30 April 2010

Mediterranean Cruise – July 2009

It started off as plans to travel around in Spain…several of my WOW friends were interested but Gowri was planning to use her Club Mahindra membership so the group size had to be limited to 4. Somewhere along the line it changed to Barcelona and a Mediterranean cruise.

I had agreed to go along…and then people started saying…cruises aren’t so much value for money if one wants to really explore the county as you get to visit only the ports and that too for a short time. A cruise is a must once in a lifetime, but it should be for the sake of the cruise alone. A new port everyday...hmmm not such a great idea.

I started having second thoughts, but then somehow decided to go along. AND NO REGRETS!!! I had the most awesome time on board the MSC – Fantasia. Started from Barcelona , touched Marseille, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma de Mallorca and a week later we were back in Barcelona.

Can’t decide where to start from…the first view was awesome. MSC_FantasiaThis incidentally is a scan of a photograph that I won in a art quiz that the art gallery on board the ship had organized for the passengers!

I guess I never expected it to be so huge. Later on I was told that it can accommodate 3300 passengers and 1500 crew!!! I wondered what they needed so much staff for.

But as I spent time on the cruise I realised why. While breakfast and lunch was buffet system, dinner seating was 6 people to a table, and they had one butler and one helper for each table!!! By the end of the cruise we had become so fond of our butler, Marinela Seuleanu, that I am still in touch with her and she is my friend on fb too! She took such good care and made us feel so special. The whole meal with its 4 courses would be quite heavy so i would tell her to miss something out, but she would insist and say…’I get small helping for you…baby’. She was younger than me…but insisted on calling me baby! If i would wonder which dessert to order, she would say…’I get all for u!’ Ohhhh…she can still bring a smile to my face.

When I went up to the top deck, there were 4swimming pools and staff busy organizing some activities  for everyone…which included yoga, aerobics, jam sessions, dancing and what not!

IMG_369718 decks…whew!!! 13 for passengers and what didn't we have on these 13 floors -  something I could never have imagined…a squash court, jogging track, sports centre, SPA, beauty salon, gymnasium, theatre, casino, discotheque, F1 simulator, 4D interactive cinema, wine tasting bar, sport bar, jazz bar, coffee bar, 19 bars, 4 restaurants, 2 cafeterias, pizzeria, shopping duty-free area, 4 swimming pools, 12 SPA baths, waterslide, sliding sun roof.

IMG_3235And all these bars had live performances in the evenings…jazz, soft romantic old numbers, piano performances, Mexican singers with their classical guitars…simply an amazing way to spend your evenings.

In one of the bars, they had a dance floor and there were some crew members who would take salsa, tango and other kinds of dance classes in the afternoon. Later in the evening, there would be dancing on this floor and these crew members would double up as partners for people who didn't have dancing partners.  I too enjoyed a salsa dance one evening. I kept insisting that I was born with 2 left feet and wouldn’t be able to dance but he insisted that he would lead me and I needn't worry. And I actually managed the whole dance without tripping over!!!

Late into the night they would have a performance in the theatre too, ranging from stand up comedy, to musical shows, acrobatics and what not...just not to be missed by a theatre freak like me. So I would go for a  shore excursion everyday and return and crash out for 2 hours so that I could stay up and enjoy the live music in the evening and then theatre at night.

The interiors were a bit garish…too much jhik jhak and bright colours, odd combinations…but when the ship came alive with all decked up passengers in the evenings it kinda looked appropriate.

IMG_3696Dressing up in the evenings for dinner was an altogether different experience. So unlike me to get all decked up…and that too when on a holiday!!! But it was fun!

Ahhh…they also have a safety drill. All hands on deck with their lifejackets. Very organised. Massi and I were tired and so tried to hide out in the room…but they made sure they came and got us.

What I like BEST was not having to lug my luggage around from one place to another. Settled into our cabin as we went from one place to another. Every morning I would take a guided shore excursion and return late afternoon to what soon seemed like a temporary home. And the cherry on the cake was getting to see so many new places in different countries!

