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Tuesday 5th July, Day 1 (Home to London)

Moose/elk count = 0 (but that’s not surprising geographically. The Home Counties are not known for their moose).

This was in some ways the first day of our holiday even though I was working from home, not wanting to go into London and back out only to have to then turn round and go back again! As a result it involved wrangling all three cats to the cattery at once, something that can be tricky at the best of times. The cleaners were due sometime during the day so I figured as the critters tend to get panicked as a result and vanish in all directions, and given that just after 09:00 they were flat out on various surfaces around the house, I should probably round them up, bung them into their cages, and get them there early. At the end of the afternoon that just left the packing of the car with what for us were frankly unprecedented levels of luggage before we headed off for an overnight stop with friends in south London.

Wednesday 6th July, Day 2 (London to Travemunde)

Moose count = still 0 (again it’s down to geography)!

We made a slightly earlier than needed start to go and get the car on the Eurotunnel, largely because I don’t entirely trust them! We have history and some of it’s not good, including one infamous occasion where we ended up taking a ferry instead.

As it turned out it was just as well. We arrived to the news that a train had broken down in the tunnel, and there were delays of up to an hour. There was plenty of contingency so I wasn’t overly worried, and we eventually arrived in France around 40 minutes later than planned. What I probably should have taken into account, but didn’t, because we’re not used to “holidaying” like normal people, was that half of Europe seemed to be on holiday as well, at the same time as the Germans were digging up all the autobahns. Also Antwerp was at a standstill, but as I have long believed the Antwerp motorway ring to be one of the circles of Hell this was no great surprise. What it was was annoying.

We’d planned a stop at a Belgian supermarket en route to stock up on wine as we’d be self-catering at several points and I for one didn’t want to have to shop at the Finnish Alko stores. Belgium would give us a supply of wine at sensible prices. We considered not stopping after we reached escape velocity and were spat out onto an Eindhoven-bound motorway but decided we were already behind schedule. Another 20 minutes was neither here nor there.

A series of roadworks in Germany slowed us down ever more and the plan to have a nice dinner somewhere in Travemunde and I had even booked a table in Brechtmanns Botschaft at 19:00, which was supposedly completely achievable. Mid-afternoon when it became clear we’d not make it much before 21:00 I called the restaurant and asked if they could shift the booking. They were closing at 21:00 however because they all wanted to go home early to watch the football! We cancelled the table and decided we’d worry about dinner once we got to Travemunde and established the location of the ferry terminal.

A quick recce of the departure point showed there was very little there apart from a somewhat bleak looking cafe, so we turned the car around and headed back towards the town centre, eventually deciding that turning towards the nearest beach area (Timmendorfer Strand sounded promising) might well provide sustenance of some sort. A bit of hunting around and we finally found somewhere that was open and had a parking space fairly nearby.

Johannsens’ proved a good idea, with a very pleasant glass of sekt first, followed by prawns in a crispy potato coat for me, and a goat’s cheese salad for Lynne.




Mains might not have been necessary but we had them anyway, with my first chanterelles of the year, accompanied by a schnitzel and fried potatoes while Lynne had the world’s largest currywurst with more frites than anyone could have got through.



There would be no food on the ferry until 08:30 the following day but even so it was a bit much.

Suitably stuffed full of food – the portions could have fed a hungry windsurfer and were much too big for us – we made our way back to the ferry terminal for check in just as a spectacular rainbow appeared in the sky. It would be the first of many we saw during the trip.


Eventually, in the early hours, were allowed to board and found our cabin. Total collapse followed after around 10 hours driving. There was a distinct possibility of cramp in the night, but hopefully I would be so tired I’d know nothing until the late morning.

Thursday 7th July & Friday 8th July, Days 3 and 4 (Somewhere in the Baltic Sea)

Moose count = 0
(see above. I know they can swim but probably not that well)

The boat was quite restful and Finnlines seemed to have thought of everything essential. Our cabin was very comfortable, and a good night’s sleep was followed by our first encounter with the dreaded Finnish buffet, in this case a brunch version. It gave us the option of taking a very late breakfast and we picked at this and that for an hour or so, enjoyed a “complimentary” mimosa, though I think we paid for that in the cabin price. It was too windy to spend much time on deck so we spent time drinking coffee in the cafe, and in our cabin reading up on what we wanted to see.

There was a little light shopping, including some Finnish minttu and some moose-related items, which shouldn’t be too surprising I suppose. Anyway, I bought a bag which was an ideal size for guidebooks, a camera or two and a sweater. It would see quite a lot of service once we got started on the tourism.


