Jun 292009

CCTVLondon trip in random recollections.

  • Books bought: Five.
  • T-shirts bought: One (and a bonus hoodie).
  • Photographs taken: Somewhere around 230.
  • Media bought: One dvd.
  • Kilometers walked: Plenty (once again without the pedometer).
  • Countries whose beer drunk: England, Scotland, Morocco, Portugal, Netherlands.
  • Pomagranate products spotted: Uncannily many.
  • Ginger chocolate: Oh yes (Tesco’s fair trade variant).
  • Moments of serendipity: Multiple.
  • Fellow finns encountered: Two groups (discounting the plane rides, obviously).
  • Balance left on Oyster card: 1.42, as far as I remember (haven’t registered the card for remote viewing).
  • Work-related moments: A couple of SMSes.
  • Miffy products exclusive to Tate: 1.
  • Hearty english breakfasts: 0.
  • Musicals seen: 0.
  • Minutes spent watching television: 0.
  • Subway lines used: 4/11.
  • Geocaches found: 3.
  • High-profile department stores visited: 0.
  • CCTV cameras seen: Everywhere.
  • Going back: Oh yes.
Jun 292009

Coraline PosterWatched a three-dimensional version of Henry Selick’s Coraline today.

The story is well-rendered from the original novel by Neil Gaiman. It’s been a while since I read the book, but no scenes immediately sprang forward as being added for drama’s sake.

The technology behind the film is interesting. Like Selick’s earlier masterpiece, Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, this is a stop-motion film. The thousands of objects used in the film have been produced with threedimensional printers and used to great effect.

The plot is pleasantly weird, as are the characters. Nowhere near the surrealism so prevalent in Alice in Wonderland – this is a more restrained fantasy, with a very limited cast. It’s not an easy film – it’s scary and thought-provoking. Coraline is not a movie for small children – I know I would’ve been spooked speechless by the spindly Other Mother at the end. And even though it bears a positive undertow, it’s nowhere near as saccharine as the worst excesses put up by Pixar. Of which this year’s Up still looks impressive in trailer form.

Next in line: the graphic novel drawn by P. Craig Russell. Sometime in the summer.

Jun 292009

Ampelmann returnsSpent two days in Berlin on business.

Stayed in Marriott Courtyard in the Mitte. Convenient and easily reachable, not quite as nice as the chain’s hotel on Potsdamer Platz encountered over the easter break.

Free time was very limited, this was a journey of long days and evenings of preparation.

On the first evening had dinner at Amrit on Oraniestrasse – a return to the establishment that served us so well over Easter. The food was still excellent, but their beers strangely flat.

The second evening was an organized dinner in Louise at Köpenick. Fulfilled two quotas: the mandatory schnitzel (very good) and a glass of Berliner Kindl (this time spiced with passion fruit).

Taxi rides ended up being the most interesting factors of the trip. The first morning ride to the office was a catastrophe on account of Google Maps misdirection: the building was so new that it was not on the map, and the service conveniently redirected us to another street (with a similar, not even the same) name. On another ride the trunk (fully stocked with roller suitcases) popped open in full speed (on a city street, though). The final insult was the excruciatingly slow path taken by the driver on the exit to Tegel.

Jun 292009

Petticoat LaneThe final day of the trip was largely consumed by a trip to the eastern parts: the street markets around Liverpool Street beckoned.

The Petticoat Lane market was basically a flea market. Mostly clothes, none of them anywhere near appealing.

Brick Lane, on the other hand, had a lot more to offer. First of all a very good lunch at The Famous Moonlight, a Bangladeshi restaurant at the head of the street. The food was both spicy and plentiful, and an excellent break from the walking. The rest of the street was packed alternately with restaurants, food shops or odd indoor markets.

On the way back to the hotel encountered the only traffic hardship – a ten minute subway delay on account of congestion.

Had no time at Tate Britain except for a brief foray in the shop, the book about Harry Beck successfully purchased.

Took the Heathrow Express back to the airport – the convenience and certainty overweighed the additional cost.

Jun 292009

Exhibit A: My razor seems to have ceased charging. It works with the plug, but that borders on uselessdom.
Proposed fixes: swearing while plugging the gadget in and out several times.

Exhibit B: My n96 corrupted its memory card. The photos and SMSes are gone, contacts remain. For the while.
Proposed fixes: swearing while trying to recover the files from a card reader.

