Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Tallinn Vacation part 2

Sightseeing day. We slept in to about 9 AM and had to hustle downstairs to make the 10 AM breakfast cutoff. That sounds like not much but you try getting a 2 year old to do anything.

Breakfast at Scandic hotels (it’s a Hilton brand here in the Nordic and Baltics I stay at alot when traveling) is pretty standard. Plates of cured meats, various cheeses, pickles, 6 kinds of yogurt (it is still Europe), bowls of various granola mixes. For the foreigners they add powdered scrambled eggs and some suspect bacon. Needless to say while on my Euro adventure I have learned to eat yogurt and granola for breakfast. The Scandinavians love an open face sandwich w/ a slice of cheese, a slice of meat and a cucumber or tomato. They will make 3-4 of these in various configurations and eat them w/ a cafĂ© latte. Sophia ended breakfast for us with a burp that kinda got away from her. No one had an appetite after that.

Now to the bus tour. We have found a nice generic bus tour is a good starter for any new city. You hit the major landmarks and can navigate back to the things that are interesting. We nearly missed our bus as Sophie dropped something foul and required a quick change just as the bus approached. I apologize for all the scatology but traveling w/ a 2 year old is a whirlwind all its own, just want to give you a taste. The tour was alternating in Finnish and English and we got a decent overview. It lacked any historical detail which I would have liked but we made the circuit and added a few sites that Tina had not planned for us. See the Group 1 pics for more detail.

After the bus stopped, we had a 1 hour walking tour through the old city. There is an Upper and Lower city and they are primarily 600 years old. The Upper city was occupied by the occupiers de jour (German, Russian, Swede, Dane etc.) and features a palace that each new group knocked down and replaced with something more to their taste. The Russians were last and frankly their design choices are nowhere near as interesting as their current games shows (I will get something down about the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune tomorrow; it is on par w/ Mexican game shows. Take that in for a moment and yes, it is that funny). The Lower city has always been where the Estonians lived and has changed little in those 600 years. To get a flavor on this I recommend reading up on the Hanseatic League (Tallinn was called Reval back then) on Wikkipedia or some such. As the Lower city never really was much interested in the Upper's comings and goings, the Uppers thought it best to put a wall around the Upper City to match the one surrounding the whole town. It is well worth the trip to stand under these massive (10' thick in some places) stone walls that the city has grown around. There are 20 some towers still there and all are impressive. Group 2 pics are from the walking tour.

Lunch at some Indian place on the Town Square. Pretty forgettable but it always is a crack up to see white women wearing traditional Indian clothes.

Next stop the Estonian History Museum. They actually have 2 history museums and this was the part from olden times to 1900. Did I mention it had 5 rooms and that is counting the lobby and coat check? Estonia only has 1.1 million people so let’s cut them some slack. The museum was great for a 6 year old and strangely featured an old woman in each room who clearly is stationed there permanently. She sits by a space heater reading until someone comes in at which point she stands up and hovers behind you. They made no attempt to talk to us and nodded in the affirmative no matter the question. I assume this is what they do with pensioners as it seemed unlikely that Grandma know alot about wheellock rifles. They had a weapons room containing some weapons from the umpteen million wars that have been fought here and some others they must have found cheap on E-bay such as the old US Navy Colt Revolver but which seemed to have nothing to do with the history of Estonia (Gurka knives?). The money room was cool less for the money through history (you tend to pile up old coins when you are on a busy conquistador street) and more for the old maps in the room. There were 'new' world maps spaced about 200 years apart showing the know Nordic/Baltic world at the time. Finally is the sort of timeline room starting with hut done up to be from the really olden times, through several conquests including the beheading exhibit (cue the 6 year old) on through the various times Russia conquered/annexed/absorbed/ Estonia. Each room had a nice lady and one lady had a full beard.

From there we just wandered the streets a bit, killing time till dinner. Sophia tends to the extremes of stubbornness and we fought a running (and losing) battle all day to keep gloves on her even though the temp was around 32 F. Back to the hotel for diapering, resupply etc. and then the car ran out of gas. We voted against venturing out for dinner and had a couple of pizzas sent up.