Later we repaired to the bar for a cocktail or two before dinner (which was again a buffet).



The buffet dinner was OK, perfectly adequate, with some items better than others though it wasn’t anything to get excited. Among the best things were the various smoked and cold fish and seafood starter options, and the roast elk in a very creamy sauce.



The same could not be said for the “included” wine. The red and the white both came from taps on either side of a pipe and were served at much the same temperature, which is to say warm. It wasn’t pleasant and we resorted to ice to cool off the white before giving up on it and buying a bottle from the bar. It too was slightly warmer than it should have been.

After dinner we retreated to bed as the band was just getting started in the bar! Instead we found ourselves watching the 2016 Tangomarkkinat, an event that could not be more Finnish if it tried. We hung on through to the end of the competition to crown the Tango King and then fell asleep, to wake up on Friday morning with Finland looming in the cabin windows!

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What do I now think of when I think about Finland? What do I most associate with the country after my very first visit?

Well the first thing that springs to mind is that Aki Kaurismaki really wasn't making it up; the Finns really are obsessed with coffee drinking. They do after all have the world's highest per capita consumption of the caffineated beverage. It's no suprise that it's available pretty much everywhere, with the word Kahvila indicating a cafe or coffee shop. This can mean anything from a small corner of a very out of the way filling station, via a cute Kioski by a lake on a main road between towns, a stall outside a DIY superstore, or something much, much grander. What it means is filtered coffee, of variable quality, often with free refills. The cost varies as well as the quality and the two are not always connected! Of course if you're lucky you'll find kahvi and munkki (a filled doughnut, quite often containing apple) for a good price; the best offer we saw was somewhere round Hameenlinna, where the price was €1.50! How good (or bad) it was I can't say. I was so caffinated by then it was getting silly!


In addition to being tremendously lawabiding when driving, the other thing you'll notice is the extreme care taken crossing the road. I'm not saying a Finn won't ignore a pedestrian crossing light that is against them if there's no traffic in sight - and this is not unusual in July in Helsinki - but it clearly goes against the grain to do so. In fact the only other nationality I've encountered that is so averse to crossing against the lights are the Germans. Sometimes we ended up ignoring the lights and crossing a completely empty road just because we could! It's great to be a rebel sometimes!

There are also notable memories/associations around food now. I can probably never look at a buffet again, as it seems there is NOWHERE that doesn't provide a lunch (lounas) buffet, and occasionally an evening one also. These are of variable quality though usually very good (and very good value) from what we could tell. However, as neither of us are big fans of a large lunch on a day when you want to get some use from the afternoon, we pretty much skipped them and opted for a light (if more expensive) lunch option. The thing that fascinated me most was how early some of them kicked off - 11:00 was normal, some even got going at 10:30, and kept right on going as late as 16:00 in some cases. It's a bit startling to those of us used to a sandwich or soup at our desks I can tell you that!

Also on the food front I don't think I've ever seen, or eaten, so many chanterelles. Right now they are everywhere, on the stalls in every kauppatori (summer market place - and every town has one of these it seems), on the menu in pretty much every restaurant, in the dinners I created on the nights we were self catering, probably in the apple and mushroom saladd on the buffets I did encounter, I suspect somewhere someone is even using them in cocktails! Alongside them the vegetable du jour at this time of year is the pea, eaten fresh from the pod, and piled up everywhere.


Of course on the other side of the stalls were berries, lots and lots of berries, and my but a Finnish grown strawberry is a wonderful thing, like biting into jam, they're so sweet and sticky! The blueberries and bilberries and raspberries and cherries are pretty good too. The markets are in fact seriously dangerous places, as are the indoor markets (kauppahalli), where you'll find all sorts of wonderful goodies, both local and imported. I needed a restraining hand the first time I went out to round up ingredients for supper. I could have run amock and we'd have ended up with who knows how much food!

Of course buying the food had its own hazrds, mostly in the shape of mad-eyed gulls which are everywhere. They're more lake gulls I suppose than seagulls, but they lurk around cafes and food stalls and ice cream kioskis just waiting for the right moment to snatch whatever it is you've just bought and were looking forward to. If you do survive the attentions of these razor-beaked predators and get your food back to where you're staying, it's good odds you'll find yourself placing the items on beautiful Iitala plates, which causes intense outbreaks of crockery envy, usually followed by distressed wailing and gnashing of teeth when you realise how expensive these things are.


