The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 3, 29 March – 10 April 2004

Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…I was safe on the plane and nobody was gonna stop me now…”
“…Landing in Helsinki was amazing…”
“…that sun is just an evil ploy…”
“…5 people to run a restaurant…”
“…gijima to the seety, not the township, one-time…”
“…the train station in Helsinki had a James Bondy feel to it…”

And now, in full black and white pixelation, FrozenToe Productions is
proud to present the next installment in The Espoo Diaries:
“Espoo Reloaded”. Guest starring, in alphabetical order, Finnish
Blondes, and, ummm, me.

The evening of the 30th of March saw me making a distinct yet profound
step forward in my journey. I conducted a “hotel-migration-exercise”
which included a relocation to The Radisson Seaside Hotel, on the edge
of the city of Helsinki, about 1km from the city center, on the ocean
front. The strangest thing is that there is absolutely no smell of sea
salt in the air. (Then again, there is hardly any sea, just sea ice).
The constant sight of massive cruise liners entering and exiting the
harbour area instills a strong desire to simply board a ship and
disappear into the Finnish shipping lanes. If an update does not arrive
in the near future, you know where to not start looking.

Make no mistake this move came highly recommended and was in no part due
to any sort of incompetence of the previous hotel. Although something
that did help to make me more bitter about parting was the
extraordinarily high telephone call cost which I incurred by phoning
South Africa (the country rated as one with the most expensive telephone
calls in the world) from Finland (the country rated as having the second
most expensive phone calls in the world) from the hotel (something
insanely stupid to do, but who woulda thought?). Let me just summarise
it like this – I could have held off on the phone calls and used the
bucks to buy Peter’s Ferrari when I returned. (Survival tip #3: dna
prepaid cellphone vouchers).

Now that I was actively present in Helsinki by night, a bit of nighttime
investigation was due to take place. I shortcut the tourist traps
immediately by approaching the lovely blonde-haired waitress at the
‘Viola’ restaurant at the Radisson, who I will only mention by the
moniker ‘Miss Moneypenny.’ I would use her real name – ‘Miss
Vyaryustëërinkintumybluääis’ – but it is rather distracting. So I
commissioned Moneypenny to do a discreet background check of all active
nightlife within the Helsinki region, and the results were astounding.

In short, Friday the 2nd saw me in Helsinki, by night (in 2 degree
temperature, mind you). With hair slicked back and dancing shoes
tightened to my feet I crossed the threshold of my hotel room at about
nine pm and entered the bluster of activity in the late-night streets of
Helsinki. If it wasn’t for the darkness and the time on my cellphone one
would be forgiven for assuming it was simply a mid-afternoon in Helsinki
– it was that busy. My first way point proved to be a small fast-food
restaurant for rather bland “kebab” meat (cooked rotisserie style) on a
bed of rice. Fortunately “peri-peri” is a universal language.

On completion of the task in the alloted time, I moved on to find my
next way point, the nightclub known as ‘Lady Moon’. This was done with
relative ease – the bright neon lights outside were but a small
assistance for my excellent direction finding and detective skills.
Things seemed rather quiet at this checkpoint, so I quickly moved to
checkpoint three – the establishment known as “Molly Malone’s” and rated
as one of the top 50 Irish Pubs in Europe.

I know what you’re thinking. I flew thousands of miles to look for a
Scottish Drink at an Irish Pub in Finland. Don’t question it. Accept it.
The atmosphere was festive and the place was packed to the brim. They
even had a poker table inside where some were conducting a spot of
gambling. (The only designated non-smoking section!!)
(Theme tune #3: Anything by U2, played over and over again.)

