Posts in the category "Once in a Lifetime" and its subcategories.

Back from Australia – General itinerary

Pile of mail

I’m back! I didn’t have a good chance to blog in Australia because I didn’t have an Internet connection for my netbook — and I really didn’t want to sit in front of their computer for long since I wasn’t “home alone”.

Now that I’m back home, I’ll post some of the photos I took.

This time I got to experience the Australian winter (or winter-spring transition): brrr, cold! At least for someone who had packed similarly to the summer visit… Whoops. Luckily I had one warm shirt and a short jacket — and my trusty woolly socks. It wasn’t bad outside in the sun but it was a bit chilly inside in the mornings. Towards the end of my stay it got warmer.

I left on Monday, August 31st on a 5.05 PM flight from Helsinki. First I travelled to Frankfurt to catch my connecting flight to Sydney (via Singapore). I sat in an aisle seat in the very last row of the Boeing 747, next to the exit and the cabin crew seat. It was actually very interesting watching them work. For example, I noticed that the sound many people think is the “seatbelt sign turned off” sign (i.e. you can unbuckle your belt) isn’t that, but an intercom ring: After the crew members had armed their doors they got a call on something. Only some time after that was the seatbelt sign really turned off.
In Singapore I, for some reason, had to change my seat. This time I had the middle seat (oh noooo). Luckily it was for the shorter leg of the journey (it was still over 7 hours so I wasn’t happy). I had two very tired guys around me — and I could swear the one on my left talked some weird gibberish in his sleep. That was funny.

We arrived in Frankfurt a little late of schedule (around 7pm instead of the scheduled 6.40pm because we left Helsinki late) which didn’t bother me one bit since I had “some” waiting to do until my next flight which was at 11.55pm. I had to wait to about 10pm before they announced the gate number — no fun because I can never find a nice place to sit (suggestions are welcome). I sat in the check-in hall even though I didn’t have to check in (whoo!) and read Daniel Suarez’s Daemon (good!). An observation: The Germans still think every passenger speaks German. Sigh.

Finally I got on-board and arrived in Sydney at 5.10am on Wednesday, September 2nd after about a 1.5-hour pit stop in Singapore. I had had to tick one box in the arriving passenger card (medicine, drugs and whatnot — sheesh) so I was asked about that (I had pills for headaches) but that was it. Poor Kat (along with the rest of the family) had offered to pick me up. I was out of the queues and check-ups at 6am and they arrived soon after that.

This time I had dressed smart and didn’t get caught in any of the security checks (except once on the way back cause I was wearing my glasses in Frankfurt…). Last time my shoes especially caused grief and in Frankfurt an angry looking lady snapped “Schuhe auf!!” (shoes off) at me and I was so dazed that at first I didn’t understand what she meant (I do know some German).

The flight back (*sob*) left on September 15th at 3.50pm. We almost got stuck in traffic on M5 on the way to the airport but luckily we had left early and I was just on time for the recommended check-in time (2 hours before take-off). This time I got checked-in all the way to Helsinki so I didn’t have to queue at the check-in desk in Frankfurt (instead, I got asked for my ID at boarding unlike last time…). Now I had window seats all the way, and unlike last time we didn’t have to close the windows when we flew over the mountains in India — but it was pitch black outside so I didn’t see a thing. This reminds me, on the way from Frankfurt to Sydney we flew over India in daytime and had to keep all the shutters closed cause it was “bedtime” for us. However, some annoying German girls (I knew they were German because they were trying to take a man’s window seat and I was queuing behind him and had to wait for and listen to them to settle the issue — the man wasn’t German but the girls started speaking in German) kept opening the shutter every time they went to the toilet (which was often) and let me tell you, even a little ray of light is really bright in a dark air plane. I was trying to sleep or at least rest my eyes.

So, on the way back I was in a window seat and all the way from Singapore to Frankfurt the middle seat was empty! What a luxury! In the aisle seat sat an Irish man who had spent a year in Australia and was now heading back home (only for a short stay, I understood). His accent was quite nice to listen to. It was almost incomprehensible. Almost.

On my way to Australia I watched the Watchmen and 3 episodes of IT Crowd that I hadn’t seen before! (They’ve only shown season 1 in Finland so far). On my way back I watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine, an IT Crowd episode I hadn’t had time to watch the first time, a couple of Mythbusters episodes, and some Mr. Bean (while listening to my MP3 player — Mr. Bean doesn’t need sound). The rest of the time I just listened to my MP3 player and rested. And ate. There was this risoni pasta salad that was absolutely wonderful!

