I have often blamed my delay in getting to these blog entries on my absorption in video games, and that’s not untrue. On the other hand, I’ve ramped waaaay down on ESO since I left Finland, and it’s still taken me a week to start on the 2nd Finland post, despite my intention to start on it almost immediately after publishing the first one. Nature abhoring a vacuum, I’ve found myself spending hours reading stuff on Twitter — fascinating, informative, entertaining stuff to be sure, but my gods!
Of course, I’ve also been catching up on back episodes of Marvel Agents of Shield (finally finished the last season, sooo goood!), read a couple of books, started researching where I’m spending next year, dealt with the 2015 tax snafu, and an ATM card problem, started seeing a local chiropractor, and gotten out around Oslo a bit, so it’s not been all Twitter. Thank the Maker. Still, it’s really been a confirmation that Twitter is perfectly capable of filling my whole day with interesting diversions, leaving nothing else done. This is not ideal, and I may have to be a bit more disciplined about how I use it. Discipline, blech! Oh well.
BTW, as I mentioned the 2015 tax problem last time: in case anyone was worried on my behalf, there’s no need. While neither I nor Ameriprise know why my 2015 import of their data into TurboTax didn’t include everything, I’m told that it’s customary (when I owe extra taxes due to magical recirculating “income” that I never actually receive) to just call Ameriprise and have the taxes transferred out of wherever financial buckets that the related income was dumped into, so that I can pay said taxes on said invisible income. So, effectively, it doesn’t count against the budget I’ve set myself, and I can stop worrying about it. Also, it seems that their PDF tax summary reports, that they made available to me on their website well before the April 15th deadline, *did* show the taxable amounts. They just didn’t match what I got from the automated import that year, for said mysterious reasons. But the 2016 import matches the PDF reports, and now I have a better idea of what to keep an eye out for in future years. So, whatever. ¯\ _(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, back to Finland.
I’m kind of not sure how to organize this. Last time, I covered traveling from Croydon to Finland, and then the Word Science Fiction Convention, and that was a nice, coherent block that all fit into about a week’s worth of time and a fairly convenient narrative. The rest of this is kind of all over the place.
First, it should be noted that I played a pretty good amount of ESO while I was in Helsinki. In the Croydon blog entry, I talked about the Midsummer Mayhem event, a big Player versus Player event where we joined up with other players from our 1/3 of the player pool to fight the other 2 player alliances for control of the central territory. This event ended by early August, but the stuff you could get in it helped me to progress towards some game goals that I wanted, and even after the event the regular PvP play kept me progressing towards those goals, so I kept doing it. Not at the same level — i.e. nearly-all-day-every-day — but still a solid 4-5 hours daily (for the most part) right through the end of my stay in Helsinki. In fact, I got the final thing I was after just the day before I was scheduled to leave, which was super satisfying.
Since then, I’ve barely touched the PvP part of the game, and my hours have dropped way down. They had another weekend-to-weekend event in a similar area that ended last Monday, and I did raise my hours a little for that, but nothing like the prior dedication. And now even that’s over, and I’m barely in the game long enough to pick up my mail and hit a few useful daily tasks. I’m starting to feel the pressure to write up my Norway time, and also to schedule my travel for next year, so I’ll probably hold off on more serious game stuff until that’s done. (By then, I’m sure they’ll have another event to occupy me.) I’ve got to say, I’m enjoying the break. Though my fingers still get a bit twitchy first thing in the morning, when I’d normally log in over my morning coffee and oatmeal.
So, what else did I do in Helsinki?
Yes, yes, laugh it up, but this was weirdly non-trivial. I mentioned before that my host had sent me to a fairly tiny, squalid, grocery store nearby, and I was determined to find something better. So, while at the convention center, 2 train stops away, I did a search for grocery stores and found 2 nearby, a Lidl and something called K-Market. Lidl seems to be a German chain; I’d seen them in Ireland and Scotland and they were kind of weird there. A sort of small, low-end Ralphs with a big center section of random weird stuff, like slippers and garden equipment and bath mats resembling a weird mini-slice of Target dropped in for no coherent reason. They always felt… odd, like the Feng-shui was all honked up, and I tried to stay out of them. (Murphy, my Edinburgh host, was a big fan of the local one, which I never went into, and he kept trying to persuade me to join him on trips there.)
