To Hel and Back :: Edit your Template To Hel and Back: July 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Do you remember when packing was fun?

It was two toothbrushes; one home and one away. It was wondering if we would both have the same toothpaste. Again.

It was massage oil, scented candles, sexy underwear, chocolates.

Not just electrical tape, power adaptors and rain jackets.

It was mementoes from our home countries, letters, photos, stories.

It was forgetting to pack clean clothes and buying tourist shirts at airports.

It was not folding but throwing or rolling.

It was wishing we never had to unpack that same bag. Wanting to see those familiar belongings tossed about on a floor of our own.

Not cleared up every Monday morning by room service.

The empty chocolate boxes in the bin. The unwanted shirts left folded for housekeeping staff. The candles long burnt out around the bath tub.

More than a rally...

Being one of those marketing PR types I can't help but be infected by slogans of the places I work for, hence the title of this post. Better than when I work in Australia and end every sentence with "your pulse is gonna race".

So tomorrow at dawn I'm off to Jyvasakala for the Neste Rally Finland, formerly the Rally of 1000 Lakes, a round of the World Rally Championship. I will be back in Helsinki on August 8th.

I'll be reunited with a lot of friends who I haven't seen since May / Turkey and will also come face to face with the Finn. Gin on standby.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

To nude or not to nude: the answer

No nude.

We walked the island, making jokes about it, but stayed fully clothed, and turned a curious eye to a reclining man on a rock who must have been a naturist.

Photos of Pihljasaari


I feel compelled to put my shiny happy Suomelinna pics up now to make up for the madness.

A really lovely day that started with mansikkaleivos and ended with sunflowers.

Sami showed me the bits of the islands tourists don't get to see, and because of the wind, we two happy snappers were caught up in the excitement of waves in Helsinki waters that we didn't notice the big spray of salty water that smacked us in the faces and cameras.

I had always felt that I had to be kind of reserved around Finnish people and not let them know, well about me. But I guess because Sami reads my blog (yes this one, I don't have a more interesting version, unbeliebable to think really!) there's no hiding that I am frequently a woman possessed. So it was quite nice that he actually spent the day with me and didn't once try to get me certified, in fact even listened to me moan a little.

So I am grateful for the island tour, but even more grateful for the friendship.

Photos of Suomelinna.

Self diagnosis

Working in social care as my business does, you get pretty good at self diagnosis. Today, I can safely say I am nuts. Crazy Loopy. Loony. Odd. Deranged. Mental. Bizarre. A few tinnies short of a six-pack. I am allowed to use those terms because I am using them to describe myself, and I am after all semi-professional!

Today passed the nicest of days with AussieGirl's Finn. We went to an island, we ate ice cream, we fell asleep on the rocks, we stared at the sea. And then I go and ruin it by screaming down the phone at the Irishman.

What is wrong with me?

First of all, I have lost an understanding of reality. I realise - ooh realisation of problem, score one point! - that being with the Finn has left me more than battle scarred. A year of being the other woman, the hidden woman and always in the back seat, has left me with incredibly low self esteem. [A note for any other women being a man's secret lover; get out now while you still have some self respect.]

So now I don't know if I am sensitive and emotional or hysterical and demanding. Is it wrong to want and love and need those silly things like messages saying "good night" and "good morning", to know that someone is thinking of you. Or is that pathetic and needy?

I know a blog isn't the place most people want to read about these things, but move on to another post, this is my therapy. The Irishman has instructed me to calm down and not touch the gin, so writing, while somewhat difficult because my eyes are choked with salt, my hands are shaking like an old man's and I'm doing that uncontrollable breathing thing, is the best release.

My lovely Irishman, remember Juhannus weekend, the laughter and good-craziness? That's what I need. Unfortunately 24-7 or thereabouts. I told you I was not ready and I had baggage and I know you said you would be there for some of that baggage, but I think we underestimated just how much there was.

This is no one's fault. Just the situation. And so, what do we do with a girl who is so terrified to be be alone, and someone like you, unscratched by years of pain?

You have just sent me a text message to help me breathe and I know if I really needed you, you would be there. I just need to learn to cope when I don't really need you. And to know when those two times are.

ohhh crazy crazy crazy - do they have ECT in Finland?

Oh and for regular readers who like the happy happy island posts and not these rambles, welcome to my reality. The islands; they're to make up for moments like this.

To nude or not to nude

I am on my way out to an island that has a nudist beach.

So the question is... to nude or not to nude?

That'll get at least one visitor coming back for the answer!

The reality will probably look a little more like this...

Fortunately I met a taxi driver who told me what to do should an undecent man come across the beach for taking unsolicited pleasure in the scenery. It involves a large branch with thorns, a naked man, and a Finn quite adept at beating people.

Odd nation!

Song for nomads?

