Friday, September 22, 2017

What I Did on Summer "Vacation": The Good, Part II

Last time I talked a bit about how our August got complicated. It was supposed to be about our fun trip to Europe followed by a some long-awaited visitors. But instead it was followed with a trial by fire and smoke, i.e. the Lolo Peak Fire getting all up in our neighborhood business. More about that later; now it's time to share the second leg of our fun trip!



We arrived in Helsinki on the first afternoon of WorldCon, but we thought it wasn't starting until the next day. Not that it matters, but oops. We got a cab to our hotel which was located in a pretty great location! We were about a 8 minute walk to the main train station and then a 10 minute ride to Messukeskus, the convention center, from there. We were very close to a few good places to eat and drink, close-enough to many more, and far enough from the convention center to feel like we got a bit of a taste of Helsinki-for-Helsinkians. Helsinkiites? Helsinkers? Locals.


We had a little bay window in our room, this is the left side view.

We had some trouble finding a restaurant that was open for a late-ish dinner near the convention center, but we did find this spot for our first Helsinki meal with some of the Angry Robot crew plus.

Neither of us were taking full advantage or our Con tickets, but we each did attend some panels, Eric to support his friends and as a moderator! We did take full advantage of the in-person access to a few Angry Robot people, Eric's agent, Jennie Goloboy, other authors and such folk! I learned this part of it is called BarCon and it is hanging out at a Convention-adjacent bar and chatting and meeting the folks passing through during their daily coming and going.

There were not a lot of hotels near Messukeskus, just the adjacent Holiday Inn. Its bar was... what you'd expect: overpriced and under cool. Still we had our first adult beverages of the trip! GnT for T, beer for E.
I did take this panorama shot from the patio at BarCon, though. I think it'll get bigger if you click on it.

I realized that I hardly took any photos in Helsinki. I DON'T KNOW WHY! Maybe because it was more scheduled than a usual vacation? Maybe because we were going to the same place over and over? Not when we weren't at the con so much, but maybe? For sure WorldCon's Ask First policy for photos was a part of it while on site... maybe that just carried over into all the time we were not at the Con proper?

I did attend a few panels and a workshop. This one was about photographing costumes and cosplay. There were a couple of models for us to practice with, but the instructor didn't get the kind of room she wanted so we had to improvise with a public area in the center.


This was a panel on fan crafting that was fun and interesting.



This also meant lunches & dinners out and drinks after - sometimes into the wee hours. Our Helsinki dining experiences weren't outstanding, but we did have some delicious adult beverages. Helsinki is one of the most expensive cities in the European Union and had we not been to Iceland first we would've been as shocked as everyone else.

At a Nepalese restaurant that served exactly what you would find at an Indian buffet in the US. Exactly where were we being tricked!?

This was a pirate themed bar that was actually super cool! And super small, with just over a dozen seats. Very delicious drinks -some of them flaming, sand on the floor, costumed bar tender, the works.

Eric's author friend, fellow Red Sofa-er & Angry Robot, Carrie, and her husband arrived to Helsinki a little before the Con and scouted some cool bars!













I have begun the search for Finnish cranberries which are called lingonberries here. So far, only online, frozen, and spendy.

Again, we were very ill-prepared to speak any Finnish. And again we felt like jerks, but again it seems Finns don't expect visitors to speak Finnish and we were told that they expect foreign visitors to speak English with them. That said, plenty of the Con panels were held in Finnish (and clearly labeled as such) and the only bookseller in the marketplace was Finnish with mostly Finnish-language books. Represent!

Eric at his signing on Sunday. I took this at the beginning of the hour and wish I'd taken it later, because the author just out of frame on the right was Peadar Ó Guilín who wrote the YA novel "The Call." Not only was Peadar ("rhymes with 'blather'") friendly and fun to talk to, he and Eric traded books!
With a Sunday afternoon time, Eric wasn't expecting much of a turn out for the panel he moderated, but it was actually packed!

We sat way to the right and midway back, so this photo doesn't show nearly how big the room was. Penny, Nick, and I were lucky to get 3 seats together, actually. NICE!
As far as "celebrity spotting" I did pass George R R Martin in the hallway, met Charlie Jane Anders at her book signing where she signed my copy of All The Birds in the Sky and complimented my shirt, and passed Daveed Diggs in a hallway and then later saw him perform with Clipping which was nominated for a Hugo Award and was probably why they were there!

We showed up late to the Clipping concert. This was not at all what I expected and it was cool and fun! 

It was really great for me to finally meet several of Eric's book-world peeps! Some who even he hadn't met in person before! And I'm not just saying this, because Angry Robot Nick gave me some super special toothpaste out of his very own kit!



