Archive for 2013

December 29th, 2013

Anniversary in Mauritius

We have been married over ten years now and celebrated our anniversary with a trip to a beach resort. We have visited Caribbean both on our honeymoon and five year anniversary, but this time our travel agency Helin Matkat advised to go to the Indian Ocean instead.

After much back and forth, we selected Mauritius as our destination. The original plan was to go their during the summer time (our anniversary is in August), but this was scrapped as the weather down there and up here would have been mostly the same. Instead, we went to Estonia for a short summer trip.

So, we moved our trip to December. Finnish Independence Day gave as an extra free day, so we didn’t lost that much of working and school days.

The flights were routed through Paris CDG and we packed several days worth of clothing in our carry-on baggage, as luggage has tendency to disappear in CDG. Most probably due to this precautions we had no problems with our luggage both ways. The flights were surprisingly easy considering that they were night flights both ways and our entourage (eight, five and almost two year old children) is not the easiest one. Both Air France and Air Mauritius had good service on the long-haul flights, and Finnair was also faultless service to and fro Paris.

Our hotel, Shandrani, was a few kilometers from the airport — conveniently close for transportation and inconveniently close for airplane noise. Fortunately, Mauritius is not exactly a mega-hub, so the planes were far and between.

We had superb villa with one bedroom for kids, big living room with bed for adults, and a patio facing the lagoon. The hotel was all-inclusive without any small prints; everything was included, also some motored watersports — that we didn’t try.

Food was good and sometimes even excellent, and there was plenty of it. Service was really, really friendly, and there were a lot of staff in the hotel. The only bummers were slow internet connection (90 kbps) and prohibition to take kids to sauna.

We took one day excursion from Mautourco. Dedicated minibus and driver cost around €120 for half a day, and it took us to see a Hindu holy lake, seven coloured earth, and a crocodile-turtle zoo, among others. Again, excellent service from the driver throughout the journey.

Besides that trip, we spent our time mostly at the pools or on the beaches. Boys and I played football on a couple of occasions, and also some tennis with the whole family. The kids club at the hotel took the boys to banana boat trip, tennis and golf lessons, and henna tattooing sessions. Again, all included.

We also met the founder and CEO of our travel agency. She lives in the island during Finnish winters, and visits the people the agency has sent to the island to say hello and to discuss about the trip. Very good way of getting customer feedback, and I’m sure that we will ask quotation from them next time we are going somewhere faraway.

All in all, it was very relaxing trip. No need to carry wallet, keys or mobile phone, always good weather, all food and drinks were included, and nobody needed tipping. I can warmly recommend both Mauritius and Shandrani.

November 30th, 2013

Dark and warm November

It has been a very warm November here in Finland. Of course, warmness is a relative concept — +5-10C is not considered warm in most of the countries, but for us it is a very high temperature for November.

It has also rained a lot. During the past two years, the rain has fallen as snow — and we would now have probably 30-50 centimeters of snow, if the temperature had been lower.

This has caused the month to be extremely dark. Going to kindergarten and work happens in twilight and wet black tarmac sucks all light when driving. The difference between this and snowy landscape couldn’t be bigger.

Thus, the month has been spent in working — and fortunately also by packing to our anniversary trip to Mauritius, on December 4th. More about that later.

October 31st, 2013

London called

Aapo had a couple of days mid-term holiday in the middle of October, and we got surprisingly inexpensive trip to London, including flight tickets and accommodation, so we popped over to spend four days — Thursday to Sunday — there.

As usual, we had to get up early — five at the morning — to catch the flight. Our initial plan was to go to the airport and visit a loung for breakfast. The place was packed and the queues to security check were longer than I’ve ever seen in Helsinki-Vantaa. For a short time, we had a nagging feeling that not eating breakfast was a mistake, but fortunately the queue moved forward with Finnish efficiency, and we had enough time for a fast breakfast in Finnair lounge.

Both I and Sanna were a bit tired from the daily grind and the children were too excited about travelling, so almost the whole trip was a nightmare — telling someone to behave every five minutes or so.

So one can guess how glad we were in Novotel hotel when the staff told that there is too many guests (five) for their rooms. Every staff member in the lobby was French and thus we were not apologised or even told about any options. Fortunately, a senior member of staff handled the situation and checked whether we thought that we could fit into the room without issues. It was not even a small room, so we beamingly accepted.

Children continued to horse around also during lunch and Seela was so fussy that we were thinking just going back to hotel and staying the evening in. I had a couple business meetings, so we dragged ourselves to the city — and gradually the children started to behave a bit better.

Friday was spent in Legoland Windsor. We’ve been there once before, so the park was not that magical experience as in the first time, but we had really good time and could reset the hassles of the previous day.