Dido: Life for Rent
I haven't really ever found a place that I call home
I never stick around quite long enough to make it
I apologize that once again I'm not in love
But it's not as if I mind
that your heart ain't exactly breaking

It's just a thought, only a thought

But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cause nothing I have is truly mine

I've always thought
that I would love to live by the sea
To travel the world alone
and live my life more simply
I have no idea what's happened to that dream
Cause there's really nothing left here to stop me

It's just a thought, only a thought

But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cause nothing I have is truly mine

While my heart is a shield and I won't let it down
While I am so afraid to fail so I won't even try
Well how can I say I'm alive

If my life is for rent...

Thanks Sami for the CD.

Friday, July 29, 2005

How to work with Finnish people?

I've just realised I don't know how to work with Finnish people.

On Monday, I start work at a international event. No problem. I have done this many times before.

One problem, all the people working with me are volunteers. And I'm not. So we have to keep it quiet so as not to uspet people. This makes it quite tricky as some of the volunteers have been at this event for many years. How are they going to feel about suddenly having to work with a foreigner who is being suggestively assertive. (Suggestively assertive being the management technique of choice when you are told to look after things but everyone already works in a nice co-operative fashion!)

I thought it was going to be tricky working for the Japanese but actually the rules are so straightforward even when they don't make sense, that I knew who deferred to me, who I deferred to and who to pretend to defer to because I am after a young woman and can't really be seen as being in charge of anything!

In Australia, respect is earned, so my team for the first year raised an eyebrow until I told them of my credentials, and having worked with me, I've now earned enough respect for the lovely people to reward me with chocolate body massages. Really, I do love that team!

In Turkey, you had to be a clear firm leader. And then a little firmer to get people to turn up. And the rest you had to just bribe!

But in Finland, how does it work? If I state my experience, will that be seen as showing off? If I take too much work on will that be seen as unco-operative. If I delegate, will that be well received? I tend to get everyone involved in and aware of everything so people can work out the jobs that suit them best. Or do Finnish people want orders?

Guess I shall find out on Monday... Wish I didn't sell my Culture Shock Finland book so soon now. At least I know after a presentation, it's not worth asking "does anyone have any questions?"!

BMX bandits

Last night, Uma and I took the Helsinki City free bikes and rode the city streets until two am cackling like demons and ringing our bells melodically at any one who either got in our way or looked like they might. It's probably not how the city intended their bikes to be used but we thought it was good advertising. "You too can have this much fun" was the message we tried to convey as she skidded to avoid street poles ("the brakes are crap!") and I pulled out in front of oncoming traffic ("what side of the road are you on buddy?!").

Thankfully the bikes are bright green, making it easy for people to spot the bandits and get out of their way...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Seasonal offerings

The other day, being summer, I went to the Winter Gardens.

And being summer, it poured down with rain.

But should I ever return here in Winter, I shall be lazing out in cactus section of the gardens, reading a book on a deck chair, working on my tan and sipping pina colada while the snow falls in a cold area away from me.

Whether the groundskeepers will let me remains to be seen...
Last night I entertained. Not so much as putting on a clown suit and juggling, but had real people, with real lives over for dinner. This meant I put away things like the boxes of flags and face tattoos so I didn't look like a person who would be happy to run a wholesale operation from their studio. And I sorted my kitchen cupboard. I don't know why, as they didn't go in there. Something to do with my mother, though I never got to that part of the therapy.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the couple in question, lets call them Benjamin and Caroline, are quite mad. Barking. It's always the quiet ones you have to worry about... ! I also realised they were younger than me.

I think I have a bit of an age issue at the moment. Not one of those "oh my I am so old" issues but an awareness of self and achievement, a sort of delayed coming of age. I thought Benjamin and Caroline were older than me because they had the trappings of achievement; a flat with floor space, mod cons and a book on how to make cocktails. They also have each other. It's been a while since I've seen a couple so suited and mad about each other, in a sweet not face slurping not stomach turning way.

After they left, I left. The night was, in insomniac Australian standards, young. Also several people were having soirees around the city, Wednesday being little Friday and all. I could have stayed home and done the dishes, but I feel that would have left me a little unfulfilled on a Wednesday pretending to be Friday night.

But heading into town, I realised I felt bloody anti social, or at least not in the mood for small talk with people I didn't know. The Cowboy Plumber was well on his way to oblivion; not a good stop. Uma was positively upbeat and I couldn't bring myself to ruin that. So it was the Kebab Mafia who rescued me from the bus station when I arrived down town with a few of those salty things blinking in the eyes and muttering to myself.

We went to a hotel lobby because I was reduced to that part of me that only feels comfortable in hotels (a bad hark to the past) and found solace in the dark wood and strange design on the top floor of the Sokos hotel. It was all coming back...

...Next week working with The Finn. Trying to make contact to check, check and double check that neither of us were going to have a nervous breakdown live on YLE...
...Six weeks and being out of here, and the light at the end of the tunnel, not motivational, but terrifying, so close is now so far away...
...Letting go of new friends. The first goodbyes. Simakun has already left. Saying to AussieGirl's Finn that we will meet again, next year, Australia. Leaving just as I am caring about people...
...Sharing my space. The Irishman is moving in and naturally it wrinkles the edges of both of our comfort zones...
...The Irishman, who is a mix of layers and words, some sweet some bitter. It's an onion I'm not in the mood for eating...

