Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'66, '85, '02, '05, and... '09

This was my fifth time visiting the fatherland. And, therefore, my fifth time in Helsinki.

After visiting with the relatives in Kauhava for a few days, I took the train back to Helsinki. Mrs. TBF took the same 6:05 a.m. flight that morning that I had taken a few days earlier, and she met me at the train station.

Here are a few of my favorite photos:

After dropping off the bags at our hotel, we went straight to the Kauppatori (market square) for some grub. It's a beautiful location right on the waterfront with lots of food stalls and vendors selling fish, vegetables, souvenirs, etc. However, one does need to watch out for the (very aggressive) seagulls. Those beasts will just swoop down and steal your food if you're not careful. Also, a couple of times while I was walking I heard a splat right next to me and realized that I had narrowly escaped one of their seagull bombs. The tent where we ate, along with all the other tents, were covered in seagull crap. We quickly ate Baltic herring and muikkut, and got the hell outta there... unsoiled!!! The Finns have got to do something about those damn birds!

There aren't too many places in the world where one can buy salmiakki candies or ice cream. Best described as tasting like salty licorice, it is definitely an acquired taste. If you can convince yourself that your are not eating a scoop of sludge (or seagull shit) on a cone, it's really quite tasty. However, there is one nasty side effect: salmiakki tongue!

On Friday night, we had a nice meal at Ravintola Savoy. The restaurant interior was designed by Aino and Alvar Aalto, and it is protected landmark. Everything - even the chairs (although I assume they've been reupholstered) - is the same as it was when it opened in the late-1930s. I snapped the first photo when Mrs. TBF and I first sat down at 9:30 p.m. The second photo was taken at 11:15 p.m.

Overall, we had a relaxing, enjoyable weekend in Helsinki with one bit of adventure sandwiched in the middle. More about that later...

Food For Thought

For the past few years, Mrs. TBF has had to endure my sermons regarding how I would solve America's health care issues. Ok... maybe my idea of an annual weigh-in and a "fat tax" is a bit... um... extreme.

Let's scratch that one.

However, a much simpler approach which most Americans could (but are for the most part unwilling to) do is... Ready for this????


Losing weight would cut down on type 2 diabetes, knee operations, back problems, unnecessary tests, etc. Plus the money one would save on food could go toward purchasing that shiny new car, big screen TV, or straight into the savings account.

Yeah, sure! Like people would actually put the money into savings. Right!

The benefit of that would be that the sales tax on non-food items is much higher than it is on groceries, and that would result in more money going into government coffers. Which, in turn, could go into health care (which people would now be requiring less of).

See? I told you I had it all figured out.


I saw this little letter to the editor in The Economist yesterday:
SIR - Some of the expense of health care derives from Americans' diet and sedentary lifestyle. We have the highest percentage of overweight and obese patients in the industrialized world. One-third of Americans are obese; that is 50% more than the British, 100% more than the Germans and 250% more than the French. The cost of treating obese patients rises as their body mass index increases.
Obesity lessens life expectancy more than smoking. I would like to see Europe's health-care costs with the same levels of obesity.
Dayton, Ohio

See? I've been saying it all along!

**I'd also like to take this moment to remind people that you don't loose weight, but instead, you lose weight.

loose vs. lose

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finnish Relatives

I saw quite a few of my relatives while in Finland.

My grandmother had 16 children. Two of them died as infants, and three have passed away in the past few years. Of the other eleven, two (including my father) live in North America, and the other nine live in Finland. Of the nine who live in Finland, eight of them (one aunt couldn't make it because her husband was in the hospital) made it to a family get-together we had at my one aunt's house.

I tower over almost all of my relatives. I say "almost" because my dad has one brother who got most of the "big" genes in his family - my Uncle Laijo. Just look at his forearms! They're like logs!!! They make mine look like toothpicks. I wish I'd had a tape measure because I'm betting that his forearms are bigger than my thighs! Incidentally, when I was in Finland in 1966 as I was approaching four years old, I used to hang from his index finger!

After our little reunion, we stopped at the house where my dad was born. I told him I wanted to physically touch it (which I did) - something I hadn't done since 1966! As we walked back to the car, my dad pointed to the corner of the house where he was born.

I thought that was pretty cool.

Kauhava Or Bust!

We have returned!

Last Tuesday, at the butt-crack of dawn, I embarked on a 12+ hour journey from Basel to Kauhava, Finland. Kauhava is where my dad was born, and since my parents were spending some time there I figured I'd join them and visit with some of the relatives I haven't seen since 2005.

It doesn't look too far away on the map, but it seemed to take forever to get there. First, I had to get up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6:05 a.m. flight to Munich where I connected for a 9:00 a.m. flight to Helsinki.*

Those early-morning flights are killers. TBF does NOT recommend them!

I had some time to kill at Munich Airport, so I went into a barber shop and asked if they'd give me a shave. They seemed willing to do so until I told them that I wanted them to shave my head, and then they refused.

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SLAPHEADS!!! Who do I talk to about that?

When I finally arrived in Helsinki, Finnish frugality took immediate hold of me because I took the Finnair bus from the airport (with a bunch of Japanese people) to the central train station (5.90 Euros instead of 40 Euros for a taxi). At the train station, I snapped right back into travel diva mode and bought a first class train ticket to Kauhava, looked at my watch, and realized that I had about two hours to kill before the 15:30 departure. The two hours were spent pretty much eating, drinking, and watching a bunch of people walking by - pretty much all of whom looked like they could have been related to me in some way.

