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February 08, 2006

Escape from course work to Barcelona

Everyone seems to love Barcelona – I couldn't understand people's fascination and obsession with this city until last weekend when I visited myself.
The visit was awesome despite the facts that we had no hot water, we had ants in the apartment, I had my money stolen on the first day of my stay and the local cashpoints discriminated my debit/credit cards to an extent that I could get no money out.
But still, the city and its people are so great it makes up for all of thatl!

I went with Helen, Chloe and Kim. They seemed very shocked about the scary little narrow alleyway we lived on. I suppose it didn't help that we arrived at night and our taxi driver said to us with his strong Spanish accent"Watch out for these people!" pointing at some dodgy men outside the taxi and dumped us at that spot. I thought the first apartment was fine, but the cold shower was too much for the others so we moved to a hotel next door. It didn't solve the problem of living on the dark alleyway. In fact, it was right next to Las Ramblas, so it was that dodgy after all.

On the first day I managed to have my money stolen by 2 sweet old lovely ladies. Clearly you cant trust anyone! Well, I panicked without my money and went to this policemen who did not speak English. For those who don't know, my Spanish vocab contains about 20 words and consists of very useful phrases such as "Falta papel de baño!" exactly what I needed in this particular situation!
Well, they put me to the police car and drove me to the station. I think I have to get used to police cars, it was my second time within a year. They made me fill in forms in Spanish and were pointing at me and saying something "chica" all the time. luckily i got out of there in the end.

I headed to Parc Güell. I was quite exhausted having walked up a steep hill and having gone through the trouble of getting money etc. but this place was truly amazing. The park is overlooking the city and I could see the big cathedral Sagrada Familia(and very numerous houses).
I walked down and saw houses designed by Gaudi. they are so pretty and look so much better in real life than in photos. Walking into the park was like entering a fairy tale: ginger-bread houses with sugar-coating on the top. Exotic birds flying around and children playing. Someone was playing the guitar.

I met up with Stu and he showed me around Barcelona Uni. They have fish ponds and orange trees in the university garden. I'm so envious! That's something we must get to Warwick(however, I think they might slightly suffer when the English winter arrives…)
Soon afterwards Jordi joined us. We were just chatting and hanging around. We walked past Sagrada Familia and went to Stu's place for a bit. In the evening we went out for a meal. It was exotic – the menu was in Catalan and Italian only. We had pasta and risotto with balsamic vinegar and pears. Sounds weird but it was surprisingly good.

Next day I visited the Gaudi museum and walked around loads. We went to see "Breakback Mountain" in the cinema. I'm grateful it hadn't been dubbed into Spanish. I bought chocolate with bergamot and with 100% cocoa content. We went to a bar and to another later. Their Swedish friends joined us. Always embarrased to admit, my Swedish is pretty dreadful. We had a little crash course.
Can you imagine, you can buy cakes and croissants at 3.30 in the morning in Barcelona!? We walked along one of these little dark alleyways packed with drunk people. All of a sudden there was a door. No sign, nothing. It was ajar and we entered. It looked like a warehouse storage room and there was a pile of boxes with cakes inside and a guy selling them. Very tasty and I could sleep well after eating them. The Swedish girl Petra kindly walked me home because it was dark.

I don't think I saw half the stuff the city has to offer. Which means I don't have a choice – I have to go back at some point.

I forgot my camera in Finland on the xmas break but luckily I had my mobile with me. I love this modern technology, I truly do! I took a few photos with my phone(in the gallery).

TAlking of christmas, I'm aware that I have completely forgotten to update my blog for a century, that's covering last christmas. I'm still in one piece as you may conclude for this entry. I shall try and be more active in terms of writing here!

On Monday I went to Sharon's to Birmingham. She does photography and it was the opening of her exhibition. It was good, nice art and even a band playing. Afterwards we went to a Moroccan cafe, had some mint tea and then had a Chinese take-away when watching Moulin Rouge at Sharon's. It's so relaxing to spend time off-campus.

With so much relaxation in my life, my course work is piling up! So I better get on with it.
Academically excellent news, a professor in my department has agreed to take me into his research group next summer and is sending an application for project funding, which is really exciting!! The project is based on marine microbiology. Now I just have to wait until May and see if it gets funded.

October 13, 2005

The love–hatred–relationship with the Internet

Help! Until yesterday I hadn't realised my severe addiction to the Internet. Having lived in a house without the World Wide Web for three weeks I was already having clear withdrawal symptoms and anxiously looking forward to connecting to the Net.
Well, yesterday I managed to purchase a WLAN card in Coventry in hope of making friends with my laptop again. After installing the software and trying to connect for 90 minutes I was just about to explode of anger and frustration! Good job we didn't have a hammer in the house, otherwise there'd be nothing left of my computer!
We are looking into different internet providers now(no more wireless! ever!) and I'm counting seconds to the moment when our house moves on to the new modern era with a functioning Internet-connection.

Apart from this constant warfare between me and my laptop, the start of the new term has been good. This week we are having labs every day as well as lectures, which means I'm so knackered there's not much energy left for anything else.

My mum Ritva came to visit me last week. We celebrated her 50th bday in Birmingham by wandering around, going on the Wheel of Birmingham(Birmingham-version of the London Eye), visiting an art gallery and having a meal in a Chinese restaurant.
Afterwards we went back to mine for a glass champagne.
She brought me rye-bread and cheese from Finland, yummy!

Tomorrow we are celebrating Erika's 20th birthday and I promised to bake her a cake. We have cool neighbours. Me and Erika went around yesterday to ask whether the party is ok, than they just went "Oh, come on in! It's so lovely to meet our new neighbours" and we were chatting for ages. Sophie was worried and thought we might have been kidnapped by evil people next-door.
At least they weren't evil.

September 18, 2005

Canley, my home

Last summer days in Finland are over and I have now moved to my lovely new house in the scary Coventry. In fact, Coventry is nowhere near as bad as its reputation, and so far I’ve been mainly positively surprised at the house.

Before my return to England I spent crazy days with my international friends Julia(England!) and Katrin(Germany!). Julia’s written her verdict on the Finnish smoke-sauna, muurinpohjalettu, howling wolves and much more on her blog: www.spaces.msn.com/members/agueda
Check it out, it’s seriously funny!

Katrin visited me in Helsinki and we went to our holiday house to Joutsa as well. Of all the things including weird Finnish dishes and sauna and even bio-toilet Katrin was most shocked (and amused) at Finnish alkies. She got to see this interesting side of Finland when we did a day-trip to Estonia across the Baltic See. The ship was loaded with part-time alcoholics, who were thrilled to buy tax-free alcohol. In Estonia the situation didn’t significantly improve, and probably half of the passengers spent the day pouring 80% Viru Valgee or similar down their throats. How surprising that Finns are known as _poro _(Finnish for reindeer) on the southern side of the bay…! Finns seriously resemble these arctic animals when standing, walking or crawling in the middle of the road with a confused look in their eyes. Apart from the fact that reindeer don’t swear of course.

Having survived this alkie-populated ship and eastern suburbs of Tallinn, where everything was written in Russian(!), Katrin headed to Germany and I to England.

I arrived on Saturday the 10th at Birmingham, where Chris and Matt were already waiting for me! It was really nice to see them and we drove straight to Leamington Spa to their place. We went to Kenilworth Blockbusters where I used to work last year and my colleague generously let us rent 2 DVDs free. We had then Indian take-away. The best Indian food in Europe is definitely made in England. YUM!
I was trying to call my landlord to find out when I could pick up the key to my house. There are 3 of us living together, but I was the first one to arrive and therefore desperately needed to collect the key. Well, the landlord didn’t come back to me, so Matt and Chris let me stay at their house over night. It was actually really convenient, because they had a spare bed(the German flatmate hadn’t moved in yet. They concluded it must be because of excessive usage of German beer) and we watched the film Aviator. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t touch it! If you have made it to the end, congratulations! It’s 3 and half hours long(read: way too long!) and I kept falling asleep when watching it.

On Sunday I finally moved into my new house!! When I left England in June I left most of my stuff at Helen’s house in Kenilworth, so I had to collect that and then took a taxi with all my stuff in to Canley. The house is not huge but fair-size. We’ve got a kitchen and a lounge downstairs, and 3 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. There’s a garden on each side of the house. And apparently we have to keep mowing the lawn, this is stated on the contract. Sophie already moved in on last Tuesday and Erika’s coming on this Tuesday.

