Helisinki / Gdansk

Sept 19, 2014

So it’s quite a while since I have blogged about some of the places I have had the privilege of visiting.  I have been to Ireland several times, and I have loved each and every visit, but I’ve already written about that lovely isle, and I can’t tell my employer where I want to go next. And to be quite frank, I have really enjoyed not travelling for work. I am a husband and a father and an architect. These take time, which seems in such short supply these days. I don’t want to be gone for a week. There’s too much to do. And yet, sometimes I do have to travel. I am in a brand-new (to me) country, and so it time to pick the pen again.

I’m in Helsinki, Finland, and I’ve been here for three days, Tomorrow I leave for Gdansk, Poland. So first some impression about the country it self.

1. The landscape is rocky, with trees.  Poplar (or maybe birch) dominate, and there is very little undergrowth.  The “floor” of the forest (and the forest does indeed exist whereever there is no roads or building, much like Beaverton, OR) is sparse with grass and what I think is lichen, but who really knows?  Not I. The trees are open enough that one could image – yea, even expect – a line of reindeer to come ambling along. And I don’t Dahmer and Spritzer. I mean real reindeer with horns, and not one sleigh bell (and by the way, real reindeer do not look anything like caribou. They are actually pretty small. No way eight or nine of them could pull …  well, never mind).

2. Helsinki sits on the southern coast of Finland. There is a mix of mainland and rocky islands. There is no sand.  It’s rocky. But it appears that all of the many little island. have little communities and houses.  _MG_5083 _MG_5089 _MG_5092

3. Sailboats abound everywhere along the rocky coast.

4. Helsinki get about 20 or 25 minutes less light than Beaveron at this time of year, and I notice the shortened day along with the angle of the sun, which is noticeably lower in the sky. Helsinki is north of 60 degrees, and this represents the furthest north of the equator that I have ever been.  For comparison, it is approximately on the same latitude as Whitehorse, in the Yukon. North of 60. Hmmmm. Is also more north than I have been south, if that make sense. The most south I have been is 34 degrees south, which really isn’t that south at all

The people are very friendly. And it seems everyone conveniently speaks Finish, Swedish and English. Which brings me to this point. Finland has two official languages – Finish and Swedish. So there are lots of road signs in two indecipherable languages. There are alot of blond people here (“Yoo Hoo – Big summer blow-out!!”), healthy blond people (male and female). Healthy because they walk and ride bicycles everywhere. Okay, lots of riding and walking in September, but it’s also really clear that this place gets serous fucking winters.  My hotel (Hanasarri in Espoo) has a big full-size snow removal tractor. Probably the hotel has more snow removal capabilities than Portland, OR. So maybe they use skis. That’s probably it. Trade in the mountain bike bicycle for cross-country skies, and glide to work.

 

Also, I noticed there is no litter at all.  None. I was looking.  I saw one empty pack of smokes and that was it. No gum stuck to the side walks.  Nothing.

In my hotel, at breakfast this morning, I overheard two visitors (both with strong non-Canadian accents), discussing Canada. One gentleman had never been, the other was an expert, having skied in Canada. Once. In Quebec. Once. It was nice to hear the “Up-with-Canada” speech with enthusiasm, but I kinda think that Quebec in the winter does not completely represent Canada.  Add Saskatchewan in February, Vancouver in tyhe summer, Halifax in the fall,  for a little contrast!

And while I was eating my supper, an hour and half ago, I over heard a couple from Russia arguing with the waitress over how much Vodka they could be served. The argued in English, which was convenient for me, since I cannot speak or understand Finish, Swedish or Russian. Anyway, on to the nature of the argument. I really do not think there is a law dictating the limit of vodka that can be served. However, the waitress was emphatic that she would only give the gentleman from Russia 30 grams.  Go figure. And yes, they were using the term grams.

Tomorrow I leave to Gdansk, Poland.  I have a contrived plan that will let me visit the National Museum of Finland, on the way out of tow, which should be very interesting.

