Archive for January, 2007

January 29th, 2007

Thailand travelogue, part II

I’m writing this back in Finland. No more constant sunshine and happily smiling people — instead -20C and long johns.

I got the previous piece posted on an Internet café nearby our hotel — blessed are the USB sticks. After that I just checked my emails with my mobile phone every day and kept myself out of the net. Purifying experience in some sense, quite horrifying on the other hand to be perfectly honest…

The days in Hua Hin were quite similar. We got up around eight, worked ourselves to the breakfast room, ate good and basked in the sunshine on the pool area until lunchtime. Then Aapo was brought to our hotel room, fed and put into a nap. Someone watched over (usually me) and read a book.

After naptime we visited the town, sometimes we had errands to run, but usually it was just lazy strolling around and looking for something interesting.

On Wednesday we met with my friend and his family in a Japanese restaurant on Market Village shopping mall. The food and the company was excellent, but Aapo was so tired that someone needed to be with him all the time, no exceptions.

Thursday afternoon we had a trek to elephant village, and had one hour ride on top of a huge Indian elephant. The ride was surprisingly bouncy, like being in a boat in a mild strom in slow motion. After the ride, I ended up being a goal-keeper against an elephant. It kicked pretty vigorously and managed to score despite my best efforts.

The major event on Friday was visiting Starbucks, so you can imagine how laidback the holiday got.

Sunday was fully reserved for travelling to Finland. We woke up at five in the morning, finalised packing and checked out from the hotel. Our private transport to the airport took three hours, then three hours waiting at the airport, and ten hours flight to Finland.

The flight was on time in Helsinki, no bags were lost or damaged, my car was intact in the parking lot and we could fit all our belongings inside for the final leg to home.

There were 30 centimeters snow on the ground, and we had to shovel our way through the door before unpacking the car. The rest of the evening was spent on unpacking, eating and having a sauna before dozing off.

Delicious delicacies

Postres is a quite young restaurant that has skyrocketed to the group of top notch restaurants in Helsinki. Run by a few young and talented chefs and other restaurant professionals, the joint has made its mark to Helsinki restaurant scene.

Postres on Esplanadi in Helsinki
The menu is based on sets only. In other words, there’s no à la carte list. You can select from three different full menus — seven, five or three dishes — or have a four dessert menu (yes, you read it right; just desserts and nothing else). Wines can be ordered by glass or bottle, or then you can have a specific wine menu to accompany the selected meal menu. The food is excellent, and the desserts just delicious.

The service we got was the best ever in Helsinki. Our son was just about a year, and he was treated like a real guest and not just an extension of mother. All of wishes were satisfied and the staff was also proactive towards us and our son. A real gem among Finnish restaurant service.

The place is usually packed, so reserve your table a few days or a couple of weeks beforehand. Try to get a window table, as the views to Esplanadi Park are magnificent especially on summer nights and crispy winter days in February.

www.postres.fi, Eteläesplanadi 8, Helsinki, Finland, +358 9 663 300

Continental charm

Café Ekberg on Bulevardi is one of the traditional cafés in Helsinki — they have been established during the Russian era, and for most parts have stayed the same during all these years.

Café Ekberg on Bulevardi in Helsinki
The café is famous for the buffer breakfasts, and city dwellers with enough money and time usually start their day there. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting a little more — I’m probably been spoiled by the Finnish hotels’ breakfasts that have several dozens of items. The breakfast was not bad, but somewhat limited (maybe to 20 different items). The price is not bad, less than €10, and the atmosphere is very nice — especially during the summer.

During the day and evening, the café is also a good place to hang out and watch people on Bulevardi.

www.cafeekberg.fi, Bulevardi 9, Helsinki, Finland, +358 9 6811 8660

January 22nd, 2007

Thailand Travelogue

I’m writing this in a spacious Hilton suite in Hua Hin. For the time being, life couldn’t be better.

