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January 1, 2004

Happy New Year 2004

We spent the new year in Lohja, watched the fireworks in town, had some drinks, then brought in the new year. It's traditional in Finland to melt tin horseshoes at midnight then drop them into water - the shape they make tells your future for the year. Mine looked a bit like a dragon, though it also looked quite like a piece of melted tin.

A couple of hours later we celebrated the Scottish new year, checked out George Square in Glasgow on the webcam, which was packed (Dundee's webcam couldn't handle the traffic, ha), and Carita and I continued drinking until the morning. Happy New Year and the best of luck to all of my friends who check out this site, and all the people I don't know who come here as well!

January 3, 2004

Snakes and Frozen Lakes

Two new firsts for me today:
1. Went for a walk on a frozen lake, which was pretty cool, plus the chance of plummetting through the ice added to the excitement.
2. Held a snake, which was really beautiful and muscular close up, though colder than I expected.

January 6, 2004

Tech Acceptance

One of the impressive things about Finland is, of course, its mobile phone and tech culture and how it's readily accepted and used in everyday life. I spent yesterday in Helsinki and to buy a ticket for the metro, a bus, or ferry you simply send a text message and the amount is debited from your phone account. If you're a regular traveller you can buy a travelcard that, like in Hong Kong, works by inductance - just swipe your bag or wallet with it inside across the sensor and it's detected. No hunting for change or stamping ancient pieces of cardboard. You can purchase things from vending machines or in some cafes by sending a text, and it's quite normal to be able to send a text message to your home to turn the sauna on or check the temperature or security system. Even in the middle of the forest in the middle of nowhere the mobile coverage is so good that you get ISDN speeds (115kbps) over a data connection so you're never out of touch.

January 7, 2004

Ice Swimming in Finland

frosty nipples
It's been cold enough over the last weeks that the lakes have frozen and the ice on them is about 20cm thick. So tonight, rather nervously, we went to a public sauna down by the lake and prepared to go for a dip in an ice hole. We sat and sweated in the sauna for a while first, building our body temperatures up, then anxiously made our way down the path to the lake. The water felt arctic as I held onto the frozen ropes and stepped into it - cold enough to take your breath away, and then I was up to my neck in it with ice covering everywhere but the hole I was in. After a few seconds I decided that I should get out and make room for Carita to get in, but getting out was almost as painful as getting in. Carita went in, and judging from the screams, she was a bit more used to it than me; then we rushed back up to the lovely, hot sauna.

Sitting back in the warmth I could feel my skin tingling all over - it's supposed to be very good for your circulation, and slowly the feeling returned to my body. Then we went back out and did it all over again. Afterwards, all of our muscles felt very relaxed, and mentally we were relaxed too - really just happy to be alive after it. Apparently, there's also a 25m swimming competition in a frozen lake here. The Finns really are quite crazy people.

photos of ice, snow, and sauna action

January 8, 2004

Nokia Observation Camera

Overcome with guilt for being in Finland and not having a Nokia phone, today I decided to buy a Nokia Observation Camera for the boat.

When it detects movement or you send it a text message, it takes a photograph and sends it to you by email or mms, allowing you to check up on things when you're not there.

January 10, 2004

Winter Driving

It's interesting to see how well Finland copes with wintry conditions that would leave Britain snowbound with people dying in the streets. After a heavy snowfall here, there are snowploughs, bulldozers, diggers, and even pick-up trucks with snowploughs fitted to them everywhere keeping roads open. Tyre chains are now banned on tarmac roads due to the damage they cause to the road surface, but from the end of October onwards it's illegal to use a vehicle which doesn't have winter tyres fitted. The Finns think that we're crazy driving around in Britain in the snow with summer tyres, and they are right - studded or winter tyres make an incredible difference to traction on the snow and ice.

Putting salt on the roads was found to be polluting the lakes and streams over time and so Finland now does a minimal amount of salting on their roads. This means that non-major roads are no longer treated; you just have to drive carefully, and on many of the main roads they now use a chemical liquid, which does much less harm to the environment, and appears to work incredibly well, instead of salt.

Tonight it's about -15c outside, a relatively warm evening, and if you want to be able to start your car in the morning, you have to plug it in. Cars here have a mains power socket on the outside, which keeps the battery charged in extremely low temperatures, and heats the car, stopping it turning into a block of ice overnight.

The standard of driving is very high here as well - a year or so after you've passed your driving test, you get night-driving and skid-pan tuition. The roads would be littered with wreckage if the population of Britain came over to drive here for a winter.

January 12, 2004

On the Road

It was really hard saying goodbye to Carita, her parents, and Ira in Helsinki station as I'd started to feel like one of the family, and they'd made me feel very welcome for the six weeks I'd been in the country. I boarded the train, had an argument with an old woman who was sitting in my seat (which turned out not to be my seat), then went to another carriage and told someone else to move out of a seat, which, again, wasn't mine.

In Tampere I had one last Hesburger, and caught the coach out to Tampere's tiny terminal 2 for my Ryanair flight to London. It was hard leaving Finland as I'd enjoyed it so much, and the people all have a very likeable, crazy streak in them that makes them go swimming in ice or sleep in a hole in the snow for fun.