The evening grew tired rather quickly as the Finnish Beer consumed my
motor skills (and my bank balance). The price of a pint is between 4 and
5€. Nearing the completion of my evening, I drifted slowly to the door,
assisted by two signs providing me with the further necessary means to
ensure successful completion of my mission – WC – ye good olde ‘Water
Closet’, and ‘Ulos’ – Finnish for ‘out’. (Survival Tip #4 and #5)

A grand exit was executed and suddenly, while in the process of closing
my jacket, I transitioned into a slow-motion bullet-time, sound effects
and all. I glanced around, expecting to see bullets whizzing past
through ever-increasing air-ripples, but the only thing whizzing past
was a couple of snowflakes. I found myself in an eerie state of
cold-induced instant soberness.
Disappointing is not strong enough a word.

My return to the hotel was uneventful, but an impressive sight was the
number of young people, often single females, moving through the dark
streets at a late hour without fear or concern.

Saturday saw me venture into the streets of Helsinki by day, visiting
the various department stores to get a feel for the bustling activity in
Helsinki at the weekend. I also roamed through various sights in the
city, most notably visiting the University of Helsinki, the place where
Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux Kernel – the core of the
GNU/Linux operating system – studied. Let us just say that I think I can
understand now his motivation for getting involved in such a mammoth
task – yes, the words “sheer boredom” do come to mind… As it turns
out, the University is a relatively small, four-sided building about
five storeys high. As a patron of a number of South African universities
I have to let the scoreboard slide – South Africa 1, Finland 0.

Other sites encountered on my path included a big old white building –
the Chapel, or something – plastered on each end with an “evil
all-seeing eye” symbol. The Matrix has you. Big Brother is watching. You
know the drill. Pretty creepy. Many large, old-fashioned buildings and
an excursion through giant department store Stockmann later
I headed back to prepare for weekend night two – Saturday evening in the

My chosen destination this evening was to be the nightclub “Nosturi”,
less than half a kilometer from the hotel. As it turned out, a 8€ cover
charge got me in to see three live bands – (can’t remember), Melrose and
Mannhai. They were all pretty good, but somehow they all seemed to sound
the same – they all seem to work off a similar sounding guitar/keyboard
riff, and much of the headline act (Mannhai) seemed to be an attempt
to rip off Guns ‘n Roses and AC/DC. They were very interesting to watch,
and prove that good rock music is alive and well in Finland, although
the best tunes of the evening were the cover versions played. Beer
price: 4€.

The thought of these exceptionally high prices when translated into
rands turned my attention to cost-of-living comparisons, and it is here
that I came to a breakthrough revelation in currency and lifestyle
comparisons. Forget about the ‘Big-Mac’ index. A truly relative
comparison would be what I have dubbed the ‘Golden Cap’ index. Why
Golden Cap? Well, if you look at the top of a beer bottle, what is the
usual colour of the lid holding the playful, bubbly golden-brown liquid

While the Big Mac Index is based around the international comodity of a
Big Mac burger, and the assumption that almost everyone can afford a
McDonalds burger and everyone has to eat, the Golden Cap index is based
on a truer scale. There is no assumption that everyone can afford a
McDonalds meal – the fact is everyone CAN afford a beer, no matter your
financial state. In essence, this index shows that prices in Finland are
not that expensive, while South Africa is probably just as, if not more
expensive when you look at it relatively. I bought a double Johnny Red
and tried to stop myself from thinking of the
equivalently priced full bottle that lies at home.

Of course, no good evening out in a foreign country can be worthwhile
unless some diplomatic tension is introduced. I had seen a guy earlier
in the evening who was with two good-looking ladies (are there any other
kind here?) and he moved upstairs, next to where I was standing. He
then, with hands full of beer glasses, proceeded to attempt to call the
two young ladies from the floor below. I noticed his struggling
attempts, and being on the way to refill my drink at the bar downstairs,
offered to call them for him. What followed proved to be a bungling
game of cross-cultural misunderstanding and resulted in a mildly upset
Finn who happened to be about twice my size. (Viking would be a most
appropriate word). I quickly left him to ponder the subtle nuances of a
South African accent, while I found another beer, the WC and then the

Easter weekend found me pursuing various other sightseeing activities,
including visiting the Sibelius Monument (a bunch of pipes welded
together), an entire church carved out of rock with incredible acoustic
qualities – Temppeliaukion Kirkko, and Suomenlinna, the maritime
fortress just off the coast of Helsinki. Saturday evening saw me brave
the extremely cold night to witness ‘Via Crucis’ – a mock crucifixion
that takes place at Senate Square. Included in this weekend too was what
has to be the highlight of any South African’s visit to Helsinki – a
visit to Johannesbergintie, a small street with a great name.

