good hands.

This weekend we squeezed in a missed opportunity.  We had planned on seeing the Lake District (link) when my in-laws came over last year but sickness cut short that vacation so we didn't get a chance to see the Lakes.  (Probably a good thing in hindsight as the night we stayed there a massive snowstorm hit the area so driving on some of those roads would have been very scary.)  The Lake District National Park (LDNP) is England largest national park and covers 885 square miles (smaller than Baraga County, larger than Wayne Country for the Michiganders) per the link.  It has a couple of famous literary connections (Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth) but since they didn't mean much to us we skipped all those attractions and just went on a couple of walks.  We had the pleasure of being joined by Rob from Indy RR who is over for a few weeks and needed to get out of Derby for a weekend.  The weekend forecast looked wet so we packed our rain gear and kept our fingers crossed.    

After 2.5 hours of driving in the rain Saturday morning we are at Windermere (Wiki link) which has the typical English old world building charm and a sky full of rain.  What a start!

We beat Rob up so we walked around a few streets before getting back in the car, somehow missing him and continuing north after him.  Obviously the navigator's fault.

English village charm.  I will miss seeing these buildings/villages when our secondment ends.

Windermere, England's largest and longest lake per the info board.

On the same shore as above, this weekend reminded me of camping in my youth with my brother, cousin, and uncles. 

All of the boats are smartly docked.  Even the birds weren't out in this weather.

Jim Seppanen Pic - Lots of trees, water and stone walls this weekend.

This pretty much sums up the drive to Keswick.  I do have to give the Brits credit for getting out and about regardless of the weather conditions. 
Rounding Rydal Water, one of the many small bodies of water which makes up the Lake District.  Interestingly enough from the LDNP link above "[t]here is only one official lake - Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others are 'meres' or 'waters'."  We'll cover why waters are called meres tomorrow.

The rain slowed down enough that I jumped out at Thirlmere (Wiki link) to capture a few pictures.  Thirlmere is a reservoir created in the 19th C to supply the growing industrial city of Manchester with an adequate supply of water.

Further along the wall.  Rob also caught up to us at this point.  He was stopping for pictures as well so we must have passed him at some point.
We arrived in Keswick around noon which means food is being served so we opted for lunch whilst hoping the constant rain would tire itself out.  I don't mind walking in a little rain but when the rain is so hard you can't look up and enjoy the scenery then I'd rather be inside.  Our back up plan was an afternoon around Keswick if the weather forced us inside so we ate some typical pub grub with fingers crossed.  I had borrowed Steve's Short Walks in the Lake District book (thanks again Steve) and selected a few walking options for us based upon proximity and scenery.  

Kevin Coleman Pic - This etched glass was neat.  On each side of the glass was a different Jennings Brewery beer.  In case you were wondering, round pub glasses in England have four sides.  This is their pale ale.  Typical English Cask Ales this weekend.

Kevin Coleman Pic - The stout was different but still English.

While we were eating lunch the rain gave up so we hustled to the cars and took off for our designated walking car park before the weather changed its mind.  This shot is looking down a random Keswick street.

Driving around Derwent Water (Wiki link) and looking at the fells, or hills, reminded me of beautiful Scotland.  And check out the sun poking through the clouds - bonus!  Derwent Water had a couple of walks on my "Maybe" list but our limited time in the area didn't allow for them.

Narrow village roadways typical of the rural hundreds year old villages in the UK.

On Honister Pass (link), a narrow and winding mountain road I never want to drive on again.  I knew it would be interesting from reading Steve's blog post from their trip so was kind of prepared for it.  Lori made the ride less stressful by alternately squirming, pushing on the dashboard and eek-ing out wordless sounds as if we were about to tumble to our deaths as we passed within inches of the oncoming traffic.   
Blind mountain curves always elicit an involuntary gasp and frantic passenger side phantom brake pedal pushing from my navigator.  That lowers the mountain driving stress level also.

I love the clouds-eating-the-hills pictures.  Another reminder of Scotland.

Finally at the car park.  I chose Round Buttermere for our Saturday walk.  It is regarded as one of the best walks in the LDNP per the guide book and was an excellent walk.

Water falling down one of the crags.

Turned the opposite way from the above pic, this is looking at Buttermere.

A view looking across the tall grass.  My favorite part of the walk was the change in scenery.  Above was high crags and sheep pastures and here we are in the tall grass.  We'll be in the woods in a bit. 

The group walking towards the fellside pines clump.

The stream feeding Buttermere, this is the same crag as above.