The only problem we have noticed so far is the shower. Water’s dripping so slowly that feels like standing in the rain. I and Sophie decided we are going to do a lot of exercise this year and shower in the Sports Centre. I also have the boiler in my room now. First Sophie was living in this room but couldn’t apparently sleep because of the noise from the boiler. Even now I can hear the cheerful rhythm from the boiler but it’s luckily so quiet it didn’t really disturb my sleep last night.
Surprisingly we haven't had any chavs, junkies, drunkies or any kind of dodgy people bombarding the house! I've only heard our neighbour sing a song I couldn't recognise and another one in the bathtub. Yes, the walls are so thin I can even follow their conversations and hear the water move! The reason I didn't know the song may be a gap in my music knowledge. Or more likely, because the artist wasn't perhaps fully qualified…

On Wednesday I traveled to north-England to Hartford to see Julia. The train station is right next to our house, so I didn’t have to walk far. I was really lost the Coventry station and got on a train to Aberdeen, Scotland. In the end I made it to Hartford.
On Thursday we visited Chester. It was raining quite heavily but we got on a city tour bus(open-top) and Julia got really wet sitting next to a leaking window.
Chester is a really old town, it was once governed by the Romans and there’s still an old Roman amphitheatre in the town. However, the Roman houses had been destroyed and instead the centre was full of Tudor houses. They typically have black cross-patterns on the white background as decorations, and I always had thought this style is typically German! The houses of Chester hadn’t been actually built in the Tudor era but a lot later in Victorian times. Then there was an interesting road system called “The Rows”. In this system you would have the roads in a way “inside the house” so the outer walls of the long houses were drawn back and the roads were covered with the ceiling of the house.
There were these roads in the ground and first floors. I guess, it’s a type of an ancient shopping centre.

On Friday we went to a salt museum in Hartford. There’s a big salt mine in Cheshire and a developed canal system they used for the transport. When they first started mining salt from below the town, it resulted in subsidence and the ground sunk. Nowadays the methods are better.
On Friday night there was a little “leaving-for-the-uni”-party and we cooked curry for lots of people. On Saturday morning we set off for Warwick again and Julia’s parents brought us here.

The Orientation Week for the new international students will start tomorrow at Warwick and I’m volunteering as a Helper. 850 new students will arrive and there are 80 Helpers.
Should be an interesting and fun week!
The term starts on the 26th with a gene technology lab.

August 14, 2005

From Berlin to Helsinki

I know haven’t updated my blog for about half a century and people probably think I’m either dead or have been abducted by the aliens…
Tons of things have happened to me. There’s a “little” summary(more of a novel) of my last 4 weeks in Berlin written already at the time I was there. Unfortunately I never came round to putting it on my blog, but better late than not at all.

Sunday 24.07.05

Right, it’s 2:44 am and I just got back from Soda-salsa club from Prenzlauer Berg.
I must be insane since I’m writing blog diary instead of falling asleep in my cozy bed. It’s probably thanks to Crazy-Carlos at the internship and Swiss-Thomas behind my wall that I discovered this fun latino music and my enthusiasm is so overwhelming that my little report cannot wait till tomorrow.
A half-Japanese, half-German student called Taro mentioned they organize salsa classes always before the parties. So we decided to go together today. And besides, I desperately needed some tuition as have never danced salsa before and am all over the place with my big feet. Considering that I’m usually destroying my dance-partners’ feet if they dare to come anywhere close we thought it’s probably safer to take some classes first. So I went with Taro tonight and Thomas, Carla and Corinna joined us later.
Salsa’s really fun and the basic steps are actually not all that difficult. Merengue is also good as I don’t have to know any steps and men lead the dance anyway. I danced some salsa with Tora and then merengue with Thomas. After 6 hours of dancing I was absolutely knackered and realized that I’ve just missed my last underground back to Tiergarten where I live. Conveniently the night buses are real sight-seeing trips and circle around and about in central Berlin before finding their way to Zoologischer Garten. Luckily Tora offered to give me a lift and we went to get the car.
It was cool to walk around the dark streets of Prenzlauer Berg and visit an old Berliner building. Apparently all the buildings in the area are built by the same pattern. I imagine it’s a bit like all those student houses in Coventry in Earlsdon which look exactly identical to each other. The ceilings are really high and on the street-side there’s a huge lobby. We went through tall doors with decorative windows and all the colours and shapes in the lobby were really pretty. Then typically comes Innenhof, a gap surrounded by walls of the house on every side. These Berlin houses are really tall so the lowest floors in this type of houses are very dark. The flats sometimes have windows only on the Innenhof-side so living in such a flat must be as depressing as November in Finland.The flats are also weird, can you imagine originally there was no shower. In Taro’s flat the shower was randomly built later at the corner of the corridor next to the kitchen. Strange! And very picturesque, when exiting the building I spotted 2 holes made by a bullet in these decorative windows. So that’s what the ex-DDR houses are like.
I never can get used to the fact that Berlin was divided. We were driving along Gleimstrasse, where this house was located. The house was initially on the east-Berlin side and after driving under a bridge we were suddenly on the west-side of Berlin without even turning off the road.
Siegmund’s Hof is random. I got back and couldn’t get out of the lift as the door-way was taped up with cellotape. There was a piece of bread taped to my door as well without any sensible reason! This house is full of freaks but at least they are nice ones.
It was such a beautiful day today. We sat on the balcony in the sunshine. I made pancakes Finnish style, with strawberry jam and whipped cream on the top and we ate water melon. We dragged our dear sofa to the balcony and I, Philip(Poland), Afroditi(Greece) and Christian(Cameroon) squeezed on the sofa and started singing Beatles as loud as possible. Philip even had some notes with him so we could read the words even if we didn’t know the melodies for all of them. It’s a strange feeling as all the people are leaving in a week or so and traveling back to their home countries. I might not see these people ever again. However, the moment at the balcony today was so gorgeous that any description doesn’t make it justice.

On Saturday we had a big party in our floor to celebrate the end of exams. Indeed, the poor German students still have to take exams at the end of July! When getting ready for the party, we headed to Aldi, the cheapest shop around. The 5 of us carried a massive load of drink and food back to Siegmund’s Hof. We suffered some losses though when we had a little break and I set my crate on the window sill for a bit. Of course it had to kip and consequently there was a bottle of wine on the ground. Laa-la-laa-la, it wasn’t me…
Unfortunately that wasn’t the end for my destruction derby. At the start of the party Enrico brought a football to our common room and showed us so cool tricks. I wanted to have a go as well and smashed the glass of boiling hot Raki Afroditi had just poured for me and hit the bowl of peanuts. So we had pretty Raki decorations on the wall and the ruins of the glass in the floor which was now covered with peanuts. Enrico thought I’m a walking disaster, which is not too far from the truth. So still surprised I wanted to take some salsa classes before dancing?! Just out of respect to my dance-partner’s feet.

Our halls are very international. In fact, I believe there is one single German person living in this house and there are 140 rooms. And there’re no guarantees for the state of the mental health of this particular person. I found some real Berliners in the Bierkeller on the Saturday night and was absolutely excited. In the end, I’ve come to Berlin to see some German culture and practice the language etc. and I had met just 1 Berliner before. So I invited the real Berliners to our party.

The only German people I had met here before that were Warwick students. There are so many of us in Berlin now that there’s no need to found the debated Asian campus. We already have an exchange campus here.

The fact how small Berlin is kept amazing me throughout my stay. On one these boiling-hot days, I traveled to Schlachtensee for a swim. As soon as I got into water a friendly familiar face was greeting me. Filip, my neighbour was there as well.
Another day I was standing at the Leopoldplatz underground station eating cherries. In Berlin, and in Wedding in particular, there are lots of little stands where fresh fruit and vegetable are being sold. Standing at the station lost in thought I noticed someone had put his hand in my bag! It was the crazy Carlos trying to steal the cherries.
In the city of 4 million people you would think you never randomly bump into people you know. I love the fact that such a massive city can be so friendly and feel so small.

Katrin visited me in Berlin for a weekend. That was a nice weekend of sight-seeing and chilling. And partying of course. My British neighbour Nik and the Italian Alesso offered to take us out as they know the Berlin night clubs way better than me and Katrin. However we ended up in this dreadful club called Q-Dorf absolutely packed with wasted and sweaty people. The only way to handle this disaster was to drink some tequila. After that the bar seemed ok actually and we were dancing till 6 in the morning. We saw a pretty sunrise at the broken tower of Gedächtniskirche as we walked back to Siegmunds Hof.

Xian, my Finnish-Chinese friend, came to visit me in Berlin as well. She is a hard-core tourist. We saw more castles than I’ve seen in the last 10 years altogether. And she even had energy to visit museums, which I didn’t manage. We found a really nice Singapore restaurant after about an hour’s search. This was thanks to Xian’s obsession with Chanterelle-mushrooms(Chantharellus cibarius). It was Chanterelle season in Germany and these mushrooms have not only a beautiful taste but a distinctive pretty yellow color. We didn’t find a restaurant with Chantarelle dishes so went to this Asian fusion restaurant in the end.

I visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp north from Berlin. That’s a scary place and made me feel very anxious and uncomfortable. It’s unbelievable that these horrors took place only a few decades ago. Concentration camps are a proof of the stupidity of the mankind. No other animal species treats the individuals of their community with such cruelty and insanity. I was walking around the camp for 4 hours, listening from the audio guide to the stories of people who had survived it.

In my last week in Berlin I had to move out and I was living with Erika for a few days. That was really fun and we spent our days doing the internships and the nights going out. We saw all our dear friends in the last week: Mahmout, Warwick-people, Taro, who made sushi for us(yummy!) I was constantly so knackered that kept passing out at inappropriate times and situations. Me, Erika and Taro were trying to watch a film and I saw 5 minutes into it before nodding off. And it seemed like a good film.
I got into a habit of taking my pillow with me and sleeping on the underground on the way to work and when coming back at night.