Still, there's almost certainly a museum where you can go and look at these beautiful things. There are museums for pretty much everything in Finland as far as I can tell. A drive anywhere is peppered with signs that let you know there's something to see and more often than not it's a museum of some sort. We didn't visit all of them, there just wasn't time, but you probably could gain much entertainment and some education from most of them along the way. And of course the tourist information offices will almost certainly be able to tell you all about them. In fact there's probably not much that the Finnish TI offices can't tell you, and in impeccable English usually too. It's all part of thr friendliness of the Finns we encountered, who pretty much to a man or woman wanted to make sure we were enjoying their country. Right down to the woman who told me about the parking rule when I parked the car facing the wrong way in Turku, or the TI employee in Imatra who rushed back to her car to get some information specifically for us. I have lots and lots of brochures, maps, flyers and guidebooks now... it seems I can't go anywhere without returning with half a tree.

I miss the daylight now I'm back, though I know at other times of year I'd hate the lack of it. I miss the way the Finns all seemed to have taken to the outdoors. I'm fascinated by the sheer number of open-air theatres around the country, and the way pretty much every town seemed to have a bandstand where it seems anyone can turn up and play (though they may have to book a slot). I'm guessing that this is all part of the effects of so much sunlight after a long winter and that any sane person would rush out into the light and refuse to come back in for as long as it lasts. I know I would!
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Nicked from [personal profile] lil_shepherd...

And it's one that is at least actually British/Commonwealth in origin...

Answers )
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Oh boy have I been neglecting this... so without further ado, I'm back. From now on the motor racing stuff will all be on and everything else will be here.

BT Tower 50th Birthday - Here be Photos... Lots of Photos )
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So... the inaugural Cancer Research UK London Winter Run, all 10k of it. As most people must already know my last actual race (as in a timed event with chip timing and everything - not a parkrun) was back in the mists of time, in March 2011 in fact when I completed the Silverstone Half Marathon in a time that surprised me (2:08 when I'd expected 2:30 or thereabouts), that done despite nagging ankle pain that didn't seem to want to quit. There followed 9 months of physio, massage therapy, trips to the orthopaedic surgeon who referred me on to one of the countries top podiatrists, a custom built ankle brace, and dire prognostications about the likelihood of every running again - it was, in other words, apparent that no one expected me to ever be able to do it. So I threw myself into volunteering, and having run 3 parkruns at that point promptly found myself run directing at Milton Keynes and watching enviously as other people did what I loved doing but was no longer capable of.

Some time during 2012 it became apparent that the brace didn't work either and I was in a lot of pain even just walking. Scans suggested that in addition to a biomechanical issue with my right foot, and the effects of a torn gastroneucimus in 2001 which meant my calf muscle didn't work as it should, 6 years of running had also torn my posterior tibialis tendon. There was nothing for it but surgery and so it was scheduled to not impact on the motor racing calendar (luckily there was a gap where the only two races I needed to get to where at Silverstone and Donington, both locations where there is a lift to the media centre) and so, in August that year I went under the knife, emerging with 30 staples holding everything together and a massive screw through my heel bone. The offending tendon had snapped completely a week before surgery and had been reattached to my toes, my spring ligament was repaired and my heel bone had been broken and straightened to the correct position. I spent 6 weeks in plaster and another 6 in a removable splint, with no weight bearing allowed, getting around in a borrowed wheelchair for longer distances and on snazzy blue crutches the rest of the time. I ate well (having done some research into foods used to speed healing in athletes) and I did pretty much as I was told and two days before we were due to fly to Hong Kong for the Macau Grand Prix I was given the all clear.

On my return it was back to podiatry appointments, and I was finally allowed back to exercise, getting out on my bike and back in the pool - neither allowed during the post-op recovery period for fear of slipping/falling off. I'd kept as fit as I could in the run up to surgery with lots of swimming and cycling, doing my first (and so far only) triathlon as part of a team where someone else did the running, and the same with a brace of duathlons. It meant my upper body strength was pretty good and had made me the fastest thing on crutches many people had seen! I mended a lot faster than some expected, and in early Summer that year I had the screw removed from my heel, about 4 months earlier than was expected. In Autumn after one more appointment with the surgeon, he said he though that once I'd got new custom built orthotics I might try running and see what happened. First I need to build up with lots of walking though. Which I do. Being able to cover one end of Spa-Francorchamps to the other (uphill) and still feel fine suggests to me that it might be time to try and run.