The same stream feeding Buttermere, this time looking towards Buttermere. I'm loving the blue sky.

I can't think of the last day I spent in England and didn't see a stone wall.
We saw a handful of dogs on the walk but this Chocolate Lab was my favorite.  We passed them (an older couple and the dog) and I turned around to take a picture when I saw the dog run partway down the hill, turn to look up at his master and start wagging his tail.  The man waited about ten seconds then threw the ball into the water.  Like a bullet the dog was shooting into the fun water to fetch his prize.  We saw the same trio on the other side of the lake and the man said the dog was enjoying the walk (he had a soaked coat both times we saw him).  

Moss Heaven as Rob called it.  Everything on the ground was covered in moss as were some of the trees.
Walking through the first of the mini woods on our path.

Here's Kalle talking Rob's ears off during the walk.  We are wearing our rain coats and didn't need them for the rain but needed them for the brisk wind.

The tree roots on the far right tree (on the left of the picture) captured my eye. 

Tammy Foster Pic - A rare family picture.

Rob enjoying the sunshine.

It's always exciting finding bones.  Probably sheep remnants although I'm not a bonologist.

We saw a few waterfalls on the hike but this was easily the loudest.  We could hear it all the way across the water.

We also saw this huge Newfoundland who came up to my knee.

The loud waterfall crashing down the fell.

More stone walls and blue sky.

Steve Frey Pic - We saw a lot of lambs watching us on this hike. 

Steve Frey Pic - And more watchers.  The one on the right was running and jumping straight up but I couldn't get a picture of it.

The loud waterfall from across the water.  Yup we can still hear it although it doesn't sound like a runaway train any more.
The mini forest we walked through on the other side of the water.  And sheep.
A couple of trees that gave up the fight.

We saw an awful lot of trees along the shore with exposed roots.  The water also shows how windy it was on our walk.
We're walking through scraggly woods on this side of the water.

Jim Seppanen Pic - This tree was odd.  It fell over and then started growing towards the sky.  Never stop fighting I guess.

These fences leading into the water puzzled me.  There were five or six of them around the water and I couldn't figure out their purpose.

Typical climbing Kalle scampering off trail.  We are going right and she's exploring off left.
Come on back Kal!

The rock tunnel.  Very neat until you get inside with the puddly bottom. 

Typical walking path with the tree roots searching for food in the unforgiving slate outcrops.

Looking back down the woods we just exited.  The wind had died down a bit as the white caps are gone now but they were surfing the water for a lot of the walk.

Walking back towards the car park but not quite there yet.

Final look at Buttermere on our 2+ hour walk.  Beautiful scenery with brilliant sunshine, our walk turned out great.

The String of Horses Inn (link), a traditional coach inn dating to 1659.  It was a neat place to stay and was clean so Lori was happy.  The only drawback was that it was up by Carlisle (by Scottish border for the non-locals) so it was an hour and half drive from Buttermere.

Dana Johnson Pic - Moroccan lamb in mint sauce with rice.  Tasted great.  Karl had chili lasagna that wasn't very good, Kalle had quesadilla and nachos which was very good and Lori had a pasta with mussels that was good but a tad spicy for her.  Rob had a sea bass dish.

Karl by the "Duck Not Grouse" sign.  I really like these places that retain the original structures.

One of the "nook and cranny" rooms common in these old buildings.  The common areas were mostly original decoration while the rooms were 21st C, a great combination IMO.  We were very happy with the selection.    
We were rained on while driving to the Inn Saturday evening so our timing was pretty good so far.  In the car when it's raining, outside in the sunshine.  We were even more surprised when we woke up to sunshine Sunday morning.  Watching the weather news dampened our day though as the rain was on its way so my plan was to squeeze in a short walk close to the motorway then be in the car when the rain is falling.  Plus Lori had to go to Bristol Sunday night for work so we needed to get back at a reasonable afternoon time.  Rob had seen the weather as well so he was in line with my thinking.  So after breakfast we skedaddled to the cars and took off for the Ullswater area.
I teased you earlier about crags, fells and meres.  Now we have forces and becks.  From my weekend research - the reason for these words is because the Norse settled in the Lake District when they tired of raiding so a lot of the local names are the Norse names were never changed from when they settled the area a thousand plus years ago.  Crags are mountains, fells are hills, meres are waters, becks are streams with stony beds, and forces are waterfalls.  England certainly embraces its history.
Aira Force (link), our waterfall and woodland morning walk.  This is another frequently visited attraction per the guide book but I picked it for its location and one hour walking time. 
Jim Seppanen Pic - We saw some interesting trees this weekend but this massive beast may have been the most interesting.  The limb shooting out then up is quite odd.
The woodland walk was another winner although the photo opportunities weren't as good with the lack of color contrast and trees filtering the sunlight.  Two for two on walks this weekend. 

