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Day 3 and we bid farewell to Tampere and headed off for our next stopping point, Turku. However, rather than drive straight there I’d planned to head west to the coast and the historic town of Rauma, noted for its well-preserved old town centre.

Unfortunately the weather chose this day not to cooperate, and the closer we approached Rauma the worse the drizzle became. We parked up, got the brolly and raincoat out, and took a wander down the main street.

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[Old Rauma's main street in the rain.]

Rauma has long been a port and in terms of shops the old town was rather reminiscent of Cowes, i.e. lots of nautical tat interspersed with craft shops. Also, assorted cafes, so in light of the weather we popped into one and had, yes, more coffee and doughnuts. We then headed south towards Turku.

Turku is a former capital of Finland and a major port, although it’s compact enough that you can walk around the centre in a couple of hours. We stayed in the Radisson hotel by the river, which was well-located and perfectly adequate, but a bit plain after the 70s styling of the Scandic Rosendahl. We also discovered the Finns’ apparent habit of bringing dogs to hotels, in that hotel reception were unfazed by our complaint about prolonged and very loud barking from an adjacent room, and simply moved us up a floor and to the other end of the hotel (from where we could still, albeit faintly, hear it.) We later saw the hounds in question; a pair of very large Great Danes.

By now the rain had been replaced by sunshine and we went out for a walk. One of the local tourist attractions was the combined Pharmacy Museum and Qwensel House. The former is, as its name suggests, a recreation of an old-style pharmacy, as it would have been in the 19th century, whilst the latter is an 18th-century house of the sort occupied by merchants or members of the lower aristocracy. S likes anything with old jars labelled with weird contents, so she was definitely in her element.

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[S admires old pharmacy jars and equipment. Note the poisons cupboard! Click to see full size.]

Round the back was a charming little café where we had coffee and (in a change from doughnuts) cake.

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[S vs Afternoon Tea in Turku. Click to see bigger.]

That evening we headed to the city centre to look for dinner. In the end we chose a pub attached to a hotel, which looked to offer reasonably-priced local nosh rather than high cuisine. That’s what we got, and S got to try out Lohikeitto, Finnish salmon soup. She quickly declared it to be her culinary discovery of the trip, and we’ll definitely have a go at making some.

Next: Laundry and More Castles.
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Tampere is Finland’s second city, and sits on the edge of Finland’s lake region, with the city itself lying between two large lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi. We chose Tampere as our first stop not so much for its own attractions (although it turned out to have a few) but as a convenient point for looking around that part of Finland.

70s hotels, medieval castles and dining on high )

Next: Turku via a rather rainy Rauma.

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We got back last week from twelve days in Finland, comprising a week of touring followed by five days in Helsinki for Worldcon 75. I thought I'd start my write-up by a review of the nuts and bolts of the trip - how we got there and how we got around.

Getting to Finland was a combination of train, tube, bus and plane. Our flight from Heathrow to Helsinki was early enough that a rail trip from Birmingham would have been very awkward, so we took the train down the previous evening and stayed at one of the Heathrow Strip hotels (the Hyatt – OK, but nothing special.) Booking well in advance got us first class seats down to Euston, but from there it was the Underground, and standing room only until Acton. Helpfully there was a free local bus from the T123 station to the hotel and back again the following morning.

Heathrow is, well, Heathrow. S was pulled for enhanced security and told to go through the pornoscanner. She demurred, and was told that she could instead have a full search including a full baggage search. (I’d already gone through without trouble and overheard various security minions expressing alarm and surprise that a passenger was asking for a manual search.) Not wanting to risk undue delay, she relented. A later complaint elicited the information that the scanners use ‘sound waves’, which as a former radar engineer is a novel way to me of describing terahertz imaging.

Our flight was on one of Finnair's shiny new Airbus A350s. This is a full-size widebody airliner, with – in a novelty for me – adequate legroom even in economy. The cabin is very light and spacious, and all the seats had good-sized seatback screens. My not-so-inner plane geek was delighted that two of the channels were camera views looking down and forward, which made take-off and landing more interesting.

Helsinki airport is a bit of an odd design by modern standards, in that it doesn’t separate inbound and departing passengers until quite near the gates, so the main part of it felt a bit like getting through Oxford Street. Picking up our rental car was complicated by two issues: a dodgy satnav (quickly swapped out) and having to get a quick update on how to operate a hybrid.