The Kebab Mafia was surprisingly patient as I waxed lyrical, nursed a hot chocolate and let one very well formed tear drop; right cheek only.

Six weeks. Six only. And then I can take and leave what I want from this place. Six weeks and I know that my friends become a list of names on messenger. That the Irishman will be a photo gallery I follow. Six weeks and The Finn will be just a pile of photos in a shoe box.

A shoebox and a laptop: not exactly the trappings of achievement.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Oh there is nothing better than dancing around your lounge room to some real solid sing a long rock a long dance a long swear a long music like Violent Femmes.

God knows what the neighbours think (probably relieved it's not Candan Ercetin!)

I caught myself in the mirror, Elaine dancing, arms akimbo, hair flying and I burst out loud laughing. It's a long way from stabbing furniture boxes and crying.

I have ordered two bottles of Veuve with Lyla to drink to me!

The only good thing about falling down is how bloody good it feels to get back up.

Thanks Uma for bringing the Femmes back.

What do you mean you don't know them?

"I forget what eight is for..."

Rapidly slowly

Yesterday's "Lets explore nature" adventure took me to Vanhakaupunki with an intrepid explorer who we shall call Uma.

The "urban steppes" as the landscape is called, didn't really blow me away and the rapids at this time of year are more slow than rapid, but it was still a pleasant enough excursion which didn't see me too lost in the wilderness.

The book does describe the area as "dumps of debris and heaps of lopped off branches, the best field of weeds in town... scrubby meadows... an incredibly scruffy zone littered with piles of junk" so it's really a miracle I even went there. Thank Sami's persuasion for that, and the fact that Uma wasn't up for riding to Itakeskus for another walk on the wild east side.

I'm planning another island this afternoon but it depends if my hangover lets me. Stay tuned for "tourist throws up on ferry"...

Photos of Vanhakaupunki
I fell in love when the sun didn’t set
And everything was so fresh
to be a novelty

The sun sets now.
We both hurry
to our own agenda
counting the remaining days
a checklist of people to see
and things to do.

I push and pull
Packing the baggage to leave behind
and what, if any, to carry on

You ride each wave cautiously
I could learn to be like you
instead I throw myself into every conflicting motion
It might be part of the reason that you like me,
had you more time to know
underneath I am as stable as the sun;
it will be dark again soon
but my love won’t fade.

My kingdom for a pie

There's nothing in the world I wouldn't give for an Aussie meat pie with sauce right now.

Guess who drank a little too much of the 2 euro "pints" with coffee toffee shooters...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Today's sights

Walking to the bus stop, about 4.30pm in suburban Maunula. The Irishman and I round the corner behind my local shopping centre and facing us is the local drunk, shrivelled member doing what it does best when full of olut, broad daylight, traffic passing. I look away immediately. The Irishman tells me that the man didn't even blink recognition of humiliation, more that we had interrupted him.

Next to his toilet, two phone books sit happily, unchained, not glassed in, on an open phone booth. They have not been graffitied, stolen or burnt as in other countries I have lived in. Maunula residents may piss on the streets but at least the phone books are safe.

Coming home, midnight, a woman stumbles onto the bus, her legs are dripping with blood, red blood from fresh cuts where she has fallen and scraped her knees or cut them on glass. She takes ages to sit down. Drunk as she probably is, she is clearly wounded. No one asks how she is, including me, using language as an excuse.

A walk in the woods

Today, as part of my "see Helsinki before I leave" campaign, and in response to a lazy weekend with the Irishman, I ran out to experience some of the walks in my naffly titled "Lets explore nature in Helsinki" book. "Lets" I said and chose to go the island of Pihjasaari which incidentally hosts a nudist beach. Sadly the nudist boat did not come in, so after a brief tour of Ruolahti (apparently the little Venice of Helsinki... hmmm) I headed off to Rastila.

The object was supposed to be a walk around the Kallahti Peninsula but I followed instead the glittering waterline, the boats, the green stuff directly opposite the Metro station at Vuosaari which seemed much more accessible.

It was pleasant enough, nature was all over the place, I took photos of said nature and a few of myself to please my mother. But then I got tired of nature and started looking for the exit signs. Or at least some signs. There was a pleasing brown sign at one point that I thought might lead to an "area of outstanding natural beauty" as they are known in England. But it led to a dead end instead. I contemplated stopping people and asking "misa on ulos" but there were no people and if there was, they would probably think I was strange. So I just plodded along, rather wearily and with the Welshman telling me of his drink consumption, annoyingly nowhere near a bar myself until I ended up at Mellunmaki. Quite some distance away from where I was or was supposed to be.

Next time I take a compass.

Rowena - lost in the wilderness

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fine Land Part 2

In Paris, you get snotty waiters if you order anything less sophisticated than barking for "un creme". In Finland, you're spared such humiliation because you collect your tray, shuffle it along to the plates, collect one, shuffle them both along to some cakes in a glass cabinet, order one, are told that you can open the doors of the glass cabinet from your side and help yourself, shuffle along to the cups, tell the machine to pour either coffee, hot water or hot water with space for milk, shuffle etc etc and then pay.