So I walked the few blocks to K-Market first. The area around the Messukeskus convention center was really pretty nice.
(I’m guessing maybe 3 of you are chuckling. For the rest, well, that’s what Google Search is for. 😁)
K-Market itself was a nice little grocery store, of a decent size and with a fair few organic choices.
After K-Market, I stopped by Lidl on the way back in the hopes of buying a cheap plastic salad bowl — the kitchenette at my place had virtually no utensils or dishes, and nothing suitable for the large salads that I like to make. Lidl didn’t either. But this Lidl, unlike the previous examples, was large and spacious and well stocked with a variety of foods, and the mini-Target section didn’t seem so out of place with so much other stuff going on also.
Alas, Lidl had no salad bowls (weirdly, as they seemed to have every nearby kitchen concept *except* that), but I did buy a cheap 8pack of disposable aluminum lasagna trays that were just large enough for my salads, and one of them served in that capacity for my month there. (I left the other 7 as a gift to my successors.)
Later, I tracked down an organic food shop in Helsinki proper… which turned out to be super pricey, so I didn’t buy much. They seemed to be catering to the caricatured Whole Foods shopper, with stuff like hand-hulled bespoke oatmeal and cruelty-free kale.
I figured that K-Market by the convention center was my best bet for groceries, even if it did add about €5 of train fare to every shopping trip. But then I took one of those double-decker bus tours around Helsinki and saw several other K-Markets scattered around, realized that it was a chain, and started to wonder if there might be one near me. Google Maps showed me that indeed there was, and only a couple of blocks further away than the grungy market my host had sent me to. So I hiked over there and found my grocery Mecca:
I shopped here from this point on.
Non-Grocery Related Things
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Why?” And, “What’s the point of non-grocery related things? Are there weird or clever labels? Is there food-based cultural commentary? No? Then let it go mate, we don’t need to hear it.” Well tough. I took pictures, and it would feel like a waste if I didn’t include some of them. Feel free to skip to the end.
I went into downtown Helsinki maybe 3 times while I was there: the first to take the tour, and the second for my birthday — I really thought I ought to get out that day, at least, and have a bit of lunch — and the third to hit a museum.
As I mentioned, I did one of those double-decker bus tours around Helsinki about 1/3 of the way through my stay. The “City Sightseeing” tour group has great buses and great prerecorded guide info, in every city where I’ve tried them, and I love them for giving me a sense of how everything lays out in a city. I know that you’re meant to hop-on-hop-off as you try to see everything during your brief stop whereever-it-is, but I usually get on, ride the whole circuit, and rarely get back on afterwards because walking is easy.
I had a great little chat with the ticket seller, an American black guy in his 40s (maybe?) who had a bunch of questions about the L.A. area, because he and his teacher wife were going to be taking a long car ride over Christmas from Seattle to Florida and he wanted tips on where to go while in L.A.. (I plugged the Santa Monica Promenade to him.) Usually, I sit on the top of these buses and get lots of great pictures. Unfortunately, it had rained early that morning, and the bus people must have been too worried that it would rain again, or that it would just be too chilly, so they had the roof up on the top deck, making the thing too enclosed to get good pictures.
But here are some pics from my times walking around:
This square is mainly important because just south of it is the brewhouse where I had lunch that day, after the tour, at Bryggeri Helsinki.
FYI, the beer was pretty good. One of the nice things about traveling is that, outside of Guinness (and the crap beers like Bud), you know they’re going to have very few beers that you know and so you can just ask, “What do you have that’s dark, like a stout or a porter?” And then they’ll come up with something and look at you like you might say “No”, and instead you reply, “You had me at ‘on tap'”. Then they look confused because their English isn’t really up to the reference, and so you follow it up with a strongly announced, “Yes, that sounds excellent, I’ll have it!” And they smile and bring it to you, and it’s either good or it’s bleh, but either way you’ve tried the new beer and can reassure yourself that you’ve paid due diligence to the exotic nature of your surroundings. (An assurance that will soothe your conscience when you’ve not left your Airbnb room in 3 days because Twitter/Yoga/books/videos/games. “Hey,” you’ll say to yourself, “at least I had that beer, right?!” And you’ll smile, and nod, and click on another link.)
