Jul 052010

Meiji shrineSpent the morning of April 11th in Harajuku.

Meiji Shrine next to the Harajuku railway station was familiar from an earlier visit. The area was as impressive on the second time around. The park was in full bloom, and the visit to the shrine proper capped by a surprise wedding ceremony. The somber-looking priests were wearing the funkiest hats either side of the Pecos river, and the actual proceedings diverted quite a lot from the western norms. Picked up a cache and a mighty thirst. Skipped the garden of the empress, it opened quite late and there was already a queue forming in front of the entrances.

Shinto clergy

Ehkä SöpöHarajuku itself was empty of cosplayers. According to the travel guides they would congregate into the park in the late afternoon, but we had an engagement with Totoro for that hour. Walked up and down a couple of shopping streets, and picked up the third and fourth shirts of the trip (the former accompanied by gratis shorts).

The clothing on offer was not truly outrageous, though a couple of shops stocked uncommon wares. Some so uncommon, that photography of the shop was allegedly a fineable offense.

The most peculiar sight was a ladies store equipped with an appropriately twee finnish name. “Ehkä Söpö” translates into “Like, Cute”, and fit the profile of the area well.

May 032010

Gowalla logoGowalla is a location-based social networking game that’s rapidly expanding all over the world.

It resembles waymarking, the cacheless version of geocaching, a lot.

Basically participants use their location-enabled gadgets to log their whereabouts. The social aspect is the effortless ability to let your friends know where you are, the gaming aspect is the potential to visit as many locations as possible. And to create plenty of new locations, since the world is mostly unmarked thus far.

Most of the locations are tagged with a default icon (one per subcategory such as a bar, pharmacy or a park), but the most famous ones get a dedicated symbol. Thus far Finland doesn’t seem to have any, whereas Sweden has accrued already several.

Unlike its slightly more famous counterpart Foursquare, Gowalla works well with the Nokia N900. Originally geolocation had to be enabled with a browser add-on, but these days it works out of the box.

Very much like Foursquare, the Gowalla service rewards progress with badges – testimonials of progress (such as visiting and creating new spots).

Apr 212010

Floating gardenGave in and bought Canon’s 18-200mm objective from Yodobashi. Getting it tax-free mitigated the financial damage somewhat and anyway, I needed something longer than the 11-16mm and 50mm glasses I had with me. The purchase was not too easy – the procedures took at least three salespersons, and a lot of milling around. Some of it might have been just boredom, since the customers were vastly outnumbered early in the morning.

Took the lens to the task on a visit to two Osaka attractions.

The floating garden is a sightseeing platform at 173 meters. The view was appropriately nice, but all in all the experience was rather lame. The rapidly ascending glass elevator gave a sharp pointer to dormant acrophobia. The garden contained the second cache in Osaka.

Osaka castleOsaka castle is a rebuilt large fortress within city limits. The castle was nicely surrounded by cherry trees. The building is not the original castle, it has been reconstructed multiple times over. Hence the visitors are not subjected to same kind of protective requirements as is common in the rather more fabulous and original Himeji castle.

Rode a cab to and from the castle, while not cheap by any means, it’s quite a bit more affordable in Japan than back home.

Apr 192010

Cherry blossom close upThe park neighboring the aquarium was the first full exposure to the cherry blossoms.

But the way there went through a big, but strangely empty mall. In a country with as little space as Japan, this was an odd discovery. Had lunch, and was quite impressed by the local addition to the subway menu: shrimp and avocado topping, with more than just a hint of wasabi built in.

The cherry blossoms were everywhere in the park, as were electric lanterns (sadly plastic as opposed to paper). And the beauty didn’t go unnoticed. The lawn was rather packed with picnickers, most of whom neaty sitting on bright blue plastic tarps.

Logged the first cache of the trip, and easy virtual in one corner of the park.

Some serious cherry action

Aug 312009

Statue of H.C. AndersenThe checkout practices of DGI Byen turned out to be rather draconian. The longest extension to checkout time was one hour at a cost of 100DKK. Clearly not a good option on a day when the flight out is at half past five in the evening.

Hence dumped the luggage in the storage at the hotel and continued exploring.

