Sunday, June 21, 2015

Finnish midsummer

I am in Tampere visiting my colleague's folks for midsummer. Tampere is one of my favourite city's in Finland and the house owned by my colleague's parents is perched on the side of a hill overlooking one of the two massive lakes for which the city is famous.

As seems to have become a tradition every time we visit, my colleague's dad prepared a smoked fish for lunch. Here is a picture of the smoke wafting across the garden from the hot smoker outside...

...and here is the fish (a whole Atlantic salmon), which turned out to be deliciously moist and tender (as always).
The weather was a little bit on the crappy side but there were sufficient breaks for a walk down to the public aquarium for a visit.
Later in the evening, during another break in the weather, we went for a walk to the lake shore. This is the view from the shore at around 11.00pm at night...it was still quite bright.


Friday, June 19, 2015

My very short visit to the UK

I am currently waiting at Heathrow near the end of a 48 hour trip to the UK for a meeting. It was quite a rushed trip but I managed to enjoy myself nonetheless.

I arrived in the early evening on Tuesday local time and caught the very efficient Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station (and yes, I even managed to see Paddington bear at the Station).
I had booked into the Hilton hotel in Paddington which was much closer to the Station than I had expected (it was pretty much at the end of the train platforms).

After checking into my room and changing into my pjs, I was deliberating whether or not I should go back down into the hotel restaurant for dinner. It was already 11pm back in Helsinki (where I had come from), and I wasn't exactly hungry. Still, after checking out the menu online, I gave into temptation. This is what I had for starters (scallops)...
The next morning, I checked out after breakfast and headed back into the train station to catch my train out to Exeter.

Exeter is a lovely city (from what I saw of it anyway). I headed straight from the station to the University for the meeting. It was a nice campus (very green).
I was the first one to get to the meeting room and noticed that the organiser had ordered food for us, including some local delicacies (unfortunately, there was no Devonshire tea – even though we were in Devonshire).
Eventually, the others arrived and we ended up having a 5 hour meeting, which was then followed by a visit to the local pub, and then off to a fancy restaurant for dinner.

I headed back to my hotel in the evening. It was one of those old quaint little hotels that would be a fire trap if ever there was a fire (I was on the top floor in a room with a weirdly angled roof that made it difficult to stand anywhere other than around my bed. Still, I thought it was really neat.

This morning, after breakfast (the British do like their sausages), I made my way to the train station to catch the train back into London and then here to Heathrow.

Clearing security at terminal three, I must say, is an intimate experience. I set off the alarm so had to be patted down. Wow. It was like a full body massage with (almost) happy ending.

Feeling decidedly more relaxed after my massage pat down, I decided it was time to grab a bite so off to a french restaurant for duck, followed by a wander around the fancy shops.


    


Monday, June 15, 2015

The nasty hotelier

We went to the nearby town of Hanko the other afternoon to do some writing in a cafe, followed by a nice dinner.

We drove there using a car that my colleague had borrowed from his girlfriend's friend and had parked out the front of a hotel, next to the hotelier's car (judging by the logo on the side).

Anyhow, after dinner, we arrived back to the car and noticed that the hotelier's car had gone but there was a dint and a scratch on the side of our car.

We went into the hotel and the receptionist said that the car belonged to his dad but he was out so we gave her our details.

When we got back onto the street, we saw the hotelier's car parked on the other side so we walked up close for a look and saw that his car door was damaged, with traces of our car's paint still on the edge of the door (obviously he banged his car door against the side of our's).

So, armed with our new piece of incontrovertible evidence, we went back into the hotel and the receptionist said her dad was on his way.

He eventually showed up.

My first impression did not bode well. The hotelier was not a nice-looking man. He was fat, with a button nose, and an awful porn star moustache. And you don't have to be fluent in Finnish to realise that the conversation between my colleague and the hotelier wasn't going well. Basically, the hotelier denied it was him who had caused the damage.

