How I travel (Part 1)

It has come to my realization that I am strange. For many reasons, but, in part because of how I travel. The way I put it is “I’m not a very good tourist,” but perhaps it’s better to say something along the lines of, “I’m different than most tourists.”

I think I’d been to London 3 or 4 times before I went to the British Museum. I’ve been to New York at least three times and have never been up the Statue of Liberty or to the Met. I visited Seattle twice in the past six months, but in my life I’ve never been up the Space Needle. This is a part of the equation: what did I not do. To be honest though, I usually don’t worry much about this. If the city is worthy, I will return and finish out the list I created of things I want to do. I also am pretty good with prioritization, so the things I was dying to do get done.

So with all the not-typically-sightseeing, what do I spend my time doing? Well, part of it is spent doing obscure sightseeing, part of it is spent aimlessly wandering exploring the town and shops (not souvenir shops, but real shops), part of it is getting hopelessly lost, and part is spent eating. Because I may not have see the most famous landmark in a town, but if there’s a famous bakery, I will have eaten there. Probably enough for 4 people. (And by that I definitely don’t mean that I ate two pastries and a sandwich this morning and have three more pastries in my bag.)

My aimless wandering lets me explore things in a new way and find things I never would have known to be interested in. For example, yesterday, I had seen that the Danish Design Centre was in Copenhagen. But I assumed that it was some crazy modern art-y, new age furniture type museum. Then I saw this sign:

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Can Design Save the World?

No, But It Can Help.

This made me realize that there was an exhibit at the DDC that was actually entirely about Usability and Usability Processes. The Exhibit, entitled Challenge Society, introduced basic design principles and tools and the premise of User Centered Design. There were movies and artifacts and it was a steal at 30 dkk. (In addition I bought the best book ever which I won’t name here because my mom is reading. I’ll have to read it and then I can write an actual review.)

There was also an exhibit of the history of Danish design – ranging from chairs and shoes to hearing aids and colostomy bags.

To me, this museum was pretty much the coolest thing ever. It was basically a museum of my field. Katie’s Dad:Agriculture Museum::Katie:DDC. I had no clue that this existed. And I’m not patient enough with tourist brochures to sit and read everything before I go, so I wander, as I said earlier. And sometimes…there are amazing things that come about.

(Super geeky note: They had little blocks about all the usability processes and tools and I was really sad that they weren’t on sale. I would’ve bought almost everything in the exhibit. The exhibit made me think that perhaps I should go live in Copenhagen and do research with designers when I grow up. Plus then I get to live in Copenhagen.)

More on how I travel to come later…

Best Dessert Ever

Quark-Joghurt Creme (Vanilla) with fresh German Blueberries. WOW. Just. WOW. And since the Quark-yogurt was only about .60 euros and the blueberries were 3 euros for 500 grams, this was a steal. I want more. Now.

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Thoughts on German trains

1 – The Ruhebereich (Quiet Zone) is supposed to be free of talking and cell phones. Yeah. In the US and England this is enforced with dirty looks and I was worried that my typing might be a problem in this zone. HA! There are families talking (loudly) and people making cell phone calls left and right.

2 – The conductors seem way less worried about tickets than in the US or England. The conductor has walked past me twice so far and not even glanced at me, even when I was holding out my ticket. The other day on my 40 minute trip I never saw a conductor. I totally could have ridden with out a ticket. But I wouldn’t do something like that.

3 – I finally found the power plug. It is between the seats. AMTRAK – take note. Having to put your cord over other people to reach the window wall is not cool. Between the seats is an equilibrium. Very cool.

4- The bigger the train, the more essential having a reservation is. Especially on weekends. SO worth the extra 2.50 euros or whatever it was to have a guaranteed spot.

Usability Question

When boarding the Helsinki Tram, you may need to validate your day pass. Quick. How do you do it?