This has its down side; like when you are laden with bags and can't balance any number of them on your arms, let alone a tray and a number of Nordic pastries. However, on the plus side, you can leave as soon as you're finished, and not have to catch the eye, deliberately trip up or offer to sleep with the waiter to get your bill.

The amount you pay however is almost as extortionate as Paris.

In Teattri this week, I ordered a 5.50 euro toastie. Okay. Then on impulse I grabbed a tiny little cake.
Cashier: 11 euro
Me: How much is this? (pointing to wafer thin cake)
Cashier: 5.50 Euro
Me: Ha ha ha (Incredulous and turning to share this joke with everyone around me.)
Cashier: Do you want it?
Me: That's fine (As if submitting to a robber)
Cashier: (To my friend, also buying a toastie) Would you like anything else?
Me: (Leaning back annoyingly to interrupt the transaction) Yes, how about you offer her a mortgage so she too can have a piece of cake.

At least the water was free...

Sliding Doors:
When I visited Finland in summer last year, I came straight from Italy, where men are men and women are definitely women. So it was something of a shock for doors not to be opened for me. Not in a chivalrous, I am waiting for a man to open things for me way, but in a way that says 'hey I know you are walking through this door moments behind me so I'll just hold it back with my arm behind me as I keep walking, so it's part open for the person behind me'.

The first time I laughed as four Finnish men barged past me to get through the door first. The second time the door smacked me in the face.

Nowadays I am well aware that it's every man for themselves and I catch the door as it swings towards me. But I still hold it for other people especially people with prams and older or injured people. This causes havoc. For example, should I see someone trying to both open a door and navigate a pram over steps, I will lean over the pram and hold the door open for them. They think I am trying to get in the door ahead of them and so make room for me. It's a stale mate. Likewise, if I hold the door open for people coming behind me, they think I am stopping and just don't progress because they're expecting to get a door in the face.

The other day I met an Australian who has lived here ten years. On a recent trip Downunder, he let the door slam on an old lady. She told him off for being so rude. She should come visit Finland.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fine Land

I seem to do more emotional moaning than witty insights into the lifestyle of this country, so in my last remaining weeks, I shall try make up for it. I can't however promise to be witty.

Going to a bank in Finland is a bit like those Carlsberg ads. Lovely ladies sit behind office desks, invite you to take an Arne Jacobsen copy chair and make yourself at home, with a glass of water while huge amounts of cash are shuffled right in front of you, an unefforted arms reach away together with people's bank codes and the teller's computer password on a post it note... They really are trusting. No signs telling you not to stand up straight, lean or place your elbows on the bench or at your side because a large wall will automatically shoot up and decapitate you (Australia). No talking through bullet proof perspex, shouting into a microphone long clogged with the spit of the old men before you and pushing money and pens under a turning slot (England). Altogether pleasant.

Of course you pay for such safety. My local bank likes to charge me six euro if I come in with cash in hand and want to pay my phone bill, of which there is an account with that same bank. Six euro indeed. And unlike the Carlsberg ad, that doesn't come with a complimentary beer...

Cycling is a good way to get around. I got back on the bike on the weekend for the first time since AussieGirl left. It hurt like hell and my lungs collapsed... But cycling is a good way to get around because there are a lot of cycle paths neatly marked out on the footpaths. Or so you think. Until you start riding them. First of all I keep forgetting what side of the road they drive on here - remember I don't drive full stop. So I am not sure if I should veer left or right when sharing the cycle path with other riders or worse pedestrians. Usually it's pretty clear that I am veering both left and right because I am so unfit, the bike is swaying under the effort and many an alarmed pedestrian moves right out of the way very quickly. Sometimes the markings on the ground fade and I can't remember where as a biker I should be and am so caught up in how knackered I feel, that I don't realise until a lycra clad proper biker has passed me, that I am possibly in people's way.

Laugh yourself silly with photos of my biking efforts.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Good to go

Whether it was yesterday's well wishes, or the sudden realisation of myself being 30,I feel in control and with the world at my feet, "good to go" as we say in Australia.

Go where, I am not sure, but good to go. The great affair is to move, right!?

So dancing to Kylie, old school style, and smiling fondly at the photos on the wall that milestone my life, the well stocked fridge that says "grown up", the clean floors littered with my junk - not some man's - I feel like I can feel the old self coming back.

Ambitious, determined, independent, selfish (say it with pride!), motivated, emotional, romantic, straightforward, spontaneous. And within that I can also be laidback, caring, generous and carefree, demanding yet approachable. And I don't find the need to justify any contradictions in that to anyone.

I recently saw some magazine article about how powerful turning 30 is and I thought "what a load of crap". But there's a point where, especially after being a snivelling low self esteemed wanderer, that you realise 30 is grown up. I am not playing games, I am not accepting second best, I am not compromising because I think I am not worth better. I will spend money as I want. I will surround myself by things I like. I will say what I like, do what I do and not need any endorsement, acceptance or otherwise.