Aira Force, the most visited LDNP waterfall per the guide book.  One source said it was 65 feet, one said 72 feet and one said 84 feet so I'm not sure of its "official" height.

Tammy Foster Pic - Upper bridge over the force.

Tammy Foster Pic - Same bridge looking down the force.

A couple smaller forces upstream of Aria Force.

The beck winding its way down the fell.

You can see Ullswater in the distance.  We are at the high point now starting back downhill which was good as there were some steep steps for the short legged people in the group.  Kalle loved them however and kept taking off up the "challenges" while Lori was not as excited as she guarded our back trail up the steep path.  I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I didn't take one picture of the steep climbs, I'm not sure how that happened.

A violent meeting of a few smaller forces.

Rocks were very common on the walk along Aria Beck.  There were even a couple of "rock staircases" along the way.  Those are always fun navigating over.

A field look at Ullswater in the distance with crags towering over it.  Rain is only sprinkling on us a bit but the clouds are moving in.

Another bonus of the walk was our one on one commune with nature for most of the walk which is a nice walking rarity.

The group walking through the pinetum.

They all passed the money tree so I had to call them back.  Rob was kind enough to donate a couple of fifty pence pieces for the kids to hammer into the tree.  I was out of change and Lori's purse was back in the car boot.  Thanks Rob!

A longer shot of the money tree.  We've seen a few money trees or stumps on our walks.  I didn't get a full length shot but this log was about fifteen feet long and filled with coins.  A neat idea.

Karl standing next to the saggy skin tree.  Another odd tree on our hike.

Kalle and Rob checking out the Monkey Puzzle tree.  I've never heard of one but that is what the info boards says it is.

Looking up at the top of the Monkey Puzzle tree.

Looking back through the lonely pinetum.  Another fun walk in the books.  No complaints on the Lake District from me.

Our city kids washing their dirty hands in a creek.  I guess I should be happy they did it before getting into the car and touching everything with their dirt caked paws.
It was still early so we decided to check out Pooley Bridge (link) on our way back to the motorway.  I knew it would be small so it would be a short stop.  We were able to find a couple of fridge magnets of the area (we try to collect fridge magnet pictures of the places we visit) so the stop was another winner.  Our Lake District luck is still going strong.

The Pooley Bridge Inn, a rare balconied inn in England.

Looking out at Ullswater, I just missed getting an Ullswater Steamer in the picture.

Tammy Foster Pic - The Pooley Bridge, famous for being a 16th C three arched stone bridge per a local. 

Steve Frey Pic - Not sure if ducks count for Steve but he may make an exception for a duckling family.  While taking my Pooley Bridge pictures this family swam right up by where I was and kept on marching inland while the males swam guard.  For the mothers out there - they actually were keeping guard as six males chased off a lone female on the other side of the river.

Steve Frey Pic - Mom herding the kids to higher ground.  About ten seconds after I took this picture Kalle Duckling veered off towards where I was standing, waddled up the little mound on the right of the picture and flopped back into the water as her brothers and sisters followed mother duck's quacks up the mound in the picture before jumping back into the water by the males.

Back on the road now and the rain starts beating on the car.  What great timing.  The weekend turned out better than planned and even better was we were able to share it with Rob.
Happy Belated Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there.  Low key for Lori as were spent the weekend out of town then she had to go to Bristol.  I guess she will have to settle for a week long trip to Greece as a consolation prize.  I know what most of you are thinking - pooooor Lori.  Life is just so disappointing some times.  For Father's Day we'll be wrapping up loose ends on the house and finishing moving into our temporary housing so I guess my belated consolation prize will be a trip to Reykjavik.  All together now - pooooor Jay.
Since we are in May it's time for the Facial Hair of the Month.  This month is the Vincent Price, my homage to one of the early horror film villains.  Vincent (link) was born in May 1911 and I remember him for his distinctive voice and creepy facial expressions.  Watching his films you could easily picture him being the insane master of the torture dungeon.  I'm not a big movie buff so I don't have a lot of movie or actor favorites but Vincent would be on my short list. 
The (still growing) Vincent Price self portrait.
I'm taking a couple of weeks off of blogging so I'll see y'all back here in June.  I'll be in Helsinki with Brandon next weekend then we'll be in Greece the following weekend for the school holiday.  See you then!
Thanks for listening,