On Saturday we went to shopping and tactically left Lego shop as the last one, so the children behaved very well, and everyone had surprisingly good time considering that shopping is not the favourite hobby for our guys. I bought a couple books and some clothes, and guys got Legos. Good saldo for the day.

We visited natural history museum on Sunday morning. There were no entrance fees and the museum steadily filled with people the whole morning. When we were leaving, there were long queues also inside the museum to dinosaurus exhibition, so we had the perfect timing — virtually no queues and minimum waiting before the museum opened.

Our plane was due to leave at 18:40 and as there was nothing to do, we decided to go to the airport early. That was a mistake that we found when we were there. British Airways accepts baggage drops only two hours before the flight, so we killed a couple of hours before being able to check the baggage and go through the security. And as a cherry on top, the lounge we were trying to get in was full, and we were denied access. Fortunately, we didn’t have too much time to spend anymore, so after buying some groceries and candies, it was time to go to the plane.

The kids promptly fell asleep on the plane and woke up without major incidents in Helsinki, walked to the car, slept while driving home, and went peacefully to their beds. This process was in stark contrast against Thursday hassles, but I didn’t complain.

September 30th, 2013

DrupalCon in Prague

I spent a week in Prague attending, sponsoring, and volunteering in DrupalCon, and have finally recovered from the event.

First, a few words about Prague. It is stunningly beautiful city, as it was not leveled during World War II. There are monuments, castles, towers, bridges, and houses from several centuries – making the city layered and interesting. I didn’t have too much time to stroll around the city, as my calendar was filled with meetings and dinners, but I was able to squeeze in visits to the castle, Charles’ bridge and the astronomical clock. I also spent some time in the shopping malls without finding anything worth buying.

Most of the time was spent at DrupalCon. It was hosted conveniently next to a metro station and it took about ten minutes from our hotel in the city centre to the congress centre with metro. Not bad.

As usual, DrupalCon is a lot of fun and meeting both old friends and new acquaintances. As my company was sponsoring the event, I spent a lot of time at our booth, including also setting it up and dismantling it. I was also a track chair for business and strategy track and visited a few of sessions on my track. I was thrilled to note that all of them were excellent (as expected, of course…)

I flew back on Friday evening after popping in code sprints and the weekend was spent recovering.

In two weeks I’ll be in Lego building event in Ilmajoki with my boys and friends. And then to London for an extended weekend. This seems very good season travel-wise.

August 25th, 2013

DrupalCamp Baltics

I spent last Friday in Tallinn, enjoying the sessions at DrupalCamp Baltics. I’m a bit biased to say that the event was a blast — I’m also part of the organising committeen.

But it was a blast, the biggest and best Drupal event in Baltics in my humble opinion. A number of excellent speakers discussing about relevant and interesting topics, surprisingly lot of discussion, and really good venue. Or have you ever heard a conference venue that sponsors a pair of dancers to the after party? Hotel Euroopa did that. The after party was very nice on other fronts, too.

Tallinn has become one of my favourite cities. It has a lot to do and see, there’s plethora of good and inexpensive restaurants and cafés, the hotels are in top-notch shape, and everything just works. Like in Finland, but still differently.

July 30th, 2013

Estonian travelogue

We returned from a seven day trip in Estonia a few days ago, and finally got enough time to write about it.

Our route was Pärnu — Kuressaare in Saaremaa — and finally Tallinn. This was the first time that I’ve had my car abroad and also the first time to drive it in a big ferry ship.

The trip started at six o’clock in the morning when we headed towards the harbour in Helsinki. The instructions from Tallink Silja were quite short, and I had a nagging feeling that we are in a wrong place for our entire waiting time. Fortunately that was not the case and we could drive to the ship among the first ones.

The ships are huge! It felt like driving on a highway tunnel made of steel — two decks of cars packed on five lines half a meter apart.

We had booked a breakfast buffet for the morning and it was good choice despite the food being mediocre at best. There is way better food served on ferries to Stockholm for some reason.

Driving the car out of the ship was also a breeze and then we were already on our way to Pärnu. The hotel room was not available immediately and we spent some time strolling in the town — I was mildly surprised to see that Pärnu is actually quite big town. For some reason, I’ve always thought that all Estonian cities are small — except Tallinn and Tarto, of course. Glad to be proven wrong.

Pärnu’s main attraction is the beach; several kilometers of pristine sand and a lot of people. The water is shallow, so it is very kid-friendly. Of course, on these altitudes, the water temperature is not exactly tropical even if the air is warm.

We make a couple of stints to the beach, splashed a lot in our hotel’s (Tervis) swimming pool and sauna area, and enjoyed the food in inexpensive restaurants. On one day, we visited the local activity park in which you could follow and climb a track made on the trees. I supervised the two younger children while Sanna and Aapo went through the higher tracks. We also visited Tervis Paradiis spa and spend times on floating on the pools and enjoying the slides.

