Joshua and his wellies
I'm a great fan of the works of H. Rider Haggard and some year ago I picked up at a con a very battered edition of Moon of Israel, not one of his better know books. It turns out to be a retelling of the story of Exodus from an Egyptian viewpoint.

So, I'm reading a scene where the pharaoh is telling Moses that the Israelites must make more bricks, only with no more straw, and I had a flashback to a story doing the rounds at my school in the north of England in the sixties. And such is the wonder of the internet, just googling the phrase "Joshua and his wellies" got me this:

From the bowels
For the third time since turning sixty, I've received an NHS bowel cancer home screening kit through the post. I presume they send them out about every two years.

Part of the kit is a set of cardboard sticks with which you are required to scrape bits of the sample and spread it over the test card.

It has only just occurred to me that they ought to call these poo sticks.

Helsinki station
[personal profile] ffutures posted when he was in Helsinki recently that he'd been unable to photograph the architecture of Helsinki central station.

I did manage to take some photographs, and have finally downloaded them from my camera.

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I'm on the Eurostar
Final part of my journey home. Never tried the Wi-Fi connection on the Eurostar before.

I should be home in a couple of hours.

Cologne seems to be full of hen parties and stag parties, several of which were singing raucously next to the restaurant at which I was having dinner.

Coming Home
I'm on my travels again and have been incommunicado for two days.

Checked out of the hotel Thursday morning and had several hours to kill before the ferry back so I walked around, bumping into other fans, and then ended up in a park overlooking the sea, reading Interzone. I then walked back into the centre, had a coffee and then picked up my bag.

I'd discovered that the ferry terminal is a lot closer to the hotel than I first thought. Indeed, all of central Helsinki is a lot smaller than it looks on the map. I realised it wouldn't take long to walk from the hotel, right through the city centre. It took about half an hour, but I soon realised how many pavements in Helsinki are cobbled rather than smooth. Important when you are wheeling a heavy case.

I didn't see any fans I recognised this trip, and my attempts to sit in the bar and go through my e-mail failed as the connection speed was pitiful. But I did manage to get to sleep this time, although I did discover that someone flushing the loo in the next cabin made a loud roaring sound that woke me up. Of course, waking up in the middle of the night and I immediately wanted to go to the loo, so I returned the favour.

The advantage of going in this direction is that the clock change meant I could get up early for breakfast. The disadvantage is that everyone else had the same idea. And why did people start to queue to disembark long before we docked. As I had three hours to get to Central Station in Stockholm, I waited until we were nearly docked before going to the cabin to get my bags.

It was raining slightly when we docked, but I decided to walk to the underground station and get a train to the centre. Although as I mentioned in a previous post, the direct foot route to the station involved a narrow uncovered aerial walkway, I knew a long detour at ground level. Probably added another 15-20 minutes.

When I got to the central station, my train was already on the board and I noticed that although my ticket involved changing at Lund to get to Copenhagen, the train went on from Lund to Copenhagen. I went to the ticket office to enquire about this and the clerk was quite happy to extend my reservation to Copenhagen when I thought to ask an important question. "What time does the train get to Copenhagen?" It turned out that by changing in Lund, even though there was ten minutes waiting for the train, it got me into Copenhagen five minutes earlier, which gave me ten minutes to get the connection to Hamburg. So I stuck with the original booking.

Ten minutes for the connection in Lund. Ten minutes for the connection in Copenhagen. What could possible go wrong?

Well, I got to Lund only two minutes late and my connection was on the board and due in on the same platform. However, it was marked as two minutes late, and that delay grew to about fifteen minutes. I got into Copenhagen about ten minutes after my connection left, just before six in the evening. Two weeks after missing a connection in Copenhagen, it had happened again.

I found the ticket office, which was busy, and also had a different queue for international travel. It was a take a ticket system, but there seemed to be no advantage in getting an international ticket as the same positions seemed to be dealing with both.

There was another train to Hamburg that night. The trouble was it didn't leave till 22:55 and got in at 05:28. But I had no choice and the new reservation was made. And I now had nearly five hours to kill in Copenhagen station.

