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Finca de Mike

In the late 80’s, while in university, my girlfriend and I took a backpacker trip to Central America. This was not a well-planned trip. We took an old copy of The People’s Guide to Mexico, a hammock, and a day pack to hold a few spare changes of clothes. Our plan was to travel clockwise from Mexico City, the Yucatan, Belize, Guatemala, and then back North.

We traveled on the cheap. Flying into Mexico City on a rainy Christmas Eve we caught an overnight bus down to the Yucatan peninsula on Christmas Day. I still remember the bus rocking back and forth violently trying to sleep as we careened down the mountains towards the coast. There was a plastic Jesus on the dashboard blinking from a series of LEDs along his arms and legs. I awoke early in the morning when the driver slammed on the brakes to roll slowly past the scene of a fatal car accident. A bus and a car had collided head on and there were bodies being dragged out on the shoulder – the fog was heavy, the vision was dreamlike.

Later, we hit the coast and got off somewhere to put our feet into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. After so much rain, Northern California rain, Los Angeles rain, Mexico City rain, it was good to finally get some sun. We hit the tropics and shed raincoats and jeans for t-shirts, shorts, and huaraches.We bopped down the Eastern edge of the peninsula and then crossed over into Belize. We wanted to avoid the tourist traps so we stayed away from the beaches and headed inland towards the border with Guatemala.

Once in Guatemala, we traveled by colorfully painted secondhand school buses. These “chicken buses” (called such because they usually carried local farmers along with their livestock) were by far the cheapest (and most fun) way to get around. The buses traveled through the smaller towns, so there were more buses and routes removing the need to stick to any schedule or plan.

Bus in Guatemala

The roads were mostly dirt and I would spend many hours looking out the window at the passing landscape. Sometimes I could see the shadow of the kids riding up on top, some would be standing, arms outstretched, as if surfing. Occasionally the conductor would lean out the door and shout to those on the roof to watch their head, everyone would duck as we drove slowly under a tree branch.

Tikal was a must see. This ancient Mayan ruin is truly not to be missed. The photo in the header is from a day spent wandering the ruins with a guide who snuck off to spend a day with us, clambering up and down the pyramids, showing us secret passages, and memorably getting high and playing chess with us while we sat on top of on our very own 2,000 year old Mayan pyramid. It was only late in the day that we discovered that our friend was actually playing hooky. A shout from someone who clearly was his supervisor put a quick end to our fun and we were back on our own.

Following Tikal, we headed West a bit and got into a conversation with some British travelers who told us we absolutely had to visit Finka de Mike (Mike’s Ranch) near the town of Poptun. The bus we were on would take us there and arrive in the evening.

Arriving at Poptun, it was too late to ask the only business, a small restaurant, for directions to the ranch. It was closed. One of the farmers that got off the bus with us was kind enough to show us the way. Our limited Spanish figured out that he would take us to the ranch and that we only needed to follow him. We began to walk down a narrow path into the woods.

It was pitch black. There wasn’t any moon and it was overcast so the stars weren’t much of a help either. Our guide was walking at a brisk pace and we were getting deeper and deeper into the woods. Both Kathi and I started to hang back a bit and began to look for signs of an ambush or other foul play up ahead. I fingered a pocket knife in my pocket.

We must have walked a good couple of miles and I think it was close to 9pm. Just as we were beginning to get really concerned, the farmer turned to us and gestured to a set of lights on the other side of a field. “A que” he says pointing, “Finca de Mike” and before I could dig something out of my pack to thank him, he was gone. Back the way we came. He just walked four miles out of his way.

Kathi and I walked across the field and into what seemed like the main house. Candlelight lit the room dimly. After traveling native for a couple of weeks, surrounded by Spanish, it seemed strange to creek open a door and hear English conversation. We asked if there was someone to check in with and were told by the other guests that the Ranch was run on an honor system. There was a spiral bound notebook on the kitchen counter and guests would just write in what to took from the pantry or refrigerator and the total number of nights they stayed. This would all get totaled up by the owner upon departure.

It was very comfortable there. When we met Mike and Carol, the owners, we learned Finca de Mike covered 400 acres and we learned their story. Back in California they had the dream of owning a ranch but were unable to afford one. They sold everything they had and traveled south until they came to Guatemala in the late 60’s and bought the land for almost nothing.