Trying to get everyone to sleep in a single room is an interesting challenge, we all have to stay quiet long enough for J to drop off (almost instantly) and S to crying (varies up to hours). It’s a fragile, tense time and the slightest thing can ruin the whole deal. After achieving the perfection of silence for a minute or two, Sophie lets slip a small fart. Say what you want but farts are funny. You could feel everyone trying not to crack up until Sophia stood up and announced "I tooted, Yay Sophie". I carry intense bruising from where Tina attempted to slap me back into silence and it took a good 45 minutes for calm to settle in again. I don't know where Sophia hears this stuff.

Click here for the site w/ Day Two pics:

Group 1 - On the Bus

  1. This is a statue of a naked lady, nuff said.
  2. This is my sister-in law's name and I have never seen it anywhere but on her driver's license. It’s either a phone store or some type of gentlemen's club, I couldn't be sure.
  3. This is the Estonia singing thing. I don't recall the name but the deal is that they freaking love choirs. Every 5 years they have a huge choir festival and up to 30 K people can be onstage at once in that shell. I can't decide what is more ludicrous, 1) 30,000 people singing at once or 2) an intense love for choral music. Their split from the Soviets in the late 80s was centered on the song festivals. They doubled as political rallies and their's is dubbed the 'Singing Revolution'. There was basically no violence, I think the Soviets just thought, this choral singing thing is really lame, and you can have your damn country.
  4. Did you know that 1) the ocean can freeze and 2) ships can go through it? I think Oliver Stone should check on the Titanic, something doesn't add up.
  5. This is an ancient convent that one of the Russians blew up. We will go back on Friday so I'll know more then about who did it but the surviving walls are truly incredible.

Group 2 - Walking Tour

  1. Alexander Nevsky cathedral. The tour guide said not to be impressed as it was basically a copy of some other Russian orthodox churches but I couldn't help but be. Growing up a Protestant, all the gilt, icons and ornamentation just blow me away. No pics inside but we got a postcard showing the icons and stuff. I don't know if we will go to Russian orthodox hell but in trying to light a candle under a pic of a black Jesus (is this where I drop the 'holla'?), we snuffed out the big candle. It got cloudy for a minute and the earth trembled slightly but we slid out and didn't get caught.
  2. see 1
  3. see 1
  4. see 1
  5. OMG, I just realized there are 70+ pics in this collection, no way I can comment on each so here are groupings:
  6. 7 pics of the Town Hall building and surrounding square. It’s the oldest town hall in Europe still in use.
  7. 6 pics of 3 churches. One of them was damaged in WWII and the Soviets (never big on the opiate of the masses, decided to rebuild it as a concert hall). The site now has WiFi (see next to last pic).
  8. 9 pics of us standing on or in front of things. The first is a well that provided for the whole town. They would sacrifice cats to it so that it would not dry up. Sacrifice means killing the cat and throwing it in. Needless to say, the Plague hit hard in Estonia.
  9. 5 pics of things that kill people from the museum. The last is a favorite of mine.
  10. 40 or something from Around Town.
  11. 4 signs that I liked. Can't identify #1, #2 is the coolest gutter I have ever seen, #3 is the first WiFi bombed out church I have seen, and #4 just cracked me up.

Tallinn Vacation part 1

Note: I fixed the link to the Tallinn pics.

So Tina planned a trip to Tallinn, Estonia. Yeah, I wasn't sure where it was either. Turns out its just across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki and almost due East from Stockholm. We had a bunch of flight vouchers we picked up on our way back to Sweden from our Christmas trip in the US. Through the mystery of beuacracy that is all things Swedish and especially SAS (the airline not the British commando group), we had a limited selection of where we could use the vouchers. We had heard that Tallinn was nice and it fit the voucher profile so we booked it and off we went.