Rosenborg castle was easily accessible with the S-train. It contained both fabulous treasures and the first cache of the trip. The former were numerous, large and festooned with jewels, proving that Denmark has a rich history behind it. The latter an easy pick off a neighboring wall.

The rest of the day was spent on a semi-random walkabout around the city. The harvest included the second cache (this time requiring actual work), and an australian-style lunch on the international street market. The train included a large finnish tent, but the attention was drawn elsewhere by the attractions of cheese, nuts and jam (pear/ginger – probably just the thing for gloomy November breakfasts).

A randomly encountered group of Brits proved why they are the most reviled of tourists across the continent. The noise and the swilling of beer are no big deal, but the random tossing of large firecrackers on a lazy sunday afternoon is something that hopefully brings karmic rewards in the form of a large dobermann at the first opportunity.

The trainride to Kastrup was as uneventful as they come. As was the checkin.

The weirdness started post-security. For some reason the local tax-free shop was unwilling to part with a five pack of Absolut sampler bottles on account of me “not flying outside EU”. No amount of trying to convince the saleswoman of my willingness to pay the taxes coerced her to complete the sale. A large collection of alcohol confiscated off other customers pretty much proved my point of once again finding something fishy in the land of the danes.

Spent the last crowns on a couple of books and an unexpectedly discovered issue of Death Ray on a very well-stocked WH Smiths.

Flew back in economy extra (the added cost was a non-issue, since the tickets were purchased with SAS points). The only noticeable difference was the actual availability of food. And possibly an inch or two of extra legroom. The latter is hard to prove, since the seating arrangement in front of the plane is odd anyway.

Jul 242009

EarthCache logoFound and logged my very first earth cache today.

An earth cache is a subtype of a geocache, one that highlights some sort of geological features of the area.

Right now there are almost six thousand earth caches defined, but just about thirty of them are located in Finland. Goes to show that we’re geologically not the most exciting country in the world, but there are still important ones undefined (such as Lappajärvi, the largest crater thus far found in Finland).

Jul 172009

pulpudeva-attributesDNF’d a cache in Plovdiv despite reaching it with a very good satellite coverage accounting for three meter accuracy.

The reason wasn’t the snakes advertised in the cache’s attributes, but the combination of plentiful broken glass, a lot of sharp branches and me wearing shorts.

EDIT 23.7: Fixed the link to the correct cache.

Jul 172009

Sofia SheratonFollowing an inhumanely early wake-up call, caught a flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. Or actually two flights, since had a transfer in München.

The occasion is a wedding, and the official lodgings for all visitors are at a centrally located Sheraton that exudes a true 19th century colonial charm. The accommodation experience begins well, a free shuttle trip from the airport to the hotel is always appreciated. A tiny wait for the rooms crimps the positive vibe, but a very timely glass of Zagorka at the hotel’s very east european bar smooths things out.

Following the early arrival, a quick look-see around the neighbourhood is very much needed.

Vitosha street proves to have more branded shops than Aleksanterinkatu back home does, and all in all the city does feel quite european and urban. Apart from the sidewalks which are in a truly chaotic disrepair, the tiles and their usability seems to change between houses, so this might very well be a responsibility that the local authorities delegate onwards.

Restaurant name to be decodedDinner at a “traditionally bulgarian” restaurant turns out to be both good (apart from peculiarly undercooked potatoes) and cheap, both hopefully tidings of further meals in the city.

A walk on the opposite side of the hotel shows that the shops are not a global factor in the city. Humongous governmental buildings and plentiful churches rule the eastern side. A conveniently placed geocache (next to Nevski cathedral) is pretty much the only one easily available in the downtown area.

Autobots' graffitiAn underpass conceals an animated display of a Pentti Saarikoski poem on a wall (finnish, english and bulgarian version alternately projected), and some of the streets bear the markings of Autobots watching.

The evening is warm, and a slight misnavigation in seeking out the pre-wedding party at a club nearby feels like a minor blip on the radar. The club itself, sadly, is extremely loud and packed with smoking locals – the EU regulations have not had any progress in Bulgaria yet.

The taxi ride back to the hotel is extremely cheap as well, for less than half of the price of a takeoff in Helsinki, the car covers the few kilometers back to Sheraton. However, the hosts are pretty adamant that only a couple of taxi companies in Sofia are reliable, the others are considered ripoff artists.