So more to come……

Sept 21, 2014

So a few final points about Finland. I did not know this, but Finald was part of Russia for over 100 years. It was a Duchy of Russia. Wikipedia has some good historical notes here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Duchy_of_Finland  .  And the country still has close ties to Russia.

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As I explored the National Museum,  which is housed in an old church, I could see the developing relationships between Sweden, Russia and Finland. It is very fascinating. Sweden and Russia went to war with other in what is now Finland several times.  Odd that the Russian couple argued over how much vodka can be served at lunch.

And speaking of close ties, it is only a four and a half hours driving time from Helsinki to Saint Perterburg. Really (Map from Helsinki to St. Petes). This is the closest I have ever been to Russia.

I grew-up during the cold war, My parents were both radar operators, and I have memories of stories of Canadian fighters intercepting Russian bombers coming over the arctic – Like this story – only a few decades earlier.  I remember seeing an unexpected snow fall one year, and wondered for a brief moment, if it was nuclear fall out.  Silly in retrospect, but the feelings were genuine at the time. I am personally keenly aware of the effects of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In short, they were the bad guys. And yesterday, while stowing my luggage at the train station so I could wander around downtown Helsinki unencumbered by the weight of my belongings, I noted a train scheduled to leave for Saint Petersburg. It was scheduled to leave in twenty minutes. I found that somehow odd, and yet comforting.  I may look to take that train if I am ever back this way again. But in the interim, I find myself aware of how close I am. I want to visit and learn.

I recall how, on my first visit to China, how different from my expectations I found that country to be.

 

Sept 23, 2014

I am now in Gdansk, Poland.  The name of the city is pronounced ‘dansk.  The ‘G’ is almost silent. Most people (except those who pronounce the G, and those worthies are universally from North America), provide just the slightest pause before the ‘dansk’.

I spend a very wonderful day on Sept 21, 2014 (Sunday) walking around through Old Town. It is, as advertised, old. The city itself is over 1000 years old. Wikipedia has a great article on Gdansk. I was feeling a little cautions before I went. I decided to fill up my hotel room safe with my electronics – except my mobile phone, and passport. I also left Eva’s 35 mm DSLR in my room, I was concerned that I would look like a tourist target. I wanted to blend in, rather become the target of a robbery. Anyway, I was very surprised when arrived in Old Town. It was a huge wonderful massive center of tourism. And not in a bad way. There were literally hundreds of tourists (many of them toting DSLR cameras), many kids, many different languages. I may have even heard a few words in English, but I am not completely sure it was not my imagination filling in sounds that I miss.

In old town, there is the largest most wonderful church I have ever seen. Saint Mary’s Basilica is massive. It was built in the 1400’s and completed in 1502. It is the largest brick church in the work. It is still an operating Roman Catholic Church. A mass that was in session when I arrived prevented me from taking a tour, but I sent a silent prayer for my much missed family while I was standing in the vestibule.

There is a very large touristy industry involving jewelry created from amber and silver. There are dozens of stalls offering such goodies.  While walking around, a small protest consisting of about 25 young people made their way through the crowd carrying signs and ganging drums. I miss Portland. 🙂  I have no idea what caused the people to be upset – they signs they were carrying were, for some reason, written in what I believe was Polish, although of course I can not be sure –    but they protested in peace. And there forgotten by the crowds within seconds, unfortunately.

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One other note I had lunch in an outdoor cafe overlooking the canal. I had some Polish cuisine (dumplings of some sort). The waitress asked me if I wanted a beer, and in keeping with local tradition of drinking early and drinking often, I agreed one would be a good idea. Upon examining the extensive menu of available brews, I selected one (based entirely on nothing at all). The waitress, in passable English, warned me the bottle was “strong”. Slightly offended, I gave her a look that, at once, said, ‘Hey. I;m Canadian, and not a small one at that.” She shrugged and served me.  It was strong. One beer, and I am walking around for 45 minutes waiting for my balance to completely return…..