If this post is Tallinn part 1, then part 0 was that Sophia got the Noric Flu over the Easter Holiday. BTW, Easter in Sweden means a half day Thursday and all of Monday and Friday off. Because Sweden is a totally secular socialist country (has a million old churches that appearantly no one uses) the stores etc. are closed Friday and Monday but open on the weekend. Anyway, the Nordic flu is a puking disease that in an adult makes you vomit non-stop for 24 hours and for kids cause random vomiting for approx. 2 weeks. Loads of fun let me tell you. The point there is that JB and I almost didn't bring the girls along and in fact we almost cancelled the trip entirely. At the last minute, though we figured if Tina and Sophie are going to be stuck inside anyway, might as well be someplace where we have room service and maids to deal with vomit covered bedding instead of hauling it all up and down from the 4th floor apartment.

Travelling with kids is usually a bit stressful. They tend to wander, complain etc. Come to think of it, I must be a pain to travel with too for the exact same reasons. For some reason this trip got off to a great start, no whining or wandering, arrived in plenty of time and things are looking good for a relaxing trip. Every adventure has mishaps and its about how you hanld them not prevention. Prevention is impossible especially travelling with my wife.

Tina has a sort of royal sense in that she fundamentally doesn't think that rules apply to her. She follows most rules but in a way that shows that its only because they happen to coincide with her interests. Case in point with travelling, she always insists on breaking little cross border rules. For example, we have spent hours at the Mexican border because she insists on brining back fruit and other tihngs forbidden. Today's example was scissors in Jackson's carry-on luggae. We were of course stopped and I had to throw the things away myself before Tina started to pull the "I understand you have rules but you need to understand they don't apply to me". I think its a relation back to her Indian roots. In India they seem to have a kind of fluid system of rules. Very subjective and open to intreprtation.

Back to the trip. All is well till we board the bus to go to the plane. We are in the international terminal at Arlanda which is all highly polished dark wood floors and modernistic design. We get on the bus and drive through what looks like a shanty town behind the airport full of evil looking squatters and fires in trash cans right out of Gangs of New York. Round the corner and there is the De Havilland Q400 waiting to take us to a fiery death. Planes with spinny things on the front are the best of 1929 technology and I refuse to fly in them. Have you ever seen a movie about people crashing that didn't involve properlers? The flight was fortunately uneventful and only gut-wrenchingly scary part was watching the landing gear go up and down right outside our window. It was loud and seemed very impractical.

Taxi from the airport should be 120 Kroonies (love the currency) or $10. We hit bumper to bumper rush hour traffic worsened by the soccer match that night pitting Russian vs. Estonia. The country of Estonia has the population of greater Pima county. I wonder how good their soccer team could be? Tax bill = $23 (switching to US from here out so you don't have to do the math) but at least the taxi man apologized profusely and I had to force him to take a small tip. The key here is that he was a nice guy. Very un-Swedish.

Hotel is nice, biggest one we have had in Europe. J has a nice couch bed, Sophia got a baby bed and Tina and I get the "standard" bed which is two twins pushed togehter and held in place by a super thin Euro mattress. The view is of the main drag through town and Old Town is visible in the distance. Not a bad setup at all. Next door is a casino featuring a 2 table No-Limit freezeout tournament on Saturday night. I am hoping to make it.

Dinner was at Olde Hansa a mediveal place near the town square. The building is from the 14th century and the inside of the place was beautiful. All rough-hewn lumber, candle-lit. Exaclty like you picture a medieval tavern from the olden days. The 'serving wench' played the part well. Not too over the top to be annoying but never broke character. She was a bit older than the muffin-heads you would get at a place like this in the US and not so Renesacne Fair-ish which would have driven me insane. Huzzah!