I found an organic pasta place in the station. The guy who served me turned out to be from Leeds and I then found myself talking to an Irish woman whose husband was in Copenhagen to take part in an iron man contest. After that I found a seat and started to read.

Copenhagen station is a lively place on a Friday night. There seemed to be a fad for teenagers who had self-graffitied. At first I thought it was really bad tattoos, but I noticed it was on their clothes as well. I don't know if this is some Danish clubbing thing or something to do with it being Copenhagen Pride that weekend.

The train wasn't too crowded. There were a lot of early stops where people were getting off. But it was difficult to sleep and the guy opposite me snored loudly. He also wanted to stretch out his legs which meant I kept kicking him as I moved around. Finally he moved to another seat where his snores weren't so loud. I think I got some sleep.

The train actually got into Hamburg station just after five. Hamburg station and its surrounds look different at that time in the morning. I had a hotel booked and paid for, and it was just over the road from the station. There was the first glimmer of light of the start of dawn as I crossed the road.

They'd kept the room for me so I got about three hours sleep in a proper bed before getting up for breakfast. I didn't seem to be able to get an internet connection though. Then it was off to catch a train back to Cologne and the same hotel I was in the first day of my trip, seventeen days ago, which is where I am now. Back home tomorrow.

Worldcon 75 and after
Well, I haven't posted for a week, but there was a Worldcon in that period.

My duties at the business meeting took up a fair chunk of my time. I had agreed to be the official timekeeper, something I'd never done before. For those that don't know, when a motion is brought before the business meeting, the first thing that is done is to decide how long is to be spent discussing it. That time is to be divided between those speaking for and those against. But some speakers are asking questions, etc., and that time has to be divided equally between both sides. I was told the easiest way to do this was to time each speaker with a stop-watch and keep running totals on a piece of paper. I got through several convention centre notepads during the course of the meeting.

By Sunday, I'd got the hang of it. But, as luck would have it, all the business on Sunday was non-contentious and there was little debate so I hardly used the stop-watch. The convention had set aside five hours for the final session just in case, but we only used 30 minutes. (It could have been longer. In 2015, I went straight from the business meeting to the closing ceremony.)

Others have mentioned the unexpectedly large size of the convention and the effect that had on room allocation. I got to little on the first two days, but surprisingly I was able to get to the iZombie discussion session, which was scheduled in a room with a capacity of just 16, set up boardroom style so the discussion resembled a Jomsthing. The door had been left open so that latecomers would know that there was room. At one point, someone mentioned an episode where a zombie character was in prison and was needing a supply of brains to survive. "How hard can it be to smuggle brains into a prison?" they asked, just as someone was walking past the door.

The convention was able to get more space by the convention centre partitioning off areas of an exhibit hall. I bumped into Martin Easterbrook outside one of these extra rooms. He was intrigued about the way that the partitions went all the way to the ceiling, so noise didn't bleed between items. "Not that I'm bitter," he said, remembering what happened at Glasgow in 1995.

That said, I found the large room in which the Hugos were presented had bad acoustics and I often couldn't hear what was being said. Alas, the subtitling was unable to keep up much of the time.

Since the end of the convention, it has been mostly museums. Everyone told me I had to visit Suomenlinna, the fortified islands to the south of Helsinki. The fortifications were built by the Swedes in the eighteenth century when Helsinki was just a small town of 1,500. Now there are several museums and restaurants and cafes on the island (and Helsinki has grown somewhat). There's even a submarine you can go around.

Every day I've been here, I've been walking past what I thought was a large church at the end of the street. Turns out it is actually the National Museum of Finland. I suppose that the street is called Museokatu - Museum Street - is a bit of a giveaway.

And today it was Seurasaari Open Air museum, a large number of preserved buildings from the last three hundred years or so. Lots of low doors, but I only hit my head once. Alas, the 1912 telephone kiosk marked on the map seemed not to be there.