One point of context. I almost never drink in foreign counties (except for when I am in Ireland. One mustn’t offend the Irish when they are drinking….). I may have a glass of wine once I am back in my hotel after dinner, but I tend to play it safe. So getting half buzzed at lunch in a very unknown (to me) country is unusual in the extreme.

The people in Poland, the ones I have met, are very nice. There is enough passable English (better than my impassable Polish) to get by. The costs of things are not too bad, at least not for me. I do not know if the local find the prices high or not. Since Sunday, I have been working, which is expected of me, since my employer is picking up the tab for this trip, which is in point of fact a business trip and not an expedition.

I picked up a silver and amber necklace for Eva, Baltic Amber is very popular in Poland for jewelry, although I did not know this at all.

One final point.  I got caught in the aftermath of the fire in the control center in Chi-town. This added some hours to my trip.  I left my hotel for the airport at about 7:00am on Friday, which was 10:00 pm Thursday.  I got out of the taxi at my home at 7:45am on Saturay. Close to 34 hours of travel.  Longest trip ever.  And I still have problems sleeping on air planes……

Book Signing

I am really excited to announce I will be signing copies of the revised Loop Vacation and my break-out novel Burnaby Burning (like facebook pace at at Jan’s Paperbacks on Saturday June 21 from 1 – 3 pm. Joining me will be Action-Adventure author Jim McCulloch,

So please come out and join us. Support your local book store, and local indie authors. Jan’s is a great place to shop for new and used books, and is tremendous in supporting local authors.

So once again:

Jan’s Paperbacks

18095 SW Tualatin Valley Highway

Aloha, OR 97006

June 21, 2014

1pm – 3pm

Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Just in time for the holidays!! Jan’s Paperbacks is hosting several Indie authors, including your truely on Nov 30, 2013. I will be selling copies of Burnaby Burning and Loop Vacation in the morning from 10:00am to noon, and perhaps a little later in the day.

This is a great opportunity for authors to get the word out about their books, and I would like to thanks Jan’s for setting this up!!

The details are:

Jan’s Paperbacks
18095 S.W. TV Highway, Aloha, Oregon 97006
Phone: 503.649.3444
10:00 am to Noon

Give a great novel for Christmas this year. I hope to see you there.

Cheers,

Gord

A little social experiment on myself

I am always telling my kids to look for value when they are purchasing goods, services, (cars, drugs, small counties). I am not really sure how well they absorb the lessons, but that’s no the important part.  What’s important is that I give the lessons. If they don’t listen, well, their problem, not mine.

Anyway, back to value. Recently the company I work for decided to discourage employees from working at home – as in “No working from home anymore”. Now I am totally okay with this edict It’s way better than “No working anymore, form home or else where.” And since they still plan on depositing currency into my bank account on a regular basis, then I guess I’m okay with going to work.

The side effect of this new “go to the office to work plan” is that I have to spend seventy minutes or more each day in traffic before my morning meetings. Since I work with some engineers in Ireland, I need to get to my desk pretty early in the morning. (I’m getting to the self-social experiment.  Really. Just giving the back ground.)  So instead of looking over the nights emails on my Blackberry, I’m shaving, and flossing and caffeinating and checking the traffic reports. In other words, doing the same thing as millions of other gainfully employed people do every morning.  Sucks to be me, eh.

Anyway, back to the morning routine. I stopped doing work email on my Blackberry in the mornings. After my work is complete, the Irish are (usually) not working. At 5pm here it’s 1am in Shannon.  So there is no work email exchange then.

I own a WiFi enabled tablet, complete with a Kindle Reader App (not a Kindle Fire), and a WiFi enabled ultra-book (which I am using to compose right now). And almost every place I go has a WiFi hotspot – hockey rinks, Safeway, ski-resorts, hotels in Ireland, restaurants, my house.  Even my folks, who live in the wilds of Nova Scotia – well, six miles past the wilds of Nova Scotia – have high-speed wireless Internet in their house (beautiful home, lovey property with a river from which the occasional trout dinner comes),

So, after thinking things through, I have decided to switch to a non-smart phone for the first time in decades, and kill my data plan with AT&T. There is just no more value in paying for another data pipe to the internet. So I am getting rid of the smart phone.  The cost per month is not that much.  Forty bucks US for two gigabytes, which I have never exceeded (in no small part because my smart phone switched to WiFI every chance it could). But the value is gone. It just does not make sense to spend money to check on the WBS Pens games on twitter, and check Facebook.