Our original plan was to leave Helsinki the day after WorldCon ended and find a spot close to some nature in Finland. Which is a lot of Finland. But so many people raved about and encouraged us to hop a ferry over to Tallinn, Estonia that we did that instead! The old city has all that Old Europe business that's so cool AND it was quite a bit cheaper, so done deal.


NOTE: While the weather was a comfortable for traveling high 60s/low 70s during the day, it does seem like what is considered a comfortable indoor temperature by Finns is perhaps deeply influenced by their beloved sauna culture: hot as balls. Sweaty, sweaty, hot, sweaty balls.





Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What I Did on Summer "Vacation": The Good, Part I


Where did the month of August go? It's Complicated.

July was all about our Balcony Upgrade. And August was supposed to be about our fun trip to Europe followed by a some long-awaited visitors. But instead it was followed with a trial by fire and smoke, i.e. the Lolo Peak Fire getting all up in our neighborhood business. More about that later; here I'm going to talk about the first leg of our fun trip!



Angry Robot Books, who published Dr Potter's Medicine Show and The Trials of Solomon Parker, is a Sci-fi/Fantasy publisher so he's been a attending WorldCon since 2015. The first year it was in Spokane, Washington (and he hadn't signed with AR yet), the second year it was in Kansas City, Kansas. I didn't tag along to those. This year it was in Helsinki, Finland! So, yeah, you bet I went along!

I think this was my first time on the new PDX carpet! 


Hold that thought, because we decided to take advantage of that deal where you can fly Icelandic Airlines through Reykjavik and layover for up to 7 days without additional fees and taxes. So we flew from Missoula to Portland, then the next day Portland to Reykjavik, arriving at about 6:00 AM.

I am not sure we ever had darkness outside the window on our red-eye to Iceland.
We've arrived! Such a striking landscape! 

Then we spent two whole days and two nights in Iceland. The first day we spend exploring Reykjavik while waiting for our AirBnB check-in at 2:00 PM. We chilled for a bit, probably took a nap, then went out again for dinner and more poking around. It turns out that our place was right by the city center so we walked from there.


Reykjavik is known for public murals.

From the Icelandic Phallological Museum! Good times.

We ran into our old pal, Bigfoot, at the Hallgrimskirkja. Guess he was checking out the statue of Leif Eriksson, too.

Not sure who this lumpy lady was, but she was up for a selfie.



And again at the Harpa concert hall! I wonder if he came on one of the tourist busses?

Sooooo windy there along the sea. Still we took the requisite shot at the Sun Voyager sculpture.

At the Iceland Punk Museum, housed in a defunct underground toilet. It was GREAT.

No one is more punk rock than Bigfoot.



Out the window of our AirBnB at 23:00!

We ate some great food! We had some really not great drinks! Everything cost a h*ckin' ton of money! A hamburger from just about anywhere was about $25.

The next day we took our rental car for a drive along part of the Golden Circle. The landscape is strikingly harsh in its beauty. You definitely feel like you can see the tectonics of it all - it's viscerally magical in its stark contrasts.

Views from the passenger side.



First stop!
I think if you click on this panorama it you can see a bigger version.




Summer residence of the Prime Minister in the park. Pretty humble, quite charming form the outside. Has a chapel and more interestingly, a graveyard.



Spotted on the way out in the parking lot! We saw several similar tourist vans with different humorous sayings.

We got a farm-to-table lunch experience at FarmHotel Efstidalur where it wasn't nearly so awkward to view the cows while eating a burger as you might think. They also have house made ice cream, but we didn't have any.



Next stop, Geysir where they have, you guessed it, Geysers.

Lots of tourists, of course, including Bigfoot.

The steamy areas are from geysers and the run off from them. 

A few times an hour the gesyer goes off and people gather all around behind a short barrier waiting for it. It doesn't shoot as high or "spouty" as Old Faithful, so we were pretty close.

For some reason Bigfoot was looking the other way when it went off. Shoot.

Our last stop was at Gullfoss waterfall. It kind of sneaks up on you and isn't really visible until you're right up the barrier. I was surprised by it's volume.
I think if you click on this panorama it might get bigger.





Like almost the entire world, we didn't know any Icelandic. We learned "thank you" and "cheers." We were very lucky that pretty much every Icelanders' second/third/whatever language is English. Did we feel like Ugly American Jerkfaces? Yes we did. Do Icelanders expect anyone to speak Icelandic? I didn't seem so. In fact, we definitely heard other travelers whose first language was definitely not English, use it to order food, ask directions, etc. Actually, we couldn't even mispronounce street names to each other in ways that at least we could communicate directions among our party of two. The GPS lady in the car was no help at all.

We got up around 4:30 to catch our 7:00a flight. I spotted this F&F sign on the highway to the airport. Don't know what it is!

One more night in Reykjavik with more delicious food and this time some amazing cocktails, then a VERY EARLY flight to Helsinki. Eric has all the foodie/boozy pics, so you'll just have to trust me!