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 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


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. 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


Am starting my course today and was shown to my room.'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).