I returned to Finland on Friday the 6th of August and after getting pick up by my brother and his BMW we headed straight to Joutsa to our holiday house. On the Saturday we traveled all the way to North Karelia to my cousin’s wedding which was one of the best I’ve ever been to(this really telling something considering I have more than 20 cousins)
The groom is Austrian and half of his family was there as well. I think the Austrian’s were both amazed and confused with some Finnish traditions such as rubber boot throwing competition accompanied by sahti, Finnish home-brewed beer kind of thing. There was karaoke as well, and a brilliant afterparty at the cabin where the Austrians stayed. My cousin Riikka had particularly said she’d like to have SingStar Playstation2-game for wedding present and that was definitely a great choice. We were singing it in the afterparty so much that I could barely speak on the following day. The “highlight” of the day was probably when coming back from the church and getting on the car I heard a tiny “cratcsh”. I discovered it was my short dress breaking down and getting even shorter every time I moved! We had to drive to the centre of Joensuu to buy a needle and thread so I could sew my dress, otherwise the backside of it would’ve been open all the way to my waist! No joke and not funny at the time!
Brand clothes are a hoax anyway. This dress was probably the first one I’ve ever bought in Benetton instead of H&M or similar. At least I save money and thoughts when I can keep buying cheap, cheerful and long-lasting clothes in my favourite Swedish cloth shop.
I didn’t return to Helsinki until Wednesday and found my e-mail inbox full of Julia’s panicky letters trying to ask if I’m coming to pick her up on Friday. Poor Julia, I hadn’t said I’m spending a few days out of civilization and without the Internet. I guess, the fact that I hadn’t updated the blog for ages didn’t help…
Oh well, she got here in the end after two delays with terrible KLM flights and we visited Suomenlinna the see-fortress yesterday. It was a bit of an adventure because of the track-and-field World Championships which currently take place in Helsinki. Consequently all accommodation in Helsinki and the surrounding areas is fully booked. As a result I had 4 Austrians, my cousin Riikka and Julia all staying in our house at the same time. We had a struggle to find the ferry to Suomenlinna as the sport organizers had decided to put the marathon track in the middle of the centre and the marketplace and our multicultural Finnish-English-Austrian group was neatly stuck on the wrong side as the athletes ran by. Great! This is gonna make me hate sports even more!
We had a wet sauna as there was something wrong with the settings, went out and only returned after 2 o’clock.

July 08, 2005

Watermelon and Feta Cheese, yummy!

I've had panicky phone calls and worried e-mail regarding my entry about Berlin-Wedding-ghetto.
Don't worry people, I'm still alive. As long as I keep updating my blog you know that I haven't been attacked.

Besides, I do consider myself lucky for being in Berlin now. I can't believe what happened in London yesterday and feel sorry for the innocent victims of the terrorist attack. What does al-Qaeda gain by doing that? Sick.

Tuesday 05.07.2005

Yesterday I got a chance to try this obscure combination which is apparently also a popular Jordanian national dish. It tastes actually better than sounds. I found myself in this very bizarre situation:
I sat on a sofa next to a Jordanian student who was wearing a Suomi-Finland T-shirt. I was eating watermelon with feta cheese, watching an overdramatic non-subtitled Arabian soap opera from the 80’s and wondering if the burning coal on the table was a great idea in terms of fire safety. Window decorations (or similar, not entirely sure about their function) were original: windows were covered with kitchen foil. Beautiful.

Berlin is full of interesting characters. Last Saturday me, Erika, Laura and Annika went to explore Berlin night life and bumped into a guy asking for a cigarette. He promised he and his friends would sing to us in return. Cheerful singing for the tiny expense of one cigarette sounded good so they started singing “Ich bin ein echtes Countryboy…” that was absolutely hilarious and they were really great! They actually perform as well and we were invited to a concert. I need to ask Laura if I can get hold of the video she shot that night because it possibly can’t be described how funny they were!

Other than random situations like this, my days are filled with work. My work experience is really demanding and just today I spent 10 and half hours in the lab. It’s exhausting but also fun because of our team. I work mainly with Carlos, the PhD student from Cuba who is really crazy. Carlos calls me constantly Barbara and sings this Cuban song “Oh, Barbara…”. Also apparently I’m also “Seine Grosse” and today I was also called Sandra. In return I call him Kalle, the Finnish version of his name and I have a repertoire of Finnish songs I sing to him and to the reagent tubes. Realistically, apart from this audience no one else could probably put up with my performance. Also I have discovered that it is possible to speak German, Spanish, English and Finnish in the same sentence and it still makes sense!
Yesterday I thought he is going to explode of anger as I made so many mistakes and didn’t have a clue what was going on. He even stopped singing the “Oh, Barbara” – song and that’s a really concerning sign!
Uli is a German girl who also does an internship in the lab. She was very creative today when trying to build some equipment and made a tripod-looking supportive element by bending metallic paper clips. In my opinion it looked like a halo, and I tried to explain this association in German. Tired as I was and my German is what it is, I called the little thing The Angel Circle. When the others looked a bit confused I called it a Holy Sign instead. At this point they concluded that I must have inhaled too many evaporative chemicals.
Even if the lab work in this mad team is fun, I have also learned something. I can now do protein SDS-electrophoresis by myself from scratch. I should be able to do Western Blot as well which is good for recognizing different proteins according to antibody specificity. And today we did protein isolation and purification.

Wednesday 6.7.05

Launderette is the ultimate place for socializing! Everyone who lived in Claycroft this year knows how obsessed I am with launderettes.
I had survived 13 days without doing laundry so I was dying to wash my clothes. Interestingly I had to buy a washing card + credit in our Bierkeller. Does it maybe tell something about the German culture that all the activities are focused around the Bierkeller…?
Eventually managed to find the launderette and even got some laundry done. Whilst waiting for the cycle to run I was chatting to an Italian student and met an Indian student. Can you believe the Italian guy used hand soap instead of washing powder? I learned there’s more to Milan than just fashion (apparently a beautiful city, high buildings and the roads located in the middle of the tiny gaps between the buildings) and that in Delhi there are 12 million people and no-one knows how many holy cows.

I love the internationality of the place. In my floor there is a group of Greeks, Italians, a few Chinese students, a Mongolian, a Russian, 2 from Cameroon, a Swiss and a Britton.
I just enjoyed Cameroonian dinner tonight when Christopher made me some gorgeous chicken-peanut sauce. It reminded a little bit of the Chinese Satay-sauce. I must get the recipe!
It was funny at work experience today as I spotted the BBC news about how unbearable Finnish food is. Apparently Jacques Chirac, Vladimir Putin, Gerhard Schröder and a Finnish euro-representative had enjoyed some Finnish delicacies. Or in fact our friend Jacques hadn’t enjoyed the dishes but slated the Finnish food culture and this caused a massive uproar in the self-conscious Finland. The article was written in such a funny way that I couldn’t stop laughing. I sounded like we were living on a different planet or at least in the Stone Age. Of course Finnish people live out in the sticks in a place called Pöpelikkö, surrounded by bears and lakes and eat nothing but fish, reindeer and elk meet and pick fresh mushrooms and berries from the forest every day. That’s how it goes!
Having read the article I should be even more motivated to learn the Cameroonian recipe but honestly there’s also some really great food in Finland. You can’t beat muurinpohjalettu, a pan cake made on open fire and eaten with cream and berries (fresh, picked from the forest every day!) And Karelian stew with potato mash is also really good!

I met some Christian people today as they came to our floor to discuss faith and religious issues. One of the girls, Sharon is moving to Warwick in a month and doing a Christian mission also in England and is going to be involved in the Warwick Christian Union! It’s a small world: Sharon is from Northern Ireland, we met now in Berlin and I’ll see her later this year at Warwick!

Also at the same table sat Nick, the British student, Afrodite from Greece and Christopher. Nick doesn’t know German and Christopher and Afrodite don’t speak much English. So I would interpret most of the things from English to German or vice versa. It’s so cool being able to speak different languages! My German vocabulary is not as good as my English one but I compensate this by speaking at least as much as I do in other languages. Considering the fact that I never shut up anyway you can imagine how much the others get to talk…

In theory I learned to count to hundred in Spanish today – I and Carlos got bored during some incubations. In practice, I’ve forgotten all about it now. Finnish numbers are so hard to remember that Carlos didn’t learn them despite our efforts. Also I learned quite a few lines from the “Oh, Barbara”-song, don’t have a slightest idea what I’m singing though.

I was buzzing around Berlin by U-Bahn for 2 hours trying to find a cheap and quick place to get my photos developed. For my disappointment no place would do the photos today so I decided I might as well wait 2 days to get them done and pay a really low rate for them. So on Friday I’ll finally get my pics from Salzburg, Munich and Berlin.

July 04, 2005

The many sides of Berlin

I've just discovered a completely new side of Berlin.