23 April 2010

Tallinn (Estonia)

One of my most unplanned and chaotic holidays ever!!!

An ex-colleague and friend now works for Nokia and was supposed to visit Oulu for work…since March. I had been eagerly waiting for him so that we could do some sightseeing and winter activities here, but his plan kept getting postponed and by the time he reached the snow had all melted and the plans I had made were no longer possible.

He always mentioned he would be coming for 2 weeks or so, so that when he landed here on Thursday I had no clue that he was supposed to leave Oulu on Sunday afternoon!!!

Thursday we made some plans about just hanging around in Oulu over the weekend since he had only till Sunday afternoon. However, Friday afternoon he pings me to say that due to the volcano in Iceland all flights are cancelled, so let’s plan something else. We decided that we would take a train to Helsinki and visit Tallinn in Estonia on Saturday and maybe Poorvoo on Sunday.

Till 2:00 PM we hadn’t decided which train to take. Everybody was warning us that due to the flights cancellations the trains’ will be very busy so we should get some reservations. But the VR site was facing too much traffic and it was getting very difficult to book tickets. Somehow we managed some train tickets and hotel bookings in Helsinki.

No planning, no clue as what to see where, no timings of the ferries to Tallinn, no bookings on the ferries…NOTHING AT ALL!

Raghu wanted to meet his friends in another hotel the next morning, so we went there first. He seemed to have an impression that there were several small boats that leave every half hr from the port to Tallinn. I did mention to him once that we need to be at the ferry point by 10:00 to catch the 10:30 ferry, but I guess he is used to the US ways. Things are different in UK and Europe, where most offices are closed on weekends. If you don’t have reservations better to reach in time and figure out how to go about everything. So we reached the ferry point at 10:15 and they WOULD’NT sell us tickets to board as they close the check in by 10:20. The next ferry was at 2:00PM. I WAS soooooooo disappointed. We actually begged and pleaded with the lady at the counter but she wouldn’t agree. She wouldn’t even help us with alternatives. We looked around for some information but couldn’t find anything.

Then we went back to the counter and found another lady, who was more helpful. She gave us details of another ferry company whose ferry left at 11:30 from another port. We charged to that place. Too much traffic on the way, but somehow we made it in time. As we entered we saw the place was sooooooo crowded. Went to purchase tickets and were told they were SOLD OUT and they would put us on waitlist. I was sure we wouldn’t get to Tallinn, but Raghu had this conviction that we would. After 20 mins or so, they opened reservations for people on waitlist and after a BMW and a BENZ cab ride we were finally ON OUR WAY TO TALLINN!!!!

We were late and I was wondering if we would be able to see Tallinn properly, but friends who had visited Tallinn told me that it’s a beautiful town, but you don’t need much time there. 4 hrs would be sufficient There are many museums there, but one doesn’t have to visit each one, to which I totally agreed.

Once on board the ferry, I looked for a Tallinn map and/or a guide. Managed to find something and started reading up as much as I could on what to see and do.

IMG_5379 Tallinn is a very small town…it has a modern part to it…but the part to visit is what is called the ‘old part of town’. Narrow cobbled roads with churches and cathedrals at every turn, tiny shops selling handicrafts and cute stuff, girls in traditional clothes selling nuts in wooden carts, the old town wall and towers made me think that I was in some other century and soon I will hear clip clop clip clop as a horse drawn carriage approaches me.

IMG_5368The first street seemed to be a flower market. The colours and the sizes of the roses had me gaping. 

The one thing that I didn't want to miss was the Niguliste Church. This church boasts of a fragment of the Dance Of Death painting by Notke. They have converted this church into a museum and one can find detailed explanation of the painting and other sculptures in this church as well as other churches in Estonia. I thought the painting was very nice and that alone made the trip to Tallinn worthwhile.

