…and we’re back. Actually, have been back since last Friday, slowly recovering from jet lag and such. I’m mostly ok on that front, but Janka is still a bit “lagged” and poor Saiga (who handled 5 weeks of international travel and multiple ridiculously long flights like a champ) is currently a bit mixed up on her sleep schedule. The flight back home involved 27 hours of sitting in a plane (plus transit times), probably a new personal record.
The trip was fantastic, overall. We first spent a week in Sydney, doing all sorts of tourist things, including a few organized tours. Nice city, though very expensive – easily at Helsinki levels. The weather was chilly by local standards, which meant that it was nice and summery by ours.
After Sydney we flew to Welington (New Zealand), where we spent a few weeks at house guests of some friends (thanks again, Steve & Jennifer + Richard!), who also showed us the sights and were wonderful in general. Wellington is a very, very beautiful city: tall hills surrounded by sea, with crystal-clear air and a nice, warm temperature (during summer, at least). Of course, the abundance of hills also means that there’s, well, uphill walks just about everywhere, and the roads give new definition to “narrow and winding”.
After a few weeks in Wellington, we took the ferry to Picton (on the South Island) and then a train to Christchurch, where we picked up our rental camper van from Escape Rentals and drove off towards the sunset. On the wrong side of the road, from my point of view. The camper van proved to be a great idea, especially when traveling with a 10-month old – it was sort of like camping, without the hassle of setting up a tent and all that. Especially on the west coast, where it rained heavily and a lot, this proved to be a boon.
Our route took us through Arthur’s Pass to the west coast, and up that to Karamea. From the we headed back cross-country towards Picton, where we took a ferry back to Wellington and then headed north towards Auckland (stopping by Rotorua and Waitomo on the way). I was a great way to see the country, and the local motor parks were very nice (some even boasted a swimming pool and spa).
I have over 1600 raw frames of photography from the trip, but it’ll take a while until I get that filtered and processed into a viewable subset.
Fantastic trip, but of course it’s also nice to be home after a long haul. Next week: work.
So we’re off in a few hours. First to Sydney for a week, and then a tad over a month in New Zealand (where we’ll, among other things, tour the place in a rental hippie campervan thingy).
The 9+9 hours of flight to Sydney is bound to be “interesting” with 9-month-old Saiga along – especially since it looks like the plane is pretty full and their seating systems are in a mess, we probably won’t get a bassinet seat. Not to mention the return trip, which is over 24 hours. Joy.
We’ll try to avoid the vegemite, ravenous dingos and thieving hobbitses.
The EC was a lot of fun, and I’d (again) like to thank the organizers for the huge effort they put into it. Sure, the hotel was more of a youth hostel, but the prices were cheap, the staff friendly and the playing area had enough room. What more could you ask for? Well, decent food, for starters, but there was a reason that we skipped the “hotel” lunch/dinner stuff and went out to seek food in nearby restaurants. Lots of good little restaurants to be found there, after some amount of searching.
Anyway, the actual EC was once more a blast, and a hectic three days of nearly nonstop gaming and very little sleep. I think I slept around 6 hours per night usually, with Sunday night hitting a rock bottom of 2.5 hours of sleep – the end party and casual games just dragged on and on, and suddenly it was 6am with the wakeup call around 8.30am. Duh. It was great to meet people once again, and everyone was really nice both in-game and out. Sure, the EC games did get somewhat intense at times, but the atmosphere stayed very friendly. I like that.
This time around I tried using rush decks for the Last Chance and EC Day 1 games. It didn’t really work, though the games were a lot of fun and I did enjoy the table control and negotiating possibilities the rush decks gave me. Last Chance with g5/6 Gargoyles gave me 1VP, and EC Day 1 with G5 Ahrimanes / !Gangrel got me 0.5VP. So nothing to write home about, point-wise. Well, it was a fun experiment in any case.
The First Chance qualifier was a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t really sure what to play in it, but one of the decks I had along as more a “casual deck” managed to win a table in a casual game, so I decided to tweak it a small bit (added a bit more defense, mostly) and go with it. To my huge surprise it did very well, scoring me 1GW and 5.5VPs; this left me at #19 of around 150 players, which is by far the best score I’ve ever gotten in an EC game… and it also got me a qualification for next year. Yay!. It was not a “power deck” by any means, and maybe that’s why it worked for me: it didn’t look like any sort of a table threat. Based around Obfuscate Black Hands and Marijava Thuggees, it mostly just bleeds for 1 multiple times (with lots of stealth) and tries to look innocent. Sure, luck was a factor here, but then it always is in this game. The last game (which yielded me 1.5VPs) was awesome; for a long time it looked like a zero VP game, but due to amazing twists of luck (a critical Delaying from my prey, top-decking a Ministry, having a Confusion of the Eye on hand at just the right moment, etc etc) I managed to oust my prey and hang on until the timeout, with two players on the table having a deal to oust me. I should have gotten ousted many times over, but somehow I wasn’t. It was a really fun game.