On my way to the museum, I stopped for a snack at the Regatta Café next to the Sibelius Monument, sitting outdoors. As I sat there, a couple of sparrows landed on my table, eyeing my blueberry pie and vanilla sauce. One tried to take a bite before I scared it off. And when I was finished and sat back to check my map, about a dozen of the buggers landed on the table and attacked the remains on my plate.

It's not just the sparrows. Later, walking out of my hotel I saw a large gull land on the middle of the road clutching a paper bag in its beak. It then put it down and started trying to peck it open.

I arrive
Sunday was a bit of a washout.

I had several hours to kill before going for the ferry and I had a vague idea of going to the Swedish History Museum, which I visited in 2011. I checked out of the hotel, dumped my bag and set out. I hadn't gone far before the heavens opened. I scampered back to the hotel and spent an hour of so trying to do the crossword.

By the time it had stopped raining, there didn't seem to be enough time left to go to the museum. I had a walk around before picking up my bag and taking a taxi to the ferry terminal.

Checking in for the ferry is all automatic, just type in your reservation number and code and it delivers your boarding card plus a card for the restaurant reservation. The boarding card had my cabin number on it, and it doubled as a key-card to the cabin. Once I'd boarded the ship, someone told me which lift to take to my cabin.

As the lift doors opened. Yvonne Rowse stepped out, the first other fan I'd seen on my trip.

My cabin was on the lowest deck possible, below the car decks and near the bow. It was incredibly small - there was barely room for me and my suitcase - and no Wi-Fi signal (which is why I was unable to write anything yesterday).

I went back up to the lounge level and found Yvonne in the bar. Three Dutch fans joined us during the evening. The Dutch appeared to be sharing a cabin and Yvonne said she was sharing a cabin with three other women she'd not met, who turned out to be of various nationalities. So they wanted to know who I was sharing with. As far as I knew, nobody.

I had my meal in the ship's Italian restaurant. I made the big mistake of allowing myself to be seated with my back to the porthole, so I kept having to turn to see anything interesting. It was a very nice meal, but I ate too much. So afterwards I went back to my cabin to have a brief rest. There was still no sign of anyone else there, and as the other bunk was still folded up against the wall and there was only one set of towels in the loo, I guessed (correctly, it turned out) that I did have the cabin to myself.

The five of us chatted for a bit, but we all crashed fairly early. There was another clock change during the night, so we had to get up early for breakfast.

I did not sleep well. The cabin door seemed to rattle a lot for much of the night. There were also noises above that sounded like all the cars on the car decks had come lose and were rolling about.

I got up and had breakfast. It was amazing how early people started queueing at the ship's entrance to get off, long before we were due to dock. I waited until the ship was nearly at the dock before going down below and getting my bags.

Yvonne was going to the main railway station and my hotel was not far from there so we shared a taxi to the station.

Much to my surprise, even though it wasn't yet eleven in the morning, the hotel had a room ready for me. I decided to catch up on my sleep. This being Finland, they have good black-out curtains on the windows.

I booked this hotel over six months ago, and I'd forgotten, if I even noticed, that it is a self-catering hotel. I have a kitchen in the room, and there is no breakfast provided. After unpacking, I decided to go out to get some stuff for breakfast. It had been pleasantly sunny when I set out, but when I got to the city centre it started to rain. And just as I was about to enter a supermarket, I bumped into four of the Cambridge crowd. They had had the foresight to wear waterproof coats.

It had stopped raining when I emerged from the supermarket. (I was asked if I wanted a loyalty card there, but somehow it didn't seem worth it.) I was about half way back to my hotel, far from any shelter, when it rained again, and it rained heavily. I was soaked by the time I got back.

In the evening, I decided to go out to eat. On my earlier excursion, I noticed a restaurant called the Ravintola. Then I noticed another of the same name and assumed it must be a chain. Finally I realised "ravintola" is Finnish for restaurant.

The restaurant I found was called the Zetor, which turns out to also be the name of a make of tractor, and there was a tractor in the middle of the place. The décor was that of an old barn, complete with chicken wire fences. The menu was done in the style of a newspaper and was in something like twenty languages. The food was very good.

Lots of Abba
Two nights in the same hotel. This is a day of staying in one place.