I landed in Helsinki at 2.15pm on September 16th. This time the luggage was processed quickly; last time we had to wait for 1.5 hours (!!!) for the bags to start coming down the conveyor belt. I was actually home less than half an hour after landing! (The taxi ride was quick, too.)

Now, on to choosing photos…!

Note to self: Qantas’s Snack on Q pack is OK to be carried through quarantine (needs to be declared). Also, the pack from Frankfurt to Sydney seems to be better than the one from Sydney to Frankfurt… (In my opinion.) Also, it’s ok to take a separate handbag on-board. It’s so much better when I can put the backpack out of the way in the overhead lockers.

More than once in a lifetime

It happened in just over a week: on August 14 my boss suggests that now would be a good time to take my last weeks of summer vacation if I didn’t have any special plans to save them for later, and also reduce all my overtime hours. That’s not going to happen after the extra hours I did this week, though, but I’ll get it closer to zero than it’s been in years. Four weeks in total. I say, “Alright, I’ll think about it.”

Boy, did I think about it. Four weeks is a lot so I need to do something other than just sit inside, watch tv or play games (especially as I didn’t do much on my previous 1+3 weeks of vacation…).

On August 15-16 I see a dream where I plan a trip to Australia and in the morning I actually wake up startled, gasping “where’s my passport” — I really didn’t know where it was. The dream makes me take a peek at the ticket prices — just for fun — and I happen to mention this to a co-worker on our way from work (this was on August 17). He gets all excited that of course I need to go, now’s a really good chance! The enthusiasm gets me excited too and once I get off the subway I call my sister to ask if she’d go (not in a millllllion years but I figured I’d try if she was feeling spontaneous (not her nature)). We decide on a domestic trip instead. For a while I feel less excited and think that maybe it’s too much money and too soon.

Then on Thursday, August 20, the co-worker of mine asks jokingly if I’ve bought the tickets yet. There are other people around so they of course ask what it was about. I say I haven’t yet — and that I didn’t even know where my passport was. The same night I start looking for my passport and find it in almost the place where I thought it was (duh). Friday morning, August 21, I ask Kat, my friend in Australia, if it would be ok for me to come for a visit and it is! That’s it, I’m going. When I arrive at work I go talk to this nice lady, who was appalled when I said I didn’t know where my passport was. In her opinion adults shouldn’t lose things like that. I agree, but there was the move and everything… And I honestly didn’t think I’d ever need the passport again ;) so I didn’t even look for it in earnest. I whispered that I found my passport, so she laughs and says that it probably means I’m going then. I show a serious face and say yes, it does. By the end of the day I’ve already mentioned it to too many people, so now I really have to go.

So, today is August 22, 8 days after I got the idea. Before I left the house this morning I checked if I can apply for an ETA, or actually an eVisitor for European passport holders, without flight details. It was possible so I sent off the application — and it didn’t cost anything, like ETA and not to mention visa does! When I got back, I had received a confirmation on email (took 2 hours on a Saturday. Maybe it’s done by computers? Can it be?). Now it was time to book the tickets: I choose to go via Frankfurt again even though it means I’ll have to wait for 4-5 hours between flights. It’s alright, I rather be very safe than very sorry. After that’s done, I buy some insurances which are printable right there and then. In about 30 minutes after the booking I receive the tickets to my email and I’m done. That’s just crazy. Last time I waited for the tickets for 5 days to arrive in the mail and the insurance papers for 6 days.

I just noticed that I already have a seat reservation for three out of the four flights. That probably means I will have to stand for the 19 hours and 25 minutes between Frankfurt and Sydney. Luckily we stay for 2 hours in Singapore so I can rest my legs there. ;)

Last time I planned this for a year. This time for one week. Maybe next time I’ll find some middle ground.

Now, who wants to scream a little I’m-probably-crazy-for-doing-this scream with me? Well, travelling or meeting friends is never crazy.

Iron woman

Last Wednesday I got it in my head that my bedroom needed reorganising. Furniture-wise. (The contents of the closets, shelves, and boxes are in a much bigger mess, therefore I need a lot bigger inspiration to start organising those.)