Since then, they had turned the ranch into a self-sustaining farm. All the vegetables and meat were raised on site and all the guests worked together to cook the evening meal. Mike said that friends would often come down to visit and bring their friends. Before long, Finca de Mike became a regular stop for not only for friends of friends but soon, as word got around, new guests too. Mike devised the spiral notebook system as a way to defray some of their costs.

Two macaws flew freely around the ranch, heading off each morning and returning right around sunset, in time to hang out with everyone as we drank beer on the porch of the ranch’s beautiful, handmade pine wood house. The ranch was surrounded by curiously shaped hills until it dawned on me during that sunset that these were not hills at all but Mayan pyramids that had yet to be uncovered, overgrown with jungle to look like hills. We were staying on the grounds of an ancient Mayan city.

On the third or forth day I grew restless. People had spoken about a cave several hours walk to the East. As I asked around for others that might join me, someone suggested the “Cave Trip” advertised in the kitchen. I signed up Kathi and I on a simple sign-up sheet taped to the refridgerator. It said to show up by the main house at 6am to get ready.

The next morning I walked up to see a convoy of pack horses getting saddled up with gear. I asked why so much gear was necessary and was told we were going to visit a new cave, one that had never been explored. But this one was two days ride away. Even better!

The only New Mexican I know

There were six or eight of us on the trip, including Mike and a guide to cut thru the jungle with a machete. We were traveling along a trail cut by the rubber farmers and we often passed trees with the telltale cross-hatching on them.

The first evening we spent in a shack for farmers that would hike to remote fields in the mountains and stay for several days as they farmed their crops. There was some dried corn available which our guide used to make fresh tortillas from scratch with nothing more than the top of an oil drum as a pan. In the cold, morning mist, I still remember these corn tortillas as the best I have ever tasted.

We explored several caves including one, its floor covered with pottery shards, that was later featured in National Geographic (which I now learn was Naj Tunich, a potential UNESCO World Heritage site). We arrived even before the explorers. I remember learning from Mike how to co-exist with the jungle. It was not the dark, scary place my urban mind was telling me it was. The Guatemalan people were amazing. The kind man who walked four miles out of his way to show us to the ranch, the guide at Tikal who played chess with us. Everyone we met had an inner light of goodness.

Guatemala was amazing and Finca de Mike was a highlight. Here was someone who was carving out life on his own terms and being the change he wanted to see.

Contrast this with the shock I felt when I read two years later in a Berkeley cafe that Mike DeVine, the owner of the ranch, was found brutally murdered – his head nearly severed clean. Suspicions about the motive were many including the story that he stumbled across a unit of the Guatemalan Army loading drugs for a shipment up North and the CIA-backed goons that were in on it murdered Mike to protect their business.

The ripples continued. Military aid by the US to Guatemala was cut off as a result of Mike’s murder and only recently, more than 20 years later, have relations improved. The motive of the murder is still shrouded but clues are starting to crop up, including a cryptic declassified government document.

Finca de Mike is still there. Known as Finca Ixobel, you can visit today and Carol Ann DeVine will be there to greet you where the memory of Mike lives on. I have never been back but would love to hear how things are today and if the region has recovered from this terrible tragedy.

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Google Flight Search UI – Brilliant

Google’s Flight Search scatter plot visualization of fares is brilliant. Word is that fare data is still light (they don’t have any international, non-US fares) but the UI has put all other travel comparison sites on notice.

Fun with Foursquare

The visualization below was built in 48 hours using the FourSquare API.

Ian Kennedy’s Foursquare by WeePlaces.com.

A video of the global view, posted it on Vimeo, and posted it below.

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What to do in Tokyo?

A friend visiting Tokyo asked for recommendations. I often get this kind of question (I lived there for 10 years and am half-Japanese)  so for future reference, to point people in the future (and a place to park any follow up suggestions in the comments) I’ll put my recommendations here in this post. Here’s the (slightly edited) request:

I’d love some advice on what you’d do if you had Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. ( I’m ignoring that we’ll be tired!) I’d love to head out of Tokyo by train (maybe take bullet train someplace, I have not been on it). Some art and shopping but mostly seeing/experiencing things.

Here’s my response.  Feel free to add your own tidbits or call bullshit in the comments:

Basically for the short time you’re there, forget the Bullet train. Odawara is the first stop on the Bullet and while it has a castle, you don’t want to spend a day just to see that. Kyoto is worth a trip but it’s a three hour trip each way and you don’t want to be rushed to see the city – it requires a relaxed, peaceful pace.

