Usability Issue 5 (No Question)

My first day in Helsinki it took me over 45 minutes to get to my hostel. Not because it was far away, but because of extrodinarily bad signage. So this is less of a question and more of a usability what-not-to-do show and tell. (I had WAY too much stuff with me, poorly packed, and had been awake for about 36 hours. And it was hot. So hot that after eventually finding my hostel, I changed into a short skirt and tank top to go out to dinner. And I was finally comfortable.)

So this is the story of what not to do when creating signage for your youth hostel. Keep in mind that I did have a Google Map and it did not help one ounce. Or gram.


This is the sidewalk I was walking on. I had taken the bus they told me to get on and gotten off at the stop they told me to. The bus driver had given me vague directions and I had my map. So I was walking. The left side of the sidewalk (red) is the bike path. The gray part is for pedestrians.


IMG 0067


When I got to this point., I thought to myself, weird. There is a road going off into the soccer fields. I never once thought to myself, I bet that’s where the hostel is. Note, no signs. I should have turned right instead of going straight.


IMG 0068


If I had turned right I would have gone down the road or ended up in this quasi-parking lot at the top of a staircase. I should have gone down those stairs. (Still no signs.)


IMG 0069

Then after walking along the soccer fields, I would have come to a giant flight of stairs. I should have gone up that.


IMG 0070


At the top of the giant flight of stairs, I would have found my first sign that a hostel actually existed, a small sign that said Hostel Stadion <- 100 yds. At this point I was standing on a paved walk/bikeway next to a parking lot. But I would then have turned left and powered on (as the tiny sign said).

IMG 0071

Journeying on, there may have been one more small sign, as one would walk along this empty path. There would also, undoubtedly be bikers to dodge, with a huge pack on.

IMG 0072

Then, you make an unexpected right, down a man-made path in the grass, to another trail, across some rocks, and through a small break in the fence. It is very official. BUT there is an official Hosteling International Sign here, so it must be legit! Relief!

IMG 0073

As you turn right from the hole in the fence, you will see this. You may or may not be able to see the HOSTEL STADION sign. You are in the right place.

IMG 0040

If you come another way, good luck to you, fine sirs and madams. Hopefully you brought lots of rations and your bag is light. And hope they don’t give your bed away…

Suomenlinna Island

On my first full day in Finland, I took the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. It is about a 15 minute ferry ride from central Helsinki and the ride is covered by a public transit pass.

Suomenlinna Island is an old fort, back from the days when the Swedish controlled Finland. Building was started in 1748. The fort was to protect Helsinki from invasion by sea. When the Russians took control of Finland, they too enjoyed the power of the fort. During the Finnish Civil War, the fort served as a prison camp. Currently the island has about 900 civilian residents. Suomi is the Finnish word for Finland and Linna means lion, so the fort was named Finnish Lion. But in Swedish it is Sveaborg. It is now a popular site for picnics and afternoons out. it is also a UNESCO Heritage Site.

I’ve included my favorite pictures from my afternoon below.

The ferry on the way to the Island.

IMG 0096

As the ferry approaches the Island, the church is easily spotted.

IMG 0100

The churches in Finland (all two that I visited) were much simpler than most other European churches. This is probably because they are Protestant, not Catholic, but it was very interesting to see the simple interiors.

IMG 0104

Outside the church is also relatively simple. Just right for a small island church.

IMG 0165

I’m unsure if Open Prison means that anyone can be imprisoned or if it means something else. I’m rooting for the something else.

IMG 0108

A private home on the Island. Covered with ivy and glorious flowering windowboxes. After I took this, the man came out of the house and started tending the flowers.

IMG 0109

The Island is actually six Islands. Here you can see two of them.

IMG 0114

While the parts of the Island you first walk through are not fort-like, as you get deeper into the island, you see more and more evidence of the fort. It starts about the same place as you cross the first bridge.

IMG 0115

The walls are really impressive. This one is about 6 feet deep and there were lots (comparatively speaking) of windows. I assume they were for shooting.