And so we arrive in August 2014... and I decide it's now or never and the shoes come out of the wardrobe. I battled my way through the C210K programme that I'd used back in 2009, and then signed up for the Winter 10K in the hope that it would give me a focus and prevent backsliding over the Christmas period. The plane was working and I ran MK parkrun a couple of times just to check that I could at least complete half the distance without needing to stop and walk. A cold just before Christmas seemed to go on and on and on... though it didn't stop me running MK parkrun on Christmas Day, Ashton Court parkrun on the Saturday after, and Buckingham parkrun on New Year's Eve, the latter such a struggle that I began to seriously consider I might want to give London a miss. In fact it was only two weeks ago that I managed to run comfortably again, covering 7 miles without stopping, no matter how slow - and it was slow.

Saturday saw me do my old pre-race routine of a very short run, just 1.5 miles. The initial half mile is done at a very gentle pace, then followed a half mile of intervals, running flat out for 0.05 of a mile, then jogging gently for 0.05 miles, until you reach the half mile. The last half mile is for getting home at a gentle pace again. I also finally picked up a running club t-shirt on the grounds that if I was the only Silson member listed (out of 14,500 runners) I was damn well going in club kit! A dinner of lasagne, followed by bread and butter pudding and custard completed the preparations, and with all my kit laid out and ready I turned in early.

Sunday morning the alarm went off at stupid o'clock. I had an hour to spare and used it to good effect, necking a pint of water and two espressos, and breakfasting on muesli, linseeds and stewed apple. I dressed, collected the rest of my kit together and drove to Milton Keynes to catch the train to Euston. It probably shouldn't have come as a surprise, but most of the other passengers appeared to also be running, judging by the kit, and the blue and white bags (the only bags accepted at the bag drop) they were all carrying. On the train I ate one of the bananas I'd brought along, and drank another half litre of water. And then I though I'd attach my race number, only to find that I'd left the four safety pins I had carefully prepared somewhere in my car or at home. I didn't have them with me. A side-trip at Euston to the ladies loos revealed even more runners and I was able to beg two pins from two different people - it was enough. And from there I made my way to Embankment.

Once there everything seemed to be very well organised, and there was next to no queue for the bag drop despite it being 09:15, quarter of an hour before the first wave (of 1600 was supposed to go off). I duly used my inhaler and checked it, my coat and pretty much everything apart from my iPod and my very smart, trendy green heavy duty plastic garden bin-liner (thicker than a black bin liner and thus warmer) and met up with the first person with whom I'd made tentative plans to catch up, the lovely Inconcert. She was in the 10:16 wave (wave 7), as was I. We started heading towards the start but I then encountered Liz, a Milton Keynes parkrun regular, who was heading off to meet the other people she had planned to run with. I veered off to use the portaloos one last time (again no queue for the ones at the end of The Mall) before also wandering towards the start. I caught up with Liz and we both collected Polar bear hugs. It was so cold by then that I was reluctant to let go of said bear and did try and persuade him to run with me... anyway, we caught up with the others over on Whitehall and eventually began to make our way to the start, hugging more bears as we went.

The start seemed somewhat disorganised with people simply filtering into the start funnel regardless of which wave they belonged in. At one point it looked as if we were all in wave 6, and in fact the start was given and a whole bunch of forward movement happened, but then we all stopped again and did another warmup (or at least tried to - it was almost impossible with 1000 or so people rammed into the funnel so I just settled for shifting from foot to foot while disposing of my plastic bag and fiddling with my Garmin. We started to edge forward and this time we really were starting. I was quite a way back so it took a minute or so to get across the start line, and so I stuck my earphones in and set off at a pace I figured I could sustain. The first kilometre was comfortable enough and seemed to be over very quickly, and I was passing quite a lot of people, most of them presumably the slower runners and run/walkers from previous waves. I settled in and enjoyed it, at least the first part, though was somewhat disappointed by the lack of "iconic London landmarks" actually visible from the route along the embankment. I wasn't surprised - I do know that road after all - but then we hit the 4k-ish mark down near the Tower of London and turned back towards the finish without seeing it either! Oh, and the Swiss winter zone wasn't exactly impressive - it seemed to be a dozen or so people clanging cowbells (that was good) and some slides projected onto the wall of the underpass (not much good - frankly underpowered). I don't think they'd really go the hang of the event...