Helsinki proper is out on a bit of peninsula, and the bus tour took us around much of its coastline.
(FYI, this is totally artificial. There’s not a grain of sand anywhere else along this bit of coast. But, hey, why not?)
My birthday, at the end of August, was generally pretty enjoyable: a bit of ESO in the morning, along with catching up on all of the Amazon gift e-mails sent by my ever-kind friends and family, and then heading into town to eat at a place recommended in the WorldCon convention supplements, Zetor, which lured me in on the promise of serving reindeer! There’s no saying no to the chance to eat reindeer (once you’re past the ages at which Santa brings you gifts, and you have nothing to lose), so Zetor leapt to the front of the queue for where to eat out.
Zetor‘s web site claims that they’re 110% Finnish, and I must confess that only the most blithe optimism persuaded me that their cooking skills exceeded their understanding of mathematics. Fortunately, my optimism paid off, because the food was quite good. The decor was deliberately agricultural, as you can see from their web site and from a Google Image Search, and their menus were designed like newspapers.
I didn’t take a picture of the reindeer dish, because it was basically a few strips of beefy-looking meat served on a bed of reindeer mousse, salad, and bread, and a lot smaller than I was expecting. It was only after eating that I realized I’d ordered what was meant to be an appetizer. Oops! Well, it was yummy — reindeer is like most such herd animals, dark, gamey, and delicious. I made up for the reduced quantity by ordering a traditional Finnish desert called a Mustikkakukko, basically a bilberry tart in a cup with vanilla ice cream, also yummy. Combined with a local beer and an Irish Coffee, I left feeling well fortified indeed. And considerably poorer, to the tune of about $47, a bit much for an appetiser, a tart and a scoop of ice cream, a beer, and an Irish Coffee.
(This turned out to be a bit of a theme in the Nordic Countries: while the cost of various commodities in Finland versus the U.S. may be higher or lower, depending on the thing, overall consumer prices are about 9% higher there, and some things (like eating out, or beer) are considerably higher. This is not the place to go to make your retirement dollars stretch. Though, in fairness, neither is L.A…. but I’m not retiring to L.A.. <shudder> Probably I could go to a random town in Finland, one that isn’t the capital, and settle into a neighborhood with very reasonable local restaurants and a Venezuelan food truck and live very modestly and well. But having come from Edinburgh, where I could get a very nice meal for $10-25, seeing pretty much all of my dining choices running in the $25-50 range was a bit disheartening. Well, that’s all right, there’s always sardines. Oatmeal. Cat Food. Whatever.)
Anyway, putting the lunch bill aside, I walked about for a bit, and then went home to a comfortable evening reading and watching YouTube which, honestly, is about all I ask out of a satisfying day. 🙂
The Church and the Museum
The last day that I went into town, I wanted to hit a couple of places that had been on my list since I arrived, but that I’d never gotten to. The first was Temppeliaukio Church, the Church in the Rock, a church excavated into a hill in town after WWII. While they do hold services there, it seems to be primarily used as a tourist attraction (€5 a head).
From there, I walked around downtown for a bit, expecting to maybe go back to Zetor and have reindeer as the main course this time, despite the expense. But I passed a place that offered reindeer burgers, and again there’s no saying no to reindeer burgers!
There is, however, saying “Those aren’t on the lunch menu, we won’t serve those until after 2pm.” A bit mind-boggling, to me. How do you serve lunch, and serve reindeer burgers, but not serve reindeer burgers at lunch?! Well, I was not going to be put off so easily! By which I mean that I would politely and patiently suffer through whatever nuisance they cared to interject along my path, so long as having said reindeer burger lay at the end. I had over an hour to wait, so decided to go to the National Museum before lunch instead of after, and ate a snack bar to tide me over until I could return.
This had really only one downside: it was a bright sunny morning as I walked around Helsinki that day:
This made the idea of sitting out with a beer and a reindeer burger for lunch, on the restaurant’s patio, seem really appealing. Unfortunately, by the time I got out of the museum, matters had changed:
The National Museum was cooler than I expected. But before we go in….
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m saying most of the statues were like that, but not all:
Ok, moving on:
I’m tempted to say, “By the time I got here, I wasn’t in the mood, so I turned around and left.” But, alas, it isn’t true.