So basically you’re in town from Saturday night, checking out Wednesday. Here’s the plan:

Hotel

If you want something Japanese, try Meguro Gajoen, it’s on the right side of the city to the modern sights you want to see but will still give you a feel for a grand old Japanese hotel. They say that one of the rooms was the inspiration for a scene in the animated film, Spirited Away.  Ask to be put in a room where you can sleep on tatami. Trip Advisor has some write-ups with links to things to do in the neighborhood (Parisitological Museum? Maybe. Japan Folk Crafts Museum? Defintely!) and here’s a longer review from 2006.

Saturday:

It’ll take you at least a couple of hours to get from the airport to the city so I’ll leave the day open.

For your first night out, ask the concierge for a decent Ramen place for noodles. If you want to make it into a quest, read this NY Times piece to get in the mood. Once you have Ramen in Japan, you’ll never eat it anything like it. An alternative, if you feel really hungry, there’s a fried pork cutlet place called Tonki that prepares their meals in an open kitchen which is operating room clean – be sure to get a seat at the counter, it’s quite a production.

Depending on how tired you are, you can head over to Aoyama for some Jazz at the Blue Note or Body & Soul or try out some of the nightclubs in the area. I used to hang out a Yellow but I see they closed. Roppongi’s a bit of a dive but the Pit Inn is a Jazz institution too but if you really want to blow your socks off, catch the show at Kingyo. It’s a weird, only-in-Japan cross between a gay cabaret and Kabuki that is truly unique (get the hotel to reserve this for you in advance).

Sunday:

Head on over to Harajuku (on the Yamonote line) to soak in the street scene. Don’t miss the Rock-a-billy dancers in Yoyogi park and then head on down Omotesando which is basically Tokyo’s equivalent of the Champs-Elysees. Be sure to wind your way back into the side streets to. There’s one that runs to the right, just after (it might be before) Tokyo Kiddyland, the toy store (which you must see). The street is built over a river so it winds it’s way in a gentle zig-zag promenade.

Continue down that street and you’ll make your way to Shibuya, the next station down the line. If you’ve been checking out the boutiques along the way, it’ll be a good couple of hours.

If you’re up for more – Nakano Broadway is an Otaku Collector Culture paradise. It’ll take you hours to see everything there so pace yourself. When I first arrived I was wondering why there were the occasional massage stations interspersed in amongst the stores but by the time I left, I understood why. Inside you can find everything from old JR conductor’s hats to that rare, in-box Transformer that you’ve been looking for to complete your collection.

Photo Gallery on Google Photos

Monday:

OK, I guess you have time for one trip out of town a bit. Kamakura is just 90 mins to the Southwest so if you leave around 9am (missing the morning rush hour) you can make it down there in time to spend a good few hours there. Here’s a site which talks about all that you can see, I recall a hike from temple to temple was real beautiful but forgot how long that took. Try and get back on a train by 4pm or so to avoid the rush hour again and take the train back to Yurakucho so you can get off and walk the Ginza.

While there, try a fancy bar, Star Bar is one and I’ll add more links to this post as I remember them. I’ve never been but Sushi Saito I think is the only sushi place that won three Michelin stars, it’s also in the Ginza.

Since it’s early in the week, you might even be able to squeeze in and visit with my favorite nomiya, Enoki, which is tucked right next the tracks at Shibuya station. You usually need someone to introduce you but if you act nice and it’s not too crowded, you might be able to squeeze in. The conversation there is always lively.

Tuesday:

During the day, visit my old neighborhood, Nezu. It’s on the Chiyoda subway line so best to ask directions from the hotel on how to navigate. It’s over on the East side of the city in a old neighborhood that didn’t get bombed out. You want to walk from Nezu station towards Ueno station but make your way via the side streets, the little back alleys are charming and you may even spot an old hand-pump well if you’re lucky.

One place in Nezu you must see is the Asakura sculpture museum. It’s in the home of a sculpture artist and I’m not such a huge fan of his sculptures but his house is really special and the staff are happy to let you hang out for hours on his veranda looking out on his carp pond.

Near Shinobazu Pond is the Shitamachi museum which will give you a feel for what it was like to live in Tokyo back before the war. It’s a small museum but kinda neat because you really get a sense of what it was like back then.

Make your way one stop North of Ueno on the Yamanote line to Okachimachi and you’re in basically the bargin bin of the city. If you’re looking for weird gifts, here’s a good place to check out stuff. If you’re into books, Jimbocho is a great place to browse old books and maybe pick up a woodblock print or two. The latest gadgets can be had at Akihabara but it’s a bit of an otaku freak zone now.  The Yodobashi camera next to the station has everything you need.