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I’ll leave this open and then I’ll tell you. I will let you know that my first ride I never figured it out…

Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landwirtschaftmuseum

Otherwise known as the Schleswig-Holstein (A Northern State of Germany) Agricultural Museum. This museum is housed in Meldorf, a town of about 8,000 people. As far as I can tell, Meldorf has four attractions, the church (Dom), the Agricultural Museum, and two more museums. One is a crafts museum and is lame enough to close at 1pm on Fridays. The other is some sort of museum that I didn’t understand. Like maybe a town museum. I didn’t go to those two. Being my father’s daughter, however, I went to the Agricultural Museum. I felt it was what I should do. Like when my family went to the National Grasslands Museum in Wall, SD, instead of Wall Drug. (I was 14 and heavily influenced by the billboards we’d been seeing for almost 2000 miles. I wanted to go to Wall Drug. The Stupid Grass Museum had no such billboards. Also it was a zillion degrees out. Aka 120. Without the heat index. I volunteered to stay with the dog instead of going to the stupid museum. Which was dumb. Said museum was air conditioned… Anyways, this is a form of an apology to my father.)

One thing I should state about the Agricultural Museum is that it has nothing in English. So it was rather quick to walk through because I don’t know enough German to read the explanatory boards or anything. Especially once my camera battery died and I couldn’t take pictures.

I walked into the museum and was immediately thrilled. Bunches of old farm equipment. That was really all I could see. Sweet.

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I have no clue what this is. It looks kindof like a mini-firetruck. Points for cuteness, for sure.

An example of the displays. (With my reflection and the ceiling lights…) The text looked like it had been printed on a typewriter or computer circa 1985 and obviously the person setting up the display didn’t know about lining things up with a ruler. But there is something about Deering USA. So I assume they are saying awesome things about John Deere Flügelmähers. Whatever they are.

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I believe that the goal of this display was to show how many fewer people the newer plowing technology required. New equipment requires fewer people! YAY! I have no clue why there are red people and green people. I can only assume that the red people are not, in fact, dead, because there is one on the most modern technology. But if he were dead, he couldn’t run the plow. So maybe the red people run the plow and the green people are helpers? We shall never know.

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Long random thing. I have no clue what it is. I took a picture of it so that someone (dad?) could identify it for me. I can only imagine the trouble I would get in attempting to drive this thing. I would undoubtedly get into accidents. Heck, I can’t even walk around my house without getting bruises all over my body. I could do some serious harm with this thing.

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I have decided, with my infinite agricultural wisdom, that this is what one calls a thrasher. Because it looks like something someone would call a thrasher. It looks like it would thrash. Feel free to correct me.

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Another long thing. This one confuses me. There is a seat in it, but it looks like it is meant to be pulled. However, I have decided, due the the barrel, that this was meant to do some sort of irrigation. OH. It is going to be pulled by the horses. But the driver must control the flow of water, so the driver sits on the seat. Maybe there is another dude on the horse. I hope so.

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Fact: The Germans don’t still farm with horses. They have big machines. called Junior.

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This is a vat for sauerkraut. Thankfully my camera turned on just long enough for me to take it. It is maybe 10 feet tall, 10 feet in diameter. LOTS O’SAUERKRAUT.

Then my camera truly died. So you’ll have to put up with my words now.

Upstairs there was hay! And sauerkraut machines and bread making machines and ovens. Then a photo exhibit of horses. Apparently this area is famous for their horses. I actually watched a video from Lexington, KY of all places from the 2010 World Equestrian Games from the event where horses jump over things in a ring (but not in a circle, if that makes sense…they are not in a field. That is the main thing.) Sadly, none of Isaac’s jumps were in this event, but apparently a Schleswig-Holstein horse placed first! So that was interesting. There were also dioramas of how Meldorf has changed in the past 200 years. Hint: There are still grazing cows in town, according to the diorama (I saw none).

When you leave this part of the museum, you go past a rose garden, to the old barn. You can wander around, upstairs, around the old stalls (with a fake horse that in the dark looks freakishly real), and in the house part. Fact: Apparently people used to sleep in closets. Or the equivalent of closets. Basically you pull back a curtain that is flush with the wall and there is a little bed with space for a four foot tall person. I would’ve been in trouble.

So that is the museum for you. You really should go to Meldorf so that you can experience it for yourself. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to (or didn’t know if I was allowed) to climb on the old tractors. That would have been Fantastic!

I am not a stalker

Stalkers do not get flowers from the people they are stalking.

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Stalkers also do not get chocolates.