Here’s what it used to look like:

Bedroom before

I had figured I have no need for much floor space (not going to square dance or anything there) so I’d put the bed like that to make it easier to change sheets. However, I got tired of the maze. I’d bump my leg and hip on the foot of the bed or my desk. Don’t ask me why, but I always got in from the right even though the left side was all clear. (The dimensions are a little off there, because in reality the foot of the bed and the corner of the desk were closer… I’m not that wide.)

Anyway, I took the stuff off the shelves of my big bookcase (in the corner there), threw them on the bed, and put some woolly socks under the bookcase. I dragged it across the room. Then I dragged my bed around with the help of some more woolly socks and pushed it in the corner. Then I put the desk in front of the window. Very easy to move the desk since it is on a little rug. Finally, I carried the chest of drawers and put it on the other end of the desk.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Bedroom after

Still, the desk area isn’t optimal but I didn’t want to put the chest of drawers right next to the bed. I’m afraid I may hit my head or something. Maybe I’ll need to try it out though, because it could act as a night table too (I need to put my cellphone, i.e. alarm clock, somewhere). Unfortunately the door doesn’t open all the way now because the bookcase is just a tad too wide (the door hits just the corner there) but there aren’t many places to put it.

(The floor plans were created at

Parking space invaders

Last year before the move-in, one of my to-be-neighbours called me to ask if I needed a parking space. There are only as many parking spaces as there are condos (which is really stupid) so they were hoping I would give up my space. Well, I said I didn’t mind if they said I was willing to give up my space cause I didn’t need it.

She just called again, because we were asked to return a paper requesting a parking space or to tell if we didn’t need one. I put that I don’t need a space because I don’t, and I frankly didn’t even remember the “deal” (there was no special arrangement, I didn’t pay for the space so they didn’t pay for it to me). I asked if there are many other families with two cars and she told me there are a couple. When I told her I had already stated I didn’t need a space and that I think it’s fair if the families who’ve had to park one car on the street have a chance of getting a proper space this year (there will be a draw), she suddenly sounded very annoyed and was quick to end the call. Sorry, but there’s really no reason for me to help them getting an extra space. I did it last year out of shock (why did she call me and how did she get my phone number) and kindness.

Mm, the smell of fly corpses in the morning

I was supposed to go carpet shopping today but I was too comfortable for too long watching the X-Files so I couldn’t be bothered anymore. It’s a hassle getting to the shops where I want to go. It’s less of a hassle from work so I’ll try and leave a little earlier some day.

Skipping that “responsibility” I decided to do something useful anyway. I decided to clean up the air conditioning unit — which should be done every 6 months and I haven’t exactly done so. It’s nearly a year since I moved here (anniversary on Tuesday) so I figured it’s high time.

I opened up the door (a bit of a struggle) and was greeted with black blobs of dead flies (those really really tiny ones) all over the floor of the unit and in the filters, and a sort of sweet smell. Mm.

I had to take out the dusty filters and vacuum the flies away. There’s a cubic element in the middle (whatever it does) that apparently should be removed and washed but I couldn’t figure out how to do that and I was afraid to pull it too forcefully. I’ll have to ask Dad come and check it out some day (how embarrassing…).

Well, at least now I have an 80% clean air conditioning unit instead of the entirely unclean one.

Cough cough. I think I inhaled some of the flies.
(Just kidding! One of the filters was really dusty. Not with flies, thank god.)

An alchemist

Time and time again I’m amazed by the magic of cooking.

Not too long ago I made Pioneer Woman’s recipe “Grandma Iny’s Prune Cake” where you make an icing from sugar, buttermilk, baking soda, syrup, butter, and vanilla extract. It needs to be boiled for a while but it must not reach a soft ball stage. I didn’t have any idea what kind of stage that might be so I just boiled it until it looked something like in the photos. (I may’ve cooked it too long but anyway. It ended up being a syrupy-looking thing (maybe the caramel stage) and it was easily pourable. And the whole thing was delicious. That’s the main thing.) At first I was sceptical: the thing started boiling, then foaming (all but fluffed right out of the pan) which I think could be the butter’s fault (it wasn’t the artery-clogging kind). But I waited patiently for the syrup to appear. I actually scooped a bit of the foam off because I was afraid the butter was not right for the recipe. Suddenly — very very quickly — the foam went down and it turned into syrup.