(FYI, I was totally going to talk about putting the Kalevala on my Amazon Wish List, in a very unsubtle plug for Christmas gift giving. But it turns out there’s a fan translation on Amazon for $0.00, with pretty decent reviews, so I carefully looked at my budget, decided that I could afford it if I cut back on my purchases of Unobtainium, and bought it. If you’re interested, here’s the link. I don’t know if it will be free forever, but it is at the time of this writing.)
The National Museum covers a pretty good swath of Finnish history, from prehistoric to modern times. For some reason, they start you in the middle, with medieval church art. ‘Cause everybody loves that, I guess.
The had a pretty huge modern photographic exhibit, covering Finnish history from the invention of photography to the present day. Including a few things I really was not expecting.
And that was pretty much it for museum day. 🙂
I’d be remiss not to mention that my neighborhood, only a few blocks from the train station, was a very pretty, green, quiet, spread out bit of suburb, with plenty of parks and a river through it. It would be hard to find a more pleasant environment.
That’s really all I wanted to say about it. If I could have fit those two photos in anyplace else, I probably would have. But the narrative flow forbade it, so here we are.
A Weird Endpiece
A few days before I was scheduled to leave Helsinki — I think it was Wednesday, before my Saturday, Sept 9th, departure, I had a weird run-in with one of the other guests. There was a Japanese woman staying in the room next to the kitchenette, whom I’d been introduced to on my first day. My host Jussi said that she’d stayed with them several times before, and was learning Finnish. She was maybe early-30s, stocky, not really attractive but of course that hardly matters; she seemed nice enough when I was introduced — not, like, super friendly or anything, but politely neutral. She’d draped a sort of curtain over her doorway, which seemed to surprise Jussi, but our conversation was short and after that, I rarely saw her. I could hear her occasionally. Her room was right next to mine, and while not much sound came through, the bathroom, shower room, and kitchenette were all in a little segment of corner hallway between her room and mine.
She ran on a *much* later schedule than I did, and I’d sometimes get up to use the restroom in the midnight-3am time frame and see her light on, or hear her in the kitchen. (I think it woke me up once, but I generally didn’t notice.) And then she’d apparently be asleep until close to noon, so she was out of sync with everyone’s schedule, not just mine. I tried to minimize any noise I made before noon, but I could hear noise from those common facilities in my room, and her room was even closer.
(Side note: we had a Japanese-American woman in one of the other rooms for a time. And one evening I notice that the floor towel in the shower room, used as a bath mat, was quite soaked and was hanging up to dry. I didn’t think much of it, but then the next morning I took my shower, opened the shower door, and discovered that the shower room floor was flooded, filling up the slightly-sloped floor with water reaching almost to the outer door. I had the usual panicky thoughts, but with the water turned off the floor was slowly draining back under the shower stall. So, knowing that it would be dry soon, I left it to drain, and sent a message to the host warning him about the problem. He soon came up and did something to the shower, and later thanked me for the warning and told me it was something that happened occasionally. He called it “Japanese girl problem”; a mass of long black hair clogging the drain down in the slightly odd shower drain connections. If the water didn’t overflow the shower room, it would drain out Ok, but a couple of times it had reached the door and flowed out onto the hall floor and down through the walls and become a huge problem, so he appreciated my having caught it and warned him. After that, I figured out how to pull out the odd-but-easily-removable drain mechanism, and so every morning I’d clean the drain of its accumulation of long black hairs before I took my own shower. It was kind of disgusting, but it avoided the problem and Jussi appreciated my doing it, so PR win!)