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I know that many of you think I’m crazy. And perhaps I am. But it’s really fun going to small towns and seeing the same people interact with different folks, night after night. Random fact: In Lüneburg and Meldorf, I didn’t hear one native English speaker on the streets. That’s the type of trip I like!

Also, this is nowhere as epic (yet? I hope?) as some of my other trips. (No car accidents, no contemplating sleeping in graveyards, no using frequent flyer miles to disappear from the country without telling my parents. One of the guys sounded surprised that everything had been so crazy in the past!)

Friday night my hotel wasn’t even 50 feet from the concert hall. I went to my room instead of waiting in line for the restroom. I could get spoiled by that quickly. Except that that was my last concert of the trip.

Music for Migraines

I’m writing this on the train from Hamburg to Mannheim. I can’t take any migraine medicine, but I really wish I could. If I could write my brain an email right now it would go something like this: “Dear brain, I HATE YOU. DIE! Love, Katie” (Love because I’m polite and I don’t really want my brain to die. In fact, I promised Paul last night that I would wear a bike helmet – not that I ever don’t – at least until I finished my doctorate. Them brainz must stay intact. Then zombies can eat them. They will probably be yummier after all the knowledge.)

Anyways, one of my magical non-medication solutions for migraines is music. I thought I’d written about this before, but I can’t find any record of it. So I write it again.

Last night, I was at a fantastic King’s Singers concert. It was in Meldorf, Germany and was at the Cathedral or Dom. It was a HUGE deal, locally. The concert programme was called Pange Lingua and was centered around Gregorian chants and then accompanying music by Bruckner, Duruflé, Gesualdo, and de Victoria. I forget how much I love hearing concerts like that, in the setting they were meant to be heard in.

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And this picture is just for my mom. Because it was specially requested 🙂 Although it’s a terrible shot. Sorry mom!

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But that’s not exactly why I’m writing. Although it is in part. Because some of the music, as it was sung, all I could think was “I need to add this to my migraine mix.” Yes, I have a migraine playlist. Right now it’s pretty boring. (In it’s lack of diversity, that is.) Currently it consists of the entire “The Golden Age – Siglo de Oro” album of Spanish Renaissance music from the King’s Singers. The idea behind this music is that it has to be very interesting musically: this almost always means polyphonic choral music. In addition, it should be fairly steady dynamically and also in terms of range. If it is too loud or high, it won’t work in my mix. This generally means that King’s Singers music comes out on top in my mixes.

The music has a calming influence on me and is especially good if I am high strung or needing to sleep. On a day like today, it actually doesn’t work very well. There’s too much external noise and commotion. Today, I’m just putting my ipod on shuffle and when a song starts playing that won’t work, I immediately press next.

Lost in Translation

I do not “speak” German. Or Swedish, Danish, Finnish, or Estonian. Actually German is the only one I can even remotely handle. And by handle, I mean, squawk like a 1.5 year old. I have a fancy little book that tells me things. It is a “European Phrase Book.” The idea is that if I’m struggling and need to figure out how to say, “HELP! I need to buy a fancy trinket and then could you book me a double room please?” it will tell me. What it is absolutely useless with is the responses. So it explains how to say “I have a reservation.” But the response from the proprietor is going to be “What is your name?” or “What is the booking?” Neither of those two useful phrases appears in my book. So basically the book is useless. Plus I can’t learn things fast enough and the vocabulary is extremely limited, what with it touching on only 10 languages and all.

One of the semi-useful things is the list of foods. It tells me the words for beef, carrots, chocolate, etc. This is very helpful for deciphering menus. Sometimes I’ve just randomly ordered things that look good. Something that looks like housemade bratwürsts with something or other on the side is bound to be delicious. (Oh, yes. Yes it was.) Especially when it turns out that the other stuff accompanying it is awesome mashed potatoes, covered with carmelized onions, chives, and fantastic gravy. And the best mustard on the planet.

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Other times I choose to be more cautious. Especially if olives or sausage (non-würsts) may be involved. Spinat – looks like Spinach. Ricotta – ricotta. Tomaten – Tomatoes. Score. Fresh pasta with spinach and ricotta filling and tomato sauce. (I voted against the Tomaten-Sahne sauce because I had no clue what it was. Now I think it was tomato cream sauce.)