Of course that attitude is not so different to what most of us feel at 13... The difference being, at 30, you can actually live the attitude, not just act it.

He moves in mysterious ways

After my self indulged postings about insecurity and loneliness, what happens?

Friends, like coconuts (yes and equally heavy and hairy!), fall from the sky with open arms, friendly shoulders and the kindest words. All unsolicited.

The hug I very much needed, and genuine disappointment of my leaving, the pledges to stay in touch, the "just a word on the side".

I shall miss the Welshman, The Kebab Mafia, The Outback regulars, and the Swedish Aussies because they give me the strength to go on each day. Kiitos ystava.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Insomniac on insecurity

A million people, an address book full of friends but you want one to greet you like they're so happy to see you and a smile light their face, and their hug to linger.

You want someone not to say they will be there for your needs but to pre-empt them.

You want someone to show that they care, not tell you.

You want to feel like someone once you said: "you are a princess", lopsided crown and all, you are the sovereign that reigns in the heart of a few.

The people you hold dear, the ones who show you your importance, the places you are safe, they are miles away, you have discarded them for backpacking tales. And yet still they take every phone call, listen to your anecdotes, hear out your insecurities. They email you a thought, you grasp it like a flower in it's last moments of life. They post you portions of home with love inside your favourite chocolates, a book in English, a postcarded moment of beauty. They have put themselves in your shoes and given you a slice of what would make them sane. It is love unconditional.

You miss Walt's laugh and like-mindedness, Lyla's cooking and frank advice, Shelly's never ending warmth and cappucinos. You miss it so much that tears well just to think of it.

You progress, three steps forward, how many back? Every day a snakes and ladder board game. You tick off the list: abandonment, check; letting go, check; loss, insecurity, loneliness - must try harder. And then as each one falls off the list, another appears. You don't cry that someone left you, no - but a year of being a hidden woman, the other woman, a year of serving all your needs alone, a year of never coming first to the one you put above anything else has left you wanting people who will stand on roof tops and say, this is our princess.

In your state, you cannot fathom if that's a bad thing or not...


"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams."
WB Yeats


For the first time in ages, you howl at the moment. You wail and you gulp salt tears. You cry aSDF LKUAdadjfkjnd, as someone wrote to you earlier; a stranger who knew you know the pain of abandonment.

Everyone either thinks you cry every day or not at all but you and you alone know the pain subsides and only at these weak moments you let it out. It's a stubbed toe; an over friendly look in a friend; a cold word from someone you love. And writing that very word, it makes you realise the emptiness.

And as your tears drop on the keyboard, your stubbed toe throbs and you think "screw this I have survived so much more, I will go on".

Inside your head, a dream, an image of loveliness, too young to know, too young to hold. You grasp at the air. "And I being poor have only my dreams", the words of another Irishman, who floods your mind with the great poets who nursed you through every pain that lay before.

Don't pour another drink...

Friday, July 15, 2005

Summer Daze

In Summer, Helsinki and indeed all of Finland, take on a whole new life. People around you smile. Your neighbours say "hej" as a greeting rather than look at you in alarm in the corridor. And even the drunks are happy, dancing in front of the pan-piping buskers in happy state of oblivion.

The tourists wander the streets, free from the confines of their Silver Hair Cruse Liner, or fresh from grotty grimy London or an exotic yet "unsafe" southern European port. And so they love Helsinki, with it's clean streets and rubbish bins and clean white people and clean ordered parks.

The tourists lick ice cream cones eagerly just like when they were children. They feel safe, just like when they were children. Their bum bags relax against their smart casual linen shore clothes.

The young people come out onto the streets and terraces and drink and talk and smoke and flash beautiful white teeth.

Bands and dancing fills the esplanade, and tiny ponies walk up and down; the lady who walks them has a larger beige behind than the ponies... The music bounces from the soft tourist bodies to the taut blonde locals; "they're not all blonde, we call that brown hair" a friend comments apropos of someone with dark blonde flecks in their hair.

Everyone is happy. Even when it's a stifling 25C for three days which here constitutes a heat wave.

Everyone is so happy that it infects you and fills you with a fierce pride, a spring in your step, you beam at the tourists who get in your way and say "This is my city! Mine! Aren't I lucky. I live here." You puff out your chest with pride.

Of course, come talk to me in February when the smile is closer to mania and mass suicide is just a step away from the national conscience.

"Aren't I lucky?"

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Today I visited Salaspils, the site of a former concentration camp.

It was not piles of shoes and suitcases, but a memorial. But it was still significant, in what was not there, and what that emptiness provoked.

I am still trying to find the words...

On the way home, I thought "why do I seek out this history?". And then that night I watched at length the tenth anniversary of the Srebenica death march and I knew why I visit such places.

Because we have learned nothing...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

I need to talk...

I have not talked all day.

Well that's not entirely true. The ticket inspector had a lengthy conversation with me about where the toilet was and if the train stopped at Dazarni. The cab driver and I discussed how Australia had Sydney and Daugavpils had brilliant weather. Several people joined in my mime shows including "my baggage is locked in your office, the train is due to leave" and most humorously "can you guess I have hayfever if I draw a flower and sneeze on it."