For those occasions when I might really want to access the internet on a smart phone, I am usually with my wife and she has a pretty damned smart phone. And we share well.

So, the social experiment is a test on how much I have become addicted to having the internet literally in my pocket, and when I will break down and turn my Blackberry back on.  I have an old Samsung that accepts and receives text messages – no QWERTY keypad though, and still places and accepts phone calls. So we will see how long I last.

My family is running a pool. My daughter says I last six days, which puts me into next weekend. My wife, who is very supporting, gives me a month. I have already beat the first time guess by my eleven year old son.  He has revised his estimate to a week. For my part, I plan on not going back unless i) my company changes its work from hoe policy or ii) I get an engineering team west of me or iii) I just plain miss being able to read CNN headlines while stopped at a red light on the way home.

Time will tell.

Burnaby Burning Signing Event

Folks,

I will be signing a very limited number of copies of Burnaby Burning (http://www.amazon.com/Burnaby-Burning-Gordon-McFadden/dp/1480144452), my breakout novel.

Jan’s Paperbacks (https://www.facebook.com/janspaperbacks http://www.janspaperbacks.com/) is hosting the event on June 22 from 1pm to 4pm.  Fellow author Mark Shaff will be there signing his latest release as well.  See http://www.janspaperbacks.com/event/mark-shaff-and-gordon-mcfadden-book-signing for more details. Jan’s paperbacks is located at 18095 SW Tualatin Valley Highway, in Aloha, OR. ( http://mapq.st/11JrXup ).

Please come out, say “Hi” and check out a copy of Burnaby Burning.

Thanks,

Gord

Big Brother. Oh Bother

Yet again, I find myself researching topics for a novel under construction that may attract the attention of federally employed investigative friends. For Burnaby Burning, I had spent considerable time looking into how to make a homemade car bomb. I kept peeking outside to see if any Chevy Suburbans with blacked-out windows were parked outside.

Of course, in recent days there has been a lot of news coverage here in the US about the federal government having almost unfettered access to the internet. Whether this is true or not (I suspect it is not true, but I don’t really know), it has raised the hackles of a great number of people. Google is one of the companies suspected of being complicit in the government snooping in everything.

So yesterday, while working on Assassin Rebuild, I had to solve a problem. The FBI were in Sturgis and the bad guy was a day ahead of them on a motorbike probably headed west. So they decided to use a chopper. And thus I found myself googling “Where are FBI field offices in South Dakota.” “What types of helicopters do FBI fly?” “Range of Eurocopter AS 350.”  I kept a close eye out for FBI agents checking my house, and every time I used my mobile phone, I listened very carefully for that tel-tale chirp that indicates I was being bugged…..

Oh, and for the record, I had to put the agents in a Bell 427. It has the range to get from Omaha, Nebraska to Rapid City, South Dakota. But as far as I can figure, the FBI doesn’t fly this plane.  So, see?  It’s all fiction.

 

Oh Facebook, you rascal….

For some unknown reason, Facebook has removed the FB page for my latest book, Burnaby Burning and has blocked me from posting to FB for twelve hours. This is very odd. The original notification came with an indication the account was used to bully people, which is ridiculous. I suspect, but do not know, that a recent batch of chat messages (“Are you enjoying Burnaby Burning? Are you going to write a review”) with the word Burning in it, might have set off some software alarm. But that is a guess.

What rubs me is that I have spent a couple hundred buck on FB promoting the book, and there seems to be no recourse. Except to start over again, or abandon FB all together.

I have a book signing in three weeks that I have to promote – well, I don’t have to promote it. i could sit there for three hours … – so I guess I’ll just suck it up like a, ..,a, … sucker, and start over.  Soon as I am un-banned…..

 

Gord