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Interestingly enough, I’ve had a harder time finding people in Germany who speak English than in Estonia and Finland. Maybe it was because there I didn’t even know how to say “Do you speak English?” in the native language or because I stuck to tourist areas. Almost everywhere I went had English menus and English servers. Here I almost always am deciphering menus in German (OK I did that in Sweden too) and talking to the wait staff (and hotel staff) in German. Which is a challenge given I had 6 months of German in about 1996… But I get by. And I don’t have to start every conversation saying “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” and that makes me happy.

Edit: Before giving me an English menu tonight, the waiter told me my German was fairly good. I consider an accomplishment! (Granted I had only asked for still water, but…)

Estonia

I went to Estonia on Monday. Why? Just because. Actually that’s a lie. I went to Estonia because one of my ministers said I should. And because I thought it would be cool to go to Estonia. I took the ferry from Helsinki which left at 7.30am. Because I didn’t understand how it worked and was getting a headache, I ended up splurging partway through and getting a cabin so I could nap. Basically when they say you have a “seat” they mean that you can sit in any of the restaurants or pubs or next to the slot machines. I wasn’t digging that vibe. So I got a cabin and slept. I woke up in Estonia. Not literally, I was still in my cabin.

I got lost for a while, as I am apparently prone to do, but then I accidentally wandered upon a place I’d been looking for, City Bikes. I had planned to do a bike tour of Tallinn and this became an even better idea when my blisters started acting up. But all the brochures had said I had to book an hour in advance, so I was surprised when I walked in at 10.30 and they said I could go on the 11am tour. This is also a tour that is either half price or free with the Tallinn Card. I got it half price. I’m not sure why it wasn’t free, but that’s cool.

For the tour, they give you a bike, a reflective vest, a helmet, and a bottle of water. I think the full price was 16 euros for a 2.5 hour tour. There were a total of 4 of us, 2 Americans and 2 Canadians. We Americans, counter to stereotype were traveling alone and going the road less traveled. The Canadians were on a cruise and were annoyingly cruiselike. Our tour guide was 17 year old Daniel. Speaking perfect English, as well as Estonian, Russian, and German, he was incredibly funny and very grown up, while still very young. (As a leader he kept swerving while he rode, in part cause we were going so slow and in part because he was bored.)

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Right before we left. Wearing my snazzy reflective vest. Sadly I am not wearing my mirror on my sunglasses 🙁

Most of the tourists are in Old Town Tallinn, where the City Bike offices are located. That is because, as the name implies, this section of the town is old. Like über old. The town hall is the oldest town hall in Europe dating from, I think 1347. But, on a bike, you can travel further and see more. Plus who wants to bike in tourist filled cobblestone streets? So we started out looking at some of the sights of Old Town, but quickly progressed.

This is Fat Margaret. There are many ideas about how the name came about, but what is known is that this was originally the city’s only defense. The walls are 4 meters thick, but you can see they are scarred with cannon fire. Originally the water came up almost to the base of the tower.

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This is Daniel, the fabulous tour guide. He wore his helmet crocked, but other than that, he was a great leader. I tended to ride with him because I was the fastest rider. (Seriously, who goes for a bike tour in wedge heels?)

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Once we left Old Town, we headed out to Kadriorg Gardens. These are gorgeous, Russian inspired gardens with gravel walkways running through them. There is a little doghouse like building to the right of the island in this picture. That is where the swans sleep.

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This is Kadriorg Palace. Now an Art Museum, it was built as a Palace for Catherine, wife of Peter the Great. It is super pretty and pink and girly.

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From here (in front of the palace) you can see the ocean, and a statue we saw close up later.

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The flowers from Catherine’s garden.

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A walkway/arbor. Shady and cool, I decided all sidewalks should be covered with grapevines. It’s really the only way to go.

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What is this second pretty pink building you ask? Why, the home of the president of Estonia. And you can tell he’s at home because the flag is up. And while there are only two guards and no fences, apparently there are more guards inside. He was also educated in the US. As were the previous two US presidents. Daniel also told us more about Estonian politics, but I’m guessing you don’t care.