So as a result, this site now has Blogger's diarrhoea while I get all the unsaid speech out of my system....

Train Thoughts

This is an old Soviet "local train" with leathery bench seats and windows that only sometimes open. It makes that clickety clack noise that lulls you to sleep.

Each station has a station signaller who wears an over sized bright red captains hat. She ceremoniously waves the train clear. The ticket inspectors are also a Soviet hangover of bureaucracy because I can see that after the tickets are bought, checked and stamped, the inspector also marks us on and off the train. The inspector is another Russian stereotype of obligatory dyed hair, and clipboard and this time a gold trimmed blazer.

Travelling between carriages is exciting because the ground rushes beneath you in the train joins. After several drinks, you can feel like Indiana Jones (I remember this from the Moscow St Pete journey!)

The toilets are, to me, preferable to the Eastern European / Turkish loos, which smell far worse than anything in the Middle East (because these one's don't flush!) I smile when I remember earlier at the station, the heads popping up over the typically Russian too short toilet doors... Anyway, this train loo sports a wooden seat, too wide to straddle and painted in black stuff that comes off if you should sit on it. The open window flashes bright green scenery as you try and co-ordinate the buttons and levers to try and get the trap door to take it all away, and if you're lucky, deliver some water.

In contrast, trains in Finland are sleek and modern. They are also said to be faultlessly effecient. Except on the way to the airport where I chose to take the pendolino to avoid the previously ill fated Ryanair bus and to try and have a beer with the Irishman (who ironically was stuck on a roof).

The train was late out of Helsinki and took half an hour to get to Pasila, which isn't even beyond my house! I had already ruled out making the plane, to manage my expectations even when we were transferred to another train which offered to eventually move and even take us to Tampere.

My scarred and wisened taxi driver was keen to follow my order of "airport, as quick as you can" but at the end of the day, he is a Finn and he can't break traffic rules. (I know it can be done; I saw the Irishman on the way back from Kuusamo!) The last 3 kms, with 3 minutes until my flight leaves, are spent behind the world's slowest Honda driver. It's so bad, I end up legging the last few metres leaving a cheering taxi driver and a bewildered Honda, only to find the flight is closed. I catch some ground crew, walking away and beg and plead and threaten to cry.

They radio ahead and allow to let me through. At least the Finns break some rules... !

Latvia transport pics

From fashion to facism

The folk of Daugavpils know how to passagiare (apologies to Italians for the spelling). The girls - really women of all ages - but the fashion distinctly girls, are waxed, buffed, curled, crimped into tiny skirts or the tightest trousers and impossible high heels with ankle straps.

The older girls have learned to walk among pedestrian Riga Iela's cobblestones, sunglasses perched delicately on their face (these are big sunglasses), their cheekbones high, the arch of their plucked eyebrows even higher, their pouts perfect.

The younger set haven't mastered the walk. They attempt to strut with a stride too long and tentatively place a heel amongst the stones. They posess waists that could not possibly hold any vital organs and underwear lines (or distinct lacks of them) that leave little to the imagination.

And they all know how to wiggle.

The men watch them, sipping their beer or coffee, or like the polite football team in my hotel, in quiet awe and reverence, their jaws dropping as if they have never before seen woman. They catch me laughing at their unison of wonder.

Not to be outdone, the young men, drivers' licences freshly stamped, parade in borrowed cars with unfamiliar gearboxes and cruise around the town's perfect grid of streets, occassionally crunching out of first and making a compulsory high speed wheel spinning u turn out the front of my hotel. Speakers boom and mags gleam chrome.

Saturday morning, I decide to visit the memorial for those who died ensuring those young people had the freedom to strust in fake D&G trousers and plastic Boss bags bought from the old lady at the bus station.

The memorial to those who died in the fight against facism is unkempt and deserted. It's a beautiful spot, with sunlight filtering through the birch trees. But the grass is knee hugh and unlike other monuments in the area, it hosts no picnickers.

Strangely there is also little said at this monument. The obelisk looks freshly whitewashed and the marble plaques set in the ground are smooth, with no trace of engraving or markings.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Greetings from Daugavpils

Sleep, sleep.

Between the Marquis de Sade nightclub, the mossies, the German man talking to himself, the Kiwi bemoaning not getting laid and his friend telling him to shut up, not a lot of sleep was had. Mustn't forget the rowing couple of mad Russian women below my window and the Kiwi who was my first morning sight, complete with hands down my pants. Ah hostels, got to love them.

Being a bit of a train nut I was thrilled to get on some old Soviet rolling stock to make the 235 km journey to this town. Sadly I was too tired to enjoy it and invented a number of strange sleeping positions much to the amusement of fellow passengers. The ride cost a grand total of 2.25 Lats, the same it did in 1997 when my guide book was written.

Countryside was pleasant, the day was lovely and warm. I saw several moments flick by my window as I tossed and turned to sleep, awake for the last 45 minutes as we pulled into Latvia's second largest town.