Our car was a Lexus CT200h, pretty much a Prius equivalent. It was a comfortable size, pleasant and easy to drive once I got the hang of it, and with some nice features such as a reversing camera that I definitely want next time we change our car. Finnish roads are well-maintained (with separated cycle routes everywhere!) and Finnish drivers are so far as I could tell a lot politer and frankly better at driving than British ones. The only problem I had was with our second satnav, which evidently hadn’t been connected for an update in the last few years. This became particularly problematic later when trying to get out of Tampere via the main bypass on the north of the town, which was very, very blocked off (as in there was grass growing on the earthen bank isolating it.) Indeed, our vantage point in a rotating restaurant later the same day let us see that the road past it was in fact now gone and being rebuilt, hence the diversion. The satnav then proved to have an equally outdated idea of which roads in downtown Tampere were one-way or had turning restrictions; in the end S got us out by reference to her iPhone map!

The next transport highlight was getting too and from the Åland Islands, achieved by Viking Line car ferry.

[Our ride out, the MS Amorella, as we were waiting to drive aboard at Turku docks.]

This proved fairly straightforward, although the lesson we learned was that on any ferry trip of more than about two hours, book a cabin. Playing hunt-the-spare-sofa on a ship full of booze tourists and small children was not the highlight of the trip. However, Viking Line do an excellent breakfast buffet, and the view on the way out was fascinating, as the route is through a dense archipelago so rather than being in open sea we were skirting small islands the whole way. And by ‘skirting’ I mean that a 150-metre, 35000-tonne ferry was proceeding at a fair clip past islands perhaps 10 to 20 metres off to the side. I checked later and sure enough there is a deep dredged channel through the islands, but even so it could be a little disconcerting so see actual land zipping past so close.

[What should be an animated GIF time-lapse video of us going past small islands.]

For the trip back, we did have an overnight cabin (small, but comfy and with en-suite facilities.) The only alarming part was the parking arrangements, which had us nose-to-nose with a huge articulated lorry. I wondered how we were going to get out without having to reverse off the ferry, and it turned out that this was exactly how we were expected to depart. Again, I was grateful for the rear camera, not to mention the numerous marshalling crew.

Once back at the airport and having dropped off the car, we had our first experience of Finnish trains. Even the local commuter trains were clean, spacious and had useful animated displays showing arrival times for the next few stations. Commuting from our hotel to the convention centre was via tram and the free transit pass that Worldcon 75 had arranged; the Helsinki tram network is dense and interconnected and it was easy to use it to get around the city whilst seeing something of Helsinki at the same time.

Our flight home was via Edinburgh to see S's parents for her dad's 80th birthday. This meant a rather smaller and more cramped A320, although at least Ediburgh airport was very quick to get through. Finally, we'd again got advance first tickets to get us home, so the last leg back was reasonably relaxing (and featured snacks and endless coffee.)

Next writeups: Tampere, Turku, the Åland Islands and then Worldcon itself and Helsinki.
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[ profile] attimes_bracing and I can report that our honeymoon was considerably enhanced by a small gadget that plugged into the mains.

SFW, honest )
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Yes, I continue to be very slow about posting pics from a trip that was nearly seven weeks ago now. (Earlier instalments here).

Passau and the Austrian Lake District )
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The plan for Day 3 had been to drive north-east out of Regensburg to the northern end of the Bayerscher Wald, or Bavarian Forest, the national park that runs roughly north-west to south-east along the Geman/Czech border. It has a reputation of being very pretty, and probably is on a nice day.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a nice day.

I'd planned a route into the forest along what were marked on our map as the scenic roads. However, the forest is at an elevation of several hundred metres, and that's pretty much where the cloudbase was. Add rain that varied from drizzle to bucketing down, and most of our view consisted of narrow road, trees and the odd glimpse into bits of valley that would have looked lovely if not full of cloud. Also, very out-of-season looking ski resorts. We eventually stopped for a snack at a rather traditional-looking ski lodge, where we got to try the very nice Bavarian sweet Kaiserschmarrn - basically, shredded pancake with fruit preserve. Tasty and filling, but like much Bavarian cuisine probably not good for you in excess (where 'excess' is 'more than one portion a month').

We needed somewhere to stay, and on the advice of our guidebook had picked Zwiesel. Apparently, Zwiesel is the centre of the regional glass industry and, um, they make glass there. Oh, and have they mentioned the glass shops? It also had a hotel where the interior design was so 1970s it almost hurt. We quickly escaped to look around Zwiesel, which turned out to resemble a Bavarian version of [insert dull Home Counties town of your choice here]. In the rain.