We took him outside to show him the evidence, i.e. the scratch marks and paint on the door of his car. He became verbally aggressive. He blamed us for parking too close but still denied it was him – and stormed off back into his hotel.

We went to look for the police station but unfortunately it was closed so we came back to the field station without having resolved anything. I guess it will now be left to the insurance company to chase things up. I took lots of photos.



 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Strange customs



My colleague thought it was odd that I washed a capsicum and dried it before cutting it up (it was the drying that he thought was weird). Normally I wouldn't bother drying my freshly washed fruits and vegetables but I explained that the chopped capsicum were destined for my sandwich and I didn't want to make the bread soggy. He still told me I was strange as he was busily chomping on a mouldy carrot he had earlier retrieved from the bin.

.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Finland

I arrived in Finland on Tuesday afternoon local time. It felt a little weird not to be arriving into Helsinki airport in the early morning (the typical arrival time from Asia/Australia), but it did mean having to wait fewer hours before bed time – but not before a nightcap with my colleague at Torni.
The next day we spent the day in Helsinki doing some work. Came across this Japanese restaurant with a rather unfortunate name. I wonder if it's good for business?
Later that evening, I caught the train to the city of Turku, where my colleague is based.

On Thursday, my lap top decided it had had enough travelling and died. For some reason, it wouldn't start properly. I took it to the local Apple store and the guy managed to fix it in the store but the computer stopped working when we got back to my colleagues apartment. In desperation, I thought about buying a replacement but then decided against it (I would have either been stuck with a new laptop with a Nordic keyboard or have to wait two weeks for a regular keyboard version to be shipped out). I decided to wait a day and see if the problem would rectify itself.

And it did! On Friday morning, after arriving at the research station, the computer came back to life. Jesus Christ. Hallelujah! To celebrate, I went to Hanko for ice cream with my colleague and student (I had maple walnut and a blueberry yoghurt).



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bye bye Boston

I'm flying out on one of these babies...a British Airways Boeing 747. This is so much nicer looking than the Airbus A380.

Apparently the BA fleet of 747s are quite old and crappy but I will be flying business class again (yay) and sitting on the top deck (double yay) so I don't mind. I guess it's got to be better than my regular flying experience (i.e., squeezed into Economy).

Last day in Boston

I spent my final day in Boston sightseeing and squeezing in one last lobster meal.

This morning I headed off to Chinatown again to find a Vietnamese pho restaurant that was recommended to me by a friend.

After 'brunch' I headed back to the hotel to relax for a few hours. My hotel room faces this art installation.
It looks like a colourful giant spider's web and is by a internationally renowned artist Janet Echelman. My photo doesn't do it justice (the sculpture looks even more spectacular at night when it is lit). I am rather surprised that birds haven't flown into the net.

In the early afternoon, I strolled over to the New England Aquarium. They have a really nice set up, with lots of interesting exhibits. These creatures were among my favourites (jelly fish, sea anemones, and an unusual red lobster).


Inspired by the lobster, I went back to Chinatown for late lunch.
I'm now relaxing back in the hotel bar sipping on a cranberry juice ahead of my trip to the airport. Europe next.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chomping on conch

Stir fried conch (a kind of giant sea snail) was one of the very first chinese meals I had in Boston when I came here in 2004. Today, I had the opportunity to go to one of my favourite chinese restaurants in Chinatown to relive the experience. It was as tasty today as it was 10 years ago.


Woods Hole

I spent the weekend in Woods Hole, which is located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Woods Hole is a significant place for me. I spent a year living and working there in 2004 and I went back to spend some time with my former landlady, Ginny, who celebrated her 81st birthday today.
Ginny is fabulous. She was the first woman to graduate with a degree in physics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. During her career, she has worked as an engineer, a teacher at Harvard and, prior to retiring, as the principal of a school for troubled teenage boys on an island off the Cape. She has travelled widely, is highly progressive in her views, and was also one of the very first people I came out to. Indeed, her response and support when I came out paved the way for me for initiating many similar conversations with family and friends back in Australia. She is very special to me.