I’ll end this mail on a poignant note. Alcohol seems to be a problem in
this country, probably more so than in SA. Drinking on the streets is
not forbidden and I have now been witness to at least five or six
incidents of unnecessary drunken behaviours in public places in the
space of this past week, including witnessing a phone being thrown at
the wall, less than two metres away from me, in the hotel restaurant
with blatant disregard for all the other patrons. Fortunately I have not
seen anyone being hurt, but everything is not roses here either.
Obviously I do not want to generalize, and I may have even been a
perpetrator of these same or similar actions at some stage in the past,
but the frequency with which I have borne witness to this is alarming. A
lot of this may have to do with Easter and the public holidays making
things a bit too festive – time will tell. Rest assured, more on my
independent evaluation of underlying problems in Finland will follow.

Happy Easter everyone.

Regards to all,


Stay tuned for scenes from our next episode…

Next time on The Espoo Diaries:
“…purchase my tram ticket using my cellphone…”
“…Miss Moneypenny…”
“…Baarikarpanen, who knows what it means, is a small bar/nightclub on
“…it was snowing at Seurasaari…”

The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 2, 16-28 March 2004

Previously on The Espoo Diaries:

“…I got the cash…”
“…I was safe on the plane and nobody was gonna stop me now…”
“…Landing in Helsinki was amazing…”
“…broadband speeds (up to 2 Meg/s)…”

Well it’s been about two weeks since my previous mail, and I guess it is
time to relate my further adventures thus far. Work has been work, and
keeping me nicely occupied to a large extent. It seems to be an
interesting project and so far it seems like I will learn a lot, which
is the ultimate goal of the whole exercise of exporting me to Siberia I

And Siberia it (nearly) is. Over the past week there have been a
multitude of seasons, but they all seem to have one common factor – the
cold. While it may seem deceptively sunny when you glance out of the
hotel room, that sun is just an evil ploy to make one overconfident
about the temperature. Fortunately the country is well prepared for it –
double-glass windows, at least two doors to get into every building,
underfloor heating in the hotel room bathroom, and Lapin Kulta –
Lapland’s Gold, the beer of choice. (Survival tip #1: “Yksi olut,
kiitos” – “One beer please”)

My first full weekend in Espoo (pronounced Esbore, like paw paw) saw me
leaving Espoo! I’m afraid that spending the weekend in the hotel, eating
more hotel food was just not going to be an option. While good, the menu
at the hotel works off a combination of a fixed subset of base
ingredients, so in essence, once you’ve had the beef and the turkey,
you’re going nowhere fast. The most interesting thing about the hotel
restaurant, apart from a high popularity, is that the number of kitchen
staff is two, and the number of servers (who also work at the bar)
three. That’s 5 people to run a restaurant, on some nights serving up to
50 people. Pretty impressive, and the service is definitely not slow. So
I wandered out onto the snow-covered street and down to the nearest bus

Although I had studied the ancient art of Finnish Bus Catching for some
hours, I was still a bit rough on the technical intricacies, but
fortunately my mind was made up and I had a chat with a young guy who
was also waiting at the bus stop, and he gave me a quick rundown.
Finnish people, while they may not be extremely warm and outgoing, are
still very friendly, so whoever started the rumour was wrong – they’re
very helfpul. So I found the right bus number to catch, and when it
approached, stood on the kerb and waved an arm to get him to stop. My
South African instinct nearly kicked in at that moment to make me with
my arm raised point my index finger downwards to say “Hola ‘ma gents,
gijima to the seety, not the township, one-time”, but I refrained –
this was not a mini-bus. Three euros got me onto a window seat, next to
a heater, and then we were winding our way to the city. The bus is
definitely a well used form of transport for all ages.