Earlier I was somehow too busy worrying about my accommodation and being robbed and raped on the dodgy roads of Wedding. Now I've seen more of Berlin and its history and my worries seem so tiny in comparison.
The history is everywhere. In the centre is Gedächtniskirche, a church with half a roof and smashed windows because it was left that way after the war. I went to the Brandenburger Tor on Saturday and they had a "timeline" with photos explaining the events of the war and the building and the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Wall still separated the 2 halves, West- and East-Berlin, people on the west side would have to go through Brandenburger Tor to visit the east.
In this timeline they also had a picture of the ruins if Coventry Cathedral. It looked different but was still recognisable.
I can't possibly imagine, that the Wall still separated the 2 worlds just 16 years ago.

Berlin is really green. I live now near Tiergarten, the Berlin Zoo and within a walking distance to the centre. In fact I can walk through beautiful woods to Siegessäule and Brandenburger Tor. I'm getting to know my way around though it's taking a long time. On Friday I tried to walk from Berlin Zoo the Brandenburger Tor and conveniently I had no map on me. I thought I would know the way, but got completely lost. The walk should have taken maybe 30 mins at the most, but I was wandering around for an hour and a half…at least I saw some beautiful scenery.

Erika came to Berlin from Poland on Friday night. We had some dinner with her aunt Elli and her Polish relative(not grandma, but grandma's cousin or something…). It's so nice to see Warwick people here!
We had a wander around the western side of the centre, Kurfürstendamm etc.
Also Erika kindly gave me some bed sheets, a pillow and a cover, which were more than welcome. At the moment it's so hot here in Berlin that I don't actually need a bed cover so I use it as curtains instead. There's a road behind my window and before that I had no curtains so that was interesting…

On Saturday me and Erika went to the Live8-demonstration concert, which is part of the "Make Poverty History"-campaign. Concerts also took place in Philadelphia, London and Paris simultaneously and just in Berlin there were 200,000 people who participated.
That was really amazing especially considering that there are only half a million people in Helsinki which is the biggest city in Finland by far.

July 01, 2005

Goodbye Altenheim, welcome ERASMUS people!

Tuesday 28.06.05

Berlin, Iranische Strasse 6, Paul-Fleishmann-Haus 4, Obergeschoss, Zimmer 413

Right, Berlin is completely different from what I expected.
Having lived now in this care-home surrounded by ancient people I’m not only fed up but also scared. So far I have been here for 3 days and haven’t met a single young person in this building. Even the cleaning ladies are pretty old – and also the only women in this house apart from me. What on Earth happens to the old ladies? Do they just kick the bucket earlier than their husbands or have they been hijacked by the aliens?! I can’t think of any sensible explanation for why the house is crowded with old dudes.
I’m also getting sick of walking 50 yards to go to the loo. Besides, the toilets are esthetically nowhere near satisfactory with their poor painting work, horrible lighting and the lack of toilet paper. And the corridor along which I have to walk to the toilet is well scary! Have you ever seen the film The Grudge? Ok, imagine the bureau house in that film with the stair case, the empty long echoing corridors and cold white lights. That’s where I live now! Even the lift is identical apart from the lack of the window. I haven’t seen any dodgy-looking girls with black tangled hair yet and no-one’s tried to pull me into the water sink and drown me but apart from that everything is identical.
I felt so paranoid when coming back to my room tonight that I didn’t dare to look down the stair case in case there was a load of black hair rapidly approaching me!

I prefer spending most of my time locked up in my room because it’s safe at least. Today however, I felt I have to get out since am not used to this sort of oddities such as constantly being alone. So I headed to the gym which is included in my obscenely high rent. The Germans love their A4s! Apparently it wasn’t enough that I had my ID on me but I’d also have to get an additional paper slip proving that I actually live in this Altenheim. Kinda of makes sense though because you don’t get many 20-year-old girls living with a bunch of old blokes…

That’s about exercise then, I was already heading back to my room when felt a sudden urge to use the Internet. There are these Ahmed Tele/Internet places in every corner, so popped in and surfed for about an hour. At some point started to feel a bit uncomfortable when realized I’m not just the only female in the room but also the only white person.
On the top of that some random Turkish guy next to me was trying to chat me up and I decided it’s time to leave. I felt terrified walking on the dark streets surrounded by these horrible guys. One started to follow me with his car, opened the window and shouted: “Lecker!”=”Tasty!” and was blowing kisses at me. It was horrible, I felt really intimidated and tried to ignore him the best I could.

I’m going to talk to the accommodation people in the morning as cannot possibly handle a whole month in this mental house! I had a very abrupt reply to my query today as rang the people and got maybe half way through explaining what the problem was when they said there are no other rooms available. German efficiency…that was the quickest reply ever!

The area around the house is really funny actually. I would estimate 90% of the people on the street are of Turkish, Arabian or African origin and this is no exaggeration. Then the remaining tenth are older hippy-style people often with grayish long hair. There are really interesting people out there!

The work experience is really good anyhow. The people there are fun and normal, a few of them a bit more reserved but at least not scary. And the general atmosphere is much more relaxed than I expected. There is a Cuban PhD student Carlos in our research group who is always explaining how they make The Real Havana cigars. Then a Turkish woman who is also fun and complains how she doesn’t want to live in Germany and she’s been here for 35 years now. The German Praktikants, the students who are doing their work experience, are nice as well. Then there is me, a crazy Finn, who explains about ice-swimming world championship which takes place in her beautiful home country.

We are studying the Borna virus and I find the research really interesting. Borna virus infects the blood stream and the brain and causes behavioural changes such as depression. At the moment we are working on the genome and specifically so-called M-protein encoded by a gene in the viral genome. The gene was copied to a plasmid which then was transformed into a bacterial cell and today we were studying the expression of the gene in E.coli Rosetta strain. It’s well cool, but something went wrong and the bacteria didn’t start growing until 5 hours later than they were supposed to and it was therefore a long day.

Tomorrow is going to be a fun day. Josh from Denmark is coming to visit me. I can’t wait to get some sensible company! Warwick power!

Wednesday 29.06.05

This morning was interesting. I went to the Stiftung(the building association which let me the room) bureau. Conveniently they were supposed to be closed today but luckily they were open. Knowing my luck, I had to talk to this miserable bitch who would even listen to me. So I started shouting and going on about WHAT LIARS THEY ARE and how unimpressed I am and that I WANT MY MONEY BACK! At this point the other 2 customers in the bureau had gone quiet as well as the 2 ladies advising them and I had 5 sets of eyes staring at me. The older lady behind the near desk jumped at me and said she’s able to sort something out for me. After a few phone calls they were ready offer me a room in another house which was supposed to be full according to my query yesterday + what the bitch had said to me 5 minutes before. I love the German language though, it’s brilliant for arguing and sounds so aggressive!
The room they offered is stupidly expensive so I decided to make a few more phone calls at work and managed to find something more promising where I’ll be able to move tomorrow.
I explained everything at my work experience and those people are so fantastic and encouraging. We have this Turkish lady in my research group who was really happy to help and said she has a spare room in her house. So off we went as soon as we had a lunch break. Really funny, because I don’t even remember her name and she didn’t know mine until we went to the apartment and she had to introduce me to her husband. So I’ll call her Günsl here. Günsl’s place was really nice actually in a beautiful area. The room I could have got was massive, maybe 4 times the size of the room I’m now in. I also met Günsl’s daughter, husband and some Turkish guy, probably a family member as well. It was really interesting because we had said we’ll go really quick and rush back but then we had time to drink some coffee and talk in Turkish(well, I just listened and Günsl translated)about how cars get dirty so quick and where Günsl and her husband will travel on the holiday. Then I got a little sight-seeing tour in Günsl’s car and she showed me KaDeWe and Gedächtniscirche and Kurfürstendamm.
We went back to the lab and I felt bad for leaving my Cuban friend alone with all the work. Candy also was really helpful with the housing situation and tried to call a girl who had done work experience with her again because she was supposed to know about housing. Tonight I’m going out with the German Laura and her friends and if I don’t stop writing now I’ll be very late!

Friday 1.7.05

After some confusion and many events I've managed to move to halls and am surrounded now with ERASMUS-students! It feels like Warwick and I'm really happy I moved.
Yesterday morning Miss Bitch was already waiting in the office and told me to get out before I had even said anything. Amazingly, I managed to get a refund for the "carehome-room" I had paid for and realised I'm actually saving 105 euros when I'm living in this new accommodation.
The timing to move out was perfect as the neighbours on Iranische Strasse were getting a bit too friendly. Just when I had signed the contract yesterday and returned to pack my stuff, a 60-year old bloke next door started talking to me and suggested he would make me a cup of coffee and we could get to know each other better…no thanks!
Then I dragged my stuff to Siegmunds Hof(my new accommodation) accompanied by a random guy who started talking to me on the U-Bahn Station and eagerly wanted to help me with my luggage.
I live with really cool people now. Last night I went out Italian, Belgian and Greek ERASMUS students and they are really friendly. Apparently there are also 2 Finns living in my building! ERASMUS parties are exactly the same as in Warwick, apart from the lack of German exchange students.
I slept better than in a long time even if I had no linen, pillow or cover. But I had my dear LIPSOC-hoodie under my head and all the fun students around me, so I couldn't wish for more!!

