Home  Blog  Travel  Party  Free software  Writings  About me  Contact

Arto's Blog

Pages: 1 3

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Arto's and Sandra's outfit at the wedding.
Year 2020 has been unusual and affected the lives of everybody in many ways, including ours. Travelling is just one part of it but as it has been the main theme of this site for over 20 years it seems fitting to write about it also now. Some of our plans got cancelled but we still had several opportunities to get out and enjoy exploring new places as well as meeting family, friends and a few new people too. As the end of the year approaches and I haven't been active in writing during the year, what follows is a summary of the last 12 months packed in one article.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Wedding gifts, Vietnamese style.
Quite exactly a year ago, in December 2019 we spent two weeks in northern Vietnam, mostly in and around Hai Phong. Normally we avoid trips that far for environmental reasons unless we have a minimum of 2-3 months to spend in the destination — which reduces the frequency of such trips quite naturally. This time we made an exception as an old school friend of mine got married and invited us to his wedding. As it later turned out, it was the last chance of travelling to distant lands for quite a long time.

The couple was Finnish-Vietnamese but the ceremonies mostly followed the local traditions. They were colourful, joyful, at times kitschy and thoroughly documented by a two-man video- and photographer team. We also took plenty of photos but due to the request of the couple won't publish any shots of them here. The host family took excellent care of us and other Finnish guests, including a day trip together to the nearby famous Halong Bay. Simultaneously it was a chance to meet and chat with old friends some of which I hadn't seen for the last 20 years. We all stayed in the same hotel and in addition to the wedding spent some time walking around in the city together.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
A classic view of the Halong Bay, Vietnam
Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
We took our rental bike out to some pretty small roads.
During the second week Sandra and I headed out to the countryside, booked rooms in small guest houses and rented a small motorcycle for a few days. South-East Asia is for us an exotic but easygoing, tasty food and good mood destination. Vietnam was no exception to that and especially in the friendliness of the locals at the top end of the scale. What made the stay somewhat less enjoyable was the air pollution. Almost windstill days without rain made the otherwise postcard-like views constantly hazy and we both developed a light cough which healed again as soon as we left the country.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
High-rise buildings at the Dubai Marina at night.
On the way back to Germany we stopped for three days in Dubai where we would have anyway needed to change the plane. There we sent a few CouchSurfing requests and got invited to stay with an Indian architect, a perfect match in a city filled with modern high-rise buildings and plenty more coming up. With its huge shopping malls and theme-park like attractions Dubai wasn't really our world, but interesting to explore for a couple of days. Our friendly and generous host gave us some local insight to the life there.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Group photo on the rainy DAV hiking guide course.
After that came winter and spring with cancellations and lockdowns, for us of course including plenty of day hikes on the nearby Alps. In June we were able to join our already over half a year in advance booked one week volunteer hiking guide training of the German Alpine Club DAV. It was the very first course of the summer which actually took place. Despite the rainy weather we had a good time and learned a lot in the motivated and welcoming small group lead by two excellent instructors.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Christine at the mountain farm with one of the cows.
Right after the hiking guide course we took advantage of the reopening of EU borders and drove to northern Italy to spend a long weekend at a mountain farm. A friend of ours from Munich takes care of the cows there every summer for a few weeks. That farm doesn't generally offer accommodation for tourists (unlike some others which do) but she is allowed to invite her friends there. Cottage life and excellent raw milk, of course.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
A perfect camping spot on an uninhabitet island on Saimaa lake.
Cottage life continued in July in Finland by the lake Saimaa, where we stayed this time mainly at my aunt Pirkko's cottage. My father Timo had decided to have his old cottage taken down and a new one built, which wasn't ready yet. Due to the construction works and a few other tasks which had to be taken care of our yearly family visit wasn't as relaxing as usual. Still, we had some nice moments the highlight being a three day island-hopping tour using my father's small fishing boat. Even though the islands on Saimaa are very similar to each other it's always interesting to land on new ones where you haven't set your foot ever before and choose a spot to wild camp before it gets dark.