There was a glass factory, where you could wander round looking at glass products being made (interesting for about ten minutes) and then exit through, yes, a huge shop full of glassware. Outside was the Great Wineglass Pyramid of Zwiesel, of which more in a moment.

About the only thing to see in the town itself was the Waldmuseum. It's rather odd, to say the least. There was a complete C19th pharmacy on one floor, and a huge selection of saws and other tools on another. The wildlife display comprised an array of the scariest stuffed animals I've ever seen. We fled.

After another look at the guidebook we drove a few miles to Frauenau, which was smaller but prettier and had a glass museum that was actually a museum about glass rather than a glorified shop. (Website, in German.) As well as a genuinely good museum about the history of glassmaking, it also had an art gallery of glassware ranging from "I'd love that!" to "Didn't H P Lovecraft write about that sort of artist?"

By now the weather was easing up a bit so having returned to the hotel for a nap we headed out in the other direction, to the hill village of Bodenmais. Bodenmais is everything Zwiesel isn't - mainly pretty - as well as being hilly to the point it makes Guildford or Edinburgh look flat. We ended up dining in the restaurant of the Hotel Neue Post, where the food was both excellent and (44 Euros for the two of us) very good value.

On the way back to our hotel we passed through the centre of Zwiesel again and got to see the Great Wineglass Pyramid as illuminated at night.

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Yup, 94,000 wine glasses nicely stacked up. I worked out that if a normal portion of German white wine had been poured into each that would be about sixteen and a half tons of liebfraumich, which may be a disturbing image for some.
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Our last instalment had us setting of in the Beast from Munich with the GPS programmed to take us to Regensburg. Seduced by the snazzy head-up display of route information and speedometer, we cruised up the autobahn... until [ profile] darth_hamster became a little concerned.

"Didn't that junction back there have a turn for Regensburg?"

Hmm, GPS says carry on heading north. But there's a service station coming up, so we pull off and I check the main satnav screen. Then I look at the map. Then I swear a bit. The satnav seems to think that there are two Regensburgs, with one being a tiny village somewhere up near Numerburg. I admit defeat and put in the postcode of our hotel, and we're soon off in the right direction.

As we headed away from Munich (fairly flat) the countryside got more rolling. Something we noticed was that almost every field seemed to have a small wooden watchtower in it, like a little tree-house on stilts. Fire watch? Ubiquitous bird-watchers?

Regensburg itself is amazing; one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Germany. Imagine all the oldest and most impressive bits of Oxford and Edinburgh rolled together and given a Bavarian flavour, and you have some idea of why it's such a popular attraction.

Regensburg Pics )

After a beautiful sunny afternoon and early evening exploring the old town we retired to our hotel for dinner in the beer garden. About half way though we got to test the table canopy, as the heavens opened (it worked). Hmm, Day 3 was meant to involve a scenic drive into the Bavarian Forest. I was beginning to think that fate might have been kind to us after all in swapping a sports car for a luxury APC.
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I've been gently reminded that I am very slack at posting trip photos, to the point that I've still not done much with the vast number I took on our US/Canada trip nearly a year ago. So, as a start, let's get going with the Bavaria Road Trip that [ profile] darth_hamster and I went on last month...

Our plan was to fly in to Munich, take the train into the city and stay overnight before picking up our car on Sunday morning. Saturday evening we had a very pleasant wander around the city centre, culminating in what was to be the first of several very, very filling Bavarian meals. Bavaria's cuisine is great, so long as you don't mind having half a pig on your plate every meal. The following morning, before getting the car, we had another walk, this time getting a few pictures. (Click for bigger versions)

Munich Piccies )

On next to pick up the car. Now, this was meant to be what [ profile] darth_hamster had dubbed my Mid Life Crisis Holiday, with me renting a BMW Z4. Alas, when we arrived at the rental centre they were most apologetic, as the car reserved for us had an electrical fault. No equivalent was available, so they offered us an upgrade.

To an X5.

Yes, we had BMW's spiritual successor to the Tiger II. The first problem was getting this behemoth out of the rather confined courtyard at the rental pickup and through an access lane about an inch wider than it was. Fortunately the Beast was equipped with BMW's system that stitches together the view from all-round cameras to give you a simulated overhead picture of your car, complete with colour-coded sonar-like proximity warning and computer-predicted turn circles. (Also, much to our relief, the rental staff had signed off a prominent scrape where someone else had had real problems getting out.) This first challenge dealt with, we programmed the satnav for Regensburg and set off...


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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017



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