Turning round was where things started to get tough because there seemed to be rather more up (and rather more of a head wind) but even though I kept telling myself I'd slow up/walk at the next km marker I just kept on going. The junk up towards St. Pauls was not a lot of fun as it involved a lot of seeing even more runners who were well ahead of you coming back down and heading for home. The second of the snow zones was in front of the cathedral and there were quite a few people cheering us all on at that point, which was more than welcome. There was a short downhill section back to the embankment which seemed to be straight into a howling gale, and then it was the final 2.5km or so. By now I was starting to feel like I'd at least make it - after all I'd arrived hoping to get round without needing to stop, walk, hyperventilate or generally fall over. Around the 9k marker Liz caught up with me, and by that point I was running out of steam (I really hadn't managed enough long runs but that will come with time). She ran with me for a while but then left me behind at the 500m to go marker. I wasn't about to quit regardless so I just tried to concentrate on one foot in front of the other. I could see the final corner (and the final snow zone) and so I slogged round there and turned towards Whitehall - I could see the blow up arch now and so I decided it was time to go for a sprint finish. There were a couple of people going very slowly so I powered past them, flung myself over the line and promptly burst into tears. It was a very emotional moment for me to be able to complete a race when I really had thought my running days might be over.

It became even more emotional when I stopped my Garmin and looked at my time. I had expected a time of around 75 minutes, but was quietly hoping I might do something between 70 and 75. Under 70 minutes and I would be delighted. The watch said 68:30 exactly... I was a sobbing heap when Liz came back to get me and it took me a while to get myself back under control. I was even more pleased when my official time came through and it was 68:24.

From there it was time to collect the very snazzy medal and more polar bear hugs. Oh and a small bottle of water and a carton pineapple-flavoured coconut water. I then collected my bag (again no queue) and was very happy to be reunited with my coat as I was starting to feel cold. It was a shortish hop back to Euston after that and I settled in to eat a flapjack bar and a banana while necking another half litre of water. Once home it was time for a shower and then out for lunch at the local Indian.

Pluses: Very well organised bag drops, very smart and substantial medal, very huggable polar bears, the snow zones, the very flat terrain.

Minuses: The apparent lack of organisation around the start waves, the Swiss Winter Wonderland, the lack of capacity of the bags we had to use at the bag drop - given it's a Winter event it would be good to be able to get slightly more stuff in them.
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No. 1, Esteban Ocon, FRA, SJM Theodore Racing by Prema, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 2, Antonio Fuoco, ITA, SJM Theodore Racing by Prema, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 3, Nicholas Latifi, CDN, SJM Theodore Racing by Prema, Dallara F314, Mercedes-HWA
No. 5, Max Verstappen, NED, Van Amersfoort Racing, Dallara F314, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 6, Gustavo Menezes, USA, Van Amersfoort Racing, Dallara F312, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 7, Kenta Yamashita, JPN, Tom’s, Dallara F314, Toyota-Tom’s
No. 8, Sam MacLeod, GBR, Tom’s, Dallara F312, Toyota-Tom’s
No. 9, Hongwei (Martin) Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsports, Dallara F313, Mercedes-HWA
No. 10, Santino Ferrucci, USA, Fortec Motorsports, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 11, Alex Pelou, ESP, Fortec Motorsports, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 12, Mitsunori Takaboshi, JPN, B-Max Racing Team, Dallara F312, Toyota-Tom’s
No. 14, Tom Blomqvist, GBR, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 15, Antonio Giovinazzi, ITA, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, Dallara F314, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 16, Sean Gelael, IDN, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 17, Jordan King, GBR, GR Asia with Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 18, Yu Kanamaru, JPN, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 19, Lucas Auer, AUT, KFZ-Teile 24 Mücke Motorsport, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 20, Felix Rosenqvist, SWE, by Mücke Motorsport, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 21, Tatiana Calderon, COL, JZR/ Mücke Motorsport, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 22, Markus Pommer, GER, Motopark, Dallara F314, Volkswagen-Spiess
No. 23, Félix Serrallés, PRT, Team West-Tec F3, Dallara F314, Mercedes-HWA
No. 25, Wing Chung (Andy) Chang, MAC, Team West-Tec F3, Dallara F312, Mercedes-HWA
No. 26, Richard (Spike) Goddard, AUS, Three Bond with T-Sport, Dallara F312, NBE
No. 27, Nick Cassidy, NZL, Three Bond with T-Sport, Dallara F314, NBE
No. 28, Roberto Merhi, ESP, Double R Racing, Dallara F313, Mercedes-HWA
No. 29, Stefano Coletti, MON, EuroInternational, Dallara F313, Mercedes-HWA
No. 30, Dan Wells, GBR, Toda Racing, Dallara F312, Toda-TRF
No. 31, Will Buller, GBR, Signature, Dallara F314, Volkswagen
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