Exhibit C: My RSS feed (at least on Google Reader) seems to omit all content and the description from all but the newest item amongst those published in the last few weeks. Might be related to the mistakenly named elephant-image back on 12.6., might not.
Proposed fixes: fixed the image already, but it might take a good while before the google reader cache is refreshed. Hence, swearing while the feed remains devoid of content is a probable course of action.

Jun 272009

Big BenBegan the day again at Sapori, the alternate breakfast spots on Horseferry Road were not open on the weekend.

Had settled on a visit to Kew Gardens as the first thing to do in the morning, and that required another dip into the municipal traffic. Picked up Oyster cards at the closes underground station and found them useful indeed in traipsing around the city. And cheap, using cash is almost double the cost of using the Oyster.

Treetopwalk at Kew GardensThe Kew Gardens was a big area. And unlike, say the tightly-packed Montreal Botanic Gardens, the sights were rather far apart from each other. Most of the greenhouses were ancient, the Princess of Wales memorial the only truly modern environment amongst them. The plantlife varied from commonplace trees to plants that have already vanished from nature. Unsurprisingly a lot of the content originates from the former colonies of the british empire.

A definite highlight of the Kew visit was the canopy walk – about 200 meters long platform that allowed walking on treetop level. While the view was rather the same all the time (chestnut trees, mainly), the height of twenty-ish metres allowed for a good lookout point – London Eye was no longer visible, being hidden behind the bends of the meandering river.

Spiderman at Kew GardensAte a quick lunch at the Pavillion restaurant and noted that it’s under protection from New York’s most beloved superhero. Someone had forgotten a Spiderman toy on the premises and it had ended up in a vantage position in a fence.

OrchidThe last greenhouse of the day contained multiple biomes – moving from deserts (a very nice collection of living stones of Lithops-genus) to orchids and waterlilies from quite a but wetter climes. A lot of the plants were protected by glass – otherwise the likes of small cacti and carnivorous plants could have proven irresistible for nimble-fingered visitors.

The garden shop sold insta-gardens – plastic bags that just needed to be torn open and kept watered. I was tempted by the prospect of harvesting mint and strawberries on my balcony, but settled on chili seeds instead.

Tate ModernThe next target was Tate Modern, a museum built into an old power station on Bankside. Took a side tour via St. Paul’s Cathedral (imposing, didn’t pay to enter) and walked across the no longer wobbly Millennium Bridge after picking up yet another cache (Monument, below the bridge proper).

A brief visit into the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe proved serendipitous indeed: picked up a truly cool hoodie from the shop as well as a long overdue copy of Bill Bryson’s book on the bard.

Bub mosaicRambling around the area revealed yet another old theatre (Rose, almost next door), a hen party (surprisingly well-behaved), and an on-the-wall mosaic Bub (from Bubble Bobble, obviously). Whether this is the work of the Invader or a local copycat remains to be investigated.

Decided on a dinner before entering the museum. Leon, just south of the building proved to be disappointing over multiple axis. Despite being billed as “future of fast food”, the service was extremely slow. Our order seemed to fall into a crack somewhere and only after multiple queries the food arrived. And even then the extras (fried halloumi) and drinks (portuguese beer) had to be requested separately once again.

Skipped the Thorium Box cache on the Tate yard due to milling crowds and headed inside. Walked through the public galleries only – time was running out and so was the endurance. Didn’t see a single Damien Hirst, but other modern artists were well-represented. The museum shop was as big as expected, but unable to deliver the one book I was looking for. Thankfully the very helpful assistant verified that the tome on the design of the London underground map would be available at Tate Britain instead. Inspired by the on the wall Bub, picked up a book on Banksy‘s work.

Big BenAlong the way back to the hotel stopped in a semi-posh restaurant for a refresher. Northbank served a very passable selection of drinks, even though their mint storage had run dry so that no mojitos were available.

The Big Ben had an odd greenish tint to its face, well visible in the evening darkness.

Jun 262009

Doubledecker busOnce again the hotel deal did not include breakfast, so the first order of the day was to pick up something to eat. A triplet of more or less reasonable cafes were located on the nearby Horseferry Road, and we chose the one in the middle – Sapori – for the first to try. The offering ranged from traditionally british (eggs, bacons and beans) to italian style sandwiches. Opted for the latter.

Stumbled upon the first geocache on the way to the Westmister Abbey. Jewel Tower was an easy one to spot and log.

The Abbey was not on the original agenda, but the attraction of a five star sight on such close proximity to the hotel proved impassable. The church (no photography, it was explicitly forbidden inside) turned out to be packed with the graves of long gone royalty, warriots, poets and scientists. An hour was easily spent listening to the pleasantly voiced audio tour given by Jeremy Irons.