IMG_5398After visiting the Town Hall we made our way towards the Patkul Platform - narrow cobbled staircase leading to the old city wall and a place where we can get a view of the town and the clock tower.

On the way we visited this shop where the lady had made the most amazing use of colours for making scarves and wall hangings on cloth.

Last stop was to be the Kadriorg Park and Palace. I should have guessed we didn't need to go there when we caught Bus No 3 instead of Tram No 3!!! Thank god that I have this habit of asking people if I am on the right track when I have even a wee bit of doubt. Otherwise god alone knows where we would have reached!!!

Anyways finally we reached the park. What a disappointment!!! Pictures look beautiful…but that is when the flowers are in full bloom. At this time of the year, the place is barren…with nothing interesting to see.

It was now getting time for the ferry back to Helsinki so we started moving towards the port. But I hadn't bought my fridge magnet yet!!! I really wanted to, but looked like there was no time. If I had been on my own I wouldn't have gone…but Rags also wanted one and he was like…I will kill you if we don't get a magnet. This was because initially he wanted to stop at some shop and pick up a magnet and i wouldn't let him. I was like we’ll buy in the end. Now lets move fast towards the Niguliste church.

Luckily we crossed a market on the way to ferry point and quickly bought our magnets!

21 April 2010

Unknown Lands!

The gladdest moment in human life is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands.

Sir Richard Francis Burton

11 April 2010


A simple, but very eloquent poem…

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.


What do you see nurses? . . What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . . when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man, . . . . . not very wise,
Uncertain of habit . . . ... with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . . . ... and makes no reply .
When you say in a loud voice . .. . . "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice . .. . the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . . . a sock or a shoe?

Who, resisting or not . .. . . . lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding. .. . . the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking? . . Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . . . you're not looking at me..

I'll tell you who I am. . . as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten . .. with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . . . who love one another.

A young boy of sixteen . . . . with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . . . . a lover he'll meet..
A groom soon at twenty .. . . .my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . .. . that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five, now . . . . . I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty . . . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . With ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons . . . have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me . . .. to see I don't mourn.
At fifty, once more, . . babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . .. . My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . .my wife is now dead.
I look at the future . . .. . .. shudder with dread..
For my young are all rearing . . . young of their own.
And I think of the years,. and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man . . . . . and nature is cruel.
Tis jest to make old age .. . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles ... . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . .. . where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . a young guy still dwells,
And now and again .. . . . my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . life over again.

I think of the years, all too few . .. . gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . .. . open and see.
Not a crabby old man. Look closer .. .. see ME!!

10 April 2010


Finally spring is here…can’t decide if I like negative 13 with the sun out, shining on the pristine white snow or do I prefer the positive 2 with cloudy, drizzly days and dirty, blackish ice!

The Monday morning that I first realized that the snow has started melting, the pedestrian pathway was like an ice rink…so slippery. I walked more horizontally than vertically… searching for patches with either snow or no snow at all and trying to avoid all icy patches. It wasn’t easy and the 10 minutes’ walk to the bus op sttook me nearly 25 minutes, with lots of balancing and break dancing steps in between.

Obvious case of Murphy’s Law – I had a client meeting that day at 8:30 AM. Managed to logon by 8:35, only to find that the client had cancelled the meeting!!!

While returning in the evening, as I crossed the bridge I saw some ducks…where there was a frozen stream till 2 days back, there were now some playful ducks enjoying themselves. As I stopped and looked around, I saw several birds on the trees.

Same place…Winter and Early Spring!!!


The trucks had been to town and removed all the ice during the day so it was much easier to walk now. And then I saw the road towards my house…first time without ice or snow. It was full of potholes!!! I could have easily mistaken it for a BANGALORE road!

08 April 2010

Snowmobiling in Rovaniemi!

Snowmobiling at night in search of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights…when I first read the brochure for Winter activities in Finland, I knew instantly that this was a must. But somehow couldn’t make the plan to do that in March when the chances of seeing the Northern Lights are more.