The train ride was pretty uneventful, and I finally arrived in Kauhava around 6:45 p.m. Man, that was loooooooooooong trip!

I was met at the train station by my parents and one of my aunts. We went back to the apartment my parents were staying at, I had a bite to eat, watched some Finnish TV, and went to bed just after midnight.

This (photo taken at 12:22 a.m.) is about as dark as it gets at night in July in Kauvaha, Finland. I forgot to bring a sleep mask, but don't worry - I didn't need one! I think I fell asleep about 10 seconds after my head hit the pillow!

*Since a lot of my older relatives don't speak English, I figured I'd go to Kauhava alone, and Mrs. TBF then met me in Helsinki later on in the week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dublin: Toner's - Now And Then

While in Dublin this past week, Colm, Diana, Mrs. TBF, and I enjoyed a couple of pints in a pub called Toner's. It was at this very same pub, in 1992, that Diana, Mrs. TBF, and I were enjoying our pints (while Colm was back at the apartment studying for his M.B.A.) when a very drunk man suddenly staggered out of the front door into the alley right by where we were sitting, and then proceeded to projectile vomit all over the ground only a few yards away from us. A few seconds later, his friends walked out and gave him a good ridiculing. Aaaaahhhhh, the memories!

Unfortunately, I didn't capture the projectile vomiting on film. However, I did dig up a few photos of us taken at Toner's in 1992.

Now: July 6, 2009

Then: Approx. July 1, 1992

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dublin: The First Evening

The day after Japandy, Mrs. TBF and I took off for Dublin.

How's this for bad luck? Ryanair used to have direct flights from Basel to Dublin. I say "used to" because they had them until July 1st. That's right, they discontinued the flights as of July 1st, so we opted to fly Aer Lingus out of Zürich.

It's the last time we'll do that.

Ok... I'll just admit blame by saying that it's my fault for not reading the fine print. Aer Lingus has a 6 kg. weight limit for carry-on bags. 6 KILOS!!!! That's about 13 lbs. I mean, my shoes weight nearly that much.

What a joke!

Naturally, we were both over the maximum allowed weight on our carry ons. So, we ended up having to check one bag. Not only that, but we then had to PAY 30 francs for the privilege of checking the bag. It was a total example of over-zealous, Swiss rule following. When we checked in with Aer Lingus in Dublin for the return flight home, they didn't even weigh our bags. Nope... they didn't care one bit. I mean, if it's a regulation size carry on bag.... WHO THE F#$% CARES HOW MUCH IT WEIGHS AS LONG AS YOU CAN LIFT IT INTO THE OVERHEAD COMPARTMENT YOURSELF???? Whether it weighs 5 lbs. or 25 lbs., IT STILL TAKES UP THE SAME AMOUNT OF ROOM!!!!!!!!

As a result, if I ever fly to Dublin from Basel again, I'll choose to fly BA or Lufthansa out of Basel... EVEN IF IT COSTS MORE!!! It's the principle of the thing.

Enough ranting!

The reason for our trip to Dublin was to see my sister, my Irish bro-in-law, and the kids who were in Dublin visiting Grandma Nellie. We stayed at The Westbury this time, and I won't go into details, but...

The Merrion (where we stayed last time) is MUCH nicer. The Westbury has a great location right on Grafton Street, but we'll stay at The Merrion again if we ever return to Dublin.

Our bro-in-law, Colm, was off fishing with his brother the day arrived, so my sister left the kids with Grandma Nellie and met us for dinner at a pub not too far from our hotel. We all enjoyed the pub food, and Mrs. TBF and I washed it down with Guinness - as you do in Ireland, right? Of course, my sister insisted on drinking Heineken.


After returning to our room, we thought we'd open the curtains in order to check out the view.


Mrs. TBF quickly closed the curtains, and I immediately began treating her for third-degree burns!


We celebrated Dr. Andy's birthday this past weekend. Some time back, Mrs. TBF decided on a menu of sushi and grilled steak with an Asian marinade. Hence, we decided that the theme of this dinner party would be... JAPANDY!

Pretty good, isn't it? I came up with that one, and Mrs. TBF is still seething about it!

Dr. Andy's birthday was actually last month. But due to travel/work conflicts, we were unable to celebrate until this past Saturday. Even this date proved to not be perfect since Dr. Rammy and Oliver were unable to attend due to a prior commitment in England, but we still had a nice, intimate gathering.

One of the sushi offerings was a Mrs. TBF creation: steak tartare sushi. Go ahead, Google it. You'll see that sushi AND steak tartare come up often in the same paragraph, but NEVER as "steak tartare sushi." I'm telling you, Mrs. TBF invented steak tartare rolled up as a sushi roll! And???? It's GREAT!!!!

As an aside: I once came up with what I thought was my own invention: the oyster martini. It was probably around 2004 or 2005 when, on a Friday evening, I was sitting at the dinner table with a martini and a plate of raw oysters. Suddenly, I came up with the idea of scraping an oyster off the shell - oyster liquor and all - right into my martini. At the end of the drink, when the gin is still just barely covering the oyster, you just slurp the whole thing right down.

Try it! It's great!!!

I called Dr. Andy, and I told him to come over to try my invention - the "oyster 'tini." He came over, tried it, and praised my creativity and inventiveness. Unfortunately, he Googled "oyster martini" after going home and came up with hundreds of hits. The next morning, he came over and broke the bad news over a cup of coffee.

Oh well. I guess one inventor per household is enough.