So, the Wednesday morning before I leave, I’m up early, as usual, and shower, and I’m making breakfast in the kitchenette (with the door closed, to reduce sound), when she opens it to tell me, very bluntly, “The shower make noise. The kitchen… make noise. Don’t make noise.” I smiled politely and acknowledged her statements, thinking a flood of thoughts at once mostly involving, “There’s really very little that I can productively respond with here.” I’m not arguing about subjective noise impressions with a woman who’s got a head of steam up and has limited English. It would be one thing if I was being too noisy while making breakfast in the kitchenette — I always tried to be quiet, but maybe I’m doing something wrong? But the shower? I’m not playing the drums in there, or using a bath towel made out of loose clanking metal. Water falling from a height is really all that’s going on, and if that’s too noisy for her… I’m not sure I can help her. I’d feel guilty about it being early, but she’s up sometimes until 3am, and sleeps sometimes until noon: the whole of the morning is early for her. My options are kind of limited, there. And I’m not much farther from those facilities than she is, and have been awakened a few times by noises from her and other guests using them. That’s how it works, and it’s why I have earplugs and white noise apps. Shared space and all. Hey, I’m cleaning your hair out of the drain! Welcome to Airbnb.
So, I just acknowledged her, and she stepped back into her room and closed the door. I finished making breakfast as quietly as possible, and then spent the morning trying to figure out how to deal with it. (And how to get ahead of the issue with my hosts, in case she complained to them. Reputation management is important with Airbnb, after all.) This was the day I was going into the city, to see the church and the museum, and so I did that, and slowly let go of the sort of mental churning around the problem. And I thought of maybe a few things I could do to reduce the noise, like making most of the breakfast in my room — inconvenient, but I’m willing to try to help out. (“Since she asked so nicely,” my mind said to me, sarcastically.) And maybe I could even reduce the shower noise, by focusing on keeping the water hitting my body and running down it, and thus never falling the full height from the shower head to the floor. I mean, noise from the facilities *is* part and parcel of a shared space, but I’ll do what I can.
Then, after I got back home that afternoon, I heard one of my hosts moving around downstairs and went down and had a chat with Jussi, asking how the book was going (his editors liked the part he’d completed, and he was moving on to writing the successive parts, as well as doing some review work on other people’s books), hitting a couple of topics about my upcoming departure (early morning Saturday, where do I leave the keys, etc), and then mentioning the morning’s incident. Jussi started to look kind of uncomfortable, like he thought this was about to be a Problem that he’d have to handle us both about. But I made a point of sounding agreeable and reassuring, saying that I wasn’t sure how much I could do given our huge schedule difference and her sleeping until noon, but that I could maybe reduce breakfast noise by doing most of it in my room instead, and while I wasn’t sure how to handle the shower noise, maybe he had suggestions for any of this? I could see him relax, and as we talked he mentioned that she’d stayed here several times before, and kept requesting the same room next to the kitchen and shower, so she should know about the noise. And if she had problems she could always ask to be moved to another room. And, really, I was leaving in a couple of days anyway… so I should just ignore her, and pay no attention. “Yes!”, I cried, internally. That’s the end game you hope for: the host makes it clear he doesn’t think it’s your fault, and hence doesn’t leave you a bad review. But when he said I should ignore her, I repeated that there were some things I might be able to do, and I’d try my best, and then we moved on to other topics and had a very friendly chat for a while afterwards. And a couple of days later, I brought down a couple of things that I wasn’t taking with me and asked Anna if she could use them, and she was appreciative and I got a very friendly vibe from her. So it all worked out in the end.
But, wow, my next couple of mornings were a study in paranoia. “Going into the shower, I can hear her snoring. Now hyper-aware of every movement and water splash. Leaving shower, she’s no longer snoring. Is she awake, or did she just stop snoring? No way to know unless she comes out….” I never saw her again. Gosh. Darn.
Saturday morning, my flight out was at 7:50am. I packed up pretty much *everything* the night before, and planned to skip breakfast, to minimize my packing up noise in the morning. And then I woke up about 1/2 an hour before my 4am alarm, showered, did the last little bit of packing, and made my way to the train station in time to catch the train before my target train — which was particularly helpful because there was a train delay that cost about 15-20 minutes. But being able to catch the earlier train avoided any inconvenience. This could have been a very dreary early morning ride, but fortunately the train was livelier than expected, filled with very late night party goers, coming home in varying states of drunken revelry from their respective Friday nights. (Including a mixed race group of early 20-somethings, talking loudly in Finnish with a burst of laughter and an “Oh my god!”) So the ride was more entertaining than tired and dreary, and the departure was pleasant, and there was no way for me to lose another jacket. So, winning! 🙂
As promised, if you skipped to the end (and even if you didn’t, because I’m generous), here’s some more pictures of groceries. You’re welcome.