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.

Apr 182009

The N96, combined with the geocaching application by Trimble was not really an optimal toolset. The GPS on board the phone seems to be on the slow side, and while the application has some well thought-out features, it’s not the most ergonomic piece of software. Forgot to pack my trusty external GPS receiver, that’d have easily solved the hardware issues.

So, looking at upgrading the equipment, the prospect of a proper GPS receiver obviously pops up. On a cursory glance the state of the art in the field is Garmin’s Colorado / Oregon-pair.

They’re not exactly cheap, but good tools rarely are.

Apr 182009

Logged my first caches in a long time from Berlin.

And noted that I had missed out on a couple that’d been discovered a good while back but gone unlogged.

Two of them seem to have fallen off the face of the earth completely, and one has been turned into a far more complex one since its adoption by a new owner.

Apr 182009

Berlin - Wall closeupHere’s the five day trip in a very condensed form:

  • Pictures taken: 403 + 24 (camera + phone).
  • Kilometers walked: plenty (forgot the pedometer home).
  • Methods of public transport tried: 2 of 4 (missing the trams and buses).
  • Trips outside the city: None.
  • Finns sighted: Several groups.
  • Currywurst eaten: Once (it’s quite OK).
  • Wall fragments seen: Just a few.
  • Geocaches found and logged: Two (both virtuals), one more sighted but unavailable on account of being mobbed with muggles.
  • Pieces of the wall bought: Two.
  • Semi-touristy t-shirts bought: Two.
  • Berlin accent comprehensibility: Quite high (especically when compared to Bavaria and Austria).
  • Moments of utter misnavigation: One (the first foray on the eastern side).
  • Really good bookstores discovered: None, quite an omission.
  • Pictures of the Ampelmann: Just one (of the green man).
  • Official stars possessed by the hotel: Five.
  • Missed exhibits on personal heroes: Two (Dali and Hitchcock).
  • Museums visited: Just one (the Reichstag does not count).
  • Movies bought: Zero.
  • Classic german police shows available on dvd: Plentiful (though missed Ein Fall für Zwei in the shops).
  • Locals drinking beer in inappropriate places: Quite a few – including the zoo (happily enough none of them were the least bit on the belligerent side).
  • Long queues: Two (Reichstag and Zoo).
  • Pleasant flavors of mixed Berliner Kindls: One and a half.
  • Recommended locations visited: Two out of ten (Treptower Monument and Prater Biergarten).
  • Time spent surfing the web: Very little – the hotel WLAN connection was very expensive, and there was something else to do almost the whole time.
  • New volumes of Ehapa’s Hall of Fame-series seen: Zero.
  • Locals selling newspapers on the subway: Almost on every second trip.
  • Well-lit sidewalks: Quite rare.
  • Kebab eaten: No, and that’s a real shame.
  • Shorts-season opened: Yes.
  • Appreciation of the producer-specific champagne-bars in KaDeWe: High.
  • Coming back: Definitely.
Jun 012007

Low-hanging cloud in SuomenlinnaSpent most of yesterday in Suomenlinna, capping off a long project with appropriate ceremonies.

Skipped the official tour of the islands and sought four caches instead. Some climbing, some lurking in the dark and some plain old carefully-looking-at-things needed, but nothing extraordinary.

Weather was on the odd side, but rather warm. Clouds hung low, just meters off the surface of the sea. Didn’t get too good a picture of the mist, but the effect was very peculiar, especially when climbing to the top of the battlements, and not being able to see the horizon at all.

Some repairs neededHad forgotten what being tossed out of a bar felt like – not on account of being drunk & disorderly, but clothing. Had a disagreement with a roaming bouncer whether long denim shorts are proper attire for a summer evening – I lost the argument obviously, and am sure that my attitude didn’t really help much.

May 202007

Pigeon and a view from the topVisited the Empire State Building pretty much as it opened to beat the crowds.

I’ve been up once before, but the chilly winter on 2003 (-20C weather and high winds and humidity off the twin rivers) curtailed the visit to a very short length.

So, part of the visit was to really check out the scenery, but another was to seek out my first NY cache. This was a virtual cache out of necessity, as any unexplained boxes would bring out the NYPD bomb squad post haste, I’m sure.