I believe an important thing to do when in a foreign place is to follow
the crowd and keep an eye on what is happening around you. So naturally
when everyone hopped off the bus at a station, I did too.

Hehe, well done Shaun, you’re in Tapiola. Where the hell is Tapiola?

Well at the bus station in Tapiola there was a big department store –
Stockmann, and I roamed around for about half an hour, looking at
Finnish life. Then I stumbled upon an ATM. The scene goes something like
Insert card. Card gets spit out. Insert card /correct/ way around.
Choose language. Enter PIN. Balance enquiry. Transaction rejected.
Insert card. Choose language. Enter another PIN. Ask for bucks.
Transaction rejected.
Ok, enough – I don’t want this thing swallowing my card.
One certainly does feel rather poor walking away from a strange ATM with
only a slip – it kinda knocks you in the
‘could-end-up-broke-in-a-foreign-country’ morale department.
It may be working now, I havent tried since last week.

Anyway, I’m still looking for Helsinki right? Yes. So back down to the
station, and onto another bus to Helsinki. Fortunately your ticket is
valid for 80 minutes after purchase, on road, rail or underground, with
unlimited transfers, so my error cost nothing.

I arrived in a cold, wet Helsinki after about fifteen minutes. This time
everyone exited the bus again, so my theory held strong here. The bus
station itself is under renovation, so the last stop is pretty much the
stop before the station, in the street. It does wonders for the sense of
direction skill when you arrive in a place where the streets have no
name. (Theme tune #1: U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name)

To cut a long segment short I was in the middle of the city and found my
way to the main street, where I proceded to enter department stores at
random. I managed to find a good computer store where I bought a
reasonably priced wireless network card. It probably was cheaper than in
South Africa – 60 euros for a Siemens Gigaset. And what’s more, my
credit card did work here. I felt about as happy as a, no, NOT an
Englishman in New York. I felt as happy as a hacker in Helsinki!

I also visited the Tennispalatsi. (“The Tennis Palace”), which was a
mall, with shops, a cinema, eating places, a museum. Nope, no tennis
courts. No tennis racquet. Not so much as a sweatband. Ladies and
Gentleman…, the “Tennis Palace”. I watched Monster, the movie with the
cherry from Benoni, cos I was laaik feeling verry lonesome and missing
my dorpie, and in some deep, profound manner, seeing a South African
killing and maiming at random was rather comforting.

After roaming around a bit longer, having a meal and some coffee, and
generally seeing the streets and finding all the landmarks to straighten
out the compass, oh, and finding a free toilet – how bad can it be – I’m
from Africa – cos I sure as hell aint paying 1 euro to pee, I headed to
the train station to catch a train back to the hotel.

Walking back from the deserted Kera station to the hotel, surrounded by
snow and tall pine trees leads the mind to wander and pretty soon I was
carefully watching for signs of movement as I pictured masked skiers
with automatic weapons come flying across the snow in pursuit. (Theme
Tune #2: James Bond theme.) Even the train station in Helsinki had a
James Bondy feel to it – trains to St Petersburg, Moscow and more.

I outwitted the gunmen by blinding them with my stealthy, bright orange
wireless-card-toting shopping bag and slipped back into my hotel room.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

I ate reindeer fillet steak at a little restaurant/pub ‘Wera’ the other
evening – absolutely delicious. It is extremely tender yet tasy with the
‘melt in your mouth’ sensation that only carefully cooked fillet has.

Other than that things are going very well, I yet have to visit Helsinki
by night, but when I do, be sure the stories will follow shortly after.

Oh, I almost forgot – (Survival Tip #2: “‘Moi’ means ‘hello’ in Finnish,
but chances are you’ll be thinking ‘mooi’ when she says it)

The snow is melting, spring is on its way, daylight saving has kicked in
– this email will arrive before it is sent.