Long Easter weekend …finally I gathered the courage to try it out. The sky was clear when we started out at 7:00 PM but by the time we reached the forests there was just too much mist…not the perfect conditions to view Northern Lights!

The snowmobiling experience at night by itself was fantastic. Initially as we geared up in our thermal suits, helmets, goggles etc, I started getting apprehensive on whether I would be able to drive the snowmobile. IMG_5302 Unfortunately, my team member too wasn't very confident. They advertise that there will be a short lesson…but that turned out to be just the guide telling us the very basics for 5 mins. When I enquired whether we get a trial lesson…he was like…no..WE JUST GO!!!!

There were 2 more snowmobiles in our safari, apart from the guide and they had all tried snowmobiling before. That kinda scared me even more.

Nervous as hell, we started out.  The snowmobile has skis, so if you don't maintain the right speed it tends to go haywire. Moreover, I somehow couldn't get the hang of the accelerator. I would speed up and let go and then we would slow down. It was some jhatka ride!!!

The guide had told us that the locals use snowmobiles here for transport and tend to be fast so we should remain on the right side of the track…not very easy for an Indian!!! No matter how hard I tried, it kept going to the left!!

After about 20 mins or so, I started getting a hang of it. Its not very easy as we need to hold the handle very hard to make sure we go straight, I could feel the strain in my upper arms.

Then came a snowmobile from front. Somehow managed to take the snowmobile to the right corner. The 2 snowmobiles behind me were not so successful…as in the local had to go a lil off the track to cross them. The guide now stopped for a sanity check and gave me a thumbs up…and a good job comment. Now my confidence started increasing. At that point there was also a change in drivers. My friend took over and we started off again.

Somehow she couldnt get the hang of it at all. She was like zig zagging all over the track…from one corner to the other. So we had to change again and I took over.

Confidence levels up, I started checking my speed…can I make it go a wee bit faster..a lil more…most of the times I was at about 24Km/hr…but vrooooooooooooooooooosh I did manage to touch 38km/hr sometimes. I immediately thought of my friend Poorvi… she would have freaked out and definitely touched 55km/hr at least.

Finally we reached the point which is considered to be the best for watching the Northern Lights. Till then I had been concentrating on driving that I didn't realise that there was so much mist around. So no Northern Lights :-(

But we stopped for a camp fire under a typical Finnish tent, where the guide brewed some kapi and made sausages and tikkis(for the veggies).

After about 30 mins it was time to return. My friend wanted to drive but the guide said, that while returning it is a little difficult for 10 mins and she could take over after that. Ab to I was flying in the air…I am toooo good I thought!

The so called difficult section was a steep downhill, but I managed that quite easily, so by now I thought I was a heroine.  Then my friend took over. But again she had problems and she took us over the side, from where we couldnt get the snowmobile back. The guide had to help us out!  So I had to take over again. Ab toh heroine was in fulltosh form.

There came a very steep turn to be taken under a bridge…the guide indicated that we should slow down…I did, but only a wee bit. You know what happens when you get overconfident and are too fast…YOU CRASH!!!

I could see the crash coming, but it didn't strike me to stop the accelerator or press the emergency button!!! And DHAM…we had turned over. I had nimbly jumped off and was on the side. But my friend lay on the snow. As I called out to her, she didn’t respond. I shook her and still NO RESPONSE.

My heart started beating really fast. It was maybe only 2 mins, but seemed like ages to me. The people at the back came over and one ran to call the guide. Everyone was looking so scared. Suddenly she raised her hand and said…’gimme a hand up’ oooooffffffffffffffffff…thank god.

We checked her up and she seemed ok…so we had to start out again. I thought I wouldn't be able to drive now and even  considered asking one of the people at the back to change places with me. But somehow, I felt that if after the crash I don't drive again, I would have a permanent fear…so I got on and we drove.

But yes, I couldnt speed. Went on the perfect 24km/hr and nearly stopped at all the turns. But reached back in one piece.