Or skip the hubub of shopping and head back over to the jet-set side of town and take the Chiyoda line back over to Omotesando to Radio Bar on Aoyama-dori. This is an institution.

There’s so much more to see – this is only the beginning but hopefully it’ll give you an idea of the city. Enjoy and check back for updates to this post!

Further Reading:

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Cheesecake for Breakfast

I just got back from two weeks vacation in Paris with the Izumi and the kids. We opted to spend all our time in one place and rented an apartment so that we could soak in the rhythms of daily life in the city at our own pace. As an American from Silicon Valley, two weeks in one go seemed positively decadent but after experiencing a Finnish winter, I now understand why two, if not four weeks at a go is a Finnish right.

Parisians have created a wonderful alternate reality, a rose-colored bubble to keep out the noisy efficiency of the 21st century. The Paris we experienced mostly doesn’t know about sweatshirts or bulk food. It’s important to look good to keep up the illusion. It’s OK, if not preferred,  to wear bright red slacks and a shirt with white cuffs. People pull this off naturally, without looking the least bit pompous. When you visit a cafe, water comes to your table not rationed out in plastic cups but in functional stemware and a recycled wine carafe that says, “please rest easy, stay awhile.”

The bistros overflow not with tourists but locals, taking long, chatty lunches with co-workers or clients over home cooked meals that you need to slice with a knife and fork, all washed down with cool Rose and finished off with dessert and a demi-tasse of coffee. People eat to share the experience, not stuff something in the gut to stave off hunger. This is not the land of pizza slices or Subway food logs. Even the ice cream is artfully crafted into a bouquet to be marveled at before it is consumed.

Our apartment was in the Marias, a fashionable district on the right bank, (3ème Arrondissement if you must). Home to the Place des Vogues where Victor Hugo took and apartment and Henry II was mortally wounded with a lance to the eye while jousting to celebrate his daughter’s wedding. The surrounding area is fashionably hip and reminded us of Daikanyama or Aoyama in Tokyo. Packed on the main streets but more interesting on the fringes where you find the up and coming boutiques. We had a couple of guidebooks, Rick Steves’ Paris 2010 and the Eyewitness Travel Guide were good for a few walks but Izumi’s Japanese guidebooks were even better in pointing out interesting places off the beaten path (I would link to it but we left it behind in the apartment for others to use).

It was a stroke of genius to travel with Mimi, our small Terrier-Shizu mix. French people love dogs and Mimi was free to roam with us through the stores and was welcomed by her own bowl of water when we took her to lunch with us. The only regret is that dogs are not allowed in most parks and we had to leave her at the apartment when we chose to visit a museum. People say that it’s hard to get a waiter’s attention. All you need is a cute dog and you’ll immediately have half the staff fawning all over you, or at least your dog!

We settled into a daily rhythm of visiting one museum a day in order to pace ourselves. We would go either in the morning or late-afternoon to avoid the crowds, then spend the other half of the day out on long, exploratory walks with Mimi. Paris is such a great city to explore on foot so 2-3 hour hikes to investigate neighborhoods was the norm. We caught a break in the weather which was oddly cooler than the record-breaking heatwave in Helsinki. Average temperatures for the week was in the mid-20s (mid-70s Fahrenheit). In order to save a bit on costs (and also because the kitchen in the apartment wasn’t really set up to cook, we ended up making lunch our biggest meal of the day. Restaurants have great values during the lunch hours and you can fortify yourself with a two course Prix Fixe menu making anything more than cheese, pate, and baguettes for dinner unnecessary.

I was delighted to find the usual myths about the coldness of the French smashed during our trip. As mentioned before, having Mimi with us did a lot to charm people but also, because we walked the same streets each day, we began to recognize (and be recognized) by those we saw as we set out on our explorations. Strangers on trains were all polite and the instinctual civility of people who were quick to give up their seat to others or hold the door made things even more pleasant.

Our last evening, I mixed up the dates on my online reservation for the Eiffel Tower and expected there to be all sorts of trouble as my tickets were for the following day. The line for tickets that day was horrendously long so I prepared to have go at convincing the staff to give us a break and let us in a day earlier. Each step of the way as I steeled myself to argue our way forward, New York-style. I was met instead with a shrug and a, “fine with me, it’s really up to the next guy.” We went from ticket checker, to security guard, to ticket taker, to elevator operator before we finally realized that we made it all the way through to the second level.