London horseguardsDowning Street was barricaded off, and the area was teeming with police. Including very traditionally clad and equipped horse guards stationed nearby.

Trafalgar Square proved to be an excellent place to try out a loaner wide-angle lens, the wide square shows itself off well on the much wider field than I normally use.

Trafalgar Square

The environs of Charing Cross Road are still packed with bookstores. Picked up a Winnie the Pooh illustration from Marchpane a small shop that specializes in vintage children’s books. In addition to classics by Lewis Carroll and the like, the shop carried an authentic Dalek from the early seventies. Forgot to take a picture of the vintage Doctor Who nemesis.

Had a quick beer on a forgotten pub on Shatftesbury Avenue, and recalled why real ale is not an optimal drink on a warm day. Served at its optimal temperature, it’s just not that refreshing.

Casablanca @ SoukOn the way to Forbidden Planet stumbled upon Orc’s Nest, a game store of definite old school. Once again the finnish Fantasiapelit proved superior on the width of selection. Forbidden Planet, on the other hand, was nothing short of amazing. It had two big floors filled with objets d’art for geeks – comics, books, dvds and action figures. Plenty and plenty of action figures. Settled for a mere two graphic novels and no figures at all (figured they’d be a bitch to pack). Once again, forgot to take pictures of the shelves lines with toys for grownups.

A smallish lunch evolved into a mid-sized feast at Souk, a Moroccan restaurant spotted on a neighboring street. The dishes were gigantic, and the accompanying Casablanca beer pleasantly chilled. Sadly, the chicken legs were rather hard to finish off properly in the very dimly lit interior, but even with the meal only partially consumed, the energy levels were easily restored for a further bout of exploration.

Visited a few bookstores, and picked up a couple of books on the todo-list. Noted that most stores had quite good sales going (3 for 2, 50% off a second book and the like). Only later on figured that what I figured to be the debut novel of David Simon (of The Wire-fame) is actually almost two decades old.

Oxford Street was teeming with Friday evening shoppers, none of whom were in any way deterred by a few raindrops falling. Failed to locate an Abercrombie & Fitch shop, and settled for a Quiksilver shirt instead (a t-shirt at that, the collared ones were almost violently displeasing).

Silverjubilee walkwayA quick visit to a nearby Tesco proved that I’m somehow pomegranate-magnetic – kept picking up things with that fruit as an ingredient by accident. The self-service checkout was easily the most science fiction-ary element of the day. The sentient machines beating the Forbidden Planet selection by a mile.

Took a very roundabout way back to the hotel. Saw Piccadilly Square, The Mall (quite unlike its D.C. equivalent), St. James Park and Buckingham Palace along the mile or two.

Picked up the second cache of the day (Blewcoats rule) and capped the evening at Albert, a pub quite close to the hotel.

Jun 262009

Spent the midsummer weekend in London.

Bought a package deal from Ebookers at a very reasonable price and once again discovered that mere three days is way too short a time to spend in the british capital.

The trip did not begin under auspicious circumstances. Quite the opposite, as the outbound flight was delayed good ninety minutes on account of engine cowling trouble.

Fortunately a tapas dinner just before embarking on the plane offset the hunger caused by the delay and a very meager duo of sandwiches offered by British Airways.

Took the subway to the hotel – City Inn Westminster about a hundred meters from the Thames and five minutes from the houses of parliament. The Piccadilly line train was almost empty, and the transfer to Victoria line and the second leg to the hotel were about as painless as they come.

The hotel was worthy of the accolades heaped on it in the likes of Tripadvisor. Having been burnt a couple of times before, these days a pre-check of the facilities is pretty much a must. The room was large enough, and equipped with an iMac (a couple of generations old, but a bona fide computer nonetheless).

Due to the late arrival had to settle for a late dinner at the hotel bar. The offering exceeded expectations both quality- and servicewise.

Still minding the Gap

Jun 162009

Recent pickings. Some of them very rarely updated, some constantly:

  • Speakeasy, Wall Street Journal’s culture blog reaches wide and occasionally deep.
  • Linuxpundit, occasional insights into embedded Linux.
  • Rädyn Rykäisy, Seppo Räty, the finest example of finnish speech has his say about the world of sports.
  • Ben Schott (yeah, the one of the Miscellanies-fame) expands readers’ vocabulary.
  • Festarit, helsingin sanomat once again tours the summer festivals.
  • eat.fi, the blog of the finest finnish sybaritic social network is updated very irregularly.