06 April 2010

Arctic Circle / Santa Claus Village

Santa's ExpressOnly 200kms away from the Arctic Circle…it became absolutely necessary for me to make a visit and cross it, which I did when I visited Rovaniemi.

A very beautiful local bus…Santa’s Express takes you to Santa Claus Village which is just about 8kms from Rovaniemi. The Arctic Circle goes right through the village. And for all touristy purposes, it is nicely marked out so that you can take some pics!!!

IMG_5204 Santa Claus Village…very Christmassy even at this time of the year! I actually thought it was December when I entered the place, with the ‘Jingle Bells’ playing in the background, Christmas trees all lit up and the snow which had not yet melted. It was nice to meet Santa Claus and his office was quite nicely done up. Only in all the excitement I lost my beautiful pink mitten :-(

Money making scheme there…you are not allowed to click snaps with Santa with your own cameras. They click the snap and you can buy it. I STILL cant believe i shelled out 25 euros for a snap!!! I’m just gonna blame it on Santa.

Apart from that nothing new to do there…the usual reindeer rides and snowmobiles but it is shopaholic’s paradise. Quaint little shops…one after the other selling all kinds of souvenirs! Even if you don’t want to buy, you feel like browsing because most of it is very traditional Lapland handicrafts. Very beautiful but quite expensive too.

Arktikum in Rovaniemi is supposed to be a museum cum science centre. Someone had raved about the movie that they play there on the Northern Lights. Since I missed seeing the Northern Lights on the night safari the previous night, I decided to go to Arktikum to at least enjoy them on screen. It is a nice place…though the movie could have been better. I have seen better snaps and movies on the net! 

I actually enjoyed the exhibition on the Lapland culture more, especially since I could relate a lot of stuff that I saw with what Irene had told me. They had a lot of stuffed animals that are found in Lapland…and when I saw the size of the moose I realised why Irene said that the man gets killed! They are HUGE!

There is a room where you can lie down and watch a simulation of the Northern Lights…very nice. I sat or rather lay through that twice!

05 April 2010

Rovaniemi - Kangasniemi Hornworks

In several of my earlier posts on Finland I have been raving about how warm and nice the Finnish people are. Well the Lappish people take the cake…that too a blackforest one with the cherry on top!!!

On my recent trip to Rovaniemi, I met the 2 most wonderful people…in fact amongst the nicest people that I have met in my life!

Irene and Ari Kangasniemi have a handicraft company called Kangasniemi Hornworks. They run a program called Secret of the Antler Programme wherein they tell you how to make handicrafts from different renewable natural raw materials like Reindeer antler and leather, birch bark, silver pine and bur. Everyone has a chance to make their own souvenir to take it back with them.

They not only welcome you into their studio, but after you are done with making your souvenir, they welcome you into their home.

The visit began with Irene telling us about Lapland and their culture. Then she told us about Reindeers and what an enlightening session that was.

  • Reindeers have 20 types of antlers only! The male antler can grow upto 2cms per day!
  • There are 3 reindeers for every human being in Lapland!
  • Rudolf, the red nosed reindeer is actually white! He is a true albino deer which is a white deer with pink eyes. So much for Hollywood always showing Santa with brown coloured reindeers on his sled!
  • While crossing the road, if a reindeer hits a car, the reindeer dies. But if a moose hits the car it is for sure that the man will die.
  • Reindeers are very, very intelligent. They have a thick coat of fur, and each hair is hollow. So they walk against the wind in winters so that nothing gets trapped inside their fur and they don’t get cold. In Summer they walk in the same direction as the wind and so the wind gets trapped in their fur and they don’t get too hot!!!
  • Reindeers have a very interesting cycle for their antlers …as in when it grows, how much it grows, when it is shed based on the need and whether they are male or female. Every sentence Irene said had me wowing!