After a flight staffed by complete bitches (is it just my imagination or are Ryanair actively recruiting psychopaths these days?), we arrived in Stansted, and something about Britain felt a bit like the third world after the slickness of Finland; the immigration staff had electric fires at their feet in what is Britain's most modern international airport. I found a quiet corner, unrolled my sleeping mat, and tried to get to sleep. At 0600, myself and another guy were woken up by one of Ryanair's clinically insane, shouting at us and threatening us to move or get our 'heads knocked off' as he didn't like where we were sleeping (or his job). I sat and chatted to the other guy and we found it funny that we both had exactly the same camping gear and jackets. But we were tired. I moved into another corner, chatted to some of the territory's homeless, and bedded down.

Remarkably, I woke up at 1040, well after all but one of my neighbours had risen and flown off. I grabbed a sandwich, walked outside where it was pissing down, and caught the coach into Central London. There, I had a bit of an aimless wander around, and boarded a coach to Plymouth. I'd been thinking of going to the London Boat Show, but it was just as well I didn't as when the bus passed Earl's Court, Justin Timberlake was playing there instead (though that might have been more interesting than a load of yachties).

Shortly afterwards I passed out and the next thing I knew I awoke with my head on the shoulder of the guy next to me, convinced that he was Carita. As we were now so intimate I thought it polite to make introductions. It turned out he was a trance dj, who heavily recommended a trip to Graz in Austria for its clubbing culture.

Simon picked me up from Plymouth in his lovely new van, and after travelling all day on coaches I realised I could have got a Ryanair flight direct to Cornwall from Stansted for less. But that would have been travelling the easy way.

January 16, 2004

Cornish Break

I've been staying with Simon in Cornwall for the last few days. We did a bit of walking on the south-west coastal path, sorted out his new pc, and generally had a very relaxing time. Broadband internet access is addictive for me, however, and I really have to go to bed soon as I need to get up in 4 hours and get to London.

January 17, 2004

London Boat Show 2004

I spent yesterday afternoon at the London Boat Show, which turned out to be incredibly unexciting. One of the attractions of it this year is that some of the boats are in the water, as it's at a new venue (not sharing the stage with Justin Timberlake in Earls Court), though actually it turned out there were only nine sailing boats on the dock. There were a fair share of stands selling miracle vegetable slicers and similar shopping channel delights, however, but most of the marine stands were staffed by people in boat shoes and polyester suits trying hard to avoid eye contact with anyone.

The electronics stands had hardly changed their products in five years. There was only one system that alllowed you to control your boat remotely by mobile phone (which was well overpriced), and none of the world's leading marine electronics companies had a wireless remote navigation system (which I've been using over wi-fi on the boat since last summer). But it was very easy to find a mechanical speed system exactly like they used 200 years ago, which seems to be what appeals to Britain's yachties.

I had been hoping to meet up with Chris as he was in London as well, but he called to say that he had to get up early the folllowing morning for a busy day involving ballet and couldn't make it. So I caught the coach up to Luton airport and slept in a corner there before getting up to check in for my flight to Madrid at 05:30.

January 19, 2004

Madrid Museums

I arrived in Madrid, dropped my bags off into a luggage locker, and took the metro into the city. I was lucky enough to manage to get a room in Hostal Cosmopolitan, which I stayed in last time, as it's clean, cheap, and right in the centre of Madrid, Sol.

It's been 7 years since I was last in Madrid and sadly it's no longer the tourist backwater that it was then. I spent Saturday wandering around the city's streets, soaking in the lovely architecture, and atmosphere, of central Spain, and yesterday I got up early and went off to some of my favourite museums.

I visited the Prado first, which in addition to its fantastic resident collection by Velazquez, was showing the first Spanish exhibition devoted to Manet. The most bizarre painting there, however, has to be 'San Bernando y la Virgen' by Alonso Cano, which depicts a statue of The Virgin lactating from the altar into the saint's mouth as he kneels below.

Intrigued, I continued to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid's answer to modern art. Picasso's 'Guernica' takes pride of place, as well as a suitably large collection of Dali, though the most interesting exhibit for me was Carles Congost's digital photograph, 'A.M.E.R.I.C.A.', a study of American life, as well as several works by Yves Klein in my favourite shade of blue.

January 20, 2004

Back Home

I caught my flight from Madrid, got off the plane, and walked into a deserted airport on the party island. Only one luggage belt was working and most of Ibiza airport was in darkness, deserted by clubbers until the spring.

The bus took empty streets past faded billboards for Amnesia, Erick Morillo, and Pete Tong as old women walked along with their shopping. Ibiza Town seemed deserted, as if there just weren't enough people to begin to fill it in the winter. Even the geriatric and crippled tourists had left. I sat and had a coffee in Mar y Sol, which is always so full of posers that I avoid it; now I was the only person in it, then I caught the ferry over to Formentera.

Having woken up in the centre of Madrid, it was a bit of a shock to now be arriving in the most tranquilo place in Spain. There is something magical about Formentera though, and as the ferry navigated the passage between Ibiza and Espalmador, I could feel the pressure and travel weariness fall off. We came into Formentera's harbour, and I could see Zamindar on the other side, looking just as we'd left her.