I treated myself to a night at the town's newest oldest hotel. Once the Hotel Latvija, a huge soviet monstrosity, famed for having the worst breakfast in the Baltics, it has now been modernised and remodelled to greet me, its first Australian in its month of functioning.

I have access to English speaking news, which is addictive, and I have been testing the staff's knowledge of local cemetries, as only I am known to do... I have to say they are exceptional and there isn't a trait of Russian in their service (take note Turkey) despite it being the main and sometimes only language spoken here.

I walked out to the old Soviet fortress, built in Tsar times, taken over by the Soviets and even the Germans (they planned Stalags here). The huge complex (built to support 7,000) is mostly abandonded but some buildings are inhabited by those who needed housing after independence. It's a strange and silent mix, there are no children playing, just an empty wind that blows through the open buildings, against the sound of loud bird call. Some local families were picnicing today amongst the cannons and war memorabilia in indifferent acceptance.

It's a tiny town really, but very friendly and easy to feel at home in, from the mobile phone salesman who escorted me to my hotel, to the ice cream girl who gave me the biggest spaseeba ever when I bought from her. I wish my Russian phrase book wasn't in storage.

This afternoon I visited the monument for those who died in the fight against facism. A lady came up with her grandson, dragging him away from the cool of the fountain where he was playing, walking him through the etched stones of the memorial, and her Russian needed know translation. The carnations placed on each named stone have only recently withered.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Here before I arrived...

According to the receptionist at the rather spacey sounding Hostel Argonaut, I am already here.

"Rovina Hardink?" she queried with that lovely Russian drawl that matched her regrowth perfectly. "You are already here."

Apparently Rovina had already checked in on my behalf and my arrival only confused things more. Reluctantly I was shoved into a ten bed dorm. Ahh hostelling, I had forgotten the pleasures of not sleeping for the price of less than ten euro.

My hostel is above the Marquis de Sade "night club", bathed in erotic pink light and throbbing with the sound of sexy toons. Across the road, a buildings alarm has been set off and beep beeps in persistance. The bunk under mine is mating with the bunk adjacent. Kiwis guessing by the silver ferns adorning their backpacks. And intending on having sex tonight, as the sheet strung down from my bunk is the international semaphore for "sex in hostels; privacy please". I do hope they are practised enough to get a good rhythm going in between both the beeping alarm and the thump thump of the Marquis.

So excited was I by my new environment (sporting the flag like tshirt on entry "People's Republic of Cork"), that I left my key in the toilet, forgot what floor I was on, what room I was in and spent a good deal of time wandering the corridors looking for reception again. You know these places, they are rabbit warrens with rooms in every corner of every floor... And I have such a bad sense of direction.

I hope the real Rowena didn't get lost, and is enjoying the 4 bed room I booked for her.


It's Thursday so it must be Latvia...

Riga tonight, Daugavpils on the Belarus Lithuanian border tomorrow.

Back towards Riga for Sigulda and the bob sled track and then a whistlestop look at Riga before heading back on the 11th.


As a Londoner for three long years, I should say something about what happened today. But I can't find words. Not because I am shocked. Or angry. Or pondering terrorism.
But because I have spent a good part of the day making phone calls, receiving emails, sending texts. The London community, which on this occasion stretched to Australia, Belgium and Finland, was working together to get word out that everyone was okay. And for someone who has walked the quiet streets of Moorgate during an evacuation, wondering where your husband is, and knowing that you should leave but knowing that you won't, today was a reminder of that feeling of helplessness. That feeling that exists for half an hour or half a day trying to track down that last person, getting the phone answered, receiving an out of office email, or seeing someone evacuated.

And I think today was enough to remind him too, of that time living in London in the shadow of September 11, one foot in the Muslim community and the other firmly in the City. We even exchanged emails to confirm all was okay.

And I keep thinking of a woman who once said to me "there but for the grace of God" and how many times London has exploded in forms around me (nail bombs, Admiral Duncan, Hatfield, Paddington) and how lucky I have been to not lose anyone.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Estonians take another wife-carrying title

Estonia reigned supreme once again in the wife-carrying world championship this weekend.

Margo Uusorg sprinted home to win the Baltic country's eighth straight title in the unusual competition.

Forty couples from 10 countries gathered in the remote Finnish village of Sonkajarvi to complete a 253.5-metre-long obstacle course. A man must carry a woman, not necessarily his spouse, through a pool and across hurdles.

The few rules require a minimum weight of 49 kilograms for the "wife" and state that all contestants must have fun.

Mr Uusorg, 25, completed the course in 59 seconds with friend Egle Soll, 23, clinging to his back in the trademark "Estonian Carry", hanging upside down with her legs clenched around his neck.

Mr Uusorg's prizes were his partner's weight in beer and a high-tech mobile phone.

It was his fourth victory, and the third in a row for his family. Brother Madis won in 2004.

"We don't have a secret, we just try to run fast and hope the legs work," Mr Ussorg said.

He warned that the family would be even stronger contenders next year when brother number three, Urmet, takes part.