Paris from the Eiffel Tower

We were driven to the airport the next morning by a cabbie I met the day before. He chatted colorfully all the way to the airport as we exchanged observations about the different places we had been. Sometimes he would start up a topic, other times it was me, lots of back and forth. He was originally from Algeria and observed that the Mediterranean cultures were definitely more chatty than those in the North.

Arriving back in Finland that evening, my few half-hearted attempts at conversation were as futile as trying to set fire to wet leaves. An icy stare on one word answers from our driver squelched any attempts at conversation. I felt like Kermit the Frog,  my curiosity kept at bay by his forearms, laced with menacing tattoos. The rest of the drive home was silent, punctuated only by the breathing of our driver through his nostrils. Vacation over. Back to Serious-land.

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Stamp Rally for Grown-Ups

On our last trip to Japan, we decided to take our dog, Mimi, along to meet the rest of the family. We moved to Finland from the United States so we knew that travelling with pets involves a lot of paperwork. Avoiding a lengthy quarantine for Mimi coming to Finland required the signature and stamp from a man in a windowless office next to San Francisco Airport with a poster that said, and I’m not making this up, “1,000 reasons to say No.” We knew there was some paperwork so shortly after arriving in Finland, started to research what it would take to get little Mimi through customs without a hitch. I’m glad we did because, next to buying a home and getting married, this was one of the more stressful things I’ve ever done.

First stop was the Japanese Animal Quarantine Service (AQS) website where we learned that you need (besides teaching your dog how to email) several shots and certification that your dog is free of rabies. To prove your dog is free of rabies, you need to give them a rabies vaccination then take a blood test and send it off to get tested. In Finland, this is done by Evira. For some reason this test needs to be done at least six months before your departure. Thankfully we read all this in time but only just. For those wondering why we stuck around Helsinki until Christmas Eve, that six month window was the reason.

Over the next six months, I traded at least twenty emails with the Animal Quarantine Service. We went back and forth on the specifics of their requirements, what shots, when, by whom, etc, etc, etc. Paperwork went back and forth, each time I had to scan various documents and send them via email because it’s such a pain to find a fax machine these days. In Japan, the signature is still important so the facsimile is paramount.

As the date of our arrival to Narita drew closer, AQS helpfully sent an email reminding me what paperwork was required. They also asked for my flight details. I had been back and forth quite a bit with the folks at Section One so I think I replied to them on a first name basis that we were arriving on a Finnair flight and gave them my flight number.

Panic ensued when AQS replied the next day that since Finnair comes into Terminal Two that we’d have to get clearance from Section Two. I was rattled because it concerned me that the relations built up over the past six months now meant nothing and I’d be starting with a fresh file so to speak. At least the paperwork transferred over cleanly and luckily, one phone call later, things were back on track. I was still nervous though. Our trip to Japan was for 10 days. The standard quarantine period is 90-days. If we got off the plane and our paperwork was for some reason out of order, I was resigned to getting back on the plane to take Mimi back to Finland.

We were entering a tricky window where we had to have a shot for echinococcus, which was good for 30 days, and a final health inspection. We got the shot and then made a date to go back again for a health inspection which had to be done within a 24 hour window of our arrival. We were also required to get this inspection validated by an “official veterinarian” which our private vet and I struggled to interpret. Eventually the vet gave us the number of the City of Helsinki vet, an All-Creatures-Great-and-Small kind of man when we met him

Because we were leaving on Christmas Eve, and the city pretty much shuts down, we got a reprieve from AQS to get the health check done on the 22nd. It’s a good thing too because when I emailed AQS with the City Vet’s signature, they told me I needed his official seal too. Then, while we were visiting with the him the next day for his seal, we got a call on my wife’s cell from Japan that the City Vet is not official enough, that either the State or Federal Vet is needed and that we needed their stamps as well.

This is not a a knock on the folks at AQS but it was getting a bit ridiculous. Their site is very vague and there is not enough definition around what actually makes a Vet “official.” Only after a phone conversation were we sent a document listing the 30-odd people in the entire country that are official enough to authorize a dog to travel unhindered to Japan.

All these shots, tests, stamps, and signatures. When you think of it, it’s more paperwork than you need for a child. Just wave a passport and you’re good to go. Just to be safe, I made appointments with both the Southern Finland regional Vet and the Finnish National Vet who happened to be in Helsinki that day. It was a blizzard on the 23rd but, GPS in hand, I made these two appointments and got our stamps.