Allgäu and particularly our region around Füssen lives largely from tourism. Normally it's quite an international mix including a large number of Asians and Americans, all of whom couldn't come this season. On the other hand many Germans who would usually travel further away decided to spend their holidays here. Therefore the summer season was for the local hotels, guest houses and restaurants eventually not too bad. Bus tours were all cancelled but guided city walks in Füssen were allowed in small groups. Sandra joined the team in autumn 2019 so since then we're both official guides of the town.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Colours of a September morning on the Stubai Alps with Sandra and Ieva.
In September Ieva, a good friend of ours joined us for a two-week hike in the Austrian and Italian Alps. We were lucky to catch a period of bombastic weather and as the main holiday season was over managed to get sleeping places in the mountain huts along our planned route. Especially the Austrian huts were quite relaxed and enjoyable to stay in, despite the new policies. Huts on the German side of the border had to comply with much more complicated regulations - the Italian ones being somewhere in between.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Sulzenau glacier lake.
The main part of the hike was in the Stubai Alps, starting from near Innsbruck, including a lengthy detour towards the west and descending in Sterzing/Vipiteno, followed by a couple of days in the Pfunderer Alps at the end. One main advantage of this route was staying almost constantly over 2000 meters of altitude without the need to descend deep in the valleys. That not only saved effort but also helped to mentally disconnect from the daily life "down there" during the hike.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Huge straw rolls next to the Elbe river cycling route.
Particularly spectacular spots included the peak of the Rinnenspitze (3000 m), the Sulzenau glacier lake and a day trip from Nürnberger hut to Ferner lakes and Roter Grat (3096 m). One trend we noticed particularly on this hike was that huts are increasingly focused on offering tasty food, in some cases fancy three or four course dinner menus as well as breakfasts in buffet style. That makes hiking trips a bit pricier as they used to be (although simpler inexpensive meals are usually available too) but the meals tend to be good value and are an enjoyable way to end the day.

Wedding in Vietnam and travels during the Corona year
Cool rock formations and autumn colors at the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.
Our travel season ended in October with a one and a half week cycling tour starting from Berlin. We headed first towards Wittenberg, then followed the Elbe river, stopped for two days in the historical city of Dresden and finally booked a small holiday house for three nights at the foot of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. This time we unfortunately weren't as lucky with the weather: cloudy and rainy days with partly heavy headwinds. The last leg from Dresden towards the Czech border and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains with their fascinating rock formations was the most interesting part of the route. Due to the weather and Sandra catching a cold during the last two days we couldn't explore that area as much as we would have liked but will probably return some time in the future.

New job, new city, new hobbies

Posted: 2019-11-28 23:57:00, Categories: General, Work, Germany, 1082 words (permalink)

New job, new city, new hobbies
Leibniz Supercomputing Centre
Since April I've been working three days a week at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) in Garching near Munich. It's great to have colleagues around and a physical office again instead of doing freelance work at home over the Internet. I also enjoy having convenient access to city life again.

My main home is still together with Sandra in Halblech near Füssen at the border of the Alps. It's a region blessed with a lot of natural beauty, but having spent most of my life in Helsinki I was missing having a larger city at least nearby. That was my main reason of searching for a new employment in Munich instead of Füssen or surroundings. Now I have a place to stay in both.

New job, new city, new hobbies
A sunny day by the Isar river.
LRZ is in many ways similar to CSC, my long-time employer in Finland. It provides network, scientific computing and data services for all Munich universities as well as for other research organizations in Bavaria. The current flagship supercomputer is the most powerful in whole Europe, which makes LRZ one of the top three centers in Germany and plays a role in attracting talented people. Like at CSC, the goal is to provide stable and reliable services which researchers can depend on, but experimenting with new technologies is encouraged and the time perspective of development projects reaches further than just a few months ahead.

I'm part of the web team which provides web hosting services for the universities. My main responsibility is the administration and development of the LRZ GitLab service, a distributed version control system for source code and other files. I can put my Linux system administration skills in real use again, as well as learn new concepts of modern software development. Compared to the long term preservation planning I was involved with for almost ten years, it's more hand-on technical work which suits me well.

New job, new city, new hobbies
A small festival in the nearby Studentenstadt (student city).
My contract is 20 hours a week which I normally divide between three days from Wednesday until Friday. That leaves half of the week for other activities and spending time together with Sandra. I left my job as a guide at the Neuschwanstein castle after two eight month seasons but continue to offer guided tours and walks in the town of Füssen and surroundings. I started that three years ago and Sandra also recently joined the team so we are now both official guides in the area. That's refreshingly different than sitting in front of the computer, keeps my language skills alive and has been a great opportunity to learn more about the region. Occasionally I also bring travel groups to Neuschwanstein and meet my ex-colleagues there.