We celebrate her birthday with a couple of very nice meals in nearby restaurants. This is the three pound lobster I polished off on Saturday.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Dog foot cheese




A few nights ago, I went to a French restaurant in Boston called L'Espalier.


Wow...talk about amazing.

I went to the restaurant with three other participants from my organisation. One of the others had chosen the restaurant and I had no idea exactly where we were going or what to expect when we got there.

My initial feeling when I entered was one of apprehension. It was very fancy and expensive, and I felt horribly under dressed (all the other guys eating there were wearing at least a suit jacket).

Apprehension was quickly replaced with one of quiet acceptance though, once I began to peruse the delicious looking degustation menu, which I ended up ordering.

Course after course, the food came. Lobster. Lamb. Fish. Yum. Half the time, I wasn't even sure what I was actually eating (the waiters were very softly spoken) but everything was beautifully plated and tasty and there were a heck of a lot of courses (all delicately presented, of course, onto over sized plates).

Eventually, we came to the cheese platter and the waiter's attempt to explain the origins and qualities of all the different cheeses. And it was around this time that I embarrassed myself.

The waiter, as he methodically made his way around our selection came to an oozy, soft, pale orange cheese which I swear I thought he described as 'pungent with the aroma of dog's feet'. I was intrigued but also immediately thought I had misheard.

So...when the waiter reappeared in our vicinity, I asked him how he had actually referred to the cheese's aroma and he repeated his answer.

'Aha', I said with confidence, 'so you did say dog's feet'.

'No sir', he said calmly, 'I said pungent with the aroma of God's feet' before going on to explain why. (Don't ask me. I don't know. I didn't quite understand his explanation because his voice was so softy – and also because mid way through his explanation he started speaking in foreign tongue...I think it was French).

Anyhow, cheese plate consumed (God's feet and all), we were about to stand up and leave when the waiter brought new cutlery to the table. Apparently we were not quite done and even more courses ensued...a pre-dessert sorbet, a dessert, a dish I described as a 'post' dessert and then – just for good measure – a cookie in a bag to take home after we had paid and were about to leave.





Thursday, June 4, 2015

Intense learnings

The leadership  course I have been doing here at Harvard has been extremely intense – but it has also been very rewarding. The facilities are great (I wish the buildings at my uni looked half as good) and the lecturers are all amazing too.
At the start of the course, we were each assigned to smaller study groups comprising eight fellow participants. We have been working very closely as within our groups. The group that I was assigned to is quite multinational, with two Aussies, a Pakistani, a Canadian, a Mexican, a Brit, an Azerbaijani, and a Spaniard. We all get along really well.

Yesterday, the Mexican suggested we go on an outing as a group. So...tonight we went to Fenway Park as a group. The game itself wasn't all that exciting (especially for a non-sporty person) but the atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic – and I was really surprised by the size of the crowd given that it was a weeknight.

 The Budweiser sign inside the stadium, which I think Nathan would appreciate.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Harvard

Am starting my course today and was shown to my room. Wow...it's like living in a brand new, swanky 5 star hotel. Everything looks and smells so new. Got to love American philanthropy. 

Over done

Victor was right. Business class on American Airlines is nothing to rave about. In fact, I found their service a bit too much. They kept trying to offer passengers junk food every few minutes or clear away people's glasses (even when it was obvious that the drinks were not yet finished). The meals were over the top too (ice cream sundae with chocolate fudge sauce for dessert...the flight attendant was shocked when I said 'no thanks'.. It's quite the opposite extreme to flying economy on American, where you barely get any service at all.

A few interesting observations:

1. You can bring pets on planes in America.
2. When the pilot needs to go to the toilet at the front of the plane, the flight attendants push out a trolley and uses it as a barrier to the aisle of the plane (presumably to block undesirables from rushing into the cockpit).

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Boston bound...

Well, not quite.

Got onto the plane, waited 40 minutes, and then had to get off again.

It seems that an A380 is just like any other electronic device...if first it doesn't work, try switching it off and on again.