June 26, 2005

Brandenburger Concerto à la Laura

I’m now on my own in a little room in Berlin. The room is located in the top floor of a massive ugly post-war concrete house, which is colonized by a bunch of 50-year-old balding men. The course of events which has lead to this peculiar situation is the following:

Over the last few years it has come really popular among Finns to buy a car in Germany. The prices are considerably much lower and german cars are respected and well-built. So, since I was going to travel in Germany anyway, my brother Verkku decided he has to come over and buy a great german car. Verkku just passed the driving test about 32 days ago and was extremely excited about the task.
Katrin’s family generously helped us and accommodated my brother. They put us in touch with the previous owner of the car and helped with the daunting german law regulations involved in the international car registration. Without their help it would not have been possible to the car business sorted.

On Wednesday night 22.6 at 1.19

My brother Verkku arrived at Nuremberg railway station having flown first to Riga, Latvia and then to Munich. Me and Katrin were really knackered after a few active days and late nights and still went to Nuremberg already 2 hours earlier. It was a struggle to stay awake till my brother came. When we eventually found him and set off to go back to Katrin’s, we realized we don’t know the way. We spent about one hour zigzagging on the dual carriage way leading to Krottensee thinking that we’ve gone wrong somewhere. The lack of road signs is a serious problem in Germany because we were all the time on the right road but the road signs were so confusing that we thought we should go elsewhere. But we got back in the end, after 3 o’clock.

In the Thurday morning 23.6

we got up late – lovely – and had early lunch at Katrin’s grandma’s. Katarina is so sweet, I told her that my grandma in Finland died recently and she said she is now my grandma in Germany. When I went to greet her a few days before(that’s 3 years since I had last seen her) she had the biggest smile on her face and she said “Meine Enkelin ist zurückgekommen!” (My granddaughter has returned!) “Meine deutsche Oma” made us a beautiful lunch with the vegetables from her own garden. We had vegetable soup with Kohlrabe, then lamb and Knödels and salad. We were extremely full after the meal and headed to Schwimmbad, a outdoor-swimming pool as it was really hot once again. At around 4 we went to have a look at the car my brother wanted to buy. That was actually Katrin’s cousin’s car, a 10-year-old BMW which is still in a nice condition. He did a test drive, was happy with the car and decided he wants to buy it. Then we started a battle with horrible German laws concerning the car registration etc. We made so many phone calls and were really stressed on Thursday night, thinking that we are not even able to get the car to Finland. The biggest problem was the hectic timetable as Verkku had to be in Finland by Monday morning and had already booked the ferry tickets from Rostock for the Saturday night. The registration offices are only open till 12.30 on Fridays. In the Friday morning me, Katrin, Verkku and another grandmother drove to Eschenbach with the registration plates of the car, and amazingly managed to get all the paper work sorted by the time the office closed. My brother was really the happiest person on the Earth when he was given the keys of the car and it was confirmed that he can take the car back home.
It was also an experience to do business with Katrin’s cousin’s family. They live in a farm house in a tiny village called Zirkendorf in Bavaria. Just picture a perfect country-side image: lots of cows, the cow smell, dogs running around, women with scarves in their heads. The also spoke with a strong Bavarian accent and knew only a few words in English which made things very interesting. Even better is that my brother doesn’t speak much German either. So my brother was speaking English to them and the replied in German. Occasionally they got stuck and I interpreted the best I could. It was really interesting as my german vocabulary regarding cars is not extensive. Amazingly, it all worked out really well.

Then on Friday 24.6

Katrin had her college-graduation at school and me and Verkku wandered around Pegnitz, ate some beautiful ice cream and bought “a ufo lamp” for Katrin’s brother David as a birthday present. We can’t thank their family enough as it was such a major effort from them and we would not have been able to buy the car without their help.
We had a fantastic time on Friday night, everyone was pleased the car business worked out well and we grilled at their patio which overlooks their garden and lovely fields. We also tried playing a little bit of music, I did the keyboard, and we also had 2 guitars and the drums. David and Philip are really talented and I felt a bit stupid for making so many mistakes when playing the keyboard. The main thing was anyway that it was good fun. We had the gorgeous food: grill steaks and chicken breasts with Chakalaka sauce and then we had “Eiszäppchensalat”, a salad made of this white, carrot-shape vegetable which grows underground (I don’t think we get it in England or Finland). We had Weissbier and cocktails and talked for hours and hours. They are so great people we did not want to leave them at all!
Everyone else went to bed then and me and Katrin stayed at the patio talking. Suddenly we heard a shriek and then some loud music. Then Katrin remembered that there is a big midsummer celebration in Neuhaus that night with Johannisfeuer, a big bonfire. This is similar to Finnish Juhannus, which we also celebrate in the end of June with the bonfires. Since we felt it was such a shame to go to bed, we decided to walk to the party. It was interesting because we left the house at half past midnight and had no idea where the party was – we were just trying to follow the music. Eventually the party was maybe 3 kilometers away but the area is so quiet that we could hear it clearly at the patio. We were really tired when we got there and people were already packing away all the stuff so we only stayed for 10 mins and then walked back.

Today, on Saturday 25.6

got up around seven, packed our stuff, said goodbye to the family and sang David a bday song in Finnish. Then we had to leave to Berlin by my brother’s new BMW. I can’t wait to see the Gradls again as they are just fantastic!
The trip went really quick until we reached the ring road, Berliner Ring. The road signs were rubbish once again and we ended up somewhere outside Berlin. We had to go back and then ended up in east-Berlin we hadn’t been trying to go.
However, it was a funny experience and we were completely lost and Berlin is so huge that the city map we had didn’t even cover the area where we were. Then saw a cool ancient Trabant, which was smoking so much that it definitely would not pass its M.O.T because of the environment damage. I didn’t know that there are still those classic DDR cars around because I think their manufacturing was stopped maybe 30 years ago. Most cars on German roads are brand new or a few years old, so this amusing little vehicle really stood out.
Having driven all around Berlin for 90 minutes we eventually found the house where I’ll be living the next 5 weeks. The house vaguely reminds me from my trip to Belarus since it’s extremely ugly from the outside. My room is really nice though, and I have a little balcony, 2 warderobes and a shower. Toilets are …interesting. I just had a look and the paint is peeling off the walls and there is no toilet paper. The kitchen is also interesting, and pretty filthy. I think I’ll be eating a lot of take-away when I’m here.
Food is really cheap, me and Verkku had original Döner Kebap as soon as we got here. And indeed, Kebap is very good in Berlin. Now I can also finally understand why there’s constantly a debate about the Turks in Germany. There arve hardly any Turks in Bavaria, but Berlin is different and e.g. where I live it feels maybe half the people on the street were Turks. But that also means that you can buy really tasty kebap in Berlin.
It is very strange to be on my own again after having such a great and social time with a lot of people over the last 2 weeks. I seem to have some interesting neighbours, mainly they are old men, but I’ve already seen a woman as well and one younger asian guy.
Also some dude just came to my door and was just like “Oh cool, there is someone living in this room now. I’m living upstairs. Bye!” How random is that!

Adventures in Pegnitz and Prague

Monday 20.6

We got up early as Raimund had lectures. It’s almost criminal they have to do Uni still till the end of August in Bavaria, and they always tend to have the exams on weekends. Anyway, I had to say goodbye and head to the train to travel to Krottensee.
3 years ago I did a student exchange for a month in Germany and stayed then in a host family in Krottensee. Their daughter Katrin is roughly about my age and it was fantastic to see her again! We had a good time also at the time I did the exchange but I think it was even a hundred times better this time. I think on the first time we had a bit of a language barrier as I could not follow most things in German. Now we just couldn’t stop talking and because it was a hot day we went to a Schwimmbad in Auerbach straight away. Schwimmbads are outdoor-swimming pool areas and typical for Germany. We also went to Auerbach and had a walk around and bought some ice cream. Many of the little ice cream kiosks which make the ice cream themselves, and it is really nice.

Tuesday – Prague 21.6

We visited Prague and Pilsen(officially Plzén) in Czech Republic. It was a long and exhausting day but it was well worth the effort. We got lost all the time and the road signs were absolutely terrible in Czech Republic. Also it was fun as we didn’t know any Czech apart from “Hello” and that obviously doesn’t get us very far. Most people knew neither German nor English. I could tell the difference in houses and the scenery as soon as we crossed the border. The houses are not as nicely maintained as in Germany and in many of them, the paint was peeling off and the gardens hadn’t been looked after. They had some Finnish shops in Prague like the furniture shop Asko and Rannila, which sells everything needed for building houses etc.
The centre was really beautiful. There is the River Vltava in the middle and then lots of bridges and beautiful buildings. Unlike the other buildings we had seen on the way, the ones in the centre were in nice condition. There were a lot of tourists and I spotted at least 4 Finnish groups just in the centre. We climbed up the hill which overlooks the city and had a stroll in the garden.
We had had to park the car in an indoor car park as we were scared it will be stolen. We got a slip from the machine when we drove in and were supposed to pay at another machine when going out but the instructions were in Czech. Also the machine was presumably broken as it didn’t accept our money which was even in the right currency. So we pressed the emergency button on the machine and after a while a scary tall security man came to us. He was wearing a big bulletproof vest and had a walkie-talkie in his hand. We tried to explain the problem but he didn’t understand English or German and constantly kept talking to us in Czech even if we obviously didn’t have a clue what he was saying. After about 5 minutes another man came there and luckily he knew some English and was able to help us.
We visited Pilsen on the way back and that was an experience. They had a big Street called America, apparently because the city was liberated by the U.S forces during the World War. Also they had lots of electric buses which drive on rails and therefore there was a big rusty rail network above the streets. We went to a bar in Pilsen, and instead of buying Pilsner, the beer that gets its name from this city, we bought some cocktails. They also had Swiss Cannabis Ice Tea, which they were eagerly advertising, but we thought it’s better to stick to the cocktails. I guess cannabis is then legal in Czech Republic because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to advertise like that. The road signs very incredibly difficult to interpret and it took about 6 hours to drive from Prague back to Krottensee.