The spiced wine was crap, just like the Glog (need the o w/ 2 dots over it key but not possible) in Sweden. Appetizer was a sampler plate of seafood stuff, mostly forms of smoked/smoked+grilled salmon. Tina and Sophie liked the boiled quail eggs and Jackson killed the salmon quickly. The white bread w/ nuts was tasty and they had a rather tasteless herbs plus cottage cheese thing to dip it in. A dark bread also allegedly had meat inside but we couldn't taste it, it tasted good just not meaty. They do give you forks and knives but part of the game is to only use your knife like in the olden days. Dinner was way better than the appetizer. Mine in particular was great: 6 sausages, 2 each of Bear (Bear!!!!!!), Wild Boar and Elk, spiced turnips (tasted like squash), some super tart berries (common local stuff like Lingonberry, Cloudberry, Cowberry and mabye a Blueberry), the best saurekraut I have ever eaten and a really good horseradish for dipping the sausages. J had creamy almond chicken drumsticks, pickeled vegetables, a bean-bag (this was easily the coolest visually and a pretty good flavor too, it was a pasty that looks like a pouch tied at the top filled with a bean paste, you hold the bunched up part and bite the 'sack' bit which has the beans) and a barley bean + nut mix that was awesome but that he wouldn't touch it. Tina had the same sides with a good cut of filet mignon covered with a so-so sause. Re-reading I think I underplayed this meal but it was quite good and well worth the $80 (total w/ tip). Coming from Sweden, this was about half the cost and 10x the flavor of Swedish food.

Picked up a bag of roasted, sugared and cinnamoned nuts on the way back to the hotel doding drunks winding their way back from the soccer match. We turned in pretty early as we just moved an hour from the daylight savings thing and then another coming here. Circadian rythms are a mystery to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Home Entertainment Dreaming

I am not the geekiest guy in the world but I do love my electronic toys. I like to think its not just for the sake of the things themselves but sometimes its hard to tell. I have been thinking a lot about out new house (not the one we are building to sell of course, but the next one). I want to start planning for the totally over-the-top full-home entertainment system and I want comments from anyone with suggestions.

Forgive my ignorance as I have a lot of basic research to do but any pointers would be greatly appreciated. I will list the things I know I want here and might link to another page with design elements once I know what I will have. We should be in our new place in 1 year so there is lots of time to dream.

General Stuff:

  • The whole system must be silent. Machine noise that is so soothing to me, drives my wife crazy. Actually crazy, she on more than one occasion has threatened to throw her laptop off the balcony if the fan does not shut up. I have seen cabinets that have a kind of mesh across the front so you don't see all blinky lights but not sure what to put all this gear in so that it will be quiet.
  • Wireless Network - not much more to say here just that I will need to plan for full coverage. I do wonder if I should run some cable drops in select rooms.
  • Remote access to the internal network, ftp(?), a web server
  • Some type of network appliance to hold files, music, pictures, video etc. It should be accessible from the whole house. TV, stereo, computers etc. should play all forms of media
  • For music I like the Itunes streaming concept. It lets me manage it all from one place but I would really like to see some nice DRM killer. Its my music...I paid for it.
  • I have given in to the fact that I will have to have some kind of "server room" or wire closet. I plan to just mount some cabinets in the garage.

Living Room:

HDTV (I don't know what plasma/HD etc. is at all and size is TBD)
Music System (accessing CD, DVD and network based music)
Minimum remotes

Kids/Game Room:

Is HDTV required here? Do the gaming platforms care about this?
XBOX (maybe 2 in here if I can fit 2 TVs)
Music System (accessing CD, DVD and network based music)


Music System (accessing CD, DVD and network based music)

drops for all the TV stuff in the Master Bedroom
Music System (accessing CD, DVD and network based music)


Music System (accessing CD, DVD and network based music)
PDA based control?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Starting Again

Tragically, my old blog site died a few months back. For those of you that read it, perhaps its not so tragic but at least I found it amusing. Of course I never bothered to backup any of the postings and they are now in the ether. Many thanks to Spencer for hosting while it was alive. This time around I am going for a 3rd party hosting approach so they can handle the backup in the event of a disaster (and working in the computer field I can safely say that its always an inevitability).

I think I can hit the highlights of the old site by saying that I flew to Europe while watching a midget drama, was nearly killed in a soccer riot, got lost going home drunk, complained about books and grumbled extensively about being away from home. If you found any of that amusing, stay tuned. If not, I will try to minimize the midget stuff and see how it goes.

I will do a couple of intro posts to setup the background about what I do (very boring but I get alot of questions from my non-geek family so please skip those if you are geekstatus=high) and why we are in Sweden etc. and then start a (hopefully) regular cyle.