Next, if that doesn't solve your problem, get everyone off the plane and call in the engineers.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Two days at Mornington

I spent the last two days at a work retreat on the Mornington Peninsula. It was rewarding but also mentally exhausting. We had a facilitator to help us through the strategic planning and to help us come up with the big ideas. There were a lot of break out sessions, writing ideas onto post-it notes, and making things with pipe cleaners.

A few of my colleagues were sick with the cold and I was trying to steer clear from them as I'm heading off on my overseas trip tomorrow – and the last thing I want at this stage is to get sick. I'm not sure if I suceeded (you can't tell someone to bugger off when they are sitting next to you at breakfast).

I woke up this morning with a tingle in my throat. Hopefully I haven't caught something at the retreat. That would not be good.

Nathan went to Adelaide today so we had to put Truffles into a pet hotel this morning. I have taken the day off work so I could clean the apartment, organise all my stuff and get my packing done.

I feel very organised this time around. I even managed to work through most of my readings for my course in Boston and to complete the assignments (I will easily be able to polish off the rest when I am waiting at LAX for my connecting flight).

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Holy Velociraptor!



This movie appeals to my inner palaeontologist.


Bits and bobs

I had some errands to run today in preparation for the trip. There were prescriptions that needed to be filled and foreign currencies that needed to be purchased.

By the time I had finished, it was already midday so Nathan and I decided to head into the city for lunch.

We settled on yum cha on Bourke Street at Shanghai Dynasty, which has the most garish decor of any restaurant I have ever seen.

I couldn't resist the beef offal stew, which contains tendons, tripe, and lungs. Nathan thought it was disgusting (says the guy who was happily munching on the braised chicken feet).


Playing tourist

I was hosting a colleague from Sydney this week. He had never been to Melbourne before so I decided to take a day off work to show him around on Thursday. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't terrific but at least there was no rain.

We began our tour of Melbourne with a tram ride to Sonido on Gertrude Street for a South American breakfast. I had the arepa con huevo accompanied by a nice cup of hot chocolate.


After brekky, we walked along Brunswick Street, before cutting across to the Carlton Gardens so that I could show him the Royal Exhibition Building and the Museum (Because we are scientists, I made sure to point out the research spaces of the Museum from street level). We then continued onto Lygon Street and then The University of Melbourne, where we hopped onto a 16 tram to St Kilda.

When we got to St Kilda, we strolled down to the breakwater to try to look for penguins and water rats. We didn't see any. We walked back up to Carlisle Street and over to Chapel, where we hopped onto another tram and made our way to Victoria Street in Richmond.

My colleague's wife is Vietnamese Canadian and both he and she had travelled widely throughout Vietnam. He had a craving for bun bo hue so we went to Co Do, which specialises in the dish. The restaurant is reputed to serve the best bun bo hue in Melbourne (at least according to a Vietnamese lesbian I once met). My colleague said it was good and comparable to what he had in Vietnam. I was pleased.

After lunch, we took the 109 tram back into the city. We caught the tram from the dodgy street corner opposite the Minh Phat grocery carpark, which seems to be a haven for drug dealers. There were plenty of sketchy people out that day so my visitor got to see the slightly seedy side of Melbourne (I should have told him not to stare though).

We got off the tram on Collins Street, walked down to Hosier Lane to check out the beautiful street art, before heading over to Fed Square. My colleague needed to get to Geelong for a meeting but we had plenty of time so we decided to walk to Southern Cross Station along the Yarra. By mid afternoon, the sightseeing tour was over. I said goodbye to my visitor at the station and headed home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Homework

I started preparing my assignments this week for my upcoming leadership course at Harvard. Bloody hell. It's actually a lot of work. Each case study is taking me a good two hours to complete...and I have quite many I need to read and prepare for. Luckily I decided not to leave it all for the plane trip (not that I ever do any work on planes). I am starting to get both excited and intimidated about the course. I'm looking forward to going back to Boston though I don't think I will see much of the city based on the busy course schedule. It will run for a week and then I will be off to visit my old landlady in Woods Hole before flying out to Europe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stupid me getting ahead of myself



I thought I'd be organised for a change and book my train tickets from London to the University of Exeter for a meeting in June. The University of Exeter has multiple campuses and I assumed the meeting would be at the Cornwall campus because the people hosting the meeting are based there. Well, silly me. I was wrong. The meeting will be in Devon. Ooops. The tickets are non-refundable. Lesson learnt.