I did walk over to the ferry terminal to check out things for tomorrow. Although it says it is near an underground station, I did think I may have problems getting to it that way, remembering it from the trip to Mariehamn two years ago.

The direct route is to cross the railway line over a footbridge, which I could manage. The bridge has high sides I could cross without problem. But the other side of the line, the bridge has just railings at the side to get to the terminal, and that bridge is too narrow for me to manage. I need to be at least three metres from an edge like that before my feet actually let me walk, so a bridge has to be at least six metres wide for me to cross. This bridge seems to be about three metres wide and I don't want to chance it. The alternative is to walk a long distance along the road parallel to the railway to a road crossing I can do, and then walk all the way back again. And even then, it's a long walk from the railway line to the terminal. I think I'll be taking a taxi tomorrow.

Incidentally, it's a completely new terminal to the one I used two years ago.

Turns out that it's Gay Pride day in Stockholm, and the route I took back into the centre of the city was the route of the parade. Very colourful and very loud, with lots of Abba. I'm not sure if that's because it's Sweden or because it's gay, or a combination of both.

After seeing parades of gay firemen, gay police and gay soldiers, I couldn't help thinking of the Village People. But there were also gay bakers and even gay skate-boarders. I think there were gay Star Wars fans as well.

I couldn't spend time in Stockholm without having some Swedish meatballs. I remembered a place I had them the first time I was here in 2011, and when I spent a night here after Archipelacon two years ago, I went there again, so I went back this evening. The place is still there and I am nicely full.

Sushi in Malmo
Day three was the first day of any real problems in my journey.

I got to Hamburg station about 20 minutes early for my train but it was already on the platform ready for boarding. Turned out the train was crowded and there was an argument going on behind me over two groups who both seemed to have reservations for the same seats. When the ticket inspectors came round, it transpired that one group had a reservation from Hamburg to Oldenburg and the other from Puttgarden onwards. Puttgarden is the next station after Oldednburg and the last stop before crossing over to Denmark and you need a reservation to cross the border, which may have been why their reservation started there, but doesn't explain why they got on the train in Hamburg.

In Puttgarden, the train is put onto a ferry to cross over into Denmark and that is where the problems started. The ferry coming from Denmark had been delayed and we sat in the station for over an hour waiting for it. You have to get off the train whilst the ferry is underway, presumably to encourage you to use the shops and restaurants.

When we got back on the train and onto Danish soil, the train waited again, this time whilst passport checks were done. A guy near me, as soon as passport checks were announced, dashed to the toilet, which I thought was suspicious. Also, I thought, surely the Danish police are wise to that trick. Indeed they were. They opened the toilet and escorted him off the train into a building near the tracks.

The result of all this was that the train got into Copenhagen 90 minutes late. I was supposed to have an hour to wait for my connection to Stockholm, so I'd missed that. Passengers for Stockholm were advised to take the first available train to Malmo and get new tickets there.

There was a train to Malmo being held on the next platform over - still had to go up into the concourse and down to catch it, and it departed just as I reached the platform. The next one was 15 minutes later.

In Malmo, there were two separate ticket offices and I picked the wrong one first. At the second they gave me a reservation on the next train to Stockholm, but I'd just missed one and had nearly a two-hour wait for the next one. Also, they couldn't give me a through reservation, but two separate reservations in different carriages. For the first 90 minutes of the journey, I'd be travelling first class.

There's a food court in Malmo station and I found a sushi bar. I pulled a 100 krone note out of my wallet, one of three I'd found from a previous visit to Sweden. Turned out it was an old note, now withdrawn. I paid by card and then found an ATM after I'd eaten.

The journey up to Stockholm was four and half hours but uneventful. At one point there was a heavy storm, and I was suddenly reminded of the storm movement from the 3rd Symphony of the Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg.

Anyway, the train finally got into Stockholm about 20 minutes before midnight. Fortunately, my hotel was literally right next to the station and I was in my room before midnight.

Before going to bed, I looked out of the window to see what the view was like. Turns out this is a central atrium building, and the view is looking out over the hotel restaurant.


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