Form C

We arrived in Japan after a 10 hour direct flight from Helsinki. No problems in customs, we had all the stamps and seals we needed. In Japan, usually over Summer vacation, the train lines all hold Stamp Rallies in which they give kids a booklet with a box for each station’s stamp. The kids then can travel the lines with their friends and collect the stamps from each station. Presenting not one but three official stamps I felt like I deserved some sort of award.

Each stamp and signature were compared carefully with master reference list so they could be sure that we had everything right. We came bearing the news that all the stamps in Finland were going to change in a few weeks so that, of course, threw the office into disarray. Anyone thinking of using the images above for counterfeiting, sorry to spoil your plans.

So it can be done. It’s a pain but, like anything, it gets easier each time you do it. We’ve got a rabies vaccine and test validation that will last us for another year or so and all we need is another echinococcus shot and we know where to go for our official stamps. It was totally worth it. Mimi had a blast in Japan.

Mimi

Does AppleCare Cover for That?

Blam! That was how Israeli security forces took care of Lily Sussman’s Macbook at the border. “I’m sorry. We had to blow up your laptop.” After two hours of questioning her they took her laptop out back gave it three bullets .

Macbook Blown

They missed her hard drive so the data is apparently safe and reading comments on the post (450 and counting) it appears like she will get compensated as well. I realize tensions are high in the region but they could have asked her first.

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Dopplr City Colors

dopplr colors

Did you know that dopplr assigns a unique color to each city? Neither did I. It’s not just random either – there’s an algorithm at play here. From the dopplr blog:

We wanted a deterministic RGB colour value for each city. At first, we tried mapping the latitude and longitude of a city to a point in colour space, but we found that this made neighbouring cities too similar in colour. This means that people who travel frequently between Glasgow and Edinburgh wouldn’t clearly see the difference in colour between the two. Also, since so much of the Earth’s surface is covered in water rather than cities, it leads to a sparse use of the potential colour space. In the end, we went with a much simpler approach: we take the MD5 digest of the city’s name, convert it to hex and take the first 6 characters as a CSS RGB value.

So now you know why San Francisco is pink, Helsinki is brown, and Berlin is red.

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Thoughts on Helsinki

As with most business trips, my first visit to Helsinki this week was abbreviated and knowingly distorted view of the city. Here are a collection of my impressions.

It’s not as cold as I thought. I wouldn’t want to work outside fixing roads or anything but for a quick stroll, a sweater and jacket was just fine. Locals tell me November is actually the worst season because the bay isn’t yet frozen so the damp air feels colder. When snow covers everything and the air dries up, it actually feels warmer.

It doesn’t get light until around 8am and it’s dark by the time I leave the office at 5pm. Nothing like the “couple hours of daylight” that people warned me about – that’s only way up North. Here’s a shot of a cloudy sky at 4pm.

The tap water here is so good, they bottle it and sell it overseas.

Everyone has a cell phone and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an iPhone or Blackberry. This is the land of Nokia which accounts for about a third of the capitalization of the Helsinki stock exchange.

People love their coffee but stay away from the energy drinks which I swear are mixed with gasoline.

Many of the streets downtown are still cobbled giving it a charming old Europe feel. The roads around the my hotel are torn up for maintenance and pallets of fresh cobblestones await their careful replacement.

The Finns love hockey. In addition to the local teams, there was quite a bit of coverage of the San Jose Sharks on the local news.

Finns take their winter gear seriously. The local department store had a dizzying array of boots and ski jackets. Everyone wears scarves here like Californians wear sunglasses – a fashion accessory.

The language is incomprehensible. To my untrained ear it sounds kind of like Russian with wonderful, vowel-filled words that plop out like big nerf balls. I love listening to the receptionist at Nokia House (as they call Nokia headquarters here) calls up the taxi cabs for visitors – it sounds like she’s directing a complex ballet routine to a cast of tired dancers.

Finns speak perfect English but sometimes mix up the metaphors in a charming way.

Finns shun ice in their soda pop. Ask for some ice with your can of cola and you’re met with a, “yes, sure, but why?” smirk.

Linus Torvalds, is from Finland.

Every hotel has a sauna which is a beautiful thing.

Dedicated to all the Vacation Travellers

Airplane Montage

Cool montage of planes taking off from unknown airport. Found on ffffound!