After three days we drove to Kuressaare through Muhu island. Muhu hosts Pädaste manor whose restaurant has been nominated the best in Estonia. Unfortunately, they don’t serve dinner to kids at all, so we had to opt for lunch. The food was delicious and the scenery really nice, but I made a mistake of giving Seela (18 months) my iPad to play before the food arrived. When I took the pad away, she threw a huge tantrum, cried through the mail, and did not eat a bite.

On our way to Kuressaare, we visited Kaali meteorite crater. A few thousand years ago a meteor has fallen from the skies and exploded on the ground, creating 22 meters deep crater. If you happen to visit Saaremaa, I strongly encourage to pop over to Kaali.

Also our next hotel was a spa hotel and we ended up visiting the pools twice a day. Kuressaare town is way smaller than Pärnu, so we focused mostly on doing nothing. We visited the medieval fortress in the harbour — also highly recommended — and ate well.

For the last night we had reserved an apartment from Tallinn. Our boys were disappointed to find out that there is no pool in the building and made a couple ultimatums for going back to Pärnu or Kuressaare.

The apartment was spacious and cheap, but somewhat dirty. The sheets were really thin, there were dust on the floor, and it has generally a bit rundown feeling. It looked fabulous on pictures and after two really good hotels, it frankly felt like a disappointment.

Fortunately, we didn’t stay there too long, but spent our time shopping and visiting Lennusadam, the new museum in seaplane harbour. Again, highly recommended. I’ve never before been inside a military submarine, but now I’m that experience richer. And there’s plethora of other things to explore. Very well designed and executed museum in all aspects.

We boarded to ship without issues also in Tallinn and after two hours on the sea, we drove home. Compared to typical central European trips, we had still some time to spare at home and nobody felt exhausted due to waiting in the airports.

We will do this again on a summer in the future.

June 30th, 2013

Two first summer trips

Finland has enjoyed exceptionally good weather for the most of the summer — temperatures are high and raining is scarce.

I’ve been enjoying the weather mostly by working, but there have been a couple short trips in Finland during June.

As you might already know, the midsummer is a big festival in Finland. Almost everybody goes to close to water. We had our festivities in Northern Carelia, on my parents’ cottage on the shores of lake Höytiäinen.

The trip was almost cancelled by a stomach bug; both our boys were sick on Thursday, the day of travelling, and we decided to postpone the trip by a day. Friday is the day, so we pondered our chances and got enough guts to make the six hour car trip.

Everything was fine and dandy on Friday, but I got sick at night and suffered really terrible stomach flu for the whole Saturday and half of Sunday. My midsummer festivities consisted mostly of sleeping, but fortunately everyone else had fun.

I got back to Espoo by train on Sunday, not the best train ride of my life, but fortunately got better by evening. Sanna and the rest of the family continued to Taivalkoski, and I spent my days working.

We had a family regathering here in Oulu on yesterday morning. I flew here — the taxi trip from home to Helsinki airport actually cost more than the ticket with Norwegian. We’ve spent our time here socialising with friends, buying Legos from sales, and spending some quality time in Nallikari beach. The weather was not very beach-like, humid and cold, but we had really good football match — boys against fathers. They won us.

Tomorrow, we head back to Helsinki region through Jyväskylä. Six to seven hours in car, and then we are home.

May 31st, 2013

Summer holiday ponderings

Summer is soon here and Finland is currently enjoying record breaking temperatures — albeit only in Lapland, capital region is just warm.

I’ve had an itch for travelling for some weeks already, and I seem to be unable to scratch it properly. I’ve been hanging around travel sites an hour a day, but I can’t find anything really catching.

One plan — currently the default one — is to drive to Estonia (with ferry, not through Russia) and spend a few days in Pärnu and Saaremaa. Most probably very idyllic places with little stress. Good food and hopefully also good weather.

Another alternative would be to go to the Central Europe, for example, to Munich (and Legoland), but I don’t find it very inspiring. I just visited Barcelona and will go to Prague in September to visit DrupalCon.

London is always nice and we had a plan to go there with my parents and my sister’s family, but my parents decided to go to Greece instead. This is probably the reason for my itchiness. And anyhow, I’ll visit London on business quite frequently.

Then I’ve been scanning US and Canada, either through Iceland or directly, but nothing good has been found. There was one idea of going to Las Vegas and Grand Canyon, but the temperature hovers around 40C in July and that is probably too hot for everyone except me.

Finland is an option, too. We have been pondering on going to Ahvenanmaa archipelago. Never been there and it should be a place like no other in Finland — people are mono-lingually Swedish speaking and have their own culture.

Soon we need to do some decisions, as I would like to avoid spending the whole summer either home or in our summer cottage.