Our trip to Thailand started on late Wednesday evening, when I, Sanna, Aapo and my parents packed into our car and drove to the airport. Check-in, security check and passport control were all so swift that we had a couple of extra hours to burn in a restaurant. Fortunately the pizza was good.

We had a direct flight with Finnair to Bangkok. As Aapo was travelling with us, we got a bassinet seat in such a row that had only two seats on the righthand side. One pair for us and other for the parents. Aapo had slept a few hours in the airport and was a bit too active during the first three hours of flight.

Finally Sanna got him to sleep and we napped for a few hours. My dad had only brief encounters (2 x 15 min) with sleep, so my three plus hours were quite a good achievement after all.

On hot and humid Bangkok new airport (100 days old), our private transport was waiting for us. There were total three people escorting us to the hotel: the guide, the driver and a lady whose function remained mystery.

The hotel, Sofitel Silom, was a really nice experience. We got promoted to an executive rooms and it was fantastic. This was probably because of Aapo — all Thais are just so fond of him, as he is a bit chubby and cheerful. I haven’t ever seen such an interest to a baby from both women and men. I know and Sanna knows that Aapo is just delightful little boy, but now everybody else seems to agree — even if he’s crying his little lungs out…

We arrived at the hotel in late afternoon, so there was just enough time to wander around for food and some in-room refreshments from the local 7-Eleven — the store seems to find its way to all scrubby neighbourhoods. We also visited the pool on fifth floor together with a sauna and a hot tub.

I was a tad worried about the Thai food and my parents — or maybe the combination. They are not very strong on new tastes, but fortunately they have enjoyed every single meal we have had. The first one was in a seafood restaurant, and they are really cautious of shrimps and others, so it was a bit challenge to find something made from pork, chicken, beef or duck that is also mild enough. But I succeeded then and now it has become easier.

Friday morning was spent on Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple. I’ve been there once before, so I knew what to expect. The rest of the crew were really astoundished with the colours, variety and craftmanship of the temples. This is a really cool place to visit, and inexpensive as well.

The afternoon was spent in the biggest shopping center in the South-East Asia. Initially we went there for some food, and ended up wandering the corridors for a few hours — made some bargain finds and there were still places to discover. We called quits, sat a moment in a Starbucks and then briefly visited a few interesting stores in the neighbouring luxury mall.

We visited a small and nice Japanese restaurant nearby the hotel. My mom surprised me and Sanna by tasting sushi voluntarily. Once again, the waiters seemed to be more interested in Aapo than serving anyone else.

We took a boat trip on Saturday. Our aim was to hop on a commuter boat, but somehow missed the right pier and ended up paying 20 times the price but got a private boat that took us to the canals, too. A couple of good looking stupas, a lot of other boats and unbelievable amount of shanty huts. Nice way to spend a couple of hours, and the price was still about 30 euros for five people.

Pool allured us again and this time there were sunshine on the deck, so we stayed a bit longer than usual. After sunbathing, we went to dine in a very nearby restaurant and had ice creams on an Italian joint almost next to the hotel. I and Sanna left Aapo to my parents and visited the Silom shopping area.

I was not expecting much anything, but I couldn’t imagine how the place looked and felt like Neo-Tokyo from Gibson’s novels. There were such a mass of people, small stores selling everything and between, skytrain terminus hanging above us, neonlights and constant noise from the traffic and the people. Sort of claustrophobic, but partially also enjoyable.

For today we had reserved a private transport to Hua Hin. It arrived on time, picked us and so we left towards south. After three hours of zigzagging on the highway (and the driver was not driving that fast or furious), I was more than happy to lay on the sun and take dips in the pool for a couple of hours.

This evening we explored the hotel neighbourhood. There seems to be a bit too much Finns here, as several tailors have their pricelists in Finnish and people say “terve” or “hyvaa paivaa”. For some odd reason, I find it extremely irritating. I’m itching to go somewhere else, but there seems not to be such a place.

Today’s restaurant was mediocre and it just added to the feeling of being in a tourist ghetto. Fortunately, we found a bit better neighbourhood on the other side of the hotel, so things look brighter now. Better looking restaurants and real stores that would be profitable without tourists, too.