I stayed in Paris for an extra day along with some other Finns, so on Monday we did around 12 hours of touristy stuff: the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the Louvre, Notre Dame and finally the Eiffel Tower at night (we took the stairs to the midpoint level, quite a climb). Nice day, but our feet were killing us by the time we got back. The initial idea was to (finally!) grab some sleep, but as luck would have it yet another Finn had a problem with too many bottles of wine etc in his room which needed drinking. So we did the civilized thing and helped the guy out, and suddenly it was 2am again. Ho hum.
Tuesday, we hit the Catacombs in the morning, and then headed towards the airport. Good trip, all in all, and I do like Paris. My French remains extremely primitive, but even in that primitive form it was handy now and then. In a group in which nobody else speaks any French at all, even simple French gets you pretty far. Oh, and I managed to snag a copy of the new French version of Call of Cthulhu’s “Beyond the Mountains of Madness” (Par-delà les Montagnes Hallucinées ). Looks awesome. Now I just need to (significantly!) improve my French in order to read the thing…
Marko Saari has a pile of pictures from the EC online.
So far so good. Despite warnings from the airline about the French general strike, our flight to Paris is still showing up as scheduled. Near midnight today we’ll hopefully be set up at the EC site, drinking something cool and alcoholic and playing a casual game of VTES. Or not. Baji-naji.
…then it’s up sometime before 8am, some breakfast, and the first of three full days of tournament play. Sleep is for the weak.
Back next week.
Boing Boing is running a series of short Q&A sessions with Jake Adelstein, a writer and crime reporter in Japan who has both reported on and had run-ins with the Yakuza extensively. Pretty fascinating stuff, especially the bits about how openly entrenched organized crime is in the Japanese infrastructure (entertainment industry, politics, etc).
So, the VTES 2009 European Championships are now over, and we’re back from Palma de Mallorca (Spain). Us Finns didn’t score too well this time around (with a couple of exceptions), but otherwise the trip was a blast. Flying from cold, dark and drizzly Finland to warm and sunny Mallorca was a nice beginning, and for once the hotel actually did live up to expectations and pictures. The rooms were nice (our apartment suite was close to the pools), the food was excellent, the staff friendly, and in general almost everything went smoothly. The games did have a tendency to start very much behind schedule, but since I could spend that time sipping sangrias on the sunny terrace I didn’t mind too much.
I was already qualified (thanks to running the Ropecon tournament), so on Friday I decided to play in the sideline “Friday the 13th” tournament, organized by Tiago and Teresa. Was a lot of fun, though my Akunanse deck wasn’t quite up to the challenge; managed to scrape together two half-VPs due to two timeouts. The storyline rules did slow the game down a bit, so we had more timeouts than normal. Still, had a lot of fun. I thought I was packing a lot of combat, but the first round stuck between Matt’s Potence rush deck and someone else’s celerity gun intercept deck taught me differently.
Saturday it was time for the EC day one tournament. I picked my Anarch Cry Wolf Khazar deck for this… it has a lot of bounce, some rush, and I thought it might have a chance. Well, it didn’t work out, the day ended with zero VPs. There were a few close calls where I almost got a VP, but “almost” doesn’t count. In the end, the deck (though decent) wasn’t quite resilient enough and it was simply too slow for this metagame. Lots of powerbleed, fast votes (Panders etc) and other fast, brutal decks. Oh well. The games were fun in any case, and everyone was very nice and sportsmanlike. After talking about it, I got some nice ideas from Janne and other people, and have since tweaked the deck to be more efficient – dropped it down to 80 cards, tightened up the combat module, etc.
Sunday was the First Chance tournament, where I tried out my !Toreador/Daughters tap&bleed deck. Still not all that much luck, but things went a bit better: got 1 VP on the third round, and both of the first games had me with my prey at one pool. One is unfortunately a lot more than zero, but still… I’m pretty happy with how the deck performed in general. In hindsight, I probably would have gotten another VP if I had played my hand (a combo of tap cards, Freak Drive, and Siren’s Lure) a bit differently. I’ve since also modified this deck, also paring it down to 80 cards and hopefully making it run a bit more tightly. Will need more playtesting.
Janne had better luck, he was playing his deadly Fortitude weenie horror all weekend. He almost made it to EC day 2, which is very well done. On the other hand, lots of normally high-scoring Finns ended up at around my number of VPs (i.e. zero-to-one). Weird.
As traditional, I didn’t get all that much sleep. Usually went to bed around 2am after playing all day and night and drinking quite a bit on the side…. and then it’s up before 8am, in time to register for the next day’s games and eat breakfast. Still, those 6 hours proved to be enough, I wasn’t totally zoned out or anything. We played quite a few games with Team Denmark (great guys), with some of the games held at out apartment suite – we had a fridge, lots of salmiakkivodka & beer, and two game-worthy tables. Luxury.