IMG 0127

The fortress I am in the above picture. I think the walking tunnel was about 30 feet deep.

IMG 0128

A private beach and private boats.

IMG 0130

A public beach. Bathers were running around on the rocks and jumping into the sea.

IMG 0133

Then the cannons appeared. Not to hit the bathers… GIANT CANNON.

IMG 0138

How the cannons are positioned. At tourists.

IMG 0143

There were also all these little berms which I assume were hideouts.

IMG 0140

And then two hangliders appeared. Hanglider 1…

IMG 0160

and his buddy Hanglider 2.

IMG 0155

As I walked back to the ferry, I noticed a rock wall with fireweed growing out of it. Fireweed is my favorite flower and almost impossible to find in the lower 48. It made me smile.

IMG 0164

I enjoyed my couple of hours on Suomenlinna and I would highly recommend the museum and video of the history of the fort. Perhaps next time I’ll even consider staying at the Youth Hostel on the Island.


Helsinki Football Fields

Eleven pm. July 23rd. Helsinki overlooking a soccer pitch. The skies are artificially dark due to weather. Moments after I took this, the street lights came on. I love the north.

Usability Question 2

What is the red button for? I never figured it out. It seemed to be popular in Finland, but not in Denmark, Sweden, or Germany. Sometimes the button was green, sometimes it was on the back of the faucet.

IMG 0211

Also, I do not know the answer, just by the way…

Usability Question

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


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…

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…

Tractor Restaurant

I ate dinner in the craziest restaurant ever. There were tractors in it. Inside. Multiple tractors. And chicken wire.


The casual atmosphere of Zetor

Note that the light shades are buckets and there are rolls of paper towels on the table.

The casual atmosphere of Zetor

What you can’t see here is that in between the wood frame is chicken wire. THAT BOOTH IS BASICALLY A CHICKEN COOP. Also see the tractor behind it. It is covered with racing stripes.

Nice retro blue plow table

Sadly blurry blackjack giant white tractor

I was worried that the BLACKJACK DEALER NEXT TO THE TRACTOR might ask me to not take a picture.

The food was surprisingly good. I learned that when roe are bigger than sushi masago, they pop in your mouth. I also learned that the Finns sure know about Rainbow trout and blueberry pie. And blini.

And that the dude next to me thought that all Americans are from Texas or San Diego.


Interesting fact. Every once in a while I get bored and decide that I would be a better blogger if I got a new blog. So I decided that I should get a new blog. But this time I did a little research (I asked Twitter peeps) and they leaned away from Blogger (no new blog) and towards WordPress (new blog!). There you go. The masses spoke. And I comply.

On the whole, I’m going to try to update more regularly. That, for me, means once a weekish. But, lucky for you, you’re starting out on a high point. I’m currently on a plane to Helsinki for a crazy European adventure, so barring technological misfortune, the posts will be fast and furious for the next few weeks and then will drift back down to the regular pace. Because of the travels the next few weeks will also be picture heavy. So stay tuned if you like that sort o’stuff.

The new blog address is: or you can subscribe by clicking on that handy little button on the top right of your screen. You can also subscribe by email if you prefer emails.

And, because you are awesome, here is a picture of me. On the plane. I haven’t slept since 7am CDT Friday. It is now 8am ish CDT Saturday. (I am looking falsely happy. My eyelids really weren’t that open.)

Me. On the airplane. No sleep. w00t!

Also, a photo from exactly three years ago. Of me and my bestest bud, Peter Sagal.

Best Buds Forever.

And now, because you put up with all that. I’m going to drop some knowledge. KLM can make a sandwich. First, Pumpernickel without caraway…WIN. Second, Egg Salad with bits o’cheddar? WIN. Third, chive spread on a ham sandwich? WIN. WIN WIN WIN.

These sandwiches were yummy.

Also, my new bestest bud is the stroopkoekje. Sorry Peter.

Yay for the Dutch and their brilliant cookies!