Wednesday 22.6

Katrin had the Abischertz, the show organized by all the students who leave the college. Everyone had water guns, with which they were shooting the smaller students. Apparently earlier they used to gather all the small ones together on the schoolyard and make them completely wet using buckets and water balloons but now the principal had forbidden it. After that they had a special show in which they were making fun of their teachers. The teachers had a dancing competition and the principal had dressed up as Elvis Presley and 2 of the teachers as his security men. The principal even sang Elvis, and actually was pretty good. And I once though the German were so serious!

Proset, Proset, Proset, Gemütlichkeit

…eins, zwo, drei… ZUFER!

Saturday the 18th of June

Munich is absolutely brilliant!
I had a memorable day and a half in this great city of Munich and had the pleasure to stay in Raimund’s massive mansion (also known as Raimund’s home but it looked like a palace!). I arrived in Munich after 4 pm after an interesting train journey. Fortunately the German trains are reliable and really nice. However, this does not mean that all the passengers are. I spread my considerable amount of luggage all over the car hoping that nobody else will come there and disturb my journey but “luckily” a loud group of chavs found their way to the car and squeezed in. Conveniently, they also had a lovely 20-year old radio which played German rap. Brilliant! It was a unique journey.

Raimund picked me up from the railway station and as soon as we had left my luggage in his car we headed off to a Volksmusikkonzert. We walked through the centre and I was surprised to realize that I even reconised some places from my visit 3 years ago. We took the U-Bahn(the underground) to the Olympic Park, where a Volksmusikkonzert took place. The place had been built for the Olympic Games for 1972 and was massive compared to the Finnish Olympic Stadium.
The artist was Ambros, an Austrian singer who sings Volksmusik, quite traditional and very different from what I’m used to hearing in Warwick Students’ Union.
The concert tent was boiling hot and really packed with people. The concert was a positive surprise and the music was honestly really fun. At the start I was pretty suspicious if the music is going to be any good. However, I enjoyed the music so much it was hard to believe that the concert went on as long as for 2 and half hours. The most famous song from Ambros is Ski Fahren, which apparently is always played in the ski resorts in the Alps. Quite a few Raimund’s friends were around as well and I had a good chance to practice my German. Everyone was really hungry after jumping, singing and dancing in the hot tent for a couple of hours, so pizza and kebab was more than welcome. Unfortunately they don’t sell my new favorite drink, Almdudler(the Austrian herb lemonade), in Germany so I had to have an apple schorle. That consists of half a bottle of apple juice and the other half of sparkling water.

We soon headed to the centre to meet Raim’s sister and her friend. The concert had gone on for so long that it was already dark and Raimund only had his sunglasses as it had been really sunny at the time we went to the Olympic Park. It must have looked unusual to see someone wear sunglasses in the middle of the night.

We went for a cocktail in the centre and I started feeling really tired after having such a late night and a hectic day. I noticed it’s probably the time to go to bed when I was speaking German, English and Finnish all at the same time and was making no sense whatsoever. We were supposed to go to a night club but then all of us were feeling so exhausted that we decided to take an U-Bahn to the car. I passed out at the U-Bahn station when we were waiting for the last train of the night.

We got off at the Marienplatz and as a “pleasant” surprise discovered that we only have the escalators to one direction and of course that had to be down to the station rather than up, where we were trying to go. Crazy German design! We concluded that we have no option but run really quick up the escalators even if they were moving down. We started running but the escalators were moving really fast and it was much harder than we thought. Also I felt I was moving nowhere because as I was running up the escalators were coming down. I felt absolutely dead because I was so tired and also tipsy because I had just drunken a cocktail 15 mins before. Amazingly, I made it to the top and a random German guy was so amused with our task that he was following my struggle in the escalators and cheering. After running I could barely walk and I had to sit down for a while.
We got to Raimund’s house which is absolutely huge with marble floors and stairs. It was very dark and as soon as we had dragged the mattress and sleeping bag to Raim’s soom I just collapsed.

Sunday 19.6

We woke up after a good night’s sleep and had a lovely breakfast in the patio in the sun. There is a stream in the back garden and they even had some pet ducks like in Warwick. Sweet!
We walked around in the centre and climbed up Peter’s Church tower where we had a lovely view over the city. We also went to a river where they had surfers.
We visited Hofbräuhaus, a famous brewery in Munich and I tried some Weissbier. I was a nice surprise as normally I don’t particularly like beer. Weissbier has a sweeter and milder taste than lager, it is darker and unclear unlike lager. We tasted also some Weisswurst, ”white sausage” which is unique for Munich. These sausages are first boiled in water and there are certain manners how you need to eat them. For instance when you pick the sausage from the boiling water you should not pierce the skin but lift it so that it remains intact. The taste was really nice and unfortunately you can only buy Weisswurst in Bavaria so I’ll have to handle the rest of the summer without it. There also was a camping equipment shop called Napapijri, which is very close to the Finnish word for the Arctic Circle. Weirdly, they had Norwegian flags everywhere.
After walking through the English Garden Park we drove to a Bergsee, a “mountain lake”. We went to a lake in Kochel, and the scenery was absolutely beautiful Water was really cold as these mountain lakes are typically very deep. It was relaxing just to swim and sunbathe. There was a tiny village at the lake and the lake was surrounded by the Alps.
We were trying to work out what a bumblebee is in German but we didn’t get far. Raimund suggested it must be Bienemayer, which I doubt.
After coming back to the house, we went to a Biergarten near the house and had big Radlers. I wish we had those also in Finland! There are always some nice trees like chestnuts or similar and Biergartens have a special atmosphere.

Salzburg – Almdudler, Bosnas and tropical heat

Montag 20.6.2005

I am sitting on the train from Munich to Nuremberg so it’s a perfect moment to sum up the events of the past 6 days in Austria and Germany. I’ve had the most amazing time and become a friend of Almdudler, Weisswurst und of course the heat of central Europe. German politeness and hospitality keeps astonishing me – I just struggled to this train with my heavy suitcase, rucksack and 2 massive plastic bags and was generously helped by an older German gentleman, who was well worried if I’ll be able to carry them all and if I’ll find a place to keep them during the journey.

My European adventures started when I left Stansted Airport on last Tuesday 14.6, which feels like it was centuries ago! I was pretty knackered after the restless night at the airport and slept all the way until we landed at the Salzburg Airport in Austria. As soon as I stepped off the plane the tropical heat and the beautiful snow-covered mountains welcomed me. The Salzburg Airport is amazingly located almost in the centre of the city and is surrounded by the Alps in every direction.
My cousin Riikka’s fiancée Flo picked me up from the airport. Flo is Austrian, and I got my first culture shock when trying to speak to him with my German, which had deteriorated considerably since my last visit in Austria.
Riikka and Flo live in a beautiful house right next to the airport. The whole Austrian architecture is incredibly different to English. The house was in 3 floors and had wooden stairs exterior to the walls. Flo’s cousin Markus lives upstairs in this house and Flo and Markus skillfully attached a hammock to Markus’s balcony on this first night when I was there. The experience on the balcony was breath-taking – firstly because the balcony was in the 2nd floor and really high but also because the view was really beautiful. You could see all the way to central Salzburg and also die Festung, the fortress, which is on one of the hills.
The city is really beautiful, if it was not for the immense amount of tourists it would have a lovely village-like atmosphere. There is a river, Salzach, in the middle and the houses are high and quite decorative. The gaps between the houses are absolutely tiny, and therefore the city feels more like a village than a metropol. Also there are numerous churches and an open-air market. Many stalls sell bakery products such as Brezeln, rolls, buns and cakes.

Tuesday went really quick as I was so exhausted from the trip to London. Me and Riikka started to watch a German talk-show and it took about 5 seconds for me to fall asleep.

On Wednesday 15.6

me and Riikka visited Europark, the shopping centre nearby the house. My camera decided to stop co-operation with me just when I left London – as a result I did not get any pics of Piccadilly Circus and some other places. While my camera was completely kaputt, we tried to get it fixed but we didn’t get far. Apparently it is dead and I’d have to get a new one. Luckily, the memory card was still fine, and I managed to save the pics from London. Bought some jeans as had to leave the old ones in London. We had a lunch in Ikea, which was positively really Scandinavian. They even had a shop where they sold Scandinavian food items, such as cloudberry and lingonberry jams and meatballs. And Princess tårta, princess cake. At lunch I also had an Austrian speciality, Almdudler, which is fizzy herbal drink – really really good. I tried to order it in Munich on day before yesterday but was laughed at. Almdudler is only sold in Austria.