Travelling from Halblech to Munich by public transport takes about two and a half hours one way — far too long for commuting daily back and forth but perfectly acceptable to do once a week. Immediately after getting confirmation of my new employment I started searching for a place to stay. Knowing that Munich is the most expensive city in Germany, I prepared myself for a lengthy search with a backup option of booking Airbnb or guesthouse rooms during the first weeks.

New job, new city, new hobbies
The bed and desk in my room in Munich.
At times one needs luck in life, and in my search I certainly had some. Only after a couple of weeks I got offered a spaceous and very reasonably priced room in the Freimann district, right in the middle between the city center and Garching where LRZ is located. We are seven people sharing a house which might sound like many, but as four of us are in Munich only part-time it has never been too tight in the large kitchen and two bathrooms we share. We have a large sunny terrace for enjoying a drink or grilling together on summer evenings, less than 15 minutes by foot to the English garden and the Isar river, plus a direct subway line both to Munich city center and to Garching. My room is equipped with a double bed so Sandra is also welcome to come and stay overnight whenever she wants, but she mostly prefers to avoid the city.

New job, new city, new hobbies
The terrace of our shared house.
As readers knowing me might guess, I usually move around by bicycle. Munich is not perfect for cycling, but especially along the Isar is a good route without any traffic lights. I have about 11 km to work and the city center is about 10 km in the opposite direction. During warm summer days I usually packed a towel and jumped into the river for a short swim on the way back from work. And when I want to enjoy some live music in the evening, I can get to the popular venues mostly within half an hour either by bike or by subway depending on which I feel like using.

New job, new city, new hobbies
Sandra and Lizzy, our new elderly cat lady.
In a way my life is now divided in two. At home I have Sandra, a cat again (more about that another time in a separate article), the friends we've made during the last few years, my tourist guide activities plus of course the nature with mountains, lakes and abundant hiking trails. Munich offers me the new IT work with opportunities to develop myself professionally, nice colleagues and the activities of a major city. It's a good combination in many ways, sort of the best of both worlds.

I also have a couple of new hobbies which are at the same time fun and healthy. Contact improvisation is a kind of playful dancing without choreography, which I started doing about two years ago. Lately I've become enthusiastic about Acroyoga, a combination of yoga and acrobatics with a bit of Thai massage thrown in the mix. I gave it a try in August, was hooked and found a beginner-friendly group which gathers regularly every Wednesday evening. The exercises are challenging but not competitive so people with different skill levels can be in the same class and support each other. Acroyoga isn't going to replace my classic hatha yoga practise but complements it with new interesting elements.

If you can read German (or just want to see a few photos), this article describes the typical content of an acroyoga evening and also my thoughts about it quite well. Both contact improvisation and acroyoga are practised together with a partner or in small groups and rely on mutual trust between the participants. Partners are chosen new every time and especially in contact improvisation even changed several times during the evening. That makes every session different and creates a beautiful community spirit in the group.

Happy Holidays

Posted: 2018-12-24 00:18:00, Categories: Travel, General, Work, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, Hiking, 757 words (permalink)

Sandra and I would like to wish you all a happy holiday season during the end of the year and all the best for the New Year 2019! Here's our traditional Season's greetings card. This year I've been lazy to write in the blog, so I'll use this opportunity to briefly look back on what we've been up to in 2018.

Happy Holidays
Making a hole in the ice at the Saimaa lake.
I spent a good part of the winter and spring in Helsinki, enjoying the city life as well as combining it with some IT work and other projects. Sandra stayed mostly at home in Germany but came to Finland for a couple of weeks in February and March. Together we spent a few winter days at my father's cottage by the lake Saimaa, cross-country skiing, having sauna and testing the new fireplace which was installed during the previous summer.

Happy Holidays
View over the roofs of the town Füssen.
We both work part-time, which gives us quite a bit of flexibility in planning our schedules. Sandra is employed as a laboratory technician and I started in 2017 a new activity as a city guide in Füssen, the nearest town. That's a great opportunity to use my language skills and do a variety of different tours which I've enjoyed quite a lot. This year I wasn't employed at the Neuschwanstein Castle any more. It was a good experience and I could consider working there again in the future but two seasons was a good amount for now.

Happy Holidays
Classic mountain view on the Sadnig Höhenweg, Austrian Alps.
Our main holiday tour in the summer was a three and a half week hike over the Alps in July-August, starting from Lake Königssee in Germany and ending with a crossing of the Triglav National Park in Slovenia. We crossed the Alps on foot once before in 2010, but this was a quite different route. It was based on the route described in the hiking book Salzburg - Trieste by Christof Herrmann, but we adapted it according to weather and our preferences along the way.