South of the Empire State BuildingAnother sight that got only a partial visit back in ’03 was the American Museum of Natural History, located next to Central Park.

It’s a huge building with impressive contents, so concentrated on bits that were missed on the previous visit to avoid spending the entire day inside. The show on colliding objects in the planetarium got things off to a good start. And the life-size model of the blue whale in the ocean room was quite impressive at 29 meters. Too bad the largest flying animal ever on earth (a mighty pterodactyl species) was featured only with a single wing bone, and not a full-scale assumption what the beast looked like.

Like most american museums, this was packed with giftshops as well. Almost managed to resist the urge to purchase, but succumbed to a book on cryptozoology in the very last shop walked through (they are quite cunningly placed on common routes).

Blue Whale in the Ocean HallMissed the Frogs: a Chorus of Colors for the second time. It will open here the next monday, and I just missed it last year in Philadelphia.

Walked through Central Park, and picked up three easy caches. Virtuals all of them – it had started raining, and the idea of rummaging through soggy undergrowth and wet grass for tupperware was not that appealing.


Jan 012007

So, 2006. How was it?

  • As noted here ad nauseam, visited Australia, and liked it a lot.
  • Went to Munich for the Utah European Alumni meeting.
  • Saw Metallica in Tallinn, Guns n’ Roses in Hartwalll Areena and Dropkick Murphys twice.
  • Read a lot.
  • Devolved further at work: managerial epithets include salesman, hustler and rock star.
  • Started geocaching.
  • Managed to keep two recurring new year’s resolutions: live music and a movie once a month (on averages, october turned out to be too challenging schedulewise).
  • Hooked up with lots of old and current friends and colleagues in Linkedin.
  • Snorkelled for the first time ever.
  • Was surprised by the Nokia / Siemens merger.
  • Blogged a lot (688 entries) here, and never got the fishblog restarted.
  • Upgraded my camera.
  • Did not upgrade my phone (waiting for the n95).
  • Bought my first biking helmet.
  • Chinese Democracy did not see daylight.

Previous retrospectives available for 2005 and 2004.

Nov 072006

Fruitbats in treesRain kept drizzling down, but not in biblical proportions. Walked through the city for some ten kilometers.

Located two caches out of four. First DNF due to bouncing signal, the second due to milling people all around the ground zero position.

Visited the botanic gardens for some excellent views on the harbor. Had my first encounter with fruitbats. Some trees bore dozens of the screeching creatures, who were surprisingly active before the dusk. Saw the biggest (and probably one of the ugliest) flower, and expectedly many orchids. The brand-spanking new batteries gave up the ghost after half a dozen images – but that’s probably the fault of the shop, not of the manufacturer.
A very big flower

Oct 162006

A panel off the Valkoisen Meren Timantit-graphic novelI’ve been a passive geocacher for almost a year and a half. Been a co-cacher all that time, having hung on to friends (mainly messieurs srpnt and kha) on a couple of their quests for caches.

Had been tempted to strike out by myself before, but always disappointed at the local prices for equipment. Which are on the high side. Had my eyes on a couple of quality pieces in huuto.net, but either got sniped, or the prices hiked above comfort level. And on a few occasions just embarrassingly forgot the closing date of an item.

The situation changed with the arrival of nav4all‘s new campaign. They are flogging the Holux GPSlim236 at well below market price.

Ordered one, and got it after some postal adventures. Read up on using a s60 phone for caching, and grabbed two programs for trial runs.

Locating the first cache took a while – last week was full of long days at the office, and being out and about in the clammy evening with a lingering flu wasn’t such a hot idea. Picked the next to nearest cache, and successfully sought it out on a lazy (and pleasantly warm) weekend evening. The GPS device seemed to be a bit off the mark, but according to the logs of said cache others have had some trouble with the coordinates.

One down. Many to go.

The attached panel is off the recent graphic novel Valkoisen Meren Timantit, the quickly arrived sequel to Marian Koodi, which I quite liked. The new album continues in the pleasantly well-drawn fashion. And the story itself is significantly better than in the rushed first book. Geocaching as a hobby is featured in a side plot (not an entirely convincing one, but far worse have been seen), and all in all the entire album is easily classified as quality entertainment.