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We were there for the changing of the guards. When there are only 2 active guards, 2 reserve guards and 1 supervisor, it’s much less of a spectacle than in, say, London…

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The back of the Song Festival grounds, riding down to the beach. (Taken while riding…) See here for the front of the song festival grounds.

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Part of the war memorial for German soldiers who died in WWII in Estonia. They were buried here and then relocated later.

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The building on the left is now a spa but was the place where the Olympic Sailing was based when the Olympics were in Russia in 1980. The US and many other countries boycotted though, so no one really cares. Except for the spa part.

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A memorial to something sports related. Like some dude who was famous and died. OH. He was an Aeronaut. His parachute worked, but he didn’t deploy it, so he landed in the ocean and drowned. He was French.

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Skyline of Tallinn. Ferries and cruise ships in front of Old Tallinn.

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When Alaska was sold to the US from the Russians, the Russians went to the US to pick up the money. They sent two ships. One of the ships sunk, killing over 150 sailors. Why did it sink? Because someone left a door open. So all the money was lost, but they made this statue to commemorate it. This is the statue you can see from the front of Kadriorg Palace.

After this we went back to the City Bike Office and Daniel gave us water (because we’d all brought some for the ride) and recommendations for lunch. Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend this option for touring Tallinn. Even if my butt hurt the next day…

Searching for Music

I had one specific shopping mission for this trip. I wanted to buy a Rajaton album in Finland. Rajaton is a Finnish a capella group and their albums are a) hard to find in the US and b) expensive in the US. So that was one of my goals.

But that was apparently too simple for me. Yesterday I went to Tallinn, Estonia. And I decided it would be cool to have a Arvo Pärt cd from Estonia. Pärt is an Estonian classical composer with a very cool style. I actually got Simon hooked on him last year. But I digress. In order to have a Pärt cd, I needed to find a cd shop. The easiest way to do that was to find the little shopping cart symbol on the map and go there. It turns out the symbol I headed to was a GIANT shopping mall. But luckily they had exactly one cd store. And that store had a plethora of Arvo Pärt cds to choose from. But that cd wasn’t enough. I also decided to buy a cd of the Estonian Song Festival. This is a festival held every four years and can have up to 30,000 singers.

This is the stage that can hold 30,000 people (include the concrete up to the grass). There is, in fact, a giant blue tarp over one section. I don't know why.

During the Festival there would be benches for people to sit on here. The walkway runs parallel to the stage.

Actually my minister and his partner were here at the beginning of the month to see the Young Person’s Song Festival which is held in alternate 2 years. I think it’s the same thing, except with young people. Our 17 year old bike tour guide said he’d performed in an orchestra for one or the other festival six times in his life. I was suitably impressed.

Sometimes other things happen there too. “The biggest concerts were Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart.” – Daniel, the tour guide. Apparently Rod Stewart has lots of Estonian fans.

But I digress again. If you want to know more about the song festivals, you should probably go to Wikipedia. Cause I really don’t know that much.

Anyways. I bought that cd. And I came back to Helsinki and it was late, so I couldn’t listen to either.

Today I started on my Rajaton mission. After failing to find a record store in not one, but two malls, I headed to what my guidebook called a record shop like in High Fidelity. I asked the clerk/owner? about Rajaton, he said they didn’t have any. But then I felt said inside. So I said, “Do you have anything like that, but maybe more local?” And he lit up. He said, “Let me think about it.” And I browsed. Then he called me over. He found not one, not two, but about 8 records he thought would be of interest to me. “We will just pick them out and then you can listen and find your favorites.” And that’s what I did. Only I listened to only 4. But I bought 3.

A women’s a capella original popish album, a women’s Rajaton-ish type album, and a men’s a capella folk album with the most hilarious liner notes ever.

“For a while I didn’t like Rajaton, so I don’t keep them in the store anymore,” the guy said. Suits me. I got WAY more out of that than I expected.

BUT THEN I went to the department store that he thought would have Rajaton and I got 4 albums for 6.90 euros each. WAY less than they would have cost in the US.

So basically the gist of this story is that now I have a LOT of cds I’m carting around with me. I’m probably lucky I got to Malmô after the shops closed today otherwise I’d have a lot of Real Group albums too…