  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dinner at the airport

My aunt was passing through Melbourne on her way to Tokyo last night. She used to work for Qantas and is still entitled to staff travel. She pays a fraction of what I'd have to pay but her standby tickets do cause some anxiety and uncertainty. Hence, she was not sure whether she'd be flying via Sydney or Melbourne until Sunday morning.

Nathan and I met her at the airport for dinner. Dinner options are rather limited and I worried we'd be getting fast food until Nathan suggested I explore the restaurant offering at the airport Park Royal Hotel. It turned out to be surprisingly good.

We had a nice two course meal and a lovely catch up with my aunt, before seeing her off on her flight to Tokyo.

As we were driving back to the city, I was thinking I might be tempted to go back to the airport for another fancy meal...if only the car park didn't cost an arm and a leg.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Teapot

I was on my way to the Penny Black yesterday afternoon for birthday drinks, and I couldn't help but pop into my favourite plant/pot/ceramics/japanese shop, Mr Kitly. I ended up with another teapot.

Latest acquisition

This one went straight to the office. Nathan finds it completely disturbing and can't even bear to look at it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Kyneton, Daylesford and Ballarat

I had the day off yesterday so Nathan and I decided to go on a road trip.

We headed to the delightful township of Kyneton for lunch. We went to a fancy restaurant called Annie Smithers Bistrot, which I had discovered on the internet (I have no idea what a 'bistrot' is but I assume it's the same as a bistro but more fancy sounding).

The food was amazing. I particularly liked my confit duck leg, which was cooked to perfection.
Nathan enjoyed his over-the-top-decadent chocolate dessert. He ate everything except the flowers.
After lunch, we went to The Stockroom, which was a short walk away from the restaurant. It was recommended to us by the waitress and it was indeed an excellent recommendation (she must durect every gay customer there). The shop was filled with all kinds of cool stuff, from clothes to vintage toy planes. 
There was an art exhibition on in one of their side rooms by Melbourne-based artist Nicholas Ives. I particularly liked this little canvas, which reminded me of a Dr Suess landscape. Sadly, it was already sold. 

Nathan ended up buying a vintage camera, which I think he broke before even paying for it (based on the sound it made when he was trying to help the sales attendant wrap it up).

By mid afternoon, we decided we'd had enough of Kyneton and drove to Daylesford for a wander around. Since it was Daylesford, it was inevitable that we'd end up going to the Mill's Market, which can best be described as a giant trash and treasure shop. It is probably more trash than treasure but I did see a few thinks I liked (nothing that I absolutely had to buy and couldn't live without though).

Our road trip then took us to Ballarat – and dinner at the Craig's Royal Hotel. The hotel is so named because royalty had once stayed there (otherwise, I guess it would have just been called Craig's Hotel, which doesn't quite have the same ring to it).

Still full from the Kyneton lunch, we settled for a more modest two course dinner and decided to skip dessert so we can get back to Melbourne at a reasonable enough time not to piss off the dog (who was left at home on her own for the day).

Monday, May 11, 2015

The joys of air travel


It's only a few weeks before I embark on my work trip to the US and Europe. I am flying business class for most of the trip after I managed to get approval from my boss. I can't wait. I've been checking out the different airlines and what kinds of business class service they have on offer, from the quality of the flat beds to the food to the service I can expect in the airline lounges in LA, Boston, London, Helsinki and Singapore. I've selected most of my seats already after first checking out seat guru. Nathan reckons I am more excited by the flights than the actual work. He's correct.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pine mushrooms

It might seem like I'm obsessed with mushrooms at the moment – and that's probably because I am. It is Autumn after all (and the only good thing to come out of the damp weather).