Today I decided to try a fudge recipe where you had to boil sugar, cream, honey, and butter to the soft ball stage of 116 degrees Celsius. (I was going to buy a thermometer but forgot.) Once again, the butter started foaming (so it wasn’t the “healthy” butter’s fault although the real butter foams in a lot more controlled manner) and I started doing the water test: drop a bit of the syrup to cold water and once it’s forms into a soft ball when it hits the water, it’s ready. I waited and waited, and stirred. And put a few drops of it in the water — getting only slightly white sugar water. At one point it was still very foamy but a little thicker than it had been before so I decided to try my luck: it actually seemed to harden a little in the water so I took it off the burner, even though I thought “it’s foam, it can’t work”. In an instant (a few seconds, seriously) it turned into something I could really call fudge. Wow! Then I started mixing in the flavours: white chocolate (yummmm), ginger jam (odd but it’s in the recipe — gotta try it), and dried cranberries. Little by little I started believing I may’ve actually managed to do this right. Now it’s cooling down right behind me — I’m just inhaling the smelly goodness since it’ll take a while for it to be ready for cutting.

I only wish I could succeed in normal cooking. It seems I only get the cakes and other treats right, and my regular food comes out bland or just weird. Maybe it’s because dessert-making is more of an exact science?

Disappearance trick

Just yesterday, and several days before that, I had a private swimming pool (or a skating rink if it would’ve frozen) — on my balcony! The drain out there doesn’t do its job efficiently enough and the melting snow created a nice little pond. It started as a small puddle around the drain but yesterday it had reached the door. Luckily, if the water level got any higher than that, it would start going over the sides and wouldn’t get in since the door is higher.

In the photo above, my doorstep is at the bottom of the picture and the water is about 2 feet away. (That was the day before yesterday.)

I lifted the block of ice off the drain in the hopes of opening it but no luck there…

However, this morning(-ish…) the water was nearly gone! There’s only a little bit of ice left in the groove that goes around the balcony. I hope the water doesn’t come back this winter but I’m definitely listing this as something that needs to be fixed. (After the first year they’ll do an inspection and ask the people to report any problems that were noticed during the first year of occupying the apartments.)

I’m glad I didn’t yet have any furniture or flooring on my balcony!

Grrr, yum

I’m a carnivore but since I moved on my own I haven’t dared to try and fry a proper steak because I’ve thought it’s really difficult. So, for over 6 months I’ve been basically eating chicken, turkey, fish and minced meat (yeah, meat, but not one you need to use your teeth on). Bleh. I think once I was lucky enough to be at mum and dad’s when mum made steaks.

Lately I’ve really wanted to have some steak. I even discussed my “fear” with a client when we were out for lunch around Christmas time — we happened to talk about cooking in general. I got some good tips from her and she reassured me that it really wasn’t so difficult. So, today I finally bought two steaks, one for today and one for tomorrow.

It really wasn’t difficult and I used a timer just in case. Boy, it was good. I cooked some vegetables and couscous to go with it. I’m not overly fond of couscous, the texture is a little odd, but I have some left so I need to use it for something. (I know I could use it in meatballs for example and maybe I will.)

Yum. My thirst for blood has been quenched for a while. Maybe even for the next 6 months. (Nah!)

Pets etc.

Once again there is maintenance work going on in the building. In my apartment they’ve changed the balcony doors and adjusted the sauna doors. Recently, they checked the temperatures — that was just last week but now they’re doing it again next week. Why? I have no clue. I’m getting tired of letting strangers wander in my home unattended.

This latest crew left everyone a message (I love to proofread them, by the way) telling what to do while the measuring is going: keep all doors closed, windows closed, air conditioning at a certain setting, and make sure that pets etc. can’t flee.

Er, etc.? What? Spouses? Slaves? Hostages? It’d be a shame to let the ransom money slip through your fingers just because of some stupid construction workers.

If only smells could be attached to a blog post…

Wow, it smells so amazing in here. I just took a plateful of Christmas muffins out of the oven. They’re spiced with dark syrup (delicious, I had to lick the spoon), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and raisins. Now I’m patiently baking a sweet potato casserole — for one and a half hours. I still have all my presents to wrap but I’ve got all night.

In the morning Dad is going to pick me up (he was hoping I’d come today for sauna, but that didn’t suit my plans…) and I’m going to have rice porridge ready for him. I even bought a bag of mixed nuts so I can have an almond in the porridge :) (I don’t need whole almonds so I got the nut mix) Rice porridge is a Christmas tradition but I don’t think anyone else in my family likes it. However, when I told I was making the porridge myself this time so that Mum didn’t have to bother with it, Dad complained how he wouldn’t get his porridge then. I said I’d make it.

I wish you a happy Christmas time!