In the evening we went to Biergarten called Augustiner Kloster-Bräuerei. Biergartens are really popular here. There are open-air “bars” – there are lots of tables typically under some trees and if you drink anything else than a beer-related drink, people look at you funny. In Austria and Germany there are numerous different variants of beer. I came to Europe thinking I hate beer and just discovered it is absolutely gorgeous! Especially Radler is good, it contains half a glass of beer and the other half is some type of pop(typically lemonade or Fanta). Also Cola-Bier is popular, that is Radler with coke. Kloster-Bräuerei is a name for a monastery where they brew beer. My friend from Munich, Raimund, gave me an explanation for this queer combination of religion and beer. Apparently the monks had to earn some money to maintain the monastery, and when in some countries herbs and medicines were produced and sold by monasteries, the Austrian and south-German monasteries brewed beer instead. Apparently it was drunk pretty much every day and during the fast before easter the monks obviously weren’t allowed to eat but they were still allowed beer. I just can imagine what went on in these monasteries, it must have been cheerful…
In the monastery Biergarten the drinks weren’t served to the tables but we had to go in. They only have 2 different sizes of glasses: 0.5 l and 1.0 l. The bigger one is what we call a jug in England! Also they don’t do smaller volumes of beer than half a liter, so when you want a Radler, you have to take the bigger one.
It was a really good night and we sat hours under the chestnut trees of this Biergarten drinking liters and liters of beer. However, I find the drinking habits here relatively sophisticated(if they can be that with several liters of beer…) while there were no drunken, aggressive or impolite people, which could be expected with this amount of alcohol. I think the beer is drunk so slow that people only get a bit tipsy and cheerful but not properly drunk.

Afterwards we went to Flo’s brother’s place for a chat and football match. This country is almost as crazy about football as England*huoh* I find the Austrian German at least twice as hard as the Bavarian dialect, which again is regarded as hard to understand. Luckily, I had my cousin Riikka around to explain the oddities of the language.

On Thursday 16.6

we went for a long nice walk with Pilvi, Flo’s mother’s dog. Again it was really boiling hot and we were trying to sunbathe in the garden which was full of ants. Eventually after a quarter of an hour we had to give up as we had the ants everywhere and Pilvi was constantly lifting its legs and managed to kick a bag of sweets all over the garden when trying to get rid of the ants.
We visited Germany in Freilassen, which is only about 10 minutes away from Salzburg. We went to another Biergarten, called Drei Hasen = Three Hares. I was really tired again and almost fell asleep at the Radler glass. And understood even less about Austrian German.

On Friday 17.6

we did some walking on the beautiful mountains of Salzburg and had a little picnic in Augustiner Biergarten. We are trying to stay away from the centre the best we can. The main road, Getreidegasse, is absolutely packed with tourists and Mozartkugels. It was cool when I visited Salzburg for the first time 2 years ago but this time I felt annoyed when walked over by the Japanese tourists. Getreidegasse is also expensive and I cant even imagine how much money they make with those Mozartkugels(Salzburg is the birth city of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and they have created a big brand with his name. Nowadays everyone buys these chocolate-marzipan balls names after the composer)
Another thing I noticed is the Austrians’ obsession with the energy drink Red Bull. Apparently some rich dude has bought now the Salzburg ice hockey and football teams, which are called Red Bulls and they are promoting this drink everywhere. They even had Red Bull ice cream!

In the Saturday morning 18.6

we visited Das Museum der Moderne, the museum of contemporary art. They just opened a new exhibition that morning and it was really interest, though a bit surreal. After the exhibition we headed once more to the centre and had some Bosnas, really spicy and delicious hotdogs. Tasty

Luggage problems, theathre and sleeping at the airport

Monday 13th of June

Was woken up by Adam who was off to the States in a few hours and wanted to have the Full English Breakfast before that. Suvi was too tired to get up and stayed in bed. Adam decided to carry me on his shoulders in a gentleman-kind manner and we got people on the street staring at us and saying how strong he is. Had a great English breakfast and then Adam flew off to LA and I went to wake Suvi up.

We put our stuff together and we had a brilliant plan on leaving our luggage in the coach station storage lockers so we woudnt have to drag it late at night. The London underground station design was a real pain(no escalators again!) and we were wandering around the streets of London desperately trying to find the the coach station. Logically, the station was located far far away from the tube station with the same name and there were no signs to direct us. Also people were either tourists or knew no directions, or in the worst case both of these. However, they were very eager to advise us on directions, and eventually directed us to a completely wrong direction!

Having finally found the coach station we went to the luggage storage service and found out they would close at 11 pm. This again didnt fit our plans at all because we were going to go to theathre later on and the show would not finish until 11.

And it gets better: apparently all the luggage storage places in London would close by midnight which meant that we would not be able to leave them anywhere! We were already worried we'd have to take them all the way back to Bounds Green and then to the centre again but luckily Selina came up with an idea to leave the stuff at a hostel. After a a few phone calls we were ready to head to a hostel "near" the station. We could also store our stuff for free which of course was great.

We were running really late because we had the theathre show at 8 and I had to buy a pair of shoes as the ones I wore on Saturday night were such foot-killers. We managed to find some shoes – the first high heels I tried on, 30 pounds and wouldn't have bought them had it not been for the extreme rush. Again we went to Camden town to get same sun shades for Suvi and have a quick lunch/dinner/whichever-meal-but-we-were-starving. Found some gorgeous Thai food for just 2 pounds a portion which was great.

Then rushed to Mark's house again. We had about 30 mins to take a shower and pack our stuff and regardless of the fact that we knew we are extremely short of time we managed to be too slow. On the top of everything else Selina called me and said we would have to be at the theathre at 7.25 rather than 7.50 which meant that we were even more late. And conveniently the line cut off just when I asked which tube station we need to go to so we had no idea whatsoever where we were trying to go. At 7.15 we finally left the house, carrying 2 massive bags each and our hair soaking wet. It must have been a hilarious scene to have us run with all this stuff, me in my 3-inch heels, trying to look posh but miserably failing in this attempt.

As soon as we got on the train, 3 horrible Turkish-looking guys, spotted us and got a bit too friendly.(Believe or not, I have nothing against Turks, just against sleezy guys in general! Good friend of mine is from Turkey.) We were extremely stressed anyway and the last thing we wanted was these horrible men staring at us and trying to touch our legs! We told them to stop and when it didn't work we changed the car. But they kept following us all the time and stood behind me in the escalators(Oh dear! Indeed they did have some escalators in London underground!) and tried to touch me up too. I swore at them and said I'm gonna call a police but nothing worked, it was well scary and I felt many times more uncomfortable than on Saturday night when we almost had our purses stolen.

We also discovered that we were on the wrong station. We had asked a lady on the train for directions, and once again we had been advised to go to a wrong place! I could not call Selina from the underground as there is no network coverage. Now Selina explained that we'd have to collect our tickets at the box office before 8 or otherwise we will only let be in after the interval. The time was 7.58 and we had to catch the tube again to go to Covent Garden. Having no idea where we were trying to go, we asked every other person for directions and everyone gave different one. Conclusion – is you ever travel in London, get yourself a decent map and never ask anyone for directions.

We just made it to the theathre! Looking dreadful and sweaty, we sat down to watch the show which was well worth all the effort and stress. We saw "Woman in Black" in the Fortune Theathre and the production was well-made, and really creepy. This was the first time I have been scared in a theathre show. Unless you count the times when the show has been so rubbish, that I've been scared I fall asleep while watching it. Honestly, this one was really good!

The show finished a bit early and we decided to go for a drink. Around midnight me and Suvi left to go to the airport.

Got changed, picked up the luggage at the hostel and then went back to Victoria coach station. By the time we got on the bus, I was so knackered that I just passed out and didnt wake up until the driver yelled "Stansted!" and we had to get off the bus. We had to spend the night at the airport and I slept surprisingly comfortably on the floor. This was probably due to the tiredness which had built up since the farewell bbq but however I only woke up hours later when Suvi was shaking me and speaking Finnish with a mad Estonian accent. Apparently her ferry trip from Tallinn to Helsinki had been cancelled and judging by Suvi's behaviour, she was not impressed with the Estonian customer service. Eventually she found another ferry and is now happily back in Helsinki.

I went to catch my flight to Salzburg looking forward to new adventures in Austria

The city of Bagels and Magic Mushrooms

Sunday 12th of June

Previous one was really long, so I’ll keep this one short(er).

We decided to visit Camden Town where they have an amazing market full of exotic food, interesting clothes, antiques and apparently magic mushrooms and cannabis lollies. I still didn’t understand how they are permitted to sell drugs there but there were quite a few stalls selling them and judging by the looks of some people in the market, the mushroom business was going quite well.