I’m continuing writing on Monday afternoon.
Sanna had found a good tailor based on her friend’s experience and the reputation was further reinforced by a nice review on Virtual Tourist. The morning was spent on the pool and we set on our journey around noon. The tailor was supposed to be near our hotel, but we had to walk 45 minutes to get there. Fortunately the place was not a shack but an established-looking tailor with an adjoined silk and Thai paraphernelia shop. Prices were higher than in the main tourist area, but the service was better and somehow I felt more reassured about the quality and not being fooled.

I didn’t buy anything, others made jackets or suits. Someone from the tailors will pick them up tomorrow for the first dress rehearsal, and I’ll fool around hotel with Aapo.

More later, now it’s good time to dip in the pool.

January 14th, 2007

To Thailand

We’ll be travelling to Thailand next Wednesday for a well-deserved holiday. As frequent readers remember, my Christmas holiday break was not exactly relaxing, so now it is time to unwind. And no, we didn’t book this trip because of Christmas, but we’ve been planning to go there for half an year.

We’ll spend three nights in Bangkok and seven in Hua Hin, a beach resort town a couple hundred kilometers south from Bangkok on the eastern sea shore.

The trip will be interesting, as my parents are also travelling with us. They’ve never been outside Europe and as our flight leaves at 23:50 (or something), the trip there might be exhausting for everyone. Hopefully Aapo adjusts to flying and doesn’t cry all the way there. I’ve got some Bob the Builder and Teletubbies with me, so there should be peace as long as my Mac’s battery has power left.

We have all ground transportations fixed, so there should be someone waving a paper with our names on it. No hassles with public buses or taxis — and no horde of Finnish tourists in the same bus.

I’m expecting quite a lot from the hotels, as the service and the attention to detail is very much honoured down there. Especially the pool area in Hua Hin hotel has been much appraised, so basking in the sun, dipping in the pool and some good books would be most of the program during days.

Before the holidays, I need to push three more days to get my clients satisfied and my company’s staff all geared up while I’m gone.

Everything for babies and small children

Mamas & Papas is a fully stocked baby and children stuff superstore located near the Oxford Circus in the very heart of London. If you are a parent of a small child, consider popping over, as the store has a lot of neat items in quite okay prices.

Mamas & Papas store in London
Most, if not all, of the items sold there are Mamas & Papas branded. You can recognise the original manufacturer from some of the items, such as strollers, as only the paint job and covers have been changed to follow the soft grey style of the store.

The selection is the major reason to go there. I’ve seldom been in a baby / children / maternity store that has more items than this store. There is also a nice café on the top floor to rest your feet or attend your child while shopping.

www.mamasandpapas.co.uk, 256-258 Regent Street, London, United Kingdom, +44 870 830 7700

Funky Spanish shoes

Carnaby Street and its surroundings is a true heaven for people looking for shoes. There are a number of shops in walking distance. One of the more stylish ones is Camper shop at Foubert’s Place, half a block from Carnaby Street.

Camper store near Carnaby Street in London
For the uninitiated, Camper is a Spanish shoe brand that produces distinctly different looking shoes. This is not a bad thing. The shoes do blend in well with your clothes, but you can immediately recognise a Camper shoe from the curvy or puffy design. They are also good for walking, not just for displaying.

www.camper.com, 5-7 Foubert’s Place, London, United Kingdom, +44 207 409 3130

Don’t go there

Ramen Seto is a small Japanese eatery near Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, and it has the dubious honour to be the worst restaurant that I’ve experienced in London — not including some stalls in Camden Town Stables Market.

Ramen Seto in London
The food is sort of Japanese, but the taste is more greasy than Asian. I felt almost sick after eating it, and the bad feeling prevailed for a few hours. The restaurant is inexpensive, but I still thought being ripped off.

The joint is located on Kingly Street, a narrow alley parallel to Carnaby Street.

Ramen Seto, 19 Kingly Street, London, United Kingdom, +44 871 332 8396