So. Great trip, really felt like a vacation (despite lack of sleep and little real “rest” at any point). If was great to meet and play with lots of fun people once again (LSJ&Oscar, we demand that Imbued toilet paper!). Huge thanks to Ginés for organizing this, and to everyone else who helped. Meeting the Portugese guys was great, thanks Tiago and others! Likewise for the Italians, thanks Paolo and everyone for great company and fun games. Even though not everyone could speak all that much English (hey, my Italian is worse!), things worked out.
This was probably the best EC so far, for me. The sunshine and sangria helped.
Oh, and Scott is a Cylon. Duh.
Got a call from Luottokunta (the company managing most/all Finnish credit cards), asking me if I was in Finland at the moment. I said yes, and that I had been here for 3+ weeks now. Turns out that someone has been using “my Visa” in the States during the weekend, buying all sorts of weird stuff from K-Mart, Stop&Shop (whatever that is), and even a burger from McDonalds(!). Since it obviously wasn’t me (hell, we didn’t even visit McDonalds once during our trip), I told them to close the card at once.
Should not be a problem financially, I can easily prove that I was on the other side of the globe at the time. But it is a big hassle. I have to change my card info to various places (Eve Online, EMusic, etc), and to begin with I have to wait a week or so till I get a new card. Since that thing also contains my debit card, I’ll have to resort to the old-fashioned visit to the bank in order to get cash in the meantime. And of course I have to write a letter to Luottokunta once I get this month’s bill, itemizing which charges aren’t mine. Sigh.
Oh well, at least Luottokunta monitors card use in a competent fashion. Apparently the fact that the same card had been used on opposite sides of the globe at more or less the same time raised some red flags.
So… apparently someone managed to copy my card at some point when it was out of my grasp (restaurant, most likely). Or there was an illegal card reader installed at some gas station pump, or some such. It happens, but it’s always annoying.
Back in drizzly Finland. Actually, back almost a week ago.
Trip went well, and even though it was a very “active vacation” it left me feeling relaxed and I feel I’ve been away for a long time (even though it’s only been a month). We visited Iceland, then flew over to California & Burning Man. Janka provides some trip recap in her blog, so I won’t repeat (much) of that here. I took a ton of photos – nearly 2000 – but then again more than half of those were 3-picture HDR composites, and then after the obvious failures are weeded out… well, the number of “reasonable” shots left is a lot smaller. Still, took lots of pics. The batch from Iceland is now available (slideshow), I’ll add the rest later once I get them processed.
Since I don’t have pics available yet I also won’t talk about the U.S. or Burning Man here, leaving that for later.
So, Iceland. I found the country quite amazing. Sure, it was expensive, and sure, it’s small and insular – but somehow, that insularity wasn’t as annoying as it can sometimes be in Finland. Maybe it’s just the fact that I was only on a short visit and didn’t see the reality of things, or maybe it’s also other things: I found the Icelandic elitist megalomania quite refreshing (compared to the Finnish traditional cultural inferiority complex), and the fiercely independent ethos of the people was also very appealing. Sure, Finland is supposed to also have some degree of that, but I think that died out at some point in history and was replaced by a general “it’s not my fault, I’m a victim of society!” outlook. Having said that, there do seem to be a lot of common points between Finland and Iceland: tiny, insular societies that speak an incomprehensible language, endless long dark winter months, a love of (lots of) alcohol, lots of beautiful unpolluted nature.
…but as always, it’s the differences that charm you. I’m a sucker for harsh landscapes, and the Icelandic volcanic wasteland was just too cool for words at times; especially so during our hike of the Laugavegur 55km mountain trail. Some of the scenery up there was just breathtaking. Culturally, I mentioned the elitism… I guess it’s because according to the Icelanders, the Vikings did pretty much everything first, better and with more style than anyone else – and naturally enough, Icelanders are direct descendants of said Vikings. Somehow, all the rape and pillage involved gets a lot less press over there… In any case, while the place felt very insular, it didn’t feel annoyingly so; in fact, it felt quite charming to me. Oh, I’m sure the “everyone knows everyone else” thing gets old fast if you live there, but that’s just how it goes.
The music scene in Iceland is amazing, and the same applies to the arts scene in general… for some reason, it seems that arts are very much respected there culturally and pretty much half the population dabbles into some artistic pursuit. You could explain it away with “well, they have to do something during those long winter months”… but then again, why do Finns use those same months to plan suicide (or axe murder) and drown their depression with Koskenkorva?