We stayed away from those but had some gorgeous Chinese food, really cheap as well, only 3 pounds a portion. The combination of all those shops is just mind-blowing, almost dream-like, because some them are so absurd.

Mark headed back and me, Suvi and Adam (a freeloader from Los Angeles) went to see some tourist attractions. We saw Big Ben and the surrounding buildings + London eye.

Adam must have thought me and Suvi were insane or at least on mushrooms because Suvi was constantly singing her Bagel song from the previous night. I’m sure he understood our appreciation for bagels though, since there are so nice and popular in the States. Besides, Adam had just eaten raw beef and egg yolk in Latvia on the pay before and bagels are surely nicer than that dish!

We went to an Internet café. Me and Suvi desperately needed a toilet and rushed into the closest one we could find. Only when we got inside we realized it’s a gay karaoke bar. Those gay guys were so good singers and most of them really good looking as well! Gays are so lucky! For some reason Adam didn’t want to join us and escaped to an Indian restaurant. We stayed in the gay karaoke for a while, then Selina joined us and after a while we went for a wander around China town and had a drink in an Irish bar.

Again the underground wasn’t running, we had to take a bus and wait in Wood Green for ages to get another bus to Bounds Green. Having learnt from the experience previous night we didn’t attempt to walk. When waiting for bus, we popped into a kebab shop and had some Turkish guys behind the counter saying “Theer are beeuutiful kirls in Finlaand” I’m kinda getting bored of hearing that in London now.

Hitch–hikers Guide to M45

Saturday, 11th of June

Both me and Suvi were absolutely knackered after the late night on Friday caused by overwhelming excitement and general nervousness about hitching. However, we managed to crawl out of bed around 9 o’clock. in the Saturday morning. I made a major discovery on Friday night about 5 seconds before falling asleep – I had given my Internet banking details to my friend Helen who generously promised to store some of my stuff over the summer when I’m not in England. I realized also that I have to pay the deposit for the newly-found next year’s house before arriving in the UK, and this obviously was made extremely difficult by the fact that I would not be able to access my bank account without those significant little codes. In addition, I also remembered I had forgotten to give my duvet cover for Helen to store and I want to keep it for next autumn and those horribly chilly October nights. So I would have to go and do a lovely extra tour to Helen’s before starting our journey to London.

“Fortunately” Helen didn’t answer her phone – fair enough, it was early Saturday morning – but I desperately needed to drop my stuff off and get my bank details asap. I decided to head to Kenilworth regardless. I got to Helen’s house – still no answer and the front door of the block of flats was locked. When peeping through the window on the door I discovered there was a back door open so I just invaded the garden and got into the house that way. Nobody opened the flat door even after a frantic door-knocking session, so I concluded Helen must be at her boyfriend’s, Colin’s, house. Luckily Colin was in and he even had the bank details I was after! So that was finally all sorted and I could eventually return to the campus and start the hitch.

A distinctive smell of a permanent marker-pen welcomed me at the door. Suvi had used our pillow sheets to make 2 tops for us saying “London” and “Suvi/Laura” on them. Also she had turned our bed sheet into a massive Finnish flag, which to be honest reminded greatly of a pirate flag or similar since the cross was black rather than blue. Oh well…

I returned the keys of my room and off we went!

It was a boiling hot day and we were exhausted by the time we got to the Tesco’s kiosk. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the campus I can tell Claycroft and this kiosk are located less than half a mile apart. Bought some water and bumped into a nice guy who offered to take us to the Coventry railway station. So we got a lift before we had even properly started hitching!

At the station we realized however, that it was a very bad choice of the place. After being stared at by other people in traffic for about an hour an old guy came to us and told us to find London Road rather than using Kenpass Highway/A45 we had intended to use.

Bored of waiting, we decided to walk to London Road. Note, that we had heavy suitcases of weight of 20 kg each and in addition we both had 2 bags. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of getting perfect arm muscles by dragging these horrible bags around Coventry.

We only had been on M45/London Road for maybe half an hour when we saw a police car drive by. We obviously were terrified as hitching on motor ways is illegal in England. Conveniently, the police car stopped and the officers came to talk to us. This is one of the brilliant situations where is a big advantage to be a foreigner. Putting a barely understandable accent on we explained we are trying to go to London and pretended we don’t understand what a train is, when the police suggested that as a preferred mode of transfer. Anyway, they wanted to see our ID’s and then told us to get on the police car! Scary! I thought there are going to take us to the police station but they kindly dropped us at the train station where we had started the hitch maybe an hour and a half before. I did ask them if I can take a photo of them but they didn’t let me, surprisingly. It must have been pretty obvious that we were just pretending to be brainless and know no English…

Our arrival arose attention at the station. I presume it is not a very common scene to have 2 blonde Finnish girls be dropped there by 2 police men, even if it’s Coventry.

Scared by the encounter with the police, we decided to travel by train rather than hitch. There were 2 different ticket options and you are probably not surprised to read that we chose the cheaper one, 20 pounds, which is still a rip-off. This was supposed to involve 2 swaps, but when we got to Rugby, we just simply got on the more expensive Virgin train which took us to London in an hour and no-one noticed any difference. So eventually we ended up in London more than an hour earlier than expected.

We had sorted the accommodation earlier through GlobalFreeloaders website, where people from all over the world can contact each other and then stay at each other’s houses when they travel around. We found Mark from this website and headed to his house in North London, Bounds Green. The London Underground is Jurassic- they apparently have never heard of escalators! It’s great fun having traveled for 6 hours and then trying to lift your suitcase up the stairs, poooh!

We got to Bounds Green using Piccadilly Line and had a little shopping session at the Costcutters near the tube station(we are loyal to this chain and always use the one on Warwick campus even if it may be overpriced). We were supposed to give our infamous pirate Finnish flag to Mark but since we had been traveling for so long and the sheet was really scratty and smelled of sweat we somehow thought it might not be a good idea.

We got to Mark’s, had a shower and had some lovely pasta cooked by his French freeloader guest, Flo. We also had some wine. Mark was really funny and good at putting on different accents, especially the Chinese one sounded pretty authentic. We had a chat about Finland and I informed him about essential wacky competitions we have, such as a wife-carrying competition, mosquito-killing competition, sauna and ice-swimming competitions.

Soon it was pretty late and we got ready really quick to go out to night clubs. After being lost in the underground and desperately looking for my friend from Warwick, Selina, we ended up at Leicester Square where we also found her. Then we started a frantic discussion about which nightclubs we should go into and after standing there for about an hour, me and Suvi got bored and decided to choose a nightclub for just 2 of us. We went for Rouge, and I confused all the night club information people by saying that I had been promised to be let in for a discount price. Eventually we got the entry for 8 pounds, when it should have been 15 pounds. The night club information manager gave me his number and offered to buy me drinks but I was happy with just the discount price.

Rouge was good fun, though unreasonably pricey like any club in London. We stayed there till 4 o’clock when the club closed. It was already bright outside when we left the club. We were absolutely starving and wanted to get some food but a group of dodgy, Indian-looking people tried to steal the contents of our bags. Shaken by this, we didn’t want to eat and tried to find a night bus instead.

We didn’t have a slightest idea which bus to take and where it would depart. So we were just wandering around and ended up in Trafalgar Square where a kind bus driver took us on the bus. We both fell asleep on the bus and at some point I woke up panicking that we had missed our stop. We discovered that the bus wouldn’t go to Bounds Green but to Wood Green, which according to the bus driver was only “5 mins walk away”.

Just before the Wood Green bus stop Suvi saw a bagel shop and since we were both really hungry at the time, we have been craving for bagels ever since. We were really tired anyway, so couldn’t be bothered to walk back for bagels. It took us ages to walk and we didn’t know where we were going anyway. My shoes were extremely uncomfortable and I walked bare-footed. Suvi was singing about the gorgeous bagels all the way and tripping over her own feet all the time. Horrible foreign guys were stopping their cars, whistling etc. other annoying stuff and we told them to F* off in Finnish as we couldn’t be bothered to reply in English. We were back at Mark’s house at 6, 2 hours after leaving the club and collapsed to the bed.

My travel itinerary:

11.6 London

14.6 Salzburg, Austria

18.6 Munich, Germany

20.6 Pegnitz, Germany

25.6 Berlin, Germany

5.8 Finland

10.9 Back to Cov

Welcome to my travel diary

The year at Warwick is finally over and me and my insane friend Suvi decided to give a joined farewell party on Thursday. We started at 4 but did not actually manage to get any food before 6. In the meanwhile we had lots of lovely drinks . At some point we also discovered it is possible to eat jelly with chopsticks(Chris successfully fed James with them…)The cheerful lot headed off to Varsity.

Me and Suvi have to wake up in just 6 hours time before getting up and before that we'll have to produce a magnificent piece of art, namely the finnish flag we intend to give our host in London. Also we practised drawing on our legs with a permanent marker pen(realised after using it!) and had to remove it with washing-up liquid. So that's about having early nights*huoh*

Right, we are off to bed now. My last day at Warwick has been great as we finally managed to find a house for next year. It's much nicer to return to the Uk knowing I dont have to live in a bin!