After that Irene showed us some of the antlers. That is her with a set of male antlers and me with the female antlers.

male antlers

female antlers

Next was the actual workshop…I wanted to make a Kuksa, which is a traditional coffee/tea cup. working That’s me working with Ari in his workshop, and let me tell you, it is not as easy as it sounds! I actually began with a block of wood, went on to smoothen out the wood and giving it some rounded shape. Then came the handle…getting that curve and shape was quite a job… which I wouldn’t have managed had Ari not been helping me. Gently he would guide my hand on the machine.







And finally the proof of the pudding – my KUKSA!!!!


Once my Kuksa was ready, she wanted to pack it for me. She gave me such a beautiful pouch (at no extra cost!!!). She had heard me say that I went for a husky safari, so she packed it in the coffee pouch on which she has made a picture of a Husky Safari. How very thoughtful!!! And finally when I went to her house she gave a bag of Blueberry tea to put in the pouch along with the Kuksa.

Then she welcomed us into their traditional Lappish log home, where she opened everything for us. She wanted to tell us about the Lappish way of life and housing. She even took us to her bedroom and showed us some of her traditional dresses!!!

Blueberry juice, cinnamon rolls and Irene telling us about the Lappish way of life…a perfect afternoon! Cherished and fond memories are made of these.

From Irene’s talk, you could gather that she is very proud of her heritage and wants to preserve it and wants people to know about their culture and handicrafts. She just seemed to want to hold on to the old traditions and bring them back.  And I totally believed her as for the entire program they charge a meagre 25 euros!!!  They don't do this program as a business proposition, but because of their passion for their art and culture.

3 cheers for Irene and Ari

04 April 2010

Fakir Manpreet!

 The fakir on a bed of nails!

The fakir on a bed of nails!

This snap was taken at a recent visit to the science centre Tieto Maa in Oulu. How easily I lay on the bed of nails and equally easily some people in India make a fool of the vulnerable villagers by saying they are performing feats of magic!!!

Anyways, to tell more about the science centre…it was really very nice. Science museums and centres can sometimes be very very boring as they have too much technical stuff. Even adults have difficulty comprehending all the details, forget the poor kids. Its quite a feat if you are able to spend a couple of hours there. But at Tieto Maa, it was an altogether different experience. Everything was explained by the way of a small game or task. e.g the Fakir bed – instead of just talking about mass, pressure etc, they had a bed of nails on which you could lie and test it for yourself.

Similarly for other laws that we have learnt in physics.

The one explaining centre of gravity was quite interesting. Several squares appear on a screen projected on a wall. A ball starts falling from the top and you have to move your body i.e change your centre of gravity to hit the boxes with the ball. As per the game I am not stable, with which I and some of my close friends would agree. I actually keep stumbling and falling!!!

There were several quizzes for different areas …again organized as a proper buzzer round for a quiz wherein upto 4 people can sit around and each one is given the same question to answer. I was looking at one of these and immediately 2 small boys came and sat on the other seats! And we had a quiz.

So many simulators…each one more fun than the other.  There was a 3D ski jump simulator, flight simulators, a time machine simulator. Another exhibit, not really a simulator, but still quite interesting. You stand on a high platform and jump onto a mattress. They then simulate and show you your jump in slow motion.

There was one whole floor called Sporttimus where you could try various sports. There was even a pit stop for car racing where you can actually try and change 2 tyres for a car. The turning wall was also quite popular.

Couple of things that I noticed -

  • Everywhere there were small kids accompanied by parents – both categories having a blast.  One mom was busy playing a game herself, while her kids were playing some other game! 
  • Teenagers (early as well as late teens!)…unaccompanied by adults.  It was like a group of friends who have come for an outing. This is very unlike western culture where teenagers just hang out! 
  • I had gone alone and wanted to try the Dance Machine. It should be 2 people competing but I went on it alone. A girl in her late teens came up and asked me if she could join me. I thought that it was very considerate of her. She could have done it with her friends but realised that I was alone and just came up to me!
  • And finally is possible to spend several hours in a science museum and not get bored. I spent close to 5 hrs and could have spent more time but it was closing time!