I came across these beauties at the South Melbourne Markets yesterday. They are pine mushrooms and they are a beautiful bright orange (my crappy computer camera doesn't do them any justice). They are also super tasty. I cooked them up for brekky this morning.

I've seen these mushrooms before but did not fully appreciate their culinary qualities. My folks live near a pine forest in Canberra and I remember seeing old (European) ladies foraging for them many years ago when I was walking through the forest trails. Now I wish I was back in Canberra so I can go looking for them.

Saturday flowers


Well, actually, they were last Friday's flowers but these unusual grey coloured banksias are very long lasting (paired with the even longer lasting gumnuts from three weeks ago).

Dog versus bull


Nathan and I took the dog to the farm for a run around last weekend. Truffs was quite intrigued by the livestock.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mushroom time

I love Autumn. I love the milder temperatures. I love the Autumn foliage. And above all, I love that it's mushroom season.

My mushrooming experiences have mostly been in Finland, where the locals, from a very young age, learn to differentiate between the tasty and the toxic. The Finns seem to descend into the forests in droves in search of mushrooms in the Autumn.

Here, in Australia, we have less of a culture of picking mushrooms and it seems all we ever hear about are the incidents of people being poisoned after consuming death caps.

On Saturday, Nathan and I went to Gippsland to visit his family. We dropped in to see his uncle in Yarragon on the way back home. He had just been on the farm and had brought home a nice harvest of field mushrooms. We took some back with us to Melbourne and managed to make a very nice pasta dish with them for dinner.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday night ramen

I've been walking past this ramen shop on Russell Street and it always seems super busy (long line of people waiting outside).

Tonight, I met Nathan in the city after work and noticed the queue outside the shop wasn't horrendous so we decided to give it a try.

Fifteen minutes later, we were tucking into some delicious ramen, karaage (fried chicken) and gyoza (dumplings) all washed down with a can of cold green tea. Bliss.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Birthdays x 3

It was Olivia, my niece's second birthday yesterday. We went to a nice restaurant to celebrate. It specialises in Peking ducks. We ordered two! They were delicious. Who doesn't love Peking duck? Even Olivia ate three duck pancakes.

Afterwards we went back to my sister and brother-in-law's place for cake. My sister and brother-in-law are very conscious of what Olivia eats so they made a sugar free banana cake (they got the recipe from some mother's blog). It was delicious (Well, I liked it very much but Nathan scrunched up his face as he was eating it so I offered to have his portion too).

After the banana cake, my sis surprised Nathan and I with a second birthday cake. This time to celebrate Nathan's birthday (which was a few days ago) and my birthday (which is coming up in a couple of weeks).

So...by the mid afternoon, stuffed with duck and cake, we left my sister's place and went to a funky little shop in Collingwood, where I got this nice little winter landscape painting by a Swedish artist from the 1950s as a present from Nathan (I bought him a new camera last week).

The stupid dog that we love so much

We had a bit of a scare yesterday morning.

Nathan and I have a routine of taking the dog with us to the supermarket and always make the effort to let the dog have a run around at a nearby park on the way. The dog usually sticks to the grassed area and tries (unsuccessfully) to get at the rainbow lorikeets in the palm trees.

Anyhow, after the shopping yesterday, we walked past the same park again and Nathan let go of the leash to let the dog have a second run around. And boy did she run. In fact, she bolted over to, and then past, the park and went straight to the main road...and then disappeared out of sight.

Our hearts sank. Nathan ran after the dog. Luckily, a very nice person in her car stopped and managed to entice the dog to her car and get Truffs out of the traffic.

We were both angry at the dog and relieved at the same time.

The thing that spooked the dog? A tourist horse and carriage on its way to Swanston Street. We didn't hear the horses' footsteps but obviously the dog did.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday lunch

....at the Laksa King. I had the fish head noodle soup. Yum.