"He holds the Estonian record for the 800 metres," Mr Uusorg said.

Mr Uusorg and Ms Soll received first prize from the hands of visiting United States basketball legend Dennis Rodman, who declined to compete, saying he lacked both a wife and proper training.

"I'm not in shape. It could hurt the back," said the former Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons forward. But he promised to train for next year.

"I'll carry the kids around the house or something," he said.

Some 9,000 people came to view the event, set deep in forests and lakes a couple of hours' drive from the Arctic Circle.

It began in 1992 as a purely Finnish contest based on local legend, according to which wife-stealing was once commonplace in the region.


Get your clothes off

I wonder how long I would have to stay in Finland until I get used to nudity.

I'm not an American style prude. I can let little kids run starkers in sprinklers. I can walk around my own home like Lady Godiva (all mad stalkers stop reading now please) but I can't bring myself to get naked with anyone's family, work colleagues or other young men in a platonic sense for the Finnish pursuits of sauna (compulsory), swimming (that traditional pool downtown), or sunbathing (Seurasaari even!).

I think that, like in real estate, it's all to do with location, location, location. In Sardinia, a blazing October, the sun boucing off turquoise topped Mediterranean waters and it's a perfect setting to strip off. I even didn't blink at the old leather skinned folk.

Likewise in Greece, at Santorini's rock down the bottom of Oia village, we all swam happily in various items of not clothing like leftover hippies in a free love commune.

But in an urban park, a mere 23 degrees, a warm pizza in one hand and a piece of carrot cake in the other, and suddenly upon the manicured grass, a g stringed buttock arises and I just can't get used to it.

It makes me want to put on a jumper.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Land of Big Bunnies

It's a beautiful day so as soon as my pre booked laundry slot has finished, I am off exploring the city and taking sunny blue cloudless sky photos.

Last night on the way home, I encountered Jack. Jack is a bunny. As much as I would like to think of him as a tiny pupu with wiggly white bottom, he is a rather large kick arse hare. He's not cute at all. He could do as much damage as a kanagaroo; there's not a thing cuddly about him. But I have a soft spot for Jack because he's always outside the appartment waiting for me when I get home. No matter how late, Jack's in the shadows, pacing the footpath, or standing on a rock with those big hare like ears listening out for me. It's nice to have a man waiting when you come home.. !

Yesterday I think I talked for 24 hours non stop with women (okay you too Walt, but I think you feel this is almost a compliment!). God it was good. To just say what you had to say and have no offence taken, no explaining needed, no thread of conversation that needed to be followed, no complex rules of engagement. A man commented "oh you girls just talk rubbish (at the time, we were talking about business ideas). Said man wondered back to his posse of men folk, clearly disgruntled that we had edged him and his business ideas out of the conversation, and started with comments like "Eh bruisers, what's the score." "Ah the bloody Aussies are playing like girls... ." Yes and we talk a lot of rubbish...

This weekend the streets of Helsinki have been full of impossibly young people on hen and stag nights. I think it's because I am getting older, that they feel younger. You know, the old woman already one marriage down! But there is a bit of a tendancy to get engaged quite frequently and quite young to your high school sweetheart. Some of these engagements break off quite quickly and a new engagement starts up. Some of these engagements go on forever, like The Finn who was engaged for 13 years (that in itself should have been a warning but that's another story!). Those long engagements annoy me. You either believe in the institution of marriage, or you don't. But you don't pretend to be committed but really aren't.

Personally, I am hoping Jack might pop the question. What more can a girl want. He dresses well, doesn't talk back, always waits up, is discrete, clean, prepares his own meals... And I am sure I saw him last night hop up from a position of being down on bended knee...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ow my head

Oh for a fry up breakfast in Helsinki.

Oh for Alberto's No 7 without bacon and tea with a layer of oil on it.

Oh to have a friend come over and make me a fried egg sandwich and choose something for me to wear.

Oh to be able to teleport to the city centre without the need for motion.

Oh oh oh indeed.


Every blog needs at least one post written drunk. So here is. After 70 euro of alcohol and a lot of hits of the back space key.

Oblomov, I promised you a Finland Forum post about moving to Helsinki as a lesbian without a job and about lesbian for foreigners, about needing a Kela card to be a lesbian etc etc but now there is a homophobic rant on the board and it doesn't seem appropriate.

Anyway the sun was setting when we left, and it rose as we got the bus home. I called America and to my joy they were awake and telling me "get out of that country". And only the girl from Peru knows why.

I stared hard at the sliver of the moon, bit my lip till it bled so I thought "yes it doesn't matter all these maybe lies and maybe games."

I am doing okay, have not cried, have not got sad, only danced to bad bad songs I danced to the first time they were in the charts.

"I am an angel!" I thought as the moon got closer, my lip more red, my voice an echo of the Dublin girl's accent I had heard all night, equally empty and wet eyed as mine.

But no "I'm not", the hard Australian replied, peppered with realism and sarcasm and other stern words ending in -m. "I am a spud." And only two of us knew the significance of those words.