Happy Holidays
One of the cute marmots we saw on the way.
The first part of our hike took us through the Berchtesgaden National Park, which is well known for its limestone rock formations. Then we continued over several mountain ranges in Austria, including parts of the Hohe Tauern National Park and the Kreuzeck Group. The Kreuzeck mountains turned out to be one of our favourite sections of the trip, with classic alpine views of rocky peaks, grassy fields, pittoresque lakes, small mountain huts and quite a few animals including marmots.

Happy Holidays
A capricorn in the Julian Alps.
After Austria we walked shortly on Italian soil before entering Slovenia and the Julian Alps. There we had plenty of more limestone rock and the most demanding sections of our trip, not only because of the rough terrain but also because of the heat. The whole central Europe was experiencing a heat wave and although the temperatures up in 2000 meters of altitude were a bit cooler than in the valleys, it still got pretty hot both during the days and in the fully packed dormitories of the mountain huts at night.

Our highlights in the Julian Alps included sightings of majestic capricorns at close range and admiring the Edelweiss flowers blooming in large numbers. In most other parts of the Alps they've almost disappeared and we hadn't seen one for many years.

In addition to the walk over the Alps, we were quite a bit on the trails this year, including two nice hikes near Innsbruck. Our good friend Peter lives there, is often willing to join us in our outdoor activities and it's always a pleasure to visit him. On our last visit we also went together to a concert by Eivør, which we can definitely recommend!

Happy Holidays
Sandra showing some of the mushrooms we picked in Finland in September.
Happy Holidays
Fireworks in Füssen on the New Years day, 2017.
In September we visited Finland again, which was a perfect timing for the mushroom season. We have never picked so many chantarelles, boletes and black trumpet mushrooms in two weeks. It was a challenge to conserve and bring even about half of the catch with us to Germany. One of our favourite dishes is potato dumplings with mushroom sauce, which we've been preparing quite often during the last few months.

This year we'll spend the Christmas Eve with the family of Sandra's old friends who live in a village about 30 km from us. They have two children and the grandparents will be joining as well, so it'll probably be the most traditional Christmas we'd had for years. For the New Year my parents and both of my brothers will come for a visit. We're looking forward to that, mostly we meet in Helsinki and my youngest brother Lari who lives in Canada we're anyway not seeing very often.

Christmas lights in Alsace

Posted: 2016-12-23 20:05:00, Categories: Travel, France, Germany, 344 words (permalink)

Christmas lights in Alsace
A few half-timbered houses in Christmas dress, Colmar.
Sandra and I would like to wish you all peaceful end of the year 2016 and happiness for the upcoming 2017! Following our tradition, the wishes are accompanied with our Season's greetings card.

Christmas lights in Alsace
The Christmas market in Colmar.
December is the season of Christmas lights and markets all around Europe. In our area in Southern Germany almost every village sets up a market at least for a day or two, larger cities do it for a full month. Glühwein, sweets and handicrafts are sold in small booths, typically in the pedestrian zones. We're not much into shopping, but it's always nice to visit the small event in our village, which lasts only one weekend and is less commercial than most.

This year we also checked out two towns in Christmas dress on the French side of the border: Colmar and Saverne. The markets were quite similar to the German ones, but the lights and decorations clearly topped all we have seen here. Almost the whole old town of Colmar was illuminated, with rows of coloured lights emphasizing the shapes of the beautiful half-timbered houses (Fachwerkhaus in German). Video projectors casted alternating scenes on more evenly coloured walls.

Christmas lights in Alsace
Colourful facades along the main street in Saverne.
Christmas lights in Alsace
A fountain converted into a Christmas installation, Saverne.
In Saverne, there was less glitter on the edges but the houses were beautifully lit with large lamps pointing upwards, creating a row of coloured facades on both sides of the main street. Statues of Santa, dwarfs, reindeer, gigantic candles and other Christmas paraphernalia were arranged in large decorative installations. We wondered where are they all stored for elevent months of the year waiting for the season, or are new ones built each year and thrown away afterwards.

The main reason of our short trip to Alsace was visiting friends and we spent a day hiking in the Vosges mountains. Also here in the German Alps it's still possible to go for walks — there is some snow higher up but not so much that one would need snow shoes yet. We'll have to wait a bit before we can go sledging like in the photo of our Christmas card.