Yes, I kid. Finns get artistic too, and I’m sure Iceland has its share of suicides, alcohol and depression. But still, you have to admire the amazing artistic scene in Iceland, especially when you compare to the population count (about the size of your average larger metropolis). To me, the music was (and is) especially impressive.
About that music… I have to mention the record store 12 Tónar. At the time we visited I wasn’t aware that it’s also a record label, and “home” of many known Icelandic musicians. We just saw an advertisement about “lots of Icelandic music!” while strolling around and decided to drop in. Glad we did. Since I didn’t know much about current local bands, I walked up to the guy behind the counter and asked for some recommendations, saying I was familiar with Björk & Sigur Rós and had a fairly eclectic taste in music. Now, that sort of approach generally tends to work in many non-chain stores, but here I got especially nice treatment. The guy gathered a pile of 8-9 CDs and said “start with those”, then sat me down at one of the many eclectic CD-players scattered around. He also brought me a cup of (free) espresso. That’s what I call service. In general, the place was what a good record store should be like (but all too seldom is): knowledgeable & friendly staff, comfy surroundings, and freedom to listen to a lot of stuf in peace. I ended up buying two records: “Það kólnar í kvöld…” by Rökkurró (excellent alt-folk-pop sung in Icelandic) and “Clangour” by Sin Fang Bous (weird but fun music, sung in English). Janka picked up an album of Viking poetry set to an ambient music soundtrack.
So… yes, I liked Iceland a lot. The food was great (though expensive), the atmosphere was nice, and the scenery awesome. I also really liked the language, it’s actually the first Scandinavian language I have any larger interest in learning – which is inconvenient, since it’s also arguably the most generally useless of said languages. Whatever, it’s quite pretty (in a weird fashion), and while it reads a small bit like Swedish etc, the pronounciation is almost totally alien.
I probably want to visit again, sometime down the road. Armed with a large travel budget, since the place was very expensive – and I say this as someone from Helsinki, one of the more expensive cities in the world.
After 1.5 weeks in Iceland, we hopped aboard a plane again and headed off towards the land of the free(ish) and home of the paranoid. More about that later.
Now I’m leaving normal and I’m heading for who knows where
–Cowboy Junkies, “Leaving Normal”
More or less dropping off the grid now. Flight leaves in… all too few hours, I should already be trying to grab a few hours of sleep. Maybe I will.
Tomorrow Iceland, then in a few weeks Black Rock City. I can already smell the playa dust.
P.S. The Ropecon VTES tournament report is now up. Enjoy.
Even though it’s hard to believe it now, with rain drizziling down from a leaden sky, last weekend was “Scorchio!”-tastic around the Turku-Hanko seaside (Kasnäs, to be more exact). Even though there’s a lot of trip prep stuff to do, we decided to take the weekend off and go sailing for a few days on a friend’s boat (well, boat belonging to a friend’s parents, to be more exact). We drove down there Friday after work, arriving at the marina a bit after 9pm, after which we settled down for a quick onboard dinner and some drinks. The marina had wifi connectivity, which was a new feature for me even though I’m told it’s quite common nowadays. Somehow, sitting in a sailboat and browsing the web on a netbook was a bit strange. I got over it.
The next two days were hot. Unfortunately they were also a bit on the overly calm side, so we just motored around on Saturday. Sunday the wind had picked up a small bit so we unfurled sails and did some actual sailing. Nothin fancy, but it’s always more pleasant to move on windpower instead of marine diesel… at least when the weather is nice.
Good short trip, and it helped reduce pre-vacation stress levels a bit. Now we’re approaching the point where we actually have to start packing soon; so far we’ve just made checklists of stuff to bring and have done some shopping along the same lines. I got a new camera bag (well, two actually), a new carbon fiber tripod, a small Gorillapod, and some other stuff. Photowise I should be all set now, and I also tested the workflow from CF card to card reader to netbook (Lightroom) to home workstation (Lightroom with some actual processing power). Seemed to work fine. Also cleaned the camera sensor (long overdue and cause for angst on previous Lapland trip) and updated the camera firmware to latest.
It’s always the same thing before a long trip abroad. The few weeks before are hectic; you try to tie up loose ends at work, you try to think of all you’ll need, you try to finish off the most critical parts of your “todo” list. Once you actually get on the plane things lighten up, before that it’s always a bit of a hassle. All this is magified a bit, since we need to do some “extreme packing”: first we go hiking in Iceland, in an area in which there is a real possibility of snow even at this time of year. Then we go to the Nevada desert and Burning Man, where temperatures around +40C are quite possible. Oh, and everything needs to both fit in the airplane loggage allowance and be as portable as possible. We have some experience at this already so it’s not as bad as it could be… but it still needs quite a bit of planning. This will also be the first actual field test for our new high-tech Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT tent, both in Iceland and at Burning Man. If our trusty Terra Nova Ultra Quasar has managed Burning Man, the Hilleberg should too. But we’ll see.