Regards to all,


The Espoo Diaries

The Espoo Diaries, Volume 1, 13-15 March 2004

Greetings from behind
The .fi at the end stands for Finland, of course, which is to be my home
for the next few weeks (months?). Two weeks ago, who woulda thought we’d
see me plodding through snow-covered streets to see what I could see? I
think I’m getting a bit ahead though, let me go back to the beginning.

Friday night saw me successfully catch flight LH573 to Frankfurt
Airport, albeit by the skin of my teeth. After queueing for 20 minutes,
the credit card gods decided not to honour my banking facility at the
monetary exchange area at Joburg International. This was, of course
directly related to the spending spree which took place the day before.
What ensued was a dash to the bank, to withdraw the necessary cash at
the teller, which involved standing in a queue for another twenty
minutes. Another ten minutes back at the forex counter before the
computer systems decided to crash. Time to go queue at a different forex
counter… another 15 minutes.

So I got the cash, said abbreviated goodbyes and moved through to the
customs area, where in true South African style, just to remind you that
you have not left Africa yet, behold another 10 minute queue. A minute
or so after slipping thru customs, there it went – my trip flashed
before my eyes – as I heard something along the lines of “Mr Dewberry is
requested to board immediately at Gate 22…”. A second later I was at
the gate, the target of a handful of “you’re late, punk!” eyes. More
eyes upon reaching the plane (A special bus was commisioned for myself
and one other late gentleman) – This time the eyes were saying “Sie sind
später Mutterbumser” or something like that – I couldn’t translate the
German properly.

Anyway I was safe on the plane and nobody was gonna stop me now, that
much seemed sure.

Two movies and a coupla whiskies later I thought I would be sufficiently
ready to pass out. Not so, said the cattle-class seat under my extremely
numb ass. Despite me fortunately having a little extra leg room being
behind the galley, my chair did its utmost to prevent me from any
semblance of sleep. Fortunately I had the company of a pretty, young
(married) South-African-turned-German girl through the flight. Well, I
had the company of her and her 7 month old child.

The food on the flight turned out to be quite good. Good for prison
food, that is. The taste improved immensely after a swig of whisky.

A number of bleary-eyed hours later we descended at 5 in the morning
upon a misty, cloudy Frankfurt Airport. Extra security had been put in
place especially for my arrival, but this just involved a quick glimpse
at my passport. And then it was off to find a spot to chill and read my
book on “Terrorism : The new world war” in the middle of a high-alert
facility for a few hours. The whole airport is enabled for wireless lan
– there is so much bandwidth in Europe it is scary.

Fortunately my experince at JIA taught me an important lesson – find
where you need to be early!! So just over an hour before my boarding
time I headed off through customs in search of gate A28.
And am I glad I did – it took nearly half an hour to get to the gate for
my flight. The gate was also moved twice after I found the right one,
but in the end I found a plane to Helsinki.

Landing in Helsinki was amazing. As we descended all one could see was
the odd house or factory in between the trees, and white snow coating
everything. Fortunately it was a beautiful sunny day which just made it
even more spectacular.

The airport turned out to be tiny, with a handful of planes parked
outside. We were quickly off the plane and out to collect baggage and do
the customs thing again, which was basically a non-event.
Fortunately, despite my lateness and the changing of the terminals my
suitcase managed to find me quite easily.

A short taxi ride found me in Espoo, at the Scandic Hotel, a first class
hotel with indoor swimming pool and four saunas on the sixth floor. They
are also running a wireless lan for any guest to use – broadband speeds
(up to 2 Meg/s) for 15 Euros flat fee. I really should’ve bought a card
before I left, but time beat me on that one. A scary thought is that the
network is unencrypted. Very bad, in my opinion, but its not my problem yet.

I think that is where this episode ends. Be sure to catch the next
installment – featuring Shaun catching a snow-covered train, how to buy
a wireless lan card in finland, and how to get a bus to stop when you’re
waiting at a bus stop. Look forward also to an account of Helsinki, the
capital city, and information on why your cellphone and credit card
probably will not work in Europe.

Here’s hoping your weather is worse than mine…

Regards to everybody,