After three months of travelling around, sometimes sleeping on floors and in airports, it felt good to be home. I put on some music, sat in the cockpit until very late looking at the water, and finally went to my own bed.

January 22, 2004

Green Flash

It was a gorgeous day today so I had a 15km walk down to the south of Formentera and along Mitjorn Beach, the longest beach on the island. It was quite hard to imagine that in the summer the entire length of it would be covered with naked bodies, as today I hardly passed anyone. At the end of the beach I stopped and stood watching the sun going down, as you don't see enough sunsets in life. As the last of the sun sank into the Mediterranean, an amazing thing happened - there was a green flash!

My book on weather describes it thus, "On very rare occasions, when the sun is on the point of disappearing below the horizon, a green light will be visible above it for a few seconds. This phenomenon is known as a green flash." Apparently it's caused by refraction of the sun's light by dust in the atmosphere and is only visible when there's unusually little dust. I'd been watching sunsets for years waiting for one, and today I was finally rewarded!

Now, of course, I found myself at the wrong end of the island with darkness quickly approaching. I found a bus stop, but according to it's winter timetable I'd missed the last bus back by hours. I started to walk, reckoning it was only about 10km. Although I wasn't hitchhiking, however, after an hour or so a motrbike stopped just ahead of me. The guy on it asked me where I was going and told me to get on. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, rather than spending the next two hours walking back to the boat, I found myself flying across Formentera on the back of a motorcross bike, hanging on for life, without a helmet, of course. Isn't it great when strangers are nice to you for no reason at all?

January 23, 2004

Ibiza Wi-Fi

I got up early and caught the ferry into Ibiza today, spent a lot of time sitting around in cafes, then had a long lunch, and met up with a group of guys who are working on building up a free wi-fi network on the island, Club Ibosim.

At the moment they've got an access point on top of one of the hotels in San Antonio which beams the signal across the bay, though you really need an external antenna to pick it up right now. They also have an access point in Cafe Guay in San Antonio and some pcs there with free internet access so they're certainly doing their bit to provide internet access.

After quite a bit of war-driving, this is some of the first wi-fi I've found on Eivissa, and I plan to give them a hand to build up the network when I return here in the spring.

I walked past Cafe Del Mar, which the sun was setting beautifully in front of, but which, like most things, was closed for winter, and caught the last ferry back to Formentera.

January 25, 2004

Formentera's Flotsam

Today was a lovely, sunny, calm day so I went for a long walk along the beach at Platja de ses Illetes. I only passed a few people and as it was getting pretty hot I decided to go in for a swim. The water seemed tropical after swimming in Finland's frozen lakes earlier this month, but I soon began to lose feeling in my legs and decided to get out.

I dried off in the sun then continued my walk, and a bit further on I found the most interesting thing I've come across beachcombing so far - part of an aircraft's tailfin with 'Banshee' printed on it washed up on the beach. There didn't seem to be any dead bodies lying around it so I carried it to the end of the beach near Espalmador where there's a collection of cairns and sculptures made from flotsam, which I've been meaning to add to, and feeling creative, made it into a sculpture of my own.

January 26, 2004

Bill Gates to be Knighted

According to this article in the Telegraph, Bill Gates is to be knighted for his services to "global enterprise". First of all we have to put up with Prince Charles giving knighthoods out to all his favourite popstars, and now a man whose company the EU is still prosecuting for anti-competitive behaviour. This, they've used to force British, European, and other companies out of the marketplace, and out of business, resulting in holding back innovation and the progress of technology by years, as well as harming our economies. Who's next on the list? George Bush?

What happened to knighthoods being given to people who had spent their lives in poverty striving towards helping others; not people who are already super-rich through being self-obsessed?

January 27, 2004

Men on Mars

In a vague attempt to continue my education, I'm currently reading 'A Short History of Everything' by Bill Bryson, in which he covers life, the universe, and everything, in his own humorous, factual way. I've just read the following paragraph, which is particularly poignant given that last month George Bush announced plans to send a manned mission to Mars within the next ten years...

"A manned mission to Mars, called for by the first President Bush in a moment of passing giddiness, was quietly dropped when someone worked out that it would cost $450 billion and probably result in the deaths of all the crew (their DNA torn to tatters by high-energy solar particles from which they could not be shielded)."

History repeats itself, but at least it might stop him from losing voters who were disgruntled to hear about all the cuts he's made to other space programs to fund the war in Iraq.

January 29, 2004

Psycho Rasta Dog

Even the dogs are rastas here in Formentera. Walking along the beach today I heard a loud growl and looked over to see a huge, dreadlocked, black wig on four legs rushing towards me, intent on carnage. I'd never seen a dog like it before, and I stood there transfixed - judging from it's ninety year old owner, it's hairstyle was a bizarre, but natural occurrence, as he didn't particularly look like a Bob Marley fan. Luckily for me, however, it either couldn't see very much from under it's mop or it had just been taking mind altering, hallucinogenic drugs, and it rushed right past me, still growling at and chasing the emptiness of the beach.