A job with a royal view

Posted: 2016-07-03 01:47:00, Categories: Travel, Work, Germany, 878 words (permalink)

A job with a royal view
Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle above the clouds.
Since March 2016 I've been working part-time as a guide at the Neuschwanstein castle, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Germany. It has been a great experience to do something completely different than my previous jobs, and the view out of the "office" windows is the best I've ever had. :-) In addition to greeting thousands of visitors from around the world, through the work I've gotten to know many nice colleagues, some even from the same village we are living in.

The castle is located a good 10 km from our apartment, on top of a hill so we actually see it from our windows. It takes me about 50 minutes to cycle there and change my clothes to the official outfit of the guides. I work normally on Mondays and Wednesdays, starting at 8, 9 or 10 in the morning, and finishing between 16:30 and 19 in the evening. During July-September I'll be there one more day per week, usually Thursdays. Additionally I'm still involved in IT projects on a freelance basis, so this year has been busier than usual.

A job with a royal view
View from the castle towards lake Bannwaldsee.
With more than a million visitors per year Neuschwanstein is the top tourist magnet of the area. All visits of the castle are guided tours, which guarantees that there is enough to do. During the busiest time of the day, a new tour with up to 60 participants starts every 5 minutes. Every guide on duty does up to 10 tours a day, lasting about half an hour each. After the tour there's some time for answering questions, coming back to the starting point and preparing for the next tour, usually also for a short break in between.

A job with a royal view
View from the castle towards Füssen.
The tours come in three varieties: spoken tours in English and German, plus audio tours where each visitor gets a portable device and can choose the language from 18 alternatives. On an audio tour, the job of the guide is to lead the group through the castle, activate the audio guides at pre-defined points and help in case of any problems. That gives occasionally a chance to practise other languages than English and German. In addition to the tours, the guides are also responsible of cleaning the exhibition rooms. That's done every morning before the first tour starts.

A job with a royal view
Me on the castle courtyard. Photo by Vladi Kurucova.
A world famous attraction brings in an international audience. One clearly visible trend is the rise of Chinese tourism: without any statistics in hand I'd guess that Chinese are already the second largest group of visitors right after Germans. Also other Asian countries, Northern America and large European countries such as France, Italy and Spain are well represented. Russians and East Europeans come often as well, and occasionally we receive South Americans too. Africans and Middle Eastern visitors are a rarity, even with Arabic offered as one of the languages on audio guide tours. A few times I've also met Finns in the castle.

A job with a royal view
The outfit of the guides. Photo by Vladi Kurucova.
Neuschwanstein has more visitors and longer opening hours during the summer than in winter. Therefore they search guides for the summer season every year to complement the permanent staff, and that's how I also found the job. There is a range of different contracts available: full time, part time and a fixed number of days during the season, which suits especially students working during university holidays. I'm one of the three foreigners, the other two being Fabienne from France and Vladi from Slovakia. There are no dedicated English and German guides, we all do spoken tours in both languages as well as audio tours. My German isn't perfect, but being allowed to guide natives at one of the landmarks of Bavaria confirms that it's good enough.

My contract is until the middle of November, a couple of weeks into the more quiet winter season. That means that I'll spend this summer and autumn mostly in Germany. One of my free time plans is to visit some other castles and palaces in the region. As an employee in one of the historic buildings managed by the state of Bavaria, there are quite a few others I have free entrance to.

A job with a royal view
Neuschwanstein castle on a nice April afternoon.
The title photo shows Neuschwanstein five years ago, with the valley behind covered in fog, when I was visiting the area with my family. That was a magical moment, doing justice to the nickname "Märchenschloss", the fairytale castle. The other photos have been taken in spring 2016, featuring the view out of the windows of the guides' lounge, me at the castle courtyard and another view of the castle taken near the Marienbrücke bridge. The bridge is currently closed but should open again in August.

Finally, a tip for everybody who'd like to visit the castle, especially on a summer weekend: come early in the morning. The first tour starts at 9 am, but the ticket center opens already at 8. Later in the morning you'll have to stand in the queue for quite a while, and in the afternoon all tickets for the day might even be sold out. Alternatively you can make a reservation in advance — there's a separate line to pick up pre-booked tickets. If you have a long waiting time before the beginning of the tour, a pleasant way to spend that is to take a walk along the shore of the nearby Alpsee lake.

1 3

Creative Commons License
Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
(Unless otherwise mentioned in individual photos or other content.)