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,


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